Behold! The King of Love

The Rev. Leslie E. Chadwick

Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Psalm 22
Hebrews 4:4-16; 5:7-9
John 18:1-19:42

Let us pray.

“When I survey the wondrous cross where the young Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.”  Amen.

Please be seated.

You have chosen to come out here tonight and look at what most of us prefer to avoid:  sufferingand death. Websites like Power of Positivity advise you above all to limit the news you watch:  What good can it do you to look at masked men killing over 140 Kenyan students in their beds?  What good can it do you to see that the 150 souls who died in last week’s plane crash included infants, students, singers, mothers, and daughters?  That someone crashed the plane on purpose? What good can it do to look at casualties of war and senseless violence?  There are much more pleasant things to focus on right now:  stuffing Easter eggs for children, buying new clothes for Sunday, getting outside and at last enjoying signs of spring.

And yet, we are here.  The altar is stripped bare.  The cross dominates the whole room. You are not the only ones who have come to gaze on the starkness of Good Friday.  Every year, a mother brings her 3 daughters to stand silently in the sanctuary on Friday morning of Holy Week.   They don’t come to church much anymore.  We just see them at Christmas and Easter, and of all days, Good Friday.  The mother explains, “I think it’s important for the girls to see this.  What does Easter mean unless you look at things as they are today?”

We do not come here tonight for spectacle.  It’s a good thing not to seek out suffering, violence, and death for its own sake.  Jesus certainly did not.  He sought out beauty in people and creation wherever he found it.  And those saints in our midst who have cared for dying loved ones are the last ones to romanticize pain. One woman said that the first thing she did after her husband’s death was to redecorate and rearrange the bathroom.  She said, “There are no happy memories from that room. Just me overwhelmed with his care.”  Another member who stayed with her father through anything but a peaceful death said that it took months of getting out into nature with her grown children to see beauty again.

Suffering is not pretty.  Isaiah describes the suffering servant “as one from whom others hide their faces.”  Sometimes we avoid others going through rough times.  We don’t know what to say and perhaps fear getting too close to calamity. The Renaissance poet John Donne wrote a poem called “Good Friday, 1613:  Riding Westward.” He describes his business taking him in the opposite direction of where the events of Good Friday occurred.   He admits, “Yet dare I almost be glad I do not see/ That spectacle, of too much weight for me. /

Who sees God’s face, that is self-life, must die; / What a death were it then to see God die?”

Turning away from the events of this day is a natural reaction.  And that’s just what Pilate wants to do.  I picture him in his office leaning back in his chair, feet on the desk.  His assistant tells him that some Jewish leaders have come to see him about a criminal.  He swings his feet off the desk.  “Bring ‘em in.”   The assistant shakes his head.  “They have a festival coming up. They don’t want to defile themselves by setting foot in your headquarters.”  Pilate remembers.  It’s time for  Passover.  The commemoration of their God setting them free from Pharaoh.  This festival always makes Rome a bit uneasy. Pilate doesn’t want to ruffle things any further.  Jerusalem is no one’s first choice for being stationed.  If Pilate ever wants to be promoted out of there, he needs to keep things as smooth as possible.  He goes out to them. “What’s up? What’s he done wrong?”  The Chief Priest sneers, “We wouldn’t have handed him over to you

if he weren’t a criminal.” Pilate does not want to get involved:  “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.”  But they have brought Jesus to Pilate to get the death penalty.

Pilate tries to clear this matter up fast.  He wants to get back to his office. He snaps his fingers and summons Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  The King of Love looks him straight in the eyes and asks, “Do you ask this on your own or did others tell you about me?”  Pilate jumps back as if bitten by a snake, “I am not a Jew, am I?  Your own nation and chief priests have handed you over to me.  What have you done?”  Jesus does not drop his gaze, “My kingdom is not from this world.  If my kingdom were from this world,

my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over….But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”  Pilate asks, “So you are a king?”  Jesus replies, “You say that I am a king.  For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.

Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  Pilate averts his eyes from Jesus, “What is truth?”

Three times Pilate insists, “I find no case against him,” and three times the leaders bully him into condemning Jesus.  Pilate runs back and forth between Jesus and the crowd, hoping they’ll choose Barabbas and make his job easy. He gets more fearful and anxious.

He shouts at Jesus, “Do you refuse to speak to me?  Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?”  But Jesus sees the truth.  The little power that Pilate has he will not use for good.  His fear of losing what he has keeps him trapped from truth. Jesus states, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above.”

Pilate has spenthis life keeping his distance from calamity.  Making judgments without engaging.  He has the illusion that his happiness and peace are untouchable—that he can turn away from suffering and shut the door on it.  But this encounter with Jesus rattles him.  Looking at Jesus is like looking at your soul exposed. And Pilate cannot get away fast enough.

He hands Jesus over to be crucified; he tries to forget that loving gaze.

If we can force ourselves to look at what happens on this day, Jesus shows us where true power lies.  Pilate’s desire to avoid unpleasantness does not make him stronger, more joyful or free.  God’s love inside Jesus makes him free and strong even in his greatest weakness.  What draws us into Jesus’ suffering this day is not a morbid desire to gawk.  Like the beloved disciple, Mary Magdalene, and Jesus’ mother, we are drawn here because we love the one who saves us.  And that love gives us power to go into dark places with others. Jesus comes to us when we are in such places out of love for us.

So tonight, we come here not to stare at suffering and death.  We come to stand before the King of Love.  In him, we see the truth and power of a love that draws us through darkness and restores us to life and light.

Let us pray.   “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”