It’s hard not to hear his suffering in light of the prophet and the psalm; hard not to hear our and others’ suffering in light of his; for in this suffering as in his triumph, God is near us, and our resurrection, our vindication, is enclosed in his.
We identify his sufferings with our own, ours with his. As he seeks solace in God’s mercy, so we seek our comfort with him.
He is our representative, we feel.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the traditional place of pilgrimage, for the death and resurrection of Jesus (“see where they laid him” - “he is not here; he has been raised”) encompasses and shelters the traditional sites of Jesus’ crucifixion, preparation for burial, and tomb.
The church has been built, repaired, demolished, rebuilt, partly wrecked, worn out, and once again repaired. Pilgrims over centuries have scratched crosses into its walls, marking their passing.
At first visit, it is unfamiliar, even unrecognized: “What is this place? Where do those stairs lead? What is inside that little building?” Inside the little building, covered with a marble slab, is the tomb we are told where Jesus lay for three days.
Inside you go, taking your turn, and kneel. Rest your forehead on the cool of the marble. Close your eyes. All is dark.
What we experience during the sacred three days from Maundy Thursday through Good Friday to Holy Saturday marks Jesus’ descent into the depths of humiliation, death, and despair, all on our account.
For surely he could have eluded this demise, if he had chosen: if he had chosen to abandon everything he believed, everything he felt called to be.
He came into this world to witness to the truth, he told Pilate, and he stayed faithful to the truth to the end.
Pilate, as we have noted on Palm Sunday, was more than an unusually brutal Roman official; he had become the emissary of the kingdom of despair, a tool of the empire of death. For he believed he could control the situation. “I have the power,” he told Jesus, “to have you crucified or to set you free.”
He thought death would have the final word. But he was wrong.
“For love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.” (Song of Songs 8:6)
(The inevitability, the utter given-ness of love, defeated him.)
Pilate sat on the judgment seat - and passed the sentence.
So they led him out - out of Pilate’s sight, out into the streets - and took him to the Place of the Skull, Golgotha, and fixed his torn and naked body to the cross.
There he was out of reach of the ground, hanging, suffocating.
John tells us a soldier, seeing he was dead, thrust a spear into his side. Blood and water poured out.
Blood and water poured out: And for us as we recalls these events, we see that God pours out his love for us in the wine - of the cup at the Eucharist, and in the water - the water of the font at Baptism.
Love never ends.
And this self-offering of Christ is always available to us.
God’s love for us is always conveyed to us, in sacrament of bread and wine, of water at Baptism, and in the Word we hear, take in, and make part of our souls.
We are called, then, to take in the news of his death, and make that part of our lives, that we may share that life, transcendent, and that love, triumphant, with the world: with our neighbors, our town, our friends, those we love, those far away.
Jesus’ life is a gift to all of us; in it we share God’s love.
Isaiah 52:13-52:13. Psalm 22. Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9. John 18:1-19:42.