[#pictureLent] Good Friday: The Shortest Sermon of My Life

By Brett Opalinski
Christ Church UMC, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

First, read John 19:1-24

The shortest sermon I ever gave came on Good Friday, when I was a much younger preacher. I was participating in an ecumenical service on the last words of Christ. My section was the crucifixion and Jesus’ words on the cross. I had spent hours preparing a sermon for the occasion-carefully explaining the meaning of the crucifixion in a “logical” way.

About one minute before it was my turn to speak, I heard those dreadful internal words that make a preacher shudder... don’t give this sermon!

I then proceeded to give what would be the shortest sermon of my ministry to date. It went something like this:

“I prepared a sermon for today, but I can’t preach it. I am to speak on the crucifixion of Jesus, but to be honest I don’t understand the death of Jesus. I know we often say it had to happen so that God could forgive sins, but let’s be honest Jesus was already forgiving sins before his death. Besides, why would God demand the death of a person as gentle, loving, and beautiful as Jesus-that doesn’t seem fair or just? I don’t know what to say here. What I do know is this: on that cross the fullness of God’s love was there. Jesus took on the worst life could offer and responded with love and forgiveness and with God, and that transformed everything. From that point on, sin and death could never win and that is enough for me. Amen.”

Finishing, I sat down thinking it was perhaps the worst Good Friday sermon ever (at least the shortest). Maybe to some it was/is, but one man came up after with tears in his eyes and said, “Thank you - I have always thought the same things, but have been afraid to speak them - today I see Good Friday differently.” 

It was a very real sermon for me. God led me to be honest about my own questions, doubts and fears, and they became a source of life for another.

Today is Good Friday, once again, and I come back to that truth, on the cross the fullness of God’s love was there, and that has changed everything. The sins that fill our hearts and lives can never have the last word. There will always be the possibility of God’s transformation, of resurrection. Death may be painful and unknown, but it does not have to be a fearful end. It can be a friend leading us to the abundance of God’s eternal love.

We don’t have to live defeated by the cruelty and violence of the world, for though it is loud and strong, it will never be great enough to overcome the gentle grace of God. This is indeed good news, it is truly a Good Friday.

Prayer: God help me to see that Good Friday is not an argument to be logically explained, but a poem to be entered into. Remind us that on your cross, love defeated all that was and ever would be evil. Remind us that sins can no longer define us or keep us imprisoned. Remind us that everything has changed, even though we can’t fully explain or describe it. Help us to simply rest today in your good news. Help us to simply rest. Amen.

Discussion Questions

  1. What does Jesus death say about God’s love for you, for the rest of the world?
  2. What does the death of Jesus say about how we respond to the evils of today?
  3. How does Good Friday speak “good news” to you? To the world?