Friday, April 14, 2017

What God's Love Looks Like

Good Friday
Isaiah 52.13—53.12; Hebrews 4.14-16, 5.7-9; John 18.1—19.42
St. Gregory’s, Long Beach

We once again enter into God’s time. We now find ourselves standing at the foot of the cross, looking up at our Lord, nailed there, dying a horrible death. How did we get here? Our minds reel with the memory of the events of the past few hours. How a meal of unity quickly gave way to an act of betrayal. How a celebration of God’s justice gave way to an act of injustice. How an impassioned message of “love one another” gave way to hate-filled cries of “Crucify him!” How a celebration of life gave way to a sentence of death. It’s hard not see evil and hate in this gruesome scene.

But something about this scene just doesn’t seem right. The One hanging on the cross, dying, does not cry out in agony. He seems so composed. So certain. So in control even in the midst of such barbarism. As he prepares to draw his final breath, he does not cry out for mercy. He does not cry out for release. Instead, he calmly, even confidently, says “It is finished.”

“It is finished?” What’s that supposed to mean? Is Jesus just giving up?

Taken at face value, the events we have witnessed make absolutely no sense. But thankfully we have other information to go on. Information that might just help us make sense of that which makes no sense to our very human sensibilities. Information that comes together in God’s time, revealing the mystery of what we have just witnessed.

In our Old Testament reading, the prophet Isaiah presents the fourth Servant Song – a description of the one referred to as the Suffering Servant. Of the suffering of a “servant” whose afflictions generated healing and salvation for God’s people. “Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases . . . 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 . . . the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is 53.4-6). While having a different meaning at the time of its original writing, looked at through the eyes of faith, through the mystery of God’s time, we see that Isaiah anticipates the suffering of Jesus on behalf of others. In the fourth Servant Song, written some 500 years before the time of Jesus, we are able to see God acting through salvation history. We are able to see Christ’s voluntary suffering as effecting salvation for all. That through his death he bore the sins of many. That through his death He bore our sins.

Our Epistle reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, written about 40 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, depicts Jesus as a high priest who was able through his humanity, to fully relate to us in our sinfulness. ”For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb 4.15). Because of this, Jesus is viewed not as a victim of suffering, but rather as one who entered into death deliberately and willingly. To fulfill the mission foretold by Isaiah.

John’s narrative of Jesus’ death brings together these Old and New Testament visions of what has just happened on the cross. In this version of the Passion Narrative, Jesus is depicted as a royal and divine figure who is in control of his fate. That his actions are the fulfillment of scripture – of Isaiah, as interpreted through Hebrews. Jesus himself says as much, when interrogated by Pontus Pilate. In response to Pilate’s questioning as to whether he is indeed a king, Jesus responds “My kingdom is not from this world” (Jn 18.36). Jesus then provides further clarification as to how a supposed king would be in the position of being tried for blasphemy and face the specter of death. “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” (Jn 18.37). The truth of God’s love for his people – the truth portrayed in the fourth Servant Song in Isaiah. The way that truth is played out in the profession by the author of the letter to the Hebrews. The way that truth is manifested on a cross.

This is why Jesus was born. This is why Jesus lived. This is why Jesus came to Jerusalem. This is why Jesus is now hanging on the cross. All of this, to send a powerful message that not even the power of sin and death can stand in the way of the love of God. This is why Jesus, completely in control as he obediently fulfills his life’s purpose – his death’s purpose – is able to speak his final words. “It is finished.” John portrays him as a figure in control of his destiny, as the fulfillment of scripture. Jesus has completed the purpose of his human life. For in his death, Christ conquers sin. He conquers death itself. His own death finishes the work of bringing about eternal life. “It is finished.”

John’s version of the Passion makes it clear that Christians are not to despair at the memorial of Jesus’ death. In fact, in ancient times, this day was called the Triumph of the Cross. For Christ dying on the cross demonstrates the mystery of God’s self-giving love. That God loves his children so much that he was willing to let his only son take our sins upon him, and to die so that those sins might themselves be destroyed. And in his own death, death itself is even destroyed. Indeed, a triumph made on the cross. Even if one made at such a great cost.

In God’s time, we stand at the foot of the cross. Looking up at our Lord, who willingly died for the world’s salvation. For your salvation. For mine. That is what love looks like.

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