Throughout the Christian centuries, artists have created many moving images of the Crucifixion. One of the most powerful recent examples is found in the work of the Scottish artist David Mach. I first came across this two years ago in the wonderful Galway Arts Festival in Ireland. It was part of an exhibition entitled Precious Light, which was created as part of the celebration of the 400th Anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. This exhibition included a whole series of large and hugely dramatic collages based on many of the great stories of the Bible, each transposed to one of the great cities of our world. The centrepiece however was ‘Golgotha’: a massively arresting larger-than-life sculpture of the Crucifixion, made from steel girders and re-shaped coat hangers. By its sheer size, its searing suffering and sharp sensation, it challenges us and calls forth response: what do we make of Crucifixion? It is the challenge and call of Good Friday...
I gues that is part of the point of David Mach’s sculpture. What he has done is partly to extend the pain and suffering of Jesus beyond the likely actual nails in his hands and feet to the whole of his being. Isn’t that how great pain and suffering often impacts on us? When we suffer, don’t we often feel that pain throughout our being, sometimes in every part and molecule of our body, mind and spirit? When we experience suffering, our whole being can sometimes feel as if it is on fire with pain. Indeed, above all when, for whatever reason, our heart is broken, we can feel the greatest of all pain: as if our whole self is on a rack, twisted and tortured by searing shafts of suffering, within and all over us. We can feel, as in these sculptures of David Mach, as if sharp stakes are being driven, or have been driven into us, all over our body and being. We can feel as if we are being consumed in a cascade of terrible torment.
For the pain and suffering we mark today on this Good Friday is the pain and suffering of the whole being of the universe, as it struggles for meaning, and for love. Like David Mach’s scupltures, when we look at Jesus on the cross, our Bible and Christian tradition intends for us to see this pain and suffering in its entirety. We are not simply to see the particular nails and particular body and pain of Jesus long ago. We are to see all the nails and bodies of pain of all the worlds and all of their histories. And we are to see that our own nails and pain is there among them. Look again at David Mach’s crucified Christ. One of those shafts of searing suffering is yours, is mine. For Christ, our Good Friday Gospel declares today, bears the suffering, the sin, the shame of each and every one of us. God, in Christ Jesus, is with us in our suffering, and takes it all upon Godself. This is part of the deepest truth and consolation which lies within, beneath, and beyond each of our sufferings, and the sufferings of the whole cosmos. We, every part of our planet, and every part of our evolving cosmos, are prone to suffering and pain. Yet God, the power of creative and redemptive love, is there with, in, and beyond it all.
And God, the power of creative and redemptive love, will thereby transform it all. This is the heart of Good Friday: why this Friday is Good. On the cross we see all the suffering and pain that was, that is and that will be to come. We see the intensity of it all. We see death in all its fullness. We even see the death of God, or at least the death of any and every God that is not the true, the real, God: the God of love who experiences this, and every other suffering, pain and death, in God’s very self. In the Crucifixion, on Good Friday, we see the only true God: the only thing which really matters, the only thing which lasts, the only thing which stays with us, and goes before us, even in the worst suffering, pain and death we can possibly imagine. In the Crucifixion, on Good Friday, we see the power, and eternal reality, of divine Love.
For our Good Friday Gospel, our Good Friday ‘Good News’, is not simply a story of intense suffering and pain. That would just be spiritual masochism: only adding to all the horrendous pain and suffering of our world. That would be truly ‘bad news’. No, the Good Friday Gospel, the Good Friday ‘Good News’, is that each and every searing shaft of suffering is held, and taken into the very body, the very being, of God in Godself: and, thereby, every little bit is, can, or will be, transformed. Do we believe this? Do we trust in this? This is at the very heart and challenge of our Christian Faith. Do we believe in the power of suffering love? Do we trust in the power of that divine Love, displayed on the Cross?
Look again at the Crucfixion as David Mach portrays it. Look at the the shafts of suffering on the body of Jesus. Are they going into the body, of Jesus, the body and being of God, do you think? Or are they coming out? I think they are doing both, don’t you? They are searing symbols of our pain and suffering, and that of the whole cosmos. Yet they are also signs of transforming grace, of what David Mach himself called ‘Precious Light’. For God, as pure eternal Love, takes all our pain and suffering and transforms it, if we let that Love be. From Christ’s wounds, from Christ’s suffering, shafts of sunlight shine. Out of the darkness of the Crucifixion comes the light of Resurrection. From the very depths of hell, out of death itself, comes astonishing new life.
We can not, we should not, be too quick to talk of that precious light and astonishing new life. We, like Jesus himself, often have to bear our own crucifixions. We sometimes have to face, and endure, suffering and death. We sometimes have to live, again and again, through Good Friday, before we experience Easter Resurrection. Yet that precious light, and astonishing new life is real, and it is there, though hidden, in the darkness and death of Good Friday too. Look again at David Mach’s sculpture ‘Die Harder’. It is indeed a terrible image of human, and divine, agony. See the cry of intense, cosmic, pain and suffering: the cry of utter human desolation? That is half the truth. We have to face it, mourn it, and thereby honour it, today. Look again at that ‘Die Harder’ Christ though. There is another truth though: another deeper, and more lasting, eternal reality. For this is an image, ultimately, of divine (re)creation and redemption, born out of the agony of suffering Love. See Christ’s cry of intensity? Is that not also the cry of divine new birth? Out of immense pain and suffering, God gives birth to new life, and a new creation.
That is why I offer you again the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu which we have sung in this church at various times this Lent - the words of truth which come to their fullness in this Holy Week: that,
Goodness is stronger than evil, Love is stronger than hate
Light is stronger than darkness. Life is stronger than death.
This is the message of the Crucifixion, the message of Good Friday, the message at the very heart of reality. This is the truth of what it means for Jesus, and you and I, to ‘die harder’, that ‘precious light’ may shine through us. This is what leads to the glory we will proclaim with joy on Easter morning, that:
Victory is ours, victory is ours, through him who loved us.