It’s Good Friday. Today, we remember Jesus, and his journey to the cross. Pádraig Ó Tuama writes: “For me, Good Friday is the holiest day of the year. Not because of any worth in another brutal murder from another brutal occupying force. But because of the witness of a life lived with courage, even in the face of Roman torture. There are only two languages, Leunig says, love and fear.”
Jesus life is a story of love in the face of fear.
I know that our story of today is about God and his saving grace through Jesus. As we gather at the foot of the cross today, I want to remind you of Jesus the man, following his vocation, his call. A young man, aged about 30. This is not the Disney snow white picture you sometimes see, of Jesus, wearing white, surrounded by birds and Bambi – I’m sure I’m not the only one that went to a Sunday school with that picture on the wall!
No, this is Jesus, the savvy, political man, Jesus, from Nazareth… Nazareth the dead end town, where people got stuck. Jesus, the working class boy…
And now I want you to picture the grand city of Jerusalem, a royal parade takes place, the Roman governor Pilate entering the city amid great pomp and circumstance, perhaps the finest army escort, horses, trumpets, grandeur.
And Jesus, fully aware of this, makes a mockery of it.
Jesus is effectively sticking two fingers up to the Roman empire, and rides into Jerusalem on a donkey … a donkey – he’s taking the mickey – he’s not on a horse: he’s not wielding a sword. And the crowds love him. They shout and they cheer, he is their hero, they call him the king of the Jews – he’s taking on the establishment. Their hope is that Jesus is going to bring them freedom from the Romans.
So Jesus has pissed off the Romans, with this parade into Jerusalem.
And the next day, he waltzes into the temple. The temple, the centre of Judaism, their most holy place. And what does he do.
He walks into the temple, he turns over the tables, he wrecks the place. He basically tells them that they’re doing their religion wrong, that they’ve missed the point. Now I don’t know about you, however much you think that our government are making a mess of things (and that’s a fairly easy thing to think at the moment), however much you think our churches are getting it wrong – would you have the balls to walk into Parliament and make a mockery of them, to bring the people with you?
Jesus is a threat to the religious leaders, and a threat to the Roman leaders. Jesus, the radical, revolutionary. And what’s at the heart of his message? He’s threatening the systems of power. Jesus is saying that everyone has value, every single person is loved. He’s preaching a message of radical inclusion; he welcomes the poor, he welcomes women, he welcomes children, he welcomes the outcast and the ill. Jesus is associating with the dregs of society – and that’s where he says the kingdom is.
Jesus is saying that every person matters, every single one.
It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, if you’re well or ill, what your gender is, he’s saying that every single person is loved and connected with God, at the heart of the universe. And that message was utterly radical. That message is still deeply radical today: do you really accept that every single person is valuable – or do you have your favourite people to marginalise, to ignore, to point the finger at, to blame for whatever is wrong?
That radical message of peace, love and acceptance threatened the roman empire – built on power and control, on masters and slaves, on order and obedience – where the rich and powerful decide how the world should be, and everyone else were just pawns to be used. That message threatened the religious leaders – built on rules and law, on only special people having access to God. Jesus is saying it’s not about the power of this world Jesus is promoting peace, radical peace. He’s saying that the only way to fight terror, to fight power, to fight domination is with peace, and love. Jesus is so committed to that message, he is willing to go against all of the authorities.
Would you have the courage to go against all the powerful forces of our world? Would I?
And the week goes on, the Romans and the Jewish leaders work together, and they arrest Jesus. One of his own friends, Judas, sells him out for some silver coins – he is betrayed by those closest to him and in the end even his closest friends deny ever knowing him. In the space of one week, Jesus goes from the being the celebrity hero of the people – in today’s world, Jesus riding into town on a donkey would have gone viral on social media, the world celebrating their hero. And then at the end of the week, the political forces have used all their conniving and their influence, they’ve run a smear campaign in the papers and on social media – and everyone turns against Jesus.
At Jesus trial, he doesn’t argue back, he doesn’t plead to be let off. How infuriating: he’s taunting the powerful people, he’s still promoting peace. The crowds boo and hiss, and Jesus is killed, an ugly, horrific, torturous death as Jesus is crucified on a cross. And as he is being killed, he still shows compassion for his Mum, for his friends, for the thief being killed alongside him. Is there anything that you are so passionate about, that you would be willing to accept that fate? And in that fate, would you still be able to walk that path in love and compassion?
Jesus knew that he was called, to challenge the powers of his time. He wasn’t willing to play the game, he wasn’t willing to collude with hypocrisy, he wasn’t willing to accept the corruption and distortion of the message of peace and love within his faith. And for that, Jesus was killed, he paid the ultimate sacrifice And then a few days later, we have stories of the resurrection, of people encountering Jesus afresh.
That message of death and resurrection is the central image of our Christian faith. It is a path for all of us: the path of dying to an old way of being – dying to conforming, dying to be pressured to try and fit in, dying to all that we think we should be for others.
And the message of resurrection, of rebirth. For each of us to be reborn into a new way of life. That’s not about physical rebirth: Jesus message is that each of us really is OK, every single one of us, each person, precious, valuable and loved as we really are.
Are you willing to discover that new life – to accept yourself as you really are, to know deep within that you are loved, that you are lovable? The Christian path is one of dying and rising, of each of us, each day letting go of the masks we hide behind – embracing the truth of who we are.
I’m hoping that we’re not called to a horrific death, as Jesus was. But each of us is called to pick up our cross and follow him. Picking up our cross, means living the life that we are in, living with the unique challenges that we face, and being willing to answer God’s call to us. So today, yes, we remember God’s saving work through the events of holy week. But we also remember God the Son, Jesus the man, being willing to see that calling through, even to death on a cross.
So whatever this Easter season holds for you, I invite you to remember Jesus message, of peace and love And his message that you are precious, you are special, you are loved by God, as you are.
And as we talk about new life today, it’s remembering that each of is called to live the life we are in, to accept the body, the mind, the soul that we have, and to live each day afresh, open to the possibilities as we live, present to ourselves, present to each other.
I’m going to end by sharing with you a poem called Our Deepest Fear from Marianne Williamson, that I think sums up something of this new life that we celebrate at Easter.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.
We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.