Everything Must Change
Luke 22:39 – 23:56
Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.
Let’s imagine ourselves with the disciples just before three o’clock on this Friday afternoon. A few of us have come together to talk about what has happened over the last twenty-four hours.
It all started falling apart late last night when Judas, accompanied by a band of soldiers, came for Jesus. All we could think about was saving ourselves. Only Peter and John had the courage to stay with Jesus for a while. But by the time dawn came, Peter was having an emotional breakdown and John had run away too. The next thing we knew, about nine this morning, Jesus was carrying his cross through the streets of Jerusalem. It was obvious he had been beaten, scourged mercilessly, mocked and tortured. He was hardly recognisable.
By noon, he was hanging on the cross.
During the last three hours, some of us have gathered at a distance to watch. We’ve been silent, lost in our own thoughts, but no doubt all our thoughts have been running the same circuit through the same shared memories.
We’ve been remembering last night in the garden, before Judas showed up. We kept falling asleep as Jesus prayed: ‘My Father, if it is possible, take this cup of suffering away from me. However, not what I want but what you want.’ With tears and in great distress, he prayed a second and third time. But the thrust of his prayer shifted from what might be possible to what might not be possible: ‘My Father, if it is not possible that this cup be taken away unless I drink it, then let it be what you want.’ In the second and third prayers, he was clearly preparing to die.
But why? Why was there no other way? Why did this good man – the best we have ever known, the best we have ever imagined – have to face torture and execution as if he were some evil monster?
As the hours drag on from noon to nearly three o’clock, we imagine many reasons. Some are political. The Pharisees were right to be concerned last Sunday when Jesus came marching into the capital. First our little parade – the Romans would have called it a rebellious mob – proclaimed Jesus as king. From there, he marched into the temple and called it a hideout for crooks, turning over the tables and upsetting the religious economy. Only a fool would do things like these without expecting consequences. Jesus was no fool.
We think about more spiritual reasons for this to happen. Jesus has told us again and again that God is different from our assumptions. We’ve assumed that God was righteous and pure in a way that makes God hate the unrighteous and impure. But Jesus has told us that God is pure love, so overflowing in goodness that God pours out compassion on the pure and impure alike. He has not only told us of God’s unbounded compassion – he has embodied it every day as we have walked this road with him. In the way he has sat at table with everyone, in the way he has never been afraid to be called a ‘friend of sinners’, in the way he has touched untouchables and refused to condemn even the most notorious of sinners, he has embodied for us a very different vision of what God is like.
At dinner last night, when he knelt down and washed our feet, and later when he called us his friends, what was that supposed to mean? Was he trying to show us that God isn’t a dictator high in the sky eager for us to cower in fear at his feet? Was he inviting us to think of God as the one who is down here with us, who stoops low and touches our feet – as a servant would? Was he telling us that God would rather cleanse us than condemn us? If that was the case last night, what could this horrible day be trying to show us? Could there be any meaning in this catastrophe playing out before us now?
And then we think: if Jesus is showing us something so radical about God, what is he telling us about ourselves – about human beings and our social and religious institutions? What does it mean when our political leaders and our religious leaders come together to mock and torture and kill God’s messenger, God’s beloved child, God’s best and brightest? How misguided can our nation be? Is this the only way religions and governments maintain order – by threatening us with pain, shame and death if we don’t comply? And is this how they unify us – by turning us into a mob that comes together in its shared hatred of the latest failure, loser, rebel, criminal, outcast . . . or prophet? The Romans boast of their peace, and our priests boast of their holiness and justice, but today it all looks like a sham, a fraud, a con game. What kind of world have we made? What kind of people have we become?
One minute the crowds were flocking to Jesus hoping for free bread and healing. The next minute they were shouting, ‘Crucify him!’ And we, his so-called disciples, we are no better. One minute we were eating a meal with him and he was calling us his friends. Now here we stand at a distance, unwilling to identify ourselves with him and so risk what he is going through.
It has grown strangely dark now, in the middle of the afternoon, and in the darkness, even from this distance, we can hear Jesus. ‘Father, forgive them,’ he shouts. ‘For they don’t know what they are doing.’
Forgive them? Forgive us?
Our thoughts bring us again to the garden last night, when Jesus asked if there could be any other way. And now it seems clear. There could be no other way to show us what God is truly like. God is not revealed in killing and conquest . . . in violence and hate. God is revealed in this crucified man – giving of himself to the very last breath, giving and forgiving.
And there could be no other way to show us what we are truly like. We do not know what we are doing, indeed.
If God is like this, and if we are like this . . . everything must change. Everything must change.
Meditate & Contemplate
1. What one thought or idea from today’s lesson especially intrigued, provoked, disturbed, challenged, encouraged, warmed, warned, helped or surprised you?
2. Share what the crucifixion of Jesus says and means to you today. 3. How do you respond to the idea that ‘there couldn’t be any other way’?
4. For children: If a friend asked you, ‘Why did Jesus die?’ what would you say?
5. Meditate: In silence, let scenes from the crucifixion story play in your imagination. Imagine seeing the story unfold from the vantage point of various characters in the story – Jesus’ frightened disciples, the religious leaders, the Roman soldiers, the crowds and Jesus himself. Finally, hold over all these scenes Jesus’ words: ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.’