Address 221 N. Front Street, Harrisburg, PA 17101

Experience It Again

Sermons & Resources

Maybe you particularly enjoyed a sermon and would like to revisit or share with someone else. Or maybe you missed a sermon. We regularly archive our sermons, reflections and other useful content.

Good Friday: God In The Midst Of Suffering

Apr 2, 2021

By

My dear friends, it is such an honour and a joy to speak to you at this Good Friday service. I wish that I could see all your faces looking back at me from your favorite pews, but I’m grateful that we’ve had the opportunity and space to celebrate Holy Week together, even if it’s virtual. So I hope you’ve pulled up a comfy chair, at least one more comfy than our lovely wooden pews, and you are all ready to reflect on suffering.

I know many of you may be tuning in to this service feeling heavy — after 40 days of Lent and 365+ days of COVID-induced fasting, it might feel harder than ever to reflect on Christ’s suffering and death on the cross.

Some of you may be thinking, Chloe got the short end of the stick, preaching the Good Friday service, but I actually chose it and here’s why: after over a year of COVID-tide, struggling with my own suffering and struggling with the suffering of this nation and with the suffering of my neighbors who are unemployed, mourning the death of loved ones, experiencing homeless due to utility shut-offs and late rent, and dying because of racial violence, I have struggled to hear God’s voice and feel God’s presence. How can God be in the midst of all this?

So yes, reflecting and wrestling with Christ’s suffering has been a challenge, but it’s also been a necessity. And so I invite you, friends, to enter into this reflection with me. It may be uncomfortable, but I pray that it will be healing and help us prepare to celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter.

Before I delve into our scripture passages for today, I first want to address why talking about suffering matters. Many of us have likely heard some of these common Christian responses to suffering: we have been told “Your suffering has a purpose, a meaning. It is a step towards salvation and a test to bring you closer to God.” We’ve been told God will not give us anything that we can’t handle, because God is a loving God. Tell that to Job, right? Tell that to the Israelites in Exile.

In his book This is the Night, James Farwell, a theologian and priest, discusses the importance of the Holy Week liturgies, including the Good Friday service. In it, he pushes back against the idea that suffering has a purpose — suffering, he says, is the human condition. It isn’t a “step” to redemption, it isn’t “meaningful” — before Christ, he says, we lived “brutish lives, mean and short.”

Farwell also pushes back at what he describes as the “myth of progress:” our society’s narrative around our history and the belief that everything is continually improving. In the same vein, we as modern Christians tend to skip over the suffering of Christ to talk about his resurrection. This turns Good Friday into a quick, unpleasant step on the path to glory. When we bring up suffering and injustice, we are often told to “be grateful” for all the advances our society has made. And in many ways our society is better than it was a hundred years ago and even 50 years ago, within many of our lifetimes.

But suffering is still all around us, and with COVID-19, it’s been right at our doorstep. In addition to the virus, people are dying everyday in the U.S. because of hunger, because of inadequate healthcare and housing, a changing climate, and because of racial and gendered violence. The Church needs to talk about this suffering. As Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans, “For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering.”

What does our scripture for today tell us about suffering? In both Psalm 22 and in the gospel reading, we hear Christ echoing the psalmist’s sense of God’s absence when he cries out, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” I think it’s appropriate for the Church to also cry out — where is God in our present moment? Where is God in all this turmoil?

At this point, we’re all pretty familiar with the story of Christ’s crucifixion, so I want to spend some time digging into Psalm 22. Psalm 22 was likely written by King David. It may be a poetic reflection of David’s personal suffering, I mean the man did go through some pretty tough things in his lifetime, but I think it can also be read as cry to God about the state of Israel and the collective suffering of its people, especially since David, as the God-chosen leader of Israel, struggled with political challenges and wars, which affected the entire nation.

We see this collective suffering when the speaker cries out, “you are the one Israel praises. In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them.” This feels like an accusation against God and what has felt like his absence and neglect of Israel, especially in light of God’s covenant with his people.

In the next stanza, the speaker returns to this covenant saying, “Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.” The psalmist is saying to God, ‘you have created us and you have created us to be your people. You have shaped us and you cannot sit back and allow us to suffer.’

In some of the most haunting lines of the psalm, the speaker describes his brokenness and suffering, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth, you lay me in the dust of death.”

Here the psalmist is saying that his body is broken, that his heart, his entire being is used up like a melted candle, that his voice is useless like a broken shard of pottery, and that God is leading him and his people to death. The speaker is saying,  you have given me more than I can bear. God, you have not held your covenant with my ancestors and me.’

But about halfway through the psalm we see the speaker turn, “I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.” And later, “For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”

It almost seems as though the psalmist has walked away in the middle of writing and come back a while later, after a meal or a nap, with a change of perspective. While this is a possible interpretation, I think there’s something a little more complex going on. In the first half of the psalm, the speaker goes back-and-forth seemingly stanza by stanza between describing his pain and holding God accountable. What really gets me is when the psalmist reminds God that he has been God’s since he was first born. It feels as though this psalmist is saying that “even in the midst of suffering, my personal suffering and my people’s collective suffering, I cannot and will not turn my back on you God, because you have made me yours.”

Now, what the psalmist couldn’t have known and what we as modern-day Christians see almost immediately, are the seemingly prophetic references to Christ on the cross. Not only does Christ himself directly reference this psalm when he cries out the opening line, but in our gospel reading today, John quotes this psalm when he’s recounting how Jesus’s torturers divided his clothes amongst themselves.

In the Isaiah text today, the prophet poetically describes a suffering servant, one who was, “despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity.” My fellow Handel fans will also have recognized some of these quotes from Isaiah as Handel describes Christ, “He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”

We see an interesting reversal in Isaiah as although, “we like sheep are gone astray” it is the good shepherd, Christ, who is sacrificed as an offering. Christ has come into the human condition, into the most brutal humiliation and suffering, bearing even the absence of God the Father while dying on the cross. Unlike us, Christ had many opportunities to turn away from his suffering. But he took up his Cross, and he was betrayed, humiliated, tortured, and died.

What does Christ’s suffering mean for us? We know that becoming a part of the body of Christ does not mean that we get a pass on suffering. We still have to live in this broken, fallen world. We still have to die. The “Good news of Easter,” James Farwell writes, is “God’s power and will to transform our lives not after we “get through” suffering, but in the midst of it.” (8-9)

This semester I have been taking a class through the Stevenson School about racism in the Church called, “Repairing the Breach.” One of the essays that we were assigned to read is called, “The Pain of Racism,” written by Charles D. Fowler III, a Black deacon in the Episcopal Church. In his essay, Fowler talks about the role of the Church in societal injustice and suffering. He talks about Dr. Martin Luther King jr.’s life and legacy, particularly his participation and leadership with other Black ministers and lay-folks in the Civil Rights Movement.

Fowler recounts how Dr. King & other Black ministers announced that they “would lead a march to the Birmingham jail on Good Friday and that he, Abernathy, and Shuttlesworth would wear denim work clothes, the movement’s “sacrificial uniform.” Abernathy told the reporters that Christ had died on the cross nearly two thousand years ago and “tomorrow we will take it up [the Cross] for our people and die if necessary.” (267) He was talking about taking up the Cross.

Why has the Covid-19 pandemic been so heartbreaking? It is because we cannot turn away from the suffering at our door, in the same way Dr. King and his fellow pastors couldn’t turn their back on their community’s suffering, because it was one with their own suffering. Fowler’s essay is centered around the question, “Do we feel the pain of others?” I want to add to the question:  do we feel the pain, not just of others, but those who have been “othered?”

What’s so striking about Christ’s death on the cross is the love and compassion that it embodies.  We have all been through times where we suffered out of love for another, whether it be a sick friend or a dying family member. But how often do we feel the pain of another who is not our family or friend? How often do we hold collective suffering? For those that have read the news at all for the last year, you know how easy it is to instantly get overwhelmed with all the pain that people are experiencing. But as the Catholic activist and nun Dorothy Day wisely said, “I really only love God as much as love the person I love the least” (187).

I want to close with a reflection on Julian of Norwich, a 14th century mystic, theologian, and English saint who survived the bubonic plague, a plague that historians estimate killed off anywhere from a third to half of Europe’s population at the time. Julian’s own family and most of her community were victims of this horrible disease, a tragedy that we can only begin to imagine. Throughout her ministry she wrestled with suffering, both her own and those of the people she ministered to. But along with other mystics in her time, she found incredible comfort in Christ’s suffering and sought to ache for what Christ ached for, his people and his world.

In the midst of Christ’s suffering and her own suffering, she wrote, “all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” This, my friends, is the Good Friday promise, that Christ’s suffering for us has redeemed our own suffering. As the Body of Christ, we are joined with him as he suffers through us and within us for the world. My friends, wherever you may be, whatever cross you might bear, know this: in Christ you are not alone, and although we do not know all ends, “all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”

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

Interested in St. Stephen's?

Interested in becoming a member? Want to hear our sermons in person? Leave us a message for more info!

  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Stay Up to Date

Keeping up with the latest sermons and most important news at St. Stephen’s has never been easier with our eNews texts!

To sign up for our eNews text STSTEPINFO at 22828 or call the church office at 717.236.4059.

Never Ending Grace

Discover More

Our archived sermons contain loads of lessons to be read, learned, and lived. Keep reading to discover how God can change your life forever.

Serve in WorshipAcolyte

Acolytes carry the cross and torches at processions and help the priest prepare for Holy Communion. This ministry is ideal for youth (grades 7 and up), and is also open to adults. A brief training session is offered to help you learn the job. Acolytes are scheduled on a rotating basis.

Clergy & StaffAmy Welin

Dean | Email: adwelin@ststep.org

The Very Rev. Dr. Amy D. Welin has been serving as the Dean of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral since August 2017.

Prior to her priestly ordination, Amy worked as an instructor of medieval and world history, an insurance claims processor, and a pastoral associate in a large mid-western church. Before accepting the call  of the Cathedral Church of St. Stephen in Harrisburg, she served a variety of parishes in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, as a member of the Standing Committee and the Chapter of Christ Church Cathedral.

One of the founding members of the Episcopal Clergy Association in Connecticut (ConnECA), and a prior board member of the Network of Episcopal Clergy Associations (NECA), Amy devotes her energy to issues of clergy and parish wellness.

Married to Greg Welin, who is also an Episcopal priest, and mother of four young adults, Amy likes to garden and practice yoga in her free time.

Clergy & StaffCindy Harbert

Administrator | Email: charbert@ststep.org

Cindy Coombs Harbert joined the staff at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral in 2017.  Most of Cindy’s professional career has been centered around non-profit administration.  Cindy holds a BA in social work and education from West Virginia Wesleyan College and has completed graduate coursework in counseling at Messiah University. The mother of two adult children, she enjoys traveling, volunteering in the community, watching field hockey, and exploring new places that she hasn’t visited before.

Clergy & StaffFred Miller

Canon Pastor

The Rev. Canon Fred Miller began on staff as Canon Pastor for spiritual care July 2020.

Fred is a MDIV graduate of the Episcopal Divinity School with graduate studies in Congregational Development at Seabury Western Seminary, and marriage and family counseling at Trinity Counseling Center, Princeton. He served 4 parishes in New Jersey before coming to Central PA at All Saints’, Hershey. After receiving certification with the Interim Ministry Network he served in NJ, & Kansas, before returning to this diocese, working in Altoona, State College & Williamsport. Serving with the YWCA as a volunteer, retired Red Cross volunteer and as a previous College Chaplain in two states has opened the possibilities of living into the Episcopal Church becoming a bridge to interfaith relations.

Married to Kris with whom we proudly share three children, now grown. Fred enjoys outdoor activities, simple meals, and quiet conversation.

Clergy & StaffGene Schofield

Parish Nurse

Gene was born and grew up on family farm in MN. After getting her Bachelor’s degree in nursing, she worked at a Navy hospital where she met and married her husband, Mike. The mother of 4 (Kirsten died of CP complications at age 40) she keeps busy with her children, her 9 grandchildren and her great-granddaughter. Gene returned to work in nursing after her children were in middle school with her last position being a Hospice nurse until her retirement in 2008. Gene is available to assist the newly diagnosed, helps with securing durable medical equipment and checks in with those on our prayer list on a weekly basis.

Serve in WorshipGreeter

Greeters are the public face of the Cathedral on Sunday mornings. Our greeting team welcomes guests and members alike, and helps guests find a seat and matches them up with a member to assist them in the service.

Clergy & StaffJordan Markham

Director of Music

Jordan R. Markham studied at The Peabody Conservatory of The Johns Hopkins University and Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. He is a classically-trained lyric-baritone, pianist, organist, and conductor, having previously studied under the Grammy-winning baritone, William Sharp and soprano Susan Solomon Beckley of Bucknell University. For two years he was a professional chorister at The Washington National Cathedral, and was a paid chorister and soloist in The Handel Choir of Baltimore. While with the Handel Choir, he sang the tenor solo role of Apollo in Handel’s Semele, the tenor solo in Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy (both with full orchestra), and the tenor solo in Benjamin Britten’s Rejoice in The Lamb. Prior to this, he sang the baritone solo in Rossini’s  Petite Messe Solennelle with the Peabody Singers and most recently has been heard singing the baritone solo in The Seven Last Words Of Christ by Theodore Dubois, accompanied by a full orchestra.

Throughout the past decade, Mr. Markham has performed at The Meyerhoff Symphony Hall with The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Nobuo Uematsu, composer of the soundtracks for the Final Fantasy Games. He has also sung at Carnegie Hall, The Boston Symphony Hall, and the Jackie Gleason Theatre. He has been active in the musical theatre scene for over a decade directing, accompanying, and acting in theaters throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland. Mr. Markham has most recently been seen in South Pacific with The Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra, as “Jimmy” in Reefer Madness, “Peter” in Bare: A Pop Opera, and as “Chip” in The 25th Annual Putnum County Spelling Bee, for which he was also the music director and whose cast received a nomination by Broadway World for Best Ensemble. He has also performed onstage with the Peabody Opera in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and  Cosi fan tutte, Verdi’s La Traviata, and Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen.

Mr. Markham is currently the Artistic Director and Conductor of The Central Pennsylvania Womyn’s Chorus, and a co-founding member of Allegro con Fuoco, a keyboard duo with Tyler A. Canonico, and proudly serves as the Director of Music and Organist at St Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. 

Serve in WorshipLay Eucharistic Minister

Lay Eucharistic Ministers (LEMs) assist the clergy at the altar by distributing Holy Communion to members of the congregation. LEMs are scheduled based on their availability to serve one or more Sundays each month. This ministry is open to all baptized and confirmed members of the church, after attending two hours of training and receiving a license from the Bishop of Central Pennsylvania.

Serve in WorshipLay Worship Leader

Do you have an interest in leading prayer and worship services that do not require ordained clergy? By receiving a license as a Lay Worship Leader from the Bishop of Central Pennsylvania, you will be able to lead the congregation in Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and other prayer services. This ministry requires significant study and preparation, and is open to all baptized and confirmed members of the church. 

Serve in WorshipLector

Lectors proclaim the Word of God by reading from the Old Testament and the New Testament during worship services. Lectors are scheduled based on their availability. All interested persons are eligible to become lectors by attending a 30-minute orientation session.

Clergy & StaffMicalagh Moritz

Director of Formation for Young Adults and Youth

In 2021, Micalagh transitioned into the role of Director of Youth & Young Adult Formation. She previously served as the Sycamore House Program Director, starting in 2017. She has over 15 years of experience in various community nonprofits in Harrisburg, Belize, and Washington, DC.

She majored in Human Development & Family Science in college, and continued on to receive her Masters in Social Work. She has a counseling and therapy background, which is applicable to many areas of life-both on the job and off. She has worked with youth and young adults in many different settings, including through Harrisburg-based after-school programs, through the Sycamore House, as Director of a study abroad program in Belize, and through teaching college courses locally.

She is passionate about helping to create healing spaces for people to grow and learn, exploring the intersections of faith and justice, and building bridges between people of various backgrounds. She is also passionate about spiritual formation as an integral part of building community.

Micalagh lives in Harrisburg and can often be found riding her bike up Riverfront Park, in a local café, or walking to Broad Street Market. She is married to Joshua Moritz, a middle school Case Manager and farmer at heart, and they have 2 children who attend St. Stephen’s Episcopal School. 

Clergy & StaffMichael Frascella

Facilities Manager

Michael Frascella has served as our part-time Facilities Manager for several years.  He works diligently to see that our campus stays beautiful, our buildings are problem-free, and that there are inviting and welcoming spaces for all who enter our doors.  Michael is a member of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral and is the father of two adult children and the grandfather of 4. 

Clergy & StaffMichael Nailor

Deacon

Michael was born and raised in Mechanicsburg, PA as a member of First Evangelical United Brethren (United Methodist) where he was active throughout childhood and as a young adult.  He came to the Episcopal Church while he was in college at the University of Pennsylvania.  The pioneering women of the “Philadelphia Eleven” had just been irregularly ordained and the church was struggling with the role of women in leadership. Michael was drawn to a church that was willing to deal with – sometimes successfully, sometimes not – the important social justice issues of the day. 

Agreeing to disagree but still staying in communion around the Holy Table appealed to this English teacher and debate coach throughout his 41-year career in education.  Michael serves the Diocese of Central PA as a deacon at St. Stephen’s Cathedral as he has since his ordination in 2018. He also works at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral.

Serve in WorshipPrayer Leader

Prayer Leaders lead the Prayers of the People during worship services. Prayers are led from among the congregation, with prayer leaders adding a prayer of their own choosing to reflect the needs of the moment. All persons are eligible for this ministry — a brief orientation session is available to help prepare you for leading prayers.

Service OpportunitiesArtsFest

Downtown Harrisburg

Artsfest is always held the weekend of Memorial Day, Saturday through Monday, with St. Stephen’s members serving hot dogs, hamburgers, snow cones and beverages, while tours of the Cathedral are offered along with free organ concerts every hour. The profits from our ArtsFest work are all dedicated to a selection of service groups in the city.

Service OpportunitiesCommon Ground Cafe

Allison Hill - Harrisburg

When is a breakfast more than just a meal? When it is a community center, a kids’ craft session, a book nook for adults, a reading program and book giveaway for children, an opportunity for family members and neighbors to visit in a warm, welcoming place.

Please join the volunteers and community members who make all of this happen on the last Saturday of every month at the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg at 1508 Market St. We serve about 250 people at each breakfast, so we need cooks, waiters, greeters, coffee servers, readers, a set up crew, dishwashers, piano players, and anyone who just wants the best breakfast in town!

Service OpportunitiesDowntown Daily Bread

Downtown Harrisburg

Downtown Daily Bread is a soup kitchen located at the Pine Street Presbyterian Church. Their mission is to provide services for the homeless & feed the hungry (40,000 meals/year) 7 days a week including weekends & holidays. On the first Sunday of every other month from approximately noon until 2 p.m., St. Stephen’s serves the food trays and then helps clean up afterward.

Service OpportunitiesLittle Free Food Pantry

Jessica McClard launched the grassroots mini pantry movement on May 2016 in Fayetteville, AR, when she planted the Little Free Pantry Pilot, a wooden box on a post containing food, personal care, and paper items accessible to everyone all the time no questions asked.

Service OpportunitiesRMMS

We participate in an organized program to support and encourage refugees hoping to make the U.S. their home.

Service OpportunitiesSt. Barnabas Children's Ministry

Uptown Harrisburg

St. Barnabas was founded by our own Bishop Charlie McNutt and Bishop Guy Edmiston from the Lower Susquehanna Synod. Located in Uptown Harrisburg, St. Barnabas offers children ages 7 – 12 an 8-week summer day camp. A variety of experiences allow spiritual, emotional, physical, educational & social growth. St. Stephen’s provides food for the children, along with volunteers to prepare, serve and clean up.

Service OpportunitiesSusquehanna Harbor Safe Haven

Uptown Harrisburg

Operated by the ecumenical group Christian Churches United, Susquehanna Harbor is a residence for homeless men. St. Stephen’s, along with other churches and service groups, is responsible for staffing the 25-unit overnight shelter several weeks each year.

Clergy & StaffStuart Scarborough

Property Manager

Rev. Stuart Scarborough, Deacon, joined St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral part-time as a Property Manager after migrating northward from the Diocese of Maryland when his wife, Rev. Anjel Scarborough, was called to be Rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Hershey. Prior to relocating, Stuart spent 13 years managing facilities, including three years as Facilities Operations Director for St. John’s Episcopal Church and Parish Day School in Ellicott City, MD and, before that, ten years as Director of Operations at the Claggett Center, Maryland’s Diocesan conference, retreat and camp center in Adamstown, MD. Prior to this, Stuart, who has a BS degree in Chemical Engineering from Virginia Tech, worked for 20+ years in manufacturing. Stuart and Anjel have two adult children; Martin, who lives in Cockeysville, MD and Erin, who lives in Newark, DE.

As Property Manager, Stuart will oversee the care and maintenance of all the Cathedral buildings and property. In addition to this part-time role, Stuart is also serving part-time as Property Manager for the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania. In this role, Stuart will look after all buildings and properties that are owned by the Diocese, but are not parishes. Further, Stuart has been assigned as Deacon to Mt. Calvary Episcopal Church in Camp Hill.

Serve in WorshipTechnical Guild

Are you looking for a behind-the-scenes way to get involved? Consider joining our technical crew and learning to operate our sound and light systems. Sound and Light Technicians facilitate worship services by ensuring that sound levels and amplification are appropriate, and that lighting is used to highlight the liturgical action. Some training is required.

Serve in WorshipUsher

One of the primary functions of an usher is to guide guests and members to various parts of the Cathedral (restrooms, parlors, nursery, etc.) and to assist with any special needs (e.g. wheelchair access). Ushers are also trained to summon help in the case of any emergencies.