“I preach Christ, and him crucified.”[1]

Where were you 118 nights ago?

I suspect that many of us were right here, sitting in this candlelit church, filled with the fragrance of fresh evergreens.

We were full of anticipation, eager to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the word made flesh.

Consider what momentous events in Jesus’ life we have marked since then: Birth in Bethlehem. Presentation in the Temple at Jerusalem. Baptism in the River Jordan. Forty days and nights in the desert wilderness, leading to a powerful ministry of teaching and healing and reconciliation.

And Jesus said, “I came to call not the righteous, but sinners.”[2]

This is the path that brings us to this day, this evening.

These are the events that are woven into the fabric of our souls.

We travel the dusty roads to Jerusalem with Jesus to witness – even participate in -- his betrayal, trial, and execution.

And Jesus said, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.”[3]

We climb the well-worn steps to the upper room to eat, drink, and pray with Jesus.

We bare our souls.

He washes our feet.

And Jesus said, “Love one another I have loved you.”[4]

Banished long ago from the first garden, we are invited to enter the garden at Gethsemane and join Jesus.

Some watch, some sleep while he prays.

We have seen ourselves among those who were faithful to him, and those who betrayed him.

We have heard how Judas took his life, and how Jesus gave his life.

We have heard him weep at Bethany before he calls Lazarus out of his tomb.

And Jesus said, “Unbind him and let him go.” [5]

Oh, if only we could, here and now, reach out to Jesus, unbind him and let him go.

We have moved from the wood of the manger to the wood of the cross.

James tissot view from the Cross
James Tissot, ‘View from the Cross’

The precious gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh have been supplanted by the harsh offerings of iron nails, vinegar, and bitter gall.

Where are the shepherds? The sages? The star? What angel will cry Gloria in excelsis Deo?

Mary once cradled his tiny body at her breast, comforting him when he cried.

Now she weeps.

Her son is out of reach; her arms ache with longing to hold him once again.

And Jesus said, “Woman, here is your son.”

The soldiers’ weapons have been used for their appointed purpose.

They lay aside their sharp spears and sit at his feet.

They gamble to pass the long hours as death approaches.

They know Jesus will have no more use for his robe.

Jesus came like “a thief in the night” to steal our hearts.[6]

Now he has no protection from the sweltering midday sun.

He suffers the same shameful fate as the common criminals on his right and on his left.

One calls out, asking not forgiveness, but remembrance: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

And Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”[7]

But the veil of the temple has been torn, and the promised kingdom is a shattered dream.

The bread has been broken, the body moreso; the wine has been poured and the blood has been spilled.

The lush green branches that greeted Jesus’ arrival in the city of peace have come together to form the blood-stained wood of the cross on Golgotha’s stony slope.

He who asked a woman of Samaria for a drink of water now has a thirst that cannot be assuaged.

From that cruel cross hangs the sweet fruit that is our salvation, fruit that gives forth living water and life-giving blood.

And Jesus said, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw the whole world to myself.”[8]

The flesh has become a word, a word too tragic to speak.

The Spirit that moved over the face of the waters at creation leaves his pain-wracked body with a sorrowful sigh.

A sigh too deep for words.

It is finished.

All is still.

Time has ended.

Darkness has descended.

We brim over with emptiness, and await the rising of the Son.

[1] See 1 Cor 2:2

[2] Mk 2:17

[3] Jn 10:10

[4] Jn 15:12

[5] Jn 11:14b

[6] 1 Th 5:12; see Rev 15:16

[7] Lk 23:42-3

[8] Jn 12:32