“We glory in your cross, O Lord, and praise and glorify your holy resurrection; for by virtue of your cross joy has come to the whole world.” (BCP p. 281) Today is the second hearing of the Passion Gospel this week. On Palm Sunday we focused on the shift from cheers of the crowd and the triumphal entry, to the rejection and execution of Messiah. Today on Good Friday, we hear again the dramatic reading of the Passion Gospel and through today’s liturgy and today, we focus on Jesus’ cross.
The cross of Rome was used by an oppressive, violent empire as an instrument of torture, agony, and death. Its purpose was to keep the population in line, to maintain dominance, to stand as a sign of power wielded over the people it ruled. If one stepped out of line, they were sent to the cross as a public spectacle. In many cases, the person crucified may have been a real criminal, but also they may have been an outspoken political figure, an advocate against Roman oppression, or even a victim of injustice.
Jesus was a victim of injustice. The loving, reconciling, healing, presence of God among us became the target of Roman and the religious establishment’s oppression. Jesus was a threat to the power systems, with his agenda of self-giving love and the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven, he posed a great risk to the power-wielders. What they failed to realize that the humble servant was God present with us.
God was with us, God was present in Christ as the willing victim, whose obedience to forgiveness and non-violence, led him to the cross of Calvary. “We glory in your cross, O Lord, and praise and glorify your holy resurrection; for by virtue of your cross joy has come to the whole world.”
Jesus was faithful to love and non-violence until the end. When in the moment he needed the disciples the most, he thought only of them, “Let them go,” was his cry as the soldiers wanted to take them too in the Garden. When Peter resorted to violence and drew a sword to cut off the ear of the soldier, Jesus reminded Peter that non-violent love was the way of salvation. Then, as the terrible torture was near its end, Jesus cried, “It is finished.” It is complete. The work of Christ was complete and he remained the loving servant, even up to the very last.
Jesus did not engage in vindication against the atrocities waged against him, nor did he retaliate against those who crucified him, he remained the loving, obedient servant to the last, and He fulfilled the abundant love of God that has no bounds, even love in the face of rejection and death on the cross.
The cross for us is a symbol of the salvific work of Christ for all of creation. Over the centuries there have been multiple theories about the significance of the cross and Christ’s death. The work of Christ is for us, for our salvation and life lived in a reconciled relationship with God. God in Christ made possible the reconciliation of humanity unto Godself by making a way for our mutual sharing of the divine life. This great reconciliation became a reality through God’s full participation in human life in Christ.
God in Christ experienced birth, suffering, betrayal and death. Our salvation began on the initiative of God in Christ, who came to participate fully in humanity’s destiny, which brings life and does not end with death. Faithful to his mission of love and grace, Christ did not give in to the threat of death, and engage in the often normal human response of vindication or retaliation. Jesus revealed God’s love and forgiveness even in the face of persecution, torture, and death, but his death was not the story’s end.
In those moments, the tide of the world had changed, and life would never be the same, because God declared that death’s sting was defeated. The cross has now been transformed from a sign of torture, death and power, and has become for all of creation, the sign of the new reality of God’s presence with us who with outstretched arms, God declares, “I love you this much.”
By the cross, God in Christ subverted the power of retaliation, violence, and vindication. Through the cross of Christ, God lived out in us a love beyond imagine. The cross declares that in God’s kingdom, all are called to participate in the divine life of God without bounds. We who have received the grace of that participation, stand as witness to the world that God invites us all to participate in the divine life of reconciliation, love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy.
That divine life rejects violence in all its forms and thus, we must love without bounds. We must take up the banner of suffering, of reconciliation and restoration, and we must demonstrate Christ’s love in the world. In a few moments, a cross will be brought into the church and each of us will be given the opportunity to express our devotion to the one who bore it for us. “We glory in your cross, O Lord, and praise and glorify your holy resurrection; for by virtue of your cross joy has come to the whole world.”