"There is a green hill far away, outside a city wall,
where the dear Lord was crucified, who died to save us all.’
Today is Good Friday, the day when we remember Jesus’ death on the Cross. Life, however, will go on much as normal. Churches will not be packed today. We don’t want to dwell on the battered, bruised, and bloody figure dying on the Cross. If we celebrate Easter at all, we will save our celebration until Sunday.
But the Cross can’t be passed over so quickly, much as we would like to. Faced with his death Jesus said: ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say - ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.’ This was what it had all been about: his birth, his life, his teaching, his miracles. The Cross wasn’t a means to an end. It was the end. Jesus continues, ‘Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.’
St Augustine wrote: ‘Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience.’
Jesus was crucified as the hymn says ‘outside the city’ and today we see God’s verdict on it. ‘It is finished’, were Jesus’ last words on the Cross. And with them, God also passed his judgement on the earthly city: its rulers and its inhabitants. On you and me. The Cross condemns our ‘contempt of God’: our idolatry and love of self; our worship of false gods; our pursuit of lives and lifestyles that are contrary to God’s word; our arrogance and pride.
For most people, our Lord's death today is that of a martyr who died as a consequence of the exemplary life he lived and for what he believed in. Thankfully, though, God made everything alright in the end! Thank God, we think, for Easter Sunday! But why would we rejoice? We who have God’s judgement pronounced on us. We who are members of the earthly city destined for destruction?
But surely, we ask, Jesus ‘died to save us all’, didn’t he? Surely this means that the Gospel is good news? It can be! It all depends on what we see when we look on the Cross. If we see just another man dying for what he believed in, then it is anything but good news. If, however, we see God’s Son dying, not only because of our sin, but also for our sin. Then we see not a martyr, but our Saviour. One who can save us from the very judgement that his death pronounces on us.
But there is more. If the Gospel is to be good news to us. We need to see something else as we look at the Crucified Figure dying on the Cross. We need to see ourselves hanging there dying with him. Dying to the sin that nailed him there. Dying to our love of self. Dying to the worship of our false gods. Dying to lives lived without thought of God. Dying to our arrogance and pride. For it is only if we die with him that we shall live with him. Suddenly, then, today becomes important after all: today, it’s all about you.
St Paul writes: ‘For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’ (1 Corinthians 1:18) For many, the Cross is just another death. A horrible death. The death of a good man. It is even possible that it is the death of a good man who God raised from the dead. But it is foolishness to believe it is anything more; anything to do with us. The truth is that it is foolishness not to. It has everything to do with us.
On the Cross, we see God’s judgement on us, but we also see his love for us. We see the means by which we can be saved from the judgement that is coming to us. Today, Good Friday, we are offered hope.
Easter Sunday in three days’ time can indeed be a time to celebrate - not only our Lord being raised from the dead, but also our being raised with him.
But before that, today, we must first die.