A meditation preached at Bethel Mennonite Church. Preceded by a meditation entitled “The cross in 33 A.D.” Scripture passages: Mark 15:1-20, 33-39; Luke 23:26-42.
In their efforts to get a slide projector for regular use in our worship services, the worship committee has assured us that it will not cover up the cross at the front of the sanctuary. This is for good reason: the cross is the centre of our faith. Every Sunday we gather and we face the cross. Today, on Good Friday, we tell the story of Christ’s death on the cross, remembering that through the cross we find our salvation.
And for many of us, this is a comfortable, an easy, fact. We come on Sunday and face the cross, casually chatting or rushing in a few minutes late, and hardly notice it. Many carry around small decorative crosses, comfortably close. Jesus was crucified and we are saved, we say. It is easy.
Rudy concluded his meditation by asking, “How could there be salvation in the cross?” He’s right to ask this; what we have heard today about the horror, humiliation, and common occurrence of crucifixion should call this ease into question. There is no question that our world is in deep need of saving; we see and experience brokenness around us and within us. But it is not easy to see how the criminal execution of a man brings us healing.
The story of Jesus’s death took on a new significance for me during my years working at Camp. There, every week, we would re-enact Jesus’s passion. I often read the part of the priest; the end of his monologue expresses well this sense that on the cross nothing has happened; or at least that nothing coming close to salvation has happened. The priest says: “But, we had to stop Jesus; he was getting too popular. They all though he would be our saviour. He wasn’t a saviour! He couldn’t even save himself.”
Nothing happens; a man is dead on a cross; around the world people carry on with their day to day tasks. This event is not significant and there is nothing easy here.
I believe that all of this is true. And yet, we still rightly say that with the cross everything has changed.
Today, we have heard once again the story of Jesus as he carried his cross to Golgatha and was then lifted upon it. We will soon hear Mark’s version Jesus’s death upon that cross. One of the interesting facts about Mark’s Gospel is that Jesus always instructs people not to tell others that he is the Messiah. Throughout that gospel, his special status and role is a secret. Only four verses after Peter triumphantly proclaims that “You are the Messiah,” Jesus will say to Peter ,“Get behind me Satan.”
Why might this be the case? Well, what do Saviours do?
They attempt to set one regime up on top of another. They compete with their enemies for territory and power. They seek to become rulers and benefactors who can lord it over others. They elevate themselves above their friends seeking importance and glory.
But for Mark, the only path of the Messiah is the path of the suffering servant. And so, the only time that Jesus admits freely and publically that he is the Messiah is when he is before the chief priests, utterly powerless. And the most triumphant declaration of who Jesus is comes at the same moment as his death. As we shall soon hear again, Mark writes that “when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!”’
There, on the cross, is your God. Proclaiming good news to the poor and coming to set free the prisoners, give sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed, he was nailed to a cross. He is friends with and loves fishermen, traitors, sinners, and prostitutes. He loves also his enemies, and prays for those who mock him and despitefully use him. He gives his clothes to those who take everything from him.
At his death, the curtain in temple, separating us from God, is torn in two. The creator and ruler of all things good, is now the very human victim of all of our hatred, cruelty, and violence. He is not hidden or beyond this world; he is naked and vulnerable; he is fully human; and he has forgiven us.
There is no longer anything that can separate you from God. You are forgiven; the Kingdom is here. Jesus hangs dead upon the cross.