The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John
Please pray with me tonight, church:
Holy and Crucified One,
Behold us, your children.
Fix our eyes on your suffering and anguish.
Strengthen us to behold your death,
That we might behold our life.
We tend to look away. Our eyes searching for anything else to land on.
We don’t like to look upon things that make us hurt. Or uncomfortable.
We don’t like to look upon pain. Especially pain we may have had a role in causing.
The Great Three Days…the Triduum…Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter…invite us deeply into the betrayal, suffering, death…and too, the resurrection of Jesus. These Three Days implore us to look…or maybe more appropriately, one of my favorite biblical words, to behold.
The last words in our service tonight beg us to that same reflection: “Behold, the life-giving cross, on which was hung the Savior of the whole world.”
It is in looking upon the pain and suffering of Christ, in not averting our gaze, that we begin to understand within our innermost being…at our most cellular level…the pain, suffering, hurt, injustice, and brokenness that Christ died in order to overcome.
Did you catch that?
It’s not that our sin was so bad that God’s anger could only be satisfied by the death of God’s son. How many of us heard that growing up?
No, it’s that only through the death of Christ that the powers of death, those things that seek to deprive you of life, are overcome. Christ dies, so that you would live.
Don’t look away. Don’t avert your eyes.
Behold…the life-giving cross.
“Behold” makes an appearance a few times in the Passion narrative according to St. John. Twice it is said by Pilate, and twice by Jesus. After Jesus had been stripped and beaten and flogged, Jesus is mockingly dressed in a purple robe and a crown of thorns as Pilate says to the murderous crowd, “Behold…here is the man.” And again, just a few verses later, right before Jesus is taken away to be crucified, Pilate declares to those clamoring for Jesus’ crucifixion, “Behold…your king!” To which the religious leaders and the frenzied crowd shout back, “We have no king but the Caesar!” forgetting of course the terrible oppression and subjugation they lived under as occupied people of the Roman Empire.
How often do we reject inconvenient and difficult-to-come-by love, simply in favor of a status quo or fear of disrupting the way things are, even if the way things are is oppressive and actually deprives us of life?
Love might be a more difficult path, dear children, but love will never compel you to live in bondage to forces that deprive you of life. To love like Jesus will demand your life, but in losing your life you will gain it.
Later, when Jesus says “behold”, as he’s hanging on the cross, John writes that Jesus looked down from the cross and saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, and said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.”
It’s unclear to me who is beholding whom in this encounter. I imagine it’s left intentionally vague. Inviting reflection. Imploring you not to look away.
Behold…the life giving cross…on which was hung the Savior of the whole world.
It is in looking upon pain and suffering, it is in not averting our eyes, that we are opened up to transformation. In truly beholding the pain and suffering of the world, your heart is transformed and broken apart and you begin to ask the world where the hurt is…you begin to ask how you can help alleviate some of this brokenness.
And in the great paradox that is somehow always true with God, in beholding the pain and suffering of others and in doing what you can to alleviate that hurt, you will find that your own hurt and pain and suffering are attended to as well. Often by others, who can often see our hurt and brokenness better than we can ourselves, if we allow them. Losing your life, in order to gain it.
Yesterday, on Maundy Thursday, we talked about Jesus who sees our needs, who kneels down to wash and bless our feet, and who cares for our weary souls. And in patterning our lives after the life of Jesus, we strive to adopt that same posture, we seek to see the world as Christ sees the world.
These are the eyes with which Christ views the world, dear church.
Eyes that behold suffering…and pronounce healing.
Eyes that behold one’s captors and enemies and executioners…and pronounce forgiveness.
Eyes that behold death…and dare to defiantly pronounce life.
Out of pain and hurt and suffering, God brings healing and restoration and wholeness.
Out of your pain and hurt and suffering, through the cross of Christ, God dares to bring healing and restoration and wholeness.
God would die before God would let you remain in bondage to your sin—to the ways in which you separate yourself from God and from each other.
God takes what is used for destruction, and uses it for salvation.
God takes what is meant for execution, and uses it for resurrection.
God transforms the means of death into the means of life.
Behold…life given for you.
The life-giving cross.
On which was hung the Savior.
Of the whole world.