2. What about the Cross?

1 The Question

In Mighty Aphrodite by Woody Allen there is a character who acts like a Greek Chorus. At one point, when something disturbing is going on in the film, the Chorus cries out: "O Zeus, do something!" (or words to that effect). A great voice comes back: "Hi, this is Zeus. There's no-one in right now, but if you leave a message after the beep..."

Yet in Christianity we have a God who acts, and Jesus claimed that the reign of God is breaking into history in him. He made extraordinary claims, gave tremendous teachings, and then met a violent death alongside two common criminals. For some, this was the final conclusive evidence that he was an impostor. 'He saved others, let him save himself, if he is the Anointed One of God, His Chosen One.' (Luke 23:35) ' Let him now come down from the Cross and we will believe in him' (Matthew 27:42). For some the very manner of his death proved that he was accursed by God (Deuteronomy 21:23 - see Galatians 3:13). Others would say: God cannot die or be killed; Jesus was killed and died. Therefore Jesus is not God. What is going on?

Clearly something extraordinary happened about 2,000 years ago. Just think about the way we look at a Cross.

Crosses are popular as jewellery to hang around the neck or dangle from an ear or two. But at the time of Jesus crucifixion was the usual form of execution by the Romans and known for its viciousness and cruelty. It's not by accident that the word excruciating comes from a Latin word which means 'of the cross'.

And yet, within a short period of Jesus' death as a common criminal alongside two gangsters, the cross became the symbol of hope, of pride and even of glory. and when the first Christians met together they could think of nothing better to do than share bread and wine, symbols of his broken body and spilled blood, and did so to "proclaim" Jesus' death.

Listen to these words from St Paul, writing about himself to the Christians in Corinth:

'I decided to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2)[2]

In another letter he writes...

'....Far be it from me to GLORY except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ' (Galatians 6:14a)

Saint John's gospel records Jesus saying: 'Now is the hour coming when the son of man will be glorified' (John 12:23) and he is referring to his death!

How can such a death be glorious? Resurrection, yes now there is a success story! But crucifixion?

But we know that at the heart of the earliest message the apostles preached was the death and resurrection of Jesus. It was not simply that his death was inevitable in order that he rise again. The death was part of the 'Good News'. The 'Good News' is not first and foremost a moral code of behaviour. Being a Christian is not just, or even mainly, about being a good person. It is about Jesus and how his death and resurrection changes a person's life and the life of the world.

But why and how can one long weekend in history be of such significance? I can't even remember what I did on the last May Bank holiday!

2 The Purpose

Remember how people asked Jesus about the fundamental purpose of life. Being 1st century Jews they used different words to ask essentially the same question:

"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:36)

Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself. This is fundamentally the reason we are here. This is fundamentally the reason Jesus came into the world and died upon the cross for us.

There are two possible misunderstandings that need to be cleared up. Firstly, Jesus is not talking about 'Lurve', the 'special way of feeling'. The 'heart' in Jewish and Greek thought refers to the will, not the feelings. The Love that Jesus is talking about is the steadfast orientation of your will to the true well-being of the beloved. 'Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends' said Jesus (John 15:13). Love is not about how you feel, it is about what you choose to do.

Secondly, as we saw last week, Jesus explained that 'neighbour' means anyone whose true well-being your actions can significantly influence, even if they are your enemy (Luke 10:29-37, Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27-36)[3].

3 What Prevents us from Achieving our Purpose?

But if love is our purpose, if that's the reason that we're made, if our real happiness depends on it, something prevents it!

But you don't have to reflect for very long about life to know that we all do things which we know are wrong, and we fail to live up to the purpose God has given us [4]. The word for these knowing failures and distortions of love is sin. The word for Sin in the Bible comes from the image of missing the mark, like a darts player missing the bulls-eye. And the bulls-eye is fulfilling God's purpose, to love God and our neighbour as ourselves.

It's not just a question of failure, or letting ourselves down, or even guilt - we all understand about that. It's to do with flaws and distortions in our relationship with God. Even if we don't recognise this, at very least there is a fundamental restlessness. St Augustine puts his finger on this when he says, "O God you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they have found their rest in you."[5]

We want to love, we need to love, one poet says: "you are as prone to love as the sun is to shine"[6] Yet if love is our calling, it seems so difficult.

For some, the whole concept of love, as Jesus explains it, is alien to their experience. If you have never received unconditional love, you can feel yourself unable to give it, or even to believe that it exists.

Because we have been made to love, that love can be given to other things, and we can become slaves to power, money, or sex. When our love of God is perverted into idolatry or evil hypocrisy, love between men and women becomes adultery or callous exploitation, love of self leads to pride or theft, this is sin. St Paul wrote: 'All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God' (Romans 3:23). Relative to God's standards we all fall a long way short[7]. And let us be clear: sin is not doing something nice that God says no to, the spoil sport. Sin is something which (however nice it may seem at the time) prevents us from achieving our God-given purpose in life.

What then are the consequences of sin in our lives?

3.1 Direct harm

First, all of us hurt other people. And especially we hurt those that we claim to love. Some say; "It's only human". Does that excuse it? Make it OK? Oscar Wilde expresses this sad truth about ourselves in one of his poems:

Each man kills the thing he loves
By this let all be heard.
Some do it with a bitter look.
Some with a rebuking word.
The coward does it with a kiss.
The brave man with a sword."[8]

In short, we muck up our relationships, sometimes even in spite of ourselves. We could 'kick ourselves' for some of things we do.

3.2 Habit-forming power

And do I need to tell you that the things we do wrong have an addictive power. As CS Lewis says: the art of tempting is to gain the soul and give nothing in return. Because it can never satisfy you, you want more and more. This is what the Bible means when it talks about people being 'Slaves to Sin' (John 8:34)

3.3 The Chain of Sin

The reasons why a person finds it difficult to love himself and others can be very complex, and can find their explanation in a lack of love from others This serves to underline the truth that our behaviour is never a private matter. It affects other people. My tendency to think more about myself and see things and other people only from my point of view can lead to pride, selfishness, lies, greed, abuse of others. and jealousy.

Although we have a great capacity for love and self giving, we are all involved to a greater or lesser extent in this chain of Sin.

At its simplest when I was a kid, if something frustrating had happened to me, I could hit my younger brother. I 'took it out' on him.

Or let me give you another scenario!.[9]... suppose you have come here tonight after a little tussle with your husband or wife who wonders why the Dickens you should want to go a religious meeting other than on a Sunday. You promise to bring home a nice bottle, but because I'm going on a bit, you're late and the off-licence is closed, so you don't. Your partner is cross. You have an argument which wakes up the children. They come downstairs to find out what's going on and you shout at them and tell them to get back so bed. One of them, the most sensitive, can't get back to sleep and is exhausted in the morning, and can't get up.

Your partner, still nursing irritation from last night, yells at the child, who has had just about enough as he pours milk on to his cornflakes missing the bowl. More shouting, he runs out, picks up his bike and cycles down the road at such a pace that he doesn't notice the driver on his left who has to swerve to miss him. The driver, a secretary on her way to work, started the day full of beans but is a nervous driver at the best of times and having almost knocked your child over, can hardly type a letter that morning, which irritates her boss who is under pressure to get a report done. Frustrated and angry and delayed he is late for a pre-arranged lunchtime squash match, and has a row with the receptionist who has allocated his court to someone else thinking he wouldn't show up. The receptionist goes home in high dudgeon and picks a fight with her husband when he forgets to put sugar in her tea... and he hasn't even met you!

This is ordinary life! And we're all involved in it!

3.4 The Emptiness

But the sin and malaise in our lives has other aspects to it. There is that feeling which overcomes us every so often; that sense of meaninglessness which can overwhelm us when we realise the largeness of the universe and the smallness of our place in it; or the sense that no-one quite understands us, or when we feel like a number in an infinity of numbers. We can wonder if there is a God at all; when life feels like one damn thing after another. In these moments we can become grasping and fearful or self absorbed.

And then there is the very trickster of death itself which seems the ultimate injustice. "Why should I die?" All my dreaming, all my unexplored potential; all that I still want to do; all my relationships, all my hopes, dashed by, literally, breathlessness. There is a realisation that this is not how things are meant to be - that death, extinction, is not our true destiny. This has fascinated and vexed humanity from the beginning. The belief that we are really meant for eternity and that something has gone seriously wrong has been painted on cave walls, sung about and written about in stories whispered into the ears of our children from time immemorial.

The first book of the Bible tries to reflect and understand this dis-orientedness. If God made us for a relationship with him - to love and enjoy him forever - what has happened? Well, we know from our own experience that love is a matter of choice and becomes insignificant if it is forced upon us. You can't make a person love you. They have to choose. Even God will not force us to love Him. So because God wanted our love and wanted us to live as a community of love he gave us free will.

This freedom leaves us open to choosing the alternative way; to act in ways that are less than loving; to be self seeking rather than self giving. It even gives us the possibility of turning our back on God and acting as if we are the centre of everything. And it seems as if this is the more natural choice for us. It's as if we have developed a fear that unless we look after number one, we might lose everything!

This is what we know as sin, and it prevents us from living according to our true purpose.

3.5 The Penalty

There is also a very deep sense in which serious sins cry out for justice. When terrible crimes are committed, people rightly desire that they should be punished. It is right that there should be human courts and laws and appropriate and just punishments. But these can only be partially just, and can never really take account of the full circumstances[10]. The judgement that really matters is the judgement of God, and this judgement is coming up against the standard of Jesus Christ. He offers us a part in the life of God, eternal life. But if we have consistently rejected this, consistently, knowingly and irredeemably turned our will against the great commandment, he will not override our will. As St Paul puts it:

When you were slaves of sin ... what return did you get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of these things is death. But now you have been set free from sin ... the return that you get is ... eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:20-23).[11]

4 What has God done?

I have a responsibility to deal with sin in my life. But the trouble is, I do it in fits and starts. God breaks into the fits and starts with his consistent love, and it is the person Jesus who puts flesh and blood on that love[12]. Jesus came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10). He came to break the power of sin and to make it possible for us to become children of God (John 1:12) and to share in the eternal life of God. How has he achieved this?

4.1 The Way

Firstly, he has shown us the way, the truth and the life, indeed he is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). There are many religions, many prophets, many ideas about the truth. At the time of the French Revolution, an intellectual proposed a new, entirely rational, religion. His colleagues listened attentively. One is said to have replied: 'excellent, this is indeed a much better religion. Now all you have to do is die and then rise again and people might believe in it.'

By his life and death he has shown the true depth of his love for us. People talk about love and compassion, but there is an important sense in which if you have not experienced suffering your real ability to be compassionate is limited. The philosophers talked of a God who could not suffer. Jesus shows us a God who loves us so much that he chooses to know from the inside, as one of us, all the suffering and degradation that there is.[13]

4.2 The Reconciliation

The way the Jews responded to their failure to live up to God's laws was to offer sacrifices to him. This was at the heart of their understanding of their relationship with God; of how they repaired the damage caused by their failure to live according to his law. They would go to the temple and offer the first-fruits of their produce, and in particular the priests would offer an unblemished lamb as a gift, a living gift, that would restore the true life that should exist between God and his people. They knew well enough that sin created a gap between God and humankind, and they longed for reconciliation. They believed the offering made them right again with God. The emphasis was not so much on punishing the lamb instead of themselves receiving the punishments, though indeed their behaviour could justly merit it. The emphasis was on offering in repentance.

Indeed, we discover in parts of the Old Testament written nearer the time of Christ, rumblings against any notion that it was just enough to slaughter or sacrifice an animal without any sense of repentance. Prophets cry out that the sacrifice God really wants is a contrite spirit (eg Psalm 51:17). Micah the prophet tells the people that the sacrifice God wants is justice, mercy and humility.

And we find some echoes of an idea that the gnawing gap between the holiness and love of God and the frail sinfulness of humanity could not be bridged by any efforts of men and women either by striving for perfection in their own strength or by continuous animal sacrifices or long prayers. They needed a bridge-builder - a priest (that's what the word means). And there is the beginning of a rumour that the offering for the sins of the people would be provided by God himself. This priest; this offering who would be sent from God. Someone who would liberate them from the relentless round of failure and Temple sacrifices. They called him the Messiah.

The Christians were those who came to see that Jesus was the Messiah, whose offering of himself on the cross was, to use Saint Paul's own phrase 'God reconciling the world to himself' (2 Corinthians 5:19) that Jesus was, as John the Baptist called him, using the ancient language of sacrifice "the Lamb of God." (John 1:29)

4.3 The Sign of Glory

The Cross became a sign of glory because it was an offering of love made by Jesus. It is clear that Jesus believed it was his vocation to reflect the very nature of God; to reflect in word and deed the love of the Father. His whole life was given to this. Last week we looked at the identity of Jesus. Those who experienced him believed that they had encountered perfect love, that they had encountered God himself. Jesus, as it were, put flesh and blood on the idea of God. He was sent by God to reveal the truth about his glory, the true Glory and omnipotence of God to be found not in power OVER but in relentless love FOR the beloved.

Jesus believed his destiny was to love absolutely, and that is why his death on the cross should be seen not as a failure but as a triumph. The Friday we call "Good" was consistent with everything else we read about him in the Gospels. It's his words in action. Jesus was capable of bearing all the sin that the world could throw at him - jealousy, anger, hurt, abusive power, denial, false accusation and lies, pain, death - and he did not withdraw his love. He did not contribute to the chain of sin by adding more sin, but responded with the relentless pouring out of love. This is what we mean when we say that he 'broke the chains of sin and death'. He offered himself to the Father for the sake of the world. Sin had no power over him.

In that sense his death was inevitable. He could do no other than love, and offer himself in love to his Father and to the world, and because of the world's diffidence or fear of love and its demands, it could not receive it. It preferred to try and destroy it. Jesus was the one person in history who did not deserve condemnation, and yet he was willing to offer himself as a sacrifice to change our relationship with God. He was willing to be the lamb. Because this lamb was provided by God himself, there is no need for any other sacrifices. This sacrifice was offered "once, for all"[14].

5 What are the Results?

The greatest saints and scholars have spent lifetimes meditating on the cross, and have never exhausted its meaning. So anything we say here is going to be an over-simplification. Let us concentrate on just three facets:

5.1 Love calling to Love

By showing the depth of his love for us, God in Jesus Christ makes it possible for us to love him. Jesus did not just give his life for his friends, but for his enemies. God, the all-powerful, made himself so vulnerable to human free-will that we human beings were able to take away his life. Imagine that someone you love is dying. Their kidneys are failing and they need a transplant, but no donor is available. You might well offer one of your kidneys. We needed a heart transplant, so Jesus, on the cross, offers us his heart (see Ezekiel 11:19).

It is one of the fundamental facts about love that true love can beget a reciprocal response. If two people love each other, then each person's love grows because of the other's love. Love is the ultimate 'virtuous circle'. Jesus' amazing, total, unconditional love for us calls forth a response, even if we have never experienced love before. We all need loving relationships, but in human relationships, people always let us down. Jesus never lets us down. He was without sin - his love has never failed, will never fail. As we allow his love to penetrate into our hearts, minds and wills, it calls forth and makes possible in us a love of which we never knew we were capable. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).

5.2 Love Defeating Evil

All the evil and all the sin that there ever was was overcome on the cross. In his cross and resurrection, Jesus shows that no evil has ultimate power and victory, that as St Paul put it 'nothing can separate us from the love of God' (Romans 8:39) or as Jesus put it that he is 'with us always, yes to the end of time' (Matthew 28:20). This does not of course mean that evil and sin cease to exist, but that they no longer have the last word.

During the war, the Nazis used an 'Enigma' machine which coded their messages into an unbreakable code. Their scientists knew that it was impossible to decode the messages without knowing the keys. But a group in Bletchley Park, using hitherto unimagined means (a special purpose computer[14a]) were able to overcome the code and produce the 'Ultra' intelligence which enabled Churchill, Montgomery and other allied leaders to plan in full knowledge of their enemy's most secret communications. Once the enormous economic resources of the US and the inspired leadership of Churchill were ranged against him, Ultra made Hitler's defeat essentially inevitable. In a similar way, the cross and resurrection of Christ make the defeat of sin and evil inevitable.

5.3 Love overcoming Death

Almost everyone without faith believes that death is the ultimate end [15]. And indeed, if this is so, the attitude of 'eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die' is understandable. In human terms, death must indeed be the end. We will all die. And no matter how faithfully our life is recorded in books, films, pictures or human memories, these are only imperfect representations of aspects of our personality.

We see that in human terms love can partly overcome death. People 'live on' in the memory of their loved ones, and more particularly in their children [16]. But God loves us totally, he understands us totally, he knows us totally. He can therefore take all the information that is encoded in our bodies, and give substance to this information in another way, in a 'resurrection body' as it is called [17]. The Italian composer Allegri wrote a beautiful piece of music, a Miserere whose notes were kept secret. No-one was allowed to make a copy or to perform it elsewhere. When Mozart came to Italy he heard the piece and then afterwards wrote down the whole of the music from memory. The piece is now performed hundreds of years later all over the world. The composer, and the original performers have all perished. And if Allegri were to be shown a CD and told "this is a performance of your Miserere", he would be astonished. He could never have conceived such a thing [18]. This is why I have no conceptual problem whatever with the resurrection and eternal life.

But, and this is an important but, God could create a perfect copy of me, or you, but without our free-will it is a clone, a twin, another being. And God cannot take your free-will against your will, for exactly the same reason that he cannot make you love against your will. You have to give it to him, while it is yours to give. This is why Jesus is so urgent. Repent and believe, the kingdom of heaven is here, now! (Matthew 4:17, Mark 6:12, Luke 13:3) God comes like a thief in the night, when you least expect him (Luke 12:39).

Jesus shows us God's perfect love, so that we can love. He overcomes the power of sin, so that through him our love is no longer ultimately defeated by sin. And by his free offering of himself on the cross, he opens for us the gate of eternal life, offering himself in perfect love and free-will to the Father who can and will save him. As Jesus said, he who seeks to save his life (to cling onto it), will lose it, but he who seeks to lose his life (to offer it in Love to the Father) will save it, and have eternal life, the life of God. (Matthew 16:25, John 12:25)

6 The Triumph of the Cross

Even in agony at the end, Jesus summons up the love to forgive those who killed him. - 'Father forgive them, they don't know what they are doing'. (Luke 23:34)And he promises a gangster hanging next to him the gift of heaven. 'To-day you will be with me in paradise' (Luke 23:43).

These words were uttered at a particular moment in history. But if Jesus is who he claimed to be, they cannot be trapped in time. Spoken in time - for how else could men and women hear them? - they are for all time and for all people. So "Father forgive" is a plea to God for you. The promise of heaven when your life on earth is ended is a promise for you.

In the Scripture, the last recorded words of Jesus are "It is finished." (John 19:30) Not uttered with a sense of failure but triumph. It is accomplished! The Father sent him into the world, not to condemn it. but to love it, and he loved it until the end. Death had no power over him. The resurrection, so fiercely preached by the first followers, was not an overturning of the crucifixion, but a vindication. Both reflect the self-giving love of God.

I learn about my identity from Jesus. I am worth dying for. I just have to believe it! I have to look at the cross and Jesus hanging there and admit that somehow, my own sins caused him to be there, and I have to climb up there with him, and look at the world through his eyes. I have to be forgiven and I must learn to forgive.

This I do not do in my own strength. Jesus is not just a 'role model', or a hero who stands afar off and says, 'be like me' - rather he wants me to share his life, to live in me, to be the power in me; to love in and through me. I just have to invite him in.

7 Concluding Meditation & Prayer

<<There are two concluding meditations given, in 7.1 and 7.1a Use either according to the group and tradition. The 2nd page of the 'Handout' will differ accordingly. Then go to 7.2>>

7.1 When I survey

I have been talking long enough. Let us in our minds and hearts stand at the foot of the Cross, and think about Jesus. Let's sing together <<or say as appropriate>> the wonderful words on the back of your sheets.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

See from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingling down;
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

7.1a My God, My God

Jesus is dying in agony on the Cross. Dying for us. Crushed by the weight of human sin. Betrayed by his chosen people. They have scorned and despised him. They have pierced his hands and feet. They surround him and mock him saying "He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him, for he said 'I am the Son of God'" (Matthew 27:42) 'Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe'. (Mark 15:32). His heart is almost failing, his bones are out of joint, he is in agony of thirst. They have divided his garments, and because his tunic was woven in one piece the soldiers cast lots for it (John 19:24). He cries out the great prophetic Psalm, written centuries before he was born. (We do not know whether he was able to say more than the first line out loud. It is certain that he was thinking of the whole. (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34)

I have been talking long enough, so let's read this together - it's on the back of the sheets. (Ps.22)

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
My God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, by night as well, but I find no rest.
Yet you are the Holy One, enthroned upon the praises of Israel.

Our forebears put their trust in you, they trusted and you delivered them
They cried out to you and were delivered; they trusted in you and were not put to shame.
But as for me, I am a worm and no man, scorned by all and despised by the people.
All who see me laugh me to scorn; they curl their lips and wag their heads, saying,
'He trusted in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, if he delights in him.'

Yet you are he who took me out of the womb, and kept me safe upon my mother's breast.
I have been entrusted to you ever since I was born;
you were my God when I was still in my mother's womb.
Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.
Many young bulls encircle me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me.
They open wide their jaws at me, like a ravening and a roaring lion.

I am poured out like water; all my bones are out of joint;
my heart within my breast is melting wax.
My mouth is dried out like earthenware; [19]
my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; and you have laid me in the dust of the grave.

Packs of dogs close in on me, and gangs of evildoers circle around me;
They pierce my hands and my feet; I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them;
they cast lots for my clothing.

Be not far away, O Lord; you are my strength; hasten to help me.
Save me from the sword, my life from the power of the dog.
Save me from the lion's mouth, my wretched body from the horns of wild bulls.
I will declare your name to my people; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.
Praise the Lord, you that fear him; stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
all you of Jacob's line, give glory.

For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty; neither does he hide his face from them; but when they cry to him he hears them.
My praise is of him in the great assembly;
I will perform my vows in the presence of those who worship him.

The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
and those who seek the Lord shall praise him: 'May your heart live for ever!'
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.

For kingship belongs to the Lord; he rules over the nations.
To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship;
all who go down to the dust fall before him.
My soul shall live for him; my descendants shall serve him;
they shall be known as the Lord's for ever.
They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds that he has done.

Then he cries out with a loud voice, "It is finished!" (John 19:30) "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!" (Luke 23:46)

7.2 Drawing all people to him

Jesus said that when he was lifted up on the cross he would draw all people to him (John 12:32). Whenever I contemplate Jesus on the cross, I want to take another step closer to him. So I'd like to say a prayer, which is on the back of your sheets. And if you'd like to join in this prayer, aloud or in your hearts, please do so, now or later. If you have never prayed like this, it will be the first step towards a new quality of life in a loving relationship with Jesus.

Lord Jesus, we thank you that you are the Son of God, and that you came to bring us your love, your life and your truth.

We thank you that on the Cross you showed us your perfect love, making it possible for us to love, overcoming sin and death.

We are sorry for all our sins, and for all the ways in which we fail to fulfil your purpose for us.

We pray that you will come into our lives, that you will enable us to accept your free gift of your eternal life, now and always.


1 Mighty Aphrodite I believe.

2 This is not of course a praise of ignorance! The New Jerusalem Bible has: "Now when I came to you, brothers, I did not come with any brilliance of oratory or wise argument to announce to you the mystery of God. I was resolved that the only knowledge I would have with you was knowledge of Jesus, and of him as the crucified Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). Paul was immensely learned in the Jewish Law, but he was not relying on his learning but on God in Jesus Christ.

3 It may be worth adding reasons why this is so plausible. The alternatives on offer seem positively bankrupt in comparison. Making money? Propagating genes? Serving the Party or the State?

4 Before I even think of my own failure to love, and generally it IS before I think about my own failures, I become aware many of my neighbours aren't especially worthy of my love, let alone God's love. I'm not just talking about the guy next door who refuses to turn the stereo down, but what of the thieves, the terrorists, the rapists, the warmongers? It's not just that they are hard to love, they don't deserve it.

Of course, the awareness of wrongdoing in oneself and in others is nothing new! If God's love is constant and abiding, our love for Him and our love for each other at best goes in fits and starts.

The people who lived at the time of Jesus and who belonged to the same community were as conscious of their wrongdoing as you and I are, or maybe more so, for at least they had a reference point in belief in God and the call to obey his laws.

This wrongdoing; this failure to live as God desires they called SIN.

Although just about everybody has opinions about right and wrong, most people in our society don't understand sin, because they don't place a great emphasis on a relationship with God. This doesn't mean they don't have a conscience, or that they don't have certain standards, but they think of it more in terms of letting THEMSELVES or OTHERS down rather than anything to do with God. But to label an action a sin is to set it in the context of a relationship with God and his vision for our life with him.

5 Confessions of St Augustine 1.1 Augustine also has this to say about love: A man without love is stone cold, stiff and stark. Love, but let it be the beauty which catches the eye of the heart. Love, but let it be beauty which bespeaks holiness and so sets hearts on fire. Men exclaim, break out on all sides, into a cry of 'Lovely! Perfect!' What are they looking at? They are looking on the holiness which makes a bent old man beautiful. As a holy old man totters along there is nothing loveable about his body, and yet everybody loves him. His loveableness is not apparent, or rather it is apparent but to the eyes of the heart." On the Psalms 2nd discourse on Psalm 32

6 Thomas Thaherne. Also 'No-one in this world has been loved too much, but many have been loved in the wrong way, and all [humanly speaking] in too short a measure" (Traherne Centuries - Meditation)

7 The word 'sin' comes from a word which means 'not hitting the mark' and was used when an archer failed to hit the bull's eye, a failure to get there, and the 'there' is the worship and love of God and love of our neighbour as ourselves.

8 The Ballad of Reading Gaol (I think).

9 Courtesy of Bishop Lindsay Urwin. Although it does not quite fit the situation, it is very illuminating, and in the time we have been unable to come up with something more 'realistic'. We have changed cooking food to bring a bottle because we eat at Star. Originally you cook the food but because you are tense you burn it and your partner will not eat it. Course-givers are encouraged to think of their own adaptations.

10 Dennis Nineham's prayer for those taking examinations: Let us pray for all those taking examinations, that they may learn to discern wherein the judgement of examiners resembles that of God, and wherein it differs.

11 The relationship of Sin, Suffering and Death and the work of Satan is a very deep question. There are many books which explore the matter further, including one by Cardinal Suenens (REF)

12 The former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, wrote: 'The central theme of our faith is the sacrifice of himself by our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins. ... The deeper our appreciation of our own need the greater will be our love for the Lord Jesus and, therefore, the more fervent our desire to serve him.'

13 The Bible gives a very deep account of the origin of Sin in Genesis. People should not be put off Genesis by its supposed conflict with 'Modern Science'. It is obvious from the text that this is not meant to be taken 'literally'. Not only do the details of the creation accounts differ in Genesis 1 and 2 (see Talk 3) but it is clear that 'day' cannot be interpreted in the usual sense when the Sun is not made until Day 4 (Genesis 1:16). All meaningful dialogue about deep topics has to use symbols - try reading a scientific paper and taking all the words in their 'literal' sense.

Consider first his suffering in human terms. Here was the most charismatic leader the world has ever known. He comes to redeem his people, and they reject him. His followers flee. He is handed over to an occupying power who despise everything he holds most dear. He is then subjected to an agonising public death by torturing crucifixion, spread over six hours.

And in this death, he suffered also more deeply in bearing our sins. If you love someone then what hurts them hurts you. Every parent with a sick child knows the agony of worry when your child is ill. Jesus loves us totally, far more than any parent can love a child. And he knows us totally, he knows exactly how each sin cuts us off from the perfect love of God. On the cross, in addition to the physical suffering, Jesus experienced, to a unique and unimaginable extent, the effects of the sins of every one of us.

The world as created by God was 'Very Good' (Genesis 1:31). But Man, created in God's own image is endowed with real freewill and real responsibility (Genesis 1:26-30). At some point, the potential for sin inherent in freewill becomes actualised (Genesis 3) and this is an inherent fact of human life. But God did not just sit back and watch sin take its course. He sent his only Son, a Second Adam, to free us from sin.

14 Someone has said: "The Old Testament is the textbook of man's education by God. the New Testament is the 'answers at the back'". Although this is grossly simplistic, it has a point!

14a Actually, according to The Code Book the first computer, Collossus, was used to crack the Lorenz cypher which was a higher grade cypher used for communication between Hitler and his generals. Enigma was cracked using what we would now describe as a specical purpose electromechanical computer.

15 Of course Buddhists and Hindus and others believe in re-incarnation. It can be debated whether it is right to say they (especially Buddhists) have 'faith'. I understand that many Buddhists would see 'faith' in our sense as one of the 'illusions' to escape from, but then we would see their beliefs as a form of 'faith'.

16 Every child carries half of each parent's genes but of course this is an imperfect copy, and even if people are genetically identical (identical twins or, more futuristically, clones) their differences in free-will and upbringing lead to their becoming increasingly different.

17 St Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 talks about a 'spiritual body' as opposed to a 'physical body' but what he means is the resurrection body as opposed to the earthly body.

18 Similarly in computing we often see software running on new hardware when the old hardware is destroyed.

19 NJB has this for 'a pot-sherd' a discarded fragment of broken earthenware, which is more exact but not widely comprehensible.