We have been preparing for this moment for weeks:
The moment when we would bear witness to the Passion of our Lord.
The moment that we would listen to Jesus’ plaintive cries at Gethsemane.
The moment that we would watch helplessly as he is handed over to Pilate.
The moment that the cries of “Crucify him!” would ring in our ears.
The moment that we would see the cross being dragged through the dirt.
The moment that we would smell the sour wine mixed with myrrh.
The moment we would be present to the death of God.
We have been preparing for this moment for weeks. We have adopted Lenten disciplines in order to make room for God in our lives. We have been reminded of our mortality in the solemn liturgy of Ash Wednesday. We have participated in regular worship, where we have heard God’s call to repentance. We have waved palms to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem, and we have been present as Jesus gave himself to us in the Body and Blood of the Eucharist. On this blog, Saint Paul has reminded us that the cross is at the center of our life together, even though it seems like a foolish stumbling block.
We have been preparing for this moment for weeks, and yet the crucifixion still shakes us to the core of our being. I think that we are so shaken because on some level, even though the crucifixion was an event that occurred 2000 years ago, we realize that we are somehow complicit in the death of Jesus. We are inclined to blame Pilate and the crowds, but the reality is that the guilt of the crowds is our guilt.
John’s gospel tells us that when Pilate presents Jesus to the crowds, they shriek “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” The crowds find Jesus’ presence so repugnant that they want him taken out of their sight; they don’t want to deal with him anymore: they want to push him away. In the next moment, when Pilate asked “the Jews” whether he should crucify their king, the crowd responds by saying “We have no King but Caesar!” They could have just as easily said “this man is not our king,” but in a moment of painful irony the crowd swears its allegiance to the Roman emperor. Remember that in John’s gospel, the Passion takes place during Passover, and so that night, those who had gathered before Pilate to hand Jesus over to death, those who had claimed that Caesar was their king, would gather together for a ritual meal to celebrate their redemption from slavery in Egypt. At this Passover seder, they would ask questions, eat unleavened bread and bitter herbs, and sing many hymns, including “We have no King but you.” When “the Jews” come face to face with Jesus, they push him away to the point that they deny their very identity. The crowds are so eager to condemn Jesus death that they forget that God is their King.
It would be easy for us to say that this is something that we would never do: “We would never push Jesus away; we would never deny God’s claim on us.” Yet we forget God’s kingship every time we turn away from suffering and forget those who are in need:
Every time we forget about those who are imprisoned in the throes of addiction, we push Jesus away.
Every time we forget that there are people who hated and mistrusted because of the color of their skin, we push Jesus away.
Every time we forget about those whose bodies are riddled with cancer, we push Jesus away.
Every time we forget about the fragility of our world and wantonly ignore those who will come after us, we push Jesus away.
Every time we forget about those who are oppressed and have no right to self-determination, we push Jesus away.
Every time we forget about those who are crippled by mental illness, we push Jesus away.
Nevertheless, Jesus continues to reach out in love to us. Even as he dies on the cross, Jesus offers no words of condemnation, only words of love. And so on Good Friday, we are called to realize our complicity in our Lord’s death. On Good Friday, we are called to embrace and affirm our identity as God’s people. On Good Friday, we are called to reach out our hands to those who are need of God’s love, just as Christ stretched out his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross. On Good Friday, we are called to remember that we have no king but the crucified God.