On Good Friday, we adore the Cross of Jesus Christ, even as we realize the hard truth that we would have been among those who crucified him. And we face the even harder truth that we put people on the cross every day. The good news to which we cling today is that God takes our cross and turns it into the means of our salvation. By his bruises we are healed.
Good Friday – April 3, 2015 – Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22, John 18:1-19:42
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Pastor Evan Davis
Greetings in the name of the One by whose bruises we are healed, our Lord Jesus Christ.
It’s only recently that executions have become, more or less, a private affair. Throughout all of human history, they have been decidedly public events. There’s a reason why the gallows and the guillotine were always placed in the town square. To teach a lesson, for sure. But the uglier truth is that people like to watch. The crowd feeds off the energy of killing the one who has done wrong, been proven guilty, the one who is different, the one who enables everyone to say, maybe never in so many words: “we’re the good ones, there’s the guilty one, and justice has been served.” Today these things happen in locked rooms in far-away penitentiaries, but still there is closed circuit TV. Still we hear all the gory details on the news.
It’s one of the oldest stories there is. Somebody has to die. Somebody has to be the scapegoat for the community…someone must bear all our anger, frustration, and shame. Somebody has to be denounced as evil for everyone else to feel like they’re good.
Here’s the really scary reality: Jesus seemed legitimately guilty to the crowds in Jerusalem that day. From the perspective of any reasonable Jew, Jesus was a blasphemer, an idolator, and he disobeyed the chief priests and elders of the Jewish people. He was dangerous – with so many people following him, who knew how the Romans might view him, maybe as a threat, and then the whole nation would be punished. Something had to be done about him. He had to die.
Who seems legitimately guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt, to us? Who do we think has to die? Murderers, rapists, people who have obviously done terrible things. But who else? So often we look for an enemy to fight…so we drop bombs on distant nations, even convincing ourselves they’re surgical strikes, so no one innocent gets killed. But we do this also in even more subtle, less violent, more psychological ways. Whom are we crucifying with what we say? In how we judge them, implicitly? When we immediately are more likely to suspect a young black man of a crime than a young white man? When we stare at the woman who pulls out an EBT card at the grocery store, or holds up the line with a WIC check?
Just who are we nailing to the cross? If this is all very confusing to you, that is the point. We’re supposed to be left speechless. It’s just when we think we have it all figured out that we end up crucifying our Lord. Nobody in the crowd knew that day that they were crucifying the Savior of the whole world. But the truth is, guilty or not, Jesus is the one on death row, and his victims. Jesus is the hooded black teenager walking down the street. Jesus is the welfare mom. He’s the alcoholic on the park bench with a cup in his hand. Jesus is also all of us – he lives in each one of you, when you are the one beaten with words or fists or indifference or hatred. So who is being nailed to the cross this very day, in the name of order, in the name of security, in the name of justice?
We’re about to hear from Isaiah, “By a perversion of justice he was taken away.” But this God, though unjustly executed, is not a God of revenge, but rather a God of faithfulness and forgiveness, of trust, hope, and love…poured out for you and for me from his cross.
Tonight, let yourself hear these sacred words. Let yourself fall into the story. Put yourself into that angry mob, hungry for blood – the blood of Jesus. Join your heart with those of Christians around the world as we pray the ancient Bidding Prayer. And be in awe at the foot of the life-giving cross, on which hung the Savior of the whole world.
Most of all, know this – that even as packs of dogs close us in, as the psalm cries out, even as the bombs fall on the innocent all around the world, even as people are killed for their faith, or for simply being different, even as we kill those who have killed others, even as we have prepared a cross for our Savior, there is hope. There’s a reason this day is called “Good” Friday. Because this world still belongs to God. Because the means of sin and death will become the means of love and life forever. Psalm 22, which begins with such despair, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” does not end there. Jesus knew that, and I imagine it was these final words that he held on to in trust and endurance as he hung on the cross. Let us cling to them as well:
For dominion belongs to the LORD, who rules over the nations. Indeed, all who sleep in the earth shall bow down in worship; all who go down to the dust, though they be dead, shall kneel before the LORD. Their descendants shall serve the LORD, whom they shall proclaim to generations to come. They shall proclaim God’s deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying to them, “The LORD has acted!” Amen.