Address, from the online Churches Together in Nantwich Service.
Good morning, from the Rectory Garden, just a hundred yards from where this Good Friday service should have been held on the Square. I hope you’re all safe and well at home.
At funerals I often use a prayer by John Henry Newman which begins like this:
Support us, O Lord, all the day long of this troublous life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over and our work is done.
At present the busy world is very hushed, strangely hushed. The Nantwich Jazz Festival was meant to begin today. But this may be the quietest Easter weekend the town has ever known. Even seismometers can detect a reduction in the earth’s vibrations.
The busy world is hushed, but can we say our work is done? It seems not, because many people’s lives are on hold. And the one task we’re all involved in has no clear end in sight. The work of: Staying at home; Protecting the NHS; Saving lives.
What’s the exit strategy? How will we know that Coronavirus is defeated? When will the job be done?
When Jesus died on that first Good Friday it was with a loud cry, and St John records that those final words were ‘It is finished’. His work is done. The mission is completed.
How do we make sense of that? How can Jesus’ work be done when he’s cut off in his prime? What about all those unfinished goals? Wasn’t he poised to make a bigger difference by going international, or writing books, or taking political office?
That’s not how John saw it when he wrote his Gospel. He recognised that Jesus’ work was simply to love God and to love the world. And every moment of his life was dedicated that way. From his first cry to his last, the life of Jesus was one gracious, selfless act.
Yes, there were lots of successful miracles and sermons that could be tallied up. But that’s not how the worth of this life is measured. What matters is Jesus’ unbroken giving of himself, whether that appeared successful or not.
No-one else had ever lived like that. But that’s what made the difference. That’s why Jesus’ life ends in a victory cry. That’s why Easter just had to happen.
Our world can hope for a wonderful future because Jesus gave his life in service for us all, in devotion to God, through all of his years, even at the point of death. Love wins, and nothing can stop all the blessings of forgiveness and new life and peace and health that will surely come.
That’s the way the world is made. It runs on love because it’s made by love. So in these frustrating and anxious times, may we be reminded this Good Friday that our work is not measured by completed projects, important though they can be. We may not be able to plan much at all just now.
But we can make Newman’s prayer apply to each day. ‘Our work is done’ – if we’ve been able to serve others as Christ has served us. That’s why health workers, devoted to the care of the sick and the dying, at risk to themselves, are such an example to us all. They don’t always solve the immediate problem. But self-giving is the way. And love has won on the cross.
The prayer continues like this, and it can be ours in these times:
Then, Lord, in your mercy grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Christ our Lord. Amen.