“Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
It is a day of contradictions, a day where things do not appear to mean what we think they mean, it is a day where the living God has turned all that is upside down.
It is also a day that is difficult. All these centuries later we gather to pray and to remember as the faithful have prayed and remembered all this time. And sometimes we still can’t seem to hear it, we try to explain it away. And if we go back through scripture, we know that the law of God’s chosen people said that God demanded a sacrifice for sin. Is that what happens today? Does Jesus die in our place?
I’m not sure that any of us know the answer for sure. It seems so unfair that an innocent man should die for the good of the world. And yet… here we are, telling the story again. Stories that we tell over and over again are the stories that form us, that shape us, that tell us something about who we are… and today we discover ourselves is this story that is the defining moment of Jesus’ earthly ministry; this moment, the moment of his death on the cross, was his appointed time; it was the culmination of his earthly ministry, and what he came to do; he came to live and die as one of us… and so he says from the cross…. It is finished.
Jesus, proclaimed by John the Baptist as the Lamb of God, has finally taken on the role of the sacrificial lamb. Innocent, stricken, now lying broken in a tomb; by all accounts, Pilate was right. He had the power to release or crucify; but the power was not really his. He played a part he didn’t even take responsibility for; no one wanted to take on the responsibility of killing this trouble maker, Jesus of Nazareth. Pilate even asks, “What is truth?” and in a moment where God upends absolutely everything, Pilate proclaims the truth by charging Jesus of the crime of being King of the Jews; and in case someone misses that gospel moment, he proclaims it in all the languages of the empire so that the message is clear; This is the King of the Jews.
Some king. A king who is killed in the most shame-filled way possible, killed as a criminal; and it is this symbol, this cross of shame that becomes the saving help of all nations, races and people. Only God could make that happen; only God would allow it; only God would choose to become the ultimate sacrifice for sin so that no one whom God loves will ever see death as the end. And today we pray; we pray for ourselves and we pray for the world that Jesus loves and came to save because at the foot of the cross, praying is what it left to us. Like him, we must be poured out; we are poured out in prayer for others because he gave himself for us and for them. And so we give something of ourselves this day knowing that we can never take back what has happened.
But… the absolute goodness of God breaks through the darkness and clouds; God’s goodness breaks through our sin and our doubt; God’s goodness breaks through where there is war, and famine, and death… God’s goodness breaks through even now, even today to say… it is finished… death no longer has power in this place. It is so hard to hear and see God when it seems that the world has lost its place. But today we are reminded that on a hill in a place called the skull, one death was different from the rest; one death would mean new life. One death, one man, one God… Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, changes everything. It is finished.