Can You See Him?

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
April 7, 2023● Good Friday 
Gospel: John 18:1-19:42

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Can you see him? He is, for us, faceless and nameless. He is a Japanese Christian on a death march in Nagasaki, moving closer to the cross on which he will be hanged and stabbed to death with a javelin for refusing to denounce his faith in Jesus Christ. Tempted one final time by his executioners to deny Jesus, the faithful Christian eagerly asked, “Where is my cross?” When he was taken to the smallest cross, made just for him, he embraced it and held on to it like a child clings to his toy.[1] That’s because he was a child—12 years old—the youngest of the first 26 martyrs of Japan—six Franciscan friars and 20 of their converts, who, on February 5th, 1597 (423 years ago), were crucified at Nagasaki in the swift backlash of the Japanese rulers to stomp out all Christianity. Japanese Christians continued to be tortured and killed for 257 years (until 1854). Those who survived, risked their lives to worship in secret, and over generations, came to be known as the “hidden Christians.” Their unwavering faith in Christ preserved the faith for those who would come after them. 

In our gospel narrative, a crucified Jesus was dying on the cross. An intimate gathering took shape consisting of four women, including the mother of Jesus, and his beloved disciple, John.  The gathered five shared the experience of witnessing Jesus’ suffering on the way to Calvary; the driving of the nails into his hands and feet; and his agony. And, I imagine that Mary also saw the 12 year-old version of her son dying, and agonized over her helplessness to save him—heart wrenching.

The way of the cross is not for the faint of heart, and it belongs to each one of us. Jesus was fully obedient to God’s will when he willingly sacrificed himself and embraced the cross to suffer a scandalous death to save humankind from sin and death. As it was for Jesus, the way of the cross is a journey of obedience to God’s will for our lives.

Whether we struggle to carry our own cross, or wrestle with witnessing someone else’s struggle to carry their cross, obedience to God’s will is hard, risky, and necessarily requires sacrifice in order to use the crosses we bear so that we might live life abundantly now, while our bodies are helpless to escape the human condition of suffering.

As we each face our own experiences of cross bearing, throughout our lifetimes, recall that none of Jesus’ other disciples witnessed the cross event—they were in hiding fearing for their lives. Be prepared for the reality, as was Jesus’ reality, that those who are the closest to you may not be found standing with you in the darkest places of your suffering. But, be prepared, also, for the reality that Jesus stands with you, and embraces anyone—crosses and all—who does the will of his Father in Heaven.

Last night, after Maundy Thursday Mass, I posted images from our livestream to St. Paul’s Facebook and Instagram pages. As I selected the images, capturing the movement of the liturgy and using the red memorial altar set with my mother’s name sewn into several pieces—including the chasuble that I wore—I was reminded that when the red memorial set is used, my heart—at once—rejoices in the gift of my mother’s life and breaks that she is no longer here with me and those who loved her.

I continued to move through the images, capturing the stark contrast from the red vestments and altar hangings. Figures dressed in black, reverently moved as the sanctuary was emptied of its appointments, the altar stripped, washed and covered with black cloth. The images reminded me how soul-stirring (and heartbreaking) the stripping of the altar is; it’s one of the services that never fails to bring tears to my eyes.

Whether or not I am observing this movement from the pew or actively participating in the movement, my heart—at once—rejoices in the gift of Jesus’ life; his care in washing the feet of his disciples; his words of institution at the last supper; and the commandment he gave to his disciples to love one another as he had loved them, and my heart breaks, as Jesus agonizes in the garden of Gethsemane, awaiting the arrest that would lead to his suffering and death on a cross. 

So, can you see him? A man, who was once a 12-year-old boy, hangs on a wooden cross. The gospel tells the story and gives us the images. For us, this man is not faceless; he has a face with a head bloodied by a crown of thorns. For us, standing on this side of the cross, this man is not nameless; Jesus is the only Son of God who was given the name above all names in heaven and on earth[2]. For us, this man, Jesus, embraced the cross and clung to it, not for the sake of his own life, but for the sake of ours. 

Tonight, we stand at the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother, the other women and John, embracing the extraordinary gift of Good Friday and pondering the ways in which we must embrace the myriad crosses in our lives before this mortal life comes to an end.

If you are in a season of rejoicing, tonight let that joy permeate your soul. If you are in a season of heartbreak, tonight let your heart break freely. And, if you’re experiencing a season of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (a nod to the 2022 Academy Award-winning movie), know that you are not alone. Rest in knowing that Christ is Everything, Everywhere All at Once.

Good Friday challenges us to hold—at once—the joy in God’s gift to us in the obedient life of His only Son and in the heartbreak for the sacrifice that only Christ could make.

We await, with hopeful expectation, Resurrection Sunday. We are not there yet. We must first go through suffering, death and grief, for there can be no resurrection without the cross. Here, at the foot of the cross, there is joy and there is heartbreak. Remember to embrace both.

[1] “The Martyrs of Japan,” Satucket Lectionary,, accessed on August 28, 2020.

[2] Philippians 2:9-11