Our walk with Jesus on the Way of the Cross has finished. We have come as far with him as we can, but this is a road which ultimately he must walk to the end alone, as someday we all must as well. So like the woman at the cross, or the Beloved Disciple and the mother of Jesus, we wait a little distance from the Cross and look on.
Our gospel reading, from Matthew 26 and 27, shows us what happened that Friday, and it is not pretty. An observer suddenly brought in to watch would see a travesty on display: followers and friends who betray, deny, and flee; men in authority on every side who panic, pass the buck, and deny responsibility; soldiers so dehumanised by their service that they torture, mock, and try to degrade their prisoner; bystanders so dehumanised that they’ve come out to see a public execution as we might watch a terrible storm or a war on television, for entertainment. Jesus is one of the few people involved who seems to keep his humanity, there at the eye of the storm.
The Old Testament lesson tells us not what happened, but what it means. This apparently sordid and shabby story of judicial murder and licit torture is not what it appears. It is an atoning sacrifice, made vicariously. That is, Jesus suffers not for anything that he has done, but for what the rest of us have done. Jesus confronts the powers that want to keep us from right relationship with God and one another, what St Paul in Romans calls Sin and Death. He confronts all the unintended consequences of bad decisions or good ones gone wrong, all our mistakes and the missing the mark that dogs our footsteps, and he overcomes them, he clears them away. By his love and obedience, by following the path that leads to the Cross without turning back, he acts out what the prophet describes when he writes about the Servant in the fourth and last Servant Song, which we hear today. As a man of suffering and acquainted with grief we discounted him and thought of him as stricken and afflicted. But instead, as the prophet wrote, “he poured out himself to death” and so, as the LORD says, “The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”
That Jesus goes to the Cross without resisting or escaping, without slipping away from those trying to arrest him as he had done before, makes this the fifth and final prophetic sign of the week. Jesus enacts for us what the prophet Isaiah foretold of the Servant centuries before and this sign makes us righteous. Now it is done. Jesus has fulfilled the LORD’s will for the Servant and also for us who follow and look on: “upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” As Friday comes to a close, we can with confidence and hope in the resurrection say “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast”. A blessed Easter to you all.