Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4:14-16; John 18:1 – 19:42
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Almost twenty years ago I visited the city of Jerusalem. I was with my brother, and we stayed in an old hotel in a makeshift structure that was positioned atop the roof that gave us an excellent view of the Dome of the Rock. One day, on a Friday, we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a church built centuries ago under the orders of Helena, the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine. Helena believed the hill upon which this church was later built was the very hill on which Jesus was crucified.
Walking into this ancient church I stood amazed, looking at the various groups of people gathered there from all around the world. Priests, bishops, holy women and holy men all gathered around the church that day to walk the Via Dolorosa, the street many believe was the one Jesus himself walked carrying his cross to hill of Golgotha.
What sets the Church of the Holy Sepulcher apart from every other church in the world is not only claim to be built upon the hill where Jesus was crucified. It also claims to have within it the very tomb which received the body of the Messiah, and from which Jesus emerged, raised from the dead.
You can see both areas in the church, and as I walked among pilgrims and visitors from around the world, I listened to the cacophony of languages spoken: Arabic, Hebrew, English, Spanish, and French. With my eyes I gazed upon a blocked off raised area of massive rock inside the church. The dark rock was colored from the millions of hands who had touched it over the years, and it featured a massive crack running through it, which some believe to be the very crack in the earth mentioned in the Gospel story of the crucifixion.
I looked at this ancient rock for some time, silently wondering, was Jesus crucified here? Or was it elsewhere, somewhere outside the city gates as many believe? At that time in my life, it was important to pinpoint a precise geographic location for such an event. But in the nearly twenty years that have passed, that need for a physical location does not matter nearly as much as it once did.
What does matter to me more now is not where the crucifixion happened, but what it means. I believe Jesus died on the cross not because he was being punished, and not because God demanded it, and not because God was angry. The best explanation I can give for the crucifixion is that Jesus goes to the cross out of love. And in his willingness to do so, Jesus teaches us the power of love – that love survives all things – it survives pain, it survives anguish, it survives death.
That is why we call this day Good – today Jesus gives his life for us, not because he had to, not because he had no other choice – but because he loves us. And love knows no geographic limits. Love cannot be pinpointed onto a map – because love is everywhere. God’s love is all around you, and it is even in that place where God chose to die for you.
I left the Church of the Holy Sepulcher with more questions than answers. I went there hoping to discover the place where Christ was crucified, and while I left unsure if it was really the place, I did feel the effect of God’s love for me in the place it mattered most – my heart. You all have come here for different reasons today – perhaps out of obligation, perhaps out of reverence, maybe just out of curiosity. Whatever the reason is why you are here, I hope you know how much God loves you – that there is no limit to that love – death itself cannot kill it. You are worth everything to God. I hope you know that. Because that is why today is called “Good Friday.” AMEN.