– John 18:1-19:42
Jesus has been betrayed, arrested, mocked, beaten and killed.
As he was hanging on the cross, barely alive, there were spectators: People watching his death, hoping for a show.
And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘This man is calling for Elijah.’ At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.’ (Matthew 27:46-49)
How did we come to this? How does the savior end up dying on a cross, with people watching to see if God will save him?
These are the unavoidable questions of Good Friday. Every year we retell this most painful part of the story and we are confronted by these questions.
For a day or two we dwell in the paradox and mystery of Jesus’ death. Many people, some of them great people, have offered answers and explanations, but that doesn’t take away the pain or the sting or the confusion or the grief.
Surely Jesus could have avoided this? Surely the Son of God could have controlled events to make the outcome more appealing!
Indeed. God has the power to have orchestrated events differently. But God did not use that power. Jesus came preaching, teaching and living a message of love. When he was confronted by the power of the Chief Priests and Elders of the Temple, he remained silent. When he was on trial before Pilate, the Roman Governor, he remained silent.
Jesus remained silent because his message and his life are a perfect expression of God’s love. God yearns to complete and perfect creation with the indwelling of God’s Spirit. Jesus was the first person to perfectly accept and perfectly return God’s love. Jesus remained silent when confronted by power because he had nothing to say to power. Love is not power. Power cannot compel love.
In the beginning, God could speak and make it so. “Let there be light!” And there was light. And God saw that it was good. But something was missing. Even after the six days of creation and the day of rest, something was missing.
Salvation history is a record of God’s continuing work of creation. God has been working to imbue all of creation with God’s Spirit of Love. This process of incarnation is tricky. Incarnation cannot be made or commanded because love cannot be made or commanded. Love is always a gift that can be freely received and just as freely refused.
From the very beginning, God has offered love and people have turned away. Adam and Eve failed, they sinned and were driven from the Garden.
God tried with Abraham. He said, I will make a great nation of you and the world will see that I love you and that you love me. The world will see the beauty and grace of our love and they will stream to that love. But Abraham’s children did not receive the love and they did not return God’s love.
God did not give up even then. When Abraham’s descendants were suffering the bondage of slavery, God sent Moses to lead them to freedom. God tried again and again with the people of Israel to establish a covenant of love and trust, but the people failed. They sinned. They turned to other gods or they simply lived for themselves.
Love cannot be compelled. We are seduced by power and turn away from love, and God is helpless to stop us. God offers love to all but many do not accept that love.
And so we find ourselves here again. Staring at an empty cross.
What will we do?
God is still offering love. God offers love freely and abundantly. The empty cross reveals the choice for us. Will we accept God’s love? Will we put our trust in God rather than power? Will we put our trust in love rather than wealth? Will we love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind and love our neighbor as we love ourselves?
Come to the cross. Answer the question for yourself. Light a candle. Pray for strength and wisdom and courage. God’s love is here. God’s love is always a free gift, freely given, never compelled. Will you accept that gift?
The Rev. David Marshall
St. Dunstan’s Church, Shoreline WA
April 22, 2011