St Barbara’s; 25.03.16
Rev Tulo Raistrick
A few years ago a most unusual controversy arose: a dispute arose over the certificate grading for a film about the life of Christ. This was not because it was a modernist retelling with questionable scenes; it was because it was attempting to be too accurate. It was trying to convey the physical torment of Christ’s beatings, whippings and crucifixion as they would have been, not try and make them palatable to save our sensibilities.
Some people were deeply moved by the film; others found the violence too graphic and disturbing. But what the film did do, for those who did and didn’t see the film, was remind people of the depth of sheer physical pain that Christ must have experienced. Crucifixion was by far and away the cruellest and most prolonged form of death that the Roman world had invented. As the cross was dropped in its stand, almost every bone in ones body would have been dislocated. To breathe, one would have to force oneself up on one’s feet, but gradually, as the body weakened, breathing became harder and harder, each breath an intensified agony. Indeed, crucifixion was deemed so harsh that Roman citizens could not be killed in that way no matter how extreme their crimes.
And yet this is the death that Christ, God’s Son endures. Hands that flung stars into space, to cruel nails surrendered. The physical trauma and torment would have been beyond our imagining.
And yet, as we contemplate the cross this afternoon, Christ’s physical sufferings would have been small compared to the spiritual and emotional agony he would have experienced. Christ was God’s Son. He and his Father had been in perfect and wonderful harmony from the beginning of eternity, the most life-affirming, the most life-giving of all relationships. Together, they had created and brought the world into being. Together, they had loved the world and all that they had made.
But on the cross, Father and Son experience the pain of spiritual dislocation. Jesus cries out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Words unthinkable, unimaginable. Such is the weight of the world’s sin that Christ bears on the cross, sin blocks out the light of His Father’s presence. Creation itself goes dark, mirroring the darkest despair of the Creator himself.
The cross is a reminder, lest we need one, of the devastating nature of sin in our world. Sin that causes holocausts, genocides, wars on civilians, child soldiers; sin that causes starvation, destitution, abuse; sin that prompts petty anger, jealousy, bitterness. Sin in its entirety was focused on Christ on that day, and temporarily it seemed to win the day. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”
And yet, Christ’s words on the cross point to a deeper, eternal outcome. Those very words come from Psalm 22, a psalm that finished with hope and the promise of new life. Luke also quotes Jesus’ words to one of the thieves beside him: “Today you will be with me in paradise”. Those are not the words of one who, overwhelmed by the burden of sin, has subsided in despair. They are the words of one, who coming through the other side, is able to give hope to those who are to come.
On the cross, we see the depth of God’s love for us in Christ. Such is the love of Christ he is willing to endure the physical agony of the cross for us. Such is the love of Father and Son that they are willing to experience the emotional and spiritual torment of separation, so that we need no longer be separated from God.
The cross, the place where sin does its worst, becomes the place where sin is overcome, defeated by the power of Christ’s selfless love. Our way to God is made clear, the barrier of sin has been removed. Easter Sunday is the day when that truth bursts forth in all its wondrous vibrancy. Today, though, is the day we ponder with reverence and sombreness the suffering it cost the Father and the Son. For no one else could ever pay so high a price. It was not the nails, but love, that held Christ to the cross that day.