First Reading Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12
The Messiah will come, but his fate will not be like that of kings but, rather, of the suffering of the humanity he joins; his final vindication is in the people drawn to God by his life and death.
Second Reading Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
We can take courage from the promises of our great high priest because he has lived our experience and knows our humanity from within.
Gospel John 18:1 – 19:42
Jesus, the personification of truth and love while being fully human, submits to the greatest test and shows us the depth of God’s love for all humanity in his sacrifice.
HOMILY “We have a high priest who in every respect has been tested as we are,yet without
sin.” (Hebrews 4: 15)
Last night we recalled Jesus new commandment to love: “Love one another, as I have loved you. Just as I have loved you, so you should love one another.” (John 13:35) First, Jesus demonstrated that love by washing his disciples’ feet – an act of baptism, cleansing from sin and failure, so that his followers may be sent into the world to proclaim his love and follow his example as disciples with love for all. Love is placed right at the heart of the moment – it is commanded of them, and of us. Yet within hours the disciples have fled, Peter the rock has denied Jesus’ existence, and Jesus himself has faced the most horrendous interrogation, torture and abuse at the hands of the vicious Romans and the temple police, as we have just recounted in our dramatic passion Gospel Reading according to John.
The disciples are told to love, and serve each other, even those that may hate them, yet they are unable to stand by their own master and Lord. Jesus is tried and found not guilty, but he is the suffering servant, the one who is prepared to give up everything, even his own life for the sake of the world. And so Christ, the innocent victim is nailed to the tree of life, and the burden of all human sin falls upon his blood-stained shoulders. So, John ends his Passion narrative with these chilling words of observation and faith: “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.” (John 19:37).
These past six weeks of Lent, we have been reading and studying together Samuel Wells’ book on the cross entitled ‘Hanging by a Thread’. Sam has, in his inimitable way, challenged each one of us to look again at the death of Jesus and ask several things which lead to the question: “Is faith hanging by a thread?” The challenge is to recognise our part in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. Where are we in this most shocking story? Are we willing to look upon the one pierced for our sins and our salvation – love hung on a tree? For as we gaze upon the cross we see not just God in human form, but our own lives. As Jesus suffers, so God experiences our sufferings. We gaze upon the one who knows what it is to be a part of the creation He has brought into being. But we also gaze upon the one we rejected. The scene at Golgotha is that of nightmares. But friends, we are called to look and to see what is happening, both to us and for us. We watch as the soldier pierces the side of our Lord and blood and water pour forth. Death seems everywhere – and how true that is of our own lives as much as this scene of devastation, for we see in Jesus our own mortality and our own fragility. Yet the blood that bursts forth from His side tells of our redemption, and cleansing from sin; the water speaks of new birth, the new start that has taken place. This is a new baptism, a baptism of blood and the cleansing of all sin, for all time, because now God knows and His relationship with us is forever. The arms of our dying Lord open wide in embrace as he loves and forgives from the cross. In the face of all this suffering we may well fear that ‘faith is hanging by a thread’.
But don’t miss the signs of new life. Just like in Spring, even amidst the snow which we have had plenty of this winter, the signs of new life are still there. The blood and water are signs of life, life bestowed on all humanity, through the giving up of Jesus’ own life in the form of a sacrifice, as is written in the Old Testament book of law: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement.” (Lev. 17:11) As St Paul reminds us in his letter to Titus, “He saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5).
We believe that it is through the shedding of his innocent blood that we are washed free from all that holds us back, our sin, which is the only barrier between us and God. Sam Wells may not agree with this view of atonement – what Jesus has done for us. Some may well be stuck in the challenge of death – and the most dreadful suffering imaginable – but to me, the cross speaks of life in all its glory and yes, that life comes at a cost – to God! The cross and sacrifice of Jesus, the one who “takes away the sins of the world” (as is proclaimed before we come forward to receive the sacrament), leads to reconciliation between God and humanity – that we may be one. "For God indeed was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself." (2 Corinthians 5:19).
The cross is about overcoming more than just separation. It is a moment of absolute liberation. Our relationship with God is changed by Jesus’ death and his resurrection, and the two events should be held together because the cross speaks of life. That is what forgiveness really means: to have life again. And in communion, in the broken bread and wine outpoured, we encounter that very life, forgiving our sins and re-uniting us with the God who breathed life into us and who loves us, and calls us to go then and love others. In a moment we will have an opportunity to come and reverence the cross. We may choose to come up and just hold the wood of the cross. We may choose to kiss the wood, or to say a prayer before the cross. Friends, however you choose to reverence and remember, come because you desire to say thank you to Jesus for all he has done for you and all that he continues to do. Come because our Lord invites you to come to him. He invites you to come and be present at the foot of his cross and to know that he loves you. And come because it is the Lord who leads you into new life with God – a new relationship of love. Amen.