s022g98 Somerton Park 10/4/98 Good Friday
"When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." John 19:30.
The death of Jesus on the Cross (and his subsequent resurrection) has been the central focus and defining event for all Christianity, all denominations and shades of belief.
The New Testament itself bears witness to this centrality by each and every one of the evangelists devoting by far the greater proportion of their writing to the events of Holy Week. Where Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all have their own particular variations on the events and order of things in Jesus' early ministry, when it comes to that last few days of Jesus' life - none really diverge from what is clearly a well established and well taught tradition, recited in congregations and handed down orally as the Jewish faith did before them.
And the various traditions within the Church bear witness to this too. It is central to the evangelical tradition, with their emphasis on forgiveness of sins through the Cross and resurrection. And it is central to the catholic side of the Church with their emphasis on the Holy Communion which brings the benefits of that death and resurrection to the individual.
When one looks at the teaching of Jesus, his parables, it is astonishing how many can be viewed as pointing to his death and resurrection. Indeed in some ways the misunderstanding of the parables by the religious authorities, the crowds and the disciples - is entirely understandable before the Cross and resurrection had actually happened.
The parable of the sowing of the seed, so central to the earliest of the gospel writings, St Mark, can be viewed as a picture of the cross of Jesus. The Cross is the seed planted by God, insignificant in itself, and when it germinates, (subject to the vagaries of this earthy and earthly existence), yet in good soil it produces much good - thirty-fold, sixty-fold, a hundred-fold. (Mk 4:1-9+//'s)
The picture of the father of the older son in parable of the lost sons, pleading with the elder son to join in the celebration can be viewed as Jesus on the Cross, pleading with humanity to put jealousies aside and join in the human race. (Lk 15:11-32)
And yet I wonder how much, in the end the death and resurrection, actually pervades our lives.
We, like in the parable want to tear up the weeds, forgetting the possible damage to the wheat in the process.
We want to be recognised for having believed and laboured through the heat of the day, and grumble about the "Johnny come lately's". We grumble because their reward is precisely the same as ours. In the end the "reward" is but to be sons and daughters of God, nothing more and nothing less, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the end the "reward" is given (in those denominations which practice infant baptism) at the very beginning of life, when we in all probability completely unconscious of what is happening to us.
Just recently I read the words of an Anglican member of the clergy. He wrote: "The fact that so many people ignore or even deny these saving events (celebrated during Holy Week and Easter) is a great sadness and leaves one wondering about the future." This is but one example and one variation of a sentiment expressed so frequently as I have gone through life, that I think it has become almost a trademark of the Church. The Church is universally recognised as being, in general, disappointed with ordinary people. However being disappointed with ordinary people is one sentiment I never hear given expression to by Jesus. He seemed too busy accepting ordinary people for who they were and enjoying the hospitality they chose to provide.
It could be perhaps construed that Jesus expressed some disappointment at the lack of traditional courtesies extended to a guest, but that was in the home of Simon the Pharisee. However I am not sure of the ground here, for Simon was criticising Jesus for accepting some courtesies from a woman who was a sinner. (Lk 7:36-50)
The cross and resurrection is the great invitation: "behold I stand at the door and knock". Inevitably and perhaps sadly some will not feel able to to yet respond to that gracious invitation - perhaps more often because they feel unworthy to respond, or feel unable to live up to the expectations of the community of the faithful if they were ...
However it is not just that people feel unable to live up to the expectations of the Church, I wonder how frequently does the Church get the message across, when it is so difficult to extend the message of the cross and resurrection beyond forgiveness of sins.
Recently I read of a movement in San Francisco called the "Provisional Church", a movement to reach out to "those who have never considered church, those who are dissatisfied with church, those who mistrust church, those who have been burned by church." Their mission statement goes on: "We thinks it's fundamentally unreasonable to assume that so many "unchurched" people are completely wrong in their view that something is seriously wrong at church." They continue: We think that a church should be "a community, but without all of the moralising, the cliquishness and the betrayal people typically find at church -- and especially without all of the churchy language used to cover-up the problems." I confess I am a little uncomfortable with the criticism, for it is so easy to see what is wrong - particularly when one is looking at any sort of organisation - it is far harder to suggest what is right, and put it into practice.
How important it is for us, the Church, to make the cross and resurrection something that guides our whole existence and each and every relationship during the week, and not just a personal experience between me and God for an hour on Sunday.
The way I do this in my own mind, if not practically during the week, is to realise that the Cross shows us that Jesus died for a hell of a lot more people than those who call themselves Christians or who come to Church. The Cross and resurrection tells us that when we meet a person, we are meeting someone for whom Jesus died and rose again to life. If Jesus accepts them and dies for them as they are, we are surely to do the same - accept them for who they are - not to die for them. As the Church we are not called to change others or to turn them into our own likeness - for both of these aims contradict what we are on about in the first place.
The cross and resurrection is about Jesus believing in each and every individual, whoever they are, whatever the colour of their skin, whatever they believe or not believe, whatever they may have done in the past, or not done in the past, whatever political persuasion, with whom they choose to express their intimate affections - believing in them and showing how much he loves them.
So when we meet a Jew, for instance, we meet someone for whom Jesus died, just as they are. When we meet a Hindu, we meet another person for whom Jesus died, just as they are. The list is endless.
But the reality is that we don't in practice believe this and so the message of the cross and resurrection gets lost, muddied, as we say or imply things like: but ...
... As long as you live the life of a Christian ...
... As long as you keep the 10 commandments ...
... As long as you read the Bible or go to Church ...
... As long as you become religious, (like me) ...
... Or even ... Don't worry about becoming religious, just become like me ... :-)
When Jesus said "it is finished" he cannot conceivably have meant that his part is now finished and now it is up to my disciples to beat succeeding generations into submission, using the Bible, the Sacraments or the Holy Spirit. "It is finished" must surely mean that everything we need to know about how to approach other people has been shown to us ...
By showing us he loves us so much, just as we are, he hopes that we might be enabled to love ourselves, just as we are, and to love other people just as they are.
In our Bible study, as we looked at 1 Cor 10.31-33 just a week or so ago, and there we see St Paul's missionary strategy clearly spelled out: "Whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Give no offence to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved." He seeks not to change Jews or Greeks, (or even the church of God), but to please everyone in everything he does ...
Anything other than this (I suspect) is a waste of breath and a waste of effort.
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