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Good Friday, March 25, 2016

Love wins. These seems a strange thing to say in the middle of Good Friday, a day of relief for Pilate and victory for the religious authorities. But for all the horror of the crucifixion – rather because of the horror of the crucifixion – love wins.

Love wins because Jesus, God’s love incarnate, is in control of his destiny. His one desire is to fulfill the mission and purpose God gave him and he knows it ends on the cross. Jesus makes no resistance when he is taken by the authorities. In fact, he comes out of the crowd and announces, “I am he”, the words God uses to identify himself, and asks that the others be let go, which they presumably are. Jesus is passive, enduring arrest, trials and an awful death because that is what God has told him to do. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.

Jesus does not defend himself, not even once. He doesn’t answer questions, except to stress that his kingdom is not what the world identifies as a kingdom. It is not a kingdom of violence and revenge because his followers are not trying to save him. He does not even admit to being a king, asking Herod instead from whom he heard those words.

Love wins, and might and power are defeated. Jesus tells Pilate, who is supposed to have life and death control over him, that he would have no control if it were not given to him from God. Pilate, who is supposed to be the authority, ends up shuttling back and forth between the Jews, who would not enter the place where Pilate was because it would make them ritually unclean for Passover, and Jesus. Pilate, who supposedly has the power, doesn’t think Jesus is a threat and tries hard to release him, but ultimately gives in to the Jewish authorities, whether to get them off his back or out of fear that they say anyone who would let someone go who sets himself up as a king is no friend of the emperor. Instead of a powerful figure, Pilate is presented as a scared rabbit, announcing his power but then afraid to use it, even though he knows Jesus is innocent.

The Jews, who are supposed to be Pilate’s subjects, actually have more influence that he does on the proceedings, but at what cost? When Pilate asks them again about freeing their king, they say “We have no king but the emperor”. They who just hours later would confess that God is their only king in the Passover Seder, have sold themselves out to get rid of the one man whom they think should die to save the Jewish people from possible Roman brutality. This betrayal of their faith during Jesus’ trial signifies their brokenness, and love wins the day. Jesus loves everyone, even the Romans and the religious authorities who are trying to kill him.

Love wins on the cross. In the midst of Jesus’ agony, we remember his words that when he is lifted up he will draw the whole world to himself – Jews as well as Gentiles, rich as well as poor, the “in” groups and the outcasts – because God created everyone and wants to save the world. Love wins because Jesus completes his mission. We don’t have a forsaken Jesus, but a satisfied Jesus. “It is finished”, he says, about his mission, about his work on behalf of the world. Then he voluntarily lays down his life and gives up his spirit. Love has won the day, even though it seems that evil and death are on top of the heap.

There are two more places where love wins in this story. First, there are women including Jesus’ mother, and the beloved disciple at the foot of the cross, not off in the distance as in other gospels. They are right there, at some risk to themselves, especially the beloved disciple. They are there to keep vigil, to watch as Jesus dies as we have watched at the side of a loved one who slowly passes from this world to the next. We experience their love for Jesus, their pain and grief, their numbness during the waiting process, especially made difficult because it is not machines beeping in a relatively safe hospital room, but something they knew would be particularly awful. Jesus notices them and orders the beloved disciple to take his mother into his home. They are to be son and mother to one another. They are to constitute a new family. They are the beginnings of the church, where kinship is measured by common belief and not by blood, as their will be so much division in families (Leonora Tubbs Tisdale). Love wins because people are not left alone to fend for themselves. They are given a commitment of love to play out in the future.

Love wins in the burial story. Why should Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus ask for the body of Jesus? Joseph was a secret believer for fear of the Jews and Nicodemus had come to believe from listening to Jesus. Nobody knew about their discipleship, so why should they put themselves forward and risk the wrath of the Jewish authorities now. They could have just gone on, knowing that the one they believed in as Messiah was dead and there was nothing more they could do. But they didn’t because love wins. Even if they couldn’t be with him in his life, they would dare to be with him in his death, preparing his body for burial and placing it in a new tomb. They didn’t know what was going to happen and yet they were willing to have their names associated with Jesus.

The Good Friday cross is a symbol of cruel and violent death. It represents the death of the innocent and all whom he took care of – the sick, the vulnerable, the poor, the marginalized. It represents military might and it represents injustice. It is a summation of all the evils present in the world not just 2000 years ago, but today as well. But love wins. In Jesus’ death, he proclaimed his love for all people, his desire for peace and reconciliation, God’s forgiveness, and the future of his community that would one day transform the world.

Jesus hanging on the cross is a call to us to follow. To carry our own crosses, to do our best to make sure love wins in our broken communities, nations and the world. Jesus finished his mission for our sake, which ended in his death. He brought us into community so we could have love and caring beyond family. He brought us courage out of his own courage to live and die faithful to God. Let us follow Jesus and proclaim the good news that love wins. 

AMEN

     -- Rev. Ann Barker

Works cited:
Leonora Tubbs Tisdale, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 2, Homiletical Perspective (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) p. 303