Same Jesus at Christmas and at Cross
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Thursday, February 25th: Genesis 15:1-6, 12-18; Psalm 22:23-31; and Romans 3:21-31. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
You know it’s only been two months since Christmas. One of the challenges of the liturgical calendar is to move so quickly from the celebration of Jesus’ birth, to where we stand now in Lent, the season that focuses on Jesus’ death. Challenge, however, is not a dirty word. The proximity of our focus on Jesus’ Incarnation, and all the hope and wonder it brought into the world, when we celebrated that in Jesus God has become one of us in our full human nature, remains in place as we contemplate the mystery of the cross.
The same Jesus who we acclaim as the Son of God at Christmas is the same Son of God who suffers and dies on Golgotha. We rejoice in Jesus’ human nature on Christmas, and it doesn’t fade or disappear on Good Friday. The abrupt change from Christmas two months ago to standing in the shadow of the cross today challenges us, and it challenges us to delve more spiritually and deeply into the mystery that Jesus in His full human nature and in His full divine nature is crucified.
Some early Christians, the Docetists, were so offended by the thought of our Saviour’s actual suffering and death that they insisted it only “appeared” (δοκεῖν, dokein, Greek for “to appear) like Jesus was on the cross. They imagined that the real Jesus hovered over the cross and laughed at the human hubris that we could actually kill the Son of God.
This heresy was beginning to emerge even before the New Testament was closed. Thus, we read in 1 Peter: “Now as an elder myself and a witness of the suffering of Christ …” (5:1) In 2 John, it is written: “Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh …” (vs.7) It was deemed necessary to reiterate the basic facts of Jesus’ human nature and His suffering because some wanted to honour the Christ by denying Jesus of Nazareth.
The suffering death of Jesus Christ becomes a part of the nature of God in a mystery that we contemplate “with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26) The resurrected Jesus shows Thomas and the other disciples the crucifixion wounds that still scar His glorified flesh. The Saviour in heaven sees for eternity the nail prints in His hands and never forgets what it is to suffer as a human and never wonders about the divine love that allows for Jesus to suffer in that way.
The challenge of the faith is to appreciate the depth and wonder of such a sacrifice, a sacrifice no one is worthy of, and everyone is worthy of: “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.”
The challenge is to believe in such an ineffable love, and not take advantage of it, but be inspired by it.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Massachusetts Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.macucc.org/lectionary.
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