Meditations on the Cross
Readings: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22:1-17; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42
There are many moments during Jesus' life which are memorable. But surely none can be as profound as these last days which we commemorate. Here is both the tragedy and glory of his life. Here we see glimpses of our own humanity shining forth. Let us journey together through the final scenes of Christ's earthly life.
The Garden of Gethsemane
First we go with Jesus and the disciples to the garden of Gethsemane. When pilgrims visited the city for a festival like Passover, it was not unusual for a group of people to find a place to spend the night. Jesus and his followers spent many nights under the olive trees in the garden. There, just beyond the city wall, was a quiet place apart, a place of prayer and communion with God and one another.
Judas knew perfectly well where he would find Jesus. It was no secret. His treachery was so simple. Although he brought an armed detachment of soldiers along with him, Jesus offered no resistance. He could have used violence to protect himself. Peter's rash action in taking up a sword is the proof of that. But Jesus chose what is life-giving even in that ultimate moment of distress. He chose to break the cycle of violence. He refused to enter into the violence of the world.
If that is the foolishness of the cross, Lord, then give me the strength to face it. Let me experience the cup of blessing. I am called to drink from the cup in willing obedience to your will whatever it brings. I may be called to stand up for what is right against all odds. I may be called to love the most unlovable of your creation. I may be called to risk everything for the gospel. Whatever it means, I pray that I may be worthy of my calling.
Hymn: Blue 194: Stay With Us
Peter's struggle is that of a person for whom there is no perfect answer. "Is it better for me," he must have reasoned, "to lie and remain free so that I can continue the struggle? Or should I risk everything to follow Christ to the cross?"
We see it throughout history. It is the dilemma of the Jesuit priests in the movie, The Mission. One of them chose to face whatever without retaliation. He died, cut down by enemies of the church. The other chose to fight back. He died too. Who was right?
I see people struggling to keep their faith in the midst of crippling sorrow and senseless loss. Peter is practical if nothing else. His world is simple. You have to do this or that, you have to act, you have to establish standards, set things right, even things out. Or so he tells himself. And even though he wants to be there in Jesus' hour of need, yet he convinces himself that the risk is not worth it.
Peter represents the discipleship of his own day, but he represents also the discipleship in Newcastle, or Toronto, or wherever else there is a Christian community. We can persuade ourselves that our loyalty to Jesus has no limits. We confess our faith in the creed. We proclaim our loyalty as we sing our favourite hymns. But do we proclaim who we are to the world? Do we tell people how much we love Jesus? Or do we worry about being ridiculed? Do we worry about being labelled fanatics? Or do we simply say: "I am a follower of Christ," whatever the risk?
Hymn: Blue 197: O Dearest Lord
Jesus is condemned to death.
Pilate's struggle is not so much an inner struggle, as a struggle with the complex and unbending rules of his society. He knows the law. He is responsible, wise, has all the right arguments, but a frozen heart. He prefers to hand over one whom he knows to be innocent rather than to take on the mob. It is so much easier too if you do not believe that there is such a thing as truth. If you believe nothing, you can do anything. You don't need character or conviction or reflection. It becomes just a part of the power game.
There is something too about the way Jesus faces Pilate at the time of his judgement. His quiet demeanour in the face of death could be taken for weakness on his part. But one only need look back on his years of ministry to witness the truth. This is not a weak man simply caving in to authority. He spoke out in the temple. He answered the charges of the Pharisees as they tried to entrap him with his own words. He was a friend to outcasts and sinners never worrying about what society might say or think. But here he stands silent before his accusers, silent for he knows that the way of the cross is the way to glory.
Hymn 202: There is a Green Hill Far Away
At the Foot of the Cross
A group of the faithful gather at the foot of the cross, the holy women, the beloved disciple. It is a time of faith for them. They see beyond the fact of Christ's death. If we consider only the external appearance of Golgotha, the world will go on as it is, and we will become discouraged and follow the way of the world. But if we take in the meaning of the cross we will understand that it creates a place of love and glory. We will know that serving people is more important than having power or control over them. We will know that love cannot die. We will know life, for the cross is the beginning of life if we accept it.
Hymn 179: Tree of Life vs. 1, 2, 6a
Jesus is crucified
The crucifixion as John expresses it is not a scene of horror. For Christ on the cross has conquered death and fear. Out of the darkness shines the glory of God. Out of the depths of our despair, we meet our Saviour. The world loved darkness better than light. But from the cross the light shines against the darkness of the sky turned black.
On Good Friday we see the truth of who we are. We see our sinfulness. We know without a doubt that despite all our good intentions we are sinners. In the cross we see the goodness of God. God is a God of love who is determined to forgive us no matter how sinful we are. Such is the grace of God. What Christ has come to do has been accomplished. Our relationship with God is restored.
Hymn 192: Were you there?
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