Tonight we gather at the cross, remembering Jesus’ death there, for us. In all that we’ve witnessed, both last night and tonight, we see Jesus experiencing the fulness of betrayal, abandonment, humiliation, suffering and death. His most trusted friends left him, one even led those who wished to harm him right to him! Jesus was at the mercy of the religious authorities and oppressive empire’s armies. Jesus keenly felt God’s absence. And finally, every bit of life was taken from him. There, on the cross, he died.
The Gospel of John has its own slant, placing much of the blame for Jesus’ death on the Jewish people and religious authorities. But it is the sin of all humanity that causes Jesus’ suffering and death. There is something fundamentally broken about the way all people relate to God and each other that leads them to focus on self-interest and to reject God.
The rejection of God and God’s work in the world continues today.
Jesus’ death on the cross is a result of humanity’s unwillingness to accept the new and incoming kingdom of God which Jesus’ ministry brought. We do not want the poor to be blessed and the rich to go away empty. We do not want to leave all our possessions and family to follow Jesus. We do not want to share our tables and homes with the sinners and outcasts. But Jesus kept pushing for this new and difficult kingdom.
Jesus disrupted the peace of the way things were, the way things are supposed to be. He shook people up and caused turmoil. He challenged people’s comfortable lives and the barriers they had created between people to keep them feeling safe and in control of their surroundings. This proved to be too much, and humanity tried to silence him on the cross and in the tomb.
Even in the attempt to silence Jesus, Jesus’ message was proclaimed. The cross itself is a sign of the reversals in the kingdom of God. Although meant as an instrument to humiliate and put fear into criminals and insurrectionists, in Jesus’ death, it becomes a place of glory.
Jesus shows us God as he suffers on the cross. There we see most clearly God’s love for us. Even as Jesus experiences the worst that humanity has to offer, Jesus does not escape or abandon us. Jesus does not recant his declaration of the incoming kingdom. On the cross, Jesus shows us that God’s love for us wins out over self-preservation. The cross becomes a place where God’s promised new kingdom is declared rather than silenced.
It is to the victory of God and to our own victory that Jesus Christ is faithful even onto death on the cross.
There, Jesus enters the worst of human experience. Thus he claims it as under his reign. He redeems suffering by his own experience of it. Jesus enters Hell itself, the very absence of God, so that no longer would any hell be outside the bounds of God’s space. All is known and embraced by God through Jesus.
There is no hell you can enter where God will abandon you. We know all too well that the experience of hell is real right now for many people. We see its results in despair, addiction, violence, and suicide. Jesus entered the darkness of hell before you. Jesus is there, in your darkness, in the darkness experienced by those you love, to walk with you and bring you again to a place of light and hope.
At the cross, in entering this place of shame and ridicule, Jesus makes known God’s love for all people, especially those who experience shame and ridicule, poverty and oppression, violence and death. This is the reversal of the kingdom of God. Those the world does not honor or love, God loves all the more.
At the cross, God in Jesus fully enters the consequence of sin and redeems it, so that death and sin would not be our final ending.
Tonight, as we participate in the solemn reproaches, we hear all God has done for us, and remember that despite all that, we still sin, and reject God rather than embrace God’s kingdom. We still make the selfish choices that force Jesus to the cross. If God were to respond to us as we deserve, we would be cast away, punished, and rejected for our sin. We prepare a cross for our savior. And our savior willingly accepts this cross. Instead of using it as proof of our sin, Jesus uses it to prove his faithfulness, and grants us the rewards of his own faithfulness. You are given forgiveness and life because Jesus was faithful for you.
In Jesus’ faithfulness in accepting his path to the cross, Jesus wins in his struggle to proclaim the reign of God’s kingdom. Jesus is victorious in expanding the reign of God to the darkest places of hell. Jesus takes sin and death into his own experience, and thereby is able to redeem them. In Jesus’ own sorrow and death, Jesus wins for us joy and life.
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