A Bonus Sermon for Holy Week: Good Friday
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
The question of the cross is a fairly simple one.
Many people suffer. Many people suffer innocently, abused by cruel and heedless power. Many people die. Many people die innocently, murdered by cruel and heedless power.
Jesus of Nazareth is one of these millions of people who have suffered and died at the hands of cruel and heedless power. And the question is, “Why does his suffering, his death, his cross, matter more than any of the other millions?” Put another way, “What difference does one more martyr make?”
It’s not an easy question to answer, is it? We in the church often glibly talk about Jesus “dying for our sins,” but how often do we stop to think about what that really means, and how it really works, and if it’s true (and I firmly believe it is,) what difference it makes in the way we are called to live our lives this day and every day that follows.
Since the late Middle Ages, one of the standard understandings of the cross goes something like this: God is perfect and is both perfectly merciful and perfectly just. Human beings are, alas, much less than perfect. We daily fail to live up to perfect justice and are constantly in need of perfect mercy.
The problem is – God cannot be perfectly just and perfectly merciful at the same time. According to feudal custom and Roman law, “satisfaction” has to be made for justice to be preserved. (Remember how in old movies an offended gentleman would slap someone’s face and say, “I demand satisfaction.” That’s the idea.) But, if God punishes us as we deserve, gets divine satisfaction, then we’re all dead and God’s not merciful. If God doesn’t punish us, then God is not perfectly just.
So, the theory is, God had to come into the world as a perfect human being so that a perfect sacrifice could be made; so that justice could be satisfied and mercy fulfilled. Jesus dies on the cross, sins are paid for, we’re all forgiven, let’s all get ready to go to heaven.
Yeah, there’s more, much more. This model has a neat, logical consistency to it, but neither the real world nor the Bible are really neat nor completely logical.
The cross of Christ calls us to consider the ways in which Jesus is leading us and calling us to a life as one of God’s “suffering servants.”
The cross is not so much about some divine mental and emotional calculation that makes it okay for God to forgive us as it is about God in Christ coming into our midst to suffer and die with us to show us that as bad as that is, it is not the final answer in God’s eternal equation.
And because Jesus has not only shown us the way but has also preceded us in both death and new life; we can respond to the call of Christ to take up our own cross and follow, confident not that we will not die, but sure that dying will not be our ultimate end.
The story is told that when Desmond Tutu was a relatively young Anglican minister in South Africa one of his white friends, a Methodist minister, came to him and pleaded with him to stop his activities protesting the South African government’s policy of legal race discrimination.
The friend said, “Desmond, you must stop.” Tutu replied, “Why?” His friend said, “Why? Because if you don’t they will kill you.” “Ah,” Tutu said, “Well, brother, death is not the worst thing that can happen to a Christian. I have a resurrection Jesus.”
The message of the cross, the transaction that took place there, has many meanings, too many to list, but at least one of them is this, “death is not the worst thing that can happen to a Christian.”
Because Jesus led the way, we can confidently go out each day doing what good we can find to do, knowing that God smiles upon us and Christ goes with us.
Amen and amen.