A sermon preached in Godshill on 5th March 2017 – Lent 1 – Symbols of the passion – Bread and Wine, Mark Ward
Preaching for the season of Lent is all about the Symbols of Christ’s Passion – the period of his travel to the Cross. Now we could argue that his journey to the cross began at his birth or even at the dawn of time before the world ever was, but for this purpose we are to think about the period right at the end of his earthly life, his last few days, perhaps his last few hours.
In simple terms we understand the bread and the wine to be his body and his blood, and we shall celebrate that ritual feeding of ourselves from him in a few moments as we remember his death in the Eucharist. But what does it mean to us that he was a human being – that he was flesh and blood? I’m currently reading a lot about priesthood and there is a temptation for me to rehearse a lot of theology which may or may not interest you but let us start from this point:
God sent Jesus to this earth to be flesh and blood because as it says right back in Genesis – we were created in the image of God. Jesus came in that image to be amongst us as a perfect example of what God intended – to show us how we should be. The reason he ended up on the cross and his blood was spilled was because we have failed to live in that image – we have not been perfect, so he offered himself as a hostage to our human failings.
We who have come after can do nothing about what came before, but we can try to be the people God wants us to be. Of course temptation is put in our way and as we have heard already this morning, Jesus resisted the temptation because he was perfect, but we are not that strong and temptations get to us. But because he realised that and he gave himself up on our behalf, we can be forgiven those temptations over and over again.
The other reason Jesus came to this earth as flesh and blood is so that he has been like us – he knows what it is to be human, he understands things like temptation because he experienced it and that makes him the only person who can join together God with his humanity and God with his creation.
This is where it could get a bit theological so stop me if I lose you, and don’t worry if you think I am losing you because I’m not entirely sure I have worked it all out, but it goes something like this:
I remember reading you something from Richard Rohr some months ago where Rohr says – if you apply earthly logic you can’t understand the person of God because God defies all our logic. Jesus was 100% human but he was also 100% divine. Now I know what you are going to say to me – that’s not possible is it, you can’t be more than 100%, although on the TV I’m always hearing “I’m going to give 150% effort to this” – humanly not possible – but for Jesus nothing is impossible so adding up to 200% is fine – he is completely divine and completely human – why because that means he can experience being of God and of God’s creation – human, and that allows him to mediate between us and God – he has full understanding of both which is why he became flesh and blood.
And that’s different from just negotiating between us and God. Negotiators at best can empathise but they rarely if ever know what it is like for both sides of the argument I hope this helps:
Imagine there are two countries, both of the countries are completely different and they are separated by a stretch of water over which a bridge is built. The bridge joins both countries together but they remain separate countries even though the bridge is there. The bridge isn’t a country – it’s a bridge, so even though it joins the two together it can’t understand what the countries feel like or understand their differences.
Now contrast that with an iron bar that has been heated up to white hot. Let’s call the bar God and the heat us, it doesn’t matter which way round. They are both contained within the same thing – the heat can’t be generated unless the iron is there but they both exist together. Jesus is both the bar and the heat because he is both God and human, and so he understands what it is like to be both. He contains both parts and so he understands us both. I hope that makes sense.
So the fact that the Word was made flesh (and blood) is crucial to the person of who Jesus was. Is it therefore surprising that when his end came on this earth it was so physical – that he suffered great pain from being flogged from the crown of thorns, from dragging the cross and falling, from the nails driven through him, damaging flesh and spilling blood. If you have seen Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” it is gruesome, and it was gruesome – Jesus felt that pain so that he could feel our pain, so that he could explain that pain to God the Father. He also knew what God thought and felt too. If Jesus had not lived and died as we live and die we could not relate to him as we do. And because we can relate to him he can mediate for us and we can be forgiven by God the Father as a result.
So it is no accident that Jesus came to this earth, because he came not just to live amongst us but to experience our experience, and it is no accident that he had to die – perfection had to be offered in our place, a life without stain, and because of the lack of stain God recognises everything Jesus asks of God on our behalf because both Jesus and God are without stain.
So we have much to be thankful for each time we do give in to temptation, that we can be forgiven, and that it is possible to stand up to temptation in the future.
I’m going to finish on a slightly different topic. If you want to understand why Jesus came to this earth, go out and buy a DVD of the film “I Daniel Blake”. I can’t remember if I have spoken about it here or not. It is a film by Ken Loach about a man called Daniel Blake and a small single parent family he meets at the jobcentre. It’s a very sad film and a film that appears to be without hope. It won’t make you feel better by watching it; in fact it will probably upset you. But there are some amazing bits of perfect humanity in it – it proves that we can live in God’s image when we stop thinking about ourselves and start to think about others but crucially it also reminds us that when we get it right it can cost us dearly too. Daniel learns this, so does single mum Katie and her young daughter Daisy, for in all their pain they all reach out to each other, yet because they have done so, when things go wrong, their own pain is even greater. So it also teaches us that humanity is about love, of giving your own flesh and blood for others even when it hurts – even when you end up on your own cross for the love of others.
It’s about £10 to buy the DVD, and I reckon Lent is an ideal time to watch it, but you may need a box of tissues.