Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Chelmsford reminds us that day-by-day the liturgies of this Holy Week take us ultimately to Calvary and to the foot of the Cross. He writes:
“On that first Good Friday, only a few people could do it. Those who promised most were first to flee. But let us be those who stand there today, not understanding but standing under in order to understand. Standing with empty hands and hopeful hearts. For it is only under the cross that we will begin to comprehend its meaning, receive its complicated joys and then help bear it to the world, not carrying it under our arm but shouldering it with Christ for the sake of the world. All this is the uncomfortable and beautiful gift of a good Holy Week.”
We are gathered at the foot of the Cross as we begin to comprehend the mystery of such wondrous and sacrificial love—gathered here under the cross that we might understand a love so amazing, so divine…
Jesus hangs on the cross. A small crowd has stood around watching the spectacle – his mother, and his mother’s sister Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene. Standing back, some are watching in horror, others with indifference, still others with a twisted sense of triumph. Yet, in John’s account Jesus is nobody’s victim; he knows what will unfold and he is in control of the situation right from the start.
And so the cross is a window through which we are invited to see and comprehend the mystery, the deep, unquenchable love of God, love that draws on to itself all of the hatred and pain, and fear, and shame and anger and bitterness and rejection of the world. This drawing of sin and darkness to the cross in Jesus is the means chosen from all eternity by God, the loving Creator of the universe, by which to confront and rid his world of all that would take us from the love of God.
Looking through the window we begin to see that God does not fight the battle against evil with the weapons of the world but with the weapons of love. Because we could not climb up to heaven, to God’s realm, God got down on our level, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us in order to set in motion and finally to accomplish God’s plan of healing, of forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration. The wood of the manger becomes the wood of the cross!
Here, on the cross, God’s work of healing and redemption is accomplished. Here, on the cross, Jesus reveals a pathway to healing and restoration. Jesus is nobody’s victim. He needs no help carrying his cross. No one mocks him as he hangs on the cross and while he suffers he makes provision for his mother; he says he is thirsty not because he is but in order to place his suffering in God’s eternal purpose, and because he is thirsty for His Father in heaven. Where I am going you cannot come, he had said to his friends at the supper table last night.
If the other disciples discovered the resurrection glory at dawn on the third day, Jesus’ mother, Mary, discovered the glory in the cross, here at the foot of the cross. Standing under the cross, John places Mary in the center of salvation. She is both the mother of sorrows and the mother of hope. Look and listen to what Jesus says as he gazes at his mother and the beloved disciple standing beside one another, leaning into one another. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, woman here is your son. Then he said to the disciple, here is your mother.”
Jesus does more than make provision for his mother and his friends in a time of inexplicable grief. As he hangs dying on the cross he is calling a new, cross-shaped community of faith into being. Those brave souls at the foot of the cross are not just people who will try to keep in touch. The cross will unite them to one another, forever. Jesus sets aside blood relationships to create a wide, diverse community of faith. Soon they will know what Jesus meant when he called his friends to take up their cross and follow him in a life of self-giving healing and reconciliation. They would take on the work he had started with them… but now, just for now, we wait and watch, we look through the window of the cross.
Notice that Jesus pronounces his task finished without the loud sorrow-filled cry we hear in the other gospel accounts. It is finished. Those are his last words, not a cry of death but a cry of victory because the Father’s purpose has been accomplished. For three years Jesus had been on a collision course with a religious system he opposed and the unjust forces of the occupying Roman Empire. That collision reaches its climax on the cross; the confrontation unfolds and the victory belongs to God.
Jesus gathers up, he takes onto himself, the darkness of the human soul that creeps into the world – the fear and pride that lie behind hatred, war, forced migration, homelessness, betrayal, famine and all the rest. Jesus took all of it – the worst we could through at him…all of it was nailed to the cross there on a hill just outside Jerusalem. Look now at what God is doing on the cross. In Jesus the battle is over; in Jesus a new pathway to healing and restoration is revealed. In him, heaven and earth are fused! Forgiveness is assured, reconciliation between God and humankind achieved; it is the great Amen! On the cross Jesus’s life purpose is fulfilled… that is what he means when he says, it is finished.
The cross is a window. As we look through it we begin to understand how God disarmed sin and destroyed the power of death; we see how God gives hope to those in despair and life beyond the grave. God has acted and we shall rejoice! That is the good news that grows out of this terrible story, something like life-giving blood and water flowing from his wounded side.
And so we begin to see beauty in the death of Jesus. Not in horrendous, gruesome suffering but in his complete identification and sharing of what it is to be human; and in his utter determination to bring us back to God and to one another. Love so amazing it demands my life, my soul, my all. Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Perhaps why we call this day Good. Good Friday; because the cross, once a sign of horrendous torture and suffering used by the Romans to intimidate and dominate; becomes in Jesus the sign of God’s victory; God’s glory; the power of God’s unquenchable, life-giving love for the world and all that is in it. The cross is the ultimate sign of God’s love for all to behold!
Look around you – we come from different places and each of us is given gifts by God – we are a diverse community yet united and shaped by what God accomplished on the cross. We are united by a common bond of love for the whole human family that was poured out on the cross; and we are united by His calling to make his love known from this day forward.
God’s triumph over sin and darkness will be fully revealed on Easter morning when Jesus rises from the dead to announce God’s new creation; but for now, this holy day, this Good Friday, we kneel before the cross, holding together the mirror of sin and darkness and the window of unquenchable light so that when the light breaks through at the empty tomb, we will recognize it…recognize Him, the light of the world, the resurrection and the life, the first sign of God’s new creation – and sing our hearts out!
Let us pray ,
Loving God, your son Jesus Christ carried us to the cross and shed his blood for us and brought us into a new community with you. Help us to follow in his way, to deny ourselves and take up the cross he gives us, that the whole world may learn his way of peace. May his life and his purpose be alive in us the day and may we be alive in him. And when our hearts are broken, when the burdens feel too great to bear, take us to the cross, and enable us to see the great weight Jesus carried; for here we receive the affirmation of your love, the assurance of your promise and the strength to persevere.
For we ask it in his name. AMEN.