Sunday, 27 March 2016

Good Friday and Jesus becoming a nobody

            TGIF- Thank God it’s Friday. That’s what most people are saying today. To many people “Good” Friday is “good” because it begins a long weekend. So what are we strange people doing here? (…) As an Anglican we save the hopeful stuff for Saturday night and Sunday. So today is dark. We gather with the disciples who have prepared the body of Jesus and we place him in the tomb. We are here for a funeral. And like a funeral we gather to support one another in our grief. We are here to remember a death. Our Lord, our teacher, and our friend has been crucified. …. But, that in itself is not extraordinary. There are plenty of people who have been crucified.
          There was a slave rebellion between 73 and 71 BC called the Third Servile War. About 120,000 rebel slaves were led by a man named Spartacus in revolt against the Roman republic. This led to about 6000 of his followers being crucified along the 200km stretch of road between Capua and Rome as a warning to those who would oppose Rome’s power. (Just to help you visualize that, if you drove from Olds to Edmonton that is just over 200km … Imagine every telephone pole is a crucified slave).  
            Josephus tells us that after the death of King Herod in 4BC there were revolts which were put down by Rome. This led to the crucifixion of two thousand. This was another warning to those who would oppose Rome’s power.
          Judas the Galilean led a revolt in the year 6 AD over the issue of taxes to Rome. Judas’ three sons were crucified. Yet, another warning against opposing Rome.
          Josephus also tells us that during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD many were crucified before the walls of Jerusalem to terrorize those inside- to get them to surrender the city. Josephus says that they crucified 500 people a day until they ran out of wood for making crosses. The message is clear: Do not oppose the power of Rome. 
          Most of these people we don’t have names for. They join the masses of people throughout the ages that have come up against the powers of this world and lost. They join those in unmarked mass graves. They join the masses who were murdered at the hands of the Nazis, and under the reigns of Pol Pot and Stalin and the many others throughout the centuries that have terrorized humanity.
          We gather today to remember one of these deaths. To the powers of the day, he was a nobody. It was expected that he would disappear into the nameless grave the way so many others have before him.
          Pontius Pilate is responsible for imposing the Pax Romana- the Roman Peace. This is a peace enforced by a very large stick. Pilate is responsible for imposing the Roman Peace on what he saw as a barbarous population that was often given to religious fanaticism in the region of Palestine.
          As Jesus stands before Pilate he sees before him a poor and possibly demented man. When asked questions he gives vague and mysterious answers. In the Roman worldview of the day there was a hierarchy of persons. From the highest gods to the lowest slave.  Pilate is a bit nearer to the heavens. He has the powers of Rome flowing through his will. In Pilate’s worldview, Jesus is in a particularly low place. Jesus has no claim on Pilate’s mercy. He can’t claim any rights or freedoms that are owed him. Pilate has complete sway over his life or death.   
          Jesus is scourged and mockingly dressed in a cloak with a crown of thorns pressed into his scalp by bored soldiers. He stands before Pilate having been humiliated and then receives the news that he is to be crucified. …     The theologian and historian David Bentley Hart says that, “[in the order of the ancient world] Pilate’s verdict is essentially a just one: Not because the penalty it imposes is somehow proportionate to the “crime”, but because it affirms the natural and divine order of reality, by consigning a worthless man to an appropriately undignified death, and by restoring order through the destruction of the agent of disorder. For, in the end, the gods love order above all else”.
          … In the second chapter of Philippians Paul quotes an ancient hymn of the early church:
6[Christ] Who, being in very nature God,
      did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
 7but made himself nothing,
      taking the very nature of a servant,
      being made in human likeness.
 8And being found in appearance as a man,
      he humbled himself
      and became obedient to death—
         even death on a cross!                    

          We are told that God became human, but not an emperor or a king- a child born to a young unwed woman and laid in an animal’s feeding trough. He was born into poverty. God was born into a family that would have disappeared into the mists of time with many other unnamed and forgotten families. God became one of the nameless ones. God became one of the petals resting on the surface of the water powerless against the waves and ripples. He became one of the powerless people. Jesus stands before Pilate, a representative of the greatest power of the day- the Roman Empire.
His cry will be the cry of the abandoned and rejected nobodies of the world- “My God, why have you forsaken me”. God, in His humanity, will feel abandoned by himself. His cry is Job’s cry- “My God, why have you forsaken me”. It is a particularly human kind of suffering. We can suffer all kinds of physical and mental pain if we feel God is with us- that there is hope- that our suffering isn’t pointless. But to feel abandoned by God is to feel a kind of suffering that is hopeless and meaningless.  
           Not only did Jesus become one of the nobodies, he also took on those parts of us that we don’t want to let into the light. The dark, selfish, slithering, hissing, corrupted parts of us. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he says, “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).        
          Jesus came to us as one of the powerless. He emptied himself that he could be filled with our violence and corruption. If Christ was to absorb the evil and corrupt powers that influence this world, he could not be a bearer of those powers. It would not do to be an emperor. As soon as he plays on their terms, with their powers of violence, then he has lost. Jesus is to have those powers used against him- to be a recipient the way that the majority of humankind has been. He joins the nameless and faceless masses to endure the powers of sin and death that have been oppressing them since before anyone can remember. 
          Jigoro Kano was the founder of Judo and it has been said that wrestling him was like wrestling an empty jacket. He just went with whatever force was being used on him. If you wanted to push him, he could use that force. If you wanted to pull him, well, he can use that force too. He would just go with it, absorb it, and use it to his advantage.  Whatever evil wanted to throw at Jesus, he was willing to take it, transform it, and use it. … But he didn’t use it to his own advantage, he used it to our advantage.    
          This is what theologians normally call the “atonement”. There are many theories about how this works, but the thing that matters most is not the theory. C.S. Lewis says that people were eating and digesting food quite well before theories of nutrition and digestion came about. What matters is eating food, not understanding the theory of nutrition. Eating food will keep you alive, the theory will not. The important thing is that Christ died for us- and that makes this a Good Friday. The important thing is that what Jesus did was “atonement”. Christ’s work on the cross brings us to a state of at-one-ment with God.

          It is good to attempt to understand this, but what is more important is that we are overwhelmed with gratitude for what God has done for us through the cross of Jesus Christ- forgiving our sin and clearing the way between us and God.  Thank God it’s Friday. 

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