Good Friday Three Hours Address
Kyrie. Our Father. Hymn 185.
Each person paints a different sort of picture of the same mountain; Turner would paint one kind of picture; Cezanne another; a Greek maker of icons would have painted yet another again. So it is with the four Evangelists. Each has been led by the Holy Spirit into a different vision of the truth of the one event - Christ. Matthew stresses the way in which Christ fulfils the law. Mark stresses the initiative of God in redemption; and so on. You don’t get a truer picture of Christ by superimposing each of the four one on the other. You get a muddle.
So, today as we come together to pray that the Holy Spirit may lead us into the depth of the death of Christ, by His grace I am going to ask St. John to lead us; going to consider only St. John’s vision of the passion. It is of course the same passion, the same series of events, the same death of the same Christ, as is described by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But in many little ways in some big, John paints a different picture of it, having been led by the same Spirit as leads us into other aspects of the truth; other profundities and subtleties of God; other riches of Christ.
Three things stand out in St. John. In the passion of Christ he sees all the time the supreme example of how Christ overcomes the world and goes to the Father. It is first and foremost and all the time an eternal victory over the world - the lost world in rebellion against God.
Secondly, he sees in Christ’s suffering and death the action of God in giving to that vanquished world the Spirit - His Spirit: Christ pouring out on the disciples of all time His own spirit, and taking them with Him to the Father.
Thus, and this is the third thing which over-arches St. John’s passion narrative, the death of Christ is the irruption into the world of eternity; of eternal life for all those who would have it; of eternal truth for all those who will see it: of eternal power for all those who will renounce what the world calls power. In other words, which we perhaps can understand better than John’s words, in actions, suffering, and willing the death of Christ, we see reality. The materialist view of life - what we sometimes call “keeping our feet on the ground” - the good old common-sensical view of the world - is in fact a grossly unreal view of life: it leaves out of account the essence of the real life; it is like saying that a tree is just a bit of wood - no sap, no life, no leaves, no springing, growing, burgeoning mystery of inner life.
Similarly, to look at social life as being a matter of politics only, or of a mixture of national politics and religious organisation - Church and State - is to see an unreal, dead husk. Social life, both secular and religious, as it unfolds itself down the ages of history in the realm of God’s concern and action: the arena of God’s eternal purpose; the nursery of God’s children; the garden in which God courts his bride - seeks out his love. To see it without that dimension of godliness is to see it flat and dead, meaningless and grey. Indeed, it is to see it upside down; for in this unreal view of ours, everything becomes inverted. What we call power, God calls weakness and what we call truth God calls falsehood; what is light to God seems dark to us, what is justice looks to us like dangerous tampering with the Law of justice; and what to God is utter victory, we sneer at as final humiliation and defeat.
So, the death of Christ puts a vast question mark against our judgements, standards, values and politics - not just the politics of Pilate; against our aggregation of human power, economic, military, atomic - not just against the legions of Rome; against our search for material and secular security which is brought into judgement by the insecurity of Christ’s Cross just as sharply as the prudent precautions of the scribes and priests and elders - those writers of white-papers, those champions of the sensible status quo, those sticklers for para 6 or sub-clause B in such and such an article of a well- tried Act of Parliament - or of the Sanhedrin. Everything in our lives is brought under the bright light of Christ, the sharp glare of the Cross. Is our life lived at the the threshold of eternal life? Or is it dribbled away in dirty little expedient after shabby little expedient until it travels, silent and hopeless, in a hearse up the bus route to Golders Green. Christ asks these questions of us so he dies to give us eternal life, and to give us, too, the minds of those who behave as men with eternal perspectives. Before we leave his house at three this afternoon, he demands an answer. We are here, not only or just to sentimentalise about a past event; but to be judged as we are. And the judge is the dying Christ.
Hymn 261 Reading Jn, 13, 14 and 19-end
The encounter with the world is really an encounter with three aspects of men in rebellion against God; men living as though God were not, the people of God, the pagan state, and the man in the street: the priests, Pilate, and the Jews - or, if you like, Church, State and private citizens all living without God.
In this encounter, Christ judges the world to be what it is in all its aspects: shows it up for what it is, and overcomes it.
He shows up the churchmen of his day - the people who should have been the servants of God - by being himself the perfect servant of God. The contrast condemns the churchmen, shows them in their true colours under the blinding light of Christ’s righteousness.
He shows up the State which should be using the power that God confers on it for justice, law, peace; by being the perfect wielder of the whole of God’s power. The abuses of the power given to Pilate by God are in contrast to the obedience and lovingness with which Christ uses God’s power.
He shows up the man in the street because is is the true man: man as God would have him be; not man as sin has made him.
And he overcomes all these groups, overcomes the world by refusing to capitulate to its standards. His victory is precisely that the world goes to the farthest length it knows in trying to traduce him from his loyalty to God - in trying to drag him down into its own mire of pride, self-seeking and expediency; and it fails. Its last resort is to kill him, but even that does not break his bonds with God. Thus his victory over the world is complete. The world does its worst, and Christ resists it. See this in detail, working itself out.
First the battle with the Church.
What IS the Church - the people of God - here to do? What is God’s commission to people in his service, and above all to priests? They are commissioned by God to show men the truth about God, to represent God to man, and to set men free from the bonds of sin, egocentricity, and all the things which spring from those states of mind; hatred, self-seeking, lack of mercy, pity, and justice, subservience to human standards and so on. The old people of God, the Jews, had suffered and endured for nearly two millennia, owing allegiance to no man but only to God as supreme. Their great treasure was the God-given Law, which was given them to show them the truth. This they had to minister as sacred trust; minister it to others.
But what happens? Christ, the Son of God - the very person of God, light of light, God of God, very God of very God - comes to his Church; comes to his Chief Priests; his chief representatives on earth. And they bind him. They whose job it is to give the freedom of God to all men, bind God himself in the ropes of their own selfish purpose. It is the first betrayal. Then the chief of them questions Christ who had been doing the work of God by going out to his lost children in absolute openness and peace, freedom, mercy, life; raising and healing them; making those who were deaf to the word of God hear it ringing like bells in their heads; opening the eyes of those who were blind to the vision of God to the glory of him; preaching the gospel of peace to those who were poor with the impoverishment of men who knew not the bread of God; acting, in fact, as the bringer of light and life, reality and peace, in a dark and dying world. This, of course, is what the priests and the Church should have been doing, but hadn’t been doing. They had heard of Christ’s actions. There was no need to ask about them; but in asking they showed their own blindness and deafness. And now when confronted by Christ’s reasonable and true answer, the only retort they knew was violence. They struck Christ with their hands - utterly unjustly, utterly self-centredly, for it was done to preserve the dignity of the Chief Priests.
As the people of God what do you minister to a dark and dying world in the name of Christ? Worse, as a priest of his church, what do I minister? I dare say we do our best. In our rounds, daily, official, workaday and church-a-Sunday, we stick up for the Christian faith - when we remember to do so. But the rope-bound figures of Christ, owning nothing, asking nothing, not hitting back or even returning abuse for violence, not complaining, not shrinking, makes pretty good hay of our noblest efforts, and places beside our lives the question mark by which those lives are judged. His poverty against our TV sets, our Ford Consuls, our life insurance policies. Christ’s life insurance was God. His silence and stillness lights up the quality and the texture of our irritations, our bad tempers, our touchy prides, our readiness to snap and to hit back. Christ’s bonds - those ropes round the body which nothing, not even the tomb, was to be able to hold - bring to the test our freedom and what we do with it. How much of our hearts and minds, time and actions are also due to obsession, to self, to comfort, to habit, to pride? We, too, like the Jewish priests but with so much wider a charter are here to set men free for the service of God. But the blind can only lead the blind into the ditch of self-satisfaction and materialism. The partly deaf can only gabble a part-gospel of peace to their fellow deaf.
But comfort yourselves, the gospel is good news, not bad. Comfort yet, comfort ye, my people, says the Lord your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended; for it is not by our efforts or successes that the Kingdom will come in. It is by God’s. God will triumph through our failures, bringing his eternal victory despite our futile weakness, as he brought in the doing of his will even through the actions of Christ’s oppressors.
The deepest mystery and greatest splendour of them all is that, through the freely chosen sin of Caiaphas and his minions, the long-known will of God came in. For Caiaphas, the practical politician and the cynic, had said that it WAS expedient that Christ, the Man, should die for all people. And, long ago, a prophet of God had known that God would not turn his back to the smiters, nor his cheek from those who pulled out the beard. Now, as the soldiers, so like ourselves with our pride of force, our touchy dignity, our quick resort in bad temper to the bomb and acid word, strike Christ on the face and shout words at the silent Word of God, so through their sin and failure, they bring in the will of God.
Our constant and recurrent failure cannot deter the will of God; for God’s will and our sin overlap, and the former over-rules the latter as a mighty river over-rules a pebble in its bed. But our sin can shame us; can bring us back to the feet of him who stood before Caiaphas taking up into himself the pain and the loneliness of the kind of sin which we so often indulge. Victory is God’s - is Christ’s - despite our failures and weakness, not because of our virtues and faithfulness. In fact the centre of redemption is this - it is all God’s. Christ won his victory over the world alone, by his own pain, in his own strength, and of his own unimaginable mercy and love. And he won it for all sinners, ourselves included.
Hymn 111 Third Reading John 19 1-11
LADDER OF SIN
The Church, the people of God, hand God over to a pagan official. Now comes the judgement of the State.
Pilate of course thinks that HE is the judge, but in fact by his actions now he will be judged. Christ provides the test for him, and by the light of Christ, Pilate’s actions are illuminated for what they are.
He has power all right; but all power is God’s power, for in so far as the State administers justice, in so far as it keeps the peace, upholds the rule of law, and preserves order over against disorder it is the instrument of him from whom all justice, peace, law and order come, even if the state may not know it. This is what Christ means when he says to Pilate: You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above.
But the state in the person of Pilate shows itself to be wholly unworthy of exercising the power conferred on it by God, for when faced with the awkward,unbending, unshadowed justice and love of Christ, it can’t near it. The State with its politics is deeply and always committed to compromise. Indeed, politics have been defined as the art of the possible. Another well known adage sums up the way in which the state, down history, has used the power entrusted to it by God.
For when Lord Acton said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, he was saying something with which any historian would readily agree. The evidence is overwhelming that great aggregations of power in the hands of the state, whether imperial states, national states, democratic states, communist states or fascist states, corrupts them. But Christ’s power was not only absolute but divine; and it didn’t corrupt him, for he never used it for himself; always and only for God and others. the temptation here for Christ must have been immense. Here is the heart of corruption: self-seeking, self-service. Pilate could not stand up to the contrast between himself and Christ. He compromises - plumps for expediency - for removing this silent and awkward man who he slightly fears but also despises. He hands Christ over to the instruments of state power - the soldiers: Christ is being handed down the ladder of sin.
The disciples betray him. The Priests reject and bind him, handing him over to pagans. Pilate, hands him over to soldiers. There is only one place to which the soldiers CAN hand him over; to death, for their job is killing: the exact opposite of God’s job which is creation, and Christ’s job which is to give life to all men and to give it abundantly.
The soldiers carry on the drama. As men they are no worse than other men; but as soldiers they are those who typify the world; those whom Christ had warned his disciples not to fear; those who have power to destroy, the body but no power to destroy the soul. They are the world’s court of last resort; for when the world can’t get what it wants, it smashes those who stand in its way. Christ told his disciples to love God and their neighbours. Physical force, as such is the abuse of God’s power, as Christ who suffered it showed; and soldiers, as such, as those who are paid, not to love their neighbours, but to kill them and take their lands.
Thus, Church and State between them are judged to be what they are just precisely because they hand Christ over to soldiers, destroyers. Like the rest of the players in this eternal drama, the soldiers unconsciously bring in the will of God even in their brutal bully-ragging. For when they crown Christ with the appalling travesty of kingship, the crown of thorns, and when they bow their knees to him and cry AVE CAESAR JUDAECRUM, they are bowing the knee to him before whom all flesh will bow the knee; to the king of all ages and all men. So, once again, the will of God and providence of God over-rules the sin of man and soaks it up into his eternal purpose as the sand of the desert soaks up a drop of dirty water or as the sea rolls over a spot of dirt on an everlasting shore.
Pilate brings out Christ to the people. Behold the Man. ECCE HOMO, IDE, HO ANTHROPOS. God had made man in the beginning in his own image, but the first man had marred that image beyond all recognition by his sin. Now, here, another man whose images has no form nor comeliness, with no beauty that we should desire him, a man despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, here this man was presented to the world. And he WAS the image of God. He was the Man, as Pilate unwittingly called him; the man AS God intended man to be. The new creation; man unmarred by sin. But fallen man, man marred by sin, man who has almost lost the image of God in which he was created, turns and shouts for the crucifixion of the Man. Perfection is an affront to our imperfection. We, the shop-soiled, are enraged by that which is whole and good and clean; it shows us up, so we break it. So when the world - the Hitlers, the Commissars, the smart atheists, turn and try to destroy us, the shop-soiled but the shop-soiled reflection, despite our dirt, a little of Christ’s perfection, we should rejoice in their reaction; for no higher compliment could the world pay us. The Church is here to be the Body of Christ. It is never more Christ-like than when the world rejects it and persecutes it; and in our own day and age, by the mercy of God, it is being more and more rejected and persecuted. It is a superb age in which to be allowed to live. We should beware only when the world whole-heartedly endorses what we do, for it never endorsed what Christ did.
The last fling of the Jews was to shout at Pilate that they had a law, and by that law Christ ought to die because he made himself the Son of God. First this is a lie, and by lying the Jews show themselves to be the children, not of Abraham, but of the devil who is the father of lies. It is a lie, because Christ did not make himself the Son of God. He WAS the Son of God.
Second, it was the betrayal of the Law because it was the fulfilment of the Law. By the Law God had been revealed in part. By it God was and is revealed in his entirety. So the chief representative of God on earth shows, once again, his true nature as, actually, the chief representative of all this as anti-God on earth, as they deliver God to the last instrument of the world’s brutal, evil purpose - death.
Hymn 334 (1305) Fourth Reading John 19: 2 - 16.
This is the climax of the trial, and through it Christ is silent. Thus he brings in the fulfilment of scripture, and the word and will of God is accomplished in the world. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgement he was taken away; and as for his generation, who consider that he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?
Pilate is one of those of whom Christ had spoken when he said to the disciples that ‘Those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles, lord it over them, and exercise their authority over them.’ Supposed because really God rules all men. Pilate’s power was from God. Now he was to abuse it. But Christ is silent, because he puts into practice the precept which he had given his disciples. ‘It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. for the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’
It was beyond the wit of the Jews and of the Romans to see that the greatness of Christ was not that he had power as the world counts power; the power to kill many; but that his authority would be the result of his dying for all. It is still beyond the wit of the world. The world pays tribute to the Alexanders of Macedon, the Napoleons, the Hitlers, because they exercise what it thinks of as power. But they have power only to destroy. Christ by allowing himself to be destroyed has the eternal power to give life to all men; to re-create, to raise, to heal, and to sweeten a world soured by its abuse of power.
Poor Pilate! His sin was not a very great one. No monster - like us. He merely compromised in a very difficult situation in order to maintain what he thought of as ’the peace’; and anyway, that way he kept his job. But the peace Pilate kept was the peace of swords and blood and destruction; the peace that eventually razed Jerusalem to the ground with her children in her; the peace that one day saw Rome a smoking ruin under the torches of the Goths and the Vandals; the peace that, by a momentary expedient, keeps the world free of overt strife.
Christ kept the real peace; the peace he promises to his disciples when he said, ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.’ Christ held his peace, and it was the peace of knowing himself not deserted by God. If we will have that peace - peace on the Cross, peace when we are threatened with destruction by the world’s ultimate resort, death - we may have it. But we may have it only as a gift from the Prince of peace by giving ourselves back to him in utter trust in God. Christ didn’t rely on himself, but on God. We must not rely on ourselves, but on God. Then we may know the peace of God which passes all understanding.
But it was the Jews and their priests, representing the renegade people of God who had the greater sin: men in rebellion against God. For centuries they had suffered and died rather than own allegiance to any king but God. They had defied empires and powers rather than submit. In the time of the Maccabees and their revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes, they had let themselves be slaughtered on the Sabbath day rather than fight and thus break God’s peace on the day when he rested from his labours. God was and always had been their king. Indeed, a Jew was not a Jew by blood, but a man who owned allegiance to God. This and this alone put him into the fold of Israel, and self-satisfaction, cocksureness, pride - religious pride above all - had led them to the supreme betrayal. Presented with their King by a pagan official - ‘Behold your King’ - they cried out - ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him. We have no king but Caesar.’
Christ said that in so far as we visit the sick, clothe the naked, comfort the prisoners, feed the hungry, give water to the thirst, we do it to him. In so far as ye do it until the least of these my brethren, ye do it unto me.’ How many times do we pass Christ in the street, with head averted, as we fumble in our pockets over the half-crowns, hoping to get by without handing one of them over. Far, far, worse, and much more important. Man does not live by bread alone. How often do we visit those who are sick from their lack of God, and give them health? Or naked and shivering in this godless world of material prosperity and penury of spirit; a penury which we alone can relieve? Or prisoners in the bonds of their hopeless futility, obsession, frustration, and egocentric bankruptcy; a bondage we alone can cut through? Or thirsty for the spirit of which we are supposed to be vessels?
If we are to take seriously, first the tragedy or betrayal of the Jews, and secondly, the words of Christ, we - as his disciples, the new Israel, the new people of God and royal priesthood of Christ - we must not sit easy in this dark, squabbling, greed-ridden world of ours with its armed camps bristling with inter-continental missiles, its colour bars, and its people starving to death for the spirit, thinking we do enough. It won’t do us much good if, confronted with the necessity of accounting to God, we say, “I went to Church. I did my best. I upheld most of the time anyway in public - decent standards.” We are called to say, not I went to Church but that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus neither death nor life, height nor depth, colour bar, atom bomb, nor race riot. It won’t be enough to plead that we did our best. We are called to die with Christ and yet go on living; and yet no longer us, but Christ liveth in us. And upholding decent standards is all right, but not for us, for we are called to know nothing amongst the men of this world’s city, but Christ and him crucified.
The Jews’ sins were not unlike our sins. They perverted the State, traduced the original benevolence of Pilate, a pagan, and crucified Christ. How often do we crucify him afresh with our uneasy compromises, our petty expedients, our religious self-satisfaction. I don’t know. I ask myself as well as you. No, that’s not true. I don’t ask at all. But St. John asks. The Cross asks. Christ, bound and led out to died like a lamb to the slaughter, asks. I cannot ask. I can only answer for myself. And you must answer for yourselves.
Hymn No 108. Fifth Reading 19; 17-25a
There are four things which John specially emphasises in this part of his vision of the truth of God’s action in the death of Christ. Unlike the other evangelists, he says that Christ bears his own cross. He was crucified with two others. Over him, the placard read in Hebrew, Latin and Greek, Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews. The soldiers cast lots for his garments as in the other passion narratives, but only here are we told that his tunic was without seam. To take them one by one:
a. The bearing his own cross; the dereliction of Christ - his complete desertion by all men. Redemption was won by Christ alone, and paid for by Christ alone. Asking can claim no part in it. We can never earn it - only respond to it.
b. The “two others”, as John’s readers would know were thieves; those who have robbed, as we rob God of the fruits of his vineyard - the world. As in life he went out to sinners, so in death he was with sinners. He became like a sinner so that we night become like God. He didn’t deserve to become like a sinner, as we don’t deserve to become like God. It is sheer gift - sheer undiluted unimaginable loving generosity on God’s part.
c. Even through the mouth and agency of pagan sinners, murderers and perverters of the justice of God, such as Pilate, the truth breaks through. In all the known languages of the world, the truth of Christ was placarded for all to see and read. But the world was blind to the end
d. The soldiers too brought in prophecy; were agents of the known will and providence of God. They parted my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots. And no one noticed the coming in of the tide of the Kingdom, the promised reign of God. Seamlessness - the unity of those who clothe Christ - that which clothed Christ was one piece. We must be one piece. Even pagans by the grace of God didn’t rip that robe. We Christians have ripped it and thus falsified and made of no effect the consecration of Christ of which he spoke in John when he said, “I consecrate myself that you may be one, even as the father and I are one.”
So Christ, nailed, powerless, bleeding, dying and alone, dies with sinners and robbers that he may save and give life to sinners and robbers like us. In his weakness and by his willingly given lifeblood, he forms a unity which in our petty bickering and spites we break and rupture
The very blood of Christ cries out aloud against us. Yet while it cries it still saves, Christ still loves, Christ still bears our sin alone. We are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves. Our sufficiency is of God. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he first loved us. God commends his own love towards us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Hymn No 107 Sixth Reading John 19 25b-30
It is finished. Christ is dead. This is what sin - living as though the self were everything - does to God. Murderous, bloody, full of lust. It breaks the good, spits on the loving exterminates the faithful. The truth is at last revealed for all men to see; the truth of the long-suffering and the love of God, who comes out after those whom he loves and lets them smash him to a bleeding hulk. O, the infinite, loving patience of it! The unbelievable mercy and compassion of God. Here with those with eyes to see, is the true exaltation of Christ. Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. And that God should call us friends after what we do to him! More - much more - while we do it to him. The Cross is indeed his eternal throne. The peak of the world and of eternity. So, it is finished. It is wholly accomplished, the work of God, for it can go no further than death and total dereliction. And to this accomplished work we are bidden to respond. I, if I be lifted up will draw all men unto myself. Draw them in trust - unqualified and unshadowed. For what more can God do or suffer to prove his trustworthiness; his faithfulness to us; his love for us. How much higher do we want him to carry his cross than Calvary? How much longer do we wish him to hang and suffer there praying for us, dying for us, bleeding for our spites and prides? Is there anyone living who, with eyes to see, will not want to be drawn nearer to him in service, love, and praise by the broken Christ, lifted up in exaltation on the throne of the world?
What is this work he has accomplished? The Kingdom of God has come in; and John shows us its incoming.
A man becomes the son of Mary. A man - sinner - is so redeemed by the love of Christ that he becomes a son of God. The beloved disciple was he who, at the last supper etc etc
Mary too. To her he has said at Cana, Woman what have I to do with thee, Mine hour is not yet come. But now that his hour HAS come, her hour has come too. Mere human relationships were never of over-riding importance to Christ. But now the holy thing which Mary bore in her womb is ready for eternal and infinite multiplication - the growing Body of Christ, Son of God, redeemed of the Lord, the new creation is brought to birth in the finishing of Christ’s work. It IS the finishing of his work. It was this he came to do: to win men back to become sons of God, and in dying he does it. The Kingdom comes in.
As a sign of its triumphant coming, he drinks vinegar etc etc What is this Kingdom? It is built in the hearts of those who own God as King and Jesus Christ as Lord. Those who, in the owning, refuse, as their Lord refused, to compromise with the world’s standards, or capitulate to the world’s temptations and the world’s force. This, eternally, we fail to do, if we trust in our own spirit. But Christ died that he might hand over his spirit to all those who will stand at the foot of the cross as beloved disciples. Who will lean back in his bosom as he resides in the bosom of the Father. Who, by his spirit will take up their Cross and follow him to the end of whatever dark and downward road he puts them on. And the lower we get along the road that Christ trod, the greater will be our exaltation, the deeper our peace, this more sure our joy. For the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, gentleness, goodness, self control. And the cost of the spirit is to die with Christ - die to self - that he may raise us in Easter glory with him to work for the Father and to live and work for us all.
Hymn 210 Seventh Reading Jn 19:31-37
The Jews were in a hurry to clear away the body of Christ before it could defile the Passover Sabbath day which was to begin at sunset, as the Jews count the beginning of days.
First Passover, God leads men out of the bondage of Egypt by the Red Sea, sprinkling their doors with blood. New Passover: it is not the eldest sons of the sinners, of Pharaoh and his oppressors, who die. Nor are the righteous brought into safety. God has reversed the consequences of sin, taking them all upon himself, and in doing so overturning all human values and standards and all human judgements. For God does not save from destruction, he saves through destruction - on the other side of it. God does not save from the lion’s mouth, as he saved Daniel - for the new Daniel goes down into the jaws of death. God does not let us go safely through the Red Sea waters, for Christ dies in the red sea of his own blood. god does not sprinkle our doors with the passport of blood, for Christ’s blood is shed as ours must be shed if God wills it.
Thus in the purifying Body of Christ, which the world with its distorted blind vision, its upside-down outlook of sin, looks upon as a defilement. In this Body the truth is at last revealed. God will not save us from tribulation - poverty, loneliness, suffering, the death of those whom we love - nor from our own death when it comes. But Christ has shown that in these things we may find and be with God; and that beyond them is eternal salvation. If we want worldly success, prosperity, power, reputation, self-advancement, we can probably have them - many people seem to find them - but we cannot expect to find God in them. For of these things God knows nothing except that, to him, they are failure, sin, and murder; for they crucified him. But to the poor in spirit, to those that mourn, to the old who have little left for which to live, to the bleak teenagers who look around upon the world which sin has so sullied with empty eyes wondering what good there can be in it, to the sick, the humble, and dying, God has promised to give himself and his peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world. To these people are the promises , and they are blessed of the Lord. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth give I unto you.
But before the world could get rid of the body which they thought to be so defiling, a solider pierced it; and straightaway came out blood and water. John emphasises very hard the importance and the truth of this. He who saw it has borne witness, and his testimony is true, he says and repeats it again and again. To understand it, lets cast our minds back to other incidents in the Gospel.
The woman of Sumaria In 7-38-39 it is recorded that, when walking in the Temple, he has cried, if anyone thirst let him come to me and drink. And John adds, but this he spake of the spirit which he would give. Now he pours out this spirit upon all flesh who, in believing, will receive it. Man does not live by bread alone, nor does he live by the stagnant water of materialism, the muddy ponds of self-seeking and self help.
And the blood poured out is the life of Christ; that which gives life to the world. Verily, verily I say unto you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day. Now the last day comes, and in the outpouring of the divine life, he does indeed raise us up to eternal life here and now.
It is in no spirit of blasphemous self-conceit that I am gong to say to you, as fellow children of God, what Christ said to his disciples….no spirit of boasting that I claim to use the same words by the same authority; for they are not my words but Christ’s word. Do you take offence at this talk of the blood of Christ? It is the spirit that vies life, the flesh is of no avail. The word that I speak to you are spirit and life. The words that I speak to you now are surely spirit and life, just because they are not my own words, but the word of the Cross. Put yourselves under the spirit of the dying, loving Lord. Let his freely spilled life pour into you as the waters of a mountain stream pour into a dry valley. Hold in your hearts, close and deep, the word of God and the words of God. The word of the Cross and the word which , like a two-edged sword, pierces to the very marrow, cutting us free from sin and the world, giving us life, peace, and hope. For the life of Christ which can be ours as a gift from Christ is a life centred upon God, resting in God, working for God, as in exchange for his when you die with him - is the life of self-centredness, self-engrossment, self-help, and self-destruction.
Hymn 122 Eighth Reading Jn 19:38-end
In the evening when the Sabbath was beginning when God rested from his labours as Christ now resting from his labours, Joseph of Arimathea, a Jew, seeks to have the Body of Christ from Pilate. With him went Nicodemus.
a. The teacher who came to Jesus by night and b. who, as a member of the Sanhedrin, had stood up for it when they were questioning the blind beggar.
Between them, they take the Body of Christ and put it in a garden. Judas had betrayed him in a garden. He was crucified near a garden. Now, he is buried in a garden. There was another garden once. It is the Man they are burying; the proper Man. Man as God would have him be: the new Adam who had not succumbed to temptation and whose mother, the new Eve, as she had stood by the tree upon which her Son had hung, had not succumbed either. The Fall is reversed, and in the reversal the garden of Eden is opened to men once again. That garden of love and peace and godliness which God had willed for men before the first Man spoiled it; the garden where God alone is king: indeed, the Kingdom.
So, Joseph and Nicodemus point to the future as the first glimmer of Easter breaks across the dark landscape of death and blood and spittle. Ever since, men and women who, like Joseph, are disciples of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the world, have come to ask for the Body of Christ.
S I L E N C E
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with us all evermore.