Rev Frank’s April 18, 2014 sermon
April 18, 2014
Westmount Park United Church
I grew up in a family that went to church every Sunday morning. Actually we would all go to Sunday School because while the adults worshipped upstairs in the sanctuary the children were downstairs in the basement, and my parents were Sunday School teachers. As a very young child in Sunday School I learned about Jesus. In our classes we were told stories about Jesus, and to illustrate many of the stories there were pictures of him hanging on the walls. There was a picture of Jesus as a baby in a manger with Mary and Joseph hovering over him. There was one of him as a boy talking to the elders in the temple. Jesus the teacher was portrayed in a picture of him on top of a hill speaking to the crowds gathered around him. Jesus’ love of children was depicted in the picture of him with a child on his knee and other children gathered around him. There was a very interesting picture of Jesus the healer which showed a sick man being lowered through a hole in the roof of a house where a crowd of people were gathered around Jesus. There was also a picture of Jesus walking along beside the Sea of Galilee and gesturing to some fisher folk to come with him. So as a young child I saw a lot of pictures and heard lots of stories about Jesus, but as time went on a question began to form in my young mind. My question was: Whatever happened to Jesus? As a young child in Sunday School I learned about his birth, about a brief incident in his boyhood, and then various stories of his life of teaching and healing, but I was never told about his death on the cross.
In a way it’s not surprising that when I was but a young child of four and five I didn’t learn about that part of the story of Jesus of Nazareth. I grew up in a time when children were carefully shielded from the harsh realities of life. One of my uncles died when I was ten years old and I didn’t attend the funeral because funerals weren’t considered a proper place for children. Likewise the Sunday School of my childhood wasn’t considered an appropriate place to talk about death, particularly a death that was so painful and cruel.
Of course I eventually got the whole story, that Jesus, the good and kind teacher and healer, was suddenly caught up in a plot of betrayal that led to his death by crucifixion, and then two days later he was raised from the dead. The trouble is that even adding the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection onto the life of the great teacher and healer can still leave us with a child’s naive and inadequate understanding of why two thousand years later we call ourselves Christians and strive to be his present day disciples. The most important thing about Jesus is that he, God’s anointed one, the Christ, the Messiah, indeed the very Son of God, suffered a totally unjust, cruel, painful death by crucifixion. Which is why, when St. Paul proclaims the gospel, the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, he says, “We preach Christ crucified.” [I Corinthians 1:23] The incredible and audacious claim we make about Jesus is that, not only has God entered fully into a human life and dwelt among us, God has also suffered the very worst depths of human cruelty in the cross of Jesus Christ. That is the heart of the gospel, that when human life is at its very lowest ebb God is with us. It is because the very Son of God was willing to undergo the ultimate sacrifice of death by crucifixion that Paul can say, “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Romans 8:38‑39] God is with us no matter what. That’s the heart of the gospel message, a message which comes to us from the cross of Jesus Christ.
The gospel stories about the life of Jesus are written as preludes to the crucifixion. It is the story of the birth of the crucified one that is told in Matthew when wise men bring frankincense and myrrh, spices used for burials. John the Baptist hails Jesus’ arrival by saying “Behold, the Lamb of God.” [John 1:29] Behold, the one whose death will be like that of a sacrificial lamb used in penitential rites. The stories of Jesus’ life are stories of the one who will be crucified, and the accounts of his
resurrection are about the one who was crucified being raised from the dead.
The Friday after American Thanksgiving is called Black Friday. That’s a good name for a day when comsumerism goes absolutely mad with rabid shoppers frantically elbowing past one another. The Friday that comes two days before Easter is called Good Friday and that is a good name for it, because the heart of the story of our Lord and Saviour Jesus the Christ is the cross. Human life can be cruel, meaningless, unjust, painful, sorrowful, as it was for Jesus’ disciples at the time of his death by crucifixion. But when Jesus’ followers encountered the worst that human beings can suffer, the worst of injustice and cruelty, they experienced not defeat and annihilation but God’s victory over sin and death. Because the crucified one has been raised from death there is always meaning and purpose in life, and that is the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.