April 3, 2015
“God is Dead”
The Rev. Maren Sonstegard-Spray
16 Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus; 17 and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” 23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24 So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says,
“They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”
25 And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. 28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 31 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. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. 32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35 (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) 36 These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” 37 And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.” 38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
And so we come at last to the foot of the cross. Let us stand here together beside the weeping women and John and the guards, and set aside for the moment that we know how the story ends.
We are weary, so weary. We have been up all night, knowing that Jesus has been arrested, praying through each trial. But it all happened so fast.
It feels like just a moment ago when we thought this man would save the world, when he came into Jerusalem like the king, like the conqueror of nations.
We really believed that everything would happen just like we thought it would – Jewish uprising, Romans overthrown, and power and might regained, a kingdom of God on earth – we believed that Jesus was who he said he was – that he was both God and messiah. We were expecting the Messiah. And God too? We are still trying to wrap our minds around that one.
We don’t know what to think – because it would mean that God is dying.
And we stand together, leaning on one another, knowing that in the busy city we have left behind, it is the day of preparation for the Sabbath.
We are preparing for the loss of hope, and faith, and peace, and love and everything that we thought mattered.
In this moment the cross is not exceptional, but hopelessly ordinary and the means of death for many criminals. When we look at the cross, we only see failure.
There is a second century drawing from Italy of a man being crucified – in the image the man appears naked with marks all over his body — his feet aren’t nailed together but apart – and he is quite close to the ground.
When we picture ourselves standing there, with the few of Jesus’ followers who have not scattered and fled and betrayed him, do we imagine ourselves looking up at him, unreachable, lifted high?
What if it was not so? Why hang a man high on a tall tree, when just off the ground on a shorter tree will do the job nicely?
Imagine him then not so far away, but quite close, almost at eye level, so close that we can see every agonized breath, and Jesus can look us in the eyes and know our suffering, every anxiety, our fear and doubt. He can see that we think it is all over. And when he says “It is finished” we think we know exactly what he means. God is dead, hope has died, all is lost.
This is the moment in history when it felt like evil won, death won, and everything that separates us God won. There are moments still when our lives and our world feels like this.
We know now, because we know the end of the story, that this suffering and this death and this God-forsakenness was for us and our salvation. But this suffering was also with us. And this matters.
“For us” means something done on our behalf, it puts distance between Jesus and us. When I do something for my own children, it usually means I take something out of their hands. “For us” implies a kind of contract. “For us” means we watch Jesus from afar do this amazing, heart-breaking thing for us.
But Jesus also suffers “with us,” with us sinners, with the world whether the world knows it or not. “With us” means connection, companionship, moving in the same direction. It means empathy, sympathy, being on the same side. ‘No, you needn’t go for me; I’ll go with you.’ When I do something with my child, we do it hand in hand.
Someone dying for us is deeply moving and powerful and even convicting – it may move us to tears or to thanksgiving; someone suffering with us, even to death, is something greater.
There is nowhere that we go, that God has not and will not go, in the greatest and darkest suffering of our lives, to the places of God-forsakenness in the world, when we are sure that evil has won, there is God in Jesus Christ – love so amazing, so divine, demands our soul, our life, our all. Amen.