Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42
“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 liturgical move 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 our focus today is 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 was a criminal, but Rome also used the cross to deal with outspoken political figures who spoke against Roman oppression. Jesus was neither, but rather, he was a victim of injustice from a system, which kept people locked in the bondage of religious oppression.
Jesus, the loving, reconciling, healing, presence of God among us became the target of Roman and the religious establishment’s subjugation. Why? Because Jesus threatened the power systems, because his ministry of self-giving love called for the enactment of forgiveness and reconciliation and mercy ruled the day . Jesus had no plans to create political disruption, but to bring spiritual disruption into all our.
God in Christ was with us, God was present in Jesus Christ, who was the willing victim, whose obedience to forgiveness and non-violence led him, not to the glories of a throne, but to the cross of Calvary. Jesus was faithful to the end, but those who accompanied him in his work, in the moments when he needed them the most would only follow him so far. Jesus never abandoned his disciples and even when the soldiers in the garden wanted to arrest Peter, James, John, and the others, Jesus commanded them, “Let them go.”
But forgetting everything he learned from Jesus, Peter resorted to violence, drew a sword, and cut off the ear one of the soldiers. Jesus never strayed from his mission, and reminded Peter that violence was not the way to salvation, and he healed the soldier’s wound. Later on the cross as the terrible torture was near its end, Jesus’ cried, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” The work of Christ was complete and he remained the loving servant, even to his very last breath.
Jesus did not resort to acts of vindication against the atrocities waged against him, even though he could have done so. He did not retaliate against those who crucified him, as he could have done. No, Jesus remained the loving, obedient servant to the last, fulfilling the promises of God’s abundant love, which has no bounds, even in the face of rejection and death on the cross.
The cross of Jesus symbolizes God’s love, and although there are limitless theories about the significance of the cross and Christ’s death, simply stated the work of Christ is for us and for our salvation, which makes a way for life lived in a reconciled relationship with God. Our salvation began on the initiative of God, who came to participate fully in humanity’s destiny; life everlasting and not death. Christ did not give in to the fear of death, nor did he resort to the often normal human response of vindication or retaliation.
Jesus showed us the endless love of the Father, by being forgiveness even in the face of persecution, torture, and death. Death is now no longer the story’s end, and the world is forever changed, because life lived in hope of God’s promises will never be the same. The cross has now been transformed from a sign of torture, death and power, into the sign of the new reality of God’s presence with us, who with outstretched arms, God declares, “I love you this much.”
If we truly follow Jesus, then we must take up the banner of suffering ourselves, the emblem of reconciliation and restoration, and we must carry it as we demonstrate the Way of Jesus every day, Christ’s love for 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 not to the symbol, but to Jesus Christ, the one who bore a cross for us. If you take this opportunity to kneel at the cross, consider this simple prayer, “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.”