So what does it all mean? What difference does the crucifixion make? Does God love us more because Jesus died on the cross? Are we somehow more acceptable, more tolerable, to God because Jesus suffered? Have we been brought closer to God because his son was executed by a Roman governor who gave in to fear and the shouts of those he governed?
I don’t believe that’s who God is, the way God acts, or how God loves. That is not why we call this day, this Friday, good. Jesus’ death on the cross does not make us more lovable, it reveals how much we are already loved. The suffering of Jesus does not change God’s mind about us. It reveals God’s mind about us. Humanity is of ultimate value, worth all that God has and is. The crucifixion of God’s son does not bring us closer to God. It reveals the closeness of God standing shoulder to shoulder with us in the many deaths we suffer. The cross is more about revelation than causation.
Some will disagree and say the crucifixion is a direct cause and effect relationship between God and humanity. That is too easy, too mechanical, too impersonal. It lets us off our cross and distances us from the cross of Christ. Maybe that’s how we try to make peace with this day and with the crucifixion of Jesus. We convince ourselves that Jesus died for us so now everything has been fixed. We assume Jesus did it all and there’s nothing left for us to do but believe it and express appropriate guilt. Maybe we have become too comfortable with Jesus’ death on the cross and we no longer feel its confrontation or hear its invitation.
To the degree we assign causality to the crucifixion we empty it of its power. The power of the cross is in what it reveals, not what it did. That one cross standing outside Jerusalem hasn’t really changed humanity. The last two thousand years have shown that. The fear, the power struggles, the rejection of truth, the sin and darkness that led to Jesus’ crucifixion are as present today as they were then. They can be seen in the Holocaust; the Killing Fields of Cambodia and the genocides of Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur; the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria; the mass shootings in our country; poverty, hunger, and homelessness throughout the world; and the many ways in which we daily hurt, betray, and mistreat each other and ourselves.
We may believe in the cross but are we willing to participate in it? That’s the question. If it were only about Jesus’ crucifixion and death he wouldn’t have been so insistent that we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. But he was insistent. He was equally insistent that he would show us the way, so that his way, the way of the cross, might become our way.
For two thousand years God has set the cross before us as a choice. It is a hard choice. History has proven that. So every year on this day we gather to hear the story, to be reminded of the revelation, and to make a choice. It is a choice we make every day.
Good Friday neither appeases God nor improves humanity. It reveals the depth of God’s love even in the midst of rejection. It demonstrates that God denies us nothing of himself, that humanity is worth all God has and is. It manifests God’s presence in the darkest and most painful parts of our humanity. It shows us that God never turns and runs. We are never abandoned. It reveals that security is in vulnerability, freedom is in surrender, and life is in death. It makes known God’s open heart and arms.
The thing about revelation is that it demands a response. The cross will not go unanswered. We can explain it away, we can say no and repeat history, or we can participate in what we have seen, but we always answer.
Revelation does not simply offer information or news. It offers and invites participation in a new reality and a new way of being that changes everything about our life and our world. That is both the power and the challenge of the crucifixion, and that is why we call this Friday good.
This sermon is for Good Friday in Holy Week and is based on John 18:1-19:42.