St Mary and St Chad Longton
Triduum II Good Friday 1992
Yesterday we were explaining to our 20th Century Secular Man the difference between our Christian faith and his so-called beliefs.
We invited him to come to the services on these three days to watch what happens on the principle that "actions speak louder than words" and as far as possible I made all the important words I used begin with the letter 'S' so Maundy Thursday is S-day.
Today, Good Friday, I will call "A-day". And the first thing I think a secular Staffordshire man would notice is how bare and naked the Church looks, and looking around for something beginning with A we naturally think of the Altar.
And then if you cast your mind back to the very beginning of the Bible, the book of Genesis you will remember there was a time when the first man Adam walkabout in naked innocence and he was not Ashamed of it.
Then Adam sinned and everything went wrong. He became ashamed of his nakedness; he tried to hide away from God; and he began the process of closing himself with an Apron of fig-leaf excuses or Apologies. I can't say I've ever tried wearing an apron of fig leaves myself, but I don't imagine they are very effective at covering things up. What I do know is that the sort of excuses or apologies that I make generally deceive nobody except myself - they are made of real see-through material!.
A for Altar, Adam, Ashamed Apologies.
Then we need to speak about Atonement.
The liturgy today reminds us how:
...when all was sin and shame
A second Adam to the fight
And to the rescue came
...flesh and blood
Which did in Adam fail
Should strive afresh against the foe
Should strive and should prevail.
That Second Adam is of course our Lord Jesus Christ who Ascended the Altar of the cross to make Atonement – At-one-ment between man and God. God, in Christ reconciled, (or "made at one", at-oned if you like) the world and himself.
The Greeks had a word for this process which also begins with an A they called it Anakephaliosis. Since that's a bit of a mouthful for your Staffordshire man, let us translate it as "Add It All Up Again ".
If you work in Accounts you will know that reconciliation literally means this. It means taking two columns of figures which should add up to the same amount but which don't, and going through the whole addition process again to see where you've gone wrong.
Next it's necessary to Admit that the mistake has been made, Accept or Acknowledge responsibility for it and make the necessary Amendment to it in order that the two columns may be "At-oned" or made-at-one with each other. Then and only then can the error or gap between what is and what should be, become a Absolved – or wiped away: treated as if it had never been.
But here is the real snag. Just suppose that bad addition, faulty accountancy, has been going on for ages and ages, ever since the first Adam in fact. That means that the company accounts are in a hell of a mess; that the Accountants Messrs Adam and Sons (of which you and I are Senior Partners remember) have been quietly fiddling the books; and that the company whose books we have falsified (let's call it Almighty God and Co. Unlimited) has been cheated as a result out of millions and millions of pounds.
It means in fact that the created world which the Staffordshire man inhabits and which he would like to believe is a "doing quite nicely" is in fact totally bankrupt and insolvent.
There was, and there is, only one way in which such a debt could be paid off. That is by God himself.
That he in flesh our flesh who made
Our sentence bore our ransom paid
On the Cross on Good Friday, God himself
paid the price of sin
On whose dear arms so widely flung
The weight of this world's ransom hung
The price of humankind to pay
And spoil the spoiler of his prey
Upon whose arms in balance true
He weighed the price for sinners due
I'm afraid that Staffordshire secular man has got to be allowed to do some hard thinking at this stage; the world as it is seen in the light of Good Friday is so utterly different from what Staffordshire man supposes it to be that he will need time to take it all in.
But you when I also need to do some quite hard thinking.
Are we prepared to Admit that we've got our our Adding up all wrong? Do we accept that our Apologies are no better than Adam's? Do we realise that the Second Adam Ascended to the Altar of the cross to make Atonement; that it was only by going through this on our behalf that the Add it all up Again process by way of his life of perfect Accord with the will of the Father, that the mistakes of the past could be Absolved or wiped away?
Good Friday then is A-day. It needs to be said with the utmost seriousness that if any one of us is aware of wrongs we have done and never admitted until today that we have need ourselves of the sacrament of absolution. In case it makes any difference I will tell you that I made my confession on Tuesday just before coming up here.
If Good Friday is to be truly an A-day for you and me then let it include the Ministry of Absolution!
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