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Sermon: Good Friday The Three Hours Address Two

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


The Cross is the foundation of the Christian life in baptism, eucharist, worship and all that flows from it, for example, in pursuit of the Common Good, service of neighbour and proclamation: life for ourselves ends and life in Christ begins. This is about the renewal of creation, about being made in God’s image and likeness and sharing in God’s life not turning away from it: ‘If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation’ (2 Corinthians).

God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

I. Christian life and practice is shaped by participation in the life of God.

The relationship of Jewish people to God is shaped by faithfulness to the Covenant. Circumcision, dietary laws, Sabbath observance and other practices conform the People of Israel in faithfulness to God in the Covenant.

The relationship of Muslim people to God is shaped by obedience to God, as revealed by the Prophet Mohammad, and the declaration of the oneness of God.

What Christians share with the Jews is the sense of the Covenant we have with God. It is a relationship that we, as Christians, now understand to stretch beyond the confines of a single nation to embrace all humanity. What we share with Jews and Muslims is belief in the Unity, the Oneness, of God. That’s the ‘mono’ bit of monotheist. So we proclaim in the Creed, ‘I believe in one God…’ And we share the belief in the sovereignty of God, that God is not created by our imaginations, is not another ‘thing’ in the cosmos, but is Creator, and as such God is the sole object of worship.

Yet the Gospel invites us to even more than covenant relationship or obedient submission, whilst both are there in our scriptures. The Gospel invites us into participation in God’s life: that is perfect relationship with the Father, in the name of Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is about being, ‘filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that [we] may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as [we] bear fruit in every good work and as [we] grow in the knowledge of God’ (Colossians 1.9b).

II. The incarnation of Jesus Christ and the death of Jesus Christ cannot be unravelled. Jesus’ birth inevitably means he will die. Mary, his blessed Mother watched, and held him as he was born, watches and holds him when he dies.

This is the theological problem that I rub up against with Muslim colleagues at the University, where I am chaplain. I get asked, ‘how can the one true God possibly have offspring? It’s said to me: ‘you worship this Jesus, (Peace Be Upon Him) but he is a man, albeit a good and divinely inspired man, so much so we call him a prophet, but worship of him detracts from worship of God.’; ‘If he is God, why does he succumb to death on a cross, since what God wills just happens?’; ‘Anyway, he just appeared dead on the cross, but he wasn’t really.’

This demands an account of incarnation and redemption. We can look at it through Colossians terms of ‘image’. This word ‘image’ needs more unpacking: Jesus is not the ‘image’ of God if by that we mean God’s branding or logo; Jesus is not the image of God in terms of managing God’s image rights or reputation, a caring face of a capricious God against whom we can never succeed.

To say, as Paul does that, ‘Christ is the image of the invisible God’ means that when looking at Jesus we see the Father. As Jesus says to Philip, ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? (John 14.9b). The majesty of the Godhead is intensely present in the human body and frame of Jesus Christ: inseparable, indivisible. This is the answer to the Muslim question: In Jesus Christ, God has not created something outside himself, rather Jesus Christ is Godself.

What Christ Jesus lives and proclaims is the human capacity to be at one with God in the flesh, to be in communion with God reconciled as his beloved. As Paul says, ‘it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’ (2 Corinthians 4.6).

As we gaze on the face of the Crucified we gaze on God who, ‘stretching out his arms upon the cross’, ‘draws all people to [him]self’ (cf John 12.32). His broken body, lifted up, invites us to share in his life. This is the compelling vision of Paul, who testifies, ‘And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him’ (Colossians 1.21-22)

III. I kneel before the cross and I look and adore. I kneel before the cross and I look and am puzzled. What does this death, the death of Jesus Christ mean to me? Why does it matter to me? When gazing upon the face of the Crucified can I really be gazing upon the face of God? Is it only Jesus who is really like God? Can my features ever mirror his?

‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation’ (Colossians 1.15). To say that you and I are made in God’s image and likeness does not mean that God looks like you or looks like me. Many have written and speculated on what it does mean. Perhaps in the Garden of Creation the weight of it was too much to bear. It took Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane to show the dignity and joy of being made in God’s image. Any burden that it brings will be borne by Christ, whose life we share and who shares our lives (‘For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’. Matthew 11.30).

If I am convinced that God looks like me then I am tempted to conclude that therefore no one else looks like God, is not really made in his image, and the descent into tribalism, factionalism and conflict begins. However, to gaze on the face of another person is in one sense to behold the image and likeness of God: the fount of human dignity.

I gaze on the face of the Crucified and questions flood my mind. This death, the cross: for me? for everyone? A dying man: can this really be God I look upon? Can I say with St John Chrysostom: ‘I see him crucified, I call him king?’