Black Holes, the Cosmos, and the Passion According to John

St. Philip Lutheran Church
2 April 2021 + Good Friday
John 18.1–19.42
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching




It was a groundbreaking image, the first of its kind. An actual image – not just a simulation – of a black hole.

The first image of the black hole at the center of the M87 galaxy, captured in April 2019, came after a decade of work and a team of more than 200 scientists, including 29-year-old computer scientist Dr. Katie Bouman, who hammered out algorithms and coordinated a network of eight ultra high-powered telescopes stationed around the world.

At an inconceivable 55 million light-years from Earth – and for the record, a single light-year is roughly 6 trillion miles – the black hole at the center of the M87 galaxy measures some 100 billion kilometers across. Even so, as one professor has pointed out: “Despite its massive size, anyone trying to find it in the night sky from the Earth’s surface would face the same challenge if they stood in Brussels and wanted to see a mustard seed in Washington.”

55 million light-years. 100 billion kilometers. The numbers are almost as impossible to wrap our minds around as the physics behind them.

When we look out into the night sky, at an innumerable array of stars, we know we’re looking up at only the smallest fraction of our vast, seemingly endless universe. It’s humbling, isn’t it, if not a little unnerving, to think about our place in the midst of it all – tiny specks that we are on the somewhat larger tiny speck that is planet Earth in the vast expanse of the universe.

Though the first-century world hardly understood 21st century physics, let alone what a black hole even was, that’s the same kind of awe and wonder the writer of John’s gospel shows us in their cosmology – their understanding of how the universe functions.

For God so loved the world – the cosmos – the entire created universe – from planet Earth to galaxy M87 – that God became flesh as God’s Son Jesus, the incarnate Word.

For God so loved the cosmos that the eternal God of the universe – bigger even than the M87 black hole – became human – became a tiny speck on a somewhat larger tiny speck to walk among us, to experience life as we experience it, to call us to follow him.

For God so loved the cosmos… What does that cosmos look like? It looks like Samaria in the very next chapter – the foreigner woman at the well who sees and is seen by Jesus. It looks like the love of the servant Jesus in last night’s story, who loved his own who were in the world until the very end. It looks like sharing table fellowship even with Judas the traitor and Peter the denier.

The God who made all things is the God who is now lifted up on the cross, who draws all people to himself, in order to heal and restore the cosmos that God so loves.

The God who made the cosmos, who so loves the whole cosmos, the whole created universe, the God who created a black hole three million times the size of the Earth and who designed a universe infinitely larger than we can imagine, cares even for you and for me.

An early 4th century bishop of the church puts it this way: “He is stretched out upon a cross who by his words stretched out the heavens. He is crowned with thorns who has crowned the earth with flowers. They enclose him in a tomb whom creation cannot contain.” (Amphilochius)

This is the mystery of the cross we behold this day, as we enter into John’s passion narrative – a similar but entirely unique telling of the story from Mark’s version we heard on Sunday.

In John’s telling of the story, Jesus, the Word of God and the embodied I AM, is the king who reigns victoriously from the cross, seemingly in control of everything that is happening to him. John’s Jesus willingly allows himself to be taken into custody, boldly answers the high priest and skillfully debates with Pilate, tenderly arranges for the care of his mother and the disciple whom he loves even as he is dying, who alone declares “it is finished,” and who is buried as a king with a hundred pounds of spices.

The sovereign God of all time and space, of black holes and humankind, steps into the vastness of the cosmos, puts on human flesh, and becomes one of us in order to heal a broken world. Indeed, to show us what it means to love one another.

***

Finally, one brief word about John’s language and context before we begin. John’s repeated use of “the Jews” has contributed to a long and harmful legacy of anti-Semitism within Christianity, blaming the Jewish people for the death of Jesus. It is important to recognize this history and the ways such anti-Semitism is perpetuated even today.

In this context, it is important to remember that John’s gospel was written amid growing conflict within Judaism, between those who confessed Jesus as the Messiah and those who did not. It’s likely that John’s community was no longer welcome in the synagogue and that hard feelings went both ways. This history is important, and it absolutely should not and cannot excuse anti-Semitism in any form.

***

This is the overarching message of John’s passion: Through the cross, God’s love is revealed for all nations and all people – indeed for the entire cosmos.


THE PASSION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST: John 18:1—19:42

Reading — Part 1

Hymn: “My Song Is Love Unknown” (ELW 343, st. 1-2)

Reading — Part 2

Hymn: “My Song Is Love Unknown” (ELW 343, st. 3-4)

Reading — Part 3

Hymn: “My Song Is Love Unknown” (ELW 343, st. 5-6)

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