April 5, 2012 - Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion

Today's Readings

“But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”

We have just listened to a description of a man being wounded. Jesus Christ is God, and so the wounds we have heard about are the wounds of God himself. This required the miracle of the Incarnation. God has created the entire universe and he can create anything he wills. Yet there is something he could not do. He could not suffer. He could not be harmed. We have advanced in technology until we have created weapons capable of destroying all life on earth, but we are no nearer to being able to hurt God than the first people on earth. We have created missiles which can shoot across the earth and into space, but there is no missile capable of reaching to heaven. We have bombs powerful enough to level every building in the largest city in the world, but there is no bomb powerful enough to cause God to suffer.

And so he had to become human in order to suffer. He needed a body like ours, made of fragile flesh in order to feel the pain inflicted on him by men. He needed to have blood beneath a weak wall of skin in order that he might bleed for our sins. God has nothing to do with weakness, so he became weak like us.

We know that Jesus died for our sins, but he also suffered for them. We know that he redeemed us on the Cross, but Isaiah tells us that “he was wounded for our transgressions.” We know that he died in our place, but Isaiah tells us that “he was crushed for our iniquities.” Do the images of our suffering Lord, so cruelly scourged seem barbaric? Do his wounds offend our sensibilities? Then why have we caused them?

“No,” we say, “I did not whip him, that was the work of those cruel Roman soldiers.” But the soldiers were merely carrying out the orders of those who called for the scourging. Every cast of the whip was done on command. “But I did not command that he be scourged. That was Pontius Pilate, the Governor of Judea.” However, Pilate only had the power given him from above. Jesus could only be scourged if he allowed himself to be scourged. Why would Jesus have allowed himself to suffer in this way? At your command and mine. Every sin we have committed is such a command. Every time we considered whether we would follow God’s law or our own desires, and chose to sin, we insisted that God suffer for us. We know the consequences of our sins. We have read that “He was wounded for our transgressions.” We have heard it said that “he was crushed for our iniquities.” Yet still we transgress the law. Yet still we are filled with iniquity. Still we command the soldiers to scourge our Lord.

Consider the great power we have over God that we might command him. Do not be deceived: the source of this power is not to be found by looking at your own abilities. The source of this power is not contained within the strength of humans. We can only command God by the power of his love. We command God to be scourged as a toddler commands his mother to save him from a fire. We command God to be wounded as a wife commands her husband to care for her when she is deathly ill. We command God to suffer for us because he loves us.

How great is this love which came down from heaven and bore the weight of the cross. How great is this love that does not cry out as the beloved kicks and screams and does whatever he can to hurt his only hope. How great is this love! How great is his love and how small is ours. He has no reason loves us, but he does. We have every reason to love him, but we do not. We choose again and again to sin. Perhaps we doubt that there can be any hope for us. Yet there is indeed hope for us: “By his stripes we are healed.”

There is then a healing. This is not merely a band-aid on our wounds. This is not an amputation that destroys what has been injured. This is not concealer to cover a scar that remains. This is healing. God made us, and we injured ourselves by our sin. And he heals us. “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied.” God is no minimalist. He will not be satisfied with anything less than our final and complete healing. “By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous.” We will be accounted righteous. We sinners will be accounted righteous! How can this be? God knows all things. He is truth. We would not be accounted righteous unless we actually were righteous. And how shall we become righteous? “By his stripes we are healed.”

The fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” is indisputable. Truthfully, our human nature, which was given to us at creation spotless and without fault, was wounded grievously at the fall of Adam. Yet by his stripes we are healed. And truthfully, God had so loved the world that he gave his only Son, but we do not love God enough to turn our lives over to that only Son, who was so cruelly tortured for our sins.

So, when we look upon our Lord, and we contemplate how wounded his body was after the scourging, and how tired he was as he carried the Cross, and how every wound was constantly renewed by the continuous punishments he endured, when we look upon this body so torn by whips, we ought to be stunned by guilt and amazed by Love. We are guilty because we caused someone who loved us so much to endure so much because we have sinned so much. We know we are loved because only love allows a person to suffer torments by the hand of their beloved whom the torments shall save. We know we are doubly guilty because the tortures were both for us and by us. We know we are infinitely loved, because our lover was infinitely debased for our sake.

How should we react to the sight of our Lord so injured? No amount of sorrow would be equal to the occasion. Even if we were not guilty, this is the suffering of our Creator. It ought to be, to us, like the suffering of a parent. But we are guilty, doubly guilty. How can we look upon our Savior thus injured and not die of grief except that we have so little capacity to act according to strict justice. If we knew that we were to suffer the same punishment next Friday, we would spend the entire week in a state of fright and deep sorrow. Yet we are guilty of so many sins and would deserve such a punishment.

How should we react to the sight of our Lord so injured? No amount of joy can be equal to the occasion. Here we see the stripes by which we shall be healed. Here we see the only power in the world that could save us from our sins. Here we see such a proof of unconditional love so great that no power on earth can ever destroy it, not even our own disdain and hatred.

Truly this is a sign of contradiction! In the suffering Christ we see that the world is both worse and better than it ought to be. The more we are willing to acknowledge our sins, the more sorrow we have for their gravity and number, the greater will our joy be. When the realization that I, even I, am loved by God is no mere pious claim but an accusation of how greatly I have spurned the one who has loved me even unto suffering, even unto death, then I can experience the true joy of knowing that my salvation is secure so long as I will have it. Since my sins are healed by his wounds and his wounds are created by my sins, there will never be a shortage of wounds to heal my sins. As a Christian this is my greatest sorrow and my greatest joy. He was wounded for our transgressions and by his wounds we are healed.