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Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22:1-11; Hebrews 10:1-25; John 18:1-19:37
Let us begin by considering the silence of God. Have you ever thought God was silent in your life, leaving you bereft? I have. The weight of our human frailty, the suffocation of sin, the brokenness of life. I was driving once, about 17 years old, long hair in a cheap car, up Country Homes Blvd. I wept. I raged, and yelled at a God I thought had forsaken me. I was tired of sinning, I was tired of believing in a God who never seemed to speak to me. I was broken, and I believed God was silent, either because he was not there, or because I was not his. When my grandfather died and I first felt the weight of death, I broke, because I felt the sorrow of loss. And I felt like God was silent.
Jesus was taken, by force, for committing no crime. He was tortured. He was murdered by the state. He gave up his spirit. His clothes were divided. And through it all, no word is heard from the Father. The one truly righteous human being, the universal human who represents us all as the New Adam, God the Son Incarnate, only begotten of the Father: Crucified – And the Father does not speak, or act. No word.
No word, apparently. When we read this passage in isolation from the rest of the narrative, we ought to feel the oppressive darkness, the stifling silence. We should feel smothered by despair, like a weight on our chest, or water surrounding us and stifling our breath. And if we were to read it, were we able, for the first time without knowledge of how it ends, I think we would; but familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt, or at least, dulls our senses to the drama of the crucifixion of Our Lord. The one who was to save Israel and through them the world; the one who preached peace, the turning of the cheek, the loving of enemies; the one who healed, who raised up the lowest of humanity; the one who spoke truth to the powerful; he died. All hope, gone. God, silent.
And yet, despite all appearances, God was not silent that night. Despite all appearances, God spoke definitively that night, spoke against the power of sin, death, and the devil. God spoke through Jesus Christ on the Cross, the cross which is the very pivot on which human history turns.
I have a complicated relationship with Martin Luther, but the doctrine he expressed that I think was his most powerful and most accurate is the theology of the cross compared to the theology of Glory. The theology of glory is one that emphasizes human reason’s ability to know God on our own, and human ability to save ourselves. A theology of glory says we are able to, through self-discipline, rational thought, and will-power to make ourselves what we desire to be, each of us a Ben Franklin making a list of virtues and ticking them off after we’ve mastered them. A theology of glory looks to the skyscrapers, the planes we use to fly, the probes we’ve sent beyond the solar system, the submarines that have plumbed the Mariana Trench, the mapping of the genome, and all the rest of human achievement and says, there is nothing humanity can not do.
In contrast, a relative nobody from a backwater country, Jesus of Nazareth, was killed 2000 years ago. He was, from a purely human perspective, not notable. He died on a short cross more than likely, just tall enough that he couldn’t touch the ground. It happened in a city that was nowhere near the beauty or thriving sophistication of Alexandria or Rome, on a hill that was an unremarkable, slight rise in the ground. And note the brief, almost dismissively curt mentions in our gospel text of what occurred: “after crucifying him,” “Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity.” The death of this human being was not of concern to them, only that their religious observance might be ruined. How inconvenient.
And yet…This is the Theology of the Cross. This is the great revelation of God about who God is – Death, dead; sin, washed; the devil, defeated. In Jesus, who is not just Jesus of Nazareth but Jesus the Christ, the Cross says that God requires that death is the price of sin, but also that God is the one who IS love, and who will willingly do even this to reconcile the world to God. The Father sending the Son, the Son willingly coming down, the Spirit being present throughout.
At the Cross, God is not silent. At the Cross, through the small, the suffering, the weak things of the world, God is speaking with a roar. At the Cross, Jesus who is the Christ says, “it is finished.” What is finished? The work of God to restore humanity, and through them, one day, all creation. Death is dead; sin, washed; the devil, defeated.
I did not realize at 17 what I know now: The love of God was there, even when I did not feel it. My sin was erased. My brokenness was being healed. Because God had spoken, and was yet speaking, and will continue to speak, until Christ returns in glory. At the Cross, God spoke, and spoke yet again at the resurrection.
The Cross leaves us in darkness, waiting for the light. Feel it. Sit with the weight of the cost, the sacrifice necessary to heal the world. Look for the coming of the light. But know that even when it feels like God is silent, he yet speaks, and speaks precisely through the suffering, through the darkness, and through the uncertainties of our lives in this world. God speaks; let us listen, and by faith, let us wait. Amen.
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