At Easter we contemplate many things: Christ's unfathomable suffering, the mystery of God's love, the promise of new life and resurrection. But one thing we rarely consider is the state of our own lives in relation to the Cross.
The writer Morton Kelsey noted that "the cross is crucial because it shows what possibilities for evil lie hidden in us human beings... We see what humankind can do, has done, and still does." In other words, the cross is not just the place where Evil unleashed its fury, but the symbol of the sin and evil each one of us is capable of.
All of us know how inhumane we can be toward one another. History is filled with unspeakable acts of murder and desecration. But most of us read history through the lenses of an onlooker. We know that moral monsters lurk here and there, but feel secure in knowing that we are not like them – certainly not like those who crucified the Son of God.
Or are we? Who did put Jesus on the cross?
Consider Annas. Highly respected as former high priest, he was offended by Jesus' seeming lack of respect for his office. Didn't he know to whom he was speaking? Beneath his dignity, Annas abruptly passed Jesus on to Caiaphas.
Devout and revered, the presiding high priest Caiaphas was confident that he possessed the truth and believed himself to be the vanguard of it. Zealous to maintain the old order, he dutifully demanded a verdict of death on account of Jesus' blasphemy, and then turned him over to Pilate to sign his death warrant.
Pilate didn't want to condemn Jesus. He may have been egotistical, but he nevertheless understood the mockery of all the trumped-up charges against the defendant standing before him and wanted to wash his hands of the whole matter. He might have, if it hadn't been for a force that was as powerful in his time as it still is today – public opinion. Ultimately, Pilate was a coward and gave way to the crowds. Despite his nagging conscience, he chose to sacrifice truth to preserve his position of power and popularity.
Surely Judas bore the greatest blame, as the false friend who betrayed Jesus by handing him over to the temple guard. Judas wanted the Romans out of Palestine. However, he couldn't wait. He became disillusioned with Jesus and resented his quiet way of sacrificial love – love even for one's enemies. He wanted the justice of the sword, not the love of God and love for one another.
Then there were the crowds, those enthusiastic, well-meaning pilgrims who in a matter of days swung from singing "Hosanna is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" to shouting "Crucify him!" They didn't want a suffering, humble servant. After all, they had been promised a Messianic liberator who would free them from their oppressors.
Maybe the crowds were basically innocent. Hadn't they been misled? Hadn't the Pharisees manipulated them? These learned men were at odds with Jesus from the start, for unlike Jesus they were devoted to doing things right – doing them "God's way" according to the law of righteousness. They had all their theological ducks in a row, not like the tax-collectors and sinners with whom Jesus hung out.
Need we look still further? Weren't the Romans guards, too, somehow to blame, for mindlessly following orders? And what about the nameless carpenter who did his job crafting crosses for a living, but who hadn't considered whether his life really benefited anyone? Or maybe blame should be fixed on the silent, sympathetic onlookers, people like the respected Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who could have said something but instead timidly laid low and kept themselves at a safe-distance?
Or perhaps, it was the Twelve – Jesus' own disciples who were really at fault. They knew Jesus best of all and also knew what awaited him. They proudly sat at his feet and pledged to fight for him, but at the crucial moment they fell asleep, and then deserted and denied him.
If we are honest, we are not much different from these biblical characters. Their failures and weaknesses and sins are ours and, as such, we were all there with them. In fact, we cannot truly benefit from reading the Easter story unless we see ourselves in it.
Jesus was put on the cross by the likes of you and me – people who simply succumbed to the everyday vices of pride, envy, egotism, self-righteousness, impatience, resentment, indifference, and cowardice.
Jesus died two thousand years ago, yet we continue to crucify him. This is difficult for us to admit, especially in our culture of entitlement and resentment where everyone points the finger at everybody else. Besides, we are good Christians. At least, we try. And yet...
To think rightly about Jesus' passion we must recognize how the cross that was once embedded at Golgotha, is also sunk in the clay of our own sin-sick hearts. True, Jesus died for you and me. But it is our sin that put him there.
However, let us not forget that the cross bears not just an innocent victim, but the Savior of the world. His redeeming love is greater than our sin. As heavy as our guilt may be, the message of Easter is first and foremost about the One who conquered evil. No tomb, no matter how dark and deathly, and no shame, can withstand his beckoning, outstretched arms. And it is these arms, with their infinite embrace of mercy, not the hammer of wrath on sin, that still reach out to us.