How often do we hear calls for someone to be crucified? Maybe we don’t hear exactly that language, but we are no strangers to crucifixions – justified or not. This past Sunday evening there were candle light vigils for Trevon Martin who was killed very recently in Sanford, Florida. He was killed by George Zimmerman, who claims self defense, yet there are many who do not believe him and there seems to be mounting cries of “Crucify him” by outraged citizens around the country. I am not suggesting his guilt or innocence; I am merely commenting on one particular instance where blood lust is still very much a part of our daily lives. In another area of life, let us consider the political primary seasons, when depending on who is in the oval office and on which party is trying to figure out how to replace the president with their own candidate, both Democrats and Republicans do their best to crucify, discredit or destroy one another in the press as they seek the nomination. On an international level, we do our best to crucify foreign leaders and it seems like we are doing more and more to oust those who we decide are not leading their people properly. In our personal lives, it is not uncommon when we have a disagreement with someone these days to kill the relationship rather than try to iron out our differences. We are no strangers to either blood lust or crucifixions.
Of course, just because we are not strangers to crucifixions, does not mean they do not disgust us. Back in Jesus’ day, crucifixions were reserved for the worst of the worst and they were used in order to make a public example of what would happen to those who dared defy the power of Rome. So why is it the story of Jesus is still so shocking to us? Why is it that a man the state thought innocent was put to death anyway in a manner befitting a murderer? Poor Pilate, what pressure he must have been under! On the one hand, he has a group of religious leaders who bring him a man that some refer to as a rabbi, some as a prophet, some as a healer and others as a Messiah. On the other hand, he has examined the man and can find neither threat nor any real fault with him. He does his best to make Jesus their problem. He tries several times to give him back to them, but they keep refusing. Pilate even went so far as to go to the people’s court, literally to let the people decide which of the prisoners scheduled to die, will be given amnesty, will be set free. The people, whether incited by the chief priests or of their own accord want Barabbas freed. Jesus is sentenced to die. Pilate tries for a third time to return Jesus to the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin, but the religious leaders are adamant. “Do you want me to crucify your king, he asks them. They answer; we have no king but the emperor.” They insist that Pilate crucify him and in a desperate attempt to convince him, they go beyond the claim of sedition, to the claim Jesus made that he is the Son of God. Pilate is finally out of options, he hands Jesus over to be crucified.
Crucify him! Crucify him! And they did. We know the story, we have heard it time and again. As we gather this night, it strikes me that it is worth asking ourselves why we are here. Are we here to remember the story? Sometimes we come to this night and we darken the sanctuary as the service progresses so that the physical environment we are in reflects the story we are hearing, reflects the approaching darkness of death. Sometimes when we gather here we read the whole passion narrative and we hold nails or hear sounds of symbols or try to use dramatic representations to help us feel the anguish and the torment of Jesus suffering. Remembering the story helps us to put our believing in perspective.
We might be here for different reasons though. We might be here to wrestle with some personal stuff, or because it is tradition for us to be here, or perhaps other reasons. Tonight, I am struck by the fact that by and large we live our lives, denying our sin, well any really serious sense of sin. We deny it and tell ourselves that it was other people a long time ago who put Jesus on the cross. It strikes me that we find some comfort in being let of the hook for not being part of the crowd that yelled crucify him or even the people who came before them and apparently messed up things so bad that Jesus had to come in the first place.
It strikes me tonight that it is good we are here, because we need to be. Jesus was on the cross just as much for you and for me as he was for anybody else. There is more than enough guilt to go around. There is more than enough selfish life-style choices made by the people in this room and around the world; more than enough self-serving as opposed to God-serving behavior in our lives to put Jesus on the cross. I guess what I’m trying to say, that although it is hard for us to imagine or admit or perhaps even understand, Jesus death is as much a result of behavior today as it was all those years ago. So we come to this night and we plead with God to forgive our self interested choices and we plead with God to help us again choose the right path. We come this night to mourn that which continues to make forgiveness necessary. While Pilate may have been the one to give the final order for Jesus’ crucifixion, the people’s court still calls for crucifixion today. Lord, have mercy on us. As we gather this night to remember the one who suffered in our place and on our behalf, may we resolve to live lives of grace, mercy and forgiveness and end our personal calls for crucifixion – no matter what arena in life the supposed culprit shows up in.