‘Then they took charge of Jesus, and carrying his own cross he went out of the city to the place of the skull or, as it was called, Golgotha, where they crucified him with two others, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle.’
This is where we are today: at Golgotha, Calvary. We’ve come to the Cross.
In representations of our Lord’s crucifixion, there is often a skull at the foot of the Cross. The explanation is the verse just cited: Jesus was crucified at Golgotha, the place of the skull. But there is something more. According to some legends, the skull in question was that of Adam, the first man. He was buried there. So Jesus was crucified at the grave of Adam. The “new” or “second Adam” died above the grave of the first. And there’s another element. Adam was said to be buried at the very centre of the world. So Christ was crucified: not just in the middle of two robbers or brigands, but in the middle of the earth.
These are legends, of course. But like many legends they conceal something true.
What is being said is that, through the Cross, God has gone to the very heart of the human condition. He has sent his Son to the centre of the world and raised him up precisely there. ‘See my servant will prosper, he shall be lifted up, exalted, rise to great heights…and the crowds will be astonished at him.’ ‘And I, when I am lifted up, will draw all things to myself.’
Here we come to the point: surely suffering and death are at the centre of our lives. We are the children of fallen Adam. We are dust and unto dust we shall return, as we heard on Ash Wednesday. It’s not that suffering and death are all there is to life: that there are no such things as pleasure and joy, song and dance, growth and success. I don’t mean, either, that we are forever thinking about suffering and death. Often, anyway, we push them to the edge. But we know very well they’re there: in our own lives and all around us. We may try and pretend otherwise. We may keep Adam’s skull securely underground, as it were. But we are mortal creatures. And that mortality colours everything we are and do. We’re approaching a General Election. I saw an appeal, ‘Use your vote to fight for the NHS.’ But why do we so care about the NHS? I lived near Elgin for many years. The largest building there was Dr Gray’s Hospital. In this city, think of ARI and all its satellite hospitals. It’s a vast complex. But why do need hospitals?
“Carrying his own cross he went out of the city to the place of the skull or, as it was called, Golgotha, where they crucified him with two others, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle.”
‘Jesus in the middle.’ This is why we call this Friday Good. Because now in the middle of suffering and death, in the middle of the sin that causes them, there is set the Cross of Christ. In another life, it will be different, but for the present Christ has not taken suffering and death away. He has done something else. ‘Ours were the sufferings he bore, ours the sorrows he carried.’ He has gone into them, taken them into himself and filled them with himself. And because he is who he is, he has changed them from within. The blood and water from his wounded side ran down into the place of the skull, and sowed the seed of resurrection.
Here’s the “good news” of Good Friday. At the centre of the world, there is now something else. There is ‘Jesus in the middle’. Not just the skull of Adam, not just our pain, but filling them, stronger than them, the prayer and tears of Christ. His blood, that prayer, those tears: they rise up from the middle of our humanity. They rise up to the Father. They’re what count. And they are heard.