Sermon: The Cross: a testimony
Preached on 5th April 2009
(Palm Sunday: Matins)
by The Reverend Canon Dr David Kennedy
May the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts be now and always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
This sermon is by way of personal testimony. I'd like to share with you something of what the Cross of Jesus means to me as we stand at the beginning of this great and holy week, as we worship together on this Sunday of the Lord's passion. I hope it will stand alongside your own personal convictions and insights, for the mystery of the cross is such a many-splendoured thing, that the world itself could not embrace its fullness.
And I want to begin on the personal level. I have often been taken by some of St Paul's most tender words in Galatians
I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me.
‘...who loved me and gave himself up for me'. I well remember the evening when I was a teenager, when the penny finally dropped that on the Cross Jesus had done something for me that I could never ever hope to do for myself. That through his cross, I have been forgiven and accepted, and brought into a knowledge of something of the depth of Christ's love for me personally. It was a life-changing experience, and I knew then that my calling was to seek to live out that fact, to let his cross motivate and inform my Christian discipleship.
But second, the Cross is not simply about individuals; it is something that embraces the human race. So the eloquent words of the Prayer of Consecration in the Prayer Book; Christ's one perfect sacrifice of himself was ‘for the sins of the whole world'. There is no limited atonement. Again, quoting St Paul, ‘Christ died for all', and I have come to understand the word ‘for' as such a strong word, and embracing word, an expansive word. The Cross can never simply be about personal piety; it stands at the very fulcrum of human destiny. Indeed Christ, as Son of God and Son of Man, stands as the new Human Being, the representative Human Being, the Second Adam, who in his own body re-constitutes humanity by vicariously living our life and dying our death, and taking on himself our sin - bearing it and crucifying it, so that the power of sin is executed and the sting of death is drawn. The wonder of the Cross is that Christ offers his obedience in place of human disobedience, his ‘yes' in place of human ‘no', his righteousness in place of human unrighteousness. And the fruit of his passion is being worked out in human history and in human destiny. How? well I can only glimpse it and believe it, in the full conviction that when Christ is revealed, it will be the marks of his passion that not only we, but all the human race, will recognise:
Those dear tokens of his passion still his dazzling body bears;
With what rapture gaze we on those glorious scars.
But then, third, the Cross also embraces something in the heavens. I do not claim to begin to understand, but I do believe we need to take seriously, that strand in the Scriptures that speaks of mysterious principalities and powers that are themselves rebellious and wicked. So, in Ephesians 6, we read that our struggle is not against flesh and blood only, but against spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.' In other words, there is a cosmic conflict between good and evil; not an equal and opposite conflict, but nevertheless, a spiritual reality that motivates the kind of evil we see in the world that seems so much greater than the sum of the parts. I take that mysterious verse in the Book of Revelation, ‘...and there was war in heaven..' as a reference to the Cross. The conflict raging on earth on the hill of Calvary was also being waged in heaven as absolute evil and perfect love met head on in the body of Jesus. And of course, the powers of evil thought they had their day. St Paul, in 1 Corinthians, speaks of these powers as ‘the rulers of this age' who crucified the Lord of glory. They thought they were frustrating God's will; in face they were fulfilling it! And the resurrection is the great sign that evil is conquered by love. God's love is stronger than the greatest evil.
But then, fourthly, I want to see the cross as something that has entered the life of the Godhead. Not only did the Father, and I use this word carefully, ‘experience' the giving up of his own Son, and shockingly, but in reality, the experience of death within the life of the Godhead, for be certain, on the cross God died - and that is what makes the cross so utterly shocking, but the narrative of the suffering of the Son is now part of the narrative of the life of God, and if Jesus is the representative Human Being, if his death embraces all human suffering, and all human dying, then somehow, all the tragedies, pains, sufferings and death of the human race are subsumed into the life of heaven in order that suffering may be redeemed. A beautiful prayer expresses this:
May our darkness be dispelled by your light,
and our troubles calmed by your peace;
may all evil be redeemed by your love,
all pain transformed through the sufferings of Christ,
and all dying be glorified in is risen life.
And fifthly, I want to see the Cross as an on-going movement of God's love. It is, of course, the supreme irony, that an instrument of brutal execution should become the great symbol of God's love - but isn't that itself a sign of the transformative redemptive power and wisdom of God. Most of what I have said in this sermon is about God has done in Christ objectively - the dealing with sin, the overcoming of death, the restoration of estranged humanity to God, but the Cross also speaks subjectively. It challenges us about today, it asks us hard questions about how we are to live, it extends our narrow preoccupations and prejudices, because if Christ died for all, for love of all, then no-one can ever lie outside of our concern, no one can be excluded or written off, no one can be regarded as outside the scope of such a love.
Oh that we could inhabit and live the words of St Paul - the love of Christ compels us - because one has died for all. All of which leads me this Holy Week to worship and prayer, to love and service, for -
It is a thing most wonderful,
Almost too wonderful to be
That God's own Son should come from heaven
And die to save a child like me.
And yet, I want to love thee, Lord;
O light the flame within my heart,
And I will love thee more and more,
Until I see thee as thou art.