Humanity at its worst: the Christ, the innocent one, crucified

Mary Copping, 30 March 2018

Isaiah 52: 13–53: 12; Matthew 27: 33–54

This day is such a difficult day for us as Christians – the most difficult day in the whole of the Christian church calendar – as we enter into the agony of Jesus hanging on the cross, an innocent man dying a criminal’s death.

The night before, Jesus had shared his Last Supper with his disciples before going out to the Garden of Gethsemane. There, as his disciples slept, he wept tears of blood as he struggled with the cup put in front of him. Yet he was able to surrender to God: ‘Not my will, but yours’. Early Friday morning he was tried, declared innocent, but condemned anyway. The crowd had bayed for his blood, shouting ‘Crucify him’. After the Passion narrative at St Paul’s last Sunday, when the congregation was encouraged to shout ‘Crucify him’, someone commented that it had made them feel very uneasy to shout this. I wonder if we would have joined in with the crowd, shouting for Jesus, the innocent one, to be crucified.

Then on Friday morning Jesus was whipped raw and bloody, spat on, and led to his crucifixion. Apparently, prisoners were taken on the longest possible route through the city so that the maximum number of people could see them. So Jesus, who had had no sleep, who was beaten raw, trudged through the streets – a spectacle for all those watching, a humiliation for the Son of God. There is an ancient tradition that, on the way to Calvary, a woman (later known as Veronica) came forward with a cloth to wipe Jesus’ face – a human touch in the midst of such inhumanity. Much is made in art circles of Veronica’s cloth with the apparent face of Jesus imprinted on it; but it is her action we value – that she did this for Jesus in the midst of the horror and shame.

Jesus had warned his disciples about this time, had told the disciples that this was to come. In Mark 9 we read that he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again’. They heard it but did not understand, did not want to know. At one point, Peter even said to him, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you’ (Matthew 16: 22). But Jesus reprimanded him; he needed support from his disciples on the way to the cross. As we gaze on the cross of Christ, do we say, ‘No Lord, this shouldn’t happen to you’?

At the cross we see God doing his utmost for us and our humanity. Paul says, in Romans 5, that, in the cross, God demonstrates his love towards us (some translations say ‘commends’).

As we gaze on the cross of Christ, as we see his humiliation, his suffering, his pain, we thank God that he did demonstrate his love for us in this way. He sent his only Son to earth, to bring us back to him, to bring us back to the knowledge of his love for us and for the world. We thank God that he does continue to love us and care for his world. God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son.

We see the world today with its terrible suffering, pain and grief – people killed in war, refugees with nowhere to call home, young people dying in gun and knife attacks. As Jesus hangs on the cross, he somehow takes on the pain of the world. He is in the pain with us.

As Jesus hangs on the cross, he somehow takes on the pain of the world. He is in the pain with us.

In the book by Bill Vanstone Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense, he describes the love of God. It is authentic love, genuine, wanting the best for the other person. It is ‘Limitless, precarious, risky, doesn’t try to control, and is vulnerable’. This is the love that gave us Jesus, who underwent such pain and suffering on the cross. In his love, God allowed us to do the very worst to his Son. What suffering God must have endured as he watched his Son die, as he heard his Son asking why his Father had forsaken him! What suffering Jesus had – not just physical suffering, but emotional, seeing his mother and John watch him die, and spiritual, feeling that his Father had left him in his hour of need.

In the cross, we see humanity at its worst: the Christ, the innocent one, crucified because of the fear and hatred of human beings. God showed his love by sending his Son into the world, and humanity killed him. The cross is the crux, the very centre of our faith: God’s Son dying so that we might live, God’s Son going through pain and suffering for us.

Many times I have been asked by children, and adults, why Good Friday, when all that happened on Friday was not good? My answer is that in the end it was good; this whole weekend is a turning point for creation, for the world. God sent his Son to save the world, to show us his all-forgiving love. Even on the cross Jesus, in his agony, said, ‘Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’. In our troubled world, through Jesus we have forgiveness for all our wrong. Through Jesus and his death on the cross, we see God’s love.

So we wait at the foot of the cross with Jesus, and bring to him our pain and the pain of the world.