Friday, April 02, 2010

Standing at the Foot of the Cross

Good Friday – Year C (RCL)
Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42
Friday, April 2, 2010 –
Trinity, Redlands

Here we are, standing at the foot of the Cross. As we look up at the tortured body hanging on it, we cannot help but look back and reflect on how we got to this point, maybe even trying to figure out what went wrong. Over the past week we have been with Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem and during his last few days with his disciples. We have witnessed his triumphal entry into Jerusalem last Sunday, with waving of palms and shouts of “Hosanna!” Last night we shared the Passover meal with Jesus in the upper room. But then, in the midst of such a festive occasion, things took a turn. One of our own betrayed Jesus. As a result, in the early hours of this morning Jesus was arrested. We followed as he was escorted away, subjected to a so-called trial before Pontius Pilate. We then witnessed the cruel treatment of Jesus at the hands of the Romans, as he was mocked and flogged. And then we walked with Jesus as he took his last steps, as he carried his own cross out of the city to Golgotha. We watched in horror as the Roman soldiers nailed him to the Cross, like a common criminal. And now, here we are, standing at the foot of the Cross, looking up at our crucified Lord and Master.

This is our Messiah? The one who had been foretold by the prophets, whom we have awaited for so long? This is our Savior? How can someone so weak, so helpless, be our savior? We must have been wrong.

No, we weren’t wrong. For things are not always what they seem. Let’s step back and take another look. You can tell a lot about a situation by looking at power dynamics.

The Romans were the ones with the power, right? They were the ones in control, right? After all, they were the ones who tried Jesus, found him guilty, and sentenced him to death. Yes, the Romans were ostensibly the ones in authority. They are the legal authority of the land. But did you notice how Pilate, the one in charge, tried to get out of taking responsibility. He kept going back to the chief priests, trying to convince them that Jesus wasn’t guilty, trying to find a way to turn the matter back over to the Jewish authorities, where it rightfully belonged. Pilate saw that this was really a religious matter, a local dispute that really had nothing to do with the Romans. But the chief priests, through some carefully chosen words, convince Pilate to see things their way. “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor.” It turns out that, in this particular matter, Pilate was really only a puppet of the chief priests. He was manipulated into playing his part, into finding Jesus guilty and pronouncing sentence.

So then, it was really the chief priests and the Pharisees who were in control, right. After all, they are the religious authority. And the whole dispute with Jesus was about religion and relationship with God, right? Not having the legal authority to accomplish their own desires, that is, the death of this heretic Jesus, they manipulated things behind the scenes to get the Romans to do their dirty work. And in so doing, they refused to take responsibility. In fact, to protect themselves, they eventually wimped out, claiming to be loyal subjects of Caesar, the enemy.

But you know what? Those who appear to be in authority, the Romans, the chief priests, were really cowards, engaged in a dance to try to get the other to do their dirty work. The real authority in all of this, the one with the real power, was the one on trial, the one sentenced, the one crucified.

From the beginning, Jesus was in control of the situation. He willingly marched into Jerusalem, knowing what awaited him. In the garden, instead of running away, Jesus willingly stepped forward and boldly stated “I am he.” When Peter tried to prevent Jesus’ arrest, Jesus ordered him to stand down, that this was what needed to happen. Then at the trial before Pilate, it certainly seemed that Jesus guided, even manipulated the discourse with Pilate through judicious use of taunting questions and cryptic, even insolent, responses. It’s like Jesus manipulated Pilate into finding him guilty, into pronouncing sentence – death by crucifixion. And even here, as he hangs on the Cross, he still exercises control and authority, guiding actions that fulfill scripture.

As we look back at the events of this past week, of the past few hours, we see that Jesus is really the one in control of these events and their outcome. And while it looks like what is happening here at Golgotha is a cruel, inhumane, unjust death, the result of a mockery and miscarriage of justice, it could have happened no other way. Sure, the specifics maybe could have been different, but the end result would have had to have been the same. For the whole purpose of Jesus’ life was to bring about the definitive reconciliation between humanity and God. But to do that, both parties needed to be on equal terms – or as equal as possible. We cannot become like God, but God could become like us. So, to level the field, God needed to become one of us. He needed to be in human form to truly experience the limitations we have in not being divine, to experience all that we experience, just as we experience it – our temptations, our struggles, our frustrations, our sorrows, and our joys.

But even that was not quite enough. Because there was still one thing that stood in the way of complete reconciliation – one great divide that could not be overlooked. Our sinfulness. For even in becoming human, that is the one thing that God could not experience. So the only way to take care of this divide would be to provide a means for ultimate forgiveness of all the sin of humanity. Only then could reconciliation occur.

The first part was relatively easy. Through God made flesh, Jesus, God could himself experience what it means to be human – the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. And that even meant the ability to experience something that God, despite being God, could not experience on his own – death. And therein lay the key to dealing with the second obstacle to reconciliation – sin. For what did YHWH require for the absolving of sin but death – death through Temple sacrifices, whereby an offering was made to atone for particular sins. But what form of sacrifice could possibly be appropriate and sufficient to atone for the sins of all humanity? The usual animal sacrifices would not do. Because of the magnitude of the sin for which forgiveness was being sought, even sacrifice of more precious life, of human life, would not be sufficient. No, atonement on this scale required something far beyond anything we could possibly provide. The only thing that would even begin to cover the debt would be the sacrifice of the perfect human, of that which is totally human and totally divine – Jesus, the only begotten son of God.

And so it was that this exercise of God incarnate provided the means by which atonement for all of humanity’s sin could be gained. And so it was that the events of the past week had to happen, under the guidance and authority of the one being tried, convicted, and crucified, no matter how unjustly, to insure that the debt would be paid. For this, Jesus willingly offered himself as sacrifice for our sins – to insure that the playing field would be completely leveled, paving the way for complete reconciliation between God and humanity.

At the Cross, God is joined to us in the experience of death. And that death is not just any death. It is a death of great sacrifice – the sacrifice that atoned for all the sins of humanity; the sacrifice of our Lord who willingly gave up his life for ours; and the sacrifice of a God who loves us so much that he was willing to suffer the ultimate sacrifice, that of his only son, so that our relationship with him might be secured and reconciled for all time.

Here we are, standing at the foot of the Cross. As we look up at the broken body hanging on in, we look back and reflect on how we got to this point. We are reminded of the cost incurred – by the one hanging on the Cross, and by his father our God. And we are reminded of just why this has happened. Maybe, through the tears, we might begin to catch a glimpse of just what this might mean. And in that glimpse, we see that the story is not over, but is only just beginning.

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

No comments: