It’s Good Friday, a day rich in significance for Christians, the day when we commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion. Reading the story today, I couldn’t help but think of words that we’ve heard a lot in the media over the past couple years: collusion, conspiracy, betrayal, obstruction of justice, denial, false motivations, and that old favorite of corrupt systems, plausible deniability. The story is messy. The story is corrupt. The story is awful. In other words, the story is human.
I’ve always been struck by Jesus’ last words as recorded in John’s Gospel: “It is finished.” When we think of endings, we tend to focus on something being over and done with. But I don’t think that’s what’s in view here. When we finish a story, we are left with the whole story; when we finish a painting, we are left with the whole work of art. In this sense “It is finished” draws us to see Jesus’ death as the completion of his whole life: the hope of Advent and the prophets, the joy and expectation of Christmas and the angelic host, the humility of Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan and John the Baptist’s call to repentance, Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, his ministry of teaching, healing, and setting captives free — these reach their natural conclusion today, here, on the Cross.
Speaking truth in the world is the best way to make powerful enemies; that’s why so few of us are brave enough to do it.
And so the Cross is not the repudiation of the story of our loving Messiah Jesus, but its fulfilment. It is not a shocking ending at all; it’s only shocking if you haven’t been paying attention. It was always going to end this way. Injustice, systems of privilege and power, the insidious and ever-present working of the scapegoat mechanism, and the whole world of Sin were always going to carry Jesus to this moment, just as they’ve carried prophets and martyrs for truth and justice to suffering and death for thousands of years before Jesus and since. And so, now, it is finished. It is complete. It is perfect.
This isn’t of course the end of the story. Jesus and his whole way of truth, humility, goodness, healing, blessing, and freedom are vindicated on Easter. And thank God for that. Otherwise it would be a rather horrible and nihilistic story, “just a matter of meat,” as one English artist once called it. But today we stop and remember the harsh realities of life in our world and count the cost. Today we join with the marginalized, suffering, hungry, impoverished, with the victims of war, society, and economics alike, and pick up our cross and follow Jesus, not because it will get us anywhere in the world, but because we must, because it is right, because to live otherwise would be to accept the lies that might is right, that ends justify means, and that we’re all just looking out for ourselves. And that is no way to live: “Live not by lies,” as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it.
Today we sit at the foot of Jesus’ cross, counting the cost. And we get up, and pick up our own crosses and follow him.
Live not by lies — Aleksandry Solzhenitsyn.