The Crux of Life
| John 19
||Fri, April 2, 1999
Rev. Ed Searcy
|Can there be any doubt about it? This is surely the most peculiar of holy days. Gathered last night with our children to walk through holy week one was struck all over again by the brutality of it all. It was hard not to notice how the young boys embraced the roles of guards and of thugs, taking their roles a little too seriously for us adults. Their mocking of Jesus seemed just a little too real for comfort. For comfort. That’s it, isn’t it? This story is just a little too real for our comfort. In it is portrayed the worst aspects of our humanity. The mob instincts. The fear that results in violence. Treachery. Corruption. Murder. The silencing of the truth in order to preserve privilege. That is why this is surely the most peculiar of holy days. And yet, for us, it is the crux of the matter. Why even the Latin word ‘crux’ meaning ‘cross’ has come, in English, to mean "the decisive point at issue". We gather here, on Good Friday, beneath the cross because it is the decisive point at issue. It is from this location that the life and teachings of Jesus are to be interpreted and understood. It is in response to this darkened day that all promises of life must speak.
It is a location and a day that seem to take us down, into the darkness ... a place of immense sadness and grief. Here guilt and despair, mingle with horror and shame. For here we see embodied much that is familiar to us. This is not some long ago and far away story. This is our story. It is humanity caught up in the downward spiral of vengeance. The cross, like the executioner’s chair and the ovens of Auschwitz stands as the ‘final solution’. It is the violent silencing of the ‘other’ in the name of ‘peace, order and good government’. It is a story retold and re-enacted wherever the innocent become entangled in the machinations of family politics and national psychosis. Has there ever been a Good Friday when we could not see this story replayed on the human stage? Oh, not just the re-enactments in the streets of Jerusalem ... or Manila ... or Buenos Aires ... replete with their stand-ins for Jesus being nailed to the cross. Once again this Good Friday the story is before us in all of its horror and despair. There in the Balkans where the cross is known as ‘ethnic-cleansing’. And here in city streets where the homeless and addicted are seen as a problem to be hidden from view ... not as the first in line for the kingdom of heaven. We, as always, are left wondering which role to take. Onlookers watching from a distance? Perpetrators? Betrayers? Or fellow-sufferers? To which the answer is, as always: ‘yes’.
It is a location and a day that take us down, into the darkness ... and yet that, strangely, also turn our heads up towards the light. John’s Gospel, in particular, finds in Good Friday not only death but also the crux of life. Perhaps you noticed it in the little details. "So they took Jesus; and carrying his cross by himself, he went out ...". Carrying his cross by himself. Jesus, says John, is strong. He does not need anyone from the crowd - no Simon of Cyrene - to carry his cruciform burden. On the cross Jesus does not cry out in desperation. Rather, he commits his mother and the disciple whom he loves into one another’s mutual care. Jesus is, says John, "lifted up" on the cross. He is raised on the cross. Even in death he is risen. The cross ... the place of death ... is transformed into a throne, a throne of life. And when this has been accomplished, Jesus can finally say "It is finished". We assume that he means his own life is over, ended. That he is dead. He means, instead, that the way of violence has been defeated ... that God’s purposes have been accomplished ... that death itself is finished!
But such light and life is not self-evident. To be fair, the cross looks like just one more cynical attempt to erase one more political nuisance. Even the strange evidence of Easter leaves the world wondering if it can be true. We will not be surprised, then, if most find the cross to be a place of despair rather than of hope. But see. It does not rely upon us or upon what we think of it all. He carried the cross by himself. Even as humankind sought to have him put down, God lifted him up. In spite of all of the forces of death arrayed against him, life prevailed. This was the crux of the matter. And it still is.