‘Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him […] Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews..’. John 19:17-19
Life is grim. If somehow we had missed that reality, well, the last few weeks have brought it home with a bang. In the West most people manage to spend a reasonable amount of their life in a sort of content naivety of this fact. We enjoy a life happier than the vast majority of human beings could ever have dreamed. In other parts of the world, of course, this is not the case, but in the West we enjoy amazing health care, high levels of affluence, and low mortality rates, and as result the grimness of life does not hit us as early in our lives as it does for others around the world and down through history. With the arrival of Covid-19, and the hardships and deaths which have followed, we are perhaps beginning to come to terms with this fact. No one is exempt, as the hospitalisation of the Prime Minister has brought home just this week. Life is grim. And on top of disease and death, we can add crime and injustice, economic inequality and hardship, environmental degradation and animal extinction, relationship struggle and break-up, and so much more. Life is grim. And when we look inside, if we’re honest, well there is a whole lot of darkness there too; darkness which we pretend doesn’t exist, but nevertheless affects our lives whether we acknowledge it or not. And when we look this darkness full in the face we would be fools if we were not completely overwhelmed. The scale of it is phenomenal and, if it was down to us to deal with, insurmountable. Despite the heroic efforts of our NHS staff, despite the leadership of our government, all we can say is that we are managing the Covid-19 problem, and that is only one problem amongst so many. Life is truly grim.
Fortunately, the evil, injustice, and suffering of the world is not ultimately ours to deal with. God, the only One who can, has already acted to do away with the grimness of life once and for all. And He does it not by a divine diktat, or by a magical click of His divine fingers, but by taking human form and coming to live in our world, to suffer and to die. If you like, God comes to deal with the grimness of this world by getting His hands dirty. How? Well to help us to understand, let me briefly tell you the story of St Maximillian Kolbe. Max was a Franciscan friar who refused to be silenced by the Nazis, and, as a result, was arrested and eventually sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. At the end of July 1941, one prisoner escaped from the camp, prompting the deputy camp commander to pick ten men to be starved to death to deter further escape attempts. When one of the selected men, cried out, "My wife! My children!", Max volunteered to take his place. Max was substituted for the other prisoner, and suffered death on his behalf. On the first Good Friday, Jesus did something similar, only far far more amazing than even Max’s loving act. God as man, Jesus Christ, took all of the evil, all of the suffering, all of the injustice, and all the sin of the world on Himself. Our Lord’s death was not just an unjust murder - though it was that. Our Lord’s death was not merely an example - though it is that. Our Lord’s death was a sacrifice, in our place, and for our sin. Just as Maximillian Kolbe took the place of that other prisoner, so Jesus took our place for all the evil we had done - both individually and collectively. But more than that, Jesus took all the evil, and suffering, and sin which has been committed from the beginning of time to the end of time on Himself. Jesus died not for His sins, for He had committed none, but for the sins of the whole world. As the prophet Isaiah put it: ‘he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed’. Jesus was the divine substitute for the grim world which humanity had created, and on that Friday Jesus paid the full and terrible price.
As we remain isolated in our homes this Good Friday let us take the time to look the grimness of the world, the grimness of our current situation, and the grimness of our own situations full in the face. However, let us not stop there, having taken a hard look at the darkness of life, let us move our eyes to the cross, and thank Jesus for taking all of that on Himself so that we might go free. On that first Good Friday Jesus died a terrible death, for you, for me, and for the world He loved. But, and thank God that there is a ‘but’, that was not the end of the story. For it was only Friday… and Sunday’s coming. Amen. (from Rev. Mike)
To complete the reflection click to watch a VIDEO