And so we come to the last hour – we take an hour out of our ordinary lives to come and contemplate that which, as Jo reminded us last night, is the very heart of our faith . . . take an hour out of our ordinary lives . . .
If you really want to irritate a Priest, tell them about how life is ‘in the real world’ – some of course may well be irritated because they wish they still ‘lived in the real world’ – but others will be irritated because hundreds if not thousands of sermons have fallen on deaf ears. To paraphrase the writer Eugene Peterson, ‘the work of the minister is quietly to put a bomb under people’s preconceived ideas of The Real World’, steadily to remind those in there care that Sunday Worship – participation in the Eucharistic feast is The Real World.
For our assertion as Christians is not so much that the events of the Triduum – the three days that perhaps a little lazily we call Easter – our assertion is not so much that these are the heart of our faith, which they are, but that they are the Centre of all human existence. That these days define The Real World. That if we are going to make any sense of the world in which we live, we can only do so using these three days as our starting presuppositions about reality. The death and the resurrection of Jesus, defines Everything.
Of course our culture of tolerance and refusal to allow anything have the last word on anything, except that is, the twin gods of technology and economics, would deem such a claim arrogant in the extreme. To say that in contemplating the death of Jesus we are seeing into what Richard Neuhaus calls, the ‘axis mundi’ – The hub of reality around which Everything is ordered – is to the ears of many, too much to swallow.
But there is no room for arrogance in this assertion. There is here, to thwart the modern hermeneutic of suspicion, no attempt here to seize power, only in humility to declare what is True. One of the unremarked repetitive elements of the Scriptural narrative is how often God works whilst we are asleep. Adam must be put to sleep in order for humanity to come into the fulness of male and female, the disciples notoriously cannot stay awake in the midst of the transaction between the Son and the Father in Gethsemane – and that failure to stay awake takes us way back into this story – to that of Abraham.
We are trained, not entirely unreasonably to understand Good Friday in terms of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt – but there is another Old Testament Narrative which serves just as well, if not better, the story of Abraham.
In Genesis 15 – God makes his covenant with Abraham, but there is a crucial difference between the Sinai Covenant, which of course the New Testament writers say is inneffective and the covenant God makes with Abraham, and that is Abraham has no part in what happens. We think of a Covenant as an agreement between two parties, and that it is, but in the mysterious text of Genesis 15, Abraham having set the stage for the covenant Then God said to Abraham ‘I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.’ But he said, ‘O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’ He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.’ He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. Then the Lord said to Abram, ‘Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgement on the nation that they serve, and afterwards they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.’
The covenant to bring God’s people into God’s Land is made with Abraham – but he is asleep – God makes the covenant with himself, God is the only party to the covenant. We are asleep – Like the disciples, as God the Son prays with God the Father in Gethsemane. The covenant is made – not my will but thine be done – and we are asleep. Unlike Sinai, the covenant of bondage which we could never keep – here God covenants with himself to redeem the world
Again we think of Abraham with respect of Genesis 22 – the story of God’s command to sacrifice Isaac, which is stopped only at the last moment – here we see how the covenant will be made. The faithful one of the Covenant will himself provide a lamb – provide a Son for the sacrifice. God will not require anything of Abraham – except faith – he will provide the Son
So that is all that is asked of us, faith that that which we witness once again today is in truth the axis mundi – the heart of Everything.
There is no place for arrogance on our part. We are not the centre of all things – we are asleep in sin and death – and, mystery of mysteries – there is no arrogance in God. The Cross is no act of Power. No, it is God’s willing submission into the hands of evil men, that is you and I – God does not overcome by force, but by willing submission. He proves to us, a lesson we are slow to learn, that Love overcomes all things.
Jesus last words from the Cross – ‘it is finished’ – the world can throw no more at him – the hatred of the world has done its worst – he has absorbed it all – he has made himself nothing, becoming submissive unto death, even the death of a cross.
The chief deadly sin is Pride – like all sin it is nothing less that the contradiction of The Imago Dei – the Image of God in us. Pride is the Contradiction of the image of God.
In this utterly broken, scourged naked Jew, nailed to two rough timbers the fullest nature of God is revealed – his utter Humilty. Much rightly is made of how the Cross expresses God’s Love for us – but more than that, it expresses his utter preparedness to go to any lengths – to be utterly humiliated for us. Without humility, love is not possible. Love demands the divesting of all power. If as we are so bold to assert ‘God is Love’, then God is the one who refuses to call legions of angels, refuses to use any power, refuses to leap from the temple, to turn stones into bread, to worship demonic pride and power.
At the Last, The Cross returns us to the beginning of the journey of Lent – it is all of a whole – we lay down all our pretensions to life in our name, and so discover Life in His, the one who lays down everything, in Humility and Love.
This is the Axis Mundi – This is the Meaning of Everything – This is the Real World – The Word made flesh – crucified before our eyes