“Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Last Sunday, we played our part, joining in the dramatic reading of the events leading up to Jesus’ death. We yelled “Let him be crucified!” along with the jealous crowd (Matthew 27). Someone told me afterward that she always waffles about whether or not to say those words out loud with the rest of the congregation; it makes her uncomfortable, and it just sounds so horrible. I knew what she meant–I closed my eyes this year when I joined in the shout; I just couldn’t bear seeing the angry crowd in front of me, it felt so real.
The horror is that it is real. In dozens of ways, we shout “Crucify him!” every day. When we respond in anger, when we deceive and rationalize, choosing the easy way out instead of the truth, we turn our backs on the reality that God offers us. It’s like throwing God’s playbook into the trash and letting the door slam as we walk away. We insist on our own way and our own wisdom, just like Adam and Eve in the garden, just like Jesus’ disciples who were scattered in Gethsemane’s garden–just like every human throughout time; except for Jesus himself.
What a strange God we worship. What kind of God leaves his abode to come down to this broken place called earth? Once arrived, what kind of God takes on the limitations and stresses of human life, living inside the confines of a human being? As a human, what kind of God endures a fraudulent trial leading to trumped-up death charges and a humiliating spectacle of an execution? What kind of life is that? What is he revealing to us about the truth of love?
As Jesus hangs on the cross (as he did at this very hour), people mock him; someone asks, “If you saved others, why can’t you save yourself?” Another says, “If you’re really God, the way you say you are, why don’t you come down? If you did, we’d surely believe you then!” Can you imagine the temptation Jesus might have faced? Indeed, in the garden with his disciples the night before, he has already laid his cards out with his Father, begging that he not actually have to go through with the whole thing, desperate to find another way out.
Abandoned and hanging on a cross, Jesus, the Son of God, stayed. While he was spit on, ridiculed, beaten, and nailed, he refused to turn his back on the people who were torturing him. Jesus never pulled the release valve, Jesus never left us. He was committed to showing humanity what love means by never turning his back on us even if that meant that he would have to die. There was finally nothing else left for Evil to try except to force God’s hand by threatening him with death if he didn’t give up on people. Jesus stayed.
The same crowds who had shouted a few days earlier that he was their hero turned quickly into the angry, jealous crowds who pushed at him to crack and then turned their backs to let him die. How often do we experience the same swift change in our lives? Our best friend suddenly becomes our most effective attacker; our well-ordered life is shaken into a disaster; the most reliable part of our day is ripped out from under us, leaving a gaping hole. We all suffer abandonment that leaves us wondering which way is up.
Though we may not know which way is up, or how to keep moving through the mess of life, or how to withstand the attacks of someone we love, Jesus has shown that God will stay right next to us. Staying meant death, but Jesus chose not to use his power as God to get him out of the mess humanity had made around him; he only ever called upon the power of God to help others, never himself.
Jesus still calls upon the power of God to help us, even though we’re just as fickle and cowardly and arrogant and skeptical as the crowds who surrounded him at his death. Jesus never left them alone, even when the price to stay was death. Even though we turn our backs on God, he will never leave us alone. Jesus stays, Jesus stays.