We humans were created to be in relationship with other people. When the Bible says we are made in God’s image and a little lower than the angels, it shows our value to God. This is a truth we believe, because we can back it up with scripture. God also gives us a few simple rules to live at peace with the people we meet and stay in relationship with God. Through the prophet Micah, God says be fair, be kind and to walk humbly with God.
God walks with us-side by side. This is how teaching happens and how conversations occur. God does not sail ahead or lag behind, but walks with us, yes, even when we’re in the bathroom or the casino or in an alcoholic or a narcotics anonymous meeting. God saw it all long before we were born.
God walks with us in jails and prisons, teaching, listening, encouraging toward God’s wholeness and mutual relationship. When we’re too weak to stand on our own, we’re held in the strength of God’s love for God’s people. We are held, mended, healed by the only One who can mend our broken hearts. God picks up splintered lives and puts us together again.
Our side by side walk with God doesn’t change. We invite our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren into the same side by side walk with God as we’re walking. We know it’s important and valuable, but we can’t always explain why. There are some things you feel inside that can’t be explained in words. Sometimes you are able to show those in actions, the very actions that God encourages-fairness, kindness and humility, learned at the side of the Master Teacher, who heals and saves.
While we meet our always humble Jesus in the gospel lesson today, no one is fair or kind to him. This says a lot, because he’s brought before church officials and government officials for his trial.
The meal he shared when he empowered his disciples is over-the Garden prayers asking God’s strength are over. Judas lied to his face and the disciples evaporated into the shadows. Jesus has been beaten, blindfolded and ridiculed as a common criminal. But worse than that, the future prophecy he gives them is mocked and ridiculed. Are you the Son of God, they ask. You say that I Am, Jesus replies. What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!
The accusations continue before Pilate-This man has perverted our nation, forbidden us to pay taxes, claims that he is a king! He stirs up the people with his teachings! Pilate sends Jesus to Herod, who sends him back to Pilate, who tries to have Jesus freed. But given the choice between freeing Jesus or Barabbas, the crowd chooses Barabbas. Pilate hands Jesus back to the people and they take him out to be crucified.
If you walk the journey of the cross that Jesus walked, you’ll be walking the Jerusalem marketplace. The shops are inside, with a narrow channel of alleys connecting them and leading out of the city. High on the walls in Roman numbers, you can find the stations of the cross-each of the places where Jesus stumbled, rested, stopped or was helped by people-each of the places where relationship allowed him a rest and a moments connection with God, who walks with each of us.
Finally, on a hill, Jesus was raised up on a cross, between the crosses of two criminals. Now, if history had its way, they would call this a God forsaken place to be. But history’s vision is limited to only looking backward. Only God’s people understand God’s forward vision to the future, knowing Jesus taught us how to live in God’s peace on earth, as well as pointing us to the eternity waiting in heaven.
Roman crucifixion warned troublemakers-crosses with bodies lined the road leading to Jerusalem. It was the ultimate humiliation, to hang naked on a cross, arms nailed out, legs nailed down, impossible to breathe. If family didn’t take the bodies, the birds did. Three men, all condemned to death, hung on crosses in this way, waiting to die.
Jesus’ closeness affected both of the men. One man ridiculed Jesus-prove you’re the Savior and get us all down from here. But the other man asked, Don’t you fear God? We’ve been properly condemned and punished. But this man has done nothing wrong. When he begs, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom, Jesus gives the comforting response. Truly, today you will be with me in Paradise.
While Jesus and the criminals hung on the cross, one man made his peace with God, while the other ridiculed Jesus with his dying breath. All three men came to the end of human life and died-it was finished, although it was finished in different ways.
The soldiers at the foot of the cross were silent witnesses. The angry crowd who demanded crucifixion were silent witnesses. The friends and families were silent witnesses to the suffering and death of three men on a cross. Only God Almighty, abba, father, broken hearted, covenant making God knew that the only thing that was finished-was death. There would be resurrection. Amen.
Rev. Dawn Richie