In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

Behold the wood of the cross on which hangs the saviour of the world.

We gather in our cathedral this Good Friday to sit at the foot of this cross. We gather and we listen to accounts of Jesus’ Passion and we hear the choir sing of his suffering and we pray and we hope to give him a little of our time, a little of our love, and a little of our honest struggle with the sin of our lives and a little of our struggle with the sin and pain of the world.

How can it be that this death saves us? How can it be that this death redeems the world? Can it possibly be?

[Jesus]came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. 40When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’* 41Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, 42‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ (Luke 22:39-42)

Luke’s Gospel, the gospel on which we focus this year, often shows Jesus at prayer and it shows Jesus at prayer at the time of his passion and death. At three key moments in his passion, Jesus prays and we will keep watch with these prayers. Jesus prays, firstly, as he knows his death is approaching. We see him in the Garden of Gethsemane facing what he knows lies ahead and speaking to God, naming God as he does, “Father”, speaking out of the deep closeness they have. “Not my will but yours,” he says, knowing somehow even in this terror, that God’s will is always about life, will somehow lead to life.

Prayer is speaking the truth to God. Jesus, in his passion, as in his whole life, deals with what lies before his eyes, engages with the truth. He engages with those who are hungry, with those who are in need of healing, with those upon whom life seems to have a stranglehold. The truth before him now is almost all violence and fear and he doesn’t flinch from it, he determinedly walks in it, remaining loyal to his Father and the way he believes his Father calls him to be.

It is his disciples who launch the first attack on him. Judas, ironically, with the sign of love, tries to kiss Jesus, but Jesus simply points out what he is doing, ‘Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?’ (22:48)

The chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders then lead Jesus to the home of the high priest. Peter, too frightened to keep the promise of loyalty unto death that he made to Jesus at their final meal together, denies him three times when challenged by servants in the courtyard. When the cock crows as Jesus predicted, Jesus, in one of the most poignant moments in Luke’s Gospel, “turns and looks at Peter.” (22:61). Jesus, again, embraces the truth, and looking his friend in the face, invites him to know what he has done. That look is enough for Peter, too, to know the truth. And he weeps bitterly.

Following the desertion of his friends, the powers of darkness launch their full force at Jesus … in the relentless hatred of the leaders, in the corruption of Herod, in Pilate’s fatal placating of the crowd, in the repeated taunts and mockeries that inflict Jesus at his trail and crucifixion.

As they led [Jesus] away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus …Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus* there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. (Luke 23:26, 32-3)

The writer of the Gospel according to Saint Luke describes Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus dies with two common criminals, one on his right side and one on his left. Luke’s Gospel often portrays Jesus in the company of sinners. He eats meals with them, revels in their company, invites himself into their homes. The religious leaders make much protest at the strange company Jesus keeps, such protest that Jesus tells many parables to make the point that God loves the ones who are lost. Little did we realise, though, that those with whom he would share his dying moments would also be those whom society shuns.

Jesus has alongside him these two common criminals and Jesus has before him the ones who had stripped him and mocked him and nailed him to his cross. And he looks at those men and with a few of his last breaths he prays:

“Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”.(Luke 23:34)

On his cross, Jesus allows the full force of human violence, of human fear, of human cowardice to unleash its worst. And his response is of forgiveness.  He dies in anguish and pain and yet he dies as he lived. Looking with open eyes at what is before, who is before him, and what they are doing. He dies with loving eyes open to the truth of the sin and violence that is before him and asks for forgiveness for that sin. He dies loving those who persecuted him.

He also dies loving those who suffer alongside him.

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding* him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah?* Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into* your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ (23:39-43)

Jesus dies loving and forgiving. He is in solidarity with those in pain and he is in solidarity through forgiveness with those who cause the pain. He is alongside all who suffer and he forgives all those cause the suffering. He reaches out his arms and embraces the whole lot, the whole dynamic of pain in human life, the whole dynamic of pain in created life, suffering, the causing of pain. Jesus, on the cross embraces it all.

The world is saved not through some transaction between God and his Son. The world is redeemed not by a God who needed placating by some sacrifice. God, through the prophets of the Old Testament, has already made clear that he has no wish for the shedding of innocent blood. Redemption comes through the love and forgiveness of Jesus as he dies on the cross.

We live in a world where a man walked into a Brussels airport and, blowing himself up, killed scores of people and injured many more. We live in a world where millions are homeless not through natural disaster but through the unnatural violence of human beings. We live in a world where two thousand years ago an innocent Nazarene was nailed to a cross and died alongside two common criminals. And we sit here in our cathedral knowing that the violence that lies at the heart of human life, the sin that causes these deaths, is our sin too. We know the fear and cowardice that can plague the human heart is our fear and cowardice too.

Jesus walked into the trap that evil set for him and he looked every one of those violent men in the face just as he looked Peter in the face, just as he looked the criminals dying beside him in the face too. And he looks at us. He looks us in the face when we can barely bring ourselves to confess our sins, and he looks us in the face when we are victims of the sins of another. He loves us and forgives us as we sin, and he loves us and stands alongside us as we are sinned against. He embraces it all, us all, all things. In his torn body, with his few last breaths, he loves and forgives and looks into the faces of struggling humanity bewildered at the foot of his cross.

And then he prays his final prayer. “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.” (23:46) It is the spirit that blessed Mary as she assented to be Jesus’ mother in Luke’s gospel, it is the spirit that came upon him at his baptism, it is the spirit that upheld him throughout his life. And now that spirit brings him home. His work is done. Creation is redeemed in the love and courage and prayer and in the ruthlessly honest gaze of this dying man. Jesus loves and forgives as he dies. In Christ’s Passion redemption is found.

Behold the wood of the cross on which hangs the saviour of the world.