Christ-Shattered Cross

Write on our hearts

  • Psalm 31 & 118
  • Philippians 2: 5-11 great early Christian hymn of Christ
  • Mark 11:1-11 Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem
  • Mark 14:1-2, 10-11, 26-31, 43-72; 15:1-39 Jesus’ crucifixion in Jerusalem

Jesus on Trial

This Sunday – Passion Sunday – is the most difficult Sunday of the Christian year. Jesus is betrayed, denied, and on trial for his life. It changes life forever. On this sixth and final Sunday in Lent, we enter this Holy Week hearing by entering into that deep truth.

Listen to the Gospel of Mark tell of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Mark 15:1-39… by Kami & Matthew Blackwell Kinney…

Jesus on the Cross

It is hard to imagine a more gruesome death than crucifixion. No matter how much we avert the eyes of our hearts, the cross of Jesus is written there. If it is not written on our hearts we have no part of Jesus. All along the Lenten journey with Jesus, we have prayed that God would “write on our hearts.”

With the first disciples, we are frantic to erase the writing of the cross on our heart. We turn blind eyes toward a triumphal parade of shouting people cheering Jesus into Jerusalem. Finally, the one who will save us has come to this place of power and privilege. But Jesus is riding on a donkey not a stallion, a sign of the power of powerlessness. Jesus is riding into Jerusalem where anyone seen to be a threat to the powers-that-be are greeting not with cries of “Hosanna to the king” but “Crucify him.”

Jesus is headed not to a throne but to a cross – at least by all public appearance. Silence overwhelms Jesus’ words from the cross. It is a death-determined silence that threatens and disturbs us. Into this silence Jesus speaks “Seven last words.” (Stanley Hauerwas, Cross-Shattered Christ: Meditations on the Seven Last Words , 37.)

On this sixth and final Sunday in Lent, let us be prepared for this Holy Week by hearing Jesus’ “seven last words.” We have heard the Jesus’ passion from Mark’s Gospel. These “seven last words’ come from Matthew, Luke, and John.

The Seven Last Words of Jesus

Listen to Jesus’ First Word:

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” 
Luke 23:34 (NRSV)

To comprehend Jesus’ death and willingness to forgive those who take his life, threatens all that we hold dear and “means life can never return to normal” (SH, 26).

God is at work in Jesus creating a new reign on our behalf. We are made members of God’s new reign in Jesus, a reign ruled by the politics of forgiveness and redemption.

In these words begging God’s forgiveness for Jesus’ own killers, the world is offered an alternative reign unimaginable without their utterance.

It is a flesh-and-blood reality, flesh and blood as real as Christian de Cherge’s flesh and blood. De Cherge was the Trappist monk of the monastery in Algeria beheaded by Muslim fundamentalists in 1996. In the violent conflict in Algeria of the mid-90s, De Cherge had written a testament to his family in the event he was killed. His greatest fear was that his death would be used to accuse and harm Islamic people whom he had come to love. In this testament he thanks God and the people offers forgiveness to the person who would kill him (John W. Kiser, Monks of the Tibhirine, 244-46, quoted by SH, 32).

Listen to Jesus’ Second Word:

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”    Luke 23:43 (NRSV)

Hanging on a cross on either side of Jesus, are “criminals” who sought to overthrow Roman occupation of Palestine. On one side an insurrectionist scorns Jesus for not being the hoped for liberator, taunting Jesus to save himself and them. He is like the two on the road to Emmaus only three days later fleeing the Jerusalem scene disillusioned that the one they had hoped would redeem Israel had died on a cross. “After all, what kind of redeemer ends up on a cross?” (38)

On the other side of Jesus hangs an insurrectionist who, on the cross finally saw that, while Jesus was not Israel’s idea of a liberator, a new kind of reign is being established in Jesus. He wanted to be part if it, saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).

Jesus responded with life-transforming words, even in the face of death for himself and the insurrectionist: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” – in God’s reign being fulfilled even in this crucifixion.

We face the choice of the two on either side of Jesus. We issue an accusing demand to save us from this time of trial or offer our desire that Jesus remember us coming into this new reign. To be with Jesus in this new paradise is to know that we are not “lost in the cosmos” and that death is not the end in God’s new reign in Jesus (SH, 44).

Listen to Jesus’ Third Word:

“Woman, behold thy son!”….. “Behold thy mother!”   John 19:26-27 (KJV)

In the face of today’s prevailing presumption that Christianity is important precisely because it is pro-family, we who want to take the gospel seriously must confess, “that none of the Gospels portray Jesus as family-friendly” (SH, 50).

In Mark’s Gospel, when Jesus is pointedly informed that his mother and brothers are outside looking for him, He responds, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my mother and my brothers” (3:34-35). At the heart of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (14:26).

We do not recall Jesus’ anti-family words to refute his words to his mother on the cross. Indeed, Jesus’ words, “Behold thy son….Behold thy mother” can only be appreciated when we recognize that Mary is not just another mother. “Rather, Mary is the first-born of the new creation. Without Mary’s response “Here am I” to [the angel] Gabriel, our salvation would not be [in Jesus Christ]” (SH, 51).

Jesus is referred to as the new Adam or new Moses or new David, but never the new Abraham. The reason? Mary is our new Abraham – who heeded God’s call to leave “homeland” and go to a new land. So Mary heard God’s call that she would bear a child by the Holy Spirit, responding, “Here am I, a servant of God, Let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Jesus is telling the disciple to recognize Mary not only as Jesus’ mother, but as their mother as well (SH, 54). In faith we are children of Mary with Jesus. In faith we are a people constituted by God who refused to join the world’s claim that violence is the ultimate means to a limited end. It is our mother Mary who has named for us already in the magnificat — this upside reign that Jesus came to establish and call us into – which is being fulfilled in the cross.

Listen to Jesus’ Fourth Word:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”             Matthew 27:46 (NRSV)

At the end of the Vietnam War film Apocalypse Now, Colonel Kurtz played by Marlon Brando, eerily mutters over and over, “The horror! The horror!” (From Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness. )

If truth be told, everyone alive today is a “survivor” of endless bloodshed in a world where the past century is the bloodiest in history. Horror upon horror everywhere.

We see death and we do everything possible to deny death causing even more horror.

“It is not surprising, therefore, that of all the words of Jesus from the cross, we most identify with, ‘ My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ We do so because we think we have some idea of what it means to be forsaken. In the face of terror surrounding our lives, God remains silent….Embarrassed by Jesus [a God-forsakenness], we find this cry of dereliction comforting….[But] This is not a cry of general dereliction, it is the cry of the long-expected Messiah, sacrificed in our stead and thus becoming the end of sacrifice. This cry is….the love that is God’s life. It is a love heard in the Philippians’ hymn, the love that God embodied in Jesus, (SH, 61):

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,
humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:6-18

In Jesus’ cry of being forsaken by God, more than anywhere else, makes it apparent “that anything we have to say about God does not do God justice….It is only because God is most determinatively revealed in ” My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” that

Christians are forbidden from ever assuming they possess rather than are possessed by the God they worship” (SH, 20).

Listen to Jesus’ Fifth Word:

“I thirst.”                        John 19:28 (KJV)

Hearing Jesus say, “I thirst,” we are confronted with our desperate desire for a God who would not save us by a cross. “We keep hoping that if the One who suffers on the cross is in some way connected to God….the God who thirsts will find a way to escape from thecross” (SH, 77). But this thirsting of God’s own being is nothing less than God’s thirst for us.

Jesus’ “I thirst” is from John’s Gospel where early in ministry, Jesus had met a Samaritan woman at the well and spoke of himself as living water from a well that never runs dry (John 4:13-14).

We were created to thirst for God (Psalm 42, 63) and Jesus taught us to offer a cup of cold water to anyone who thirsts (Matthew 25:35).

In the waters of baptism of all who thirst, we have been made God’s body for the world because Jesus was first made God’s body for the world. This is our redemption and “this redemption is as real as the water we need to survive….So refreshed, we become for the world the reminder that God has not abandoned us, and we can, therefore, trust in [God’s] promise that just to the extent that we take the time – in a world that believes it has no time – to care for those who thirst for God’s [reign], the [reign of God] will be present” (SH, 78).

Listen to Jesus’ Sixth Word:

“It is finished.”              John 19:30 (NRSV)

Jesus’ cry, “It is finished” is not a death cry confessing that all is ended and Jesus is done for. “It is finished” is a victor’s cry that the work Jesus came to do has been fulfilled. “The work that is finished in Jesus is the cross” (SH, 84).

From this side of Jesus’ resurrection, we know that God raised Jesus from the dead. “But the resurrected One remains the One crucified” (SH, 84).

Passion Sunday and Holy Week climaxing in Good Friday, takes hold of us and will not let us ignore or deny Jesus’ crucifixion.

“‘Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world’ This is a remark that makes unavoidable the recognition that we live in the time between the times – the [reign] is begun in Christ but will not be [fulfilled] until the end of the world” (Paschal & Rowan Williams quoted in SH, 84).

The reign of God “is not delayed by crucifixion, rather, crucifixion is the way this [ruler] rules” (SH, 85).

“‘It is finished,’ but it is not over” (SH quoting Richard John Neuhaus, 88). God is at work redeeming all things and making the church into witnesses that God’s peaceable reign is “not over” but has only just begun (SH, 90).

Listen to Jesus’ Seventh and Final Word from the Cross:

“Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.”          Luke 23:46 (NRSV)

“Having said this, Jesus breathed his last” (Luke 23:46). Jesus is dead. Jesus has submitted wholly to death so that death might be defeated. The work of God can now go on.

“Because of what Jesus has done on the cross, we will be able to die confidently praying, “[God], into your hands I commit my spirit” (SH, 102).

Christ-Shattered Cross

Sixty-one years ago this very day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was taken from his prison cell in Nazi Germany and hung. He was 39 years old. Bonhoeffer knelt and prayed before his “cross” and offered up his life with Jesus.

The doctor assigned to verify Bonhoeffer’s death on the gallows – a doctor who had accommodated his life to the powers of death — said that rarely had he seen anyone face death with such peace shining on their face as did Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was led to his “cross” on April 9, 1945. Bonhoeffer’s last words were, “For me this is the end, the beginning of life.”

The doctor is a wrenching reminder of the centurion’s startled recognition when Jesus “gave a loud cry and breathed his last” exclaiming, “Truly this man was God’s own” (Mark 15:39).

If Jesus’ cross two thousand years ago and even Bonhoeffer’s gallows 61 years ago seem too far removed from our hearts, Tom Fox’s death is written on our hearts in this Lenten season. When Tom joined Christian Peacemaker Teams full-time in 2004, he wrote what he was called to be and do: “If Jesus and Gandhi are right, then I am asked to risk my life, and if I lose it, to be as forgiving as they were when murdered by the forces of Satan.”

It is impossible to comprehend Tom Fox’s words, or CPT’s presence and purpose, apart from Jesus and the cross. “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are who are perishing, but to [those] who are being saved it is the power of God” 1 Cor 1:18)

The cross of Jesus – looming large and real in this Holy Week – confronts us, helps us, forces us to discover “how extraordinary it is that our lives are redeemed, literally made possible, by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ” (SH, 21). Jesus’ death lives inextricably between life and resurrection.

In this Holy Week, “come, draw near, fear not, and behold the mystery and the wonder of Jesus’s cross” (SH, 102).

* Title & sermon inspired by Stanley Hauerwas, Cross-Shattered Christ: Meditations on the Seven last Words. Brazos Press, 2004