The Gift of Crucifixion

The crucifixion is not a scripted event. God did not plan this execution. God did not cast the characters for his death upon the cross and write their lines into the book of life and death.

There are many atonement theologies that make a simple equation out of this day:

Humanity is very sinful and deserving of death, but instead of killing us like we deserve, God sent Jesus and he stepped into our place and died to satisfy our debt to God. To take our punishment he willingly suffered death on the cross. And now, we are somehow free, our debt has been paid. We fall before the cross in gratitude that Jesus stopped God from killing us like we deserve. This theology turns the Good Friday cross into the instrument of salvation. The truth is, today, the cross is still just an instrument of death.

Please, erase this theology from your hearts. Cast it out of your minds. Remember Rev. Jess' sermon from a few weeks ago. 'For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.'

God gave his son — God gave his son to us. A gift  . . so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. God so loves us that God wants to save us from ourselves. God wants to turn our hearts, to heal our bodies, to return us to a way of life filled with love for our neighbor and ourselves. God is not trying to destroy us because of our sinfulness. God doesn't need to do that, we do an excellent job of destroying ourselves all on our own.

And in fact, that is what today is all about. Good Friday is a chance to pull back the curtain on our destructive capabilities. I began by saying that the crucifixion is not a scripted event — not scripted by God. However, if you have been following the narrative of human history, you can count on us to murder each other. Exercising the power of death is part of our script. Our human ability to bring isolation, betrayal, denial, abandonment, mocking, and death to one another. Even to Jesus, the one who had been sent to bring us to a place of eternal life. When faced with the Lord of life, we choose death. We shout crucify him. And if we are feeling uncomfortable with open murder, we make bargains and excuses and legalities to justify our violence, "it is better for one man to die than for the whole nation to be destroyed."

In the midst of our violent and destructive ways, Jesus does not turn and run.

In the midst of our violence and anger, Jesus does not take control of our unruly wills and change our hearts by force.

In the mist of our violence and fear, Jesus does not pick up God's bow in the clouds and annihilate us because we have become to dangerous to handle.

Jesus is willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross  . .

This is the glimmer of God's power exercised from the cross of death. Jesus is not the first human being murdered and he certainly isn't the last. But he is the one with the power to love the hell out of us. He is the one who can take in all of our violence, anger, fear, and rage — and break the cycle of our violence. "So marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals — so he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate."

Today we look upon the crucifixion of the one who brought us love and we are here to notice that he is still loving us. Denise Levertov's Poem Salvator Mundi: Via Crucis describes what this gift of love looks like from the cross.

Maybe He looked indeed
much as Rembrandt envisioned Him
in those small heads that seem in fact
portraits of more than a model.
A dark, still young, very intelligent face,
A soul—mirror gaze of deep understanding, unjudging.
That face, in extremis, would have clenched its teeth
In a grimace not shown in even the great crucifixions.
The burden of humanness (I begin to see) exacted from Him
That He taste also the humiliation of dread,
cold sweat of wanting to let the whole thing go,
like any mortal hero out of his depth,
like anyone who has taken herself back.
The painters, even the greatest, don't show how,
in the midnight Garden,
or staggering uphill under the weight of the Cross,
He went through with even the human longing
to simply cease, to not be.
Not torture of body,
not the hideous betrayals humans commit
nor the faithless weakness of friends, and surely
not the anticipation of death (not then, in agony's grip)
was Incarnation's heaviest weight,
but this sickened desire to renege,
to step back from what He, Who was God,
had promised Himself, and had entered
time and flesh to enact.
Sublime acceptance, to be absolute, had to have welled
up from those depths where purpose
Drifted for mortal moments.

The gift of the crucifixion comes to us when we see the human face of Jesus making a divine choice to continue to love us. Jesus personally accepts our violence, is submitted by it, and overpowers us with love. That we might never forget His love, his willingness to be the victim, and see His face in the face of every person who suffers our ability to bring isolation, betrayal, denial, abandonment, mocking, and death. Jesus does not turn away from death, even death on a cross, so that every victim of our scripted violence will look to us like the very face of God. Every victim becomes another opportunity for us to shut our mouths and see the image and likeness of God on the one whose appearance is marred and body is broken. And perhaps, the script can be changed. Perhaps, the narrative of human history can take a new direction. Perhaps, Jesus reigning from the cross can love the hell out of us and we will choose life. Amen.

—The Rev. Adrien Dawson
March 30, 2018