It is Good Friday, and if you’ve heard one Good Friday sermon you’ve heard most of them - Jesus is beaten, crucified and buried, and this is bad news, but mostly good news. I experience it primarily as old news. It’s not that the cross is not true or relevant, but that it is not alive at least to us, and it is not alive to us because it is Jesus’ cross, his death and not our own.
The cross is essentially dead itself, because we see Jesus as a hero, not as a guide; we see ourselves as worshipers, not as pilgrims. Good Friday invites us to take up our cross (another dead phrase), not to stare at Jesus on his. Perhaps today this old wineskin can be renewed.
We do not know what to do with Jesus on the cross because we’ve been taught that the cross is about disowning rather than owning or “taking up.” We’ve been told the cross is where we lay our sins down, but chances are we understand sin simply as individual moral wrongdoing, not as separation from relationship. And we cannot lay down our sins because we aren’t carrying them in the first place.
Enter Judas: Our true messiah. The one who carries our sins.
Who is Judas other than that jerk who sold Jesus down the river? Judas represents the part of us who has great ideas, but who wants Jesus to push our agendas. He can be a prophetic voice, but one who has lost connection with that inner light, that burning desire. He is that part of us which is beautiful, but has a thin coat of cynicism mossed over him. Judas carries for us all the parts of us we hide, repress and deny.
Judas is not a bad man. What he does to Jesus and the disciples was harmful, sinful, even evil, but it all comes from a deep wound, which we’ll never know. It’s a wound that is different for everyone, but which we all hold within us.
Robert Bly in his book Iron John, tells a universal story about this deep wound from which all wounds derive:
“The hunter father takes his boy hunting with him one day. Having killed a small rat, he asks the son to keep it. The son, thinking it was nothing, threw it in the bush. No more game comes along that day, and at dusk the father asks the boy for the rat so they can cook it and have something to eat. The boy tells the father, “I threw it in the bush.” Then according to the story the father took up his axe, hit his son, who was knocked unconscious; and the father then left the boy lying where he was.”
Where did the axe fall? Where in your body do you carry your wound? This wound is painful - so painful we project it onto others, because it’s safer to make someone else carry it than to feel it ourselves. We did not ask for this wound, but what we do with this wound will either connect us or continue to separate us from ourselves, from others and from God. What is the wound you need to reclaim as your own?
Jesus once told us this.
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Our work this Good Friday is not to conjure up sadness or gratitude for Jesus' sacrifice - he never asked for our gratitude. It is not to throw a hero's funeral. Our work today and all days is to leave Jesus and go find Judas and ask for our wound back. Once we own in ourselves what we have made others carry, then we will be followers of Jesus, then we can lay it all down before Jesus, and the wound can begin to heal and become a living part of us. The cross will come alive. It will no longer be a memorial of feigned mourning, but it will guide us like a wise elder and it will teach us the way toward life.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,