Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday Sermon - To Save Us All!

There is a green hill far away,
outside a city wall,
where our dear Lord was crucified
who died to save us all.
Words: Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895), 1848

These words, from the hymn we just sang, point to a truth that is deeply rooted in the psyche, at the very core of the Christian soul.  There is an image at the heart of the Christian proclamation of a lonely figure, a tortured human, a man hanging on a cross, an innocent man hanging on a Roman cross. He was tried on trumped up charges; first for blasphemy because some people claimed that he was the Son of God; then he was tried for sedition because some people claimed that he was a king.  That lone figure of a man, whipped, beaten, spat upon, paraded through the city, too weak to carry his own cross - that is the one at the centre of our attention today. A man of God, a teacher, a healer, a savior, he is the one abandoned by his friends, mocked by his enemies and feeling forsaken by God, he is the one our thoughts turn towards today.

We may not know, we cannot tell,
what pains he had to bear,
but we believe it was for us
he hung and suffered there.
“…but we believe it was for us…” 

For us today, for every Christian community around the world, this is a most somber day: a day when we contemplate the astonishing fact that Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, who came to tell the world about the love of God, was crucified.

Today, more than any other day my theology fails me, everything I ever learnt, everything I know, is for naught.  Wiser people than me have dedicated their lives to answer the simple, childlike question that nags at our minds, “why?” Why did Jesus have to die? Why did all this pain and suffering have to happen? Is my sin that bad? Why?

Many people try and answer this question.

He died that we might be forgiven,
he died to make us good,
that we might go at last to heaven,
saved by his precious blood.
I don’t know about that, I don’t know about making us good or being saved by his precious blood.  Yet that is precisely what this hymn says, and countless other hymns and countless theologians and Sunday School teachers.  And I’m not altogether certain that the next verse helps me much more:

There was no other good enough
to pay the price of sin,
he only could unlock the gate
of heaven and let us in.
It still leaves that basic question unanswered - “why?” Why did he, why did God, why did Jesus have to pay such a steep and awful price?

Well, rather than falling into a theology that has been written, spoken, prayed and sung so much that it sounds clich├ęd, let’s go back to the basics.  If today is just about the suffering of Jesus Christ then the danger is that his suffering has no value, for us or for the world.  The basics tell me that today isn’t about sin, but about forgiveness.  Today isn’t about hate, it’s about love.  Today isn’t about pain, it’s about joy. Today isn’t even about Jesus, it’s about us.  It’s about you and me and everybody that ever was or will be. As the hymn says, he “died to save us all,” - that we might go at last to heaven… That he could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in… And when we sing the word “heaven” let’s hear the word “home.” Heaven is our true home, wherever that may be, eternity with the divine, our creator, our constant companion, our lover… Today, more than any other day is about the most primary of all relationships, it’s about our relationship with God.

O dearly, dearly has he loved!
And we must love him too,
and trust in his redeeming blood,
and try his works to do.

God loves us and expects, as any lover would, to have our love given in return.  Tomorrow, I will, once again, believe the theologians and their feeble answers to the question, “why?” Tomorrow, my theology will sustain me.  Today, there is only trust, trust in God’s love, trust in God’s deep desire (deep dream) that we will get it, not just with our heads, but with our hearts too, and our souls and bodies, that we will get it, we will get God’s love and that we too, will try his works to do.

That truth of God’s love is summed up in that deeply rooted image at the heart of the Christian proclamation, of a lonely figure, tortured and hanging on a cross.  He is truly innocent but because he calls us to think and experience God’s love differently (and intimately) is proven guilty of both blasphemy and sedition.  That lone figure, whipped, beaten, spat upon, paraded through the city, the one at the centre of our attention - calls us to look beyond his death, beyond the cross to the resurrection, to unity with the divine, unity with God, to doing God’s work of love.

Jesus, a man of God, a teacher, a healer, a savior, wants nothing more than our hearts, minds, bodies and souls, wants nothing more than our whole being to try his works to do.  Doing God’s will is salvation…

There is a green hill far away,
outside a city wall,
where our dear Lord was crucified
who died to save us all.

And from our first hymn today…

Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Isaac Watts, 1707

Thank you Jesus. Amen.

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