Father Benjamin von Bredow
O my people, what have I done to you?
A Sermon for Good Friday
April 7, 2023 at the Solemn Liturgy
“What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the
dew that goes early away” (Hosea 6:4). In the Name of the Father, the Son, and
the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.
There is much Christian theology about Good Friday. Perhaps all of Christian
theology is about Good Friday—but that doesn’t mean that Good Friday is the
time to think it all through. Now is the time to be confronted with the fact that
God has died, and to overwhelmed by it in silence, awe, horror, and love.
The most ancient rituals of Good Friday do not offer a theory of what happened
on the cross. Instead, they help us to dwell in the moment of grief, and to grow
from that grief into healing in our relationship with God.
Our grief is for Christ, of course, for his death. But more than that, our grief is
for the brokenness of our relationship with God. We do not only grieve that
Christ has died, but that we are the cause of his death—we his chosen people,
and we the human beings he made in his own image. He never showed us
anything but tender compassion, and as a reward we dealt him the violence
with which we crush the meek. We cannot grieve for Christ without grieving for
ourselves, seeing in Christ’s tortured body the truth about how we repay the
love of God.
Later, a Good Friday chant from the 9th century will be sung. In it, God
addresses us: “My people, what have I done to you? How have I grieved you?
Answer me.” It goes on, contrasting God’s treatment of us his people when he
brought us out of slavery in Egypt, with our treatment of him:
I scourged Egypt for your sake,
and you scourged me and handed me over.
I opened up the sea before you,
and you opened my side with a lance.
I went before you in a pillar of cloud,
and you led me into Pilate’s palace.
I gave you saving water from the rock to drink,
and for drink you have me gall and vinegar.
I struck down for you the kings of the Canaanites,
and you struck my head with a reed.
I put in your hand a royal sceptre,
and you put on my head a crown of thorns.
The horror of good Friday is to realize how shamefully we have treated one who
has loved us so well. That is the ultimate cause of our grief. It is not impersonal
or abstract. It’s not a theory. It’s about a real relationship we have with the God
who made us, who loves us, who wants better things for us than we want for
ourselves, and who is not dissuaded by our persistent rejection of him. Good
Friday is the moment when we wake up and realize what we’ve done to the
person who loves us most.
But that is a good grief. That’s where the hope of restoring relationship appears.
God still holds himself out to us in love. That’s why he pleads with us, “What
have I done to you? How have I grieved you? Answer me.” We have indeed done
to him all the things of which we accuses us—yes we did strike him on the
head, yes we did crown him with thorns, yes we did pierce his side with a spear
—but if we can mourn those things then we might be able to receive his love for
the first time, and know what it really is: it’s a love which is willing to be patient
with our rejection, and will even embrace our rejection, if that will help us find
our way to love in the end.
Our Old Testament lesson says, “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn
us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two
days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live
before him. Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord“ (Hosea 6:1–3). God
has torn us by wounding our hearts with the knowledge of our own violence
toward him. But God will also bind us up. We can return to him and he will
welcome us. The same cross which is a sign of our offense is also a sign of
God’s patience. We may yet “live before him,“ if only we “press on to know the
This Good Friday will only be “good” if it can be for us a positive turning point in
the relationship between us and God. And it can be.