On Good Friday we see the world at the height of its power. The world can do what it wants with this man. It can break him, it can destroy him. Or so it seems. But the hidden truth of Good Friday is this: the other players in the scene are hardly more than onlookers. For all their jeering, for all their weaponry, despite their power and show, they have nothing to say. True authority is found in the broken man whose death they witness.
The disciples couldn’t see that. All they could see was the end of all they’d hoped for. But we see the cross as those who stood by that day couldn’t see it. We see it in the light of Easter, and in that light it becomes a place of triumph and victory. For now though, feel the tragedy, and taste the despair; watch this good man be all too easily condemned and put to death. For now, be confronted by your own helplessness, know your own sin.
I doubt any of the players in this story started out with evil intent. Judas Iscariot may well have hoped to provoke Jesus into being the sort of Messiah he wanted, one who would fight for his people. The chief priests wanted to keep the peace: it was best for the people and the Temple, and incidentally for their own status and security, that this one man should die - better that, surely, than the whole people destroyed. Pontius Pilate was trying to make the best of an impossible job: a weak man in a vulnerable position trying to cope with a city half in ferment, and to please a ruthless emperor who could remove him at a stroke.
Evil, even this greatest of evils, comes into the world more often through short-sightedness and petty ambition, than it does through bad people delighting in doing bad things. And can any of us claim not to be weak or short-sighted or petty or prone to selfish error from time to time. We all take our share in leading this man to Calvary, and banging in those nails. There's no-one else to blame. “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.”
Those words were written by Augustus Toplady in the hymn “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me”. It’s a very personal salvation hymn, and as such it encourages me to know my own sin and to admit my own helplessness. Only then can I find in my crucified Saviour the grace I need. But what I find as I look to the cross isn’t mine alone; the love displayed here is love without limit, love for all the world. At the cross all are convicted of sin, but all are at the same time offered the remedy for sin. “When I am lifted up, I shall draw all people to myself,” said Jesus.
I’m not usually a fan of the art of Salvador Dali, but his tremendous painting 'The Christ of St John of the Cross' does resonate for me, perhaps because of the way the cross as Dali depicts towers over the world. Jesus died to save the whole world from sin, and he will set free all who come to him.
Tonight we celebrate the battle decisively engaged and brought to its end. There’s a body laid in a tomb, and some people are relieved, and some are triumphant, and others are wretched and weeping and full of fear. In human terms this is where the story should end. But it doesn’t. On Easter Day the world will wake to alleluias, alleluias that sing out the end of sin's long reign, that celebrate and affirm our freedom from death's embrace.
Tonight we stand by the cross, and though we may do our best to know nothing of what lies ahead, but just share the grief of it all, in fact we’re more than onlookers, more than those who can’t see past the immediate reality of a public execution. We know that what looks like the world at the height of its power is in fact Jesus doing what no-one else ever had the power or the will or the love to do. Or ever could. May we be drawn to that love, and may we be changed by that love, the glory of love divine displayed in a broken and dying man. May that love take root in our hearts, and may it shine in our lives, so the whole world may be drawn to the glory, and the love, and the life, of our crucified King.