When I Am Lifted Up
Good Friday. Fr David Sanders shows us how the cross transforms this world.
Throughout Lent we hear these words as we pray the Way of the Cross:
‘We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world’
Now today on Good Friday as we venerate the cross in the liturgy we may ask ourselves how in fact is the world redeemed, how are we saved? If Jesus was to heal the broken human world which we experience every day then he had to confront it and take it on at a profound level.
If he was to bring justice to our unjust world, to be concerned for the poor and afflicted and all those who are left outside of things, he had to challenge the set of vested interests which supported the political and religious powers of his day. If he was to challenge the last enemy of death he had to experience it himself. His kingdom had to confront the destructive agents of the kingdom of Satan.
Today we have just heard how Jesus was brought bound before the high priests and then marched before Pilate, the governor, who wants to know above all whether he is a king and so a threat to the Roman empire.
And inevitably Jesus who reached out and stood by the side of the poor suffers their fate just as many Christians do today who follow his example. And just as we have seen in recent years the occupying troops in Iraq hood, blindfold and abuse their prisoners so Jesus was mocked by the occupying Romans troops.
Then when the case had been stitched up he was flogged. Crucifixion was the terrible punishment meted out to rebels. It was used as a deterrent for the rest of the population and the flogging which caused a great loss of blood speeded up the process of death. And so this afternoon Jesus dies alone upon the cross.
‘He poured out himself to death, and was numbered among the transgressors, yet he bore the sin of many’
But if the sight of a dying crucified man was all that had to be told about our Christian faith today it would indeed be a sad affair, certainly not good news. But as St Paul tells us without the resurrection we would be a pathetic group. The good news we celebrate is not just a tale of suffering but also one of victory.
How does Jesus save us? Through the cross and the resurrection. And we don’t have to wait for that till Easter night. In John’s gospel Christ is presented as already reigning from the cross. The cross is not seen just as seat of torture but also the throne on which Christ rules. ‘When I am lifted up’ he told his disciples then ‘I will draw all to me.’
For St John the cross is not so much the degradation of Christ but rather a stage in his victorious return to his father. He is returning triumphant. And his supreme power is recognised as universal king, crowned with thorns, and proclaimed to the whole world ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,’ the inscription written in the universal languages of Hebrew Latin and Greek..
That is why we call today Good Friday. Today the God of all creation tells us that those who do care for the poor, those who take a stand against injustice, those who seek to bring peace and yet suffer ,those are ones whose lives are acceptable to God. Those are the ones who will live and will share the risen life of the victorious king.
And there are hundreds of thousands throughout the world who are going to be baptised this Easter night. They have been drawn to Jesus, seeking that life, wanting to be born again in the sacramental water and blood which streams for the pierced side of Jesus upon the cross.
In the Good Friday liturgy, after we have prayed to God for our broken world, the cross is be brought in and unveiled. We can see the cross with fresh eyes. It is a hard wood but it is also the fertile tree which brings new life. And, most of all, it is the revelation of an extraordinary divine love which draws us on to Jesus.
As the crowds come to come to kiss or reverence the cross their personal love of Jesus may be renewed and deepened. Jesus is seen reigning from the cross and can be acknowledged now as the saviour who by his cross has redeemed the world.