Good Friday 2017 – Talk 5

No. 5 – Crucifixion

It is finished. All over. Another day’s work, another bloody crucifixion. What was the fuss about? One more provincial preacher with grandiose ideas. Having agonised about how to entrap him, we’ve finally seen him off. Jewish leaders heaving a sigh of relief: Romans perhaps not so sure – their antennae flickering to pick up the nuances of Jewish dis-ease. Even fanning the flames, ‘What I have written I have written.’ Pilate putting the chief priests in their place and even, as we shall hear later, allowing other notable Jews to bury Jesus decently. Divide and rule? Or perhaps a momentary glimpse of an alternative reality. After all, it was Pilate who asked, ‘What is truth?’

There’s a lot going on at the foot of the cross. If the Jewish leaders are triumphant, it is surely tempered by Pilate’s intransigence. Maybe they thought they had him in their pocket? It really was a slap in the face to see the dying Jesus labelled ‘King of the Jews’. And in sufficient languages for there to be no doubt at all what was said.

And what about Jesus’ followers? What would they have made of this interchange or of the inscription? Was he to them King of the Jews? Or were they, even in their grief, equally uneasy, albeit for different reasons? Had Pilate perhaps wrong footed the lot of them?

The real story is that Jesus, even in death, could not be pigeonholed. He died silent: this was not a political protest with a goal in sight – like modern day hunger strikers, for example. No demand for change was made of anyone in power. In that sense the death was entirely, utterly futile. Senseless. And, because of that, more powerful than we could ever imagine.

Senseless deaths happen every day. Unremembered people dying from poverty, drug abuse and neglect on Western streets. Children gunned down in anger, acts unforeseen and uncontainable. Trucks driven into holidaymakers. Civilians gassed, when their lives have already been shattered through warfare. None of these, or any other comparable situations, has any perceivable purpose or goal other than, borne out of anger, the destruction of life. Where is God, we may ask ourselves.

God, in Christ, is on the cross, dying equally senselessly. But compelling us to look upon him. What do we see in his face? If we are serious, both about our faith and about the brokenness of our world, we owe it to him not to turn away. But, rather, to take seriously this seemingly pointless death. We may ask ourselves could he better have served his people by remaining alive, healing and teaching. Even, as Judas may have wanted, spearheading a revolution. But he didn’t. And yet caused the greatest revolution in human history – the birth of Christianity. Precisely because of his passivity: it was an irrepressible game changer.

One death among millions over the centuries. Easy to be casual, blasé even. Every day the media report suffering on a scale which feels meaningless, numbing even – what do we expect in our crazy world today? I can’t deal with this. But God can. God, through Jesus’ death, through its meaninglessness, by implication tells us that the most random killing, while neither justified nor part of God’s plan, nevertheless touches the heart of God and is not forgotten. And sometimes, just sometimes, can lead to something better emerging.

Today we remain with the Crucifixion. Watching at the foot of the Cross. Waiting with the people of Syria, Coptic Christians, displaced Iraqis, starving East Africans, politically exploited South Americans, refugees here and many others. Not truly understanding, misunderstanding, powerless to change systems but, nonetheless in solidarity with them and with Christ. Knowing that beyond the pain there is the potential for something different, which the Cross, demonstrably, makes possible. Which God aches for.

They will look on the one whom they have pierced. All will, that day, have been staring, most vultures vicariously enjoying the sight of this troublesome preacher finally brought down. But we can turn this on its head. Is not the Crucifixion the event in history most portrayed in the arts? The Cross the most utilised symbol? Despite modern secularism, ubiquitously evident for all to look at.

Dig deeper, though, and there’s another reason why they will look on him whom they have pierced.  Because that death, that Cross, through its apparent meaningless self-giving, not only ultimately triggered a whole new human landscape (and some regime change) but has never ceased to challenge humanity to consider its priorities and, indeed, its very identity.

We started with the picture of the lamb, poignantly shocking in its detail, compelling in its intensity. If we are moved, whether by that, or by three year old Alan Kurdi’s dead body on a Turkish beach, then we align ourselves with God. And, in so doing, dream a dream of of something different, made possible by our involvement, however peripheral or faint it might seem at this moment in time. Political systems have shelf lives. Eternity has a long memory. We can sing a different song. In the desolation and utter darkness of Christ’s death there is strength. To quote Isaiah, our aspiration should be to become that watered garden whose waters never fail.

Canon Alison M Adams