Who Am I in the Face of the Cross? (Good Friday Sermon)

This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached tonight, Good Friday. The gospel text was John 18:1 — 19:42.

On Sunday, we heard the Passion of Our Lord according to Luke. And I invited you to write down questions that the story brought up in you. A few of you did so, and I am trying to address these questions in my sermons on these holy days. The question we’re going to wrestle with tonight is this:

I’m glad I live now. If I had lived back with Jesus, I ask myself: would I have been at his side or in the crowd yelling out, “Crucify him”?

Question asked by congregation member

It’s a very good question, and one I think appropriate to talk about tonight, when we’ve just heard John’s telling of the passion story. John is a unique gospel, and always tells its stories in a distinctive way. One feature of the passion according to John is that Jesus is always in control. Jesus always knew what he was doing, where he was going. As he travels from the garden to the high priest to Pilate to the cross, this is his story. Everyone else reacts to him. Jesus walks through the narrative with faith, with conviction, with power. Doing so, he becomes a mirror to other people. As they react to him, their true selves are reflected in that mirror, and we readers see who they are.

And so tonight, we ask alongside the author of tonight’s question, who am I in the mirror of Christ? If I had been there, if I could see how I would react in the face of the cross, if I could see myself face to face with the crucified one, what would I see? Who would I be?

  • We see the chief priests and police standing outside Pilate’s headquarters, shouting, “Crucify him!” Would I be among them, caught up in emotions of anger and fear?
  • We see Pilate shaken by the crowd, trying in vain to convince them of their folly, trying in vain to release Jesus, and eventually caving to the crowd’s wishes. Would I be like him, despairing of the madness of others, giving up and giving in?
  • We see several women standing steadfast at the foot of the cross, mourning. Would I be among them, faithful and loyal yet unable to do anything to stop what happened?
  • We see Simon Peter fighting at first with great intentions and enthusiasm, yet falling away out of fear. Would I be like him, giving into temptation?
  • We see Joseph of Arimathea arriving quietly, having kept his devotion to Jesus secret, yet making sure Jesus received a good burial. Would I be like him, faithful yet so timid?

Who would I be? What role would I play?

Face to face with the cross, who would I show myself to be? Strong or weak? Kind or cruel? Steadfast or disloyal?

It’s not as hard to discover as we might think. We come face to face with the cross of Christ today as well.

The cross of Christ is the place of suffering, the place where this world’s suffering becomes brutally visible. The place where the suffering of this world pierces through the veneer of the brave masks we wear, through the veneer of our superficial lives, through the veneer of peace and quiet.

Whenever we experience suffering in our lives, we see the cross of Christ before us.
When we are bullied or attacked…
When we are ill or in physical distress…
When we are lonely or hopeless…
…we see the cross of Christ before us.

Whenever we encounter the suffering of others, we see the cross of Christ before us.
When we see people dying because of war…
When we see people demeaned or mistreated because of their gender or the color of their skin…
When we see people begging for their next meal…
…we see the cross of Christ before us.

The cross of Christ is also the place of transformation of the dying world around us, the acid in which the things we thought we knew are dissolved, the anvil upon which the things we relied on are shattered.
When we feel the world as we know it shifting beneath our feet…
When we flounder at the loss of control in our lives…
When we throw up our hands in despair at our lack of understanding…
…we see the cross of Christ before us.

In the face of that cross, who are you? What do you look like in that mirror? How have you responded to these things? Who are you?

Take heart.

The cross of Christ is also the moment when God and humanity come face to face. The collision of the world of God and the world of humanity. As Christ hangs on the cross, his suffering becomes God’s suffering. On the cross, God suffers at the hands of humanity.

Take heart.

For in the moment when Christ walks into that suffering, Christ transforms that suffering into salvation. The pain and worry and suffering are not extinguished, but they are transformed. Transfigured. Redeemed. Sanctified. Made holy. Saved. And made whole.

Take heart.

The moment when we see the cross of Christ is indeed the moment when we see ourselves for who we are, but it is also the moment when we see God for who God is:

A God of transformation.

A God of hope.

A God who has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases.

A God of compassion.

A God who gave up his spirit for us.

A God who comes to us, in every moment, and particularly in the moments of suffering.

A God who transforms that suffering.

A God who transforms us.

A God who has done all this for us. Out of love. Pure love.

A God who is still doing all this for us. For us. For you.

A God whose grace pours out like wine.

A God who is here. Now.

The question, “Who am I in the face of the cross?” is a good one. But the answer may not always be pretty. An even better question is this: “Who is God in the face of the cross?” Look upon the cross and see, God is here. God is love. God is grace overflowing into eternity.

Image by suju-foto from Pixabay

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