We all experience pain, and pain comes in so many ways: the physical pain of illness and injury; the anguish of bereavement; the desperation of redundancy and looking for jobs that aren’t there; the confusion of dealing with benefits and bureaucracy; the desperate clinging to the things we have always done and the people we have always been when our bodies and minds are declining.
But that Friday, the pain was something else altogether. Torture is not just about making someone hurt physically, it’s about humiliating them, wounding the spirit and the mind and the soul as well as the body. And for Jesus, it wasn’t just what the Roman soldiers were doing under the authority of Pilate, but his own people were complicit in that. And his friends – my goodness, look at what they had done. If your friends had betrayed you, denied the friendship, run away when you were in difficulties – would you ever speak to them again?
On top of all that, there was another layer of pain. We cannot imagine the spiritual wounds that Jesus was carrying that day. You know how sometimes you can feel another person’s pain, when it seems to flow out from them in waves and you can just feel it? Sometimes you can sense it, and it can be so oppressive. Jesus knew the pain of all the world. He knew the pain of the soldier who’d had a row with his wife, and the guilt of the one who had stolen; he knew the anguish of the women watching him and the fear of the men who had deserted him. He knew the pain of oppression by the state.
If he was here now, and the crucifixion were happening here in Saltwell Park, you could say that he would feel the pain of the people of Bensham who will be squeezed by the new benefits system, the anguish of those who experience the depths of depression and mental illness, the desperation of those whose relationships are chaotic and out of control. Never mind the ordinary day-to-day pains of illness and loss, ageing and misery.
Jesus carries all our pain as well as his own pain, and that is such a heavy burden.
In these few days, we accompany Jesus along the painful road, the way of the cross. Last night, we were present in the upper room. We broke bread and shared wine. We washed feet. We walked to Gethsemane. We watched and waited. Today, we walked with Jesus along the way of the cross, from the condemnation by Pilate and the crowds to Golgotha. This year, we have the images made by the children of St Aidan’s School, and my goodness, they are graphic. Do go and look at them, if you haven’t done so already. In our time of reflection, we have reflected on the last words of Jesus from the cross.
And now we turn our attention to the cross. It is an opportunity to face our own shadows, an opportunity to show our sorrow for our own sins, our own part in nailing him. And at the end of the service we will consume the rest of the bread that we consecrated last night. And that will be it.
We will remember that Jesus died, and that sense of the presence of God will be gone. Everything will be empty.
We know this isn’t the end. And we will be back tomorrow night for the next chapter, the next glorious turn of events.
But for now, we have to remain in the pain and emptiness. Because it is only when we confront it that we can be healed by it.