Harrowing Of Hell
April 7, 2023

At the Foot of the Cross

Kelli Martin, Lay Preacher

Today is Good Friday. This is the day Jesus was crucified. We tend to think of this day from Jesus’s perspective. We imagine what he was feeling. We envision what his body looked like – all bruised, and broken, and bloodied, nearly unrecognizable.

Today IS a hard, hard day. I think of it as a day of suffering, a day of pain, a day of grief.

It is SUCH a difficult day that later on in this liturgy a massive cross will be pulled out, carried up the aisle, and placed right here in the middle of the sanctuary. What kind of day is this where we would do that? Is this a funeral? Is this a reenactment?

We talk so much about Christ up on the cross. What I want to talk about on this Good Friday is how WE are at the foot of the cross. I don’t think we talk enough about that.

That is not to say that what happened on Golgotha isn’t important. What happened there is profound. We Christians base our whole faith on it because we believe that God revealed God’s self up on that cross.

What is it that God revealed?

God revealed that God is the suffering servant. A man who is executed. A man made humble. Made lowly. A man who carried a crossbeam on his battered shoulders and weakened legs that buckled underneath him, to the place of Golgotha, also called Calvary.

What is a God who is love doing on that cross? God revealed, that God loves us so much, that God allowed us the freedom to kill God. THAT is what God is doing up on that cross. God allows us freedom, and THAT is how God loves us.

But today we walk up to a particular cross. Not the one of Golgotha, but the one we will see today, made locally by a devoted parishioner. We will venerate THIS cross.

So I’m wondering, How will you feel when you walk up to this cross? Maybe it will make you think of the personal pain you’re going through, right here right now. Maybe you’ll think of the pain of the world. How the world is suffering.

You might walk to this cross timidly or boldly. Maybe it’s scary to walk up to this cross during liturgy. Maybe you’re just curious about what it’s like. Or you might hang back and simply gaze at it.

I know when I walk up to venerate this cross, I often think of my own spiritual journey. How I was raised Catholic and how for a long time I imagined a crucifix, Jesus still on it. But tonight, this cross is bare. I’ll say more about that in a moment. But I don’t want to downplay the role of the imagination in tonight’s liturgy. Imagination is a huge part of my spirituality.

I remember in the Holy Land we went to the place where Jesus was held before his walk to Calvary. It is an underground dungeon, a series of a few small rooms, with stairs leading to different levels. Each room reminded me of a prison cell. I pressed my forehead against the hard, rock of the wall, moving my body around that circular room. I wanted to feel just a bit of the pain that Jesus felt, to even try to take some of the pain from him.

To me, that’s what a God of love invites me to do. To share in Jesus’s suffering, even if it’s only in my imagination. Because I do love him so very much.

That cross on Golgotha. This cross in the sanctuary. I’m not downplaying the true cross. But when we walk up to THIS cross later tonight, we remember it’s empty. We don’t have to keep tripping over these literal and symbolic crosses.

So tonight, when you behold the wood of the cross, DO imagine Jesus. But then, notice something else. Notice the person next to you. Look around. Take in the faces surrounding you. So yes, do gaze up. But remember that this cross is bare. Maybe because it really IS about US at the foot of this cross.

WE are the continuation of the new commandment that Jesus gave us. To love one another. To love another just as Jesus loves us.

When we come forward to venerate THIS cross, it forms us as a community.

Jesus gave us to each other, just as he gave his mother Mary and the disciple whom he loved, to one another. They were standing at the foot of the cross. He gave them to one another, and said here is your mother, and here is your son, [almost replacing himself, replacing his roles]. He has given US to one another. THAT’S what’s so good about Good Friday. Even in Jesus’ absence, we constitute his body whenever we gather around his cross.

There is no one way to come to the foot of this cross. We might come with burdens, but we come as a community. A community of people who SERVE each other, even when it’s hard. A community of people who LOVE each other, even when it’s difficult.

We don’t do this cross or this life alone. Neither did Jesus. Jesus had help from others. So do we. What does this mean for how we live every day?

It means that we share with one another. We want to share in someone’s grief and suffering and pain. To run to someone who does not want to be alone. To welcome and receive someone’s help, and we give help and comfort too. Even Jesus had that before, on, and after being on the cross.

Veronica wiped his face as he carried the cross. Simon of Cyrene helped him carry it. Joseph of Arimathea cared for Jesus’ body by removing it from the cross. Nicodemus bathed Jesus’ crucified body in spices and wrapping it in linen cloths, honoring Jewish burial traditions.

That cross on Golgotha. This cross in the sanctuary. There is no mirror at the foot of the cross. There is only one another. Side by side, humble and open, surrounding one another like this, we do not judge the things we carry to this cross, we only care for those things and we love one another. That is sweet. That is beautiful. That is how God wants us to love.

So I’ll end with the words that we heard in the letter to the Hebrews, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

I think that invites us to love Jesus today, and love one another today, as if there is no tomorrow.

Who we are at the foot of this cross brings to life the new commandment that Jesus gave us. To love one another just as Jesus loves us. He has given US to one another. THAT’S what’s so good about Good Friday. Even in Jesus’ absence, we constitute his body whenever we gather around his cross.