Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mount Calvary

Reflections on the Readings
    November 24, 2013 
Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe - Year C


Mount Calvary

For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19, 20)

On a Hill Far Away

I heard a lot of preaching while growing up. And there was great emphasis on the Cross in that preaching. "Jesus died for you, and you, and you!" is a fair recounting of a typical sermon meant to persuade the wayward to embrace Jesus and his salvation. But we did not hang a crucifix in our church. That would have been considered a denial of the resurrection of Jesus. I heard it many times: "Jesus did not stay on the Cross. He isn't dead. He's alive and there's an empty Cross and an empty Tomb! Our Jesus didn't stay on the Cross!" That sentiment was frequently in reference to the Catholic parish in town. 

We surely know that a crucifix is not a denial of the resurrection of Jesus. Far better is the understanding that a crucifix reminds us of a time and place when for us men and for our salvation, Jesus died for us. A popular Christian song reminds us of a hill far away, where there stood an old rugged cross; the emblem of suffering and shame. That moving song continues:

O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
has a wondrous attraction for me;
for the dear Lamb of God left his glory above
to bear it to dark Calvary.

In that old rugged cross, stained by blood so divine,
a wondrous beauty I see,
for 'twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
to pardon and sanctify me.

So a crucifix is really a very powerful reminder of God's love for us. And the words of that song describe the Cross in the beauty of earthly language the indescribable beauty of Love's precious blood redeeming the world. On a violent Friday afternoon the Prince of Peace reconciled us to the Father; making peace by the blood of his Cross.

The Preaching of the Cross

It is the Apostle Paul who makes the preaching of the Cross central to his preaching and writing. Among the first Christians in Corinth Paul made Jesus Christ, and him crucified, his first, middle, and last point. He did this with one purpose in mind. He wanted their faith to rest in the power of God. For in Paul's preaching, the message of Jesus Christ crucified was a demonstration of the Spirit and of power. The factions centering on their favorite priest like Apollos, or Cephas, or Paul, were missing the point. Christ, and him alone, suffered, died, and then rose again in a powerful display of God's affection for us.

The preaching of the Cross is still the central understanding of the Good News; that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. It is the very blood of Jesus, that washes whiter than snow, and brings the world together under the banner of the Father's love. Upon Mount Calvary every injustice, every brokenness, every unlovely and loveless moment in the history of Adam's family finds redeeming Love. The very blood of Christ is an ocean of healing and peace for the life of the world. 

The most eloquent erudition of this understanding exists in the revered Book of Hebrews of the New Testament. In Hebrews chapter 9, the writer contrasts the blood of bulls and goats of the Old Testament purification ritual with the blood of Christ. 

For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with
the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes
of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh,
how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through
the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God,
purify your conscience from dead works 
to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:13-14) 

After this, Christ sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Grace is not cheap, nor is his Peace for sale. But Jesus pours into our hearts the healing balm of his blood and there is peace. Alleluia, there is peace. Preach that. Testify of that Love; that Love, the depths of which have never been measured! Preach it! Tell it! Announce it from the house tops, and tell everyone you know that: 

There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel's veins; And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains. 
(William Cowper)

Scoffers and Nay-Sayers

In the beginning of his ministry Jesus first retreated in prayer. Immediately Satan challenged him saying, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread." On Mount Calvary the rulers also scoffed at our Lord. On that Friday afternoon those same familiar words pierced the air with contempt: "He saved others, let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!" 

The soldiers also mocked him. They offered him a cheap drink of vinegar and taunted him saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" And Luke tells us that there was an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews." It was also meant to discredit the man hanging on the Cross. Then lastly, one of the criminals who also was on his own cross challenged Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" 

But the other criminal displayed more faith; more humility. He saw his sentence as just - "But this man," he said, "has done nothing wrong." 

He alone does not mock, challenge, nor scoff. He sees Christ as his Savior, and begs for mercy. His prayer is second to none, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." This criminal is the first trophy of the blood of his Cross as Jesus assures this repentant thief, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

I remember a time many years ago when some of the historic denominations were excising hymns with references to the blood of Jesus from their hymnals. It seemed too messy. Too brutal for the sophisticated folks. Besides it was argued that God was dead. We enlightened ones knew better and could do better without bothering ourselves with ritual and sacrifice and reconciliation with God. But there is no bloodless Cross. There is no Peace of Christ without the shedding of blood. Indeed we were ransomed from our inherited sin, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18, 19)

On a hill faraway called Mount Calvary, we remember a King who kissed the earth with his blood and gave us His peace. Amen. 

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: dennishankins@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com 


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