Saturday, March 28, 2009

Passion Sunday 2009

I thought it was about time I put another sermon up, since Fr Hart has been carrying the load so much for so long on this weblog. While most of my sermons have been handwritten for some time, of late I have begun to type them again more often. Please note that this is not necessarily the sermon as it would be preached, verbatim. I tend to expand and ad lib somewhat in the actual presentation.

[B]y his own blood [Jesus] entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.+

The word “eternal” occurs 3 times in this Epistle (Heb 9.11f). The first is in the verse just quoted. In the second instance, we are told Christ “offered himself“ “through the eternal Spirit”. And then we are told that the purpose of this offering was that “they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritence”.

Thus we learn that the Cross was eternal, unending in its power to save and bring us finally to live with God forever. It is important to realise that this is more than just a promise of permanence, a guarantee that the effects of our Lord's Sacrifice will not finish or fail. This is not just a statement of duration. The fact that the Sacrifice of the Cross is eternal in its effects is related to the fact that it exists in and draws upon the eternity of God Himself. It does not decay or dilute or decrease because it can not do so. The victory of the Cross is invincible, and so eternal.

But there is more to it even than that. Eternity in God does not just mean going on forever in time or starting at a certain point and never ceasing after that. Eternity means timelessness. “Before” time existed, God is. He is outside time. There is a sense in which God did not “wait” until a certain moment to make this Sacrifice a reality. The night before He offered himself, the Lord prayed, “Father, it is time for you to glorify me with that glory I had with you before ever the world was" (Jerusalem Bible, John 17.5). Is this exclusively a reference to the obvious glory of the Resurrection and Ascension after the Cross? Or does it include the suffering and death of his Self-Offering? We cannot forget that Christ described the Cross as him being “lifted up” (John 3.14), a clear double-meaning. St Paul says, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”. (While the word for glory here means boast or "take pride in" and is not from the same Greek word as "glory" in John's Gospel, a conceptual connection is difficult to deny.) There is a sense in which the Cross was always imprinted on the heart of God, long before the lance pierced the heart of God the Son's human flesh. The Cross does not just tell us what God has done, but what He is, who He has always been. This is an astonishing truth, well worth meditating upon.

However, as beautiful and mysterious as this truth is, it is also very practical and personal to each of us. For deriving from the eternity of the Cross is the eternity of our redemption, our forgiveness and freedom from the power of sin, and the eternity of our inheritence, the promise of eternity experiencing God. Our salvation is not a fragile gift, or a fleeting thing which we must grasp at desperately, as if God had released for us a creature quick and wild and sent us hunting it. No, it is solid, firm, and safely held in the hand of faith. While it is true we must not presume upon grace or pretend automatically to know with absolute, infallible certainty that we will reach Heaven, Christian Hope is more than just a wish for final salvation. While we know that we could depart God's grace, the more we live by faith and love, the greater becomes our certainty of reaching the goal, and the greater becomes our sense of total dependency on God and His power to keep us in His grace. Let us rejoice, for God holds onto us harder than we can ever hold on to Him. Jesus said “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10.28)

It is this Hope, this certainty of eternity, that helps us persevere to the end. And it makes it easier for us to take up the Cross while we are in via, on the way. After all, for us as for Christ, the eternity of the Cross does not change the fact that it must happen in time as well. This means we will suffer in ways large and small. We will have to be patient with the annoying, forgiving of the hurtful, persistent in kindness through difficult circumstances, and charitably honest with those to whom truth is not welcome! The glory of the Cross can seem very inglorious. (I am reminded of a movie, "Entertaining Angels", about Dorothy Day, a Twentieth Century Roman Catholic worker for the poor. In one scene she complains in tears of frustration to God before the Crucifix about those to whom she is ministering. “let me tell you something. They smell! They have lice and tuberculosis!” Yes, sometimes the Crucified life “stinks”.) All the more reason to see, through faith, the eternal truth, the invincible Cross, and the completion of suffering and Resurrection that lies on the other side of it. +


welshmann said...

Fr. Kirby:

Scripture itself rather explicitly balances the once-for-all sufficiency and finality of the Sacrifice of the Cross in relation to its eternal timelessness:

For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. Hebrews 9:24-26.

And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Revelation 13:8.


Fr Matthew Kirby said...


Actually, I originally had a reference to the first passage you quote in a bracketed note in the body of the Sermon (and some others from Hebrews, e.g., 10.12) ready for ad lib expansion. But I didn't end up using it, so I excised it from the weblog version. The second verse, from Revelation, I was going to use until I realised most modern translations and exegetes refer the "from the foundation of the world" phrase to qualify "written" not the verb "slain".