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Good Friday Sermon – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

“He hath given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death.”

Christian speaks these words in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. During this holy week we gather to reflect and to pray on the sacred mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. “He hath given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death.”

Today, Good Friday, we focus on the sorrow and the death.  But, ever in the midst of our sorrowful contemplation of our wounded Lord hanging from the cross, our hearts cannot lose sight of the glory that is to come.  For St. John tells us, at the very beginning of the story of Jesus, that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

When it is dark, here at the monastery, we monks gather to pray Compline.  Every night, just before we go to sleep, we pray together these words: “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”  Intimate words of trust and commitment of our lives to God, and to his gracious providence.

They are words we have learned from Jesus, who, as his life drew to an end, hanging on that cross as the darkness gathered, made that perfect offering and oblation of his life to the Father.  “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”  Jesus, even at the darkest moment, never lost trust in the loving purposes of God.

And when we say those words, every day – and they are wonderful words for us all to say every night before we go to bed – we can make a similar act of letting go, of placing our lives in God’s hands.  In this way, with Jesus as our model, we may, as our Rule puts it, “practice for the final letting go of dying, so that it will be less strange and terrifying for us.”

After a lifetime of surrender and offering to God, Jesus makes the final commitment of himself in death.  And this is something we can all pray that we will be able to make.  There was perhaps something rather important being said in the old prayer book litany, when we prayed that we should be delivered from “sudden death;” that is, death unprepared for, a too-easy guest.

“He hath given me life by his death,” says Christian.  And so would St. Francis speak of “Sister Death” because she was for him no unwelcome companion.  He lived constantly with the reality of death’s impending presence.  She held no horror for him.

It is said of Pope John XXIII, good Pope John, that as he lay dying in 1963 of a rather terrible form of stomach cancer, he told his secretary, “My bags are packed and I am ready to go.”  For him, there was a journey to be made, into the darkness, but also through the darkness and out into the light.  “He hath given me life by his death.”

We too can face death without terror.  For the Christian, death is no enemy to be feared.  Christ on the cross, offered his life in faith and trust to the Father.  “Into your hands I commend my spirit” – and God raised Jesus from death, to live forever.

And we too are called to follow Jesus through the darkness of death, and beyond into eternal life and light, when in that lovely phrase of St. Peter in his second letter, “the day dawns, and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

When you come up in a moment to venerate the cross, as you kneel or bow down, offer your life again to God your Father who knows you and loves you and has redeemed you by the cross of his Son – the wondrous cross, which for each of us, has opened the gate of eternal life.

When I was chaplain at St. Francis Hospice in Berkhasiled near London, and subsequently had the privilege, as a parish priest, to sit with men and women in their final hours and moments, making prayers of commitment of them to God, I found these simple words of Tagore sustaining, “Death is not extinguishing the light, but putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”

That surely is our greatest hope in Jesus: that however dark the day, even as dark as Good Friday, we can look in confidence and trust to the cross. “For he hath given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death.”

The reality of that truth will become especially vivid in this chapel and in churches all over the world early on the first day of the week.  We will find ourselves at first shrouded in the black darkness of Jesus’ cross and death.  But we know that the day will dawn, that the bells will ring, and that the morning star shall rise in our hearts.  All that we do today, this Good Friday, is because of that dawn which is a little while away.  However dark the night, nothing can extinguish the hope in our hearts.

In Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian is weighed down by the burden of sin and the fear of death.  In his pilgrimage he seeks a way to be rid of his burden.  In the most marvelous passage we read,

“He came to a place, somewhat ascending, and upon that place stood a cross, and just as he came up to the cross, the burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his shoulders and fell from off his back, and tumbled down and down, until it came to the mouth of the sepulcher, where it fell in and I saw it no more.  Then was Christian glad and lightsome, and said with a merry heart, ‘He hath given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death.’  Then he stood still a while to look and wonder, for it was very surprising to him that the sight of the cross should thus ease him of his burden.  He looked and looked again, until the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks.  Then Christian gave three leaps of joy and went on his way singing.”

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15 Comments

  1. Rick Porter on April 4, 2015 at 22:41

    Thank you Br. Geoffrey and thank you to all of the Brothers for leading us, teaching us, and showing us the love of Christ. God bless you all this Easter morn and may we learn to live in the joy of the risen Christ even through the darkest days.

    I am just emerging from one of those sad and dark periods where I had to witness and experience the results of evil on some very young children. Thank you for the reminder of the joys of living this life our Lord has given us and His grace in loving each of us.

  2. Claudia Booth on April 4, 2015 at 22:22

    This Lent, I have been suffering from severe pain as a result of Cervical discs. I have cherished the Lenten reflections as a daily means of support and connection with Christ, the healer and light of my life. Thank you for your ministry of prayer, hope and love.

  3. Sally Baynton on April 4, 2015 at 20:48

    Jesus did not lose on Good Friday. He was the great winner in the world! I am no fool…I know what He did for me. I will never be able to be worthy of what He has done. But, I promise to live to try!

  4. Jane on April 4, 2015 at 18:53

    YOu have given us so much food for thought and now Pilgrim’s Progress which I have not read for years. I also remember from my teens this saying “I will go with you and be by your side. In your most need, be by your side.”I think that’s wisdom as was part of the Everyman series of books with the mystery plays in them at school. Did that come from Pilgrim’s progress?
    I think of it in relation to God’s Holy Spirit. He’s always there for us;we just need to listen.
    Thanks for all the good thoughts and meditations.

  5. michael on April 4, 2015 at 11:20

    thanku 4 guiding me thru this lent and preparing me the resurrection..salammshalom…

  6. Michael on April 4, 2015 at 09:36

    I’m unsure where I have traveled this Lenten journey. Like most things, it will take some time to make its presence felt and for my spirit to find its path. Thank you

  7. Lisa on April 4, 2015 at 09:19

    As I experience Holy Week this year and sit with the readings and meditations I am reading, more is opening in my heart and my mind, opening to God and to Christ. I am not sure I understand – and I don’t feel it is essential to understand. To let God in…..that seems most important.

  8. Muriel Akam on April 4, 2015 at 08:30

    As a BC survivor I am thankful to God for all the dawns that I have each day. I was afraid to die as I was not yet ready feeling that I had to be here for my family , to see my children settled and also to personally accomplish many goals I had set for myself. The joys of Eternal life is a lovely hope but I try to live according to Jesus’ teachings to have a little of Heaven here on this earth.

  9. Jana Everett on April 4, 2015 at 08:11

    For me, all of this makes sense at a metaphorical level–we are called to “reflect God’s love” in this life as we work to create “the kingdom of God”. suffering, death, resurrection are for me processes we go through as we live our lives. For me, the resurrection of Jesus has to do with the ways in which he transformed the lives of the early Christians and the ways in which he can transform our lives.
    We don’t know what happens after death. I’m interested in how we live our lives in the meantime

  10. Marta e. on April 4, 2015 at 07:49

    It is always striking to see the altar stripped, and left bare at the end of the Maundy Thursday service. Just so, is the absence of the flame in the sanctuary light, indicating the absence of the Blessed Sacrament. It causes us to notice anew and then to yearn for the Christ light to return. This is a wonderful metaphor not only for the celebration of Easter, but also for removing the fear of Death and transition to new life and life with Christ.. So, Holy Saturday is that day when our soul notices and yearns for that light to return within us.

    The sermons/ meditations have been truly extraordinary ths week. Thank you!

  11. Elspeth on April 4, 2015 at 07:26

    I remember one Lent when our Mother read us Pilgrim’s progress and we made a long series of pictures of his journey. At the time I did not appreciate it. Now I want to go back and reread it, particularly for next Lent. I also want to make Compline more of my daily rhythm
    Thank you

  12. Agatha Nolen on April 4, 2015 at 06:35

    Thank you Br. Geoffrey. Beautiful words to remind us that as God’s children, we have nothing to fear.

  13. PAUL G TREMEWAN on May 3, 2013 at 10:19

    I AM TWO YEARS INTO MY JOURNEY WITH ALS. I DO NOT KNOW HOW MUCH TIME I HAVE LEFT, BUT THAT IS TRUE FOR ALL OF US. GOD HAS MY LIFE, MY SPIRIT, I AM READY TO SEE HIS LIGHT…

  14. Selinafrom Maine on May 3, 2013 at 09:48

    Thank you brother Geoffrey ..My brain struggles with the concept of eternal life but my heart hopes it is possible in some way that my brain cannot scope out. Meanwhile I am trying to live life to my fullest ability here and now.

  15. Polly Chatfield on May 3, 2013 at 09:38

    Dear Geoffrey,
    Thank you for these words of hope. Pilgrim’s Progress has been a favorite text of mine for more than sixty years. It is so honest, so guileless, so full of wisdom. That “the trumpet to sound on the other side” for us all is my earnest prayer.

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