Thursday, April 2, 2015

Voices at the Cross ( A Good Friday 2015 Reflection) ... Luke 23:26-49

Luke tells the story of the crucifixion from many different angles. As I reread his account in preparation for this morning the thing that stuck out to me was the number of different voices we hear at the cross.

On the way to the cross we hear the voices of the women wailing and mourning for Jesus. Leading up to this scene we had heard the voices of the religious and political leaders, the powerful condemning Jesus, rejecting him and inciting the crowd to cry out ‘crucify him crucify him…’ They now lead him away to be crucified… and it would be easy to think the whole of the city, the whole world had turned against Jesus. But on the way to the cross Luke tells us a crowd followed him, and in that crowd were many women who were mourning and wailing for Jesus.  Women’s voices are not often heard in biblical times in Jewish circles, particularly in legal matters and in decision making. But we hear them here, We hear them as representatives of the powerless and disenfranchised…WE hear them as they exercise their voice in a culturally appropriate way, in leading the mourning… The women may not know  fully who Jesus is and his place in God’s  redemptive narrative, But they feel the injustice of what has happened, they grieve for an innocent man, a rabbi, a teacher and bringer of hope who is a dead man walking. Maybe they had seen him coming into Jerusalem on a donkey, they had heard his teaching, they had seen the possibility of a new day dawning, they had heard how Jesus listened to talked with and valued women and now it was ending in tragedy. So they weep.

Then we hear Jesus voice for the first time … He stops and turns to them. We hear a voice of concern and compassion.  Jesus thoughts are not for his own fate, he had struggled in prayer the garden the previous night and come to a place where he could totally trust in God even in the face of suffering and death. He knows God’s presence, that God is in control, that God is working out his plans and purposes… His concern is for the people, his concern is for the women, his concern is for their children, his concern is for the powerless… He tells them that they should grieve for themselves, for the doomed city of Jerusalem. At the heart of what he had to say Jesus uses the analogy of green wood and dry wood, Green wood can be cut down, but dry wood is cut down and burned… “if this is what Rome does to the Prince of peace, the green wood ” NT Wright explains,” What will happen when the powers of this world are confronted with angry men bent on revolt and violence”. Jesus concern is for the women and children who are the ones who will suffer most in that situation.   As always, as it is still today.  AS always Jesus is for the poor, the innocent, and the powerless.

At the heart of Luke’s picture of the cross  are the voices mocking Jesus. We are told they take him away to be crucified and now they mock him as well. The religious rulers sneer at him… “he saved others, let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the chosen one” We see the roman authorities mocking him, gambling for the royal robe they had placed on him, like some cupbearer to the king they offer him cheap wine, they say “if you are the king of the Jews, Save yourself.” There is a sign above his head which says THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS… not a declaration of his royalty rather it was the charge for which he was being killed, it spoke to the people that this is what awaited anyone who would question roman rule.  Wh will dear to champion a different way.

Like a greeting line at a royal coronation we see those speaking to  Jesus go from the rulers to the military and down to the least  important, one of the criminals beside Jesus calls out mockingly “Aren’t you the messiah? Save yourself and us!” Maybe it is a last minute desperate hope at currying favour with the powers to be for a stay of execution or simply a desperate hope of last minute revolt of heavenly intervention. Jesus kingship his ability to save his people is questioned and thrown into his face.

Before these voices however, Jesus had spoken… ‘Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing?”  In the face of the worst of injustice and inhumanity Jesus shows his ability to live out what he had taught… love your enemies; bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you… Jesus shows his desire as Paul puts it in his exhortation for us all to pray that Jesus desires all to come and know him and his forgiveness.  Jesus prays these words and in his very death on the cross makes it possible for  forgiveness and reconciliation of all of us with God as our heavenly father.  This is the hope of the cross.

Amidst the mockery we hear another voice, a different tune. We hear the voice of the other criminal, someone who has come to realise there need for God in the face of death, “Don’t you fear God” he  says to the criminal mocking Jesus, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” and then to Jesus  “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  We do not know anything about this man except that he knows he is guilty and deserves to be punished and in Jesus he sees an innocent man, and somehow sees Jesus for who is so puts his trust in Jesus. Here at the cross amidst this mockery we have a wonderful example of responding to God’s grace in Christ.

In Jesus words to him we again hear mercy; we again hear forgiveness and a declaration that beyond the pain and suffering the mockery something else is happening… “Truly I tell you…today… you will be with me in Paradise.” Here is the meaning of the cross, not the end of ‘a would be’ messiah, a deluded wannabe. But Rather here is the means by which all people can be saved, forgiven restored can find life, in this world and beyond into eternity. The powers mocked Jesus that he couldn’t even save himself, but in these words we see that he is able to offer a deeper saving deeper than simply avoiding physical death. They had mockingly taunted Jesus about being the king of the Jews but here in that one word… today, Jesus is affirming that in his life and death… today… the kingdom of God has come. This is a coronation. This is the means by which God is establishing his rule and his kingdom… Today… Not by power,… today… not by might, but by the spirit of God.

Luke tells us the sky turns black for three hours. Maybe this is creations voice, mourning as its creator dies.   Maybe this is evil coming to gloat, as it thinks the light is being extinguished. There is a line in a Christian song… The father turns his face away… But this is not the case. The curtain in the temple which separated the holy of holies from the rest of the temple is ripped in two. The barrier between the presence of God and the people of God is torn down.  Symbolically speaking of a new reality a new way of knowing God’s presence with his people… Not in a place and through offering sacrifice… but in a person and in one ultimate sacrifice.

In this darkness Jesus speaks again, “ Father, In to your hand’s do I commend my spirit”… these are  words of trust… despite the darkness God has not abandoned Jesus,  God is present, God is in control, whatever happens from this point on God can be trusted to work out his purposes. Maybe we’d expect God to speak, we don’t hear God’s voice at this very moment, but as John tells us in the prologue to his gospel, Jesus is the word of God, the word that took on flesh, the word that revealed God’s truth and grace, the word that will achieve all that God has purposed for it. The word of God speaks in Christ’s actions.

Jesus dies and still Luke invites us to view this event through the voices of those who are present. We hear the voices of witnesses who have seen and contemplate what has gone on here.

 The centurion offers the final commentary.  He is a gentile, a seasoned roman officer, yet he is willing to offer praise to God for what has gone on here, he declares Jesus a Righteous man. Luke does not go as far as putting the words ‘this is the son of God’ on the centurion’s lips… rather it foreshadows that Jesus death on the cross was not only for the Jews but for all people. That a righteous one would give up his life for others. We started our service this morning with the words of Isaiah 53 about the suffering servant and here in these words that is applied to Jesus.

The crowd go away, beating their breasts disturbed by what they have seen. Maybe we hear whispers of concern and sighs and tears of sorrow. There is disquiet about what has happened here… Disquiet that will lead to ears being willing to hear the Gospel proclaimed at Pentecost, as Luke tells of the continuing work of Jesus Christ by the spirit in the lives of his followers and the church

Luke finishes with a group who are silent. All those who knew him, including the women who followed him from Galilee… They stand at a distance and they see what is going on. They are eyewitnesses to these events, they are the ear witnesses who have heard the different voices speak and had passed it on later to Luke. We will hear their voices later… bravely asking for Jesus body for a decent burial. And they will be the voices raised in concern and confusion when after the Sabbath they come to finish preparing his body.. Wehre have they taken him…  They will be the voices that we hear proclaiming the great new… He is risen… It is their voices that will pass on to others That Christ has died and Christ is alive… sin and death are defeated… the kingdom of God has come… there is forgiveness and new life… reconciliation and wholeness in what God has done through Jesus Christ…

Today where does your voice fit at the cross?

Is it with those who weep for Jesus, at the injustice and sorrow of the cross…

it may fit with the mockery, who is this Jesus… …

Maybe today we find disquiet and are disturbed by what we hear and see at the cross and the spirit of God is at work for us to hear the Good news of Christ, what he has done for us on the cross and the new life it speaks into our lives…

Maybe you are aware of your need for God and his forgiveness and you find youself say Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.

  But you are invited to come and respond to Christ to Know Christ dead and raised to life and join your voice with that last group. You are invited to join in giving praise to God and to be voices of compassion, forgiveness and witness acknowledging that Jesus Christ is indeed Lord and saviour.

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