This blog is mostly sermons of a pastor serving Riverside Community Church, Mattawa/Desert Aire, Washington. An eremite is someone who lives in a wilderness or desert of some kind. I have often lived in remote places. Early Christian eremites lived under the discipline of solitude within the discipline of community. I try to be involved in worshiping, studying, and praying with others; and serving others wherever I find myself. I try to keep up with my correspondence in the electronic desert.
Friday, March 29, 2013
A New World: Born in the Dark
Preached on Good Friday, March 29, 2013
Scripture readings: Isaiah
50:4-10; Mark 16:1-41
The gospels all tell us that Jesus was crucified, but
none of them describe the process of being crucified. They all describe the
thirst, the nakedness, the mockery of the cross. They all describe the shame
and the abandonment of the cross. But none of them describe the process of the
executioners hammering the nails so that they pierced Jesus’ (or even the
thieves’) hands and feet, or the lifting of their bodies from the earth as the
crossbeams were nailed to the uprights of the cross.
Photos from Washtucna Community Church and Environs
Crosses, with living and dead bodies on them, were a
common sight in that ancient world. How a crucifixion was performed was common
But crucifixion was generally too gruesome to
describe in polite company. Good manners forbade it. Everyone had a picture of
the real thing well lodged in their minds, and nobody wanted to call it to
Even the Romans, who made such a great use of crosses,
and who used them with so much enthusiasm on slaves and foreigners (foreigners
like Jesus), didn’t really like crosses. The Romans taught themselves to like
brutality, but the cross was mind-numbing, not because it was gory, but because
it went on and on, for days and days; at least when it was properly done in
You were pinned with nails to beams of wood so you
could not move. You could not fight. (The Romans loved a good, bloody fight.) You
were naked and exposed to the elements and to insects. It was death by exposure
to heat, and cold, and hunger, and thirst, and fatigue. You could not care for
your bodily needs, and you could be mercilessly mocked, taunted, and even
touched and hurt by spectators and passers-by.
Death by crucifixion might only be shortened by a
good Roman flogging. They would use (as they did with Jesus) a many tailed
whip, embedded with sharp metal fragments that ripped and tore through skin,
and flesh, and muscle. The spiked lashes of these whips could cut the body to
This was no forty lashes sort of whipping. It was one
that went on and on, until the whipper was exhausted, or until whoever was in
command called for a halt. You could, after all, whip a man to death. This, in
fact, is the only possible, natural explanation of why Jesus died so soon on
The thieves on each side had to be killed by the
breaking of their legs, so that they could no longer lift themselves up to take
a breath. And so they died by asphyxiation.
I could say more. But this is why none of the gospels
tell us more this: simply, “and they crucified him.”
There are things we don’t want to know too much
about. They are too humiliating, too brutal, too fearful, too mind-numbing, too
desperate, too lonely, too dark. They are, in some ways, unspeakable.
You need to know that there is a special reason for
this. We live in a world where it is human sin (the sin we share with all other
human beings, and which they share with us) that makes this darkness possible.
It is a world-darkness, like the darkness that
covered the Holy Land for the final hours of
Jesus on the cross. It is a world-darkness, though we don’t usually see it for
what it is.
The same darkness that covered the cross lives in any
simple lie. The same darkness that covered the cross lives in any act of
unfaithfulness, in any act of hypocrisy, in any act of cruelty or abuse. The
same darkness that covered the cross lives in every act of injustice and pride.
It lives in every petty theft, and vandalism, and envy, and jealousy. It lives
in every plan of greed. It lives in every hatred and act of malice.
The same darkness that covered the cross also lives
in our innocent injuries. The darkness of a fallen world lives in the loss of
the beauty and strength of life in the process our aging, and our battles with
illness, and the shadow of death. The darkness that covered the cross covers us
as we die, or as we grieve. The darkness that covered the cross also covers
parents when they have news that the child they are expecting will have some
large or small defect.
The darkness that covered the cross overshadows us at
the news of cancer, or heart failure, or stroke, or dementia. The darkness that
covered the cross overshadows us in depression and other malfunctions of the
mind and the emotions.
God himself came in Jesus to face that darkness, to
enter it, to struggle with it, to die in it, and to rise from it; in time, in
our world, on the third day, so that we can meet him there. Jesus is Immanuel,
“God with us.” (Isaiah 7:14) The Twenty-third Psalm says, “”Yea, though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art
with me.” (Psalm 23:4)
God himself became the suffering servant of the cross
who could speak the words he gave to Isaiah to speak for him. This is what God
says to us, in Jesus on the cross, “The Lord God has given me an instructed
tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by
morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. The Lord God has opened
my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back. I offered my
back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did
not hide my face from mocking and spitting.” (Isaiah 50:4-6)
The Lord entered the darkness in Jesus to speak to us
with words that can “sustain the weary”. Jesus on the cross is the place where
we can meet God himself who is with us in the darkest places. So he can say
from his own experience, as one of us in our world, and not just from his power
or from any prior knowledge, “Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.” (Isaiah 50:10)
We truly find God present in Jesus exactly where we
need him most.
It needs to be said that the cross, for Jesus, is
what sin is for us. Jesus had no sin, but the cross is where Jesus carried our
sins. And our sins are our most basic experience of darkness.
The cross, in a sense, is the very thing that no almighty
God would bear. It is the very thing that no successful Messiah would suffer.
Those who most wanted Jesus crucified were the ones
who knew that the cross was the proof that Jesus was not who he claimed to be.
The cross was the evidence that Jesus could not be God and could not be the
Messiah. It was the sign that he was a failure at both.
When we see our sin as it truly is (any sin as it
truly is) we see our failure to be what God once made us to be. We see that, in
some essential way, we are very nearly living darkness. We are something to be
feared. We are something that cannot be trusted. We are something desperate.
We need someone to enter this darkness. Could God do
such a thing? We may even despair that God could possibly be willing to enter
In the predictions of the Old Testament prophets, God
would prove to be such a God. In Jesus God entered the darkness of our sins. He
comes to us exactly where we are.
By his death for us we die with Christ, and by faith
we rise to a new life with him, because he died for us under the weight of our
sin. He conquered our sins, and the sins of the whole world.
So our darkness, whatever it may, is no longer
unspeakable. It is not lonely. It is not desperate. It is not a curse. It is
not even shameful. It is where we meet God.
And the darkness of others is not a place for us to avoid.
The darkness of others is not a thing to be afraid of. The darkness of other
people’s lives is a place where we can help them meet God in Christ, if we have
also met him there for ourselves.
world needs to be made new. It is God’s will to make all things new. The people
around us need to be made new, by those who, like us, have found a new life and
a new world created by God in Christ on the cross even in the darkest places.