A few weeks ago, the radical Islamic movement, ISIS, posted a video on the internet of the beheading of 21 Coptic Christian men on a beach in Libya. Just before their throats were cut, many of these youngmen could be seen mouthing the words “Jesus Christ” and “Jesus is Lord.” The video finishes with a shot of the shallow waves lapping the beach stained red with their blood and the title of the video “A message in blood to the Nation of the Cross.” This is widely presumed to be a message directed at Christianity.
In his response to ISIS, Fr Barron, the Catholic evangelist, speaking on his Word on Fire website says “We hold up the cross as a taunt to you because we know that God’s love is greater than anything you’ve got.”
We are the people of the Cross.
The humanity of Jesus and the divinity of Christ meet on the Cross and in that unity is our salvation.Throughout the past 2000 years, tyrants and dictators have tried to eliminate followers of Jesus through violence and torture. But as Tertullian observed 1800 year ago, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.
In the time of Jesus, the cross was a brutal weapon of terror. It was designed to frighten and dissuade people from opposing Roman rule.
It’s not surprising that the disciples of Jesus ran away and went into hiding after his arrest. They were afraid that they’d be next on the cross.
The things that we, people throughout the world, created in the image of God, can and do, do to each other are unspeakably awful and sometimes beyond our wildest understanding.
Fr Richard Rohr, the Franciscan priest, writer and often controversial theologian says that “Jesus’ body on the cross is a standing icon of what humanity is doing and what God suffers “with,” “in” and “through” us. It is both an external exposing and eternal holding of the Great Mystery. It reveals what humanity is doing to itself and to one another. The cross is refusing to hate or needing to defeat the other because that would be to only continue the same pattern and reciprocate the violence.”
We live in a world fuelled by hatred, envy, intolerance and greed and while we may feel somewhat isolated from the major catastrophes of human barbarism, war, starvation, torture, abuse and oppression we don’t have to look far to see how capable we are of hurting each other.
Let’s look briefly at some of the characters in the Passion of Our Lord, and perhaps we’ll get a glimpse of our own hearts.
Judas betrayed Jesus because he didn’t meet his expectations and it’s easy for us to condemn him. But he didn’t know with certainty at that time that Jesus was God and that he would rise from the dead. We do know – and yet we betray him. We condemn people of different races, creeds, cultures and sexual orientation because they don’t meet our expectations.Jesus loves and died for them and asks us to do the same.
In the Garden of Gethsemane Simon Peter drew his sword to protect Jesus and he cut off a man’s ear but a few hours later in the courtyard of the high priest when he was asked the question “ Are you not a disciple?”he denied it fiercely. Do we not also blow hot and cold in our defence of Jesus,our faith, our Church and our discipleship?
The high priest challenged Jesus about his teaching. Do we not sometimes challenge the teachings of Christianity not on a solid ground of knowledge and understanding but rather because some teachings don’t suit our lifestyles or aspirations?
Pilate asked Jesus “What is truth?”
We believe that Jesus is the Truth and that the Church has the responsibility to preserve, protect and proclaim that what Jesus revealed to us: about God, about life and about death. Do we accept that? Or do we only accept bits of the truth? What is the truth in our lives?
Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified even though he could not find fault with him. He bowed to public pressure that threatened his status and authority. When we’re under pressure to defend the divinity of Jesus, at home or in our places of work or study, do we duck and dive and hang him out to dry or do we speak up for him ?
The gospels tell us that the soldiers compelled Simon of Cyrene to carry Jesus’ cross. I wonder if he did this reluctantly or whether on seeing Jesus struggling he was moved to help him and the soldiers in grabbing him out of the crowd, made that possible. The lesson is that whether we follow Jesus reluctantly or willingly, we’re always walking in his footsteps. Perhaps there’s someone in our lives who is just waiting for us to invite them to walk with Jesus.
Historians tell us that it took four men to crucify someone; some to hold the victim down and others to hammer in the nails. We could be asking ourselves about the way in which we treat people in our lives. Are we holding them down and depriving them of their freedom in our actions, or lack of actions, in our criticisms and demands; or are we perhaps causing them pain; spiritual, psychological or physical?
On that Good Friday over 2000 years ago, we crucified the Son of God and God still loves us. His love is more powerful than anything that’s in the world. On the cross Jesus reveals, resolves and forgives us our sins; forgives us for hurting him and for hurting each other.
Let us never be ashamed or frightened to proclaim that Jesus is Lord.