Monday, April 9, 2012

Good Friday - 2012

There is a green hill far away,

outside a city wall,

where the dear Lord was crucified

who died to save us all.

The scene is not a pleasant one – and the sounds and the smells make it all the more unbearable. There was a stench of garbage, of human waste, death and decay filled the air.  Not even the smell of sour wine, offered as if in jest, could ease the sickness all around. The sounds, not of angels singing, but human voices shouting, angry voices filling the air with profanity: mixed with contempt and accusation. Ridicule and cries of hatred ring out, as the dying man hangs naked on a cross. Humiliated and fighting for every breath, no sympathy was to be found in the voices that rose above the crowd, instead the words stung like salt rubbed into a gaping wound.

The tormentors, those who mocked him were almost giddy, as if drunk with rage and their sense of power – they see their victim suffer and hear him groan. They said,

­   You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days,

­   Save yourself!

­   Surely, they thought, he must want to save himself,

… to save his own body, his own blood.

Others holler,

­   “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

­   “He saved others, he cannot save himself.”

They laugh at his spent power. Many of them had witnessed his miracles, what he had done for others. But now they jeer at him as he hangs on the cross - powerless.

­   Why won’t he do for himself what he did for others?

­   He must be too weak.

He is weak, weakened by whips and nails.

­   If he is the King, let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe. Give us this sign!

­   He trusts in God, let God deliver him now.

There’s a familiarity to these voices. Jesus, in the wilderness, was offered food, political power and religious devotion.

­   Don’t starve, turn these stones into bread.

­   Show your mighty power and the rulers of this world will follow you.

­   Command angels to care for you and all will worship you.

What more could he want? What more would the saviour of the world want? Power: physical, political and religious. The temptations of the wilderness became the temptation of the cross.

­   Come down!

But Jesus would have none of it. He couldn’t be turned away from his mission. He didn’t hang on the cross, beaten and broken, for himself - no, not even for God, but for all of humanity, even those whose voices he heard insulting him. Even for the soldiers, and for Pilate, for the whole world.

There was no fear of God in the crowd that day. They dared God and he hung there in silence, bones and joints stretched out of place, every breath - painful.

Never does Jesus lash back at them:

­   He was oppressed, he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth;

­   like a lamb led to the slaughter,

­   like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,

­   so he opened not his mouth.

Isaiah chapter 53, verse 7.

And we are filled with indignation at the thought of what they did to our Lord, the saviour of the world, God’s chosen one, God’s son, the anointed one, the Christ. Indignant! We can be indignant until we realize that our sins rose against him too. We are not so innocent. We are not the ones, who hung him on a cross, but the question,

­   were you there when they crucified my Lord?

… is a distressing one.

Every sinful thought or word or accusation against another is a sinful thought and word and accusation against God. And the Good News is that, today, as God bore it in the flesh then, God bears our sin now.

You’ve heard it before; perhaps you’ve said it:

­   My sin is too great for God to forgive.

But God’s power to save, to forgive is beyond endless.

As he died on the cross, the full weight of every sin fell upon him. From the greatest to the smallest of our sins, all of it weighs heavily on the dying body of Jesus: our sin as much as the sin of those who mocked and spat at him. The cross bears every sin, and if any of us can sing of a “Wondrous Cross,” it’s only because in the cross of Jesus Christ, God does not bring wrath, but mercy, forgiveness and love.

The great irony of what they did that day, convicting him of treason and blasphemy, cracking a whip, nailing his hands and feet, throwing insults, tempting him to come off the cross, yelling at him to save himself, the irony was that they couldn’t see that it was by his death that he was saving others, that he was saving them.

They thought that if Jesus was the Messiah, he could come down from the cross and save himself. They were mistaken about the nature of being the Messiah, of being God’s chosen one, God’s Son. His death shows the depth of God’s love. By this awful death there is forgiveness of sins, and without forgiveness, we would all be lost. Jesus gave his life to save us.

His entire life, from incarnation to cross, Jesus is “for others.” It is at the cross that the Gospel strikes us full force, with the news, with the Good News that this awful event is for you. All this suffering, every whip, every nail, every insult, all of this was to bring you to God.

There is a green hill far away,

outside a city wall,

where the dear Lord was crucified

who died to save us all. Amen.

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