Scripture: John 18:1-19:42
Even in this day and age of secularism you don’t have to walk very far down the street before you see a Cross of some description. Whether it is on the steeple of a church, built into architectural features or hanging around someone’s neck – crosses are all around us. In church we see them all the time – we process up the aisle with one, we have them embroidered on our linens and stoles, and here at Grace we have the large Christus Rex which hangs upon on our wall. Many find comfort in the cross, we see it as a beautiful and peaceful symbol of our faith – we sing songs like the Old Rugged Cross or When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, and they make us feel safe, they give us solace in our times of grief and mourning, they give us a sense of peace and tranquility. It is natural for us to focus on the Cross, since if you asked anyone of us, or even someone walking down Kennedy Road this morning, what symbol exemplifies Christianity the choice would be clear – the Cross is about as ubiquitous a symbol as there can be.
And this all makes sense, on today of all days we can understand the centrality of the Cross, we can understand why it is a symbol of hope, of peace and of reassurance, we can understand why we can ‘love’ the Cross – but it is also a little bit ludicrous. Because if you think about it behind the sentimentality of the Cross – the reality is that the Cross was, and still is in parts of the world, a gruesome method of state-sponsored torture and execution.
How many of you would willingly, lovingly wear a miniature electric chair or hangman’s noose around your neck? How many of you would cherish and find peace if symbols of the guillotine or firing squads adorned our churches and could be found throughout our architecture? Because that is what we do when we wear our crucifixes. The symbol that so epitomizes the Christian faith is a symbol of state-sponsored torture; it was the preeminent method of torture and degradation that the great Roman Empire could imagine to punish dissenters and revolutionaries.
Not many of us are offended when we see the Cross, and even when we hear the brutal accounts of Jesus’ torture and execution as we did today, we can gloss over it all – we’ve heard it all before, and all too often we have our eyes fixed on Sunday, on the culmination of the Easter Story, because we know how the story ends. But we should pause a while and contemplate the Cross, contemplate its brutality, contemplate the utter brutality and godlessness of it all – because it is when we contemplate the sheer reality of the Cross that we can come to appreciate its beauty and it’s true power.
If we strip away the years of familiarity, the reality is the Crucifixion is as brutal and godless as the Gospel accounts make it out to, as foolish and as much of a stumbling block as Paul wrote about in his first letter to the Corinthians. We should feel uneasy and even offended by the Crucifixion, after all the story we tell is that the very Son of God, innocent and without sin, suffered an utterly shameful, degrading, dehumanizing death upon the most sadistic torture device of the great Empire. If we dreamed up a way of saving the world we would likely dream up something more heroic, more appropriate for the Son of God – it likely wouldn’t include the great saviour of the world naked, beaten, crushed, pierced, degraded and shamed for all the world to see.
We should be utterly shocked and appalled by the Crucifixion – it is a disturbing scene. Jesus is betrayed, falsely accused, he is scourged, mocked, derided and then subjected to a horrifying means of death, where the weight of a person’s body would eventually kill them along with the hunger, thirst and the harsh reality of the elements. Just as we are likely disturbed by the images of torture and mass murder that filter through our television screens – we should be utterly disturbed by the story we heard today, utterly disturbed by the weight of sin and death that would result in the very Son of God experiencing such desecration.
In our sanitized life here in the Western world, we are convinced that we are pretty good people, that we are nice, kind, that we generally do the right thing – the reality of sin and death are seemingly an afterthought in our culture. And yet the stink of sin and death nonetheless pollutes the entirety of our world – the comfort that we live in is built on the backs of others: the cheap clothing we wear made in sweatshops, the cheap produce we eat picked by migrant labourers, the destruction of our world, our environment leaving no world for our children and grandchildren, the disregard we have for the poor and the oppressed. We might be able to convince ourselves we are not in need of saving, but that doesn’t change the truth – we cannot save ourselves from the darkness that overshadows the world.
The great weight of sin and death is the very reason our Saviour died such a shameful, degrading, humiliating death – a great debt requires a great payment. Jesus, the very Son of God, deserved the greatest place of honour and glory – and yet for the sake of our world, for the sake of each of us, for the sake of you, God sent his very own Son to take the full weight of sin and death, the full weight of the humiliation, the full weight degradation. Jesus bore the very antithesis of life so that we might be spared from humiliation, degradation and shame that comes with life apart from God. Jesus suffered the greatest humiliation, he took the place of greatest dishonour so that we might know life, so that we might be exalted and know the honour and glory God prepared for his only Son – a life free of the power of sin and death, life free of disobedience and self-centredness, abundant and eternal life.
That is why we cling to the Cross – even in all it’s shame and disgrace, in all it’s death disgust – it is the sign of life, it is the sign of God’s love and mercy for us, it is the sign and action of God which shows the depths to which he loves us, the depths God would go to not abandon us to our own devices. It offers us peace when we are in tumult, it offers us safety when we are in danger, it offers us hope when we are in despair, solace when we are in mourning. But we rob the Cross of its power if we don’t remember the disgrace, and shame of it. It is in the middle of the paradox of the great honour and glory Jesus is due and the shame and disgrace of the death he died where our salvation lies.
And so as we await the celebration of the vindication of Jesus over the powers of sin an death on Sunday morning, and the great vindication of God at the end of time, let us cling to the Cross – let us know it’s shame and its glory, let us know the shock and the comfort, let us know the Cross’ ugliness and beauty. For it is at the depths of despair that Christ offers us a glimpse into eternal hope and it is in the midst of earth shattering death that provides for us a taste of abundant life in the world to come.
Let us pray.