005 Good Friday Sermon 2004
A sermon for an ecumenical Good Friday service, Forest Lake, 2004
Some time around the middle of the Second Century, a Christian writer did a very similar thing to what we have just done here. This unknown person created a narrative of the passion and resurrection of Jesus. Like us, this literary artist blended old familiar traditions with new scenes. It is possible that some of the scenes used in this account, now known as the Gospel of Peter, were created by the writer. Others seem to have come from older texts, possibly even a very anicent story of the trial and death of Jesus.
This version of the Passion story is unique among early Christian texts in that it tries to describe the moment of resurrection. No other Christian writing tries to do that. As part of that descripton, the GPeter uses the metaphor of a Cross that speaks.
The relevant passage reads like this:
10:1Now when these soldiers saw this, they roused the centurion from his sleep, along with the elders. (Remember, they were also there keeping watch.) 2While they were explaining what they had seen, again they see three men leaving the tomb, two supporting the third, and a cross was following them. 3The heads of the two reached up to the sky, while the head of the third, whom they led by the hand, reached beyond the skies. 4And they heard a voice from the skies that said, "Have you preached to those who sleep?" 5And an answer was heard from the cross: "Yes!" [GPet 10:1-5 Complete Gospels]
That motif of the speaking Cross attracted the attention of Scripture scholar, John Dominic Crossan. He was to go on and write a book on the history of the passion narrative, with the title, The Cross That Spoke.
Today as we commemorate together the death of Jesus, I invite you to entertain that idea. What if the Cross could speak? What would the Cross of Jesus say to us?
1. The Cross speaks of human evil and our capacity for cruelty to one another. This was an aspect of human experience very familiar to Jesus as he grew up in Nazareth, just a few miles from Sepphoris. The Jews of Sepphoris had rebelled against Herod's dynasty when news of his death was received. Varus, the Roman governor of Syria burnt the city, sold many of its population into slavery, and crucified a rebel every mile along the roads around the city. Jesus grew up -- literally -- in the shadow of the cross. The contemporary record, like its ancient counterpart, is full of examples of such cruelty and violence. The Cross speaks against all such inhumane actions.
2. The Cross speaks of the corruption of power, and especially religious authority. While Jesus himself seems to have struggled against corrupt rulers, as did his mentor John the Baptist, this reality is not confined to the ancient past. From the Soviet Gulags to the self-serving corruption of minor officials in third world countries, we know this reality. And we have been shamed to see the church's own egregrious failings exposed as victims find the courage to speak of the abuse meted out to them by clergy and church members.
3. The Cross speaks of the integrity of Jesus. Jesus refused to compromise his vision of the divine commonwealth that stood over against the human empires of his day. Knowing full well what this might require of him, Jesus emerges as a person of integrity. Like the three young men thrown into the furnace in Daniel, Jesus will be faithful even if his God does not act to rescue him. In this essential faithfulness we see the quality of the trust that Jesus exhibited to the Father.
4. The Cross speaks of the compassion of God. The cross sketches a love without limits, an engagement with creation that has no boundaries. Not even death itself can take Jesus beyond the reach of God's desire for life to prevail. Death will not be allowed to have the last word, even when it seems that death is the only word we can hear. The most hopeless situations of failure and loss remain within the scope of God's compassion.
5. The Cross speaks about the mission of the Church. Much as we have enjoyed power and status, coercive authority is not the way of the Cross. While the church must speak clearly against evil and abuse, it is not our place to impose morality or belief on others. Like Jesus, our role is to embrace suffering with an integrity that transforms the agony into an opportunity to serve and witness.
6. The Cross speaks to personal discipleship. Knowing where his own journey of faithfulness might lead, Jesus called on those who would follow him to take up their own cross and find ways of faithfulness in the everyday challenges of ordinary life. In our time, in our place, among the people with whom our own lives are connected, we are to live faithfully. No sideways glances to see how others are performing, but simply a faithfulness to the call of God on our lives and our relationships.7. The Cross speaks against the divisions of the Church. We are comfortably settled within the familiar patterns of our own traditions. This is the way we do it. It would take too much effort to work at finding new ways of being Christian in a church beyond denominations. When we are tempted not to bother, the Cross reminds us of the lengths to which Jesus went in his own quest to fulfill God's call upon his life. The Cross reminds us of the commitment of both our national churches to see full unity, "For the Sake of the Gospel."
May the Cross speak to us.
May the Cross shape us.
May the Cross inspire us.
May the Cross empower us.
May the Cross unite us. Amen.
©2004 Gregory C. Jenks