There is an entire “how-to” course on bullying in the story we hear tonight. Verbal abuse, physical abuse, deliberate humiliation; ringleaders egging others on to gang up on one victim. Even his best buddy is pressured into joining the bullies, denying their friendship, giving in to the power of the crowd.
It’s all there.
Some things just don’t change that much, from generation to generation, or millennium to millennium. We talk about bullies most at school, but we have bullies in offices, neighborhoods, and families now. And we have bullies in the story of our salvation.
That’s not good news. It’s horrifying.
But Good Friday is, precisely, horrifying.
What’s “good” today is not the pain and abuse, the isolation and the betrayal.
What’s “good” about today is the reality of God in the midst of that horror.
What’s good is that today we stop and listen, so that we can truly hear and see God in this story of violence and humiliation.
Today we listen to rejection, insult, and cruelty, we grieve for Jesus’ pain, because we live among that violence too. We keep it at arm’s length when we can, but some of us live with it in our homes, at work, at schools, and all of us live with it in the news. And so often God seems to be missing from those stories in the news, the school, the workplace, even the family in pain.
Tonight is “good” because in this story, we know that God has been the one neither you nor I would want to be, and so when we hurt, when we are lost, we know that God is there, too, and you are not alone.
Tonight is “good,” too, if we listen to this story and learn to see God in the face of the victim; in the painful stories of the news. And it’s good if that changes us, teaches us to love and admire the people in our own lives who are isolated, despised, and abused.
Tonight is “good” because God is here, one flesh with every victim of violence,
one heart with each of us who has been insulted or humiliated,
one with us as we grieve that pain, for Jesus,
and for isolated neighbors and lost children.
Tonight is “good” in the story of our salvation
not because Jesus suffered,
but because we remember that even God suffers,
and that only love can overturn that pain.
Only love can disarm the bullies,
only love can transform isolation, humiliation, and insult,
so that life can be set free.
In the end, that’s what’s good,
the painful, hopeful truth that only love can set life free,
your life, my life;
the life of an abused child, of a lonely neighbor,
or the life of God, waiting among us, to burst free in love,
tonight at the foot of the cross, tomorrow at the tomb,
any day in resurrection.
Only love can set life free.
And it will.
So for this good and painful night: listen, hear, see,
and above all, love.