Still Feel the Pain"
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
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
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
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.
other homilies by Pastor Wade