Sermons & services

Lent 6 - Was crucified, died, and was buried

Published Thursday 14th April 2022, at 7:17 a.m.

One of the things from which we simply cannot escape is the death of Jesus. It’s like it’s the centre point of the Gospels. And is the pivot of our Creed. The passion of the Christ is the core of the Scriptures: the core of the Good News. It is also the heart of faith, liturgy, and prayer for most Christians. Have you noticed that the Creed doesn’t have much to say about the moral teaching or miracles of Jesus, but rather they home in on the events of this last week of his life. His Passion and Death: what Christians call the Paschal Mystery. This liturgy we celebrate each Sunday has as its focus and principle purpose the remembrance of the death of the Lord until he comes again. This is my Body given for you; this is my Blood shed for you. The crucifix – the image of Christ upon the Cross – is probably the dominant image of the church over 2,000 years. So our Creed – after stating that Jesus took on human flesh – then goes on to state that he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. And what’s important is that it is for us and for our salvation. Up until now, we’ve been talking about God and Jesus. Now we – humanity – you and me – enter the Creed. This Incarnation, Passion, and death of Jesus is for us and for our salvation. This death of Jesus – to be more precise, the execution of Jesus – is at the heart of the Creed. At the heart of human history. Which is, by the way, why the Creed mentions the person of Pontius Pilate, the governor of the Roman province of Judea who presided over the trial of Jesus. There was a time when people questioned the existence of Pilate. Then, in 1961, a stone carving was found in Caesarea which actually contains the name of Pilate, carved in stone: the first evidence outside the Bible that Pilate was a real, living, breathing, person. And it’s why the Creed includes his name. Why? Because this really happened. Jesus really was executed. He really died. He is not some mythological figure: he is located in human history. In our story. He really died for us and for our salvation under Pontius Pilate. But though it means we can be precise about the event, when it comes to explaining its inner workings, Christianity stammers before the awesome mystery of the Cross and the death of the God-Man, Jesus of Nazareth. Justification, redemption, atonement, expiation, propitiation, satisfaction, oblation, sacrifice, reconciliation: they are all words which Christians have used to give explanation to the death of Jesus and how this saves us. But it is absolutely vital to recall that it is not the death of Christ that saves us. It is love that saves us. Last week we learned that Jesus shares in everything that it means to be human. And if you notice, throughout the Creed, Jesus has been descending and descending and descending. As St Paul told the Philippians: he did not count his equality with God something to be held on to but emptied himself of his divinity and came down from heaven. He will now descend into the horror of God-forsakenness on the Cross and thence into the tomb. Travelling ever deeper into what it means to be human. It’s like God abolishes all the distance between Himself and what it means to be human, from its beginnings in the womb to the bitter end, which is death. God takes the initiative and bridges the gap between heaven and earth. And Christ, our great High Priest, is the bridge. In latin the word for priest is pontifex, but ‘pont’ is also the word for bridge. He is the bridge between heaven and earth. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, making peace by the blood of the Cross, as St Paul tells the Christians in Corinth. Because on the Cross, all the sin, all the violence, all the hatred, all the institutional injustice, all the cruelty, in the world comes at Jesus – attacks Jesus – but finds no foothold in the One who is Love made flesh. The triumph of the Cross – Christus victor, Christ the Victor – is the triumph of love, lived by Jesus from beginning to end. A love that did not capitulate to the threat of those who renounced his mission or wanted him to tone it down, or just go home quietly. A love that did not perpetuate the cycling and recycling of revenge and hatred and sin. A love that absorbed all that sin and anger and evil and cruelty and, like a lightning rod, dissipated its power, earthed it. And Jesus accepted this, underwent this, for me and you. It’s personal. It’s why St Paul can talk about the Jesus who loved me and gave himself for me. For me. For you. The wages of sin is death, says St Paul, words proclaimed from many a church notice board. But it is Jesus who undergoes that spiritual separation from God (which is the ultimate wage of sin) so that we would not have to. It is Jesus Christ who died that death for us on the Cross: for us and for salvation. We adore you O Christ and we bless you, because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world. Amen.