A sermon given on Good Friday 2022 to the People of New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD by Fr. Justin Clemente
Come behold the wondrous mystery
“But you are he that took me out of my mother’s womb;
you were my hope, when I was yet upon my mother’s breasts.
I have been cast upon you ever since I was born;
you are my God, even from my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 22:9-10)
On this Good Friday, we dip back into Psalm 22 for one final meditation together. We remember that Psalm 22 is the Psalm of the Cross. It was written 1000 years before Jesus lived, but it his psalm – the Holy Spirit is the author! Jesus prayed it end to end on the cross. It sums up everything he is and came to do.
What these verses show us in particular is that the end and the beginning of Jesus’ life are intimately connected. They are one seamless garment. At Christmas, we sing the modern hymn, “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery” by Matt Boswell, which begins:
Come behold the wondrous myst’ry in the dawning of the King
He the theme of heaven’s praises robed in frail humanity
In our longing in our darkness now the light of life has come
Look to Christ who condescended took on flesh to ransom us.
Come behold the wondrous myst’ry Christ the Lord upon the tree
In the stead of ruined sinners hangs the Lamb in victory
See the price of our redemption see the Father’s plan unfold
Bringing many sons to glory grace unmeasured love untold.
At the end, Jesus was thinking of and praying through the beginning. Four takeaways come to mind here.
Jesus entire life was wholly offered up to God (v. 10)
“You are my God, even from my mother’s womb.”
As Jesus hangs on the cross, probably looking his mother in the face, he proclaims and remembers that his entire life has been given up to the glory of God. You might remember how, in Luke 2, Jesus was presented to God at the temple in Jerusalem. Only, when he was presented, he was never actually redeemed or given back to his parents. He remained God’s. For his entire life he was sanctified and set apart!
Look at verse 9: “But you are he that took me out of my mother’s womb.” It has the sense here of literally bursting forth or bring pulled from the womb. I was reminded recently again at the birth of my sixth child that children do have to be literally pulled from the womb. But here, the one catches the son is not just a good midwife, but God the Father through the hands of Joseph. Jesus sees his whole life up to and through the Cross as in the gracious care of God himself. Even in the cross – especially in the cross – He is set apart to be given to the world. He’s God’s gift to humanity out of the abundance of divine love. God’s kind of love – unmerited and unbounded. Here why this matters: if you come to Good Friday and you try to keep Jesus in a little box – maybe a “good teacher” box or a “modern guru” box or whatever it is, you’re to miss who he really is, and you’re going to miss the gift. And, you’ll make a mess of his Crucifixion and all that it means for you. And that takes us to my second point.
In the Cross the end & the beginning converge
There are two things you can’t miss about Jesus: who he is (Incarnation) and what he came to do (Atonement). In his very helpful little book The Psalm on the Cross, here is how author David Roseberry puts it:
“There are two doctrines of the Christian faith that are essential; they alone are the doctrines upon which everything else depends. First is the Doctrine of the Incarnation, whereby Jesus was born as a baby in a manger and was, at the same time, the Holy Child of God. And the second is the Doctrine of the Atonement that holds that Jesus’s death on the Cross fundamentally altered our standing relationship with God. Because of Christ’s death, we are now reconciled with God.” (The Psalm on the Cross, pg. 53)
Recently, Bishop John wrote of the Church of the Holy Cross in New York City.
“Some years ago, the Church of the Holy Cross in New York City was broken into twice. First a metal moneybox next to a votive candle rack was stolen. Then, three weeks later, vandals got away with something far more valuable: a statue of Christ. The thieves unbolted the 4-foot long, 200-pound plaster Jesus from a chapel, but they left the wooden cross on the wall.
The custodian was amazed that someone would do that. He was quoted by a reporter as saying, “They just decided, ‘We’re going to take Jesus and leave the cross.’”
Bishop concludes, “That’s a rather sad image of much of American Christianity, isn’t it? Jesus, yes. Cross, no. But you can’t separate the real Jesus from the Cross on which he died.” Jesus was born to die – the cross was no mistake! The heart of the cross is Christ in your place. If you miss that, you miss everything. If you embrace that this Holy Week, then Jesus can actually begin to be real for you.
Mary as a faithful witness (John 19:25-27)
Now I want us to turn for a moment from looking at Jesus, to looking at the woman he looks at as he prays these verses. This passage is intimately bound up with John 19:25-27: “But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”
Mary is not a co-redeemer, but she is the faithful witness to Jesus. Her womb was the chosen vessel for God’s Son. She witnessed his works, his words, his death, and even the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
Long before the cross, at Jesus’ birth, aged Simeon said to Mary that because of this child a sword would pierce her heart. At the cross, the final blow of that sword was loosed. And she didn’t move. She stayed put by the cross of Jesus. There is great solace in these words. If tonight you are Christian, take courage this Good Friday to remain faithful to the Cross. To continue to find your whole life there. For it is so easy to deny him. To flee from the Cross as many did. To deny him in word or deed in our vocations, our families, our friendships. Mary’s life teaches us what it looks to remain faithful to the presence of Jesus and his Cross in our lives. To apply the words of St. Paul to her: “follow Mary, as she follows Christ.”
Mary as a faithful disciple (John 19:25-27)
Our verses from Psalm 22 make it clear that the mother (and earthly father) of our Lord were stewards of his life: “I have been cast upon you ever since I was born.” And John 19:25-27 makes it clear that Mary was, in the end, a disciple of her Son.
I want to end our time of meditation around the Cross this evening by asking a simple question: are you a disciple? I did not ask if your family is Christian. I did not ask if you are spiritual. I did not ask if you admire Jesus. I did not ask if you think you’re a good person. I did not ask if you think you’re a horrible person! Jesus died that you would be his disciple. A son or daughter of the living God, brought into fellowship through the blood of his Son, our mediator and advocate. Tonight the work is done. It is finished. The way to God is open. The way to life is open! Come, and with Mary, be a disciple of her Son, in the blessed fellowship of his Cross. Let me pray for you:
[Tonight, may you] count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus [as] Lord. … May [you] gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of [your] own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that [you] may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible [you] may attain the resurrection from the dead. Amen. (Philippians 3:8-11, adapted)