Palm Sunday 2010
The criminals crucified by the Romans could have their crime affixed to the cross above their heads. This was one element revealing the general intention of this very public and horrific punishment: to terrify the populace and ingrain in their minds and hearts the consequences of rebelling against Roman law, or simply against Roman rule. It is as if to say, “If you do what this person did, this is what we will do to you.”
But here, for our Lord's execution, this general intention is overridden in many ways. The specific intention of Pilate in making Jesus' Kingship the accusation against Him is to show his contempt for the Jewish people and, more particularly, the Jewish hierarchy, whom he knew to be acting from selfish motives: to protect their influence, power and status and eliminate one they feared as destabilising and as competition [cp. John 11:45-50]. So, when they came to ask him to change the accusation to say only that Jesus claimed to be King, he answered “What I have written, I have written” [John 19:22)] After trying in vain to release Jesus, knowing he was no criminal or insurrectionist but instead a threat to the hierarchy [Matthew 27:18], and seeing the crowds irrational and cruel reaction (“Crucify him! Crucify him!”) it is as if Pilate is saying, “A broken, destroyed holy man is just the King for this rabble.”
Another way the normal purpose of the accusation fixed to the cross was frustrated is the reaction of the rabble itself. Instead of terror or identifying with the victim, there is mockery and black humour, as we saw in today's Passion. “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross ... He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross .... He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. ... Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.” These people know that they will never suffer for the same reason Jesus does, and so are not afraid or sympathetic, but the sin that ensures this reaction also ensures they do not understand the significance of this.
And what is the significance? This question brings us to the most fundamental ways in which the accusation written above Jesus head was unlike any other accusation before or since. He is accused not for anything he has done but for who and what he is. His identity is his “crime”. And the accusation, if we may call it that, is true. In other words, whatever the intentions or motivations of Governor Pilate, God's will has been done and his intention fulfilled.
Why does the Lord's identity become his crime before these human courts? Because he himself is the standing accusation against us. By virtue of his perfect righteousness, compassion and honesty he reveals, mainly by contrast, but also by plain words, our sinfulness, hardness of heart and hypocrisies. You see, the Jews had been taught long before that their true and proper King was always intended to be God Himself [e.g., 1 Samuel 8:7]. The Divine and Messianic King has come to them but, yet again, God is a “disappointment” to his sinful people. In Moses' time they turned from true worship to the worship of idols in sight of the very mystery of God's near but veiled presence [Exodus 32]. He is “too” holy and fearfully transcendent, demands “too much” trust, despite his miraculous deliverance of His people from slavery. As our Lord fulfills his earthly ministry of teaching and healing, he finds the people want an earthly king of worldly power. Most do not, in the end, understand or welcome his priorities or his preaching. He tells all that they are sinners in need of repentance, rather than allowing them to condemn the notorious and congratulate themselves on their relative innocence [cp. John 8:1-11]. He demands forgiveness and compassion to the point of self-sacrifice and warns of eternal punishment for those who ignore these. Worst of all, he claims that he is the key to our penitence and faith, our obedience and love, that we cannot do without him, that we are far from self-sufficient. (The very wish to find one's own way to God, as is sometimes found, despite its apparent piety, is itself a way of saying to God “I remain in control; I am king”.)
Jesus offensiveness lies in the very conflict between what he is and what we are without him. It lies in his Kingly challenge to our attempted autonomy and in the very fact that the King stoops to conquer our heart with the offer of mercy. Human pride does not want to admit the need for this. Human fear and desire frets about what must be given up, and will choose to wallow in the temporarily comfortable mud rather than follow the difficult path to ultimate joy. Yet the “narrow road” (Matthew 7:13-14) that leads to life is the road where we meet and walk with Christ, and where we find that he bears our burdens, forgives our failures and gives us of his Kingly strength [Matthew 11:28-30].
He is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords [Revelation 19:16]. And, if we will accept Him, his Kingship will not be a domineering or distant reign imposed upon us, but a gracious guidance deep within. Let us gaze with the eyes of our hearts, in worship and gratitude, at the King crowned with thorns who reigns from the Cross. Let us follow the King, dead to ourselves and our sin, alive to God [Roman 6:11]. +
Easter Day Sermon 2010
“If ye be risen with Christ ... Christ ... is your life ...Christ is all in all.” +
CHRIST IS RISEN, HE IS RISEN INDEED!
In this resurrection of Christ our whole salvation is wrapped up. Let us unwrap the gift, and see what is inside!
The resurrection of Christ is inseparable from the Cross. In the same way that the resurrection victory is already won at the Cross, the resurrection itself contains the reality and power of the Cross. Why can we say this? Because the life Christ revealed at the Resurrection is not just resuscitation, a miraculous extension of normal human life, it is death-defying life, death-defeating life. “[D]eath hath no more dominion over him” (Romans 6:9-13 as found in this morning’s Easter anthems of Mattins. It is eternal life (undying life). Yet, this vanquisher of death, this death-killer still bears the battle scars, the holes in his hand, feet and side that St Thomas was challenged to verify. (Cf. Revelation 5:6, which describes a vision of Jesus in heaven this way: there “stood a Lamb as it had been slain”).
St Paul shows the relationship between the death and resurrection of Christ and our salvation in the these verses from his letter to the Romans:
“He was delivered over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification” (which means God’s declaration of our acquittal (not guilty verdict) and righteousness) [4:25] “If, when we were God’s enemies we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! ... [T]he result of [Christ’s] one act of righteousness [i.e., his self-sacrifice] was justification that brings life for all.” [5:10,18b] “For in that he died, he died unto sin once, but in that he lives, he lives unto God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” [6:9-10] (Again, this last passage was from this morning’s easter anthems.) Clearly, the Cross and resurrection work together to cleanse us from sin while replacing darkness with light.
In the book of Revelation Jesus says [Revelation 1:18] “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” You see, Christ conquered the kingdom of darkness (“hell and death” in the Scripture I just quoted) that he might have the authority to rescue us from its grip. He has won the right to us. He has bought us with his blood and then taken us up by his rising, and if we will just submit to his Lordship by turning away from the darkness and believing in Him and his resurrection, he will come and live in us. [Cf. John 14:23, Revelation 3:19-21.]
We are Christians because Christ is in us! It is his resurrection life that flows through us, and it is in this union with him that we are born again (regenerated), adopted by God the Father as sons in the Son, and thus fully reconciled to God, put back into a right relationship with him. We are thus given the gift of eternal life, involving a new self created, according to St Paul [Ephesians 4:24], “in true righteousness and holiness” in the image of God in Christ.
Now the passage from which I just quoted tells Christians to “put on” or clothe themselves with this “new humanity”. Similarly, the verse immediately after today's Epistle, not read this morning, also gives the command to “put on” and does so in what is equivalent to the present tense [aorist (middle) imperative]. But today's Epistle, more precisely translated, notes that they have already done this: “you died, and your life has been hidden with Christ in God ... having put off the old man ... and having put on the new”. The previous chapter of this letter connects this process to baptism [2:11-12]. St Paul does this also in the sixth chapter of his letter to the Romans [see especially vv. 3-4], a chapter we quoted earlier. Indeed, the same chapter combines, like today's chapter from Colossians, the exhortation to kill sin within and live the new life of righteousness with the reminder that this death and resurrection has already happened to us, in Christ. Another commonality between Colossians and Romans is that they make this saving process dependent on faith [Colossians 1:22-23, Romans 4:19-5:1].
So, the approach of Christians to rejecting sin, doing good works and behaving generally in a new way is not meant to be like the fearful, hesitant upward glance of a mountain-climber at some insurmountable height. "How will I ever manage it?" It is more like knowing we are already there at the top in some sense. (“They shall mount up with wings as eagles”: Isaiah 40:31) This spiritual locality is according to God's promise and presence, by the power of the Gospel-word and sacrament as received by faith. Christian life is about becoming what we already are. The confidence and encouragement we need to obey God day to day is based on the knowledge that we already stand in his grace and already have crossed over, have made the transition to obedience. It is as if each moral decision we have to make is already made in our baptism and its vows, as these are apprehended by faith. In other words, we need to have faith not only in Christ and his saving acts in themselves, but as they are enacted in us.
So, from this resurrection life implanted within us through Baptism and faith, and the renewed relationship of friendship and kinship that comes with it, we receive a new identity, a new nature and a new way of (or power for) living. [Cf. The new name of Revelation 2:17, and the new creature of 2 Corinthians 5:17. Like Christ (Luke 4:1, Romans 8:9, Galatians 5:16-25), we can walk in the Spirit because we already live in the Spirit.] Through the Resurrection, God changes who we are, what we are, and what we can do.
We also receive from Christ the hope of a resurrection like his at the end of the age, where the glory that has already begun in us will be fully manifested as our bodies rise to be re-united to our souls [John 17:22, Romans 6:5, 1 Corinthians 15:43-44]. This will be the completion of resurrection in us, for resurrection life is not only about the body, though it includes it. Resurrection is about bringing back into unity that which has become dismantled or broken. This means incorporating us back into the life and love of God and integration of the spiritual and physical in us. Hence, St Paul talks about “spiritual bodies”.
Given that the risen Christ is our Redeemer, our Righteousness, our Holiness, our Hope, our Glory and our very Life, may we today and always let Christ be our “all in all.” And as we approach Communion let us remember it is a person we approach to partake of, not a “thing”, a holy object. Jesus is the Bread of Life, we do not eat and drink the body and blood of a dead victim, but the victim who is the ever-living victor. +