This Sunday we begin what is for me, at least, a new tradition concerning an easily overlooked image in our church sanctuary: the crucifix that stands by the pulpit. This important symbol of God’s love for us, positioned where we traditionally hear the proclamation of all God has done for us through Jesus, is easy to miss. The crucifix itself is small. You may not have ever even noticed it. But if you’re with us this Sunday you probably will see that something about the crucifix is different. We are veiling the crucifix in recognition of a tradition in the church where liturgical images were hidden during part (or even all) of Lent. Why? Well, for one thing, veiling the image paradoxically draws our attention to it! For another, hiding the cross from view reminds us that the power of the Gospel is in the proclamation of it. It isn’t what we see with our eyes but what we hear with our ears that amps up deadened faith. Hearing again this year the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, suffering, and crucifixion we relive the Passion of Jesus. Yearning for the day of resurrection we look forward to Easter morning when the unveiled crucifix will once again be carried, in procession, into our gathering. We celebrate that the resurrected Easter Jesus who is with us now still bears the wounds of his suffering and so understands whatever trials we might be facing this week.
This Sunday’s Gospel reading tells another of Jesus’ parables. This week, Jesus tells the story of how some tenant farmers reacted when the owner of the vineyard where they worked went away “into another country for a long while” (you can read the entire passage by clicking here). Without the owner of the farm visible and on site they take matters into their own hands. They behave as if the produce of the vineyard belonged to them. Not even the son of the vineyard owner could convince them that the owner remained in control. And so, tragically, they chase the son of the vineyard owner out of the vineyard and put him to death. By telling the people this parable and adding the citation from Psalm 118 (“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”) Jesus makes it clear that the Son that the Father sent and the means God chooses to establish His kingdom would be rejected. Jesus was not the kind of king the people of Jerusalem thought they wanted. He did not perform a glorious miracle and rescue Israel from its Roman occupiers. He did not champion those who considered themselves “holy.” Instead, He ate and kept company with outcasts who were labeled “sinners.” To this day He remains the friend of those who yearn for the God who appears hidden. To this day He brings the glory of God close to people of faith who still suffer and doubt and struggle because he reveals the glory of God through a cross where (Easter Sunday will reveal!) the sins of humanity were taken away once-and-for-all (Heb 9:24-26).
It’s OK to take a time-out from looking for “miracles” that our eyes can see. Let’s listen, instead, for the story of salvation that begins with a rejected son who dies outside the walls of His Father’s vineyard. The rejected Son of God on the cross understands our suffering. In our suffering we experience something known and conquered by the rejected Son of God. Though God may appear hidden and far away now, his glory is about to be revealed.