Good Friday, March 30, 2018
The Rev. Dr. Susan Kraus
Good Friday Homily
By now you have received 39 out of 40 of the Daily Words for Lent. You know that I have shared words of wisdom from a great variety of people, some who are living now and those who lived recently or long ago. As I searched through the books on my shelves to find the words to share with you, I came across an excerpt from a sermon written by Bishop Robert Grosseteste. He lived in England from 1175-1253 CE. He was a statesman, philosopher, theologian, scientist and the Bishop of Lincoln for 18 years. Though never formally canonized as a saint, when he died, he was almost universally revered as a saint in England.
The text for this sermon was The Letter of Paul to the Galatians (5:24). They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Before I read Bishop Grosseteste’s words, I want to clarify what “flesh” means in the writings of Paul. This term has been misunderstood as being synonymous with the physical body or merely with sexual sin. It means much more in Paul’s thought. “Flesh” is the part of us that is alienated from God. “Flesh” is in direct conflict with “spirit,” which is the influence of the Holy Spirit as well as the part of us that is open to God, desires God, and is drawn to God.
Bishop Grosseteste offers a wonderful image of the cross to take to heart on this solemn day:
“They that are Christ’s” begin by preparing a cross for themselves in their mind. For from the center of the mind, which is love or the will, they aim their love upward to God, to love him above all things. From that very same center they aim love at their friends, to love them in God “as themselves.” Furthermore, they aim love at their enemies, to love them “as themselves,” for God’s sake. Now these two extensions of conscious love, that is, to friends and enemies, are like the two arms of a cross extended to the right and to the left. In the fourth place they aim their love at their flesh, and they aim it also at other bodily creatures, in order to love them to the extent that they are matter for the knowledge, love, and praise of God. The love that is extended to them is like that cross-line that is directed from the center downward.
And so, just as in the physical cross the four lines forming the cross are drawn from a unique central point (one reaching upward, two going out to the right and left, and the fourth extending downward), in the same way it comes about spiritually in the cross of love, that the love of God is a line working its way upward; the love of friends a line stretching out to the right; the love of enemies a line going left; and the love of one’s own flesh and of other corporeal creatures a line reaching downward. Thus in this cross the flesh is crucified, since all the works that are done through the members of the body are directed in accordance with one of these four loves.”
Today our focus is on the cross of Christ and we mourn our crucified Lord. As we have heard the account of Jesus’ last days in our services this week, we have been forced to face the enormity of evil of which human beings are capable. Contemplating Christ’s teaching and actions in his last days and his sacrifice on the cross, we also see the extent of God’s love poured out for us, for our salvation. I believe that the cross of Christ calls out to us to choose love – love of God, love of friends and enemies, love of all God’s creatures, just as Bishop Grosseteste describes. The cross of Christ shows us what the failure of love looks like. It is right for us to be reminded of that, to strengthen our wills to choose love and to crucify within ourselves “the flesh with its passions and desires.”
May God give us the grace to choose love, today and always. Amen.