... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Easter Day Year A
Message April 20, 2014

The Core of Christianity!

Text: Matthew 28:1-10

Scripture to modern ears is often times viewed as somehow incomplete in that we are rarely if ever given the objective cut and dried facts we have come to expect from historical documentaries .At the same time we are disappointed by the frequent lack of the human emotional testimony of witnesses to dramatic events. We have only to turn on the radio or the TV and we are inundated with not only the facts and data leading up to a news story, but the eye-witness commentaries of how the event impacted on those around. Modern reporting has given us a lust for all the juicy gory and vivid details of events so that we might in some vicarious manner fulfill the inner need “to know”.

As Scripture leaves so much of this out many have chalked the bible up to myth legend or hoax, demanding that to prove itself it needs to meet modern scientific and history-making facts and supporting documentation. Unfortunately, like many other events, significance and impact becomes a cause-celebre` in retrospect: e.g. our understanding and knowledge of Sir Winston Churchill was only garnered after his rise to political power and prowess as a war-time leader. Previous to those events he had not overly distinguished himself in the eyes of the peace-time political milieu. In much the same way the identity of Jesus and in fact our notion of Christianity was only realized in retrospect of the events of Good Friday and Easter morning. Only in light of those events did humanity come to re-interpret who Jesus was, what God was accomplishing in and through him, and what it meant for humanity. Then and only then did people try to go back and re-create the life and ministry of Jesus. And all this without the advantages of such modern tools as computers, instant replay, quick travel to interview relatives acquaintances etc. Add to this the ubiquitous and ever present reality of the brutality of their giving of justice there’s little doubt that emotional reactions were taken for granted.

The central core then for our entire understanding of Jesus and Christianity stands with the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. In those days the events which God accomplished were witnessed and alter comprehended by a small few who preserved the events in oral and sporadically written form to be later (some 60-100 years later) compiled and condensed into what we now have as the Gospels. For 1800 plus years those compiled words have been venerated and studied. However, in the last hundred years Christians and no Christians have begun to question and take for granted much of the gospel witness. In fact there is perhaps no other time in our history that we have looked on in apathy as our Christian heritage is desecrated defiled and subjected to questioning. Sacred symbols and beliefs are being ridiculed banned as being contrary to secular well-being and used by various cults to mock, or worse, attack our faith.

This past week I was asked what at first seemed an innocent enough question, “What is the Cross?” As I reflected on this the person commented on its use as fashion jewellery, tattoo artistry, cultic delights and symbolic of the Satanic if not brutality of various political regimes. So…what is the cross> Not much is said about it in the Gospels. In fact the cross is only mentioned twice in today’s Gospel reading and then only as a passing fact. Jesus “carrying the cross by himself” and “the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the Sabbath.” Yet as we read the passion narrative the cross is the vocal point which subliminally interprets the entire narrative. So what is it?

The cross – an intersection of two straight lines or objects has several realities – physical, mathematical allegorical metaphysical and spiritual. Our problem in the world is that the lines and boundaries of these realities have become corrupted blurred and indistinct. As this has happened no wonder so many have become disillusioned upset and apathetic.

Physically the cross was a mode of punishment – 2 pieces of wood nailed together as a means whereby someone might be put to death. Like the gallows or the guillotine it was a tool of death and justice of injustice. It represented the force of the law and allegorically the wages of sin, political opposition or the burdens of life. However, in light of the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday the cross became a spiritual and sacred symbol pointing to the manner by which God chose to bring salvation to the world and rekindle the covenant of the Divine with all of humanity. In this sense the Cross can only be understood and appreciated in light of God’s actions in the world. In theological terms this becomes a part of a systematic theology known as Christology. In common terms the cross becomes known in understanding Jesus as Christ and in God’s plan for salvation. Here the cross becomes the way of sacrifice over against the way of punishment, the road to life contrary to the mode of death, the instrument of love rather than the implement of revenge, and the Will of God in opposition to the will of humanity. It was thus that Paul was able to write that the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.(1Cor.1:18)

Here Paul looks at the cross as a foolishness to those who are perishing in that they do not know God, have no comprehension of Jesus and see in the cross the way of a present reality. For those in this group, including people of today the cross whether taken physically metaphorically or allegorically becomes nothing else than a literal or euphemistic part of everyday speech. In this sense it can become a piece of jewellery, a tattoo, or an accoutrement of social anger or a symbol of anti-establishment with little or no connotation of a high authority or a spiritual implication. The cross is just another in a long list of meaningless symbols and trinkets which erode the very fabric of what once was a vibrant Christian culture.

However to the few, the remnant, the believers in God’s actions of salvation, the cross is a symbol of loving sacrificial life. It is the emblem of obedience to the divine, the epitome of self-giving and the ultimate in how to love. To such people the cross is the spiritual focal point of divine-human relationship. In this way did God choose to make known to us that the covenant is real, that salvation has been given as an offering for all who would accept it and, that in Jesus we come to know and see God.

To this last realization today’s Passion reading serves as a great example. As Pilate declares Jesus to be the King of the Jews, John reminds us by contrasts, what is reality to unbelievers and what is reality to those who are of faith. All along we have Jesus being declared King by his own demeanour and by Pilate’s words. Yet the religious leaders continue to reject these declarations, first on the grounds to be so would be blasphemy, and secondly that it would mean acknowledging Jesus as Son of God. In the narrative Pilate later asks them, “Shall I crucify your King?” the chief priests answer, “We have no king but the emperor. The irony is that according to the Passover liturgy the Jewish belief is re-affirmed that there is no king by God. Hence in their reply to Pilate these chief priests have themselves blasphemed by denying God just as they reject Jesus and thereby underscoring the truth that Jesus and God are indeed one.

While the story on the surface seems to be the trial of Jesus, John shows that the real trial is that of the religious leaders and of Pilate himself. The chief priests, as accusers, by their own accusations toward Jesus compared to their actions end up providing the evidence of their own guilt. Pilate on the other hand as judge and arbitrator who should have the power and authority succumbs to the wishes of the people, having to choose between his conscience and the pressure of the rhetoric of the priests and scribes.

Ultimately John reveals that it is neither Pilate nor the religious authorities who hold the power, but that all is accomplished according to God’s will and design. That in the end the religious and temporal leaders are equally guilty and only Christ Jesus stands as true and faithful. Thus the cross becomes an emblem of truth obedience of sacrifice and divine love.

What is the Cross? It depends on your interpretation and perspective. To the unbeliever it is indeed foolishness. But to those who believe, to those of true faith, it is a way of and to life: true and everlasting, fulfilling and sustaining, freeing and open.