But looking on the cross can also recall nightmares of the violence, first of all to Jesus its innocent victim, but also the visions of the violence we have encountered in our lives, and throughout history. These echo’s of hurt, anger, misappropriated power, war, and countless spin offs of violence passed on down through believers and non-believers alike, sober us in the shadow of Jesus’ cross. For God has made Jesus’ cross a living, breathing word, not a moment locked in time, but a liberating word addressed to this violence, and especially sacred violence, the kind of violence we declare good and so sanction, on our behalf, but which is revealed by the cross itself as unacceptable, not of Jesus, and the life-giving power of the trinity.
So, what catches my ear in the passion of John reading this year, is the comment by the gospel writer, just as Jesus is brought to be tried before the Sanhedrin. In a little aside we almost miss, it says, “Caiaphas, the high priest that year… was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people, than to have the whole nation destroyed. He prophesied that Jesus was about to die … not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to put him to death.” (John 18.14 & 11.50f.)
A perfect example of sacred violence, by the way. One person, a scapegoat - in this case, Jesus - is to be offered up to keep the peace for the greater society. And so, the high priest, Caiaphas, plots against his own kin. Jesus' execution will passify the Roman overlords from taking action against the whole of the nation of Israel. Never mind that Jesus is actually God’s appointed high priest for Israel, the true king, and Son of God! By sacred violence, one carefully calculated crucifixion can unite a restless society, at least for the moment, until the next time.
And so, the cross unveils all these multi-layered levels and drivers of violence, that live in and around us, exposing our complicity with the crowds who shouted “crucify him.” But also revealing the seed of faith growing inside us, the deep root of God’s gift of life in a new world of forgiveness, the turning from, death to life, from sacred violence to justice and non-violence. The cross is our best friend, and also the most revealing mirror of our hearts.
So, you can understand how the vigil around the cross this night is not strictly speaking, attractive, and may even repel. But such a mirror is necessary to gaze into, if we are to learn forgiveness and the way of the cross.
For, love conquers violence, and looking up to the cross unveils the scapegoating mechanism that has perpetrated the brokenness and violence we do to one another. In the cross, we are turned and transformed and offered “a way out of no way,” a way to the realm and kingdom of God, blooming forth with a fragrance and beauty like no other, in this, our tree of life.
As we continue our service tonight and tomorrow in the Easter Vigil, we have prayers to offer and faith work to do. How will we hold ourselves accountable to this remarkable power found in the cross which turns and transforms the whole world? Let The Three Days continue, as we glory, this Good Friday, in the life-giving cross of Christ.