“The Tragic and Triumphant Cross Leading to Hope for Us All”
“So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put it on the cross. it read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’ Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, The King of the Jews, but, This man said, I am King of the Jews.’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’ When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfill what the scripture says: ‘They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.’ And that is what the soldiers did.”
“Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother’. And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.”
“After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture). ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:17-30)
In the context of John’s gospel, in which Jesus is proclaimed as the meek and majestic king who demonstrates genuine power, the crucifixion is portrayed as the most regal act in human history. The lifting up of Jesus on the cross is truly an enthronement. Above the cross is the heraldic proclamation “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”. The inscription denotes a universal declaration; written in Hebrew, the language of religion; in Latin, the language of the empire and in Greek, the language of the culture.
At the cross the community of Jesus’ disciples becomes the church. Jesus gives birth to his church by handing over his Spirit to his disciples at his death. In preparation for and to explain the significance of this event, John describes two episodes at the foot of the cross that are unique to his gospel. In the first, John places great emphasis on the “seamless” inner garment of Jesus which is not torn apart by the Roman executioners. Since the hear of Jesus’ prayer for his disciples before his death was their unity, the garment “woven in one piece” symbolized the unity of Christ’s church which must not be torn apart. The outer garments are divided into four parts, representing the four corners of the world, the church’s future expanse. Outer expansion and inner unity is Christ’s desire for the faithful community formed at the foot of the cross.
The second episode that explains the significance of the church given birth at the cross involves the mother of Jesus and the disciple whom Jesus loved. Though Mary and the beloved disciple were historical figures, they are elevated in the gospel to symbolic figures. At the cross, the mother of Jesus represents the church, the community that will give spiritual birth to future generations. The beloved disciple represents all disciples who are called to care for the church from which they receive spiritual nourishment. The beloved disciple becomes her son and the mother of Jesus becomes the mother of his disciple. The suffering of Jesus is the birth pangs of the church, because from his passion are born future generations of Christian believers. In the final act of his life, Jesus forms a new family at the cross, a family born not of blood but of faith.
On the cross Jesus had to let go, first of his possessions, specifically his clothing, then of his family, specifically his mother, and finally of life itself. John comments that ‘Jesus knew that all was now finished’, indicating that Jesus knew that his mission on earth was complete. The thirst of Jesus was for for final union with his Father, as proclaimed at the beginning of Psalm 63: ‘O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you.’ And so Jesus uttered his final words: ‘It is finished’. As he died, the text tells us that Jesus gave up his spirit. The Greek words literally mean, he handed over the spirit, indicating that there is more here than simply a euphemism for death. Jesus poured out the Spirit upon the infant church gathered beneath the cross. As he let go of his own life, he breathed life into the newborn community of faith.
How do the mother of Jesus and the beloved disciple represent the new family of Jesus?
Crucified Lord, in your dying you have poured out your Spirit on the world. Give me grace and nourishment through your church as I seek to be your beloved disciple.