The Long Shadow Of The Cross
February 20, 1983 | First Presbyterian Church Orlando | I Corinthians 11:23-26
The long shadow of the cross falls over every service of Holy Communion. Paul said: “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”
Make no mistake about it, Calvary was brutal. It was ugly. It was cruel. It showed people at their very worst. You see, the people who were the persecutors of Jesus were not unwitting, unwilling pawns in the hands of some demonic power. They knew only too well what they were doing. They were free people who made free choices. They were responsible for their actions.
Given these facts, it would be a great relief to us if we could simply sit here this morning and pronounce our condemnation upon them and then just leave it there. It would be a great relief to us to be able to utter all kinds of pious, high-sounding, self-serving phrases like “If I had been there, things would have been different…I would never have participated in all of the horrors of Calvary…I would not have stood idly by and let it happen.” But that’s nonsense and we know it. “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Yes…Yes, I was. And so were you.
I tell you frankly that the only thing in all of life that really strikes terror into my heart is to realize that you and I have committed the very same sins which put Jesus on His cross. We were there in the selfish betrayal of Judas. We were there in the fearful silence of the other disciples. We were there in the hyper-critical self-righteousness of the Pharisees. We were there in the cowardly compromise of Pontius Pilate. We were there in the blind loyalty of Roman soldiers to an earthly authority. Disturbing though it may be to think about it, we were there.
The painter, Rembrandt, understood this so well. In his magnificent painting of the crucifixion, a careful observation of the figures standing in the shadows behind the cross reveals Rembrandt himself among those who were crucifying Jesus. He painted his own face into the crowd. He was honest enough to admit this because of his own shortcomings, he was just like those who helped to put the Master to death.
We don’t really like to think about it that way, do we? We don’t really like to think about what the cross of Jesus tells us about ourselves. So what do we do? We try to gloss over the truth. We tell this story of Calvary about as if it were a kind of romantic fairy tale. We take the cross and we coat it in shining gold or silver to make it more attractive. But it doesn’t work, because you see, everytime we look at a shining cross we discover that it becomes a mirror and all we can see is the reflection of ourselves. We just cannot escape the fact that we are guilty. We are sinners. We put Him there. So when we come to the Table, we have no alternative but to cry out from the heart: “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Those are my thoughts as I come to this Table today. Perhaps they are your thoughts as well. If they are, then listen. Here is good news for you and for me. News so good that it cuts to the center of our hearts. It fills our eyes with tears and it sets our minds to singing. In the shadow of the cross all we know to do is to look up, then we behold the dying power of One who suffered there for us.
In his play, “The Terrible Meek”, Charles Ramm Kennedy puts these words into the mouth of a Roman Centurion who is talking to Mary as she stands on Calvary: “I tell you, Woman, this son of yours—disfigured, shamed, spat upon—this dead son of yours has built today a kingdom that shall never die. Something has happened here on this hill today that will shake.all the. kingdoms of earth to dust.” That Roman centurion was right. Something earth-shaking happened on that hill that day.
And what it all means is simply this: that no matter what you and I may have done, no matter what we may have said, God takes and uses this death of His own Son to free us from the enslaving power of sin. This Table, then, is the place where we can make a new start in life. It can begin today, here and now. For here we see a love that will not let us go, a love that pursues us no matter where we may be, a love that frees us from our guilt and then makes us strong in the face of sins temptation.
Come then to this Table under the shadow of the cross. See the Christ who is dying on that cross for you. See from His head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down.
But I ask you—
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?