27 February 2008

Homily for Oculi Midweek

We have seen our Lamb, our Lord Jesus, willingly and intentionally giving Himself up for the life of the world. We have seen from His struggle in the Garden, His wrestling in prayer, what a fearful thing the sin is that we choose so easily, how terrifying the cup He had to drink, and yet how peace came to Him as He prayed: “not my will, but Yours be done.” Tonight He stands as the Lamb before the High Priest, whose job it is to offer the sacrifice, to present the atonement. The Lamb must be pure and without blemish - and we know that He is.

Alone of the children of Adam and Eve, this Man fulfilled all that the Law ever required. His life was love - pure, unadulterated, and unbroken. Here for the first time stood a human being as God had intended all human beings to be. Here is the Image of the Father in human flesh and blood. Here is love made flesh, love preparing to be offered, love willing to spill His own blood to cover the sins of the world.

And so it was an utterly fruitless exercise that the chief priests and the whole counsel engaged in - seeking evidence against Him that would enable them to kill Him. For there was none. And when all else has failed, the High Priest puts to Him the question that He cannot deny and will not turn from: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”

If He speaks the truth now, He will sign His death warrant. And no quick and easy death, such as came to the many lambs who were types, picture prophesies of Him. But He is not afraid to speak the truth. He never was. Love Incarnate has no falsehood in Him. And so He speaks. “I am. You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God’s power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” YOU will see. He says that to the High Priest, for so he will see - and every one of us too. No one will escape seeing either. For all will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ upon death; and all will see the return of the Son of Man when He raises the dead and gives eternal life to all believers.

But to the High Priest our Lord has given sufficient grounds now for the death penalty. “Blasphemy!” they cry. He has made Himself the equal of God and they don’t misunderstand His claim at all. Instead, the torture begins. The spitting in His sacred face. The blindfold and game of blind man’s bluff as they rain down their blows on His head and His body, jeering at Him: “Who struck you, O Christ! Tell us!” And the guards, who earlier had fallen down before Him when He pronounced the divine name: “I am” in the Garden - these guards now begin to beat Him as they lead Him away.

The Lamb, the Love of God incarnate, speaks truth and for such truth is tortured and condemned to death. But the Lamb of God does this with courage and confidence, because He knows that what He says IS truth, and that no suffering humanity inflicts upon Him will be able to change His love for the race of men into bitterness; and no death they deal out to Him will be able to end His life. For in Him is a love that is stronger than all hatred; and in Him is a love that is stronger than death itself.

But this confidence and faith, it is not yet in Peter. The Lord had told him what would happen, how his fear would win the day, how it would master him and drive him to deny not once, not even twice, but three times that he even knew Him whom He called “Lord.” Yet the Lord had comforted that He would pray for him that his faith would not finally fail, and that when he turned he was to strengthen his brothers.

Three times he had the chance to confess the truth, as His Lord had confessed the truth, but each time he fell flat on his face - they were beating his Lord in there and he was afraid. More afraid of suffering, more afraid of death, than he was convinced that in his Lord, in the Lamb, there was a life that no suffering or death COULD destroy. And so he caved.

And it no sooner happen, no sooner were the words out of his mouth, than the look came from the Lord. It was a tender look, not a condemning “I told you so” look. It was a look of love, of mercy, of compassion that brought him to repentance that moment. Peter dashed from the horrible scene of torment and went out to his own place of inner torment and wept bitterly.

With Judas there was also bitter weeping, but not repentance. Instead despair. He imagined that he had done something so evil, so awful, that it could never be forgiven. How little Judas understood of the Man he betrayed - as though in that divine heart there could ever be anything other than love for him! But Satan convinced Judas it wasn’t so - and he’s not the first or the last to believe that lie above all lies. And he ended his own life in that despair.

The chief priests are fastidious about the money that had betrayed the Lord, but they seem to recognize no culpability in themselves for either Judas’ suffering or his death - as they said “what is that to us?” There you see sin in action: it causes untold damage to others and then pretends that the damage is all their fault! But the Lamb who is headed now to Pilate - He knows differently. He is truth and sees the truth - the damage we do to ourselves when we live in fear like Peter; the damage we do to ourselves when we despair of His forgivenss and mercy and love and imagine that our sin is just too great, the damage we do to each other when we pretend that our leading them to sin is no big deal and not something we ourselves must answer for.

The Lamb sees and knows all this - just as He knows your life through and through. He knows you in all your betrayals, denials, and abdications of responsibility. And here is the miracle beyond all miracles: He goes on loving. Loving you. And for love of you, He will let nothing deter Him from His cross, where His blood will blot out the accusation of the law that stands against you, where His body will be yielded to the Father, a sweet smelling savor, to destroy the power of death forever. Your Lamb goes forth to do this for you - that you too may come to live by faith in Him, by faith that the pardon that God reaches you in Him is mightier than a world’s sin, let alone your own, and that the life that God reaches you in Him not only can, but has, will, and must overcome death itself!

Your Lamb. He tells you the truth. And He shows you the truth. And about that truth He will speak to Pilate. But that is for next week. To Him, our Lamb, our Jesus, be all the glory, honor, and power, forever and ever! Amen.

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