‘…God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace through the blood of his cross. (Col.1.20)We heard earlier in our worship the end of one of the great hymns of praise in Paul’s writings. It’s not necessarily by Paul, but might well have been by an even earlier author, and is here quoted. The purpose of the letter to the church in Colossae is to refute error, in the same way as the letters to Galatia and Corinth – but here the errors which Paul is addressing are errors of belief and doctrine, not so much of practice. We arte reminded of the fullness of God, dwelling in Jesus, that he is the firstborn, and the head of the church. Only Jesus is truly God, truly human, and no-one else has a divine claim. Then there is the remarkable claim that the Cross of Christ renders true peace and reconciliation possible – that the most violent and terrifying act, calculated to induce suffering and agony, carries with it the benefits of peace and restoration.
Peace is a gift we are failing to make known. This morning 39 people were killed in two separate incidents on the Moscow Metro system as two female suicide bombers detonated explosives in crowded stations. Communities on our doorstep are prone to violence, theft, noise, disruption. The Church itself, far from being a place of peace, is a place both of internal disagreement and also of controversy and anger within wider society. All of this points to the closest disharmony of all – the lack of interior peace which seems to be the lot of so many, ourselves included. We cannot fulfil our vocations as messengers of peace if we have not first heard, assimilated and lived that message, that grace. For Paul, the cross is the place of encounter with Jesus that releases saving grace – not least, peace.
Christians believe that in all sorts of ways the cross is a place of reconciliation. The offering of the Son to the Father is a place where the humanity of Jesus – the ‘second Adam’ recapitulates and restores what was lost in the first. The first Adam – points to the understanding that human beings have fallen away from the good purposes and providence of the living God. Jesus, God incarnate, comes to earth to restore and to make good that fractured relationship in the form of a new covenant which replaces the old, as the ‘tree of man’s defeat becomes the tree of victory’.
An ignominious, horrific death, alone, betrayed, lied about, taunted, naked, and horrifically painful. There simply isn’t a worse human fate than the cross. And so, in Christ, the Godhead embraces and assimilate all human suffering. And so he embraces
We who aspire to be disciples rather than merely admirers of Christ are begin asked serious questions by all this. It begins with our own personal attitude to violence and aggression, and what circumstances drive us to these things. It continues with an honest examination of the requirements of the gospel and the kingdom. Perhaps it ends with a renewed set of priorities as we examine our own conduct, and the way we demonstrate the peace of the kingdom to one another, as part of our response to the blood of his cross.
A popular habit in parishes during Holy Week is to watch a film, such as Jesus of Nazareth. I did so with a group of young people last year. At the point of the crucifixion I saw a few people wince, heard sharp intakes of breath. A few years ago Mel Gibson’s film ‘The Passion of The Christ’ was released, and the reaction was fascinating – was it gratuitously gory? Of course, the cinema-going public shrinks from violence and brutality; the same public, presumably, who sat through Reservoir Dogs and the first half an hour of Saving Private Ryan. Perhaps we really do not want to know the depths and lengths that God was prepared to go to, preferring instead to sanitise and render respectable our experience of God so that He becomes comfortable to us – God in our image, God as we would like Him to be – neat, clean, tidy, understandable, and ultimately disposable.
But God is none of these things: rather, He’s untidy, dirty, messy, mysterious and completely engaging for all eternity. The God on the Cross is the God you simply cannot ignore. And our experience of him should continue to be uncomfortable until we have made the journey of faith which places us with him in our true homeland, which is in heaven. And through this act of love and utter sacrifice we are freed to make that journey homewards to the Father, attaining ultimately the peace which is part of God’s ultimate desire for us, the people he loves and longs for, and to whom be glory both on earth and in heaven, during this Holy Week and to the ages of ages.