April 18, 2003
Upon the hill of Golgotha, prediction has become reality, a dark and shameful reality scarred by plot, betrayal, humiliation, and suffering. What was, has become no more. What was once a life full of promise and hope, a life of selflessness and servant hood, a life of proclamation and good news has come to a tragic and terrible end.
Upon the hill of Golgotha, justice and wrath are given their final ransom, as the sins of the world bear down upon the one whose outstretched arms are fixed in place by the nails of crucifixion. The world can only stand by and watch, a silent witness to the depths of human rebellion, corruption, and fear, a silent witness to the death of the one in whom God was well pleased.
Upon the hill of Golgotha, a drama is played out that is not an easy one for us to read, for the words of this drama are more than mere words on a page, they are the words that were meant for us, words which cry out in a loud voice a verdict of guilty upon which we have no excuse.
Upon the hill of Golgotha, we stand at the foot of the cross of Christ, silent witnesses to the death that was to be our death, to the one who willingly took our sins upon himself, to the one who died so that we might live. Maybe the words of our first hymn say it best:
Upon the cross of Jesus, mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One, who suffered there for me,
And from my stricken heart with tears, Two wonders I confess
The wonders of redeeming love, And my unworthiness.
The drama that played out upon the hill of Golgotha that Friday afternoon so many years ago, has become for us a defining moment of our faith. Of all the confessions we believe, one of the most amazing and self-convicting is our belief that Jesus truly died on the cross. In this confession, we make a shocking claim, that the one who we believe to be our Lord and our God actually and truly died. Who would make such a claim? Why shouldn’t we just erase this narrative from our gospels? Why shouldn’t we just skip this whole dark day at the end of Holy week? Many have tried. Many have simply bypassed this day in an attempt to keep their faith safe, their religion easy, and their self-reflection unblemished, but we won’t, we can’t.
What happened upon the hill of Golgotha cannot be summarily ignored or dismissed. It is for us the cost of discipleship, the cost of forgiveness, the cost of salvation, and so we will remember it, embrace it, and believe it because in our own way we were there, standing upon that hill, a silent witness to the shame of the cross.
But even in the darkness of Good Friday there is good news, for in Jesus Christ, there is always good news. On that dark day, there were others, other silent witnesses, who had been with Jesus from the beginning and who were with him in the end. They were the faithful; the ones who followed and provided for Jesus since his ministry began in Galilee. Even when the disciples had fled, they stayed, looking on from a distance as Jesus died, and then sitting opposite the tomb as Jesus was buried.
It would be the silent witness of the women that would become for us a central claim of our faith, that Jesus died and that Jesus was buried. Our confession belongs to them – the silent witnesses who were there that night near the hill of Golgotha; the silent witnesses, who could have never known that their greatest witness was yet to come. Amen.