29 March 2013

Sermon for Good Friday: "The Kingdom of God - Revealed in the Cross"

Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri
"'Ecce homo - behold the man!'  In him the world was reconciled with God.  The world is overcome not through destruction, but through reconciliation.  Not ideals, nor programs, nor conscience, nor duty, nor responsibility, nor virtue, but only God's perfect love can encounter reality and overcome it.  Nor is it some universal idea of love, but rather the love of God in Jesus Christ, a love genuinely lived, that does this.  This love of God for the world does not withdraw from reality into noble souls detached from the world, but experiences and suffers the reality of the world in the harshest possible fashion.  The world takes out its rage on the body of Jesus Christ.  But he, tormented, forgives the world its sins.  Thus does reconciliation come about.  Ecce homo - behold the man!   The figure of the reconciler, of the divine human Jesus Christ, steps into the middle between God and the world, into the center of all that happens.  Through this figure, the mystery of the world is disclosed, just as in the same figure the mystery of God is revealed.  No abyss of evil can hide from him through whom the world is reconciled with God.  But the abyss of God's love encompasses even the most abysmal godlessness of the world.  In an incomprehensible reversal of all righteous and pious thinking, God declares God's guilt toward the world and in so doing extinguishes the guilt of the world.  God sets out upon the humiliating path of reconciliation and thereby pronounces the world free.  God wills to be guilty of our sin, and takes over the punishment and suffering sin has brought upon us.  God answers for godlessness, love for hatred, the saint for the sinner.  Now there is no godlessness, no hatred, no sin which God has not carried, suffered, and atoned.  Now there is no reality, no world that is not reconciled and in peace with God.  God did this in God's beloved son Jesus Christ.  'Ecce homo - behold the man!'"
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics
Yes, behold the man.  Behold the kingdom of God - revealed in the cross of Jesus Christ.  In the Gospel of Luke, we read, “Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid.”  Joseph of Arimathea, looking for the kingdom of God, found Jesus hanging on the cross.  The sign above his head read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  Pilate intended it to be a message:  this is what happens to those who threaten the rule and power of Rome.  The message God proclaims, however, is different:  this is the kingdom of God - beholden to no power of throne or violence or sin or death.  On the cross Jesus takes everything.  The loving reign of God is established from below.  
You know the lament of the psalmist, “Out of the depths I cry to you!”  You have cried it yourself.  “I am alone!”  “I am afraid!”  “Is my faith enough?”  “Will God be merciful to me, a sinner?”  “Does God know my fear?  My anger?  My failure?  My trial?”  These laments are answered on the cross:  “It is finished.”  “It is accomplished.”  Now there is no depth of creation or sinfulness that remains unplumbed by the self-emptying love of God.  God does know your loneliness.  God does know your fear.  God does know your failure.  God does know your trial.  The kingdom of God, revealed in the cross, is where God meets the worst of all we are and refuses to abandon us.  It is finished - Jesus has loved his flock to the very end.  Behold the man - Jesus Christ our Lord.  Behold the kingdom of God, revealed in the Cross of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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