Every year during Holy Week, we do this thing. We enact the Jesus Story. The Gospel is read more or less as normal, but we treat it a little like a script. The Celebrant reads Jesus’s part. There are members of the choir for disciples or soldiers. But one of the most stunning assignments is the one reserved for the congregation. At the appropriate point in the story, members and newcomers alike will look down into their bulletins and read their line:
Congregation: Crucify him!
And no one quite wants to say it. But our time comes. And we do. It’s a haunting moment. The first time I read it, I wasn’t quite right for the rest of the evening. (“What the heck was that? That made me really uncomfortable. Why isn’t everyone talking about it?”)
What does it say about our God that he chooses this moment to be the turning point of redemption?
As you read the Old Testament, you might have thought that as God moves closer and closer to his people, the holier and holier they become. But, just the opposite is true. As he lavishes gifts upon them, they betray him. When he forgives them, they leave him again. The more he draws close to them, the harder they push away. The more he loves them, the more they hate him. In fact, it’s almost like God is engaged in a kind of exorcism. It’s almost like in moving closer and closer to his people, he’s drawing the evil in their hearts to the surface.
“Crucify him!” That is the moment of redemption. Of all moments, of all ways he might have done it, infinite in his cosmic grasp of providence, he chooses this. Then, only then, when the darkness of men is at its peak, when they look upon God himself and say, “We don’t love you. And not only that, we hate you. And not only that, we want you to die.” It’s almost as if God finally says, “There it is. This is where the healing begins.”
Having the congregation say “Crucify him!” is quite a gamble. Heaven forbid someone misunderstands. (“You know, I went to this church the other day, and I think they were on the Pharisees’ side! They were all like, ‘Crucifying Jesus is a great idea.’”) But it’s too important a lesson to forget.
God, in his mercy, has revealed what is in our hearts. But with it comes the grace of knowing how he responds to humans in the peak of their wickedness. And that means, not least, that he’s not afraid of yours.