“On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame.” Those are the opening words of a rather well-known hymn, a hymn that is popular this time of year. Today is Good Friday, so there is much focus on the cross – the Roman instrument of execution.
Now I understand what the hymn is communicating in that first line. The writer is saying that Jesus death took place a long way from where we live here in America, where the writer penned these words, “On a hill far away…” Jerusalem is literally a long way from here. Yet the truth is, crucifixion was intended to be an up-close-and-personal means of execution.
Rome was truly “large and in charge” in the region where Jesus lived. They were able to maintain their power and control by intimidation and by sheer force. Thus, crucifixion was not only a form of punishment, it was also a means of communicating a clear message to the people of the region. For this reason, crucifixions took place in public places. One preacher I was listening to recently made the comment that just as billboards, in our society, are put up in the places where they know there is high traffic numbers, the same was true with where crucifixions were carried out under Rome. They wanted as many people as possible to see it, young and old alike, because part of the message was, “If you cause trouble for Rome, this could be you!”
Often it is portrayed that the bystanders present for Jesus crucifixion were kept at a distance. But the reality is that friends and family of the one being punished were often allowed to get close, possibly even close enough to touch the person…without interfering with the dying process. Of course, this was intended to maximize the emotional pain for friends and family; being so close and yet unable to do anything to stop or change what was happening. Yes, crucifixion was truly a horrendous practice, which is why we like to keep Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified, at a distance. (On a hill far away…)
However, part of the reason we recognize Good Friday on our journey of Lent, is because this day is an important part of the story. It’s an important part of recognizing God’s desire to connect with humanity. It is an important part of realizing the extent to which Jesus was willing to demonstrate God’s love for all people. This day has an important part to play in our understanding of what it can mean to say, “Not my will, but thy will be done.”
We may sing “On a hill far away…” but my hope for myself, and for all of us, is that today especially, this “hill” will be close, very close. I pray that it will be close enough to break through the hardness of my heart, that it will pierce the unloving attitudes that sometimes pop up within me, and that it will allow me to once again hear Jesus utter the word “FINISHED!” and then realize there is nothing I can do to earn God’s forgiveness. “On a hill, close at hand…is a cross…”
Join us here at Downtown Mitchell First UMC for our Good Friday and Easter Services
Good Friday – April 19 – 7:00 pm – Good Friday service in the sanctuary
Easter Sunday – April 21 – 7:00 am – Easter Sunrise Service
7:30 am – Easter Breakfast
8:30 & 11:00 am – Easter Worship Celebration