In the Shadow of the Cross

Unity Lutheran Church + Christ the King Campus
19 April 2019 + Good Friday
John 18.1—19.42
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching

Video of the full liturgy available here. Homily begins around the 21:00 mark.

You don’t quite know the magnitude of something — physically — until you’re standing right up against it.

Two years ago, I visited a good friend of mine in New York City, where we got to see Lady Liberty up close and personal. It’s one thing to see her from a distance, standing in Battery Park, way across the harbor. It’s quite another to literally be in her shadow. Her face alone towers over all six feet of me, and let’s not even talk about what size shoe she must wear…

You really don’t know the magnitude of something until you’re standing right up against it, even in its shadow…

On this day, we stand in the shadow of the cross. The cross is always central to our proclamation and our message as Christians and as Lutherans in particular, who confess this thing we call the theology of the cross — the belief that God is present with us in all our brokenness and suffering and pain, that God truly knows what it means to be human because God became human.

But today especially, the cross towers over us and looms large. This is what Good Friday is all about: standing in the shadow of the cross.

It makes for a pithy sermon title, but the cross is a harder thing to actually understand. Now, we know shadows. Shadows provide shade on a hot, sunny day. Shadows are both friend and foe to photographers looking to get the perfect shot. Shadows are also dark places, literally and metaphorically. They can be scary, lonely, anxious places. A friend of mine who works as a hospital chaplain knows these shadowed spaces well. Recently, he shared a reflection he wrote about his work that feels especially appropriate for today. With his permission, I want to share some of his words with you:

“The cross stands…in our Emergency Department, when the heart attack victim cannot be revived and his spouse begins to scream. The cross stands in our NICU, when the body of a baby born six months ago can simply not hold out any longer, and nurses begin to weep. The cross stands in the quiet, somber, holy space of a Labor and Delivery room…as parents hold their pre-viable daughter whose heart will only beat for a few more minutes.

“The cross itself stands in these sacred spaces, tall and stark. It casts its shadow in all directions, because it is in that shadow that those who suffer reside.

“It can be terrifying, sitting in that shadow. It can also be comforting, or sad, or hopeful. That is where the chaplain comes in. We enter these liminal spaces where few others willingly go. We crouch in the shadow with those who cannot see that this shadow is protective, that it embraces us for our own safety. We sit with them, not to ‘fix’ them, but to bear witness to their suffering when others would look away… And we sit with them… to witness to the promise that, because of the cross…death does not have the last word.”

Image may contain: people sitting and indoor

The cross is a hard thing to understand, but I think we’ve all experienced and known what it’s like to sit in its shadow — whether in the places or situations my friend describes, in hospital wards or emergency rooms…  beside the grave of a loved one who has died… in the despair that comes after losing your job… in the painful uncertainty of a broken relationship… or even in the disappointment that comes after not getting the job or internship or into the college you had so desperately hoped for.

With the mother of Jesus and the disciple whom he loved, we sit in the shadow of the cross, mourning, lamenting, and hoping. Because the thing about shadows is that there has to be something to cast that shadow… and we look up from that shadow to see the cross standing over us, and the one who looks down from it, offering words of comfort and promise and life, even in his dying breath: “Woman, here is your son… Here is your mother…”

You really don’t know the magnitude of something until you’re standing right up against it, standing in its very shadow…

The cross is a hard thing to understand on its own, but the shadowThe shadow teaches us the cross because the shadow points us to the cross… the cross that today lifts up the Son of Man but soon will stand empty to the sky.

As we hear John’s passion account unfold, we hear it in the shadow of the cross. John is so vastly different from his fellow gospel-writers. In the telling of Jesus’s death, John shows us Christ who knows all that is about to happen to him, who reigns from the cross, who draws all people to himself, under his protective shadow.

In John’s telling of the story, the line between life and death is blurred. On Good Friday, we stand between the two realities of death and resurrection, in the middle of these three days… with the stark abandonment and betrayal of Maundy Thursday on one side and the glimmer of the hope of the resurrection on the other.

We stand in the shadow of the cross — the instrument of torture and execution that becomes a symbol of life and victory over death. Even in the midst of the rubble in the shell of a burned cathedral, the cross still stands… tree of life and awesome mystery, tree of life whose leaves reach out in healing and wholeness, tree of life whose shadow shelters us, bearing us from death into life.

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