“We glory in your cross, O Lord, and praise and glorify your holy resurrection; for by virtue of your cross joy has come to the whole world.” (BCP p. 281) Today is the second hearing of the Passion Gospel this week. On Palm Sunday we participated in the narrative’s shift from celebration and the cheers of the crowd with Jesus’ triumphal entry, to the rejection, scorn, trial and execution of the Messiah. On Good Friday, our attention is drawn dramatically back to Jesus’ death on the cross.
The cross was an oppressive, violent torture device used by the Roman Empire to maximize the pain, agony, and death of criminals who threatened the security of the realm. Its purpose was to keep the population in line, to maintain dominance, to stand as a sign of power wielded over the people it ruled. If you stepped out of line, you were sent to the cross as a public spectacle. In many cases, the person crucified may have been a real criminal, but they might have been an outspoken political figure, or an advocate against Roman oppression, or even a victim of injustice.
Jesus was neither, he was an innocent victim of injustice. The loving, reconciling, healing, presence of God among us became the target of Roman and the religious establishment’s oppression. Jesus was a threat to the power systems, with his agenda of self-giving love and the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven, he posed a great risk to the power-wielders. What they failed to realize was that the humble servant was more than a mere man, Jesus was God present with us.
God was present in Christ as a willing victim, whose obedience to forgiveness and non-violence, led him to the cross of Calvary. Jesus was faithful to his mission of love and his ministry of non-violence despite rejection and abandonment. When in the moment he needed the disciples the most, he cried, “Let them go,” as the soldiers threatened to take his followers in the Garden.
Peter resorted to violence and drew a sword to cut off the ear of the soldier, but Jesus reminded Peter that non-violent love was the way of salvation. Even on the cross, as the terrible torture was near its end, Jesus cried, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” Then, he cried, “It is finished,” or it is complete.
Jesus never turned to vindication against the atrocities waged against him, nor did he retaliate against those who crucified him. He remained the loving, obedient servant to the last, and He became abundant love with no bounds, even a love so profound, that lasts in the face of rejection and death on the cross. Jesus revealed God’s love and forgiveness even in death, but his death was not the story’s end. The cross has been transformed from a sign of torture, death and power wielding into a sign of the new reality of God’s grace and mercy made real. Jesus with outstretched is God declaring to creation, “I love you this much.”
In a few moments, you will be invited to express your devotion to the One who bore the cross for us, by showing our own devotion to a representation of His cross. At that invitation, please consider coming forward and praying at the cross, or You may choose to remain seated in silence, and pray at your seat. “We glory in your cross, O Lord, and praise and glorify your holy resurrection; for by virtue of your cross joy has come to the whole world.”