Sermon: "Love to the Last"
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Isaiah 52.13-53.12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10.16-25; John 18.1-19.42
On Palm Sunday we considered how vastly different was the mind of Jesus in comparison to Caiaphas, Pilate, the chief priests, the scribes, the elders, and the mob which demanded his crucifixion. We also noted St. Paul’s exhortation that we put on the mind of Christ: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2.5-8; NRSV).
On Maundy Thursday we noted Jesus’ awareness of his impending death. As the gospel of John tells us: “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father” (John 13.1; NRSV). During Jesus’ final meal with his disciples, he took off his robe, tied a towel around his waist, and washed their feet. Jesus performed the duties of a slave much to the consternation of some of his disciples, especially Peter! After putting his robe on and returning to his place, Jesus said: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13.34-35; NRSV).
Today is Good Friday. When we look at the day of Jesus’ death from the standpoint of Jesus’ suffering and consider man’s inhumanity to man, we would have to say the day was anything but good. But when we look at this day from the standpoint of God’s love, from the standpoint of our salvation, “good” fails to capture the day’s true significance; “Good Friday” is an understatement. We need a better superlative! “Great Friday” or “Glorious Friday” may be better. I prefer “Glorious Friday” for the glory of God was on display!
Let’s consider Jesus’ mind as the events of the day unfolded. This is not a full analysis – merely a few highlights.
First, when arrested, Jesus did not object. Although the mob came with lanterns and weapons, Jesus asked, “Whom are you looking for?” When they answered, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Jesus responded, “I am he.” The mob was so surprised they stepped back and fell to the ground. Jesus again asked, “Whom are you looking for?” Again, they said, “Jesus of Nazareth,” and Jesus replied, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” But Simon Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave. Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath,” then he asked, “Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given me” (John 18.3-11; NRSV). Jesus interceded on behalf of his disciples.
Second, when before Pilate, Pilate asked if he were King of the Jews. Jesus did not directly answer, but stated, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” In other words, if my kingdom were worldly, we would adopt your ways and fight in worldly ways. Pilate then asked, “’So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’” (John 18.33-38; NRSV). Jesus knew that he came to testify to the truth. Pilate’s question, “What is truth?”, comes from a worldly perspective. As a military and political leader, Pilate’s question was disdainful; he knew how easily truth could be twisted and distorted. In contrast, Jesus spoke of eternal truths, of truths bearing existential weight.
Third, although John’s account does not include this detail, Luke tells us that Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 22.34; NRSV). Jesus’ request and observation reflect a mind grounded in eternal truths. From the perspective of this world, from the perspective of power, those who crucified Jesus knew precisely what they were doing. But from a profoundly spiritual perspective, a perspective imbued with God’s immense love, they had no knowledge of what they were doing.
Last, the gospel of John tells us as Jesus was dying on the cross, “When he saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home” (John 19.26-27; NRSV). Jesus’ love once again shone through his agony. He provided for his mother.
The world had never known such love; it had never known a mind like this. Perhaps God’s people perceived a glimpse of God’s love in the Exodus event, or other great action on their behalf. But this was different. God’s love took on human flesh and dwelt among us! Through Jesus, God’s love ministered to the whole person – physical, mental, and spiritual. Is it any wonder we chose to crucify such love? The darkness that descended upon the earth during Jesus’ crucifixion undoubtedly magnified the sense of loss those who knew and loved Jesus must have felt. Imagine their sense of loss! They must have thought, “Now what? Was it really all for nothing? We genuinely thought he was the long-promised Messiah.” Unlike us, they had no understanding that the final act was yet to come!