Therefore… we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,
by the new and living way that he opened for us…
Today we take time to rest in silence and to meditate on our Lord who on this day was nailed to the Cross.
Here, before the Cross, we know love, and are moved by what is beyond our understanding, it is more than we can comprehend [Aquinas] – so we bring ourselves back to this place each year on Good Friday, and indeed, Sunday by Sunday, and even more often when we place the sign of the Cross on our church buildings in our communities for all to see and in our homes or even on jewelry around our necks.
In 1989, when I was travelling in Algeria, and looking for a church on Christmas day in the capital Algiers, I asked a Muslim youth for directions and he smiled in a taunting way and said, in the little English that he knew, “There is no more Cross”. I found the church I was looking for, but it was closed, surrounded by barbed wire. This was a city where dead bodies were being found in the streets each morning. I had never been in a city where I saw as much fear in peoples’ faces. God forbid, that we should forget the Cross! God forbid that its sign should just fade away and be forgotten in our midst or from our minds. God forbid that future generations should not even know Christ. (Happily, the cathedral was only temporarily closed.)
We stand in silence and in awe before the Cross. Our Lord, who was without sin, who only preached love, was hated, was reviled and spit upon, was put cruelly to death by humanity. We know all too well by the Cross of Christ that it is within humanity to be violent.
We saw on Tuesday this week, close to home, violence in Brussels – we see what human beings are capable of when they follow a lie. We will no doubt see it again as the cultures of the world mingle and borders are more porous. If the world hates you, Jesus said, know that it has hated me before it has hated you. [St John 15:18] What a contrast between those set on the destruction of peace, and of the unprecedented freedoms of the Judeo-Christian West, with what was happening in the Anglican Cathedral in Brussels on the same day. There, clergy from our Diocese had gathered to renew their vows at a Chrism Mass and the Bishop was consecrating oil for the healing of the nations and for the liberation of the fruits of the Spirit – foremost of those, love. Pray that the West might more consciously follow the way of Jesus – His way is the way that changes hearts – “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” [St Luke 23:34] “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” [St Matthew 5:44]
Violence is the end of humanity severed from God. Before the flood, we are told that the earth was filled with violence. [Genesis 6:5, 11] God has come to put an end to it, not by destroying the earth with another flood, but by the only act that has power to change hearts. Our Saviour…did hang upon the Cross stretching out his loving arms that he might draw all people to himself, to God. [from the Prayers at Midday]
We stand in silence and in awe before the Cross. But Jesus has not just come to change hearts out there, and to bring peace in an external way. Jesus has come into our midst and died on the Cross that there might be a breakthrough in our hearts, so that we are ready and able to give ourselves over in complete trust and abandonment in God. [Benedict XVI]
I’ve spoken about how our church is constructed following the pattern of the Tabernacle in the wilderness and the Temple in the Old Testament (outer court=nave, and inner court=chancel and the holy of holies=sanctuary). Remember that the Tabernacle and the Temple and this church are figures of heavenly things – even of our souls. God can be approached as we move from being absorbed in the world without (external), to moving within us (the inward turn), and then to the One who above us.
Yet there is a cloud that stands between our nearer approach to God when we close our eyes and turn within – it is our distractedness, and it is our sin. Jesus has come to remove that barrier to a nearer approach within, that our hearts may be more filled with His Spirit, with His love – God entering into us and we turning towards God.
This is what is spoken of in Hebrews (10:1-25):
This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more… Therefore… since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
What does this mean?
Jesus is changing our hearts inwardly as we stand in silence and in awe before the Cross. He gives us the confidence to look within and to be completely honest with Him, we trust in his mercy – and so we are ready for His nearer approach. He is opening up the well spring of life that He might fill our hearts within. Remember the veil, that barrier that one had to go through to get to the holy of holies within the Temple, and that only the High Priest could go past? The priests had to sacrifice and ox and then sprinkle its blood on the objects within the tabernacle. [Leviticus 16] St. Paul says that Jesus’ body is the veil. And his body was torn for us on the Cross, his blood has been sprinkled on the Temple that is our soul [1 Cor 3:16-17], so that we might all have access to the holy of holies, that we might inwardly speak with God face to face as did Moses. [Exodus 33:9-11]
St. Paul says also that Jesus is our high priest, He is there within us now, in that holy of holies. And what is He doing? He’s awakening us to the critical state that we all find ourselves in: walking around often as if in a spiritual slumber, ready at any moment to fall asleep, ready to forget and to forsake God and return to the world. But as we behold the Cross outwardly, he works on us inwardly. We have confidence to enter within and we come to know what He is calling each of us to: in this age, in this country, in our church communities, and in our families, in our private inner lives. And he gives us the courage and the strength to accept that call – the call to “carry our cross with humility, trust and abandonment in God.”
We stand in silence and in awe before the Cross…the veil is torn, and we are being changed.
I’ve often wondered about a witness I could have given that day in Algiers to that young man, who said, “There is no more Cross.” I’ve wondered if I should have simply stretched out my arms to show him that the Cross and the salvation it offers is indeed still here. Every human soul is longing for the salvation that we are coming to know. Love compels us to share this, His inestimable gift.
Let us pray…
Lord Jesus Christ, who for the redemption of mankind did ascend the Cross, to enlighten the world that lay in darkness: Gather us this day with all your faithful to that same holy Cross; that, gazing in penitence upon your great sacrifice for us, we may be loosed from all our sins, and entering into the mystery of your passion, be crucified to the vain pomp and power of this passing world; and finding our glory in the Cross alone, we may attain to your everlasting joy; where you, the Lamb that once was slain, are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.