The chapel sermon on our final night of Jr. High camp was always the same: a passionate re-telling of Jesus’ violent death on the cross, with the assurance that, “Every time you sin, you pound the nails deeper and deeper into Jesus’ flesh.”
And there we sat, dozens of awkward barely-teenagers, with tears streaming down our cheeks because of that one time last year when we forged our mom’s name on a test, or hid in the closet at 9:05 with the phone we weren’t allowed to use after 9:00, or wrote “Mrs. Smith is a poopyhead” in the margins of our notes, or noticed how hot the shirtless high school guys looked out running the track; we cried because we were killing Jesus.
This, of course, is crazy talk. I had a feeling it was crazy talk a long, long time ago. And after two seminary degrees and almost a decade in ministry I can confirm it: when I got impatient and yelled at my son last week, that action did NOT, in fact, pound the nail deeper into Jesus’ tortured flesh.
This is the kind of theology that makes many thoughtful Christians want to distance themselves from the cross altogether. But while I have set aside that Jr. High camp version of the crucifixion, I still hold the cross as a central symbol and event of my Christian faith.
The foot of the cross is holy space because it speaks deep truth about humanity and deep truth about God. The cross is, in part, about sin. Not because our every minor misstep is responsible for killing Jesus, but because the cross reminds us that we, as humans, are capable of pettiness, of injustice, of violence. We sometimes grasp for power in ridiculous and dangerous ways. We can let fear control our actions and our interactions. And our individual sins can morph into systemic sin that oppresses and wounds many, many people.
The foot of the cross is holy space because it assures us that God desires intimacy with us so deeply that God became human. God did not just look human. God did not just hang out as a human for as long as it was convenient. God, in Jesus of Nazareth, became really, fully human–so human that he died on the cross.
And so it is at the foot of the cross that we can most clearly see our need for God. It is at the foot of the cross that we can gaze most intently upon God’s love for us.
I leave you with this blessing for this holy day:
As you stand in the shadow of the cross, may the darkness guard your heart with love; may the chilled air fill you with holy breath; may you rest in the peaceful uncertainty of knowing that things are not as they seem. Amen.
Here are a few previous pieces related to Good Friday scriptures:
Reflection on Jesus’ trial–Why was he such a threat?
Reflection on Matthew’s version of Jesus’ death
And some theological reflections from John’s account