Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday

If you look around you’ll see that crosses are all around us. On church steeples, around people’s necks, on hot cross buns, on wwjd (what would Jesus do?) bracelets.

This is not new. The cross and various other cruciforms - or cross-like images - have long been used by various cultures and religions as symbols of life. 

For some, the cross might depict the four corners of the earth, the four elements of creation, the four beasts in a scheme of the zodiac, the four solstices and equinoxes, the four winds that bring rain.

Ancient Egypt used the cross as symbol of eternal life. Much New Age religion has popularized the image of a cross-tree, with each corner representing one season of the tree's annual cycle. In all these examples, the cross is a symbol of the life of nature or community.(Gail Ramshaw, Treasures Old and New)

But try telling that to Roman-occupied Israel. To them, the cross was anything but life-giving. Too many of them had seen friends and loved ones murdered on them. Too many had encountered forests of crosses, terrible reminders to anyone who broke Roman law. From stealing to murder, the punishment was the same. They had to keep these rebellious folks in line somehow.

That's why the crowds cheered when Jesus arrived in the Holy City. Finally, someone was coming who would stop the cruelty, throw the Romans out, and bring Israel back to its former glory, a glory not seen since King David ruled, so many years ago. AndtThey pinned all their hopes on this poor, backwoods preacher.

He could heal sick people. Maybe he could heal the political sickness that kept God's people from inheriting their destiny.

He could cast out demons. Maybe he could cast out the demonic tyranny of these Roman oppressors.

He could raise the dead. Maybe he could raise the people to reclaim their citizenship as God’s chosen people, a light to the nations.

But when they saw Jesus in handcuffs, they started asking questions. When he wouldn't speak up for himself, they grumbled amongst each other. 

If he wouldn’t defend himself, then he wouldn’t defend them. If he wouldn’t rescue himself, he couldn’t save them.

So when they realized he wasn't going to be the liberator they hoped, they turned against him and watched him die.

The cross was saved for lowest class of people. The Romans knew that it was the most painful and horrific form of torture and death. The victim could hang there for days. And when the Romans got bored they crucified their victims upside down while their families watched in agony.

So, for many of these people, the cross was anything but life-giving.

The early Christians didn't like the imagery of the cross; they didn't use it in their worship and art until centuries after its actual use had declined. 

The cross was for them still so raw, still an instrument of death. If it was empty, it was waiting in deathly silence for its next victim, like an empty hangman's noose or unoccupied electric chair. If Jesus was pictured on it, his tortured body was a reminder of his agony, not his resurrection, and not our salvation. 

But they used the the cross to retell Jesus’ story, because they knew in their bones that Jesus' story had become their story, and their story had become his. They couldn't beautify the torture of the cross away, and so they didn't picture it, but they also knew something had happened in those holy days that forever transformed their lives. And not just them. Us too.

When we look to the cross, we know that when we are rejected, he has borne that rejection, we know that when we've failed, he has borne that failure, we know that when we've sinned, Jesus has borne that sin. We know that when we die, he has borne our death.

We know this because his story and our story have been woven together in a strange tapestry, stories that collide with this story that we gather to hear today. To remember how God entered our story in Jesus. And how we find our way into God’s story through Christ.

In Jesus, God has entered our story when it looks like our story might not have unfolded the way we wanted. When life and circumstance take the narrative of our lives in a direction we didn’t expect or certainly didn’t want.

When dreams crumble under the weight of family expectations or social obligations, and when you look at your life you KNOW that you’re capable of so much more.

When you read the news and wonder if human greed will lead to the collapse of the system that’s sustaining it, and you can’t believe no one else can see it.

When the doctor enters the examining room, and the look on her face tells you that the news isn’t good.

When you look across the table and you wonder who this stranger is that you’ve been married to all these years.

When you find yourself across the desk from a funeral director, saying good-bye to someone who is gone too soon, and everyone goes too soon.

When you can feel your own life draining from you, and you’re terrified that when you close your eyes in death, you will never open them again, despite the promises of everlasting life you’ve heard since your were a child.

Today, those stories become God’s stories. They’re interwoven together, so that our stories and God’s GREAT BIG story of creation and life are tied together, and that the ending to our story will change. And the strand that ties these two stories together is Jesus.

That day, on the cross, it was Jesus who wasn’t just standing up the destructive powers of the world. Jesus wasn’t just confronting the forces that defy God’s vision for creation.

That day, on the cross, Jesus was standing up to God on our behalf. Jesus was showing God what it means to be in pain. 

That day, on the cross, through Jesus, God endured the frustrations of limitations, the terror of mortality, the outrage of injustice, the agony of brokenness, the violence of sin, the anguish of estrangement, the ruin of disease, the alienation of isolation, the sadness of separation, and the threat of oblivion.

In Jesus, God learned what it means to be human, and God was exposed to the world that human beings live with.

It was from Jesus’ view on from the cross, that God saw how easy it can be that...

...countries invade each other just to enlarge their territory


...massive disparity between the rich and the poor can be justified, or even celebrated.

...disease can almost destroy entire continents while the rest of the world shrugs its shoulders


...”environmental responsibility” can be dirty words and caring for God’s good creation can be met with hostility.

It was from Jesus’ view on from the cross, that God saw how easy it can be that...

...planes can disappear from the sky leaving their loved ones with a open wound of grief


..five young university students can be stabbed to death for no good reason, if there would ever be a good reason.

...people can discriminate against others simply because they are different.

...people’s pride can destroy lifelong friendships. the human impulse to self-protection can overpower the human longing for love.

In Jesus God knows what it’s like to be absolutely helpless and hopeless.

In Jesus God learned what your life is like. In Jesus God learned what the world is like, not from some far away heaven where God looks down at us from a safe distance, quietly observing us.

In Jesus God learned what the world is like from the very heart of human existence, where Jesus took all the suffering, all the grief, all the fear, all the hopelessness, all the injustice, all the sin, all those things that keep us from God and that hurt ourselves and each other, and were nailed to the cross with Jesus, and buried in his tomb with him.

And today, as we place Jesus in his tomb, we look at our lives, ourselves, each other, and the world, with eyes open for the God who destroyed our delusions about who we are, and is demanding that we are honest about our vulnerability, recognizing our culpability, embracing our weakness. Remembering that we are buried with him in his tomb.


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