Passion Week

I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross.The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’

In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world.  But each time after a while I have had to turn away.

9780857215932And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in Godforsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his.

John Stott, Through the Bible through the Year 269.

The First Word — Forgiveness

bnw word 1

Narrator  It seemed an endless afternoon.

In the crowd, I would suppose, was a priest, one of those who had given approval to the plot against Jesus. Perhaps he was not a bad man, merely ambitious, or jealous, or fearful. He became a witness to forgiveness.

Priest This is a terrible business – why didn’t that fellow Jesus just stay away from the people – he should have known we couldn’t allow him to go on like he was. He just acted like he wasn’t bound by any of the proprieties. Sometimes it seemed like he was speaking the most profound wisdom, then he would turn around and spout nonsense that no one could believe. Yes, it is a filthy business, and the filthy Roman soldiers love their sport.

Narrator  And Luke recounts the first word that Jesus spoke from the Cross – a word of forgiveness:

The First WordLuke 23:32-34:  Two other criminals were also led away to be executed with him. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals–one on his right, the other on his left.  Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

Text from AFB, “The Endless Afternoon” (2009); photo by Fred Holland Day, “Seven Last Words of Christ (First Word)” (1898).

The Second Word — Grace

bnw word 2

Narrator With Jesus there were two others, we are told, who, like him, were condemned.

These men were not good men. One, at any rate, saw the moral significance of the situation as he hung there beside Jesus. He became a witness to grace.

The Thief [gasping] Can’t breathe. God! The pain! Just . . . to . . . get a breath. God!  That other fellow’s looking at me. The far one’s angry – who has strength for anger? This Jesus, though . . . remains serene . . . in . . . agony.
Narrator And Luke 23:39-43 gives us the second word:

The people also stood there watching, but the rulers ridiculed him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, his chosen one!”  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the king of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”  But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Text from AFB, “The Endless Afternoon” (2009); photo by Fred Holland Day, “Seven Last Words of Christ (Second Word)” (1898).