Deacon Les Ruhrmund
From a very young age I remember being strongly moved by the telling or the visual presentation of the crucifixion. As a boy I thrilled in Ben Hur’s victory in the chariot race but wept when he tried in vain to offer Jesus water as he stumbled his way to Calvary. Earlier this year I watched on DVD the new production of Jesus Christ Superstar staged in the O2 arena in London – a clever 21st century adaption of the musical that I loved so much as a teenager. And again the tears flowed freely. However for all its brilliance, I was very disappointed in the staging of the final scene which suggested that the story finished on the cross – and of course it didn’t. The real story begins on the Cross and continues throughout time.
A question often asked is “Why did Jesus have to die?” ……. imply perhaps that this was a premeditated plot hatched by God.
Was this really God’s plan and everything and everyone were just a player in this terrible drama? Doesn’t that make God out to be a bit of a bully? Surely the Father could not have wanted Jesus tortured and nailed to a cross to die? It begs the question that if our God wants and sends suffering, even setting up a gruesome death for his only beloved son, then why should we complain when we get a disease, an illness, lose a child, or become a quadriplegic?
How do we reconcile that idea of heartless cruelty with the idea of a God of perfect love? Perfect is perfect – there’s no room for imperfection if something is perfect. If God’s love is perfect and absolute – then there can be no provision in God’s will to justify the violent and brutal killing of Jesus. And so I think we can be certain that it was not God’s plan to kill Jesus. God did not need the blood of Jesus. Jesus did not just come “to die”, but God used his death to announce the end of death.
Jesus did not seek death for its own sake, but could not and would not live any other way than faithfully, hopefully and lovingly. Any act of anger, violence, rage, revenge or retaliation would have been contrary to his very being which was and is perfect love. In his obedience to love, he overcame the disobedience of Adam and brought about our reconciliation with God and earned for us an infinite reward; eternal life. God’s relationship to the world, formally distorted by disobedience and sin, was now renewed. Reconciliation had been accomplished; a perfect sacrifice of love.
God’s will for Jesus affects everything we believe about how God deals with us.
It’s astonishing how some Christians can believe so strongly that God sends them pain and suffering when there is so much evidence that we believe in a God who wants nothing to do with this. God wants life and joy for us. In Jesus’ life we see again and again how he opposes suffering in any form.
God’s plan was and is to reveal himself to us through Jesus. Up until the birth of Jesus, humankind’s understanding and perception of God was shaped by the prophets and the traumatic events that led to the formation of Israel, God’s chosen people. But their perceptions didn’t reveal the truth about God’s love. They understood God to be almighty and powerful; a God of retribution who had favourites and acted forcibly against their enemies. They came to respect a God who could be appeased or pleased by obedience to rules and laws governing things like food preparation, cleanliness, dress, social behaviour and prayer.
When Jesus arrived he upset the applecart completely. He showed through his actions and explained in his parables that the kingdom of God is ruled by absolute love and that what’s in our hearts is as important as what we do; that our actions should be a reflection of the love in our hearts rather than a book-keeping response to a set of laws. He showed us what unconditional love looks like.
And for doing that – he was killed
What the cross shows us is just how cruel and intolerant we can be of each other. None of that is God’s plan. In our lives we are all going to be exposed to the potential we have, as humanity, to be spiteful, jealous, envious, selfish, resentful and hateful to one another. We’ll be hurt by people we love, some will be injured by people that don’t even know and others will find themselves helpless in the grip of disease.
We’ll cry out as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane and again on the Cross. Jesus cried for the strength and courage to be faithful and true to his mission to reveal God’s love, even if it cost him his life.
We have little option but to take the hardships of the world as a given and instead of agonising about why the world is as it is, look for comfort in coping with it as it is. No amount of clever explanation or theology will help us in our pain. The only real comfort is the comfort of feeling ourselves loved; the comfort of loving grace.
With God’s grace we can endure as Jesus did. In God’s absolute love we are always in the passionate embrace of Christ. He knows how hard it is to love and he knows how painful life can be. He’s been there and got the scars to prove it.
When we come forward to venerate the Cross this afternoon, we can thank Jesus in the silence of our hearts, for enduring the agony of an unjust and extremely painful death so that we can look forward with hope to eternal life