The Necessity of the Cross

When I first entered Seminary, one of the first classes was a concentration on the Old Testament. It was taught by Father Joseph Ignatius Hunt. Father Hunt had the habit of coming into the classroom holding a slim book in his hand and giving the lectures. I was curious about that small book, so one day I had the opportunity to walk up to the lecturn during a break and I looked at it. There were no notes for the lecture. The sole content of the book was the Hebrew text of the Old Testament.

One thing that he did imbue upon us was a love of some of the more beautiful passages of the Old Testament. For although most of us associate the message of the Old Testament with the clarion call of God’s judgment upon all flesh, there are actually a number of beautiful passages found there, of which this morning’s Old Testament reading from Jeremiah is but one.

“The days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. This is the covenant that I will make with them. I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts and I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer shall they say to each other, ‘know the Lord,’ for they will all know me from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord, for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”

If you know no other passage of the Old Testament, I should hope that you know this one, because it is a summary of the entire message of the Bible. We celebrate that in Jesus that God has indeed established that new covenant. And the scope of that New Covenant is not limited to the house of Judah and the house of Israel. That is the point of this morning’s gospel. The Greeks come to see Jesus. But the Greek word for see has a certain connotation. It does not have the sense about it of seeing a sight or a spectacle, like you might want to see the Laurel festival parade. But here “see” is in the sense of “we would know Jesus.”

Because Jesus is the sign of the new covenant. Now, in the ancient world, covenants were serious business. There was always a price that was paid—a sacrifice that was made in the institution of the covenant. For example, there is the very strange story of the covenant that Abram made with God in Genesis Chapter 15. You know the story. It is the one where Abram is fretting that the heir of his household is going to be Eliezer of Damascus, and that his faith in God has been in vain.

In response to that, God told Abram to hack up into halves a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon. At sunset, a smoking fire-pot passes between the animals as a sign of God’s fidelity in keeping the covenant.

Then, a few chapters later, there is the story of the near sacrifice of Isaac, in which the challenge to Abraham’s faith is to destroy his one legitimate heir, the son of promise.

Covenants are a serious business. So, if there were to be a sign of a new covenant, fulfilling God’s desire to be known by his creation. It would require sacrifice. For God to truly dwell with people, He would have to be like us in every respect, and that includes suffering and dying, because ultimately that is the lot of human beings. For God to truly dwell with his people that we might be his people and that he might be our God, God himself would have to embrace all of life: The hopes, the joys, the sorrows, the parameter of tragedy. Because we too experience the hopes, the joys, the sorrows. We too experience tragedy.

For God to have credibility with us human beings, He would have to show us how the way of the cross could be none other than the way of life and peace. He would have to show us how the glory of God is shown in the mystery of redemption; he would have to show us how the way of suffering is none other than the way of life and peace.

It should be discomforting thing to look upon the cross of Jesus. If we didn’t see it so regularly, it would truly jar us and shock us with the power of the message: and the message is this: that God loved the world even this much, that Jesus became obedient even unto death, even the death of the cross.

Jesus suffered and he died so that the new law of God might be written in our hearts—that the greatest self-revelation of God might be fulfilled—that we would be his people, and that he would be our God.


Canon Greg+


About canongreg

I have been Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Wellsboro, PA since 1994.
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