Friday, April 14th, 2017 – Good Friday
Central Christian Church, Lexington, KY
Scriptures: John 19:30, Luke 23:46
“Christus Victor” – a Good Friday meditation, from Central Christian Church & Crestwood Christian Church’s Seven Last Words of Christ presentation
The words came forth from the mouth of the man hanging upon the cross, weary, broken. No energy remained for loud cries of eloi, eloi, lama sabbachtani. Barely a whisper passed from his lips, parched as they were. His tongue was dry, swollen from hours hanging in the mid-day heat. His thirst remained unquenched by the sour wine that had been passed up to him a moment before. And so, as he spoke the words, those below him heard them as a sign of surrender, of yielding to the inevitable.
But this was no surrender. This was not a broken man giving up, a defeated man yielding. No, this was an utterance of victory.
The life of this man had upended norms and broken down societal structures in more ways than thought possible. He had been born into poverty, but entered Jerusalem just a few days earlier triumphant. He had been raised in Nazareth, of Galilee – and what good can come from Nazareth? – but had come to be respected and revered as a rabbi, a teacher of the people.
He had taken a ragtag collection of rough and tumble men and turned them into… well, they were still a ragtag collection of rough and tumble men, but now they were also men who were willing to stake their lives and their very beings on the message of love and hope that he had taught them from those first days on the shore of Lake Genessaret.
He had defied every cultural norm and consorted with the lowest level of society – the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the diseased. He had healed them, embraced them, called them his own. He had associated himself with women and Samaritans, children and Romans – none were below his station, none were too unimportant, none were societally inferior in his eyes. His defiance and non-conformity to cultural standards had confounded the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Sanhedrin.
Perhaps most importantly, though, he had changed the way his followers thought. He had shown them that it was not enough just to follow the law, not enough to simply DO good, they had to BE good. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he had told them. “Turn the other cheek. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Never once in his ministry in the region of Caesarea Philippi nor in his travels to Jerusalem had he ever threatened somebody. Never once had he had to resort to coercion. Indeed, in all his days, the only time he had ever lashed out in righteous anger had been the day he walked into the temple and discovered the powerful, the influential, and the corrupt, taking advantage of God’s children, extorting them and using God’s grace as a weapon against them, rather than passing it on to them as the free gift that it was meant to be.
And then, the night before, when he had gathered with his disciples in that upper room, he had upended nearly fifteen hundred years of tradition. As he celebrated the Passover meal, he took a meal that had first occurred on a night of death, of fear and of flight, and he told the disciples that the bread and cup were his body and blood, the bread of life and the cup of salvation.
And so now, in what many thought should have been his moment of defeat, he had experienced his greatest triumph. The religious authorities, in their positions not out of devotion to God but out of a narcissistic need for power and influence, their desire not to serve the Lord but to make themselves great, had found themselves impotent to stop him on their own. The people would hear his teachings regardless of their protests. He had discredited their authority as the intermediary between God and man, and had driven them to make a deal with the devil – they had to submit to Rome in order to get what they wanted, and they failed even in that, as Pilate had placed a sign above his head on the cross declaring him King of the Jews, his own people, his beloved.
And yet, there was a greater triumph yet to come, but the man on the cross, despite being the earthly incarnation of the divine, could not achieve that triumph on his own, for there was no man, none but God alone, who could bring life to triumph over the grave.
So it was that with his work on earth complete and his victory secure, Jesus, the Nazarene, the son of Mary and Joseph, the brother, teacher, and friend of countless women and men, Jews, Samaritans, Greeks, and Romans alike, looked to heaven and said, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”
And he breathed his last.