5 April 2012
St. John United Church of Christ
St. Clair, MO
The Glory of the Cross?
Based on St. John 18-19
By Rev. James Semmelroth Darnell
This past Sunday, we heard the entire story of Jesus’ passion through the gospel according to St. Mark. Mark shows us the struggle of Jesus, praying in Gethsemane that the cup would pass from him and crying out on the cross “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Tonight we hear the account from St. John, who as you might have discerned takes a different sort of view of the crucifixion. John, rather than show the struggles of Jesus and tragedy of the cross, speaks almost single-mindedly of how God is glorified in the cross. Why this stark contrast between the two gospel writers? First, I think it’s important to note that Mark’s gospel was written first, and of the four gospels, John’s was written last. Simply put, I believe that John had the distance from the event itself to have enough perspective to really reflect on how Christ is glorified in the cross. Second, John wrote his gospel for a specific community of believers and tried to speak to their concerns in the lens of his gospel. I too think that because Jesus was both human and divine, that he did experience the very human struggles and wrestling with his fate that Mark describes, but John also helps us to see the cross in a different light.
Tonight, I want to briefly reflect on two things Jesus says on the cross. When Jesus has been crucified, is hanging on the cross St. John writes that:
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ 27Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’
Here is your son. Here is your mother. Jesus says this while nailed to the cross. I just find it so touching, that in the midst of a most painful dying, Jesus entrusts his mother and his most beloved disciple to each other. He makes sure that each is taken care of. It is surely the most tender moment in this horrific scene. Scottish theologian Arthur Gossip wrote that, “All his days Jesus had been going about doing good, in sheer forgetfulness of himself. And so even when they had nailed down his hands so that they could no longer leap out in generous kindliness and giving, the habit of his life still held. His heart, left free, ran out in its accustomed way.” Christ has been nailed upon that cross by hatred. He has been nailed there by jealousy. He has been nailed there by fear. He has been nailed there by anger. He has been nailed there by ignorance. He has been nailed there by sin. When the winds of change blow, those in power often to nail down things to keep the status quo. In this instance, they nail down Jesus to prevent the change of God. And though they nail him with sinful hatred, what does Jesus do on the cross? He could have cried out spitefully and condemned those who condemned him. But rather, he speaks only love, caring for his mother and dear friend who cry at the foot of the cross. The disciple whom he entrusts to his mother is believed to be St. John himself, to whose community this gospel was written.
Christ’s last words on the cross are “It is finished” before he breathes his last dying breath. Note that he doesn’t say, “I am finished” but “It is finished.” Christ, we know is not finished. But there on the cross his earthly work is finished, and what he set out to do is accomplished. And so he bowed his head and gave up his Spirit. According to United Church of Canada minister, Rev. David Ewart, “To outsiders, a battered and broken Jesus could no longer hold his head up and died in humiliation and defeat. But to those who believe into him, a true Son of God has completed his great work, and with a royal nod (and maybe a mischievous wink?) has passed on his Spirit so that we too might have life – the life that was in Jesus.”
Jesus came was born incarnate to Mary and Joseph, lived with them in Bethlehem and Egypt and Nazareth, went to the temple yearly with his parents, grew to be a man and was baptized by his cousin John in the Jordan River, began teaching and preaching and gathering disciples, eating with the poor and downtrodden and healing the blind and the deaf and the lame and the possessed, proclaiming the Kingdom of God and the day of the Lord’s favor, challenging authority and power and privilege, up to his final earthly days in Jerusalem when he was betrayed and given into the hands of the authorities to be mocked, scourged, beaten, and killed. He was nailed to a cross as a criminal, to be made an example of – so the authorities could say, “This is what will happen to you if you challenge or threaten us.” And he dies upon that cross. There it is finished. And this was all done out of love. It is because God loves us and wants a relationship with us that he came. It is out of love that he taught and healed. It is love of ourselves and our neighbor and God that he taught. It is out of love that he bears the worst we can deal out, and suffers and dies on the cross. All for the love of each one of us. All for the love of you. That is the glory of the cross.
To God be the Glory. Amen.