This sermon, preached at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Good Friday, March 29th 2013, is based on the readings for Good Friday in the Revised Common Lectionary.
You can find those readings here.
There is a dream that we cling to, one that we long to see come to fruition, a dream so powerful and life giving that we have pursued it for as long as we can remember. That dream goes something like this”
“The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6-9).
We long for a world where all things, all people live in harmony, where peace reigns and where God is always present. But it is important to remember that this dream, this vision does not originate with us.
This is God’s dream, God’s vision for creation, for all of humankind and for all things. God, the one who spoke all things into being; God, who created order from the void, the chaos; God who gives light, life, and meaning to all things; this dream, this vision of the created order comes from the one in whom we live and move and have our being.
This is God’s wish for us.
“They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea”
And to that end…
“from the primal elements God brought the human race, and blessed us with memory reason and skill. God made us the rulers of creation. But we turned against God, and betrayed God’s trust, and we turned against one another… Again and again God called us to return. Through prophets and sages God revealed God’s righteous law” (BCP p. 370).
But we are a stiff necked and rebellious people. Again and again we put our own needs, our own desires ahead of God’s dream and ahead of the neighbors we have been called to love. Our need to be “first,” to be in control leads us to exploit the people around us as we seek our own benefit, the advancement of our own agenda and needs, as we seek what looks and feels to this world like power.
“And so, in the fullness of time God sent God’s only Son, born of a woman, to fulfill God’s righteous law, to open for us the way of freedom and peace” (BCP p. 370)
“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own and his own people did not accept him” (John 1:10,11).
“For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried” (The Nicene Creed).
“By his blood, he reconciled us. By his wounds we are healed” (BCP p. 370).
By “his” blood he reconciled us? By “his” wounds “we” are healed? How can that be? How does that make sense?
“Incarnate by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, he lived as one of us, yet without sin. To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation; to prisoners freedom; to the sorrowful joy” (BCP p. 374).
So how does this death, the death of one who bore no fault, no shame, who lived without sin, reconcile and heal us? Why is that that we sit here today, at the foot of the cross, an instrument of torture and death – prepared to claim and venerate this moment as our own? What sense does it make to say that this innocent man died for our sins?
We are the ones who are at fault. We are the ones who have betrayed God’s trust and turned against God and one another. We are the ones who should bear the consequences of our choices, out actions, our betrayals because we are the ones who have fallen into sin.
How does this make sense? Let’s think back a little, to the Gospel of John to that well beloved passage people so often quote,
“For God so loved the world that God gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him my not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Now push on to the next verse, one that is extremely important as we consider the cross,
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).
Jesus came into the world, preached, taught, showed us the way to heaven and then died for us, for our sake, in order that the world might be saved. “Saved,” that our offense, our betrayals, that our sins be forgiven that we may live in the light of God’s love.
That our sins might be forgiven… “Forgiven” think about that word for a minute. What does it mean to forgive? If I have been wronged then I am entitled to justice. I am entitled to redress, to compensation. If I have been wronged I have a right to demand that the one who has harmed me pay a penalty for the indignity to which they have subjected me. If I have been wronged then it is only fair that the person who has offended me suffer the same hurt that I have experienced. We would call that fair. We would call that justice.
To forgive means to forgo the satisfaction that is due the injured party. To forgive is to receive the hurt, the offense, the injury without retaliating and without nurturing the wound or fostering a grudge. To forgive is to be willing to suffer at the hands of those who have wronged us and to refuse to inflict suffering in return. To forgive is to step out side of the “eye for an eye” approach to life and to enter instead into a mutualistic relationship that is transformative for both the offender and the offended. To forgive is to risk being changed and to risk the possibility that the future might be different than the past.
We have fallen short of God’s vision, God’s dream for creation. Left to our own devices we have become stuck in a cycle of violence that consumes the lamb, the kid, and the fatling; returning violence for violence, escalating and multiplying the hurt, building pain upon pain. We have created the world in our own image and our need for power and control has loosed bears who rend and destroy, lions who devour the innocent, and adders who seem to strike without warning or mercy.
God came into this broken world, not to condemn us for our failure to live in God’s light and love; not to demand justice, compensation and ransom; but to lift us out of the darkness by putting an end to our endless cycle of rage, retribution, and violence. God came into this world to offer us forgiveness, something that would “fulfill God’s law and to open for us the way of freedom and peace” (BCP p. 370).
To fulfill God’s law… It doesn’t make much sense to us because God’s law and God’s justice don’t look much like ours. But this is what God’s law, God’s justice looks like… It looks like Jesus, God on a cross. God’s law, God’s justice is a love so great, so deep and so wide that it is willing to suffer; to endure hurt, wrong, and betrayal. God’s law, God’s justice is manifested in a willingness to forgive in the hope that we will choose the way of freedom and peace. And that transformed by the gift of forgiveness that has been given to us and by the demonstration of the power of love over sin and death we will begin to live out our vocation as the church, “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (BCP p. 855).
This sermon is indebted to Charles Hefling and his article “Why the Cross” published March 11, 2013 in the Christian Century. You can read his article here.
Problem is, I couldn’t help thinking about carnivores and whether God’s plan really was that lions should not be lion-like and bears not catch salmon to eat. What does a peaceful world really look like given that carnivores and predators are among some of God’s most beautiful creatures? How is the metaphor of the peaceable kingdom able to be remade for a time when we are a bigger threat to bears and wolves and leopards than they are to us? How is our cycle of violence not part of even the good earth and it’s bloody clawed denizens but of something else far more fallen than a lion or shark. How natural is sin and oppression, and how different from the natural world? If the whole world made new has space for predators, perhaps it has space for me?
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