BIBLE READING:    John 19: 16b - 42

 

SERMON

So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the site called “the place of the skull,” which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, on either side and Jesus between them   Jn 19:17-18

 I’ve seen many pretty crosses in my time. Many shining brass ones, some gold, some studded with jewels. But a real crucifixion was not a pretty sight. The cross was a device of utmost cruelty, designed to exact maximum humiliation and the ultimate suffering. It was a sight from which even the strongest men turned their eyes. Yet here today, on this Good Friday, we deliberately turn our eyes toward the cross of Jesus.

 The Australian poet Andrew Lansdown has a poem bluntly called “Golgotha.”

Finally, one arrives at the place
Of the skull because there is nowhere
Else to go. And there before the face
Of bone one pauses in despair.

The culmination of evil
Is displayed before one’s eyes:
Man’s heart conspired with the devil
And cared little for disguise.

 

One pauses in despair? Despair? The crucifixion can indeed lead some to despair. The needless suffering of people and the wanton destruction and pollution of creation, is likely to lead a person to despair. Such suffering as Christ endured, has lead some to claim that life is meaningless.

 For me, human suffering is the one thing above all others that at times undermines my spiritual confidence and makes me tremble. Evil seems to go on inflicting misery upon misery. Where is a loving God in these situations?  Human distress and agony, especially the suffering of the innocent, gets at me and shakes the foundations of my faith.

 How do you cope? Look around you in the community and across the world, so much pointless, suffering. The Middle East, Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, South East Asia, the Pacific and Australasia. So much human misery. 

 There are times when our doubts change their tone from whispers to shouts and they say with the writer of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken us? Why are you so far from helping us, from the sounds of our groaning? O my God, we cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.” At some such times, if we go to Golgotha, the cross can appear to be the last word in the futility of human suffering, as the poet says:

Finally, one arrives at the place
Of the skull because there is nowhere
Else to go. And there before the face
Of bone one pauses in despair.

 

Yet here is a stunning paradox: that same cross can sustain faith. In some cases it may create faith.

 In my darkest moments, when the apparent futile pain of the world shakes my foundations, the cross gives me hope. It saves me from becoming a complete doubter. It redeems me from becoming a bitter cynic. This same cross of Jesus, the device of humiliation and tortured agony that claims the best-ever human being, is the place of ultimate love and hope. I do not end up like the poet Lansdown, in despair, but in a renewal of faith.

 It defies cold, clear reason, but it happens. God is in Christ, bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows, and reconciling the world unto himself. The God of the Gospel is not a lofty, unfeeling God, who sits cozy and safe in some pretty heaven while we suffer. The God of the Gospel is the God who is with Jesus to the very end. The One who knows our pain from personal experience. The God of the cross is Emmanuel: God-with-us. The full meaning of that word Emmanuel, which we use in our Christmas carols, is spelt out in blood at the place called Golgotha.

 This God of Good Friday is the God of all the sufferers in the world, whether they know it or not. God is the God of victims because God is also the victim. In the words of another poet, Edward Shillito:

The other gods were strong;
but thou wast weak;
They rode but thou didst stumble to a throne.
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak.
And not a god has wounds but thou alone.

 

Do we hear that? But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak? In all the doubts that assail us, in the bloodiness of all the wounds that dismay us, the crucified Jesus paradoxically proclaims a loving God. Today is Good Friday. Not Black Friday. Love outweighs the evil. Purpose outstrips the futility.

 Please don’t think for one moment that I understand it all. I don’t, and never will in this life. I cannot understand why God has left the door open for evil, or why God permits so much suffering to continue. I try to comprehend but end up baffled by it all.

 One thing I do know: God was in Christ. God not only sympathised with the victims of cruelty, God became a victim, and is, I believe still identifying with every victim around the world. Where some find despair, we find amazing grace.

 So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the site called “the place of the skull,” which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, on either side and Jesus between them 

 This costly love of God, is the thing that can save us from futility and cynicism. In the cross of Christ I glory standing o’er the wrecks of time.

 

 

Acknowledgement: Rev Bruce Prewer