Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to help us think a little about the themes which Lent puts before us as we approach the events of Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter. I’ve especially tried to point out that something purposeful is going on. The Lord said from the cross, didn’t he, “It is accomplished”.
So, if we were to try and answer, “What, exactly was accomplished on that Good Friday?” one the best answers is given in our Epistle this morning. Paul says, we have received ‘reconciliation’. (Romans 5.1-11) Elsewhere he says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself”. This is at the heart of it. A world put right with God.
All of this makes it clear, I hope, that when he hangs on the cross, the Lord is no passive victim of circumstances that are beyond his control. On the contrary he knows exactly what he is about. We might say that he is taking the fight to the enemy; to “the world, the flesh and the devil”, what St Thomas Aquinas calls, “the implacable enemies of the soul”.
Firstly, we noted that in the wilderness the Lord rejects the paths of power, prestige and possessions. No, he would reveal the heart of God through non-violent, self-giving love. Then, last week we saw how frequently we resist this path. Christianity without a Saviour becomes self-help. Christianity without the Church is self-indulgence. Christianity without any cost is just ‘selfish’ full stop.
So, let’s get our bearings. The heart of the Gospel, the Good News that we are to live by and proclaim is that in the cross and resurrection, something objective has happened which has, if you will, changed the world’s script. It goes like this: We have been loved into being by God; Created. We have been Captured by the powers of sin and death. We have been Rescued by a gracious Saviour; and gifted with the Holy Spirit we are Commissioned to help God get his world back. Created, Captured, Rescued, Commissioned….
What I’m saying is that Lent is the time to be reminded of this story but more importantly to take ownership of it. This is not the kind of thing we can passively stand back and admire. We need to get with the plot. So, it might help for a moment to look at the list of things which Paul says are now ours, because of what the Lord has ‘accomplished’. There are many other things to say but this passage contains some significant stuff.
Firstly, he says, “we are justified by faith” You don’t have to justify yourself to anyone; through what you do, own, achieve. You are the beloved of God. He says, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”. We have access to a space which is called “grace”.
Let’s get this clear, this is not a matter of condemnation or fear or dread but grace. In fact, he says, “we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God”. We have SO much to look forward to. And just in case we don’t get it; or think we’re not worthy or whatever, he says “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us”. The initiative is all his.
You see, what we take from a passage like this, is that this is the truth about us. As I’ve said before it’s when this isn’t at the heart of what we do. When this hasn’t overwhelmed us as simply the best news ever that the Church becomes what the Archbishop of Canterbury calls, “Rotary with a pointy roof”. With no specific criticism of those excellent people; he meant that without Christ and his Cross and Resurrection and all that has been accomplished there, we have no good news. And we become just one more community group plodding along, fretting about its finances, membership and the lack of young people.
But just imagine, what happens when we let this Good News get under our skin? I almost want to ask, “Do we want it?” Maybe it is a matter of desire? Our Psalm this morning begins: “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water”. (Psalm 63.1) By tradition this was written by King David when he was in the wilderness. Well, maybe this is a good prayer to make in the coming days. That our spirit might be refreshed.
Or alternatively, remember what Paul says a little later in this letter to Rome. He says, “consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus”. What might that look like, I wonder? What happens if you consider yourself like this? What if you stand in front of the mirror and tell yourself that because of all that the Lord has accomplished, “I am now, dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus”?
Well, in his letter to Philippi, Paul says, “I press on to make this my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own”. Convinced of all that the Lord had accomplished, Paul bestirred himself to, as we might say, “to want a piece of this”. Read that Epistle again. It’s all there for us. As the Lord says, “Ask and you will receive”.