Category Archives: Easter Triduum

Jesus loves me this I know

Good Friday
Les Ruhrmund

Crucifixion was a familiar method of execution used by the Romans at the time of Jesus and was an excruciatingly painful procedure resulting in a slow and agonising death. It was for this very reason that it was used as a deterrent to would be traitors and criminals. We’re told by historians that many of the soldiers who were tasked to carry out crucifixions were traumatised by the experience and would fortify themselves with wine beforehand.

Jesus says to us from the cross this afternoon: You have tortured me and put me through this most terrible suffering, yet I love you. There is nothing you can do in this world that would change my love for you. The Father says to us: Do you believe now how much I love you? My beloved son has died so that you may live with me in God’s kingdom.

Prior to the crucifixion of Jesus, there was no access to the kingdom. Human creation was completely cut off from God. None of the great people of scripture who proceeded Jesus were in the kingdom; not Abraham nor Isaac, nor Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah, nor any of the other great prophets; not even John the Baptist had access to the Father’s kingdom. The Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus opened the gateway to the Father and saved all humankind from eternal darkness. This is the greatest story ever told.

In John’s Passion we hear a variety of questions asked by different people who participated in the Passion of Jesus and I’d like to reflect simply on three of them:

“Who are you looking for? “Jesus asks twice.

“Aren’t you another of that man’s disciples?” is the question that is twice put to Peter.

“So you are a king, then? “asks Pontius Pilate.

So who are we looking for?

Our answer is surely the same as the soldiers: Jesus of Nazareth. If that was not true, we wouldn’t be here this afternoon. In our own ways, for many different reasons we’re all looking for Jesus in our lives. His love sustains, nourishes, comforts and carries us as we struggle with our own crosses to our own Calvary and redemption. Few of us will get through this life without pain and suffering; be it emotional, physical or spiritual. Jesus didn’t come to eliminate pain and suffering; his crucifixion is proof enough of that. But Jesus has been there; he understands our fear and dread in the face of pain and death. We need Jesus in our lives. While the soldiers were looking to take Jesus into custody, we place ourselves in the custody of Jesus.

The second question is to Peter. Although he had sworn vehemently at supper the night before that he would never desert Jesus, when challenged, three times he insisted that he didn’t even know the man.  We can empathise with Peter given a stark choice of perhaps life and death but do we deny Jesus nevertheless though the stakes are not nearly as high?  In our homes, families, work places and recreation do we compromise our relationship with Jesus by saying and doing things that hurt others?  Are we the voice of Jesus, the voice of peace, in a grossly cruel and violent world?

We live in a world that is extensively connected through social media. We are able to communicate instantly with a great many people at the push of a button. Would it be obvious to anyone reading what we post on social media and our smart phones that we are another of that man’s disciples?

The third question is posed by Pilate.

Is Jesus king? Do we really believe that? King of our hearts, king of our lives?

Jesus says his kingdom is not of this world. Those who will be welcomed into his kingdom will be recognised by how they fed the hungry and the thirsty, welcomed strangers, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited prisoners. Hunger may not necessarily be a shortage of food. It may be a hunger for love, acceptance, tolerance, kindness and understanding.  In the same way we don’t necessarily have to visit a jail to visit prisoners. Many are prisoners of loneliness, depression, addictions and abuse. They all cry out for the healing touch of Jesus that we as disciples can bring them.

We are challenged to show true allegiance to our king through our actions. Not ambition, greed and status, not pious words and conspicuous devotions, but quiet revolutionary work of making the world a better place in which to live; better because we have made it better.

Each of us stands alone before Jesus on the cross. We stare at his broken body that cries out in love for us. We know we are not worthy of his great sacrifice but we also know that he loves us in our imperfection.

He has chosen to travel the same journey all over again, in, through and with each one of us. No wonder we call this solemn feast “Good Friday”. What greater goodness could we know than that the cross of Jesus reveals that God is our companion at every step of life’s journey? A compassionate God who grieves with us when we despair and is a companion to us in our darkest days. He is the hope with which we look for the light of resurrection in all our lives.

Holy Thursday

13 April 2017
Cycle A
Rev Tony van Vuuren

Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, marks the start of the Easter Triduum. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper this evening commemorates the institution of the Eucharist. In John’s account of the Last Supper, which forms the gospel reading tonight, John makes the point that the Church has to make Christ present not only sacramentally, in his Body and Blood, but also in the spirit of service and surrendering of power which Jesus symbolises by washing his disciples feet.

In the other three gospels, the description of the Last Supper was modelled partly on what the early Christians were already doing in their Eucharistic celebration. And what they were doing was modelled, of course, on the actual event of the Last Supper itself, and Jesus’ words over the bread and wine: “This is my Body”; “This is my Blood”. “Do this in memory of me”.

In John’s gospel, that particular aspect of the Eucharist is dealt with in Chapter Six, where Jesus gives his long discourse on the living bread. “The bread I give is my flesh, for the life of the world…whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, lives in me and I live in them”.                                                                                                                                  This evening John doesn’t mention anything about bread and wine becoming Jesus’ body and blood. He uses the event of the Last Supper to emphasise another facet, or another dimension, of the Eucharist.                                                                                                                                                                     John’s version of Lord’s Supper describes Jesus washing his disciple’s feet – and informing them by this gesture that he’s the Messiah who’s come to serve rather than be served. And, just as important, he’s telling the disciples that they’ve got to do the same if they want to think of themselves as his followers.

John’s point in putting that incident right in the middle of the Last Supper illustrates how we can put our belief in the Eucharist into practice. The meaning of the Eucharist is lived out in practice when we all treat each other with that attitude of humility, self-emptying, service and love that Jesus himself demonstrated.

John never got tired of making the point that if our devotion towards God is real; it will express itself in devotion towards our neighbour, an active dedication of ourselves to our fellow human beings. “If God has loved us, so we must love each other”, he says, elsewhere in his writings.                                                                                                          It’s this aspect of our life in communion with God which John wants to emphasise in his account of the Last Supper as well.

For the true Christian, who is genuinely open to God’s influence in their life; taking part in the Eucharist is conditional on this attitude of service and humility – this willingness to take up a stance in life which involves performing menial or servant-like tasks for each other. Washing people’s feet in Jesus’ time was of course a task that only a servant or lowly slave would perform.                                                                                                            According to John, no Christian should approach the Eucharistic table, or receive Christ’s Body and Blood, without this prior commitment.                                                                                                                          At the same time, none of us should go away from the table, having received communion, without having this commitment strengthened and reinforced. We have to find the presence of Christ both in the Eucharist and in the washing of feet. They’re two sides of a single reality.                                                                                                                     Well, the question is: what reality? Why does John say that we as followers of Christ have to take on this servant-like commitment?                                                                                                                                                           The answer is that it’s a reflection of God’s nature, God’s character, and so it’s something that we take on as we gradually realise or grow into the vocation we all have to be like God.

By the time John’s gospel was written Jesus was clearly seen as being divine. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” he said. So the gesture of the foot-washing demonstrates a vital aspect of God’s nature – the fact that he chooses to reveal himself in powerlessness and servant hood.                                                                          God shows himself – to make the point another way – by reversing the ordinary human values and customs, where important and powerful people demonstrate their superiority with all kinds of badges of privilege and ways of being treated in a servile way by their subordinates. Peter shows how far he still holds to that way of thinking by his embarrassment and by the objections he raises to Jesus’ action. ‘You shall never wash my feet.”

Christ is present in the bread and wine as a sacramental sign and when we celebrate Mass together we are making him present in that way. But Christ must also be made present in real life, by a concrete commitment to servant hood. We make Christ present when we renounce our own pride and self-interest and respond to the needs, and especially to the suffering and the distress, of others. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper is to remind us not to separate those two aspects of the Eucharist and always to see them as belonging together.

That’s why out of the four gospel accounts of the Last Supper, it’s especially John’s account that belongs within the Easter Triduum: it belongs especially in the context of Christ’s journey to the Cross. And it’s partly for that reason that the Mass of the Lord’s Supper doesn’t have a formal ending – it remains open and unfinished, and picks up again tomorrow, with the remembrance of Christ’s Passion and Death.

So the institution of the Eucharist, the washing of the feet, and the Path to the Cross, are all part of a single mystery, and they all cast light on each other.

These are the realities of our faith which we can bear in mind and reflect on as we come together once again to re-enact and celebrate this year’s Paschal Triduum.

The Mystery of Salvation

Good Friday
25th March 2016
Dcn Tony van Vuuren

In the Gospels, the story of Jesus’ mission falls into two main parts. The first half consists of his public ministry of preaching, healing and exorcising and the second half consists of his passion and death. Superficially Jesus appears almost as two different characters.

During his ministry he was outspoken, courageous, urgent. He proclaimed his message with the passion of the Old Testament prophets and often went out of his way to antagonise the religious leadership of the time, pouring scorn on their teachings and practices, constantly using them as examples of how not to relate to God. He was a man who was asking for trouble. But then there’s the other half of the picture, the part we see today: the Jesus of the Passion narratives.

Fully human, yet divine.

The contrast between the bold, fearless Jesus of the preaching ministry, and the broken, humiliated figure of the passion is very vivid. Now the image is of the sacrificial lamb, led to slaughter, an outcast figure, punished for the faults of others. Fr. James Martin SJ, in his book, Jesus A Pilgrimage, describes at length how fully human Jesus is in His emotions as He faces his inevitable torture and death. But of course for the members of the first Christian communities and for the gospel writers, Jesus is God incarnate in the hour of his suffering and defeat just as much as in days of his successes and triumphs.

In one sense, more so, and this is the heart of the mystery of our salvation. Jesus told his followers in advance that his mission could not be accomplished solely through the prophetic preaching and the prophetic signs and miracles of his ministry: he told them that the Son of Man would have to suffer and die to complete his work on earth.

In the religious leaders who plotted Jesus’ death, in the mob that demanded Jesus be crucified while calling for Barabbas to be freed, in the disciples who thought first of their own safety and abandoned their leader to his fate, we’re not supposed to see a picture of the Jewish people of two thousand odd years ago. We’re supposed to see a reflection of ourselves – a picture of fallen human nature, which we all share, in every period of time, in every people and nation.

It is part of the message of the Gospel, isn’t it, that human nature is so wounded, our vision so distorted and our freedom so limited by sin, that when God’s Word does come into the world we fail to recognise it, we’re blind to it. Or worse: we do recognise goodness, truth, love, holiness when these qualities appear among us, but we consciously turn against them because we choose other, inferior, values and purposes.

The Passion story describes our predicament: When God comes before us we so often don’t welcome him and accept him. We turn our back on him and allow him to be crucified! But of course the Christian message is called Good News because even that doesn’t stop God from saving us – if I can use that word.

“To save” means to rescue, to liberate, to free. We’re not capable of freeing, liberating, rescuing ourselves. It required an initiative on God’s part, and this is where the symbolism of today’s second reading comes in: Jesus is the high priest.

By virtue of his priestly state he provides something that we cannot provide for ourselves. Jesus on the Cross: offers a sacrifice and achieves reconciliation between the all-holy God and sinful humanity, which we are not capable of offering and achieving by our own resources.

It is Saint John’s gospel most of all though, that shows how, behind the particular circumstances of Jesus’ life and passion and death, a larger cosmic drama is unfolding: God’s plan to rescue humanity from the predicament of sin is being worked out through the actions, and in spite of the actions of the baying mob, the disciples, the leaders, Caiaphas, Pilate. We should never forget the concrete historical circumstances of Jesus’ death: a good, honest man, unjustly executed by the influential people who felt their position threatened by his message.

The actions and motives of a sinful humanity couldn’t hold back God’s plan: they even unwittingly contributed to its fulfilment. That’s one part, at least, of the whole mystery of our salvation which Christ’s Passion, according to Saint John, has put before us today, Good Friday.

Good Friday 2015

3 April
Les Ruhrmund

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.

Good Friday

Tony van Vuuren
Cycle A
18th April 2014
John 18:1-19:42.
Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9

Suffering, pain and grief are things that we have a natural inclination to run away from and in one way our inclination is right: these unpleasant experiences weren’t part of God’s original plan for the human race. Unfortunately, however, we live in a world that isn’t the way God planned it.The suffering and injustice that is inescapable in a fallen world can be on a large scale or it can be on a small scale. It takes all kinds of forms, as we know: – poverty or war on the large scale, mental anguish, loneliness, cruelty at the personal level. For most of us, our own lives haven’t been, and aren’t, totally free of these things.                                                                             For us as believers and followers of Christ our journey through life is always, sooner or later, a cross-bearing journey. The cross isn’t a matter of choice. It’s an unavoidable part of the journey, part of the commitment we make when we answer Christ’s invitation to become his disciples.

The way that the cross appears in each of our lives is different. What’s important isn’t that it’s burdensome or unpleasant. The important thing is that it faces us with a decision: the decision whether or not to co-operate with God’s grace, and the choice of whether or not to react in a way that brings out depths of faith and love and understanding which we might not have believed we were capable of.

Of course we might not react in that way. We might refuse the cross. For some of us an experience of suffering or pain destroys any faith we might have had in God and destroys our trust in other people. Ultimately that kind of reaction has to be left to God’s judgment.

But others of us might have a different experience and a different reaction to suffering. We could say, perhaps, that we didn’t draw particularly close to God in the first stages of our conversion to him, when faith seemed to bring us a sense of contentment and peace and everything seemed to fall into place.

As that conversion grew stronger though we might relate how the anger and bitterness we felt in the throes of suffering gave way later to a deeper faith in God, a surrender of pride and self-sufficiency and a deeper sensitivity to others.

In short many Christians who do not turn away angrily from God when suffering comes their way will often say that they actually only got to know God more deeply when things started to go wrong, when things fell apart in some way. Then they were forced to leave behind the comforts and superficialities of a feel-good religion to find the real God. And the real God, of course, is the God of Jesus Christ: the crucified God.

Usually in our lives the cross that each of us has to carry isn’t something we’re able to know in advance. It’s not something we can anticipate. That’s part of the burden. Suffering is a mystery in every sense.

If we knew what painful experiences we were going to face in the course of our lives they might be easier to cope with: we could prepare ourselves somehow. But usually our real cross is something we’re not able to anticipate, and what’s more, it’s likely to be something that feels at the time to be more than we can cope with. It’s something we would never have chosen for ourselves.

Perhaps if we cling to some cross of our own choosing we could be avoiding our real cross: the sacrifice or the trial of some kind that helps us to genuinely convert, to turn to God, to become the person that he wants us to be.

So suffering, in itself, doesn’t have anything redemptive about it. Often it crushes people and diminishes them. Nor are we entitled to cite Jesus’ Passion as an excuse for being involved in, or even causing, the suffering of others.

But if we’re able to persist through the mystery of our suffering, turning to God and trusting in him, it expands our capacity for him, very often in ways we don’t realise.

 

It brings us into communion with him; it joins our will to his will; and that’s what’s important: not what we do or what we achieve, but how close we come to God. Let’s try to concentrate on that as we commemorate Christ’s own passion and death for our sake, as we come up to venerate and kiss the Cross; the symbol of Jesus’ self-sacrifice. But of course, as with the Eucharist – as we heard last night – the challenge to us isn’t just to believe in Christ, in our minds. The challenge to us is to put our belief into practice.

It’s the stance that we take up in relation to suffering – our own, and other people’s – that shows how far we’ve understood the meaning of the Cross. Our ritual of venerating the Cross once a year on Good Friday is only a symbol or a gesture that serves to remind us of that meaning.                                                                                                   So as we make that gesture let us be confident, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, in approaching the throne

of grace, to receive mercy and favour and to find God’s grace when we are in need of help.

Holy Thursday

17 March 2014
Les Ruhrmund

For the last six weeks we’ve been preparing for the Easter Triduum that starts tonight. These next three days are the most holy and important days in our Christian faith. Without the Easter Triduum, Christianity makes no sense.

The Triduum begins with the Last Supper; the last meal that Jesus shared with his disciples before he was killed, and finishes on the third day with the Resurrection; Jesus reveals himself as the Risen Lord in his glorified body in a way that is beyond our experience and knowledge. In these short hours from sunset on Thursday to sunset on Sunday we get a close look at Jesus, the man who suffered as so many of us will in our lives, and at Jesus, the Son of God, who died and rose from the dead offering each of us the hope of eternal life.

At the Last Supper, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples and gave the Jewish Passover its definitive meaning. Jesus’ passing over to his father by his death and Resurrection, the new Passover, is anticipated in the Supper and celebrated in the Eucharist. “That this and eat of it, for this is my body which will be given up for you.” Through the Holy Eucharist, we are able today, some 2000 years later, to experience, worship and adore the Real Presence of Christ.

I’m sure many of us have been asked by Catholics and non-Catholics alike to explain the importance or meaning of the mystery of the Real Presence of Christ. Why did Jesus do this? Why does he make himself present, body and blood, to us in the Eucharist?

As a doting Grandfather I can think of a simple example that to some extent explains the significance of Jesus wanting to be real and present in our lives. Joshua, my 19 month old grandson lives with his parents in Cape Town and I get to see him just about every day. I am a real presence in his life. He loves spending time with me and trips over himself to get to me and into my arms whenever he sees me. If I lived far away from him, while he would no doubt hear many stories about me from his parents, and see me in photographs and perhaps on Skype, none of that could adequately substitute for my real presence.

In the Holy Eucharist we are blessed to have Jesus deeply, lovingly and truly present to us.  When we begin to understand the Eucharist as a time when Jesus is not remote from us but is right here; not inaccessible to us, but is available to us very personally; that Jesus dotes on us intimately, tenderly,  compassionately, only then can we truly appreciate the glorious significance of what Jesus did at the Last Supper.

In John’s telling of the Last Supper that we heard in tonight’s gospel reading, Jesus does something else that is quite remarkable. He strips off his outer garment, gets down on his knees and washes the feet of his disciples. Jesus is teaching them what discipleship really means. This is an act of love, humility and service. Jesus says to them and to each of us this evening “Do as I have done.” That’s our mandate as disciples of Christ. There is no service too small, no act of kindness too insignificant, and no moment of love too modest in our service of Christ’s kingdom.

This is exceedingly difficult.

 

The altar servers will now place 12 chairs on the steps of the altar and in a few minutes we will have a symbolic enactment of the washing of the feet. Few of us here will find this part of the liturgy uncomfortable or embarrassing. The 12 parishioners have volunteered and Fr Harrie will not literally wash their feet. Had he intended to actually wash their feet, I think we’d have had great difficulty in finding volunteers. There’s something quite personal and intimate in touching someone’s feet; it’s a gesture of affection, humility, service and forgiveness,

Notice that Jesus washes the feet of Judas who will betray him, Peter who will deny him and the other 10 of which nine will desert him, within hours.

For a moment let us select from our memories, 12 people who in our lives have loved us, or hurt us, betrayed us or deserted us and place them in the 12 chairs. Perhaps there’s a parent or grandparent, a brother or sister, son or daughter, lover or friend, employer or colleague, teacher or student, neighbour or spouse. And now let us imagine kneeling in front of each of them, one at a time, and taking one of their feet into our hands, gently and lovingly washing it; washing off any bitterness, anger or hostility and if it’s someone who loves us then we are telling them in our actions how much they mean to us. That is our mandate.

Jesus is saying that it’s not good enough to know who he is and what he did and said; we have to act as he did.

In the words of St Ignatius of Loyola “Love shows itself more in actions than in words.”

Good Friday

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