Estill Federal Correctional Institution
“Carried our sorrows…Wounded for our transgressions…Healed by his bruises”
On this day, one cannot find a better outline for the passion narratives of Jesus’ death than this fourth Servant Song of Isaiah. One does wonder if Jesus himself had this servant figure in mind as he reflected upon his own ministry and what God was calling forth from him. And certainly, the early Church and the Church right up to the present, view Jesus the Christ as the appropriate figure to be described by this Servant Song, regardless of what the Servant’s original identity may have been.
The accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion are imbedded with descriptions of this servant. Listen: “He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering…He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth…They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich.” The Gospel writers surely had the Servant Songs beside them as they composed their narratives, and why wouldn’t they? They had before them what was their Scriptures – those of the Jewish people which became our Scriptures also. After all, they were Jews writing about the extraordinary life, death and resurrection of another Jew – Jesus. What could have been more natural, or faithful, or inspired, than to use their own Scriptures to help them describe those awe-full, degrading and miraculous events of Good Friday and Easter? We are forever bound up in an inextricable link with our Jewish sisters and brothers, who themselves are celebrating Passover this week, even as we now celebrate the Christian Passover of Jesus’ death and Resurrection.
So it is that the Christian Church has appropriated this passage as a description of the life, ministry and work of Jesus of Nazareth whom the Church confesses as the suffering servant of God. The uniqueness of the passage is that the Servant himself carries or bears the “iniquity of us all” when “all we like sheep have gone astray.” He was “wounded for our transgressions…upon him was the punishment that made us whole.” Suffering becomes the means by which Jesus accomplished his work, and thereby was effective in the rescue, or salvation, of others.
There are three foci of this Isaiah passage that stand out if we apply them to Jesus as the Servant. Each one is intended to be life-changing for God’s people, you and me, and give us a reasonable hope for living on this troubled earth and in our sometimes troubled lives.
- “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” The writer is speaking of sickness, weakness, pain, suffering of all kinds. Think here broken relationships; a troubling diagnosis; the death of a loved one; the abuse of women in South Sudan and right down the street; tornadoes in Alabama and Louisiana; horrific terror strikes in Egypt and Syria. The point here is an intimate connection of the Servant with us, all God’s people, in the distress of the life we share. The pain of our life, indeed the pain of the world, is carried on that cross and absorbed by the One crucified. This is the astounding assertion, the miracle if you will, of the Cross. Everything wrong with us and our world is carried by the One who suffers for us, yes, but perhaps more, suffers WITH us. On this day, the identification of God and humans is complete, it is personal, it is an extension of the Manger in Bethlehem for it is why he was born. All of our griefs, all our pains and sickness, are also his. We do not bear them alone.
- The Servant is thus “wounded for our transgressions.” All the ways we work against and counter to God in our lives, individually and corporately, is that for which he was wounded. Think here wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; unprosecuted criminal behavior on Wall Street; the creeping racism of our culture; the petty yet often violent rhetoric of our political campaigning; not enough food for the poor in the richest country ever to exist; anything which separates us from God and God’s vision for the world. The Servant does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Our situation is that we often live contrary to the God who loves us. Every one of us has broken every commandment multiple times. Yet because he is wounded for us, we find that through the suffering One, the way of God becomes possible. Infinite mercy. Infinite forgiveness. It shows us a Way.
- By these wounds, “we are healed.” This is what we need for our lives now, that is, the healing that can bring wholeness to our lives even when our active and passive ways in which we work against God’s desire for us and the world, what we call sin, is forgiven, wiped away, forever. There is nothing God does not, cannot and has not forgiven on that Cross. The work of reconciliation is ongoing and we live it out when we make our forgiveness available to others in the relationships we have locally and in the world. In this amazingly beautiful, glorious creation, even as it is torn by pain and hurt, we are made a new people, our own wounds healed by his wounds.
This is the Good News of Good Friday, why we call it Good. Today is the counter-narrative to the world’s tired old narrative that might makes right, and those who live by the sword will really live. Not so, says the Lord of Hosts; not so says God the Creator; not so says Jesus; and he says it not merely in his words, but in a deed. It is the event of the Cross. It is God’s yes to the world’s no. Our hope then is found in God’s yes. It is the Yes of the Cross.