Last Sunday, we celebrated Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, palm leaves waving and children shouting hosanna. Yesterday, we celebrated Maundy Thursday, which honors the Last Supper and Jesus' new commandment to love one another as He has loved us.
Today, we stand at the foot of the cross as Jesus dies, and we call it Good Friday.
For non-Christians and a lot of Christians, too, this is one of the hardest ideas to wrap our brains around. God limited Himself to human form and allowed Himself to die horribly on the cross to excuse our sins? Really?
Sounds a little masochistic of God, don't you think?
But let's look at it another way. Holy Week teaches us the story of God's sacrificial love for us. For millennia, people believed that gods wanted their followers to offer sacrifices...firstborn children, firstborn livestock, whatever. Blood was almost always involved, so our God worked with that and began leading us to His Kingdom ways. Our God gave Abraham a ram to sacrifice instead of his son and made utterly clear through the prophets that human sacrifice was displeasing to Him.
Then, our God offered Himself made flesh as sacrifice, showing us that nothing we can do, nothing we can kill, nothing we can give, is ever sufficient. Only He is sufficient...and He loves us, wants us to participate in His Kingdom, wants us to be with Him eternally, wants to forgive us our weaknesses, wants to reward us all with feasts and the best cloak...as the prodigal son was rewarded. As Jesus dies on the cross, God tears the temple curtain and opens up the holiest of holies for all who choose to come. He ends the need for altar sacrifice, and instead He invites us to learn from Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, at the foot of that cross.
Jesus came to teach us how to live and love and die in the world to bring God's Kingdom into being here and now. Not just after death, although we certainly hope to be with God then. Easter teaches us that God wants us to do as Jesus did: to spread His love in a broken world, to let our lamp shine right now to show His glory even in the darkest moments of life, in the darkest places of injustice and horror.
The forces of darkness do not like the light of love and mercy and hope. That sight of Jesus on the cross, dying in pain, reminds us that God came down to be one of us, that God understands our suffering and our pain in real and direct ways, and that He is always with us, always turning even the most awful torture to His final, Kingdom good.
It is our task to be the Marys and Johns and Peters and Thomases and Pauls who continue to spread that light of love and mercy in the world even when darkness threatens to overwhelm us.
Our hope is in the cross. Our hope is in Jesus. Because no matter how awful and terrible the darkness is right now, after death, He arose. He won. And He invites us to be part of His victory now and forever.
Thanks be to God!