We have talked all of the way through Lent and Holy Week about this season of preparation and reflection as we get ready to celebrate Easter. Today we reflect on the Passion of Christ and we stand in awe of what GOd has done for us on the Cross.
It is tragically so often the case that God’s love and mercy and grace are clearest when they are set against a backdrop of things that are most definitely not love or mercy or grace. Like a bright white star against a black sky, it is easiest to see when there’s something surrounding it that isn’t it. Throughout the history of the church and our own lives we see again and again humanity approaching God’s love and mercy and grace, offered in innumerable ways, and reacting to them in a way that, tragically, provides a stark contrast to what has been offered.
We see in one another the image and likeness of God and rather than consistently approaching one another as a divine relationship, we see other people and we think “Right. That one doesn’t look like us, that one is less than human, and that one is an economic resource to exploit so that I can have more for myself. And these ones are on land that I’d like to have, so we’ll get rid of them entirely.” And this is the human relationship between us and between the God who is in each of us. The story of human tragedy is longer than today’s liturgy needs.
I often think, in humanity’s relationship with God, of the behaviour of small children who are testing just how far a parent’s love will go. They seek to prove that “You don’t really love me the way you say you do,” and so they act in whatever way they are sure will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and will finally cause the parent to say “You know what? You’re right. We’re done.” I pray that parents never get there. We see through our history that God won’t get there with us. God is patient, thanks be to God for that.
It’s interesting that the Passion story of a man executed after a short, sham trial for crimes that he did not commit. Yet John’s telling highlights God’s patience, God’s control, God’s sovereignty, God’s presence throughout the whole situation. When the soldiers come to arrest him and Jesus identifies himself, they don’t immediately clap him in irons and drag him away. They fall to their knees. When Jesus is brought before Pilate, they have a conversation. This isn’t a government official interrogating a man accused of a crime. This is a conversation, at the end of which, Pilate is quite convinced that Jesus is who he says he is. Convinced to the point that Pilate goes out to plead with Jesus’s accusers not to do the things that they plan to do. This is not how trials go in the Roman Empire.
Even when Jesus is on the Cross, he is busy blessing thieves hanging beside him and making sure his friends and his mother are looked after. Then, when it’s all done, we get that line, “Jesus gives up his spirit.” The first time I ever learned about that line was becasue a person in my life was referring to a watch that had stopped working and they said, “This watch has given up the ghost.” Me, being a tiny person, didn’t understand what that meant. I learned that, in some translations of the bible, Jesus gives up the ghost before he dies, rather than his spirit. I always thought that, in that moment, Jesus had given up, Jesus was beaten. He concedes the match.
Many years later, I learned that the Greek word in John’s telling of the Gospel that meaans “to give up” doesn’t mean give up in the way I thought, like surrendering. It’s the same word that scripture uses when talking about giving the Gospel to another person so that they may then share it with others. It is one of the verbs used when preparing evangelists to go and meet people. When Jesus gives up the Spirit on the cross, he doesn’t lose. He lets go of the Spirit and shares it with the people around him. The Spirit is now—always was—in everyone’s possession. His mother, the women at the foot of the Cross, the beloved disciple, all of the people gathered and watching the execution, these people are given Christ’s Spirit.
A few moments later, humanity’s response is to say “Well, he looks dead, but we need to make sure.” They stick him with a spear and from the wound comes blood and water. In a few moments on the Cross we see the Spirit of Christ given to the world and then blood and water—communion and baptism—flowing from the Body of Christ When humanity musters the absolute worst that it can come up with: all of the hate and fear, prejudice and violence and murder of putting Christ on the Cross, God’s response is to literally open the Body and let love and grace and mercy, the sacraments, the Church, pour out into the world.
The more ugly stuff that we can bring, the more grace God will find to cover it. There is no childish fit that we can pitch that God’s love will not wash over and remedy. This is the key to the line in the hymn we sang last week :”Love to the loveless shown that hey might lovely be.” We come to the Cross bearing only hate and violence and anger. God takes it and, in return, gives us love that we might go into the world carrying the Gospel and give it up to others in the same way that Christ has given up the Spirit on the Cross for us.
And so today, on Good Friday, we stand in awe of what God has done for us on the Cross. Thanks be to God.
Originally preached at Holy Trinity Church, Winnipeg.