Friday, April 2, 2021

Journey to the Cross: It's Not About Us

As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” --Luke 23:26-47 (NRSV)

If we think the cross is about us, we are mistaken.

I was raised with a rather fundamentalist viewpoint of the cross. That it and that Jesus’ crucifixion on it had to happen because someone had to pay for the fact that I was, inherently, a bad person. So, God had to send Jesus to suffer and die on the cross. Which then meant that I would feel so bad about this that I had to try and try and try all the harder to be a good person.

But, that’s not really who God is, is it? Which is why, when we begin to think that the cross is about us rather than about God, the only view we can have of God is of God standing in heaven, arms crossed, looking down at the cross and judging us, while punishing Jesus. It’s no wonder then, that our natural inclination is to skip the events between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, even more so because of all the death and trauma we have been experiencing that, perhaps, seems as though it will never end.

But, here’s the thing. God isn’t standing above the cross looking down on us. God is hanging from the cross. 

Maybe the problem begins when we think we can know God, simply by looking at who we are and projecting this on God. We’re vengeful, so God must be vengeful. We’re power-hungry, so God must be power-hungry. We’re selfish, so God must be selfish. Which makes it all the more difficult for us to believe that God would choose to go to the cross. Because we wouldn’t.

But, we can’t be saved by a God who’s a worse version of ourselves. Or a bigger version of the better parts of ourselves. No, we can see who God actually is when we see how God chose to reveal God’s self. In a cradle. And on a cross. Because, it’s not about some legal transaction where Jesus pays our debt. Instead, the Word made fleshing hanging from the cross is God saying to us, “I no longer want to be in the sin-accounting business.” It’s from the rough, splintered throne of the cross that Christ, the King, looks at the world and at us and none of us escape his judgment. Those who have betrayed him, those who have executed him, those who have loved him, and those who have ignored him. All of us, he judges. And the pronouncement? Forgiveness.

Jesus will not condemn anyone who put him there. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”  Only a God who is not like us can save us from ourselves - a God who enters into our human existence and who suffers our insults with only love and forgiveness. So that, through the cross, we finally know that God isn’t standing apart from us, but is right there with us in the brokenness and messiness of our lives and of the world around us. God is present in all of it. 

The cross is not about you. But, it is for you. It is so much for you that God will go to the ends of the earth to be with you. Nothing, nothing, nothing, can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Not insults, betrayal, isolation, suffering. And, as we learn from that coming Easter morning, not even death itself. Amen.

Preached April 2, 2021, online with Grace & Glory and Third Lutheran churches, Goshen/Louisville, KY.
Good Friday
Readings: Luke 23:26-47, Psalm 31:5-13.

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