Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday: The Cross is Safe - No Lower to Go

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Good Friday, April 10, 2009

There is no safer place in the world … than the cross of Jesus Christ.

Let me say that again … There is no safer place in the world, than the cross of Jesus Christ.

That’s really hard to believe. Maybe it even seems completely crazy. How can the cross of all places be safe? We just heard the story. The cross is a place of abandonment. The cross is a place of ridicule and shame. Of pain and despair. The cross is a place of death.

The cross of Jesus Christ is a place of everything we fear, a place of everything we spend our lives, our time, our energy and our money, trying to flee from and protect ourselves against.

And that is why … there is no safer place in the world … than the cross of Jesus Christ.

Because the cross of Jesus Christ is the only place where there is nothing left to fear. All there is, is Christ. And in Christ’s arms … well, in this world, there is no safer place.

You see, when it comes down to it, all fear is about loss. You show me a fear and I’ll show you how it’s a fear of losing something. Losing your job, losing your family, your friends, your marriage. Losing physical or mental function, losing peace respect, self-confidence. Losing your child, losing your freedom, losing your life.

And we spend our lives building walls to protect all the things we fear to lose. Walls inside which prevent us from telling truths and living boldly and loving and being loved deeply. Physical walls which divide and lock up and gate our buildings and communities and keep us fragmented as a city, as a nation, as a world. Walls which keep us safe from the risk of loss but also shield us from the incredible liberating joy of truly living, of truly being together. And we rationalize building these walls by appealing to the conventional wisdom that everything of value can be lost and that if we do not build the walls, if we do not protect what we fear to lose we will have nothing and we will be nothing.

But that conventional wisdom is a lie. And we know it because of what happens this day.

We have just heard the story. Jesus had done everything he was not supposed to do. He had refused to build any of the walls and in fact dedicated his life to tearing those walls down everywhere he could. Under threat of loss of everything anyone valued, he refused to stop speaking the truth, he refused to stop reaching out to and loving absolutely everyone, he refused to be one iota less of the person God made him to be.

And the story of the passion is the story of every one of our fears being realized in his life. It is the ultimate worst-case scenario. Afraid of losing your friends and family? Jesus lost his and even suffered the ultimate pain of being betrayed by one of them. Afraid of losing respect and position? Jesus was mocked and ridiculed publicly, stripped naked and marched through the street. Afraid of losing your sense of peace and well-being? Afraid of losing physical function? Jesus was beaten, forced to carry a cross until he could no longer lift it, had nails driven into his wrists and feet and his body wracked and broken. Afraid of losing your life? Jesus died.

Crucifixion was meant to be an object lesson for the people. A horrible public display of everything that the people feared the most so they would stay within the walls the Romans had built to control them. An example to all that there was no God but Caesar and there was no Gospel but the conventional wisdom of fear of loss.

But we are here today/tonight because we know that is not true. Because what emerged on the cross this day was the deep truth, the deepest truth. The truth that Pilate could not understand and casually dismissed. The truth that Jesus came to testify to not at the palace but from the cross.

The truth that there is one thing more powerful than fear, one thing that casts out fear every time. One thing that can never be taken from us and of which we never need to be in fear of losing. And that one thing is what remained on the cross when all else had been lost -- God’s perfect love for us. Love without bounds. Love without fear. Love in which we can never be separated from one another or from the lover who creates, redeems and sustains us.

Love we will never lose. A love other than which we need nothing else.

The cross is the place of absolute freedom, the place where we have nothing more to lose and thus nothing more to fear. The place where all that we need can never be taken away … the perfect love of God in Christ.

And that’s why there is no safer place in the world … than the cross of Jesus Christ.

And this day and every day we gather, we come here to proclaim that we are people of that cross. And that means we can live that freely. It means we can live without fear because we have already counted everything as lost. It means all the “Yeah, buts” mean nothing. What is holding us back? What do we grip onto so tightly that we don’t want to risk? Let it go. Embrace the cross.

Get down on the cross. There is no safer place. There is no freer place.

That safety .. that freedom. It does sound pretty good doesn’t it? The cross is starting to sound a little better. But let’s be honest, this is still scary stuff. We can say there is no safer place than the cross, but living it? Well, we’re not there yet and the learning curve is pretty steep. But that’s why we gather here together. Because we have the chance to help each other live this … and that’s by being incarnations of God’s love for one another. By saying, “you can get down on the cross with me … because I’ve got your back.” And “I can get down on the cross with you, because I know you’ve got my back..” We’re in this together.

The cross for Jesus was solitary. Not for us. Jesus was the Body of Christ … but we are not individually the Body of Christ … we are the Body of Christ TOGETHER. This isn’t about finding the strength in yourself. This is about embracing the cross together.

It’s about saying I love you enough to show you who I really am. I love you enough to say “I love you.” I love you enough to set aside my fear of not being good enough, to open up myself and set aside my fear of being made fun of or ridiculed or being told I’m not good enough or embarrassed … or all the things that happened to us in elementary school on the playground that we’ve lived in fear of ever since … or the things we saw happening to other kids on the playground so we’ve controlled our lives so they would never happen to us … or all the things that we have done to others first so they couldn’t do them to us. We can let go all of that … together.

Our road to the cross is one that would be so hard to walk alone, so it’s a good thing we’re not supposed to.

But that’s not even the best news. The best news is the safety of the cross is not just for us to rest in but to live boldly and joyfully out of. The best news is the safety of the cross of Jesus Christ, if we will flee to it together and embrace it and carry it before us, can not only free our spirits and change our lives but change the world.

The Roman Catholic Church has a ritual of sending for missionary communities that culminates in equipping the new missionaries with cross or crucifix. Roman Catholic theologian William Frazer sees a deep significance to this act.

He writes, “The way faithful Christians die is the most contagious aspect of what being a Christian means. The missionary cross or crucifix is no mere ornament depicting Christianity in general. Rather, it is a vigorous commentary on what gives the gospel its universal appeal. Those who receive it posses not only a symbol of their mission but a handbook on how to carry it out.” (quoted from Transforming Mission by David Bosch)

The safety of the cross, the freedom of the cross is not just about my salvation, not just about our salvation, but the salvation of the whole world. About the coming of a kingdom where perfect love casts out all fear. We gather on the cross, we embrace its safe love, we answer its call to live boldly and fearlessly not just for ourselves but so the world can see and know that it can live boldly and fearlessly, too. That there’s no need to be afraid of losing anything that really matters. So the world that sent Jesus to the cross to kill him can turn and embrace the truth he proclaims.

That there is no safer place in the world … than the cross of Jesus Christ.


I am indebted to my friend and mentor, the Rev. Victoria Sirota, for the phrase "The cross is safe, no lower to go" and much of the foundational content of this sermon.

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