The Pas – Lent 3
23 March 2014
Merciful God, the fountain of living water, you quench our thirst and wash away our sin. Give us this water always. Bring us to drink from the well that flows with the beauty of your truth through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Paul tells us, today: “We are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God” (Rom.5:1b-2)
The heart of our creed is found right here in Paul’s words. Paul says: “I believe.”, as do we.
So, today, we’ll explore the ‘Passion of Jesus Christ’ that led to “our hope of sharing the glory of God”
We proclaim with faith: He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
We know this part of Jesus’ story amongst us: his Passion, crucifixion, death, and resurrection.
But this journey to the cross and through the cross begins long before the actual trial before facing Pontius Pilate. Our gospel for today shows us the Samaritan Woman at the well, and how Jesus, by telling her the details of her life inspires in her the faith, the belief that Jesus is the Messiah.
When she says “‘I know that the Messiah is coming. When he comes he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.'” (Jn 4:25-6)
She never says the words “I believe,” but we can hear them in her message to the people of her village.
After all, “Jesus told the synagogue ruler, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.'” (Mk 5:36) And he says the same thing to each one of us, each day.
And here is where belief and faith walk hand in hand with trust of God in all things.
With faith, we say the words “I believe, but it is also trust in what God has done and what God is doing that can urge these words from each of us.
When we look at this clause of the creed, I know for me, my heart melts because this is a burden that Jesus took on himself in order to set me, along with each one of us free.
I have a colleague, who graduated a year or two before me. And when she receives communion, when each element is presented with the words “The body of Christ, broken for you;” and “the blood of Christ shed for you.” Her response is simply: “I believe.”
And each time I hear her say it, each time I remember her quiet but firm statement of faith, of belief in the salvific effect of the Lord’s Supper, in the Eucharist, I remember her, and the example of faith she sets for me every day.
But that statement isn’t just hers, it can belong to each one of us. And it cuts to the heart of today’s focus on the 2nd article of the creed, as well.
Paul tells us, in Galatians: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” (Gal 5:24)
But it takes trust as well as faith and belief to be able to do this, to be able to live in the sacrifice of Jesus so that we can live in the glory of God.
And it takes letting go of our sinful passions, our errors and the burdens they bring with them. And when I pray with those who occupy our prayer station, my prayer is that they help those who come to the prayer station to be able to leave their burdens at God’s feet, and accept God’s love, grace, and strength in return.
This portion of our creed, our statement of faith is the point at which blood is shed. Jesus blood is shed, but at the same time, this portion of the article has been a point of confusion for many over many generations, in their understanding and in their acceptance of the sacrifice of Jesus for all of God’s creation.
It reminds me of a brief scene from the movie Gandhi, when the priest travelling with Gandhi and his wife goes up to the roof of the train to sit with the 3rd class passengers. And one of the passengers says his sister, as a Christian drinks blood. But at the look of horror on the clergyman’s face he quickly points out that it’s ‘blood of Christ’ that she drinks.
But it was the man’s perception of Christianity that is so memorable, and this mistake has been made time and again throughout history by those who don’t understand the mystery of Christ, the mystery of God’s sacrifice on our behalf, the message of God’s love and grace available for all because of Jesus actions on the cross for each one of us, and for all who believe.
Even Luther, to break from the thought that the chalice actually contained blood, moved the wine used in the reformation communion from red to white to make the point that it is Jesus words that are important to remember, not that one thinks they are consuming flesh and blood.
But even still, our celebration of the Eucharist, our remembrance of Jesus that we celebrate often is done “in remembrance of him.” And in doing so, we strengthen our own faith. And we live in that faith as we proclaim “I believe.”
And in the face of the words of Jesus suffering, death and resurrection, let us also remember how faith manifests in our lives.
“God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)
And in that, we can recall the faith of the Canaanite Woman who said: “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters table. Then Jesus answered, ‘Woman, you have great faith, your request is granted.” (Mk 15:27-28)
In the signs of the last age, Jesus points out that “at that time, many will turn away from the faith,” (Mk 24:10) but how many times, when we hit a roadblock, when our faith is tested, are we not tempted to turn away and seek other sources of trust?
We don’t need an end of days to have times when our own faith can be tested, rather we need to remember that “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, that all who should believe in him shall have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16)
And every day, we can pray with the apostles who “said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ and Jesus replied ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.’” (Lk 17:5-6)
And to have this strong faith, we return, time and again to the garden of Gethsemane, to the time when Jesus struggled with God’s plan, God’s direction and so he prays “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me, yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Lk 22:42)
Jesus prays: “Father if you are willing.” But rather God was willing to reconcile us to him, and so, God’s will is done, in the words of the creed today.
And so we confess: He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
Although this is not an attractive part of the creed, it is the centre of our moment of grace, of our justification that we are welcomed into the presence of God, because Jesus, obedient unto death, even death on a cross, endured God’s will.
Not his will, but God’s. Not for his salvation, but for ours did Jesus endure the suffering at the hands of the Jews, and the Romans. It was for our salvation he was crucified, died and buried. And the older versions say descended into hell.
And yet in the midst of this, God’s will, God’s plan for our salvation, our redemption, Jesus utters those immortal words “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34)
And this is most certainly true. Those who were following orders didn’t know God’s plan. Those who thought they were giving orders didn’t know God’s plan. It’s only in hindsight that we can look at these circumstances, at the brief descriptive words in the creed and understand that this is God’s plan in action.
It’s only by looking at the whole picture – Jesus birth, life, work, and the events that led to the trial, crucifixion, and death.
By standing back from the image, and taking it all in that we can see that Jesus words apply not only to the temple officials who arrested him and who goaded the legal system, but also to Pontius Pilate who gave the order for punishment, and then crucifixion. And we can see that Jesus words also apply to the soldiers who were only following orders; to the passersby who jeered and mocked because to just a casual glance they would have thought that those being crucified deserved the punishment meted out by Rome.
By standing back we see that Jesus words apply to each one of us, as well as to all who have occupied their time in God’s creation, because Jesus was “not sent into the world to condemn it but to save the world through him.” (Jn 3:17)
So, we return to the reading from Romans for today and hear Paul say: “Now that we have been justified by his blood, we will be saved through him from the wrath of God. … We were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Rom 5:9b-11)
Jesus suffered, was crucified. He died, and was buried. And so because of his sacrifice, because of his obedience even unto death to the will of God, we can live, and we can say, with confidence, “I believe.”