Good Friday 2006
Faced with a scene like the crucifixion for real, most of us would be horrified and repelled unless we were complete sadists. If we knew and loved the person then to look would bring about the most appalling horror, pain and suffering within us. How could be otherwise? And yet for 1500 years Western Christianity has looked upon the Cross. The Image of the Crucified Christ has been a dominant one in our culture.
On my study wall I have a reproduction of an icon of the crucifixion. Jesus is near death, his body forced ground wards by the burdens he carries. Mary crippled by grief and sorrow nevertheless points us to her Son. St. John contemplating the scene invites us to do likewise. In this solemn service we do just that. What do we bring and what do we receive as we kneel at the foot of the cross?
The epistle to the Hebrews is not the easiest of the epistles to read. However it does contains deep reflection on the meanings of the cross. As we read today’s passage we are guided us in our prayer and reflection.
- Holding fast to our confession Jesus is our high priest, one who has bridged the gulf between man & God, between creature and creator. He is Son of God and has already passed through the heavens, one with the Father. We already know the outcome of the Crucifixion so we can ‘hold fast to our confession’. Holding fast is not always easy amidst the turmoil of life. Christ makes it possible. Holding a crucifix or making the sign of the cross can remind us of this.
- One who sympathizes with our weaknesses. Jesus is like us, a fellow human being. From his origins in poverty through the beginnings of his ministry, from the temptation in the wilderness to his passion Jesus ‘was tested as we are’. He can sympathize with our condition. He too has been through it. But there is more; he was ‘without sin’. As the sinless one he can deal with our sinfulness. Weak though we are he gives us a way through to God. There is a picture of a dead signaller in WW1 called ‘through’. He has repaired the break in the telephone wire. Communication is restored at the moment of his death. It analogous to Jesus’ death on the Cross.
- We can approach the throne of grace with boldness. Remember the lines from Charles Wesley’s hymn ‘And can it be’, ‘bold I approach’. If we were granted an audience of the Queen few of us would approach her throne with boldness, more in a state of nervousness. Christ makes it possible to approach the throne of heaven with boldness and without fear, there to ‘receive mercy and find grace in time of need’.
- The prayer of Jesus is always heard. ‘In the days of his flesh Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears’. We often feel like offering tears and loud cries to heaven, for ourselves or for others. Think of Munch’s famous painting ‘the Scream’. Elsewhere the writer to the Hebrews describes how as high priest Jesus makes constant intercession for us. Michael Ramsey defined intercession ‘as being with God with the people on our heart’. Weak as we are our attempts at such prayer are feeble. Jesus does it for us, always, ‘in reverent submission’. When we pray, our prayer is joined with his and with the prayer of all Christian people, the surrounding ‘cloud of witnesses’.
- Obedience learned through suffering. Life will all its ups and downs is a school of suffering through which we learn to be obedient to God and are made perfect through Christ. It is not that God sends suffering as a punishment although much of it is a consequence of human sin. Think of the strife in the Holy Land and the agonies it brings. Obedience does not mean a childlike or even dog like submission of our identity to a feared master. Rather it means accepting our limitations and our dependence on our creator. Perfection means coming to the end of the process, what the Fathers called divinisation, becoming one with God.
- He became the source of our eternal salvation. Christ was made perfect. He deals with the effects of sin and death. In obeying him we receive eternal life. He is the ‘source of eternal life’. Think of the source of a river, a spring constantly bubbling up with fresh water. Such is Christ, the ‘source of eternal life’, in us. At any time we can be aware of his life bubbling up within us, resurrection life, the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Today when we kneel at the foot of the cross we come with boldness, holding fast; in obedience and reverence; offering our weakness, our sufferings, our tears and loud cries; joining our prayers with His; receiving mercy, grace, help, eternal salvation from him who is the source of all life.
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