A Sermon for
the Sunday after
"Looking upon Christ, crucified and risen"
By Dr. Robert Crouse
"They shall look upon me whom they have pierced." (Zechariah 12.10)No doubt this text from the prophet Zechariah would seem more appropriate to the darkness of Good Friday than to the glory of the Easter season. “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced.” And yet, Good Friday is not just some tragic accident, reversed and cancelled out by the miracle of Easter; rather, as today’s scripture lessons tell us, there is an intimate and necessary connection between the two, and we will not understand one without the other. The Risen Lord appeared to his disciples and said to them: “Peace be upon you. And when he had so said, he showed unto them his hands and his side.” The peace and forgiveness of which he speaks will not be understood apart from these sacred wounds. “This is he who came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ” – this is he who came by the water and blood of crucifixion. “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced.”
But just what are we to see when we look upon the crucified? What peace is there, what surety of forgiveness do we find in gazing on those wounds? The point is simply this: the wounds of Christ are the demonstration of the charity of God. The crucifixion of the Son of God, you see, is not just some tragic accident. On a certain level it is, of course, the work of human wickedness, and shows how far that wickedness can go; but that is not the deepest truth of it. More profoundly, it is the demonstration of the charity of God: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Begotten Son…” He was wounded, because he freely willed for it so to be.
What we see when we look upon the crucified is that charity of God, a charity which goes even down to death, and will not stop until it harrows hell itself. “He descended into hell” says our Creed. Easter does not contradict Good Friday; rather, Easter is the declaration that the charity of God, which we see on Calvary, conquers hell itself; and is eternal life and resurrection. It is a charity which gives all, and therefore loses nothing.
O all-sufficient sacrifice,
Beneath thee hell defeated lies;
Thy captive people are set free,
And endless life restored in thee.
“They shall look upon me whom they have pierced.” We are to look upon this charity of God, lifted up upon the cross. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so much the Son of Man be lifted up: and whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” The Son of Man is lifted up, that we may look upon, and believe the charity of God. We are to look upon and believe that charity, till it becomes the very substance of our minds and hearts, till it penetrates to every darkest corner of our dark souls, and conquers every hell-bent force within us.
Let holy charity
Mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing.
Oh let it freely burn,
Till earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let thy glorious light
Shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.
We are to look upon and believe the charity of God in Jesus Christ and that is the beginning, the new birth and nutriment of charity in us. “He that believeth in the Son of God hath the witness in himself; and this is the witness that God has given to us, eternal life; and this life is in his Son. He that hath the son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” To know the charity of God is to overcome the world; “and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith,” because faith knows the charity of God.
“As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” So says the Risen Lord to his disciples. It is the office of the Church to believe the witness of the Son of God, and to have that witness in itself. That is to say, it is the office of the Church to look upon the charity of God, to declare and live that charity. That is the very substance of the sacraments we celebrate. In baptism, we celebrate that charity which calls us to be the sons of God and heirs of life eternal; we celebrate the beginning, the new birth, of the life of faith. In the Eucharist, we celebrate the sacrifice of Christ, that the very charity of God may be our bread and wine, our food and drink. And that is the forgiveness of our sins.
But charity in us, it seems, is always only just begun. Easter in us, it seems, is only just begun. It is like a seed, planted deeply in the soil; the new life must break through the rotting husk, and make its way toward the source of warmth and light. Our new birth is a struggle, certainly not without the pain of travail. How our sins and doubts oppress and weigh us down; how we waver and shilly-shally and even lose heart, how we wish there was just some simple, practical advice on how we should go about our task!
They shall look upon me whom they have pierced.” There is simple, practical advice – perhaps, indeed, too simple for our taste: look upon the charity of God in Jesus Christ – don’t fuss about your sins and wallow in your wretchedness; that is at best a useless occupation, and, at worst, a road to hell. It is the wrong focus of attention. Rather, look upon the charity of God, see the hands and side of Christ, and believe that charity which forgives your sins, and rejoice in life eternal. The devil doesn’t really rule, and Easter scoffs at his pretensions.
Look upon the charity of God in Jesus Christ. Perhaps we don’t see very clearly. “Now, we see through a glass darkly,” says St. Paul – we see as one might see a rather cloudy image in a mirror. But keep looking. Easter has begun in us. Spring has begun in us, and the new life will rise to bask in the warmth and light of God. “Now we know in part, and prophesy in part, but then, we shall see face to face, and know even as we are known.”
Amen. + + + + + + + + +
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