“God is nowhere greater than in his humiliation. God is nowhere more glorious than in his impotence. God is nowhere more divine than when he becomes man” Jürgen Moltmann Trinity and Kingdom
“So they took Jesus; 17and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew* is called Golgotha. 18There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.” John 19: 16b-18
4Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
5But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
6All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:4-6
“My God my God why have you forsaken me?”
Today is Good Friday, the Altars are bare and we simply “Behold the Man.” The picture that we have today is paradoxical, it is the picture of a suffering man betrayed by a friend, abandoned by his closest followers and executed in a barbaric fashion under the orders of a man who washes his hands of his own responsibility. It is a picture that is troubling because of its unpleasantness it is not the kind of picture of God that we want. While we gladly acknowledge God’s grace and God forgiving our sins through Jesus we want to stay on this side of the resurrection. But like it or not we are confronted with questions about why do the innocent suffer and how could God do this to me or the one that I love. Much of the problem is that we often buy in to a God untouched by human suffering a God who is arbitrary, unfeeling and cold no matter how much we try to convince ourselves that he cares. A God incapable of suffering is a cold comfort when we or a loved one suffers. This is not the Christian God even if we try to baptize this “god” in our theology. “In Christianity the cross is the test of everything that deserves to be called Christian” so writes Jürgen Moltmann in “The Crucified God.”
The Cross and the Passion of Christ is the center of how Christians come to understand God and if we attempt to regulate it to the background we do the message of the Gospel violence. This is very apparent in the number of churches that do nothing to acknowledge the event on Good Friday even as they adorn their churches for the Easter celebration. It is as if the central event in God’s revelation to humanity and means by which he reconciles humanity to himself is a stepchild to the resurrection, but without the Cross there is no resurrection. It is also seen by some who find the symbol of the Crucifix offensive often derisively saying “Jesus isn’t on the Cross anymore, I worship the Risen Jesus.” While we worship the Risen Christ he also remains the Crucified God who in his human flesh bore the sins of the world. It is as Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:
“The figure of the reconciler, of the God-man Jesus Christ, steps into the middle between God and the world, into the center of all that happens. In this figure is disclosed the mystery of the world, just as the mystery of God is revealed in it. No abyss of evil can remain hidden from him through whom the world is reconciled to God. But the abyss of the love of God embraces even the most abysmal godlessness of the world. In an incomprehensible reversal of all righteous and pious thought, God declares himself as guilty toward the world and thereby extinguishes the guilt of the world. God treads the way of humble reconciliation and thereby sets the world free. God wills to be guilty of our guilt; God takes on the punishment and suffering that guilt has brought on us. God takes responsibility for godlessness, love for hate, the holy one for the sinner. Now there is no more godlessness, hate, or sin that God has not taken upon himself, suffered, and atoned. Now there is not longer any reality, any world, that is not reconciled with God and at peace. God has done this in the beloved son, Jesus Christ. Ecce homo!” –Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics: Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 6, edited by Clifford J. Green and translated by Reinhard Krauss, Charles C. West, and Douglas W. Scott (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 83.
In addition to its salvific value the Cross of Christ is also relevant to all who suffer as “the deep meaning of the cross of Christ is that there is no suffering on earth that is not borne by God.” In the Cross God identifies himself with all of humanity especially those afflicted or persecuted.
Today we take the time to reflect and remember this event. Many people will have a day of fasting and accompany it with prayer or service. My prayer is that in the midst of the various crises that we face in the country and the world that we will take the time as Christians to ponder the depth of God’s love and identification with his all people and the ramifications for how we treat others, even those that we view as our opponents or even enemies. If God can condescend to love us while we were at enmity with him, just how can we fail to treat others with the same love? To again quote Bonhoeffer with whom I have walked this Lenten season:
“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”
Ecce Homo! Behold the Man!