APRIL 13, 2014
The Rev. Anne Wrider
And so we begin the most holy, the most solemn of weeks in the Christian year. Every event from the day of Jesus’ birth – all the teaching, the healings, the miracles – everything leads up to this week. This is where the story has its end and its beginning. And over all of it hangs the shadow of the Cross.
This is not a time for intellectual analysis or discussion. We are part of this story. Each of us is in the crowd whose rage is fanned into flame by our leaders, whose resentments and hidden hatreds are poured out on this man. The Cross shows us the evil that human beings can do. And this is not the evil of long ago and far away. This is the evil that lives in our hearts, in our families, in our world. And, apart from Jesus, there is no one in this story who does not carry a part of the burden of guilt.
The disciples, who cannot bother to stay awake to pray with their teacher, run away and leave Jesus alone. Even Peter, who vowed that he would stand with Jesus, pretends he doesn’t know him. The chief priests and elders, frightened at the prospect of losing their power, plot to kill Jesus. The crowd allows itself to be manipulated into the bloodthirsty mob. Pilate lives in cynicism and fear, so is perfectly happy to let this innocent man die. And finally, even the criminals hanging on either side of him turn against him, against this man who had always cared for those that society called outcast.
This is the experience of absolute desolation. Even God seems to have forsaken Jesus. Hanging on the Cross, Jesus gathers up into himself every hurt, every loss, every betrayal that human beings give or receive. We cannot hide from this or pretend that it is anything less than it is. The Cross tells the truth about who we are and what we are capable of. And the truth is terrifying and hideous. But unless we face the Cross, unless we face the evil that casts its shadow over this week, we cannot begin to understand why the Resurrection is the moment when the universe is transformed. And, more importantly, if we do not face the evil of our own hearts and minds, we cannot understand the gift that we are offered on Easter.
That evil is cleverly disguised. We call it “the price of doing business,” or “just the way the world is,” or “what everyone knows is really true.” We justify our greed and our hatreds and call them “making a living,” and “strengthening our community.” But the Cross strips away the euphemisms and demands that we see our sinfulness for what it is.
And if we face into that sinfulness, we may have some faint sense of the desolation that Jesus felt. It is hard to do this. It calls for what the 12-step programs call a “searching and fearless moral inventory.” Most of us resist doing this most of the time, not surprisingly.
I have been asked from time to time if Jesus knew when he hung on the Cross that he would rise from the dead. There is no way of knowing, of course, but I imagine that he didn’t. Jesus’ gift of himself was done, NOT because there was anything in it for him, but because he loved us. He was willing to suffer the most awful, lonely and painful death because he knew that in some way, we needed it. And indeed we did.
We will meet here a week from today, and there will be flowers and wonderful music and Alleluia’s sung and shouted. We do know that Jesus rose from the dead. We know that the Cross tells the truth about us, but that there is more to the story. We know that no matter how dark the ugly corners of our hearts may be, God’s love is strong enough to shine into them and make them holy.
But in the meantime, I invite you to look at the shadow of the Cross. I invite you to spend some time asking yourself which person in this story is you. Allow yourself to be part of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Dare to feel the sorrow and loss of this week. And then, I invite you to stand at the empty tomb next Sunday and to know that no matter what sin or loss or bitterness or evil exists, the love of God is stronger than all of it, stronger, even than death. And that is what salvation is all about.