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The strangeness of this day is captured in the way we name it: Good Friday. Some suggest that this may have originally been “God’s Friday,” later shortened simply to Good Friday. Theologians suggest that it is good, in that it is because of this day, that salvation is accomplished for us.
Good Friday reminds us of how Easter is possible. It represents the darkness before the light, the depth of emptiness before God returns with love. It represents time in hell. But especially in John’s Gospel, we also see the triumph of the cross—even on Good Friday.
The cross has often been used as a triumphant image. From the very beginning the cross was used a symbol of strength to keep weak people in their place. The cross on which the Romans nailed a criminal was meant to be a triumph over crime, but also a triumph over disorder, a victory over anyone who might challenge the Roman rule.
One of the most famous crosses is the one that appeared in the sky for Constantine, just before the Battle at the Milvian Bridge in 312. The symbol of the Chi-Rho, forming a cross and representing the first two initials of Christ appeared in a vision. That vision assured Constantine that he would have victory over his opponents. Constantine instructed his soldiers to put the symbol of the cross on their battle standards, and they marched forward. It was victory, and Christianity was soon legalized.
There are many places in the history of our faith where the cross has been used as a symbol of victory over other people, over people I disagree with, or people I dislike, or people who are my enemies, or people who I decide are evil. But to use the cross in such a way, to imagine the cross as a weapon over other people is to misunderstand completely the language of Holy Scripture, the teachings of Jesus and the very power of the cross.
On Palm Sunday, we heard the epistle Reading from Philippians proclaim that God has exalted Christ. Christ is exalted, his is lifted up, but it is an exaltation won through obedience, through humility, through service, through hardship, through sacrifice, through love. God himself, in the form of Jesus, “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.”
Jesus is exalted when he heals a blind person. He is exalted when offers food to a hungry person. He is exalted when he kneels to wash the feet of his friends.
Elsewhere in John’s Gospel Jesus assures us that when he is lifted up, he will draw all people to himself. The cross is a victory, but it’s a victory over all that might possibly keep people from Christ. The cross is a victory over death, a victory over disease, a victory over ignorance, a victory over evil.
It is on the cross that God’s heart breaks. But through that heartbreak, the power of love is unleashed in the world in completely new way, a way that wipes away sin, that dries up tears, that raises the dead to immortal life.
Through the cross,
the soul of Christ sanctifies us,
the body of Christ saves us,
the blood of Christ makes us drunk with life,
the water from the side of Christ washes us.
As we give thanks for the love of the cross, may we know the exaltation of those who offer themselves in the service of others. May we use the cross, and be used by the cross, to draw others to Christ, to his love and to his life everlasting.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.