A sermon preached at St. John’s Anglican Church, Port Elgin.
Audio of the sermon is available here.
Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Amen
The cross stands at the heart of the Christian faith; no cross, no Christianity. And yet, despite the centrality of the cross, I wonder, does the cross, the scandal of Christ crucified capture our hearts and imaginations or have we modern Christians become unwilling and unable to hear the good news of the cross?
Jesus’ crucifixion “is the touchstone of Christina authenticity, the unique feature by which everything else, including the resurrection, is give its true significance…it is in the crucifixion that the nature of God is truly revealed”. It for this reason that the crucifixion remains “the most important historical event that has ever happened”. Without the cross at the centre of Christian worship and witness, the story of Jesus the Christ can be dismissed as “just another story about a charismatic spiritual figure”. If Jesus is not God, the cross is of absolutely no significance.
Attempts to rationalize Christ’s crucifixion through arguments that seek to cast doubt on the biblical accounts and historical claims that question whether the cross was truly central to the faith of the earliest Christians speak more about our modern context and its concerns and assumptions than they do about what happened some 2,000 years ago on a hill outside of Jerusalem. We attempt to pacify the cross, to reduce it to a religious symbol that reminds us to ‘love like Jesus’ as we strive to be good people. However, if Christianity is purely a form of spiritual therapy, it is not the way of the cross. You see, the cross is not about the “exaltation of the human spirit”; it is “about God’s humiliation, God’s entry into an ugly and irreligious bit of the world”.
Therefore, simple truth is this: the cross of Christ cannot be rationalized because it is utterly scandalous and offensive. The cross is, a St. Paul described, utter foolishness to the wisdom of the world (cf. 1 Cor. 1.18). Indeed, as Martin Luther once remarked: crux probat omnia, that is, the cross tests everything. Our attempts to grasp or explain the cross will ultimately fail because the cross is that which grasps us and reveals the truth about humanity. This is precisely why the gospel of the cross is so difficult for us to hear and accept; we would much rather judge the cross than let the cross judge us.
The Passion reveals to us the lengths at which humans will go in their refusal and rejection of the God revealed to us in and through Jesus Christ. Therefore, the cross announces God’s judgement that we are at enmity with God, with our neighbors, and with ourselves. The judgment of the cross rightly makes us uncomfortable because it proclaims the stark truth about our situation. Our resistance or refusal to accept the judgment of the cross because we find it morally reprehensible or at odds with my preconceived notions about God underlines the truth of this judgment: we demand a God who acts on our terms and corresponds to our demands about who God is.
And yet, the cross tests everything; it tests our self-righteous attempts at religion, spirituality, piety, and morality. The cross stands as a reminder that it was precisely those who thought they had everything figured out about God are the ones who put Jesus on the cross. Let us not for one minute self-righteously assume that we enlightened moderns would have responded any differently than the crowds and religious leaders who demanded Jesus crucifixion 2,000 years ago. The cross stands as a reminder that we did not kill a spiritual teacher and a good man; we killed the Son of God, God Incarnate, and we killed him because he did not conform to our expectations about who God is and what God is like. The cross tests everything; it stands as God’s judgment against our insistence that we really are, deep-down, well-intentioned, good-hearted people. The truth the cross reveals is that we have alienated ourselves from God by rejecting Jesus Christ, the one who fully reveals God to his beloved creatures.
However, because the cross is God’s judgment, it is also simultaneously God’s mercy. God’s judgment and mercy are two-sides of the same coin, the coin that is God’s holy love.
To help us hear afresh the cross as the good news of God’s judgment and mercy and to reclaim the cross as the centre of Christian proclamation, I invite you to reflect upon the blood and water that flowed from Christ’s pierced body. The description of the blood and water seems like an odd detail to include. Indeed, of the four Gospels, only John includes this description. Furthermore, unlike the other Gospels, John’s does not make mention of the tearing of the veil or curtain in the temple. This might seem strange and there are certainly some who will cry ‘foul!’ at this seeming discrepancy in the Gospel narratives. However, there is a direct connection between the tearing of the temple veil and the blood and water that poured from Jesus’ side. Furthermore, this connection underlines the good news of the cross.
In the ancient poetry of Genesis 1 and 2, we read of how Adam and Eve, representative figures of humanity insisted on following their own desires and in so doing broke communion with God. As the Second Adam, Jesus Christ restores this broken fellowship by standing as the representative of the whole of humanity and bearing the full weight of God’s judgment against sin.
Sin is born of our refusal and rejection of God; we would rather live life on our own terms, seeking our own way through the world, turning our backs on the God who loves us. However, God refuses to leave us alienated from him ensnared in a web of sin with no way of returning back to God. Therefore, God’s judgment against sin – God’s ‘no!’ to that which breaks fellowship between him and his beloved creation is also a ‘yes!’ to restored and reconciled fellowship. Brennan Manning describes the Lion who will kill everything in us that separates us from his love, and of the Lamb who was murdered by us to mend that separation. Jesus is both Lion and Lamb; relentless against that which is parasitic on goodness and destroys life and tender and compassionate to those caught in the thrall of sin. Through Jesus’ crucifixion, “God has taken from us the power to live apart from Him” (Webster, 108). The cross is the undoing of sin’s power and the means of reconciliation with God.
The curtain in the temple separated the worshippers from the Holy of Holies; the curtain was a symbolic division between sinful humanity and a holy God. When the curtain tore on Good Friday, the division between humanity and God, between heaven and earth was removed. Through his death, Jesus opened the way of forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God; Christ’s sacrifice of himself ensures that all people everywhere can receive God’s forgiveness. Through Jesus Christ, our great high priest who offers himself as an atoning sacrifice, all humanity can have restored fellowship with God (cf. Rom. 5). The good news of the cross is that some 2,000 years ago, the incarnate Son of God hung, “derelict, outcast, and godforsaken; he hung there as the representative of all humanity, and suffered condemnation [and judgment] in place of all humanity, to break the Power and Sin and Death over all humanity”.
As Eve was created from Adam’s side, so the Church is created from Christ’s pierced side. As Christ, the second Adam, is born of the womb of Mary, so the Church is born of the wounds of Christ. We are born of water and blood; we have reconciled fellowship with God through baptism and the Eucharist. We participate in Christ’s death through baptism and the Eucharist; indeed, “the death of Jesus Christ is the one sacrament”. Because we participate in Christ’s death, we also participate in his resurrection.
This is why the absence of the sacraments is so poignant on Good Friday; we are reminded that we so often and so easily cut ourselves off form the source of life in our stubborn refusal and rejection of God. And yet, the tearing of the curtain and the blood and water that flowed from Jesus’ body stand as ever-present reminders of God’s overwhelming and singular desire to be with us and for us through Christ’s sacrifice and an invitation to participate in God’s Triune life. Therefore, the sacraments are not mere memorials of past events; they are literally a re-member-ing whereby Christ resurrects us into new life as his body, the Church. The sacraments are gifts given to us by God through the cross of Christ.
Indeed, the cross, and by extension, baptism and communion, tells us that there never was and never will be a time when God is against us; even in his judgment God remains for us because God’s will is “to destroy all that is hostile to perfecting his world”. Although the language of sacrifice and blood might ring problematic to our modern ears, the truth is that Christ’s blood “suggests that there is no sorrow God has not known, no grief he has not borne, no price he was unwilling to pay, in order to reconcile the world to himself in Christ”. This is good news.
Therefore, let us not rush to Easter in an attempt to avoid the offensive scandal of the cross. Rather, let us see the cross as the good news that for us and for our salvation, Christ Jesus was crucified, died as was buried, and descended to the dead. Amen.
 All quotations in this paragraph are from Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion, 44.
 John Webster, The Grace of Truth, 69.
 Rutledge, 610.
 Karl Barth, CD, IV/1, 296.
 Rutledge, Crucifixion, 282.
 George Hunsinger as quoted by Rutledge, 283.