Holy Cross Sunday
September 14, 2014
John 3: 13-21
If you were inventing a religion, wouldn’t you want someone like a Savior-superhero who could save you from the forces of evil and protect the world from them, too. You’d want someone who could save everyone from pain and loss and grief, and let the world rest easy in the safety of the superhuman comfort that your Savior could provide. Wouldn’t you?
On this Sunday when we celebrate the Cross, we remember that Jesus chose another route to save the world. It was a route that included scorn and repudiation from his church. It included time with workers, and those who were on the outskirts of society because of their social and physical diseases. It included compassion for the lonely and the grieving, and humility that waited on the people who were used to waiting on others. He told the proud and successful that they were missing out on the important things in life – the joy of service and the gratitude that comes from having so much you could give it all away. He told the powerless that they would inherit the earth and the hungry that they would be filled.
And then he was arrested and brutally interrogated and stripped to die painfully on a cross with terrorists and criminals. Not much of a superhero. What kind of Savior is that? But witnesses tell us that God raised him from death, brought him back to restore the faith of his followers, galvanizing them to spread the word of God’s presence in the world in this man, Jesus. You wouldn’t have guessed it at Jesus’ death, but in his resurrection, you can see that all the promises God ever made to human beings about presence and forgiveness and steadfast mercy and love have come true.
Martin Luther calls it “the theology of the cross.” This understanding of God’s work in the world says that you see the deepest truth about God not in the glory of creation or in God making a perfect and flawless universe where no child dies or natural disaster robs people of the things they hold most dear. God could make us all perfect, and the world we live in completely safe and glorious. But in a world like that, we could not chose to God or to love each other. Instead we are part of an imperfect world where love is hard and life can be dangerous. This is the world God chose to enter in Jesus, and this is the world that brings us the invitation to be God’s people because we are loved and chosen and invited to be part of God’s ongoing transformation through our own acts of love. Dr. Luther says that when we see Jesus on the cross, we see through his suffering straight into the loving heart of God, who chose to share in our dangerous world and to overcome the evil in it, by overcoming death for all time. Instead of choosing a power-play to win the world, God in Jesus, chose to join in the pain of it.
In this morning’s reading, at the very beginning of John’s Gospel, Jesus already has a clear vision of his vocation. He will be lifted up for the life of the world. His descent is in his incarnation and his ascent is by means of the cross. What a strange journey. It is the way that God will gather in love all who trust in Jesus as God’s invitation to new life and blessing. In Jesus, God reaches out to those who are lost, giving them the opportunity to be part of God’s life and the healing of the world. In the Fourth Gospel, the ultimate error is not believing. He’s not talking about intellectual assent to a group of dogmas or accepting certain faith statements about the nature of God or who Jesus is. He’s talking about trusting God’s love and forgiveness and living to share it with the world God has loved so much.
In his commentary on John’s Gospel, Robert Smith looks to the story of Thomas’ encounter with the risen Jesus as the key perspective on what Jesus’ death on the cross is all about. Robert says that Thomas wants to see Jesus’ wounds because without them, Jesus is just some sublime creature now part of a heavenly realm, immune to suffering. “Even after Good Friday and Easter, God continues to turn to the world through the wounded Christ,” says Smith. “To believe in this Jesus means to take him, wounds and all, into our own lives….The living but wounded Jesus is the Revealer of God. Therefore when the Fourth Gospel declares the oneness of Father and Son, it is proclaiming that the wounds of Jesus are integral into the identity of the mystery we call “God.” What the pages of this gospel proclaim is not so much that “Jesus is like God,” but rather, “God is like Jesus with his wounds.”
Jesus’ death on the cross is not the first nor the last unjust crucifixion. What makes it different is that through it we know for certain that God stands with the oppressed, the mistreated, the rejected and abandoned. And through the resurrection we know for certain that death is not the end of the story.
Does that make any difference in the life I live every day? You bet. I can trust the love of a God who knows my pain, who walks with me even in the most desperate times. I can trust the love of a God who loves so much that the human condition is worthy of his experience. I can trust that God’s love for me and for the world will never fail, so that I can lift up that love to those around me who are also in pain or desperate. I can see the suffering in the world with new eyes, knowing that evil has been overcome with love in the resurrection of Jesus, complete with his wounds. I can see the cross as holy because through it I can see the full extent of God’s love for me and the rest of the world. Amen.
Now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.