When I went to Jerusalem years ago, I had the honor of walking the Via Dolorosa, the journey that Jesus took to the place of his crucifixion.
This journey began on the stone pavement of Pilate’s palace. Here, Pilate gave in to the crowds who demanded that Barabbas – a criminal – be released and Jesus be crucified. Here, Pilate condemned Jesus to death. Here, Roman guards mocked Jesus, spat on him and tortured him.
Then we began the journey through the streets of Jerusalem. We stopped at points along the way to remember Jesus’ journey. At one of these stops, Simon of Cyrene took up Jesus’ cross. After being flogged, Jesus was weak. The cross was heavy. So the guards forced Simon to take up the burden of the cross. For a moment Jesus had relief. We continued through the narrow streets of Jerusalem. We crossed the point where the old city walls once stood.
We arrived at what is today the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This is Golgotha – the place of the skull. Two thousand years ago, it was a former rock quarry used as a place of public execution. Being along the main road into Jerusalem, it was not only a place of death but of public humiliation. We entered the church and climbed the stairs to the chapel of Golgotha. This chapel is built upon the stones of Golgotha. Here, we remember Jesus’ final agony. Here, he was striped, crucified, and left to die. Here, the solders gambled for his last possessions. Here, he was ridiculed by the crowd. Here, Jesus breathed his final breathe.
Above the altar of this chapel is a life-sized crucifix. I knelt down before this altar and touched the stones on which my Lord was crucified. Then I hear the words of the guard after Jesus’ death: “Truly this man was God’s son.”
I looked upon this altar and saw Jesus who died because of my sins. The Lord God sent his son into his creation to reveal the glory of the Father. And the creation – God’s own creation – rejected him. Jesus came to live with us in the midst of our world – and its sin. When the perfection of God met the distortion of our sins, conflict was inevitable. Jesus could have avoided the conflict by denying who his Father called him to be. Instead, he remained faithful to his Father. He remained true to God. As a result he bore the consequences of our sins.
It’s easy to identify those whose sins led to Jesus’ crucifixion. There was Judas, who betrayed Jesus to the religious authorities for 30 pieces of silver. There was Peter, who was so afraid of the consequences of being Jesus’ disciple that he denied even knowing him. There were the religious leaders, who were jealous and threatened by Jesus’ power.
But the sin that led to Jesus’ sacrifice is not limited to Jerusalem in 33 AD. I also share in that sin. When I choose my way instead of God’s way for my life, I betray Jesus as surely as Judas did. When I let fear rule my decisions, when I refuse to place my complete faith in Jesus, I deny him as surely as Peter did. When I let jealousy separate me from others, I cry for Jesus crucifixion as surely as the religious leaders did. I would like to separate myself from the horrible scene, but the truth is that my sins also helped to crucify Jesus.
But Jesus did what I can not. He was obedient. St. Paul remind us of this in his letter to the Philippians, “He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” Jesus was completely faithful to his Father. His sacrifice was a reflection of his holiness, his relationship with his Father, his oneness with God. Through his sacrifice, Jesus enables us – who are sinful, disobedient, unfaithful – to share in the relationship he has with the Father, the relationship that is only possible because of his faithfulness.
This is a gift we cannot repay. This is grace – God’s unearned and unmerited favor towards us. We cannot repay this gift but we can respond. We can say thank you. We do this with the actions of our lives. We give thanks by offering our lives to the Lord, asking him to use us to accomplish His will in our world. The Lord has given His life for ours. Now we are called to respond in thanksgiving by giving our lives back to him. When we do, we will be faithful followers of Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Sally Franklin is the Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 501 Pine St. She can be contacted at email@example.com.