Due to the nature of the school and youth club term, this is a Lenten talk given now…
It all begins and ends with the cross. Symbol of Christian Faith, carried high in procession, bedecked with Jewels on our altars, worn around our necks as a sign of – what? – of fashion? Of belonging? Of salvation?
I wonder if we thought for a while about the Cross, we would choose to have this fashion statement in quite the same way?
After all, the cross isn’t glamorous. It isn’t cool. It isn’t sexy in any way shape or form.
The cross is an ugly, horrible, shameful way to die.
Not a pretty piece of jewellery at all, the cross is a 12ft high killing machine – a rough instrument of torture reserved by the Romans for the execution of criminals, terrorists and political enemies.
No glamour there.
The Cross was such a terrible, painful way to die that eventually even the Romans thought it too cruel and stopped using it.
The images we sometimes see of the Cross are, much like TV before 9pm, sanitized: made easier to deal with. It doesn’t look very painful. It doesn’t look like much of an ordeal.
But, my friends, the reality is very different.
Massive nails, driven not through the hands, for the hands are not strong enough to bear your bodyweight, but driven through the wrist, supporting your whole weight.
Stand for a while, with your arms outstretched. I know you won’t be able to do it. You will start to moan and gasp and fidgit, and yet this is nothing compared to being hung by your wrists. No platform to stand on, just you and gravity.
I doubt if any of you can do what those gymnasts do on the rings, after years of training and in the peak of physical perfection, they can support themselves for up to a minute. No more. But they haven’t been beated, whipped, tortured beforehand; they havn’t been weakened by loss of blood or have the deal with the pain of the nails.
Each nail forced in by the blow of the hammer. Each blow echoing around the desolate hill and reverberating through time. Each hit forgiven by the author of forgiveness. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do…”
It’s not the twinge in your shoulder of course that kills you. When you are suspended on a cross, you die by choking to death. The pressure on your chest in this position means that you can’t breathe in. That is why they nail your feet to the cross, across the ankles. In order to take a breath, in the panic of asphyxiation, you find yourself forcing your weight onto your feet to relieve the pressure on the chest, only to have the pain transferred to the nails in your ankles, you fight to take yet one more breath, but the pain is so great that you give way and the pain transfers back to your chest and you are once more unable to breathe.
You see-saw between excruciating pain in the chest and in the legs until you are exhausted and your heart gives out, filling with fluid: red and white blood cells separating into what looks a little bit like blood and water. If they are kind, they might have had enough of your torture, and the soldiers might break your legs for you, so you can’t support yourself and you die quicker.
And die you had to, for the punishment for letting someone get away with this most severe punishment was to be crucified yourself. It was in the soldier’s interest to make absolutely sure that the criminal was dead, even up to skewering the lifeless corpse right through the heart, and seeing those red and white blood products flow.
Three hours. You havn’t lasted three minutes with your arms outstretched, bearing nothing and yet Christ hung on that instrument of torture for 3 hours.
On one level: Politics. Fear, Greed, Power and the unwavering knowledge that human beings knew the mind of God better that God himself. The Romans saw the Man as a political threat, and feared a rebellion; the Jewish leaders as a challenge to their immense power; the people saw the spectacle of someone being killed for their entertainment – a bit like reality TV but with a more predictable ending.
On another, deeper level, it was to make things right. The Man was not being punished by God, not the victim of some sick form of cosmic child abuse; he was never deserted by God because he was God himself. The man did not get put on the cross to make up for the bad stuff we had done, not to take the punishment for us from God, but to take on the sins of the world as God.
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that all who believe in him may not die, but may have eternal life.
The creator of life, of you and of me, overcomes sin and death on the cross, to win us.
After 3 long hours he cries “it is complete” – it is won, it is sorted.
He sorted it. For you and for me.
This Good Friday, when you eat your hot cross but, you will see that it is more than just a piece of cake: not a piece of cake at all, but a reminder of something very hard won for you: eternal life with the Father who loves you, loves you enough to give of himself for you.
Wear your cross with pride. It shows that you respect what means. Never forget. Never think of it as just a piece of jewellery. It is the sign of your salvation. Your life.