Preached by Rev. Jason Haddoz
Many things can be—and are—true at the same time. Many things can be—and are—going on at the same moment. And all of this is so, in the passion narrative we’ve just heard.
It would be impossible to say everything there is to say about this portion of John’s gospel. Rivers of ink have been poured out in interpreting and discussing these two chapters. Far more subtle minds and articulate tongues have exercised their best efforts on this same piece of text. But for today, for us, a couple of things are worth noticing.
First, Jesus’ title: He is the crucified Savior King. We’re so used to that language that it has ceased to shock us. But it is shocking, and impossible, and just plain weird. The King, the monarch, the leader of the leaders, who comes to release his people from the oppression of foreign invaders, ought not to be arrested and put on trial and put to death. This is bizarre. The chief objection the early followers of Jesus had to deal with, coming from critics outside the faith community, was that they worshipped a crucified God. What sort of God was this, who was so powerless, so unable to defend himself, that he would allow such a thing to happen?
We still hear an echo of this in the question: Why does God allow bad things to happen?
I wish I had an easy answer to that question. Believe me, I do wish it. I’ve asked that question myself, more than once. Why, O God? Why this war, that family, this person’s death?
As I stand on my front porch, looking to heaven asking such a question, the answer—or the response to the question—often comes in through the back door.
Jesus, at the end of it all today, says from the cross: It is finished. All that he has intended, all that God has intended for him, has been completed. John’s way of telling the story is unique. For the writer of John’s gospel, Jesus has done exactly what he came to do. All the way back in chapter 3, in the conversation with Nicodemus, we heard Jesus say that “…just as Moses lifted up the [bronze] serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world…” (John 3:14-16a) And later, almost immediately after he has entered Jerusalem in triumph to the cries of “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” he says again “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” (12:32)
His power as the chosen messenger, the God-bearer, comes to its greatest and most obvious climax this day with those words: It is finished. All the sins and ignorances and willful horrors of humanity are assembled at the cross, the place of the skull, and somehow Jesus, the Lamb and Servant of God, deals with them in that place. He knows exactly who he is, and what he is doing. When Pilate asks the seemingly sarcastic, or world-weary question, “What is truth?” we are to hear echoes of Jesus’ statement to Thomas only a few chapters earlier: “I am the truth. And the Road. And Life itself.” The Truth—with a capital T—is standing before you, Pontius. Do you have eyes to see?
We’ve talked a lot this Lenten season about seeing what is before us, but what is perhaps not immediately obvious. Learning to read a new language, as it were, as we have studied and examined and—I hope—prayed through our windows here at St. A’s. These windows invite us, like the Gospel today, into a deeper relationship with the symbols and stories of the Christian faith. We cannot get there, into that deeper relationship, by soundbytes and snippets of scripture. We have to be willing to sit with the images, and the big chunks of scripture, and be open to what they have to teach us. It takes time, and it’s not always easy.
Mary and the beloved disciple are present today at the cross. Learning for themselves—and helping us to discover—what is to be learned there. Jesus sees them there, along with Magdelena and Mrs. Clopas, and says to his mother—referring to John—“here is your son.” And of Mary, he says to John—“here is your mother.” He gives them to each other. A new family is born here, putting flesh and blood and breath around the bones that Jesus laid out in the upper room after washing the disciples’ feet: Love one another, as I have loved you. With all due respect to the feast of Pentecost, it is here, at the foot of the cross, that we see the birthday of the Church, when Jesus commends Mary into John’s care, and vice versa. Or at least this is the act of generation, the beginning of the process which will come to birth later.
It is finished, because Jesus has done what he was sent to do. Human sin and hatred and jealousy and meanness has been unfailingly met with love and grace, and the people who followed in that Way that he proclaimed have been given into each other’s temporal care. Now he is in God’s hands, and knows himself to be so. Now God will do what God will do.
For which, you must come back again tomorrow night. And see for yourself, with Magdelena and the disciples and Mary and John. Come, be open to see that which is perhaps not immediately obvious, but is nevertheless right before us all.