Friday, 6 April 2012

Unity at the Cross: a Sermon for the Medicine Hat Evangelical Association Citywide Good Friday Service—with Reference to John 19:16b-30


Blessed are you, Lord God of our salvation, to you be praise and glory for ever. As a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief your only Son was lifted up that he might draw the whole world to himself. May we walk this day in the way of the cross and always be ready to share its weight, declaring your love for all the world. Blessed are you, Lord God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Blessed are you, Lord God for ever.
v16b "So they took Jesus." 
We still do, don’t we. We take him with us into our own denominational groups. It’s obvious Jesus is an Englishman, and therefore, Anglican, for heaven’s sake! He must be! He’s such a gentleman. No, someone says, because then he wouldn’t have been baptized in enough water. He’s really Baptist! No, no, the depth of the water is important but we mustn't let it quench being baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire say the Pentecostals. Wait a minute! He said eat my flesh and drink my blood—bread and real wine! He’s really Catholic or Lutheran. And so it goes. 
So they took Jesus, and they tried to cut him down to a manageable size—dead, in other words—because he didn’t fit their idea of what a Messiah should look like. If we’re honest, we have to admit we take Jesus and we try to make him fit into our own ideas—our own likes and dislikes, too. 
Jesus loves me, this I know. All you others, maybe so. I’m not sure that you belong. We are right, but they are wrong. 
How can we have unity at the cross if we’ve all taken Jesus and molded him into our own denominational preferences—our own images? 
v17 Meanwhile, Jesus, 
…went out, bearing his own cross (the one we’re supposed to be in unity at), to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18  There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 
And Jesus between them. Here we all are with all our differences yet Jesus is between us. Jesus is between us to bring us to truth, to reconcile and heal. Jesus is between us to save. Jesus is between us to lovingly bind us together in holy unity if we’ll let him. Jesus is between us wanting to soften hard words. Jesus is between us to draw us closer together than we know how to be. In a few moments Jesus will be between us in the bread and the cup. Jesus is between us to bring us into unity at the cross.
v19 Pilate also wrote an inscription about his understanding of Jesus and put it on the cross. We write them, too. There was an argument over what Pilate’s inscription should have said. We argue over our inscriptions, too. Jesus is this, not that. Some of us even do it within our own denominations. What if we were to take down our denominational inscriptions and put something like this: “We are the Church in Medicine Hat. Jesus is all there is between us. That’s all the matters!” 
Instead, we’ve been like the soldiers who crucified Jesus when they 
v23  they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier
Haven’t we done the same. That bit looks good on you. But I like this bit of what Jesus wore. This is my colour. It suits me, don’t you think? That doesn’t go with my outfit. How can we have unity at the cross or anywhere else if we’re only wearing the bits of Jesus that we like? No, 
put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires," (Ro 13:14)
and our preferences—to pick and choose what bit we’ll put on—what we think makes us look best. 
Jesus is more like the tunic which was (v23) seamless, in one piece. Like this chasuble—which represents that tunic, worn by Catholic and some Anglican priests when they celebrate communion. When we put the LORD Jesus on, we are wearing integrity, beauty, unity.
v25 "but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene." 
They were standing by the cross of Jesus. So are we. That’s the point of Good Friday. We’re here to stand by him, to adore him and bless him because by his holy cross he has redeemed world and if we die with him, we shall also live with him, if we endure, we shall also reign with him. Together. But first we have to acknowledge the danger we are in because of our disunity. 
Charles Henry Brent (1862-1929) was an Episcopal bishop of the Philippines and of Western New York (Episcopal is American for Anglican). He once said this: 
If it is a prophecy that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church, it is also prophecy that the Church divided against herself will fall. Disorder in the Church is more terrible than feuds in the family or civil war in the State. If war is an evil in national life, it is a thousandfold greater evil in Church life.
If unity has slipped from our grasp, it is the common fault of the Christian world. If it is to be regained it must be by the concerted action of all Christians. Every section has shared in shattering unity. Every section must share in the effort to restore it.
The unity of Christendom is not a luxury but a necessity. The world will go limping until Christ’s prayer that all may be one is answered. We must have unity, not at all costs, but at all risks. A unified Church is the only offering we dare present to the coming Christ, for in it alone will He find room to dwell.
Jesus is between us. Listen to what he said to the people who were with him at the cross: 
v26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!”
If Jesus is all there is between us, wouldn’t he say “You, brother, behold your sister! You, sister, behold your brother!” Jesus is between you to hold you together because,
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph4:4-6)
v27 And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
Take your sisters and brothers into your hearts at all risks. Imagine what would happen if all of you showed up at the World Day of Prayer service every year! They’d have to have it here! Imagine if all our mainline brothers and sisters showed up at the Global Day of Prayer service at Pentecost! We'd have to be here for that, too!
v28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the Scripture), “I thirst.”
He still does. Jesus is still thirsting for us to choose unity at all risks, trusting in him. Trusting in the indivisible integrity of what we wear when we put him on as LORD and Saviour. A unified church—brothers and sisters with Jesus the only thing between us, in unity at the cross—is the only unity at the cross we dare present to him on this or any Good Friday. 
Almighty Father, look with mercy on this your family for which our Lord Jesus Christ was content to be betrayed and given up into the hands of sinners and to suffer death upon the cross; who is alive and glorified with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.