St Stephen, Lewisham

Good Friday 14th April 2006

Oh My God!

Oh my God!

All of us, at one time or another have said those words, either out loud or to ourselves.

Oh my God!

These words suggest to me a teenage girl, the apple of her parents’ eye, the most promising member of her year at school who discovers that she is pregnant as a result of meeting an attractive young man at a party who seduced her into bed with him. Well – everyone was doing it; her school-friends said it was a well-known fact that you couldn’t get pregnant the first time, and – well – she was just curious.

Or they put me in mind of a long-serving Company Secretary who, in a moment of weakness ‘borrows’ a few hundred pounds from petty cash (fully intending to pay it back, you understand) to pay a Final Demand from his mortgage company. But his dishonesty comes to light before he has had the chance to straighten the matter out.

Oh my God!

What these, and our own experiences have in common is called a ‘fall from grace’. The pain lies not just in their consequences but even more in realizing that we have betrayed the trust which others have placed in us. And not just others: for we ourselves have, by that one deed or word, destroyed at a stroke that image of ourselves, reliable and morally upright, which we have so carefully built up over the years.

Oh my God!

And then these words suggest two men who, went through a similar experience on the first Good Friday. Their names were Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter. Judas, who was Jesus’s Treasurer, had betrayed his whereabouts to the Secret Police; Simon Peter, Jesus’s Head Apostle had claimed never to have known him in order to get himself out of trouble no less than three times during the previous evening .

When someone says anything three times they mean people to think they’re telling the truth.

On Good Friday we focus, quite properly, on the sufferings endured by Jesus Christ as he hung on the gallows outside the city wall. But this afternoon let’s think about these two other men. They may not even have gone to Calvary (there is no record of their being there). However, each of them had played a major part in bringing about the disgraceful injustice which it represented.

Oh my God! Can’t you just hear Peter and Judas saying this to themselves, over and over again, as each one nursed his wounded pride in the lonely solitude which always results from such a fall from grace?

To be fair to them, both men realised almost immediately that they had done wrong.

Judas went to the High Priest and said so in so many words: ‘I have sinned and betrayed an innocent man’. He even went so far as to try and undo the evil by returning the money they had paid him for the job he’d done for them. But to no avail. ‘What’s that to us?’ they said. ‘It’s none of our business’. But Judas wasn’t prepared to allow his convictions to lead him into doing the right thing. Rather than go to Jesus on Calvary, confess to what he’d done and receive his forgiveness; rather than go to one of the Apostles, St John perhaps, and admit that he’d let them all down, he went and hanged himself.

Simon Peter, as Judas probably did, ‘went out and wept bitterly’. But whether he went to Calvary or not to seek reconciliation with Jesus (and it may well have been too late by then, because Jesus had died very quickly), we know that by the same evening he was back again with the other Apostles in the Upper Room, supporting, and being supported by them in their common grief.

Whenever we say those three little words ‘Oh my God!’, whether it’s you or I or St Peter or Judas or a pregnant schoolgirl or a dishonest Accountant we are, without realizing, saying something very important. We are standing on the threshold of Repentance and taking the first step towards putting matters right with God our Heavenly Father.

The fact that we call Him ‘God’ suggests that we know, in our heart of hearts, that what really matters is that we have failed Him, and not just tarnished our own self-image; that we call Him ‘My’ God means that we recognize that we have a relationship with Him which has been ruptured by what we have done or failed to do; whilst the exclamation ‘Oh!’ is our body’s automatic cry for attention and help in an emergency, so saying ‘Oh God’ implies that we believe God can, and will, help us in the mess we’re in..

Wise spiritual directors assure us that it is at moments like these – ‘Oh-my-God!’ moments – that we come closest to God Himself, whatever our feelings may suggest to the contrary. But of course it’s what we do next that really matters. Do we seek reconciliation with God (like St Peter), or do we, like Judas, choose the final estrangement from Him?

God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, no longer holding men’s misdeeds against them’, says St Paul; and he goes on to say ‘in Christ’s name, we implore you, be reconciled to God! …Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation’.

What more need we say? It’s can all be summed up in two short sentences: ‘Oh my God’; and ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner’.

And just in case anyone asks us ‘so where can I find my God in order to be reconciled to Him?’ we need only point them towards Jesus hanging on the Cross and say ‘there He is, dying for you and for me’.

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