At the Foot of the Cross 2 (K. Gardiner)

I’m enjoying these meditations by Ken Gardiner found here.

“And sitting down, they kept watch over him there.” (Matt. 27:36)

Him! As we think of him, let us try to picture for a moment, how he would seem to them – the ones with whom he’d shared himself.
You see, for us, our minds are coloured before we start. We are told from the outset, “This is God.”
And whilst we may not go as far as to picture him a stained-glass saint with a halo round his head, we feel we must approach him with a sense of awe.
He is the ‘Son of God’; not really one of us. But to those who lived in Israel then,
who knew Joseph as the carpenter and Mary as his wife, and young Jesus as their son; to them he would be nothing special.
They would have no sense of awe. It seems most likely he would follow
his father’s trade, and learned to fashion things from wood; a yoke, the handle of a plough, a table or a chair.
But no one would have asked him for a cross; you do not need much skill for that, although it’s made of wood.
It’s strange to think that wood and nails were such familiar things to him all through his life. And, in the end, it was wood and nails that took that life from him.
But to return to those who watched him grow. To them he would have been simply another boy. Even as a man, he would have been nothing very special;
at least, not until he reached the age of thirty. No, all eyes ’til then
would have been upon his cousin, John. Now there’s the ‘holy’ one. Living in the wilderness;
eating locusts and wild honey;
preaching judgement, fire and brimstone. The wild-man prophet; he’s the holy one. But Jesus, a little quiet perhaps –
thoughtful, rather – until his baptism. Then he began to teach, but not in the fiery tones
of John. With strength and power indeed,
but not the brash, judgmental tones of some. Rather, the deep intensity of feeling,
and the truth of what he said, drew people to him. But nothing to make them think he was anything
except another man, with passion in his bones
to see the ways of God proclaimed. Proclaimed and then lived out by men.
Of course, there were the signs, the miracles. They cause a stir. And later, in Jerusalem,
the way he answered learned men, the scholars and the priests; these caused surprise.
But that very fact – the fact they did – shows how the people then regarded him: “Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Joseph, you know, the carpenter; so where did he gain this learning? and where this power to heal?”
Andrew saw it first, apparently; for it was he who drew his brother to the Lord with the words, “We have found the Messiah.”
Even so, it does not seem he realised what that meant. Then Peter, up in the hills at Caesarea Philippi,
suddenly saw: “You are the Christ,
the Son of the living God!” But this was a revelation given him,
it did not come from his own understanding. The Messiah, to him, was still to be
a very earthly man. No wonder that to him and the others of the twelve,
the crucifixion was the end of all their hopes. The one who was to conquer, and to restore Israel,
so that nations would bow down and honour the God of the Jews, was hanging on a cross.
He, the Messiah, was there. HIM , THERE! All hope was gone.
It was only later, at the empty tomb, that the understanding first began to dawn, and that on John alone.
He saw and believed. But what did he believe? Simply that Jesus was alive? Or was there some deeper understanding of who he was?
Then Thomas who, with all his doubt, Wasthefirsttocry,“MyLord;myGod!”
They came to the truth slowly. This man, with whom they’d walked and talked,
eaten, joked and learned to preach and heal,
this man was God. But we start there. If, for them, it was difficult to see
this man was God; for us, its difficult to see this God was man.
He had to fight temptation, and for him that meant a greater trial than we can know.
We have never experienced the full, relentless power of the tempter. We all have given in, some way, long before.
In him the desire to disobey, avoid the cross, became such agony, he sweated blood.
And, because he was a man, he longed for company. “Couldn’t you watch with me, even for an hour?”
And then they ran away; and left him. Why, one of them – one of the twelve –
betrayed him. “My own, familiar friend.”
And Peter denied he knew him. Jesus had known rejection before;
he had wept over Jerusalem; and the rich young ruler had walked away. ButPeter; Peter!…
I wonder, did it help to know beforehand it would be so? When it happened had it helped to know?
And as he felt the whip with knotted thongs, the crown of thorns, and as they hammered the nails into his very human hands,
had it helped to know, “I am their God”? I doubt it. Surely, the deepest experience of his full humanity
came that moment when he was cut off
from every sense of God. To be despised and rejected by men brings loneliness;
but to find that God had cast him off brought such terror – more than anything we can understand – that he cried out in pain far greater
than the nails could bring.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
So, he was fully man. Yet God as well. How essential this should be.
For if he was not God, we are not saved. If he was only man, however wonderful,
the gap is still not bridged. The rope to which we cling –
the other end is not secured
within the heart of God. No, it must be God himself who reaches down
to draw us back to him. That is why it had to be him there.
If, to those of his time, the crucifixion was the end of all their hopes, it is the very beginning of ours.

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