Friday, April 10, 2009
In the Cross of Christ I Glory
About two generations ago liturgical pundits, those theologians who help us map out how we worship, moved the reading of the Passion from Good Friday to Palm Sunday. It gave us a chance to hear the story of the most important act of our Lord Jesus from all the Gospel writers not just the Gospel of John that we heard tonight. The consensus was that fewer and fewer people were hearing this important part of Scripture. In the Passion of Jesus we hear the defining work of salvation worked for us by God. It was not a part of the Gospels that could be ignored.
The only problem was that it made for a very full and almost unwieldy Palm Sunday liturgy moving from the heights of “Hosannas” to the depths of “Crucify Him” in one service. But I understand the need for putting the Passion on the Sunday before Easter. When I began my ministry, the businesses and schools were closed for Good Friday or at least were closed from noon to three in respect for those who wanted to be in church for services. As all nations have become more pluralistic, and religious practices are much more varied, the story of our Lord’s crucifixion has been would have gotten lost if we had not move to reading it on a Sunday. No one likes to look at the horrors of what our Lord suffered. And the attendance at this service bears that out.
So I was quite interested in the way people flocked to see “The Passion of the Christ” when Mel Gibson’s movie came out. And people were shocked at the violence and brutality of Christ’s death. Now, I didn’t go to see the movie. From praying over these passages for years I know the kind of inhumanity that our Lord suffered. We who have allowed ourselves to know the brutality that our Lord bore cannot look away. We are rooted in the compassion that our Lord taught. We must stand at the cross for his sake and our own.
Now I am sure that some psychologist would say that this is not healthy behavior. This “dwelling” on death, some of my non-religious friends have told me, is “sick.” But I am equally sure that unless Christians are willing to look at the death of our Lord Jesus, we will not understand the death of loved ones or understand the meaning of our own lives. In other words, it is the death of Jesus which gives meaning to the Christian’s life.
Following World War II, a Jewish psychiatrist who worked with Holocaust survivors wrote a book called “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Viktor Frankel saw in those who survived the death camps and more importantly those who survived the guilt of living when so many others had not, that it was those who could provide some meaning for their life that survived. In the face of such suffering they found that many had had to survive in order to give meaning to the deaths of the others. Despite the degradation they experienced, they knew that their lives were to sign that evil could not conquer the spirit.
The horror of the Passion of Jesus has meaning because of what happened to him. It shows us that when the world gives itself over to evil, to greed, to oppression, this kind of inhumanity reigns. The reign of the Roman Empire has often been taught that it was a time of peace---the “Pax Romana.” The only reason that there was peace was because the oppression was so omnipresent that rebellion could not raise its head. The Cross was the symbol of Roman domination. It was not the symbol of Jesus Christ until the mid fourth-century when Constantine, the first Christian emperor abolished crucifixion as a means of execution for the Roman Empire. Even though Paul teaches the glory of the Cross, it is a radical statement that slaps in the face of Roman oppression.
For Christians today, the Cross is the sign of triumph over the kind of oppression, the kind of domination, the kind of evil that executed Jesus. It is the sign which gives our lives and deaths meaning as followers of Jesus but more importantly it is the sign that the work of our salvation has been accomplished—completed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Good Friday is a difficult day. At the ecumenical service at noon today, all of the clergy gathered before the service for prayer. We all looked like we had been pulled through a knot-hole. Good Friday is hard work! Even though we know that Easter comes on Sunday—we know the end of the story, to live through the Passion of Jesus requires us to look at evil in the death of Jesus. We may not close our eyes or ignore this inhumanity practiced by humans. If we do, it WILL overcome us. If we take the easy way and ignore evil it will eventually bite us. In the Cross of Christ we are given meaning for our lives. We are to overcome the evil in life in the name of Jesus. We cannot do it by ourselves, but we have been graced by God to do so. Through our salvation we are to triumph over the greed, the oppression, and the foulness that self-serving produces. It is in Christ’s triumph over that evil that we are given our mission in life—to triumph with Christ over the evil in the world.
I am thankful you are here tonight. You have not turned away from the sufferings of our Lord. You have not averted your eyes from the evil that all too often seems to overwhelm us. I am thankful too, that you are willing to provide meaning for your lives in the shadow of the Cross. I pray that as you journey toward Easter, you will confront the evil in your life—to join with Christ in triumphing over whatever oppression, whatever greed, whatever hatred that you encounter. It is Christ’s triumph that we celebrate tonight. We have been given our mission in the Cross and we stand in the glory of that Cross. Amen