The following sermon was preached on Friday April 7, 2023 at St George’s Transcona. You can learn more about St George’s and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here.


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Last Sunday we waved palm branches and shouted “Hosanna.” Last night we ate with Jesus and he washed our feet, and then we fell asleep while he prayed in the garden. Today we gather together at the foot of his cross.

Welcome to Good Friday.

I have been going to church since before I was born and during the first half or so of my life I went to churches that did not celebrate Good Friday.

I mean, there was a service on the Friday before Easter Sunday, but it was almost exactly the same as the Easter Sunday service. In both the Friday and the Sunday services we would quickly acknowledge that Jesus had died and then move to focus on celebrating the resurrection. Both services felt the same.

And without even realizing it, I picked up the message that this was how I was supposed to deal with hard things in my own life too – acknowledge them briefly and then move quickly to the resurrection, to the lesson, to the silver lining.

There is a fancy term for this – spiritual bypassing. Spiritual bypassing is when a person uses spiritual language to avoid dealing with difficult things. It’s a way of minimizing or distancing ourselves from real and difficult things in order to feel better in the short term. It may provide short term relief, but it doesn’t make the problems go away and it prevents us from doing the hard work we need to do to actually deal with what is happening.

It sounds very holy, but it isn’t. It sounds like:

Oh sure, the systems around me are crumbling and I can’t trust my leaders but I don’t have to worry, and I don’t have to do anything because “God must have a plan!”

Oh sure, our trans and indigenous siblings live with the very real fear that they will be killed just for being who God created them to be, but let’s not talk about it, let’s focus on the positive.
Oh sure my life is absolutely falling apart right now and I am mired in a grief that makes it almost impossible to breathe but you know, “everything happens for a reason!”

It sounds like pretending every day is Easter Sunday.

And that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. I did not allow myself to be a Good Friday person, even on Good Friday.

The first time I went to a Good Friday service at an Anglican Church I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing. The church was pretty bare. There were no flowers or decorations and we didn’t hear the whole Easter story. At the end of the service, Jesus had not risen from the dead.

At the end of the service, Jesus was still dead.

At that Good Friday liturgy we were asked to stay in the Good Friday part of the story. We were asked to leave the church in silence. We were asked to sit in that space of grief and loss and unknowing until we returned on Sunday morning.


It was one of the things that made me decide to join the Anglican church, a church which is far from perfect, but I loved that liturgy could invite us to acknowledge the whole range of human emotions and the whole story of Holy Week.

I loved that there was a liturgy that gave us permission to sit in a hard place and didn’t rescue us or force us to pretend we were feeling victorious by the closing hymn.

And this is what we are all being invited to do today.

There was no formal dismissal at the end of last night’s service and there won’t be one at the end of today’s service either. There is no dismissal because all of our gatherings from Maundy Thursday through Easter Sunday are considered one continuous liturgy that take place over several days as we watch, wait and celebrate the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Our Thursday and Friday services end not with a “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” but with a “To be continued…”

In a stunning sermon from a number of years ago, Sara Miles said that, “I’d like to pretend that Good Friday, the murder of God by the people of God, is a one-time historical event. That it took place far away, in another country, safely in the past. That someone very different from me – a Jew, most probably, or some crazy rogue solider – was responsible for the crucifixion… and Good Friday just means another day in a church with beautiful music.

Crucifixion is always an act of terror, meant to carry a message to the entire population that the rulers of the world are all-powerful, and can crush anyone they choose. In Jesus’ time, the cross meant not just punishment for criminals and troublemakers, but shame for their families, who were marked forever by the scandal… The mere threat of death on the empire’s cross led people to betray each other; it kept them in their places, separated and afraid to offer solidarity.

And it still does, evoking our deepest fears of being cast out, mocked, hurt or violently erased, stigmatized by association with the wrong people. Today’s forms of crucifixion – Sara said – [left her] afraid to care for the imprisoned, afraid to challenge the violent, too busy or guilty or helpless to even stand next to the families of the dead and weep.”

Fear can divide and separate us and there is a lot of fear in the Good Friday story, but some people in this story act bravely despite their fear and the very real danger their actions put them in.

The gospel writers tell us that Jesus was not alone when he was crucified. In addition to the various people responsible to ensure the crucifixion was properly carried out like the Centurion, there were other people who came to see what was happening.

Mark names some of these people – Salome, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the Mother of James and Joses. (15: 40) Mark tells us that there were also “many other women,” who stayed to bear witness to Jesus’ suffering. (41)

I imagine that at least some of the bystanders were there out of morbid curiosity or simply as a way to pass the time. We know that at least some of them thought that perhaps Elijah would come and remove Jesus from the cross. I suppose that if you had nothing else to do in a culture where public executions are the norm, the possibility of seeing Elijah would be worth sticking around for.

We know that no one was there to try and stop the crucifixion. That impulse that had led Peter to pull out a sword in the garden doesn’t seem to be anywhere in sight at the foot of the cross.

Which means that the people who are present are resigned to the fact that unless supernatural forces intervene, Jesus is going to suffer and die, and they have chosen to be there when that happens.

They can’t change what is going to happen, but they’re not going to ignore it either. They are not going to leave Jesus alone as he suffers and dies.

Thankfully I have never experienced the agonizing pain of death by crucifixion, but I have experienced pain. And in those times, I have needed people who weren’t afraid to see me in pain, who were willing to sit with me in a Good Friday space. I needed people who were willing to let me be in that Good Friday space for as long as I needed to be there.

One of my favourite books is “Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved” by Kate Bowler.

Kate’s from Winnipeg, I met her a few times, I preached regularly at her parent’s church, and then one day I found out she had cancer…. the really bad kind. She was probably going to die.

Not long after that I also found out that Kate and I had both been selected to attend a retreat for writers. She wrote most of “Everything Happens” at that retreat.

I remember watching her, smoke flying from the keys as she wrote as if her life depended on it and I wondered if she would live to finish the book.

I didn’t care about the book actually, Kate had very quickly become someone I loved, someone very dear to me, and I couldn’t imagine that she might die.

But there was nothing I could do, except participate in the retreat and try to be a friend. A cancer diagnosis isn’t something I have any power to do anything about.

Kate’s story is an Easter story. She published that book and she’s still here. But her experiences have really taught her how to stay present in Good Friday situations.

Kate taught me that when everything comes apart and we are in pain, we need people who are willing to stay with us in that pain and say one thing, “Oh, sweetie, this is just so hard.”

This is what the named women and other bystanders are doing for Jesus, sitting with him in his pain. Bearing witness. You will notice in the scripture and in the music for this service that words like “look” and “see” and “behold” are prevalent. This is no accident.

On this day we claim the truth that this is all we can do, and this is all we are called to do in this moment. To stay at the foot of the cross and bear witness to Christ’s pain.

And I hope, that on this day, and on all the Good Friday type days we will experience in our own lives and bear witness to in the lives of those we love, that we will learn to embrace our discomfort and hold back the temptation to make ourselves feel better by fixing or blaming or muting another person’s pain.

It’s hard work, but there is healing power in correctly naming the terrible things as terrible things.

There is healing power in sitting at the foot of the cross when someone you love is suffering and refusing to look away.

Easter will come, but today is Good Friday, and today we live into this place, this deeply uncomfortable place that says that we can’t pretend that we would have done differently than the chief priests, or the crowd, or Pilate. This place that reminds us that we so often out of fear, and our own wounds, and our wish to “satisfy the crowd” prepare a cross for our Saviour.

At the end of the service, when we will all leave in silence, I would encourage you to come and spend a moment at the cross before you go. Don’t be afraid to touch it either. And when you leave, don’t be afraid to sit in this Good Friday space, and don’t forget to come back on Sunday to hear the rest of the story.

In the strong name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.