In the cross of Christ, love suffers all things
and bears all things to heal our world.
A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley
by Andrew McKearney on 16 September 2018
At the heart of the Christian faith lies the cross of Christ.
The first stories collected and retold about Jesus weren’t about his birth or his life, but were about his death, the events that lead up to it and all that flowed from it. Christmas wasn’t the first season to be celebrated but Holy Week and Easter!
And very quickly the cross became the Christian symbol. When this building was consecrated, the bishop went round the walls and daubed them with the cross. At every baptism I mark the sign of the cross in oil on the person’s forehead. Many of us will wear a cross round our neck. And on the side here in Church are holding crosses for people to use as an aid to prayer and I have to regularly re-stock the supply.
Of course it’s not easy to find the words to express the meaning of the cross – it expresses a deep spiritual truth which we know with our hearts even if our heads struggle to understand it!
Before the crucifixion happened things were very different! As we heard, the cross wasn’t at all important to Jesus’ disciples, in fact it was the last thing they wanted to happen to him! And in spite of all Jesus’ skills as a teacher, he didn’t manage to persuade anyone of its importance.
Mark’s gospel records Jesus trying to teach the disciples three times about the importance of the cross, and how he was going to be rejected in Jerusalem, flogged, spat on and killed, and his disciples simply didn’t get it! As we just heard, the cross is off message as far as the disciples are concerned.
Peter even took Jesus aside and rebuked him for considering it!
So why was Jesus so convinced about this? Where did he get this idea from that he had to go to Jerusalem and face the cross when no one else saw it that way? Where did this deep conviction in him come from that this was God’s way and he had to follow it to the end?
These aren’t easy questions to answer!
There’s one book in the Old Testament that contains four quite short songs or poems about an unidentified person referred to as ‘The Servant of the Lord’. The poems have become known as ‘The Servant Songs’ from the book of the prophet Isaiah.
They speak of the Lord’s servant being called and given a ministry:
‘The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher’
we heard the prophet Isaiah say, ‘that I may know how to
sustain the weary with a word.’
However that ministry is opposed and rejected;
‘I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks
to those who pulled out the beard’ we heard Isaiah go on
to say, ‘I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.’
But the humiliation and the ultimate death of the Lord’s servant is seen in these four ‘Servant Songs’ as part of the Lord’s purpose for his servant. Isaiah says:
‘I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near.’
Today’s Old Testament reading is the third of these four ‘Servant Songs’. Maybe through them Jesus came to understand why suffering and humiliation was to be part and parcel of his ministry. Maybe, we can’t be sure.
And I wonder what the cross means for us?
Perhaps these thoughts convey something of its meaning for us:
Or perhaps the one that speaks deepest to me: