Thursday, April 1, 2010

Good Friday

We should recall that the Canon of our Prayer Book Mass describes the death of Jesus as ". . . a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world", echoing the teaching of the Apostle Paul who said that "for our sake he [the Father] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (Romans 2:21).

In his book, God is not Angry, the English Dominican Ian Petit takes us into the depth of this mystery. Having shown us how we as guilty sinners have removed ourselves from the relationship with God for which we were created, he explains what God in his amazing love has done to set us free:

"Jesus did not simply pretend to be incapable of being in God's presence; rather, he took our sins on himself at the crucifixion and actually experienced banishment . . . Putting it in blunt language, Jesus consented to stand in front of his beloved Father besmirched with our sins and receive from him our sentence. The consequence of sin is more than physical death; it is a wounding that separates us from the Father."
(God is Not Angry, Page 42)

In Mysterium Paschale, the Swiss theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar goes even further when he says:

"Jesus does not only accept the . . . mortal destiny of Adam, He also, quite expressly, carries the sins of the human race and, with those sins, the 'second death' of God-abandonment." (Mysterium Paschale, Page 90)

von Balthasar then says that this
"is not an anonymous destiny that he obeys, but the person of the Father."

The idea that the Cross is the "trysting place where heaven's love and heaven's justice meet"# is an affront to that old fashioned liberal theology which plays down the supernatural and uses the Christian faith as a collection of metaphors to "nudge us along the path towards spiritual fulfilment" - the kind of wimpish theology that that H. Richard Niebuhr caricatured back in 1937 when he wrote:

"A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross." (The Kingdom of God in America 1959 ed., page 193)

The Bible is more realistic about human nature, more aware of the horrific dimensions of sin, and more cognisant of the mysterious demand for justice that seems to be written into the fabric of our being. It tells us that Joseph was to name Mary's son Jesus, because he would "save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). In Egypt, the Passover lamb had borne people's sins. But now, according to St John's Gospel, Jesus is "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

It is authentically human cry out for love - unconditional love. Our instincts, if not our experience of life, tell us that such love exists. In Jesus we discover that we are loved "with an everlasting love". But - even in our post-Christian age - it is just as authentically human to cry out for justice, which is why today - Good Friday - is truly awesome. Today we stand at the foot of the cross as the precious Blood is shed, atonement being made for the foulest sins ever committed. "O trysting place where heaven's love and heaven's justice meet".#

von Balthasar shows just how central this theme is in the New Testament:

"The injustice is not cleared away by half-measures and compromises, but by drastic measures which make a clean sweep of it, so that all the world's injustice is consumed by the total wrath of God, that the total righteousness of God may be accessible to the sinner. That is the Gospel according to Paul who sees the fulfilment of the directional meaning of the entire Old Testament in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ . . . God, as the man Christ, takes upon himself the totality of 'Adam's' guilt (Romans 5:15-21) in order that, as the 'bodily' incorporation of sin and enmity (2 Corinthians 5:21, Ephesians 2:14), he might be 'handed over' (Romans 8:3), and as the Life of God, which died in God-forsakenness (Romans 4:25) and was buried, to be divinely 'raised for our justification' (Romans 4:25). That is not myth, but the central biblical message and, where Christ's Cross is concerned, it must not be rendered innocuous as though the Crucified, in undisturbed union with God, had prayed the Psalms and died in the peace of God." (Mysterium Paschale, page 122)

Was it the nails, O Saviour,
That bound thee to the tree,
Nay, 'twas thine everlasting love,
Thy love for me, for me.
O make me understand it,
Help me to take it in,
What it meant to thee, the Holy One
To bear away my sin.
(Katherine A M Kelly 1869-1942)

# "Beneath the Cross of Jesus" by Scottish Presbyterian Elizabeth C. Clephane, 1868,(published posthumously).


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