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 four.
He stands in victory
We know how the story ends:
“Up from the grave he rose again and as he stands in victory sin’s curse has lost its grip on me.”
In the previous talk we focused on the despair of Good Friday. For his disciples, his mother and the other women who stood at the foot of the cross it was all over – finished. Jesus was taken down from the cross and immediately buried so it was done before the Sabbath began on that Friday evening. If that had been the end of the story we would not be here now sitting in church contemplating a cruel execution that took place 2000 years ago. It would just have been one of many thousands of executions carried out by the Romans, and the man Jesus, an Itinerant preacher and healer would never have been heard of again. His disciples would have dispersed; many returning to Galilee and that would have been the end of it.
But as Peter put it in his speech to the Jerusalem crowd on the day of Pentecost – “God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. This Jesus God raised up ……..and he was exalted at the right hand of God.”
He now stands in victory.
I have said that something cosmic was happening on Good Friday – a great battle between the powers of darkness and light. I have said that really that battle was won in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus submitted to his Father’s will. Once Jesus has done that his part is done and he hands himself over not to the Jewish religious leaders, not to Pontius Pilate, but to his Father God. In doing his Father’s will, whatever that might lead to, Jesus has won the victory and now trusts in his Father for what happens next.
And what happens next is that the light of world cannot be quenched. Those amazing words of the opening chapter of St John’s Gospel come to mind – words we normally hear at Christmas but equally fitting to the Easter story. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5).
For the early church the cross was always a sign of victory. In the first couple of centuries it was not used in Christianity because it signified the death of Jesus and he was alive. But gradually it came into use, but first only as an empty cross – signifying that Jesus was not held by that cross – he was alive and victorious.
The victory Christ won for us on the cross has always been difficult explain. For the first Christians it was a lived experience as it continues to be for many Christians today. But being the creatures we are we have to explain it. I said in the second talk that the explanation was of sacrifice – Jesus is the once and for all sacrifice that is needed and this fits well with the Passover season of the sacrificial lamb. In verse three Stuart Townend uses ransom as the explanation. He is drawing on what are called the theories of the atonement – the explanations of why Jesus’ death on the cross has set us free. Here we are bought back by the blood of Christ – it is as if we have been kidnapped by evil and sin, and someone has to pay a ransom for us – that someone is Jesus.
Whichever theory of the atonement we turn to, they are theories – human attempts to explain a divine mystery in ways that make sense for us. The “proof of the pudding” is in the outcomes – what happens after the death and resurrection of Jesus – those who witnessed what happened – those Peter refers to in that speech. They are renewed, strengthened, empowered. The cowardly Peter who denied Jesus speaks boldly to the crowd and leads the church. These are people set on fire with something that attracts others.
What usually brings people to the Christian faith is their experience first of Christians and how they behave and then secondly an experience of Christ for themselves.
We now are the witnesses – we are the ones for whom sin has lost its curse. We are his and he is ours. In the coming silence perhaps you may want to ask Jesus to touch your life and to give you that experience of being set free. Only if we have experienced what Jesus can do for us can we be his witnesses.
We are a liberated people and it is our proclamation of the gospel in word and deed that will show others the way to Christ.
Let us pray