Sermon for Good Friday 2022
It would be easy to look at the cross, and to listen to the story that we tell today, and to think of it as just another example of man’s inhumanity to man. Humans, after all, have a long history of brutalizing other humans. In that sense, Jesus’s crucifixion wasn’t a unique event in history. Despite the fact that the cross is now universally recognized as a symbol of Jesus Christ and his followers, Jesus wasn’t the only person to be put to death by being nailed to a wooden beam on a post. He wasn’t even the only person to be tortured that way on Good Friday. There were others right beside him. People had been crucified before Jesus; People were crucified after him. It would be easy then to look at Jesus’s cross as a symbol of human cruelty. A reminder of how we often treat each other. A sign of our sinfulness.
Here is an innocent man that is put to death. And not just put to death; he is killed in this way, so that he will experience the maximum amount of pain and humiliation. A crucifixion isn’t just an execution of a criminal, you know. It isn’t just about maintaining peace and order. It is a warning. It is a demonstration of power. The Roman authorities can do what they want, when they want, and there is nothing you can do about it. That is what this is meant to say. That is power. Humans love to have power. Not just the Romans, all humans love to have power. There are two types of people in the world: those who have power and those who want power. You might think that sounds very cynical, but I’m not so sure. We aren’t half as enlightened and reasonable as we like to think we are. We all have untaught desires and emotions. And the thing we probably desire most is power. It might be our worst addiction. We want power more than sex, money, or food. Why waste your time chasing after those little pleasures, when you can have them all if you just pursue power? Think about how the devil tempted Jesus: all of those temptations in the desert were about power. Oh and when we get it, if we get it, we want to make sure that other people know that we have it. What good is it to have power if nobody knows you have it?
Do you not know, Pilate asks Jesus, do you not know that I have power to release you and power to crucify you?
This is about power. Humans do these things to each other to demonstrate and assert their power. It’s not always this extreme though. It’s not always about death and torture. Sometimes it can seem totally benign. We build huge skyscrapers, buy fancy cars, tell juicy bits of gossip, and we also invade other countries, wave around guns and shoot innocent people, flex our muscles, threaten, lie, shame, accuse. How much death, how much suffering, how much sin can we directly attribute to our thirst as human beings for power; to our addiction to having and demonstrating power?
So as I said, it would be easy to look at the cross and see it as a reminder of our propensity as humans to brutalize others all in the name of power. Part of me wonders if we really should need such a reminder: we have the news after all. And most of the world don’t even need the news to remind them of suffering, they just have this thing called life. Still, somehow we all keep forgetting that humans have a lust for power, so maybe we do need a reminder, but I’m not sure that that is all that is going on here on the cross.
I could stand up here all day and give you one example after another of man’s inhumanity to man, but that’s not exactly what is happening here. Or at least, its not all that is happening. That’s not the full story. Because the story that we retell today, the story of the cross, isn’t just about a Roman governor demonstrating his power over a Jewish preacher. That may be what it looks like on the surface, and maybe that is what some of the bystanders on that day thought was going on, but we know better. This story isn’t about a contest for power between two men. This is a story about humanity, all humans and God. We didn’t just try to put to death some itinerant Jewish preacher. We tried to kill God. The Lord of all creation was born and lived among us, and we put him on trial and sentenced him to death. Pilate didn’t know who was really standing before him, he thought he had power over him.
Pilate thought he had power, because he couldn’t see God’s power.
Pilate had the power to put Jesus to death. Jesus had the power to overcome death. Pilate had the power to condemn; Jesus had the power to forgive. Pilate had the power to wound. Jesus had the power to heal. Pilate had the power of the greatest empire on earth; Jesus had the power of the kingdom of heaven.
Pilate would like nothing more than for you to look at a cross and think of his power, and of what he did. It seems like even today, there is a tendency to want to tell this story in such a way that it is entirely focused on what we as humans do. We are so impressed and enamored with our own power, that even when it is sinful and brutal and cruel, that is what we want to focus on. We want to turn the spotlight back onto ourselves. But the cross isn’t just about what we do, or what we have done. That is not where this story ends. The cross is about what God does. The cross is about God’s power, and God’s faithfulness. It isn’t just a story about human sinfulness; it is about human sinfulness AND what God has done about it. It isn’t just about inhumanity and death; it is about God taking on humanity and conquering death. The cross is a sign of power, but it didn’t quite work out the way that Pilate planned.
Pilate thought that the cross would be a symbol of his power. But it’s not. It’s a symbol of God’s.