Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
Many years ago a friend described the organization where he worked, and the scrupulous and petty detail with which the marks of status were marked out and maintained.
It covered such things as the kind of chair he had, and the kind of covering and upholstery, the style and colour of his telephone(s), the style and material of his desk and of course the size, position and décor of his office, that is, if he had one.
These aspects of his work environment were central to the work he did and his place in it. Empires might decline and fall but these marks of position would never disappear.
You might say that Jesus was also possessed of marks of His position in the order of things and of the importance of His tasks on earth.
His crown was of thorns and His clothing was not so much diaphanous or minimalist, and wholly lacking as He hung naked upon the cross. The cross itself was His office, His throne and His dais, and just as at His birth, His final resting-place was temporary and borrowed.
Instead of reclining on cushions and disdainfully receiving the respectful petitions of His juniors, Jesus suffered agony and torture as His body was drained of strength while those who had brought Him to this place jeered at and taunted Him.
Yet this was the place where Jesus attained the height and the climax of His mission, and where He accomplished what none other could do, as He placed His own body and being in total service before God and on behalf of all who would follow Him either then or in the future.
Here Jesus’ total self-surrender in love for the wholly unlovely of all time came face-to-face with the justice and holiness of God. The determined and sustained human rebellion could never have been allowed to go unanswered by its own consequences and Jesus allowed the effect of human rebellion against God to come wholly upon Himself.
And so time and eternity came face to face and were reconciled. Here the circumference of the universe was embraced by its centre, matter and energy were fused and life finally overcame the reality and horror and fear of death.
Therefore God raised Him up. Therefore God denied death and corruption the last word. Therefore God overwrote the epitaphs of Jesus as a holy man who came to a sticky end in a violent and abusive world, obsessed with power and control and privilege.
Therefore God has bestowed on Jesus the glory of His name now renewed by the power and the authority to heal and to forgive and to renew in this life and to grant everlasting life hereafter.
Where sin and darkness and misery and failure had abounded now life and mercy and the unearned goodness of God would abound even more plentifully.
Where the determined human rebellion and the assertion of its self-determination for all time had ushered in only the corruption of the body after death and its gradual degradation before it, and where it had taken pride in the number of other souls it could abuse, control and manipulate: now the power and glory of God would be established and asserted for all time and eternity.
For us there are consequences and choices. We can receive the boon that Jesus has opened up for us in the providence and mercy of God, or we can ignore and reject them. Jesus’ death on the cross has left us with possibilities and we are allowed to choose – and to live with the consequences of that choice.
We can receive what Jesus has done in the way He has done it, and do so with hearts that do not take pride in themselves or their achievements.
We can allow God to lead us in the course of our lives with His own direct and personal rule, made real and personal for us in Jesus, we can allow Him to forgive us and to renew us and to enlarge us into dimensions that we had never before even imagined or fantasized about.
Or of course we can determine to control our lives in our way knowing that corruption of the body and permanent self-loathing in the soul would be with us for eternity.
For us there are indeed choices and God’s love does not override our self-will and our freedom to reject Him. That is what love is and does.
Perhaps a final thought rests in the way we worship God and make our prayers before Him.
As we worship, we are not telling a rather stupid and indulgent old man in the sky anything He does not know, as if He was going to reply to our praises with a comment like “Oh am I really like that? It’s really so good of you to say so.”
Far more, we are opening ourselves to His word and will in our lives so that Jesus may live more fully and gloriously within and among us, leading us from one degree of glory to another.
John’s gospel puts this together in the High Priestly prayer.
In it, Jesus prays for the unity of the disciples among themselves and with God in Jesus:
“And the glory which You gave Me I have given to them, that they may be one just as We are One.
“I in them and You in Me, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You love Me.”