Homilies on the Kerygma,
St Mary’s Cathedral, 2nd Sunday of Lent, 28 February 2021.
Today the 2nd Sunday of Lent, we have a glimpse of Christ in his glory on the mountain. And today, in our series of five homilies on the kerygma (which isn’t by the way, “a painful condition of the feet” as someone humorously suggested, but the basic Christian truths), we happily arrive at the person of Christ. May he be transfigured before our eyes!
God loves us (no. 1), but we have an inbuilt genius for missing this, ignoring it, turning away from it – sin (no. 2). And as we do, things fall part, we are distanced, alienated, from our own selves, one another, the rest of creation and God himself. This is what the Bible means by “death”. “Who’ll deliver me?” asks St Paul (Rom 7:24).
So, we come to Jesus of Nazareth, the one we call with St Peter “the Christ, the Son of the living God”. He comes from the Father to reconnect us. “God always loved us,” said St John Chrysostom, “even from the beginning and before we even existed. For if he hadn’t loved us he wouldn’t have predestined such riches for us. Don’t consider the enmity that has come between, for more ancient than that was the friendship.” In Christ, this “ancient”, original, always-intended friendship breaks out again. We can multiply the metaphors. Christ rebuilds the broken bridge, he re-sews the torn clothing, he puts his mouth to the wound and draws the poison out. The connection is restored, the green light comes on, the screen lights up. “All the King’s horses and all the King’s men / couldn’t put Humpty together again”, but splayed and displayed on the Cross our broken King did. He reverses the meltdown, he defeats the enemy. By the love shown in the Passion, he overcomes sin. By the life of his Resurrection, he overcomes death. He puts things right, gives us back our humanity. And even saying that, one has only begun.
Who is he then?
Let’s climb the mountain of the New Testament. It’s firm ground. The Gospels are reliable. They’re not just historical documents, but they are that. We can trust the presentation of Jesus the four evangelists bring us and in their different ways the other NT writings of Peter and Paul, James and John. Of all the interpretations of Jesus on offer, the NT one is all at once the most simple, sophisticated and satisfying. To use the buzz words, it’s diverse and inclusive; it’s complex and coherent; it makes sense. It has the power to convince. On the mountain of the New Testament, Christ shines out: expressible and inexpressible. He gives off truth. He’s someone cosmic and someone historical. He’s God and he’s man. He’s fierce and kind. He holds opposites together. He fills spaces no-one else does. He’s past, present and future.
Who is he then? Let the New Testament go on.
From all eternity, says St John, he was with God, and he was God, “in the bosom of the Father”. He’s aflame in the fire of the Godhead. The whole universe, says St Paul, holds together in him (cf. Col 1:17). And in the days of King Herod and Caesar Augustus, in a small and restless imperial province he, Word, Wisdom and Son, became human and was born of the Virgin Mary, a Jewish girl who loved her God.
He’s the flower at the end of the long fuse of Israel’s expectation, the Messiah. He goes public at thirty. He goes about doing good. He tells stories and cures, he gathers friends and argues with enemies. Everyone is astonished and some annoyed, and he makes his way to Jerusalem. And here we come to the hub. This was a journey made in free obedience to his Father out of love for us. It was a journey he made carrying us all, as the God-man. It was a journey into the heart of darkness. He’s betrayed, abandoned, rejected, misjudged, flogged, mocked, crucified and left for dead in a cave. And in and through all that, which happened once two thousand years ago under Pontius Pilate, he’s undergoing everything wrong and putting everything right. He’s going for all of us, going further than us, into the effects of our sin and all of our pain. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He’s carrying us all, sin and all, “becoming sin”, says St Paul even. In the end, he’s nothing but a prayer: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”, our spirit too. And those fatherly hands receive him and on the third day raise him and raising him raise us.
In this fire, sin shrivels and curls and burns up, and something fresh and green and alive is born.
Our Head, our Leader, our crucified and risen Lord: it was all put right by him. “It is accomplished”, he said. Sin is forgiven and resurrection revealed. Even now, a new space has opened, the space of grace. There’s another landscape to move in, another sky and horizon. There’s an endless expanse. Friendship restored.
And who is he now? The New Testament hasn’t finished yet. The Word with the Father, the Word made flesh, the carpenter from Galilee, the crucified King, now stands in his humanity at his Father’s right hand. Invisible but loveable, as St Peter says (cf. 1 Pet 1:8); his power hidden but real (cf. Heb 2:8-9). Ever-living to intercede for us, sending the Holy Spirit, filling the Church, alive in word and sacrament, captivating hearts and minds, feeding with his Eucharist, growing his Body, judging history and its cultures, waiting to come, and walking through the world disguised in the hungry and thirsty, the sick and the poor, the overlooked and discarded.
The view from the mountain. Is it just crazy, or crazy and true? That’s over to us. “Who do you say that I am?”
And here’s the last thing, and not the least. This figure, this person, let’s ask again, Who is he? Not just a figure of the past, no. Not someone a few overwrought 1st c. Jews conjured up from the ashes of a failure. No. He is. He’s real and now. He has risen from the dead. And therefore simply, a friend, the friend, as close to me as he is to his Father, closer than anyone. No-one has such a dream for me as he does. No-one more wants me to live than he does. No-one so cherishes my humanity, my individuality, my me-ness as he does. And what does this mean? It means I’m not – not ever – alone.
On the mountain, the disciples fell on their faces, as well we might too. “Jesus, though, came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear’.”