John 18:1-19:42 “Think Again”
March 29, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell
Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO
Pick a spot, any spot, in Jesus’ crucifixion. There are many places to sit, stand or lie down. We can betray, deny, judge, rant, abandon or despair. Go ahead, pick a spot, because those characters are us. Those characters who run amok and rail against Jesus, ridicule him, or despair in his death are us. The irony of being a part of this cast of characters is that the person who hangs on the cross is the precisely the one who saves us. Jesus was tried, crucified, dead and buried. In every way that the cross could be offensive, it does indeed offend.
It offends the sophisticated thought of modern people to think that the cross, and Jesus hanging there, was necessary or effective in any way. That we even need saving offends our enlightened sensibilities. That this appalling execution can change anything about real life seems at worst a massive deception and at best an utter folly. And yet, alarmingly, and quite surprisingly, it does. Jesus death on the cross changes everything. Jesus insists, time and again in the gospel, that God and Jesus are one. Jesus is in God and God is in Jesus.
Think on this for a moment. How might God go about getting our attention? What are all the ways in which that may have been possible? God, at some point, needs to grab us in ways that we might have some shot at understanding. God needs to speak in human terms. When we hear of someone who dives into a raging river to save someone from drowning, saves that person but succumbs and dies in the flood waters, what are our first thoughts? What kinds of things do we say to honor the soldier who returns again and again to the firefight to save fallen friends? Wow! Spectacular save! How selfless! And on and on goes the praise and adoration. Earlier in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” After all, how much more can be given?
In the Gospel of John as a whole, and in this reading from John on this Good Friday, Jesus is aware and focused on the goal of bringing people back into relationship with God. Somewhere along the way, as human creatures we lost our way. Rather than living into the image of God we became much more interested in placing ourselves in the center of things and holding God to the outskirts, leaving us free to make God into whatever image we choose – distorting God. It is in that re-creation of God that we are separate from God, powerless to repair what has happened. This separateness, this breach, this distance between us and God is called sin. Out of that separateness, that breach, that distance, that sin, comes all the ways in which we hurt each other and ourselves; inflicting sins against each other, ourselves, and God.
The cross is God’s answer to all of that re-imagining of God that we are so wont to do. That re-imagining that leaves us separate from God. Oh, so you think you know who God is? Well, what about a God who hangs dead on a cross and needs to be buried in a tomb rather than use divine power over and against the very creatures whom God loves. Jesus said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself.” Jesus on the cross simultaneously reveals the scope of divine power poured out to reveal the depth of divine love as we are drawn toward the God who saves us. When the self-sacrificing love of God, given fully, is made known to you, when this message of divine love gets through to you, you are drawn by God back into relationship. 
With great intention, Jesus hangs on the cross. And, in one of his final acts while still breathing, does something radical. Jesus turns to his own mother and then to the beloved disciple and redefines their relationship with the cross in between them. “‘Woman, here is your son…then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’”
Not only does Jesus draw us into relationship with God through the cross but Jesus redefines our relationship with each other at the foot of the cross – standing with the cross between us, Jesus intercedes for us on each other’s behalf. Drawn back into the relationship with God our Father, Jesus the Christ turns us towards each other in new ways. Here, at the cross, love is freely taken up for us and for the sake of the people standing next to us. In the same moment we have everything to do with what happened at the cross and we have nothing to do with it.
We are, first and foremost, passive spectators who are being handed a radical realization of our powerlessness. As people in and around the story of the crucifixion, we think we know what’s happening and that the power is ours to create the story. It is our turn on this day to hear God say, “Think again.”
 Craig Koester, class notes, Luther Seminary: Gospel of John class: John’s Theology of the Cross. December 1, 2010. I am sincerely grateful for Dr. Koester’s faithful witness as a master of holding aspects of Jesus Christ’s life and work in formative tension. His work is beautiful, articulate, and draws me more deeply into faith and love of Jesus.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 113. This is a great text for deepening into the theological reflection on the “The Fall” that breached God’s intention for the creature as imago dei, in the image of God.
 Koester, course notes, 12/1/2010. For further study see: Craig R. Koester, The Word of Life: A Theology of John’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).