The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
March 25, 2016
“So they took Jesus, and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called ‘The Place of the Skull.’ There they crucified him.”
So there is Jesus. Completely powerless. Powerless against the charges laid against him. Powerless against the might of the Roman Empire. Powerless because of the friends who have abandoned him. Powerless, Jesus stands all alone, with no one to help. With only the cross laid upon his back as he marches up to the place of the skull. In his time of greatest need, of his greatest sorrow, of his greatest loneliness, Jesus has no friends, no clothes, no companions, no nothing. Only a cross.
We have domesticated the imagery of the cross. We gold plate crosses and hang them around our necks as jewelry. We inlay them with mosaic glass and use them as sun catchers on sliding glass doors. We fashion them into magnets for our car’s rear bumpers. We’ve cheapened the cross. The cross was an instrument of torture and execution. Imagine hanging a small, gold plated electric chair on a wall at home. Imagine a lethal injection syringe on a necklace. Imagine a plastic bag used for waterboarding hanging off the rear bumper of your car. That is the true nature of the cross. The cross was used as an instrument of brutal power to show the might of the one who wielded it, and the subsequent weakness of the one who carried it.
Good Friday comes with a solemn warning. Those who follow Jesus, those who follow the one who bore the cross, must also be ready to bear the cross. That’s me and you. We cannot carry our crosses about because we think they give us power. The reverse is true. When we put crosses on our necks, in our homes, on our cars, we are showing to the world that we are powerless. That we are losers. That we are the body of people who are ready to die. As Marilynne Robinson says, “When we mount a cross on a wall we don’t do it with the thought that, in a pinch, we might have to crucify someone.” We do it with the thought that God will call us to lose our power, and to be crucified ourselves.
We do not wield the power of the cross. The cross wields power over us. In that, the cross is different from everything else we own in this world. For everything else we accumulate is for the purposes of power, of propping up ourselves. Our money, our guns, our status, our borders, our reputation, our job title – all of that is about our own power. But the cross, the cross, is about losing our power. And what a startling reminder.
In this world we want winners. We want strongmen like Pontius Pilate. We want leaders who win, who have strength, who aren’t afraid to back down, who are willing to use force to coerce and subjugate others. We are much more likely to follow those who make the orders to torture and to execute. We like the winners.
But Jesus, the true leader of this world and of the next, he is a loser. He loses his friends, his companions, his dignity, and his life. You and I, as his followers, are called to do the same. To lose. To lose our money, our ambitions, our status, our place, our lives. Our calling as Christians, in this world that so desperately wants winners, is to lose. To empty ourselves and to pick up the cross. On this Good Friday, do not be tempted by the powers of this world. Do not be tempted and seduced by the winners who have everything – riches, power, and splendid apparel. For the true ruler of this world is a loser. He reigns not from a throne, but from a cross. He has no clothes, no friends, no riches. The true ruler of this world is inaugurated and coronated on a cross.
Jesus carries his cross to the place called the Skull, and there he is crucified. And there, on that lonely hill outside Jerusalem, Jesus becomes the king of all.