The story unfolding before us—so familiar and deeply engrained that we can almost whisper along word by word again this afternoon. The pictures fill our minds, perhaps glimpses from works of great art down through the centuries, or from films, or from the meditation of our own imagination. The old hymn asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” And it is indeed as though we were there, as though our experience of this hour is memory, deeply felt, deeply experienced. The sights and sounds and smells of that corner of the city landfill outside the gates of Old Jerusalem so vivid. Echoes down through the ages. We close our eyes, and we are there, on that day. We remember.
And of course that memory surrounds and permeates, explores, illuminates, embraces, interprets so much of our lives. Day by day. The horrors of this world. War and rumors of war. Natural disasters, as earthquakes in Haiti, New Zealand, Japan. And on and on. Cruelty and crime. Images so fresh in our mind. We see him on that Cross and ask what it all means: how to make sense of what is beyond making-sense.
The fragility of our lives, our vulnerabilities. Our tenderness. We bend. We break. If ever we think we have it all figured out, that we’re o.k. now, that we’re in control—amazing how it doesn’t take much, just a gust of wind, to show just how illusory all that is. How we live day to day in the Land of Denial. It used to be the habit to say, “d.v.” when making an appointment for some future meeting. Deo Volente: God Willing. Because so much can happen. But we sail along. For a few minutes, anyway, until something unexpected rocks the boat. We slumber, until a shifting of some deep tectonic plate shakes us out of our sleep, walls around us collapsing, the floor under us giving way. The medical procedure isn’t covered by the health plan after all. The company is forced to downsize. The mortgage rate resets.
Just a lot of Good Friday, all around us, in our midst, in our own lives. And we close our eyes, and we are there, on that day. We remember. It is not far away at all, but all too real. All too nearby. And the Cross that is above us, overhead, not an ornament of architectural decoration, but the essential key to the interpretation of our lives. Without it, it is night, and we are alone in the forest, without a clue, without a map, without a trail to follow. It is all we have.
Jesus says in the 14th chapter of St. John, I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and bring you to myself, that where I am, there ye may be also. And Thomas said, Lord, we know not whither thou goest, and how can we know the way? How can we know the way?
And he gives us this sign. Himself. On the cross. His one gift and offering, of himself. Perfect offering. Sufficient sacrifice. And with those words continuing in John 14: I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father, but by me. This the way, as the Cross beckons us, the light on the path, the gate, the door, the way forward. He prayed in the Garden on that last night: “Father, if there is some other way forward, show it to me now.” But there was no other way. Not for him, and so also not for us. Before Sunday morning, always Friday.
We carry this hope, we live in it, and for it, the deep foundation under us. The King of Love my shepherd is, whose goodness faileth never. But it doesn’t make this part any easier.
A friend of ours out in California years ago had a little rubber stamp that she used on stationery, envelopes, and so on. “Remember,” it said: “Remember that everyone you meet is carrying some heavy burden.” And that is true of course, whether we can see it or not. Which is why we’re so fascinated by the tabloids, as they reveal to us that even those who are the most beautiful, the strongest, wealthy, wealthy, the most successful in their careers, at the very top—as they reveal to us the hidden brokenness, the pains and sorrows of their lives as they are trundled off to rehab and divorce court and jail. And of course you don’t need to be featured on Entertainment Tonight. Just walk down any street, look around in any coffee shop or coffee hour reception: and all those people who seem to have it so much more together than I do. It’s an illusion. Simply what we can’t see. Everyone broken, everyone carrying some heavy burden.
And so, here we are. All of us. However we may appear to others. However we may appear to ourselves. On our way to the Cross, as he is before us on his. Listening for his last word for us: Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.
Good Friday, and all of us together here with him. And even at the grave we make our song. It is the victorious Cross, trampling down death by death. The Way, the Truth, the Life. The Cross and only the Cross, this day, this hour, light in the darkness, the power of God, giving life to those in the tomb.
May his Cross be for you this day the opening door to life and eternal life in him.