220415 Good Friday
April 15, 2022
Sermon: “The Triumph of the Cross: Jesus Receives our Nails”
Rev. Kristian Wold
Yesterday evening a small group of us met to engage the practice that Jesus gave his disciples, the sharing of a meal. And we remembered the many meals he shared during his life and ministry on earth—from the first sign he performed at Cana of Galilee, bringing joy and blessing through water turned to wine, to the great feeding of 5000 in the wilderness with just two fish and five loaves of bread in the middle of his ministry, to his last supper with his friends when he told them that whenever they shared a meal like this they would remember him, and even after the cross and empty tomb when he appeared to his disciples at Emmaus during a meal. We remembered Jesus’ meals. And we remembered how these meals embodied God’s vision of welcome for all; abundance for all; justice, peace and healing for all. We rejoiced in this vision and felt it made real and actual in the meal we shared. We experienced a little foretaste of that great sense of conviviality and wellbeing that is to come. “My heart was full,” said one participant. Finally we remembered that sharing meals like this is not optional for Jesus’ disciples; it is commanded. (Which is what the “Maundy” of Maundy Thursday means.) “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said. And so we do, not just as a nice thing for our own benefit, but in order to bring about God’s vision of abundance for the entire world. The meal is for everyone: “You feed them,” Jesus commanded his disciples. Do this. You feed them. It was a joyful evening of remembrance.
And then, so quickly, everything changed and here we are today remembering Jesus’ betrayal, mockery of a trial, suffering, death on a cross, and burial. What happened? How could such a beautiful vision be betrayed?
It is because Jesus’ vision is revolutionary. It is not pie-in-the-sky otherworldly, concerned only with the ephemeral. He is a king, as he confessed to Pilate, though as he said, his kingdom does not belong to this world. He is not a king like we think of that word; he’s not concerned with accumulating power or wealth or influence. As Martin Luther commented, “That was a very dangerous confession, for at the very same time he both denied and confessed that he was a king. He admitted that he came to make a revolution and yet was not a revolutionary, for the gospel does not come without revolution. ‘Think you that I am come to bring peace on earth?’ he said, ‘I say, no, but division.’” (Martin Luther’s Easter Book, ed. Roland Bainton)
Division indeed. Jesus’ kingdom of peace is a threat to the foundations of human culture. Our politics, economics, and religion are all challenged at their core. Jesus demands real-world allegiance to his program of justice – and so the political powers of injustice need him gone. Jesus advocates for the resources of this earth to be shared equally by all – and an economy founded on inequality rejects his way. Jesus proclaims that God’s love is for all, and that everyone has access to God’s blessing – and a religion of fear and domination casts him out.
The verbs are all present tense. Because we are not telling a story about some people long ago, we’re telling a story about our world today. We’re telling a story about ourselves.
Who betrays Jesus in this story? Who kills him? The terrible truth is that we do. Not God the Father, somehow demanding the sacrifice of his son in substitution for humanity. Not “the Jews” in general, that terrible antisemitic lie that has been perpetuated by Christians throughout the centuries. Not even some obscure Roman and Jewish authorities from ages and ages ago. No, it is us. Our ongoing violence. Our rejection of his vision. Our prejudice. Our selfishness. Our judgment. Our self-righteous anger. Our envy. Our pride. Our sin. All these things are nails that we carry and continually use to crucify those around us, to crucify Jesus.
Not all of the nails we carry are harmful to others. Many of them do harm to ourselves. These are the nails of self-doubt, self-loathing, self-diminishment, self-judgment, shame, fear, and the like. With these nails we crucify the image of Christ within.
But this is “Good” Friday. This day of suffering, sorrow, and lament is paradoxically the day of the Triumph of the Cross. Today we recognize our role in placing Jesus on the cross, but he does not want us to wallow in guilt or shame this day. Because on the cross he has borne all the suffering, guilt, and shame of this world already. He has taken it on himself so that we can give it up. On the very cross he retains his kingly dignity, and by his death he has destroyed the power of death once and for all.
What does the nail in your hand represent?
Who have you been crucifying that Jesus has been asking you to love?
Can you give that nail up today?
Can you drop that nail once and for all?
Can you let it go, knowing how you have hurt the Lord, and hurt yourself?
Can you let Jesus absorb your sin, and leave here restored?
Just as he offered himself up to death 2000 years ago for the ones who didn’t know what they were doing, today he gives himself again.
Give him your nail.
Let yourself be restored by the vision for human life he gave us in his meal. Let your heart be made full again.
Leave your nail here. Today. At the foot of the cross.
Jesus offers you healing and release.
Seeing your sin is the first step.
Letting go is the next.