Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday - Promises and Responsibilities

Good Friday, 2009
Fr. Timothy Fountain

Hebrews 10:16-25 – Promises and Responsibilities

Our lesson from The Letter to the Hebrews opens with God’s promise of the New Covenant, spoken through the Prophet Jeremiah. It might sound familiar, because Jeremiah 31 was one of our lessons and the basis of my sermon two Sundays ago.

If you caught the sermon, you might remember that a covenant is a set of promises and responsibilities that creates a relationship between two parties. The New Covenant – the set of promises and responsibilities creating a relationship between God and all of us – goes into effect as Jesus hangs on the cross.

We were prepared for this last night, when Jesus handed us a cup and said, “This is the New Covenant in my blood.” Tonight we recognize that God’s New Covenant with us is enacted on the cross.

Our lesson from Hebrews speaks of promises and responsibilities. As we come to the cross tonight, I pray that God will touch each heart with the promise it needs, and each conscience with any responsibility it neglects.

First, three promises enacted at the cross:

1. God promises to “put his laws in our hearts and write them on our minds.” This is the promise of the Holy Spirit, God at work within us to make our souls His own forever. At the Last Supper, Jesus told his apostles that it would be necessary for him to “go away” in order for them to receive the permanent Comfort and Counsel of the Holy Spirit. On the cross, Jesus “goes away”, surrendering his mortal body to death so that our mortal bodies can be transformed for eternal life by the Holy Spirit dwelling in us – the Spirit we received when we were “sprinkled and washed” in our Baptism.

2. God promises to forget our “sins and lawless deeds.” Try to see the scope of that. God is willing to forget every way that any of us ever ignore or rebel against Him. When God looks at the cross, he sees a life offered so perfectly that it can eclipse all of life’s imperfections (Colossians 2:13-15). Hebrews says that Jesus is an offering so great that “there is no longer any offering for sin” after His cross.

3. God promises to hear us when we pray. Because Jesus has died on the cross, an ancient “curtain” between God and us is now pulled open. Jesus is the visible “high priest”, who has gone into the invisible presence of God on our behalf, and now invites us to join him in a “new and living way” through the high priestly work of prayer. Hebrews brims with excitement at this news: “we have confidence to enter… let us approach… in full assurance…” After this sermon, we will join Jesus our high priest and share his work as we lift up solemn prayer for the church and the world. As we heard in the prophecy of Isaiah, the one who “bore the sins of many”, who we now recognize as Jesus on the cross, “makes intercession” for the sinful world, and invites us to pray with him in the Father’s presence.

God promises us His own Spirit, forgiveness of our sins, and His attention to our prayers. He also gives us two responsibilities under the New Covenant:

1. We are responsible to “hold fast our confession without wavering.” We might have inner doubts and anxieties – and our Bible readings this week show that even Jesus’ closest followers have their struggles. But as we look at the cross, we must be aware of the great and costly love by which God made the New Covenant with us, and we must be responsible for holding onto that covenant as God offered it, not seeking to “renegotiate” it on our own terms. Our Creeds separate themselves from myth or theory by anchoring our confession in one historical fact: Jesus was “crucified under Pontius Pilate.” Looking at the cross reminds us of the real and costly reality of the New Covenant, and our responsibility to stand up for it. Jesus told us to “take up the cross and follow him;” Paul tells us to “preach Christ crucified.” The church might argue about many things, but it must not change its core confession. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

2. We are responsible to represent Christ and his work on the Earth – that is, to be His church. We are responsible to “provoke one another to love and good deeds”, looking to the cross as the sign of perfect love and the one perfect act in all history. And we are responsible to get together for encouragement, knowing that Christ will come again. Hebrews says, “…don’t neglect meeting together – all the more as you see the Day of the Lord approaching.” And Paul explained this by the cross when he wrote, “As often as you share the bread and the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

And now, in assurance that God has given us His Spirit in our Baptism;

In confidence that He looks not upon our sins but upon His Son’s perfect offering on the cross;

In faithful response to His command that we gather together in the faith of Christ crucified:

Let us share the work of Jesus our High Priest, who calls us to pray for the salvation of the church and the world. Amen.

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