Today we focus on the greatest mystery in the world. Why did a perfectly loving person end up nailed to a cross? Why did a crowd who welcomed Jesus as King on Palm Sunday get him lynched four days later? And how could they stand and mock him as he was slowly bleeding to death? Why did the Jewish nation come to view their greatest prophet as a hated blasphemer? And why did the religious leaders of his own nation have Jesus crucified by a hated Roman governor?
From another angle we wonder how the agony of this awful event became the crucial point of human history? And how did the instrument of crucifixion become the wonderful sign of the cross for Christians throughout the world? How did Bad Friday become Good Friday?
There are many ways of answering those questions, and each answer we give only makes the mystery darker and more awful. I am going to give you one answer that begins with the very heart of God.
For Christians the first definition of God is that God is love. And God was love long before the big bang shot the universe out in space, and long before our world was created with vegetable and animal life and humans in the image of God.
God is love, but we all know that anyone who loves gets hurt. Husbands hurt their wives, and wives hurt their husbands. Brothers and sisters hurt each other. Parents hurt their children and children hurt their parents. As you know Christians in every church hurt other Christians again and again.
So when the eternal Son of God took birth among us on the first Christmas Day he was inevitably going to get hurt. He loved more perfectly than any human being we can imagine. And the more you love the more you get hurt. If you love the worst people of your own country, and also love people of other races, you end up crucified.
Now when someone hurts you the natural thing thing is to flinch and draw back. We say "I don't need to be hurt like that." And in many situations that is the right course. You don't let a grizzly maul you or pat a cross dog. But in some situations you decide to absorb the hurt and keep loving. Parents choose to keep loving even when their children hurt them. That is the story of the Prodigal Son. And when husbands and wives forgive each other they choose to absorb the hurt in their own body and still keep loving.
How do members of a Christian congregation keep loving each other and the world around them? That only happens if we agree that however much we get hurt in loving we will not draw back into our shell. You can always save yourself from being hurt by giving up on loving. But of course if you shut yourself away from loving others you condemn yourself to the dark loneliness of of those who refuse to love.
Jesus loved his own disciples, and the worst of his own people, and people of other nations to the end. But last night after the last supper with his friends as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane he wondered if it was time to draw back from loving. The humiliation of being arrested and crucified like a criminal was too much to bear. He could have called in a legion of angels to get him off the hook of loving. But if he had refused to keep loving God's love would have failed. Gloriously by the time Judas and the temple soldiers arrived he had won the battle of unconditional love.
Today on Good Friday they did their worst. He hung naked bleeding to death between two criminals. And he said "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Finally he said "It is finished" and "Into your hands I commend my spirit."
Now you can see that what happened on that awful day was the visible expression in space-time of the eternal love of God. That is the way the Son of God has loved us since the first humans appeared on this earth. And that is the way God keeps loving us however much we hurt him. That is why the cross is the very heart of God.
The awesome thing is that the Son of God not only loves us that way but he invites us to come his way of the cross. It means taking up the cross of loving every day. We choose to keep loving however much people hurt us. We can even learn to love our enemies. And on Easter Day we remind ourselves that even when we are crucified that is not the end of the story. The worst of deaths is the prelude to resurrection.
So when you finally learn from Jesus that it is OK to be hurt,
and it is good to keep loving however badly you are hurt, Bad Friday has
become Good Friday, and the whole world looks very different.