March 30, 2018
Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22, Hebrews 10:16-25, John 18:1-19:42
All-loving God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross…. This afternoon we are in the presence of a terrible thing: the cruel execution of a good and faithful man. Here we see Jesus not only murdered, but also tortured. Not only executed, but also shamed. Jesus is not the first nor is he the last man or woman to suffer such horrendous things, but he is the one we remember across two thousand years.
And according to the collect this wasn’t done by Jesus in order to save an abstraction called the human race, or to rescue billions of strangers. Rather, our prayer says that Jesus submits to the cross for his family, the family of which Abba is father and mother.
Parents can understand it on this level: what mother and father would not gladly give up their lives, so their children might live. This is what parents do every day in ways both small and great: packing the school lunch and sacrificing their own time and pleasure, so their children might thrive in the world. We don’t do this because our children are perfect, but because they are family.
Jesus gives himself, in his life and in his death, for his family which he loves.
This family is made concrete when he says to his mother, “Woman, here is your son”, and to the Beloved Disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.”
Mother and child joined together in Abba’s family by the dying Son.
Jesus is rescuing Abba’s family by going into the far country to bring back all the prodigal daughters and sons who can’t find their way home.
At its most fundamental, the cross is a passionate love story between Triune God and the children who have gotten lost.
But how does something so horrible as a crucifixion reunite a broken family?
There are a number of atonement theories that range from the shameful to the sublime. There is the idea that God is so angry at the human race that he wants to send the lot of them into a flaming sea of eternal conscious torment, but at the last minute his son steps in front of his angry father and takes the wrath on himself to save his sisters and brothers.
This is a caricature, of course, but there have been too many sermons preached that say just this and too many angry men who find justification for their violence against their family in this picture of God.
This is not what we see in the passion of Jesus. Jesus is not being tortured by an angry father, but by a fearful Empire and religious Establishment anxious to protect their power and status. They are the ones immediately behind his death, though behind them is a systemic evil always looking for ways to inflict ill-being on the family of God.
What the son is doing on the cross, in union with his Abba, and in the power of the Spirit, is going into the far country where we are dying, lost and alone.
He goes to that place where men and women worship power and glory, and gladly use violence to keep both. The place where communities are formed and forged together by violence toward the Other who becomes a scapegoat driven into the wilderness. He goes to the place where systemic evil holds us captive, away from truth and beauty.
Into this world Jesus comes, bringing good news to those who have no way out. He comes, not as an abstraction, a two-dimensional cardboard cutout, but as a Jew from Nazareth, who on the cross shares our hunger and thirst, our sin and shame, our sickness and death.
In short, the Jesus we see on the cross is the one who fully identifies with us in our suffering, dying, and death.
He is not leaning over us like the medical staff that is healthy and strong, but he is dying in the bed with us.
My son who is Nurse Practitioner at Yale-New Haven Hospital texted me recently: he said: “A very confused/demented patient wandering the halls just asked me if I knew where God’s headquarters is.”
I texted back: Great question when life is falling apart! What’d you say?”
He responded: I chuckled and before I could respond the RN pointed back into his room and said it was in there.”
I’m sure I’d given this confused man some theological abstraction, like, “God is present everywhere”, but the RN got it right.
Abba is in the man’s room, identifying with him in his confusion and dementia to comfort and lead him into his best future.
All-loving God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross….
You notice I changed the first word of the prayer from Almighty God to All-Loving God.
Almighty sounds too much like emperors and dictators with big armies and a violent rule over their people.
All-Loving sounds like someone who risks everything to save us.
Jesus’s last words on the cross are: “It is finished!” His work–of identifying with us and thereby overcoming the power of systemic evil—is done. Through his finished work on the cross, we—the whole human race, indeed the entire cosmos, are restored to Abba’s family.
Through the eyes of faith we see that we are in Abba’s home right now. Like Dorothy, who has been caught in a nightmare of evil witches, flying monkeys, and a fake wizard, we have been awakened by Christ Crucified and therefore we are bold to say, Our Father–“there is no place like home, there is no place like home.”