I can still hear that loud pounding of the nails, piercing the silence, echoing, resounding, throughout the large room.
A Good Friday tradition observed in my first parish at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Halifax involved, at one point in the worship, the invitation to the congregation to come forward, and with a hammer and nails which were provided, to come up to a large wooden cross laying on the floor in front of the altar, kneel down, and pound a nail into the cross.
And there, in the aisle, a long line formed; many people waiting their turn to come up, and pound a nail into the cross.
The impact of this simple ritual act was tremendously moving.
I recall one person who clearly had tears in his eyes.
Each person who came forward, was enacting exactly what the soldiers did to Jesus two thousand plus years ago: hammering nails into the wrists and the feet of Jesus, as they did to all criminals whom they crucified, and hung up to die.
A brutal, nasty method to be sure, the cross was the “electric chair” of the Roman Empire, the preferred method of state-sanctioned execution.
Enacting this crucifixion, we’re reminding ourselves that we’re really…
… no different than the crowds that shouted “Crucify him”…
…no different than the disciples who abandoned and denied knowing Jesus…
…no different than the soldiers who rejected, bruised and killed Jesus through their actions and words.
We too are so mired in our complex, paradoxical, and duplicit natures.
One moment we’re kind, patient and loving.
The next we’re cutting, insulting and demeaning.
One moment we speak about the importance of encouragement, compassion and respect.
The next moment we gossip, slander, put down and ignore others.
And often we’re not even aware we’re doing this; until someone points it out.
We all are complex, exasperating, unfathomable beings!
We do to Jesus every day what the soldiers literally did to him that terrible Friday before the Passover in Jerusalem two thousand plus years ago.
Martin Luther said this: “We all carry about in our pockets [Jesus’] very nails.”
Yes! Even in church, whenever we forget keeping God in Christ the centre of everything; whenever we forget to trust and rest in God, and follow the Spirit’s lead.
We’re with the crowds and soldiers who reject and crucify Jesus.
Nowhere is this problem more sadly apparent than in the very place today where it’s believed Jesus was killed: the Church of the Holy Sepulcher – the large domed Church built over the spot where Jesus was crucified.
The six different church groups managing the Church of the Holy Sepulcher: the Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, the Armenian, Syrian, Ethiopian and Coptic Orthodox churches are known for their squabbling and infighting; to not always get along with each other.
They’ve been known – believe it or not – even to erupt into an actual fist-fight or shoving match over some petty dispute or disagreement over how to manage some repair, or a perceived encroachment by some other group on “their” space in the Church.
And all of this happening in one of the most holy Christian sites in Jerusalem, by people professing to follow Jesus in his way of reconciling and forgiving love!! Imagine that!
We keep pounding those nails into the cross…
It’s interesting that pilgrims visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher today, need to do a lot of bending down low and kneeling.
At the spot where the cross was planted, the small mound of Golgotha, pilgrims need to kneel on a marble floor at the foot of a large, ornate altar, and stretch their arm down through an opening in the floor, to be able to touch the cold rock of Golgotha.
In another area of the church is a section of 1st century Jewish tombs, much like the one Jesus was buried in.
I remember when I visited many years ago, our guide led us to the opening of these tombs.
One needs to physically bend down low, and almost crouch or crawl into the opening of the tomb – a kind of tunnel – leading to three or four different platforms dug into the rock, where the bodies would be laid.
You can easily feel claustrophobia in the small, cramped space surrounded by rock.
I remember crawling in, and immediately feeling suffocating-ly short of breath and pressed in on all sides by the rock.
I was desperately anxious to crawl back out.
In fact, I remember feeling the urge to want to get out of the entire building.
The day we were visiting, the Church was jam-packed with pilgrims, making the already dark, cramped and dingy church even more stifling.
Bending down low. Kneeling. Crouching and Crawling.
To visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre means to be brought low, in more ways than one.
But we’re not the only ones brought low. God also is brought low.
We may despair over our complex, paradoxical and duplicit natures that end up crucifying Jesus.
But we’re not banished, punished or rejected for who we are.
We’re not alone.
God is also brought low.
The cross is a reminder that God is not watching human pain from afar, or observing our duplicit and harmful ways from a distance, but rather, God is found hanging with us alongside all human pain and suffering.
On the cross, God in Jesus…
…absorbs our pain,
…takes on all of our harmful, sinful ways,
…and fully receives our duplicit, complex and paradoxical ways, intimately, first hand, up front and personal.
We may be crucifying him, but we also look to Jesus as one who receives us as we are, “warts and all” … and doesn’t flinch, doesn’t strike back or reject us out disgust or spite.
No. He takes it all, dying with us.
We don’t remain forever in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
We don’t stay forever kneeling down, pounding the nails into the cross, reaching down to touch the cold hard rock of Golgotha, crouching and crawling into the tomb of our human brokenness.
We stand up, and rise again.
We step outside of the cramped, dark and dingy place of our suffering, back out into the open, in the fresh air, blinking in the sunny blue sky.
We rise again.
As did Jesus, three days later.