Readings, prayers and reflections are available below.
GOOD FRIDAY 2 APRIL 2021
Today's sermon is available as an audio recording here. Press play to start. [RECORDING IN PROCESS, TO FOLLOW SOON]
The shadow of the goodness, mercy and love of God has been cast and spread out across the world, from heaven to earth, from east to west. And where they meet and intersect, they throw the shadow of the Cross over the whole world and over the whole of humankind. The Cross stands as an eternal contradiction, for it is where the sin of man encounters the love and mercy of God. It exemplifies the pattern of Christ’s life and that pattern is the same for all human lives.
It is the common experience of all Christians that divine grace constantly crosses and contradicts the movement of our fallen human nature, our moral waywardness and our unfulfilled destiny. By embracing the meaning of the Cross we apprehend the divine, expressed and manifested. It undermines in us self-seeking, self-aggrandisement and smug self-satisfaction; it curbs our private interest for the interests of our common life and communion. It marks out the way of our salvation.
Here in Jesus is the proper fulfilment of the law and the prophets: God made man. He fights the battle against human corruption and in and dies giving himself over to the will of the Father, giving the that gift of himself, unselfish, undefiled, unblemished: the true lamb without blemish, offered with all his heart and with all his love.
We say easily enough that Christ “died for us and for our salvation.” But the mystery that we have to explore is how the death of this man avails for us. What does it mean to say that “the Son of Man came … to give his life as a ransom for many”? We start with a death, the death of Jesus. In the animal world, death is a physical fact; it happens to all, the body wears out, the mechanism breaks down. But man is not an animal merely. God has ascribed to the death of a man or a woman something of more significance: it has a purpose beyond the shedding of a worn-out set of physical characteristics and bodily functions. In Christ’s death we see the perfect death, sin had not exerted its stranglehold.
If Christ’s death had merely been something that a man had consented to and had undergone, then it would have been an admirable pattern for us to imitate, the ultimate in self-giving; no more than that. It was not merely like that because it was an act of God, and as an act of God it had an infinite and an unlimited power: it is the power to carry us and to sustain us through life and death. We are bound into, incorporated into the death and rising of Christ. We are inextricably linked into that movement of Christ’s being. Christ dies our death and Christ achieves our life for us. We die our death and we enter into life through him.
The sin which the sinless Christ conquers and the death which he overcomes, is not his death nor his sin but it is ours. Evil can only be annihilated and overcome if it is met, if it is suffered and if it is redeemed. It was the sinfulness of man but it was the Son of God who met it on the Cross: it was the Son of God who suffered it on the Cross: and it was the Son of God who redeemed it on the Cross. He accomplished it as an act of selfless love, as an act of filial obedience, as an act of exemplary conformity to the divine will, as an act of solidarity with sinners, as a signal liberation from the bonds of sin, death and the devil. And he did it on our behalf: he did it for us in the most horrific and humiliating way; on a gallows, between two thieves, almost alone, deserted by his disciples, scourged, beaten, bruised, nailed and bleeding: “For our sakes … God made him the very image of sin, the very figure of a curse, that we might become all divine innocence in him.”
If we consider how undeserved was that sacrifice, we recognise the grace of God: if we consider the cost that was entailed and paid, we recognise Christ’s sacrificial atonement effected on the Cross; if we consider the effect of the sacrifice, we recognise our new life, our redemption, our sanctification through the blood of the Cross. The Cross is the manifestation of the true glory of humanity and the glory of God’s love in Christ unsparingly poured out. The Cross is the ultimate sign of love; the love that will risk all and everything, will risk humiliation and dereliction, will risk rejection and degradation. Only by such total self-giving can love appear completely independent of the limitations of the world, totally free and offered to all without distinction: a uniquely universal and disinterested sacrifice.
God loved his people, people like us, however difficult that may be to believe, he loved us so much and without qualification, that he gave Christ as a gift and victim as an expiation for our sins through the spilling of his blood and that bloody sacrifice is re-presented in the bloodless sacrifice where we are united with the death and resurrection of the Lord. “He bore our sins in his body on the tree tat we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed’. By his one sacrifice are our sins purged and we are offered the glorious liberation of our divine destiny. “Apart from the Cross there is no other ladder by which we may [ascend] to heaven.”