The Mirror and the Window (Good Friday)
From a high point in the old city of Jerusalem, our guide told us the story of King David who, because of the rebellion of his son Absalom, was forced to flee Jerusalem to save his life. Pointing east, our guide told us how King David left Jerusalem, went out across the Kidron Valley, climbed up and over the Mount of Olives, and disappeared into the Judean wilderness where no one would be able to find him.
On the night we call Maundy Thursday, Jesus too went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley. He too could have gone up and over the Mount of Olives and disappeared into the Judean wilderness, where the authorities who sought his life would never have found him.
But he didn’t. Instead he went to his usual place of prayer, a garden on the Mount of Olives called Gethsemane, knowing all that was to happen to him, knowing that Judas his betrayer would bring soldiers there to arrest him. Deliberately choosing the way of the cross.
Why? Why would anyone do such a thing?
That night Jesus had said, in words we so often repeat, “This is my body which is given for you.”
And under questioning, at his trial before Pilate, Jesus declared: “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”
The cross is for us. And it was meant to be seen. It was meant to testify to the truth. The cross is both a mirror and a window. It is a mirror in which we see ourselves, a mirror that exposes the ugly truth about humanity, about what we’ve done, about the sin of the world. And yet it is at the same time a window, a window into the very heart of God, something we can look through and see the truth about God, a portal which reveals to us how God responds even to the ugliest truths about humanity – with mercy, forgiveness, grace and compassion. It is on the cross that Jesus makes God known to us most fully.
And if Jesus had simply kept going, up and over the Mount of Olives and into the wilderness, perhaps we would never have known. Perhaps we would have never even heard of Jesus. Perhaps we would never have known how much God loves us.
John the gospel writer makes it clear in his prologue why Jesus was sent. “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made God known.”
Jesus has been making God known in many ways throughout his public ministry, in his teaching and his healings, in his signs and in his stories. But the cross is where God is revealed most fully.
At the core of that revelation is love. Why the cross? Hear again the words that Jesus prayed in the presence of his disciples on the night before he was put to death. “So that the world may know that you Father have sent me, and that you have loved them even as you have loved me. No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
The cross is a revelation, a window through which we can see God’s love for us.
But first the cross is a mirror. And what we see in the mirror is ugly. This story of crucifixion reflects back to us the very worst of humanity. That we would even invent such a cruel form of execution is bad enough. But the parade of human behaviour that we see mirrored in the passion narrative and the cross goes beyond cruelty. There is the betrayal by a friend. There is denial. There is abuse of power. There is violence, torture, and mockery. There is hypocrisy, deceit, and manipulation. There is greed, there is fear, there are broken relationships, there is the abandonment of the one you profess to love. This is the ugliness of humanity, the sin of the world. And it has its consequences. The consequences of sin are pain and sorrow, broken relationships, suffering and death. These too are mirrored to us and made vivid in this passion narrative, in the anguish of Jesus in Gethsemane, the mutilation of his body in the hands of his accusers, and his final suffering and death on the cross.
When we look upon the cross, when we meditate on the cross, when we look into this mirror, one of the reasons that it hits us hard is that we know that we can’t simply wash our hands of it and say that we are innocent. It’s not enough to say we weren’t there. Neither can we escape the suffering caused by all that we see in this mirror. We know in our hearts and our consciences that the ugliness of the cross, though extreme, is not unique, is not just about other people, and is not confined to the past
Our response to the cross, to the horror of what see reflected back upon us, is a cry of anguish. “God have mercy.”
This is our response. But how does God respond? How does God-in-Jesus respond to the crushing burden of human sin that is laid upon him?
“He was oppressed and he was afflicted… he was numbered among the transgressors. Yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
Jesus says from the cross, “Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
And when he sees his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he says to her, “Woman, here is your son.” And to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”
The response of Jesus to the sin of many and the suffering that he bore is mercy, forgiveness, grace and compassion. A window into the very heart of God. When we look into that window, what do we see?
We see first of all, a God who suffers with us, a God who enters fully and completely into the suffering of humanity, who knows the pain of rejection and abandonment.
We all know, each in our imperfect way, what it means to love. And we all know or can imagine, at least in some measure, how painful it is to be rejected by the ones we love, and how much we suffer when we see the suffering of those that we love. We can’t love without being hurt, without being open to pain and sorrow.
How much more then must God, who is love, who created out of love, how much more must God suffer and endure as a result of the sorrow, the suffering and the sin of our world. In the course of human history, with its war and violence and abuses, in the course of our own personal histories, imagine how much pain and suffering a God who loves has had to endure.
On the cross, the reality of God and tragedies of human history touch each other in a way that we can see. The window and the mirror are one and the same. God’s story and our story become one story in Jesus. Jesus is the one who reveals God to us, and the cross is the place where that revelation is made in its fullness. On the cross we see a God who is vulnerable, who is powerless, who suffers. On the cross, the God who loves experiences the pain of being rejected by those whom he loves and the sorrow of seeing the suffering of God’s beloved children. The response of God the Son is not to look away, nor to flee, but to stretch out his arms on the cross and to bear and endure that pain and sorrow. And in return, there is no violence or condemnation. In return there is love. Mercy, forgiveness, grace and compassion.
This is what we’re meant to see. The ugliness of human sin and the beauty of divine mercy revealed on the cross. It’s meant not to shame us, it’s meant to move us. And how are we to be moved? Again, in Jesus’ words, we are to be moved “to love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
This is the God in whose image we were created, this is the God we are called to follow. And this manifestation of who God is and how much God loves us gives us the power to become children of God, and challenges us to be transformed into agents of God’s reconciling love in the world.
Let us stand before the cross, a window into the very heart of God, and be moved.
Homily. Good Friday April 7 2023. Trinity
Readings: Isaiah 52.13-53.12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10.16-25; John 18.1-19.42
Image by Claudio Ungari