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Sermon: Good Friday The Three Hours - Address One

Friday 3rd April 2015
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The Cross: Glory, grace & truth in the Letter to the Colossians & Gospel of St John


O Lord Jesus Christ,

Son of the living God,

set your passion, cross and death

between your judgement and our souls,

now and in the hour of our death.

Grant mercy and grace to the living,

rest to the departed,

to your Church peace and concord

and to us sinners forgiveness,

and everlasting life and glory;

for, with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

you are alive and reign,

God, now and for ever.


Common Worship: Daily Prayer p.406


The epistle to the Colossians restates the universal (catholic) character of salvation as a cosmic reality that has an impact on the way in which our lives are configured and formed. This first address considers the mystery of the Cross and why we are here, in this place, today. It invites us to see the Cross as being beyond categories of exclusivity or inclusivity but rather catholic and cosmic but in a way that enables our participation in the very life of the Triune God.

God forbid that I should glory,

save in the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

I. To fix one’s sights on the cross is to contemplate the heart of the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as proclaimed in the Gospel, by the Church and as understood by Christians.

The cross is the place into which, and out of which, all our conceptions of God flow: redemption, salvation, atonement are unthinkable for Christians without the cross.

The proclamation of the Cross is at the heart of the Liturgy that will be celebrated shortly.

The cross proclaimed in two key ways: first, the bare, stark wood of the Cross demands our attention in its arresting brutality. We are invited to come forward, to touch, even to kiss, to reverence. It is like the devotion of the Stations of the Cross, where we move and walk the way of the cross. We place ourselves with Mary, the Mother of God, St John, the Beloved Disciple, the other women, the centurion, and those who passed by. The wood of the cross thus venerated engages our senses and imaginations, and it can never leave us neutral. It is a sign of brutality and death.

The second Proclamation of the Cross in the Liturgy is in the giving of Holy Communion; Christ’s body and blood. The Cross is proclaimed not simply as a vivid reminder of a brutal death and way of killing (as if we could forget) but rather the Cross as the place on which Christ’s body was broken and his blood flowed, fulfilling the language of Maundy Thursday and the Institution of the Eucharist and its celebration day by day and Sunday by Sunday.

This draws us into the first paradox of the cross: that a brutal death has the capacity to bring life, and, we go even further, it has the capacity to restore God’s image in men, women and children. This is why the cross is an inclusive sign, but actually more than that, it is a universal, a Catholic sign: its significance is not just for Christians.

When we contemplate the cross we see the image of humanity and the image of God all in the face of the Crucified: Christus Victor, Christ the Victor. And in that face we see ‘the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation’ (Colossians 1.15).

II. The inclusivity of the cross is a historically flawed concept, but its catholicity is not. That is to say, the cross has been, since the earliest days, a source of scandal and folly: as St Paul tells us, ‘a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles’ (1 Corinthians 1.23). It has driven people away: it is an exclusive sign. This is what we proclaim.

For Jews, and Muslims, of later generations the cross has become a sign of oppression in the form of pogroms and Crusades, and so we have destroyed its inclusivity. But even we cannot destroy its catholicity, that is, its significance for the whole of humanity, and of the cosmos, as Paul goes on to say, ‘to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 1.24).

The cross, then, both includes and excludes. This is a profound paradox, but a paradox that is bridged by seeing the cosmic and universal significance of the cross – the Cross Catholic – and yet dwelling at all times and in places for all people: you and me.

Today, the day of the Lord’s Passion, is the time, in St Paul’s words again, to ‘consider your own call, brothers and sisters’ (1 Corinthians 1.26). He asks us to consider this call in relation to the weakness of God - which the logic of the cross calls wisdom and power - so that we might know, and even boast in, ‘the presence of God’ (1 Corinthians 1.29).

The point of considering this call, today, is to be recalled to the well of life which is in Christ, to drink again and know, ‘[God] is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption’ (1 Corinthians 1.30).

III. As I gaze upon and contemplate the cross what do I see? How do I participate in the saving power of the cross? A man suspended between heaven and earth in the throes and agonies of death: how can this begin to be the source of life and salvation?

The Cross Catholic surpasses both our understanding and our capacity to do damage to its saving power.

The Cross sets our bearings upon the pursuit of the Christian life which is nothing less than sharing in the life of God. That sharing in the life of God is summonsed out of us in our worship, that daily offering of ourselves to God, ‘in whose service is perfect freedom’.

Baptism marks the sign of the cross upon us and drowns the controlled and controlling impulses of our human nature to fix us upon God the source of our life and light. We are incorporated into the life of Christ. Paul connects our new life in Christ to our death with Christ in baptism, ‘When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead’ (Colossians 2.12).

The Eucharist binds us into the sacrifice of Christ made once for all upon the cross and sketches out the contours of the New Creation, the Banquet of Heaven, the Kingdom, to be savoured not at an indeterminate point in some vague future, but to be lived now: so that, as Paul describes to Timothy, we are those who, ‘store up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that [we] may take hold of the life that really is life’ (1 Timothy 6.19).

Being baptised, sharing in the Eucharist is the call to live a renewed life, finding again the image of God within us: Paul puts it like this in Colossians:

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourself with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the creator. (Colossians 3.9-10)

In the Garden Adam and Eve reject God and say that his image, stamped and reflected in their lives, is of nothing worth. In the Garden Jesus accepts the will of the Father and says ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want’ (Mark 14.36). The face of Jesus Christ is in the sheer image of the Father.

At the cross we stand at the foot of the tree of life. And this time we are invited to eat of its fruit, Jesus Christ, and find that our deepest identity is in Christ and that transcends all our other identities and who we might think we are, ‘In that renewal’ says Paul, ‘there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all in all!’ (Colossians 3.11)