The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
Kia Ora from New Zealand :-)
s022g10 Good Friday 2/4/2010
'This was to fulfil what the scripture says, "They divided my clothes among themselves .." John 19.24
Time and again we read in the gospel accounts that this or that happened to fulfil scripture. It is almost a mantra of the evangelists, and serious scholars of the Bible suggest that some of the stories we read about Jesus, particularly the birth narratives, are more likely fiction rather than fact to show that Jesus fulfilled scripture.
And it strikes me that this is quite different to the way we use scripture. We use, or misuse, scripture to justify this or that doctrine or this or that behaviour. Scripture has been misused to justify continuing the slave trade, continuing discrimination against people of a colour different to our own, the silencing and marginalisation of women and continuing alienation of gay and lesbian persons. We misuse the same scripture that bids us love our neighbours to justify our hatred of others who are different.
The gospel accounts use scripture to say hey look, this is what happened to Jesus, and hey here are some words in the Old Covenant that shows that Jesus fulfils those words and so is indeed the messiah.
This assumes that the people who heard the words of the evangelists have no knowledge of Jesus whatsoever which for those days was probably true. The evangelists' task as they saw it, was to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah and show how his messiah-ship was congruent with the hopes of the ancient people of God. Sadly in the ministry of St Paul, even though he did this, the ancient people of God often rejected the witness and it was gentiles who realised that they were included.
And so our task is the same, to proclaim Jesus as the messiah and show how his messiah-ship is congruent with the spiritual experience and heritage of the hearers. So part of the task of the evangelists was to look carefully at the writings of the ancient people of God to gain some appreciation of their spiritual heritage. So part of our task is also to look carefully at the writings of those with whom we might interact to gain some appreciation of their spiritual heritage. For if we worship the God of the whole creation there will no doubt be convergences and divergences as there are with the Old Testament. And when we do this, when we are seen to be carefully taking into the account the spiritual experiences of others, we will find that others will recognise and realise that this same respect for others' experiences will include a respect for their own.
Today we can look at the gruesome events of that Good Friday so long ago and see in them the fulfilment of a vast array of passages in the Old Covenant, but the invitation is also directed towards us, to see how this Jesus fulfils our own perceptions of messiah-ship in our terms and not in someone else's. Inherent in this perception is the fact that **my** perception is never the final word.
For Jesus was killed because Jesus didn't conform to a rigidly self-centred perception of messiah-ship that the religious professionals held. There was only one perception theirs and Jesus did not conform to it! Had Jesus conformed to it he would have recognised their spiritual superiority over others and the rightness of their condemnation of, and separation from, people like tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners.
Recently I have been pondering the intersection of art and the sacred, and even an artistic novice like me knows that art reflects the divine. A painting is one person's perspective on the reality of God. It only approximates to the reality, for no one can ever capture the totality of God, any more than my perception of God is the final word.
But the gospel accounts are similarly works of art, albeit in literary, rather than pictorial form. To make my point I would refer you to the first and second chapters of Genesis, which are surely not videos of the events, but literary works of art, depicting God and the creation. There are in fact two pictures given to us and they are very different pictures. The first has the seven days of creation with man and woman created equally and simultaneously as the pinnacle of creation over all the animals, birds and fish, on the sixth day. The second has the first human being created from the dust of the earth and then the animal kingdom and finally, because no helper fit for the human being was found, the heavenly surgery took place to separate male and female. I point out that this is historically irreconcilable with the other account and that in reality the first human was not male, but both male and female, and so the creation of male and female as separate entities was again simultaneous. But there would be no point in putting two identical photographs of a scene next to one another on a gallery wall. But there certainly is a point to putting pictures by different artists of the same scene, side by side for they would each illuminate the other.
So too the creation stories, though by different authors, are put side by side so that the one illuminates the other. If they were historically inerrant accounts they would be identical and there would be no point for the duplication. And there are four gospel accounts of Jesus' life, and each illuminates the others, because all are different. They are literary works of art, communicating something of the reality of the divine, but none complete by its own.
Indeed I am certain that photographs of the divine would communicate less of the reality of the divine than artistic representations. For the divine touches the soul, a notoriously difficult thing to photograph, yet the artist cannot but help revealing something of his or her own soul.
So if we misuse scripture to dismiss the spiritual experiences of others then we are crucifying Jesus anew.
And it occurs to me that there is no other event in the history of this creation more frequently the subject of art than the crucifixion. From the multitude of kitsch plastic crosses to the multi-million dollar graphic motion picture: 'The Passion of Christ' by Mel Gibson all are inspired by this one event in history. And they are all different, none are precisely the same. Yet each points to the one reality, and each is important to its own creator or owner, for it expresses something of them as well as something of their own faith, their own soul, the thing that is important to them. And surely this is what is the most important thing, not that Jesus died, but that because he died, (and, of course, has risen) the crucified one continues to touch and enliven souls to this day.
This Good Friday we are bidden to remember again that the spiritual experience that we have known in our own lives simply would not have been possible if Jesus' death was final. So our continuing experiences of the divine also fulfil scripture, for Jesus died (and rose again) not for some esoteric atonement transaction between the Father and the Son, but that each and every person may continue to be touched and enlivened by the divine. The great tapestry of scripture is similarly produced for us and we in turn are bidden to add to it our unique perception of our souls enlivened by God.
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