sermon was preached
Reading: Lk 23:32-46
Why did Jesus have to die on the Cross?
“Why did Jesus have to die on the Cross?”
If he was the Son of God and all
why did he not show that power
by coming down from the cross and avoiding death?
There have been many many books written on this theme,
and I have but a few minutes.
So let me
tell you the story of a four year old child
newly arrived in Auschwitz.
He has somehow been separated from his mother.
He stands alone, tearful and frightened.
Ahead a soldier separates out
those who will live and those will die –
the old, the young and the sick
are sent straight to the gas chambers
and so the little boy is pushed to the left –
with those who are to die.
meanwhile is in another group.
She has been sent to the right – she is to live.
But she is frantically looking for her little boy.
Suddenly she catches the sound of his crying,
and sees him alone headed uncertainly
towards the gas chamber door.
ignoring the guard, she rushes towards her child.
And before anyone can stop her,
she has reached him and is holding his hand.
“Don’t worry” she says – “I’ll stay with you”.
each others’ hands,
they enter the gas chamber together.
“Don’t worry, I’ll stay with you”
Why did Jesus die on the
Why did he not use his power to escape –
because he would not desert his children in the hour of their need.
His love simply knows no limits.
There is nowhere we can go –
no depths of sin or sorrow or heartache or death –
where he will not hold our hand and be with us.
To have come down from the cross would have been to say “There are dark places where I will not go with you” To die on the cross was to say “I will go with you everywhere – even unto death itself.”
Henri Nouwen describes a conversation he had
with the leader of a trapeze act
called the Flying Rodleighs.
This guy regularly swung across
the circus big top at a great height.
He said to Nouwen,
“As a flyer, I must have complete trust in my catcher.
The public might think that I am the great star of the trapeze,
but the real star is Joe, my catcher.
He has to be there for me with split-second precision
and grab me out of the air as I come to him in the long jump….
The worst thing the flyer can do is to try to catch the catcher.
I am not supposed to catch Joe.
It’s Joe’s task to catch me.
If I grabbed Joe’s wrists, I might break them,
or he might break mine, and that would be the end for both of us.
A flyer must fly, and a catcher must catch,
and the flyer must trust, with outstretched arms,
that his catcher will be there for him.”
“When Rodleigh said this with so much conviction,
the words of Jesus flashed through my mind:
“Father into Your hands I commend My Spirit.”
Dying is trusting in the catcher.
To care for the dying is to say,
“Don’t be afraid.
Remember that you are the beloved child of God.
He will be there when you make your long jump.
Don’t try to grab Him; He will grab you.
Just stretch out your arms and hands and trust, trust, trust.”
[Father Henri J.M. Nouwen “Our Greatest Gift,” (1994) pp 66-7]
When we leap into the unknown,
when the abyss opens up before us,
when we find ourselves falling into sin or despair,
when we can no control our own destiny,
no longer save ourselves from
a life of sorrow, sin, sickness or folly –
and when finally we take the leap of death –
Christ has not forsaken us – he is there in that place –
he will hold out his hand & when there is nothing else
left to save us, he will be there for us.
Christ does not journey with us only
whilst we travel the paths of righteousness,
and then wash his hands of us
when we dive down the dark alleys of sin and corruption.
No – he goes with us even in those bits of our life
of which we are most ashamed – always there for us.
Nor does Christ desert us in the hour of death.
Christ does not accompany us on
our life’s journey
up to the point of our earthly death and then stop
and wave us off like a friend at the boarding checkpoint
watching us board the ferry.
No Christ journeys with us on the
journey of death
and does not leave us till we are safe landed
on the heavenly shore.
That is what the Cross is about –
Christ with us in sin and death.
How do respond to such love?
By loving in the same way.
Christ bids us take up our cross.
Much has been written in the last week or two about
Norman Kember and the Christian Peacemaker teams.
There are lots of complex issues here –
and we may not agree on them all –
in part it will depend on our different views
of the morality of the Iraq war.
But one thing the Gospel does say –
it is not wrong to risk your life for peace.
If the tabloids say that it is a stupid and foolhardy
thing to do, so it may be –
but that is what it means to reject the world’s so called wisdom
and be a fool for Christ.
It is not wrong – indeed it is absolutely right –
to stand in vulnerable solidarity
with the weak and vulnerable and dying.
That is what it means to take up your cross and follow…
Let us take up our cross – Christ calls us to help him in his work -
The world may say that in so doing we risk losing our life –
but as Christians we know it is actually the way to find it.
A final word about our music today.
Faure wrote his Requiem mass in 1887,
and he broke with tradition in the words he set.
Traditionally the Requiem mass has in it
a fearful and often sombre piece called the Dies Irae,
the wrath of God.
omits this section
and deals with the judgment in a brief passage only.
And then at the end he adds in at the end the work the “In Paradisum” –
which speaks of Paradise after death.
"My requiem . . . has been said to express no fear of death;
it has been called a lullaby of death.
But that is how I feel about death;
a happy deliverance, a reaching for eternal happiness,
rather than a mournful passing”
So in place of apocalyptic horror is the hope and vision of heaven.
You remember Jesus’ words to the criminal
hanging beside him on a cross:
“Truly, today you will be with me in Paradise, In Paradisum.”
The thief was not deserted by our Lord – he was loved into heaven.
Though we face suffering, death and despair,
Christ is there with us too,
Christ will grasp our hand firm in his and will not let us go.
And Christ will see us safe home to the shores of Paradise.
Oh indeed, “love so amazing demands my soul, my life, my all.”