Good Friday 2016

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on March 25, 2016 (Good Friday)

“Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches, and weapons.”

There is a lot of violence in our lives. Murder, mayhem, misdeeds. Fortunately, at least for the vast majority of us, most of it doesn’t affect us personally. Violence happens to other people. Or on television. It happens in bad neighborhoods. Or in the Middle East. Or in Belgium. You can see it on the news. You can watch murder on demand. Corpses abound on our screens and in our consciousness. There is a lot of violence in our lives.

“Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, and struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear.”

The problem, of course, is that we can too easily become desensitized to violence — both fictionalized and real — while living in the comfort and safety of our South Shore living rooms. No, we don’t live in a war-torn part of the world. And while gun violence is a daily issue mere miles from here, it is not something that consumes our everyday thoughts. Occasionally violence does break into our lives, but contrary to the images we regularly see, it’s the exception rather than the rule.

“Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’”

But this de-sensitivity to violence has a direct impact on our own spiritual lives, one that is magnified on Good Friday. Because the violence of the cross can become just another murder that takes place “out there” beyond our emotional connection. One that took place 2,000 years ago in what can feel like a galaxy far, far away.

“So the soldiers, their officers, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him.”

On this dark day in the Christian year, I encourage you to take Jesus’ death personally. To allow it to spark outrage. To acknowledge the pain at the core of your soul. To grieve for a beautiful life cut short. To internalize the grief. To rage against the injustice. To make it personal.

“When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’”

Because when you take the crucifixion of Jesus personally, it allows you to take the resurrection of Jesus personally. When we make Christ’s suffering personal, the journey to the empty tomb becomes personal. Insurrection leads to resurrection. Like two sides of a divine coin, we can’t have one without the other.

Yet for as much as we are consumers of violence in our daily lives, when violence becomes personal, we look away to avoid the pain. That’s human nature, of course. We want to get Good Friday over with so we can get on with the celebration that is to come. Many people avoid coming to church on Good Friday precisely because they don’t want to deal with the hard reality of the cross. They don’t want to deal with Jesus’ death. They want to keep the cross at a safe distance. They don’t want to take it personally.

“Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.”

The truth about the Christian faith in general and this week in particular, is that we want to avert our eyes, and yet we cannot. We want to skip over the betrayal, and yet we cannot. We want to avoid the denial, and yet we cannot. We want to pass over the violence, and yet we cannot. We cannot look away because the betrayal is our betrayal, the denial our denial, the violence is our violence.

We must fix our gaze firmly upon the cross. Not because we’re gluttons for punishment but because it is only through the cross that new life beckons.

“When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’”

We gather at the foot of the cross, not to curl up into the fetal position but to gather strength for the journey ahead. Jesus died to destroy the power of death — that’s the power of the resurrection, yes. But, still, we cannot ignore the violence that takes place on this day we proclaim “good.”

“Then Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.”

I bid you to take this day so personally that it changes you; that it transforms how you live your life. That through it, you are able to live a life free from the paralyzing fear of death. That you’re able to look not past or beyond but through the violence to see what the cross truly is: the ultimate act of divine love.

“There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.”

We gaze at the hard wood of the cross not in isolation or alone but within the context of the resurrection and with one another. As painful as it may be, this is a day of love, not violence. Because unlike the original disciples, we know the end of the story. We don’t have to pretend as if the agony of the cross is the end; as if Jesus’ words “It is finished” are the final chapter. We know that it is NOT finished. The question is what we do about it and where we go from here.

“Then he bowed his head, and gave up his spirit.”

© The Rev. Tim Schenck

Good Friday 2013

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on March 29, 2013 (Good Friday) 

In Homer’s epic poem, the Odyssey, we hear the story of Odysseus’ long journey home after the Trojan War. Along the way he encounters myriad obstacles and much intrigue, due in large part to the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus. Toward the end of his journey he must skirt a section of coastline notorious for devastating shipwrecks. The reason it’s so perilous, we learn, is on account of a magnificent song sung by the sirens of the sea. The tune is so tantalizing that unsuspecting sailors steer dangerously close to the rocky shore until their ships are inevitably dashed against the rocks, sending entire crews to their watery graves.

Fortunately for our hero, one of the gods warns Odysseus and offers a solution. Before setting sail, Odysseus has his sailors plug their ears with wax so they won’t be able to hear the sirens’ sultry song. Then he asks his crew to lash him securely to the mast so that, while he is able to listen to the enchanting melody — which he desperately want to hear — he won’t be able to escape and bid his crew to steer closer.  This plan works and Odysseus is able to continue his journey home.

On this Good Friday, we reflect upon the pain of Jesus’ being lashed to the mast. The mast of Christ is, of course, the cross and he’s lashed with nails rather than rope. But lashed he is to this implement of torture and death. Strung up like a common criminal. Helpless as he endures the taunts and mockery of the very humanity he came into the world to redeem.

And it’s important to stop for a moment. To pause and gaze upon our Savior lifted high upon the cross. To metaphorically walk around it and take in the scene. As much as we want to avert our eyes, as much as we want to edit out this chapter in the Christian story, as much as we want to change the ending, this is one time when we cannot.

Because on this day we are reminded that the cross is real. It’s not merely symbolic or something we wear around our necks as a fashion accessory. We run our hands across the rough hewn wood; we touch the cold steel nails; we hear the agonizing cry of Jesus lifted high upon the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”; we feel the vibrations of the nails being driven deep into flesh and bone; we smell the bitter vinegar as it’s lifted to his lips; we see the blood on our own hands.

There is nothing more real than the death of our Lord. Speaking of the crucifixion in tangible terms isn’t some rhetorical trick; it’s not meant to scare young children; or guilt us into becoming better Christians. But crucifixion must be real and vivid if resurrection is to be real and vivid. The crucifixion matters because resurrection matters. Amid the changes and chances of this mortal life, it offers meaning; amid the suffering and despair, it offers hope; amid the enslavement to sin, it offers freedom.

Yes, the hard wood of the cross is painful to behold. And it’s painful because it holds up a mirror. It reflects our lives back to us: the brokenness, the despair, the helplessness, the complicity, the pain, the struggle. Despite our hardened exterior shells, we are reminded of the depth of our vulnerability; of how often we travel this road of humanity carrying heavy burdens. Burdens that weigh us down and frighten us and sometimes bring us to our knees unable or unwilling to go on. Burdens that Jesus invites us to place at the foot of the cross. Today. Right now. In this very moment.

We can do this because as Christians we are lashed not to the cross but to Jesus himself. Our lives are bound up in his life. Jesus’ death on the cross frees us from that same death; his resurrection insures this. We belong to Jesus by virtue of our baptism; we are lashed to Jesus and marked as Christ’s own forever. And it is this sweet union to our Lord that brings us to a place of hope and salvation. Even on Good Friday.

Jesus willingly takes up his cross even as his very humanity screams against the horror of it all. His heavenly home awaits even as he suffers for the sins of all humanity. As Odysseus hears the sweet song of the sirens while lashed to his mast, perhaps Jesus hears the sweet song of the angels while hanging on the cross. Both are going home. Odysseus to his wife and son; Jesus to his Father in heaven. But the journey itself is a trial of faith.

As Odysseus willingly lashes himself to the mast, we can willingly lash ourselves to Jesus. This doesn’t mean our journey home will be all light and sweet. But we will get there. We will one day be received into God’s loving and merciful arms. Jesus’ victory will be our victory. And the good news on this Good Friday is that just as we are lashed to Jesus in death so are we lashed to Jesus in resurrection glory.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2013

Good Friday 2001

Good Friday, Year C
April 13, 2001
Old St. Paul’s, Baltimore
The Rev. Timothy E. Schenck

If this was the end of the story, we would not be here today. If the story ended with nails being driven into the hard wood of the cross, we would not be here today. If the story ended with the limp body of Jesus hanging on a cross at Golgotha, we would not be here today. The good news on this Good Friday is that it is not finished. The story continues.

But today we stand at the foot of the cross to weep and mourn. Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us, and on this day there is no feast to keep. There is an emptiness that fills this cavernous space, a pall that hangs over our time together this afternoon. For it was at this very hour that God in human flesh was hung on a cross to die. So, here we are at the foot of the cross: confused, speechless, wounded in spirit. And when we stand at the foot of the cross, with the disciples and one another, we are presented with a choice: we can look up or we can look down. And how easy it is to look down! Who wants to see agony? Who wants to hear the wailing of a dying man? Who wants to encounter the travails of a body broken? If we look down we can bury our feelings, avoid our emotions, and ignore the painful suffering of the cross. We can avert our eyes, cover our ears, and entomb our hearts. But hard as we might try to neglect and avoid it, we can never escape from the looming shadow of Christ’s cross. It pervades all things whether we readily acknowledge it or not. Denial does not take away the pain, it merely diverts our attention from it.

We’re also offered another option as we stand at the foot of the cross. Rather than looking down, we can look up at the cross and gaze in wide wonder at its power, its mystery, its pain. We cannot wipe away the tears but we can join ours to those that have already been shed. We can embrace the full reality of all that the cross stands for: Christ’s suffering, God’s love, and our redemption from sin and death. To look up at the cross is to venerate Christ’s presence among us. To look up at the cross is to love God and one another despite the brokenness of this world. To look up at the cross is to adore Christ and be healed even as Jesus himself is mocked, derided, and crucified. We must open our eyes, raise our heads, and be present to the power of the cross of Jesus Christ.

In this context, there’s something about the three Mary’s. John’s Gospel tell us that Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene all gathered at the foot of the cross. And it’s difficult to imagine the depth of their grief as they watched their beloved Jesus die on the cross right in front of their eyes. They were thee when the soldiers taunted Jesus, they were there when they cast lots for his clothing, they were there when  he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. The three Mary’s are wonderful examples to us of what it means to look up at the cross. Despite the fear, anxiety, and emotional anguish they endured, the three Mary’s remain steadfast in the adoration of their Lord and savior. They face and embrace the pain of the cross rather than denying and avoiding it. Not because of an unnatural courage, but because of a deep well of hope deep within their collective souls. They didn’t know the end of the story; we do. But what we have in common with the three Mary’s is the profound challenge to be present through Christ’s suffering and to stand in anticipation of the glory that is to come.

It’s important to remember today that the cross is not a metaphor or an abstraction, or simply an ornament to hang on a rear view mirror. The power of the cross is real, the pain of the cross is real, the love of the cross is real. We can deny it or we can adopt it as our own. Christ graciously invites us to partake in the love that is offered through his sacrifice. We are not compelled to accept this loving act into our lives and hearts, but the offer is never taken off the table. It’s a standing offer, awaiting a response that can only be a movement towards a deeper relationship with God in Christ. The cross is just as present now as it was 2,000 years ago. It never splinters or decays or rots. Because it is the cross that is the very foundation of our faith in God, our relationship with God, and our love for God. The cross does not wither or fade over time. Rather, it grows in stature and power and glory. We are strengthened by its presence in our lives. The roots of the cross run deep, for they are the very source of life. At its core, the cross is about victory and triumph, not pain and death. But that’s because the cross by itself is not the end of the story. Death is not the last word. And we’re lucky. We know that the story continues. But we also can’t fully comprehend the resurrection glory unless we acknowledge the pain of the cross. And therein lies the power and paradox of the Christian message: out of pain there is joy, out of darkness there is light, out of death there is life.

 © The Rev. Tim Schenck 2001

Good Friday 2009

A Sermon from All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor, New York
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 10, 2009 (Good Friday)

“Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom; sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone cold tomb.” And so the words of a Christmas hymn come back to us on this Good Friday. The Magi’s gift of “bitter perfume,” this embalming oil, finally makes sense. The foreshadowing of the seemingly odd gift of myrrh is realized on this day when we mark our Lord’s crucifixion. His broken body is taken down from the cross and prepared for burial with myrrh before being “sealed in a stone cold tomb.”

And just as myrrh itself has a bittersweet aroma, so is this day bittersweet to Christians throughout the world. Bitter in its agony; bitter in its indignity; bitter in its shamefulness. Yet sweet in its necessity for the redemption of the world; sweet in its act of love for all humankind; sweet in its atoning, once-for-all sacrifice. Good Friday is and must be bittersweet. For to minimize the bitterness of the cross is to gloss over its power. And to minimize its sweetness is to neglect its love. 

I’ve always thought the Good Friday symbolism of the Orthodox Church beautifully and poignantly captures this duality. As worshippers enter for the evening liturgy they encounter a rough-hewn wooden cross placed in the middle of the church and surrounded with Easter lilies. A compelling visual manifestation that the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ is both bitter and sweet. And then the priest chants the following:

He who hung the earth upon the waters hangs today upon the Cross.
He who is King of the Angels is arrayed in a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery.
He who in the Jordan set Adam free receives blows upon His face.
The Bridegroom of the Church is transfixed with nails.
The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear.
We worship Thy Passion, O Christ.
Show us also Thy glorious Resurrection.

(Antiphon 15)

So amid all the images of crucifixion – the crown of thorns, the nails, the indignities and the mockery – everything points forward to the resurrection; “Show us also Thy glorious Resurrection.” Christ’s crucifixion is firmly rooted in his resurrection. Which is important because the Good Friday liturgy is not a funeral service for Jesus. We know that the context of crucifixion is resurrection. And to pretend we don’t would delve into the realm of play acting. And so we can imagine what those first disciples must have felt – the anguish, the loneliness, the feeling of abandonment, the bitterness. But come Easter Day we know the tomb will be empty and we can’t make believe that we don’t.

I think the real terror of Good Friday is that it holds up for us the prospect of life devoid of divine relationship. The emptiness of this day offers the specter of living life without Jesus and the potential void is frightening. Because without faith, I’m not sure how anyone gets out of bed in the morning; how anyone faces the uncertainty of this mortal life. And I’m never so aware of this as at a funeral. We’ve all been to funerals that seem especially heartbreaking – funerals for children or young parents or victims of violence. Situations where you couldn’t possibly write a more painful script. And I’ll invariably lean over and say to someone, “I just don’t know how anyone without faith would be able to handle this.” These scenarios are difficult enough even with the most vibrant faith. But without faith, the end is really the end. The brutal rawness of a tragedy has no inherent consolation or solace. The ending is absolute; there is no continuation of the story in another realm. And that is the horror of Good Friday; the possibility of life without Jesus, life without God, life without faith.

Perhaps the whole notion of Good Friday is an apt metaphor for the human experience. Because life itself is often bittersweet. Our dreams are dashed; our expectations don’t meet realities; our hopes are met with disappointment. Not always, not every time but enough to make us question whether there is anything to our frenzied pursuit of happiness and meaning.

But then there’s the cross. Our savior hangs upon it bruised and broken and reviled and forsaken. And we’re reminded that God never promised us ease and leisure and comfort but redemption and salvation and eternal life. And that sometimes, like Jesus, we must first be beaten down before we are raised up. God doesn’t want this for us, of course, but it is part of the human condition; part of what it means to live as a sinner in a world rife with sin. This is what the cross of Christ lifts us out of. Through faith we are raised up to new life — a place where there is meaning and hope and it is all freely offered to you and to me. It’s what makes this day “Good” Friday or, as the Orthodox refer to it, “Great” Friday. And it’s why the cross of Christ is, quite literally, our saving grace.

“Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom; sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone cold tomb.” Jesus’ death and burial is not the end of the story, merely a piece of it. It is bittersweet, yes, but it is decidedly not yet finished.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2009

Good Friday 2010

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 2, 2010 (Good Friday)

TGIF. “Thank God it’s Friday.” You probably never thought you’d hear that proclaimed on Good Friday. But I’ll say it again: TGIF. Or more to the point, TGIGF – “Thank God it’s Good Friday.” And we quite literally do “thank God” on this day. Not because it’s an easy day; not because it isn’t viscerally and spiritually painful. But because without the crucifixion there could be no resurrection. 

I should be clear about one thing: the Good Friday liturgy is not a burial service for Jesus, though it’s often treated as such. In keeping with the day’s oxymoronic name, this is a day of mixed emotions. It is a day of tragedy and triumph; victory and death; agony and love. The Passion of our Lord refers to both the pain of the crucifixion and Jesus’ passionate love for all of humanity. Which means that even with the emptiness of this day; even with the void left in our hearts as Jesus breathes his last; there is joy in the midst of the hard wood of the cross. Yes, joy. Because as Jesus lays down his life for us, as Jesus hands over his spirit, the meaning of life changes before our very eyes. Our sins are hoisted high upon the cross, paving the way for a life of forgiveness. And we cannot experience the full joy of Easter without first walking the way of the cross. As Bishop Barbara Harris is fond of saying, “We are an Easter people living in a Good Friday world.” Which means the good news of Jesus Christ must be proclaimed even in the darkness of this day. This doesn’t minimize the crucifixion; rather it keeps it firmly rooted in the resurrection.

On the night before he died for us, in the midst of his last meal among his disciples, Jesus took bread and said to the disciples “This is my body.” And Good Friday is all about the body. The body betrayed; the body denied; the body broken. 

We often shy away from the physical body of Christ. Perhaps it’s cultural. But on Good Friday, Christ’s body cannot be ignored. It hangs high upon the cross, bearing both the weight of death and the weight of the world.

“This is my body.” Jesus offers himself, his very body, as a sacrifice. A sacrifice for the sins of the whole world; and more to the point for our own sins. It is a personal sacrifice; not a sacrifice in the abstract. Jesus Christ quite literally has a cross to bear and he bears it for you and for me. His sacrifice takes away the sin of the world. Now it’s easy enough for me to speak these words – they roll off the tongue. That Christ died once for all to take away the sin of the world is basic, if bedrock, theology of the Christian faith. And it’s probably just as easy for you to hear these words – they’re familiar. For years, you’ve heard preachers say this or a variation on the theme. But I encourage you to reflect upon them as if hearing them for the first time. Because this is a truly radical message. It’s not just that the sin of the world is taken away; your sin is taken away. You have been redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice. Not someone else; not in theory; but you. Jesus Christ died on the cross for you as well as for all of humanity. 

Now we have a role to play here as well. We don’t, obviously, add anything to Christ’s self-offering; our sins are forgiven. But we can participate in his action by offering ourselves, our souls and bodies, back to God. As Jesus says to the whole world, “This is my body,” we can individually respond by offering our own bodies back to Jesus. And in so doing, we hand our lives over to God. Not just a piece of it; not the just the parts we like; not just the aspects in which we take pride. But the whole thing. The pains and hurts and sins; the abusive patterns of our lives; the dysfunctions; the burdens we carry. 

Today is about Christ’s body. The body beaten; the body pierced; the body crucified. Good Friday is all about the body. But so is Easter. Which is why hope and joy accompany our pain and grief. Which is why we can say TGIF on this day. Not glibly or lightly but reverently and profoundly. We are called not to remain at the foot of the cross but to walk the way of the cross. And our journey is not yet finished. 

 © The Rev. Tim Schenck 2010

Good Friday 2003

A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on April 18, 2003. 
Based on John19:1-37 (Good Friday, Year B).

In a sense it’s so simple. Two pieces of wood nailed together. A child can draw the shape: one line down, one line across. Two strokes of the pencil and it’s complete. It doesn’t take a skilled carpenter to make one. All you need is two pieces of wood, a hammer and a couple of nails. In a sense it’s so simple.

There are two sides to a cross. Front and back, of course. But the two sides we see on this night are complexly intertwined into a twisted of tale of life and death. The cross in all its simplicity is both an instrument of death and a symbol of life. It offers despair and hope. It condemns and it redeems. 

The final words spoken upon it are “It is finished.” But even these words of Jesus are not as simple as they seem. It is finished. Jesus is dead and there is a finality to Jesus’ last words on this earth.  “It is finished.” Jesus has been put to a criminal’s death, hung on a cross to die. A movement that held so much promise just days earlier during the triumphal entry into Jerusalem has died out. We’ve moved from shouts of “Hosanna in the highest” to shouts of “crucify him” to utter silence.

So in a sense “it is finished.” But what’s finished is not what we might expect. There are two sides of the cross. Because what’s finished is neither Jesus, nor the Christian faith, nor even our hope. What may have seemed to be finished on that first Good Friday is not as it really was. Because even on the day that we remember Christ’s crucifixion, we experience it in the context of Christ’s resurrection. We know the end of the story and we cannot pretend that we don’t. The sting of this day isn’t lessened by this knowledge, but it is transformed. We see both sides of the cross, front and back, life and death, all at once.

So what is finished if not Jesus and faith and hope? Death is finished. Sin is finished. The earthly ministry of Jesus is finished and with heavy yet hopeful hearts we await the coming of his heavenly reign. So, even in the last gasp of breath, there is life and hope.  The pain is no less but it can’t hold on forever. Death is powerless over life. The Spirit’s breath is more powerful than the last gasp of death. 

On Good Friday, we confront death in the simple form of the cross. And just as there are two sides to the cross, so there are two views of the cross. There is our perspective and there is Christ’s perspective. We recognize our own participation in a violent murder. We look down and see blood upon our own hands. We look up and we see our crucified Lord. We stare at the broken body. And then we hesitantly peer into the abyss of life lived without God in our midst. And we recoil in horror.  

And then there’s the view from atop the cross, Christ’s view.  Hanging upon the cross, agonizing in pain he looks down at humanity. He sees you and me, unworthy and guilty as we are. And yet he does not condemn. His eyes bear not hate, but love. His outward appearance is marred, his inward beauty is unblemished. 

It is not finished. The journey continues as we keep vigil tomorrow night. The journey continues as we are transported from death to life. And in the simplicity of two pieces of wood, our story marches on. 

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2003

Good Friday 2005

A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on March 25, 2005. 
Based on John19:1-37 (Good Friday, Year A).

“It is finished.” It is over. It is done. “It is finished.” Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, dies on the hard wood of the cross. And his words signal an ending. A finality. A death peal. “It is finished.”

On Good Friday, we remain at the foot of the cross. For today, it is truly finished. Today, we sit in the pain and agony of the cross. Christ’s wounds become our wounds. Christ’s suffering becomes our suffering. 

But the story doesn’t end here. We can’t pretend that we don’t know the rest of the Christian story. We can’t make believe that the agony of Good Friday exists outside the context of the resurrection. This service isn’t a burial rite for Jesus. That would be inauthentic, mere play acting. We know that what is finished is simply Jesus’ earthly ministry. Christ’s glory is to come. But not today. 

“It is finished.” This is a statement of fulfillment and completion, not defeat and despair. An acknowledgment that Christ’s work in the world has ended and that God’s will has been done. An expression of Jesus’ love for humanity and for his Father in heaven. “It is finished” is the embodiment of Jesus laying down his life for his friends. An act of love. For the disciples, for you, for me, and for all humanity.

At the precise moment of Jesus’ historical death, the full meaning of his words could not have been known. Because at the time, everyone involved thought it was indeed finished. Pilate literally and figuratively washes his hands of the whole mess. The chief priests believe the final nail has been driven into this whole Jesus-as-king business. The crowd disperses after Jesus is nailed to the cross. The soldiers leave after he bows his head and gives up his spirit. The disciples, disillusioned and distraught, go their separate ways. It was an amazing run, a life-giving encounter but all good things must come to an end. The “light of the world” has been extinguished. “It was finished.” 

But of course, no human being can “finish” or end Jesus. Even taking his life is of no ultimate consequence. Pilate, the crowd, the chief priests are powerless to dictate when anything begins or ends, starts or finishes. To start, to finish is exclusively God’s realm. It is Jesus alone who is “the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.” God doesn’t adhere to human starting and ending points. As the prologue to John’s gospel announces, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” And so the Word made flesh that is Jesus Christ existed before all time and will continue to exist until the end of time. He is not limited by the constraints of human time. He transcends all time. Which puts a very different lens upon the account of Jesus’ trial.

On the surface of things Jesus is on trial for his life. He is the prisoner. He is the weak one. Pilate holds all the power. But in reality, the world is on trial for its life. Just as Jesus transcends all time so does he transcend all judgment. There is a parallel conversation, a parallel universe that is exposed. Divine judgment of the world supercedes the world’s judgment of the divine. The world condemns Jesus to death. But in so doing, the world falls under the judgment of God. And so in this trial drama, Jesus plays both the accused and the judge. But his role as the accused is a minor part in the overall picture; he stars as the divine judge. Pilate’s power is mere illusion. The glory of the cross will triumph. For the cross is ultimately an instrument of salvation, not an implement of death. And the crucifixion is ultimately an act of love, not an act of destruction. Things are not always as they appear. Out of darkness comes light. Out of suffering comes joy. Out of death comes life.

We, as Easter people, as people who live in the glow of Christ’s resurrection, cannot reflect upon the suffering of the cross in isolation. For we know and experience the power of its glory. Yes, on this day in particular we identify with Christ’s suffering. We bring our own pains and burdens and sins and offer them at the foot of the cross. Offer them up for crucifixion along with our Savior. “It is finished, says Jesus.” Yet it is just beginning.

 © The Rev. Tim Schenck 2005