"Does He Still Feel the Pain"

A visitor to the Passion Play in Spearfish, South Dakota, asked to see the cross which was used in the performance. He was shocked at the weight. He said, "I thought it would be hollow." The actor who portrayed Jesus replied, "I must feel the weight of the cross to effectively act like Christ."

Today, crosses come in all shapes and sizes, and are usually designed to be decorations or jewelry. Yet to completely understand the magnitude of Jesus' cross we must strive to feel the weight he bore on Calvary. Tonight, by all accounts is not a joyful night, and I believe this is why many people stay away from church. Even some of the most faithful church-goers will not come out to church on Good Friday because of the solemn nature of the night. But the truth is, Easter and the resurrection mean absolutely nothing if tonight doesn't happen.

Christianity is not a feel good or solitary religion. It's not a religion of convenience. If feeling good, isolation, and convenience are what we're interested in; then there are plenty of false religions that fit this bill. If truth is what we're interested in, then understanding the significance of the cross is important. Avoiding what happens tonight simply because it's uncomfortable and makes us feel uneasy is unacceptable. What if Jesus avoided tonight because it was uncomfortable to him?

But how do we listen to the section of John's Gospel I read this evening and make it a part of who we are now? We can hardly imagine what it must have been like to witness a crucifixion. How barbaric -- certainly not anything we'd do today! Witnesses being coerced to perjure themselves, "Certainly not now," we want to say to ourselves. What could possibly link us to the people of first-century Israel?

Let's look again at those things we think we can't imagine. We may not literally crucify people any more, but poverty and oppression are a form of crucifixion. Hate, racism and other "-isms" are forms of crucifixion whether we like to think of it that way or not. We perjure ourselves when we say we want to spread the good news of the kingdom of God, and yet work hard to exclude those who aren't just like us.

Or, when we make church about a building rather than about people and Christ. The Passion narrative read certainly has a great deal to say to us about our own participation in the passion and death of Jesus. The words, "They shall look on him whom they have pierced" applies to us today as much as it did to first-century Israel.

We know that through the blood and power of the cross we die with Christ so that we can be made alive in him. And being alive in Christ means living like Christ, and there's the challenge we face today: living like Christ - trying to make this world we live in a place where nobody gets crucified, but where we all crucify our own ambition and pride regularly, for the sake of others.

But knowing this and executing it are two different things. We struggle with this constantly. Have you ever wondered if Jesus still feels the nails every time we fail? Do we still cause him pain every time we sin? These are scary thoughts aren't they?

We need to ask ourselves who is really holding the hammer. Who continues to pound a way at the nails sending terrible sharp pains through the body of Jesus? We don't need to point to anyone else or accuse others of this terrible act. We just need to take a closer look at our own heart and know that we hold the hammer, each one of us, and we crucify Jesus every time we sin.

Soon after Jesus hands and feet were nailed to the cross, and it was lifted into place, Jesus prayed audibly for his executioners, "Father forgive them, for they no not what they do." (Luke 23:34) The forgiveness of Jesus was a surprise then, and it is still a surprise today. I'm surprised by his forgiveness. He knows our worst sins so well, yet Jesus' heart still seeks to forgive.

On this last day of Jesus life, the angels must have been shocked and speechless at God's sacrifice. But perhaps even more amazing to them was the conversation between Christ and a common criminal.

For the condemned thief on the cross, time was quickly running out. Regardless of what he had done before, in the end, he did fear God. He realized that his judgment after death would be totally determined by God.

Like the convict on the far side who insulted Jesus, this man must have come to the cross with some knowledge of Jesus. He understood Jesus was no criminal. Even more important, he must have realized Jesus was God's Son who was headed home to the paradise from which he had come.

Believing this, the thief decided to make one last request. He asked Jesus to save him when he arrived back in heaven. What an interesting contrast to the criminal on the other side of Jesus who mocked Jesus to save him physically, as this man sought Jesus to save him spiritually.

We really do need this time this evening to reflect on this most sorrowful and difficult story. We need this night to hear the crowd shout, "Crucify Him!" in order to remind ourselves that we need to repent - to reflect on how we've neglected our baptismal promises, and to understand how we still cause Jesus pain. Jesus reminds us that he was being crucified for this very purpose -to save sinners, to save us, and to promise heaven to all who ask. Tonight that invitation still stands.

And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus cried out, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last. Let us pray.

On this dark day, O Christ, we turned our back on you, we falsely charged you, we helped to crucify you. We took God's best gift to us, and we refused that gift, even to the point of crucifying you on a cruel cross. The cross is an eloquent testimonial to our sinfulness, our fallenness.

O Christ. We cannot, sinners that we are, save ourselves by ourselves. We need your salvation. We are desperate for your forgiveness. Forgive us for the pain we cause you, save us from ourselves and this world, embrace us and never let go, even from your cross, loving Savior of our souls.


Read other homilies by Pastor Wade