This year on Good Friday, the priest I live with, Mother Anne-Marie, preached a series of sermons interspersed with prayer and silence on the hymn ‘In Christ Alone’ – here is number two.
Scorned by the ones he came to save
In Christ alone who took on flesh, fullness of God in helpless babe. The second verse of this hymn begins with a statement about the incarnation. Fullness of God in helpless babe. In a few short lines we are taken from the crib to the cross. We need to remember who it is who hangs there upon the cross.
I was brought up in the church. It was part of our family life, deeply embedded. I went to church every Sunday and festival. From my earliest days I attended some of the services considered difficult for children like Good Friday. I must have heard countless sermons and attended numerous Sunday School classes and I got a grade 1 pass in RE O level, but I did not understand the incarnation.
I drifted away from the church in my twenties, but soon after my return to church I heard a sermon in which something clicked. I haven’t got a clue now about that sermon’s content but I remember suddenly thinking “oh – Jesus is God”. It may seem obvious to you, but somehow all those years of Christian teaching had passed me by. I knew Jesus was the Son of God, but I had never really understood this incarnation bit – fullness of God in helpless babe.
Incarnation – a person who embodies in the flesh a diety or spirit. In Christian Theology, that Christ embodied, in flesh, God. So in Jesus we see God – we kind of see God being us. God embodied in human flesh – God being human. That theology is not quite right because Jesus is fully God and fully human all at the same time. But you see what I mean. Here is God amongst us, like us, demonstrating what God would do as us. Showing us what God wants from us. And God sent his son in human form to save us from ourselves. God was a bit hacked off, to say the least, about how we human beings were behaving and so he sent his son to show us what God is like and hopefully set us on the right track again – bring us back to God. Now that is all a bit simplistic and it is a theology that evolved as early Christians tried to explain the Jesus experience. In Jesus they had encountered God and in his death and resurrection they had experienced a saving act which brought them back to God.
To understand the cross we need to understand who it is who hangs there. It is Jesus, the incarnate God. We call him Son of God, but somehow that can distance him from the Godhead. We know that God is one and God is three – the God who hangs on the cross is the second person of that Trinity, the Son, but he is God. And what he suffers God suffers. Yes, Jesus suffers as a human being suffers, but also he takes that suffering into the Godhead. There was obviously great physical suffering but there was also the suffering of utter rejection. As the opening verses of John’s gospel say “He came to what was his own and his own people did not accept him”. There is so much going on here – as Jesus dies on the cross something so cosmic is taking place that Christians have always struggled with the words and concepts to explain it. God hangs there in the body of His Son. But God also put him there – Jesus’ teaching would not be enough to save the people – something much more had to happen. We have explained it in many ways over 2000 years and in this verse of the hymn it is explained as sacrifice. Here Jesus is the sacrificial lamb – the scapegoat – who takes on the sins of the people and so pacifies the hacked off God – the wrath of God was satisfied. And in this way those he came to save are saved. Yes as it all happens they are laughing and mocking him for not being able to save himself. But they are mocking the very person and the very event which can bring them life. Here in the death of Christ I live.
Every sin on him was laid. What sins of ours do we now want to lay at the foot of the cross? In the coming silence we may want to confess to God all the things that we have done wrong in the sure and certain knowledge that because of Jesus’ death on the cross those sins are forgiven and we can start our lives afresh. Here in the death of Christ I live.
Let us pray.