Anglican Parish of Derby and Blackville

Stations of the Cross Addresses Archive

2012 Stations of the Cross

March 30, 2012 – Christ’s Passion by The Rev’d Ian C. Wetmore

When I was growing up, I don’t ever remember going to church on Ash Wednesday or Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. But Palm Sunday and Easter Day were certainly big events. We lived in a very non-catholic part of the world where all those extra days of devotion were foreign to most of the Christians there. We didn’t get Good Friday off as a school holiday. My mother, coming from a United Church background, would not

have been brought up going to church except on Sunday. And my father, being a truck driver, was usually on the road through the week. And besides all that, we lived in a pretty low-church diocese where they didn’t really make a big deal of that extra stuff anyway. So all those extra days of devotion were not on my radar as a kid.

My first experience of walking the Stations of the Cross was as a seminary student at the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Toronto. But since Fr Harold didn’t require me to be there, and since there was so much other stuff going on– like school work– I didn’t feel too inclined to go to church on too many Friday evenings in Lent. That’s where an old-fashioned idea called priestly formation comes in. They don’t give that nearly enough attention in most seminaries any more. So it wasn’t until I got into the life of the high-church parishes of the Maritimes that I began to really experience the Stations of the Cross.

Now we didn’t have them here in D&B in those days, but they did at St Peter’s in Charlottetown, and the Mission Church in Saint John, and St Mary’s in Fredericton. And that last one, of course, is where it became a regular part of my worship and spiritual life, seven times every Lent, beginning on Friday after Ash Wednesday and ending on Good Friday evening. And what I began to find there was that, walking the stations week after week, my understanding and appreciation of the Passion, the suffering of our Lord on the day he died, grew and deepened in ways that I don’t think it would have otherwise.

It’s like the way we’ve all internalized the Communion service in the Prayer Book. We say those prayers week after week, most of us for all our lives, so that we’ve memorized them. When we’re in church we don’t even have to think about them, and out come the words, just like the air we breathe. And that frees us up to really pour ourselves out to God in worship and to open ourselves to welcome him into our souls. But then we find that, at odd times, the words of some of those prayers pop into our minds and we begin to really think about what they mean. “We are not worthy, So much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table…” That’s the one that pops into my mind the most, for that’s the situation we’re in until God in his mercy lifts us up off the floor and feeds us from the rich feast on his table, which is to say, the life-giving Body and Blood of his Son.

In the Stations of the Cross, week after week, we repeat the exact same prayers and listen to the exact same Scriptures, all having to do with the suffering and death of our Lord. At several of the stations, the Bible readings are snippets from various Old Testament prophets, all pulled together to bring the suffering of Jesus into sharp focus, because those various little bits of Scripture all point to that very thing. What I have found personally, is that by rehearsing those same prayers and readings seven weeks in a row, every year in Lent, I’ve begun to sense the weight of those sins of mine that contributed to the suffering and death of my Lord. But it has never been an oppressive sense because by the end of the walk, when we’ve returned to the Altar and prayed the Easter collect, the sense of liberation from my sinfulness has emerged in sharp contrast to the weight of my sins which have been forgiven. Now, there was something early on during my time at St Mary’s when I was just beginning to pray the Stations on a regular basis that helped to illustrate the whole Good Friday event even more profoundly for me. That was Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ. I’ve come to realize that there are some movies I’ve seen in my lifetime that have been very moving and, even though they were extremely well done, I don’t ever care to see them again. One of the others is Schindler’s List, which I saw in a theatre that was so full that my friends and I sat on the floor by

the wall and never even noticed whether it was uncomfortable or not. (It’s surprising that the management even allowed that many people in.) So I only saw The Passion of the Christ once, though I know a lot of people who went back several times. And I quickly realized that every time I went to Stations of the Cross I actually was going back to that same story, because Gibson actually based the sequence of his film on the Stations.

Two things are etched indelibly in my mind from that film, and I picture them vividly every Friday night in Lent. One is what our Lord looked like after the Roman soldiers had finished scourging him. Up until that point, I had always pictured our Lord as having come away from that scourging with maybe forty lash-marks across his back, and otherwise looking to be in pretty good shape. But Gibson’s portrayal of it made me realize what an horrible sight our Lord had to have been really. The scourge that the Romans used in those days was a whip with several long leather thongs attached, each one with a piece of sharp rock or metal tied in the end, so that every lash of the whip

gouged out countless bits of flesh. So he wasn’t just covered in deep scratches, but horrible gouges all over the back and sides of his body. Since it’s lunchtime, I won’t go any further than that. You get the picture, I’m sure. “He was wounded for our transgressions,” Isaiah prophesied some 700 years before, “he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (53.5). Those healing stripes took on a whole new meaning for me.

So after the scourging, coupled with the fact that he was kept up all the night before, being manhandled and beaten, it’s no wonder he kept falling down under the weight of his cross. It’s no wonder that the words of Jeremiah’s lamentation are put into the mouth of his mother at the fourth station: “What can I say for you, to what compare you, O daughter of Jerusalem? What can I liken to you, that I may comfort you, O virgin daughter of Zion? For your ruin is vast as the sea; who can heal you?” (Lam 2.13). How can anyone describe what a mother would feel seeing her son like that? What the old man Simeon prophesied about Mary while he held the baby Jesus in his arms in the temple has

come to pass: “A sword shall pierce through your own soul also” (Lk 2.35). It’s no wonder that the cloth with which the woman we know as Veronica wiped his face bore such a clear image of him afterward, because the blood was imprinted on it like ink on paper in a printing press. (This is the image known as the icon not made with hands.) It’s no wonder that the women of Jerusalem who looked on him as he passed by “bewailed and lamented him” (Lk 23.27). For as Isaiah said, “many were astonished at him– his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men” (52.14).

The collect that we pray at the sixth station, where we read about the woman wiping his face, is the collect for the feast of the Transfiguration. And the first line of it ties these two events together: “O God, who before the Passion of thine only-begotten Son didst reveal his glory upon the holy mount…” On Mt Tabor the Apostles Peter, James and John were allowed to see Jesus in the fullness of his divine glory. And then a short time after that, they see him as the most hideously disfigured person they’d probably ever looked upon after he’s been scourged and is on his way to his death. Eventually they came to understand all too clearly the close connection, and at the same time the sharp contrast of these two images. It is the glorious God who made heaven and earth and all things who allowed himself to be so horribly abused and so agonizingly put to death by his own creatures, all in order to save them from the sinfulness that made them capable of doing such a thing in the first place.

The other really stirring image from The Passion of the Christ that comes very clearly to my mind during the Stations of the Cross is that last image we have of Mary at the thirteenth station: “The Body of Jesus is Placed in the Arms of His Mother.” The film shows some men taking the body down from the cross and very reverently laying it in Mary’s arms as she’s seated on a rock. She then looks at the camera in a way that gives probably only a tiny sense of what must have been on the real Mary’s heart at that moment. And then there are those moving passages that we read at that station, again from Lamentations: “All ye that pass by, behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow… Mine eyes do fail with tears, my soul is troubled, my heart is poured out in grief because of the downfall of my people… Her tears are on her cheeks: She has none to comfort her” (1.12; 2.11; 1.2). These words were originally written by Jeremiah the prophet as he wept over the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Babylonians (587 BC). But it’s entirely appropriate to put them on Mary’s lips here, because her son is the true temple, the true source and centre of divine worship, and he has been put to death because of the downfall of his people.

How does the Lord touch me through all this? Well, simply that I think it has given me a greater sense of what an ordeal he endured for my sake, and for the sake of every other person, so that come Easter, I can celebrate his resurrection with greater joy than if I had skipped all the extra devotions of Lent altogether.

When the repentant woman came into the Pharisee’s house and washed our Lord’s feet with her tears, dried them with her hair and anointed them with ointment from and alabaster flask, Jesus said, “I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she

loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Lk 7.47). And that’s the attitude that the Passion of Jesus ought to stir up in us: He suffered much for us because we have sinned much. And because such a heavy burden has been lifted from us on account of his suffering, we can’t love him enough. So we should show forth his praise not only with our lips in our joyous celebration of Easter, but also by living for him in holiness and righteousness the rest of our days.

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2017 Stations of the Cross Presentations – Were You There?

March 17, 2017 – Were you there? by The Ven. Richard McConnell

Our first born is thirty-five today:  Brian Patrick, and he celebrated everyone of his first five birthdays on the Miramichi—I expect the Laskeys were at several of the celebrations. He’s celebrating being thirty-five, and Gwen and I are celebrating three and half decades of being parents.  While my family, the McConnells, came from Charlotte Co., our sons more immediate Irish roots come from his mother, Gwen ne Williston—actually her grandfather Joseph Kelly who immigrated to Black River in the late 1800s and was a living memory for her mother, Jean, who called him the old cobbler. She had lots of Irish expressions.   While there are Irish on the Magaguadavic River in Charlotte Co. and the Miramichi, Gwen and I have also lived along the Saint John, and I’ve worked on the Richibucto, and now up in New Bandon on the Bay of Chaleur—all Irish communities, and all different.   I tell them on the Bay of Chaleur that the Saint John Irish like to argue, and the Miramicher Irish like to drink, and the Bay of Chaleur Irish want to tell you long long stories without any clear point.   Oh heck, what am I saying? all the lrish do all these things.  Someone said, the Irish would could do great things if only they would take themselves more seriously.   The New York Senator immediately before Hillary Clinton, was Daniel Patrick Moynahan, an Irish New Yorker. He wrote after John F Kennedy, the first Irish American president,  was assassinated:  To be Irish is to know that in the end the world will break your heart.

St. Patrick himself was not Irish, but he lived with them long enough to know about heart break.   To know what it was like for our Lord’s blessed mother to stand beside the cross as her first child was crucified; what is was for his beloved friend John, and the much disappointed Mary of Magdela who had hoped against hope that he was holding out a better life for her.   The Irish saints are known as green martyrs, because unlike almost everywhere else in the world, the most founders and heroes of the Irish church were not put to death for their faith.  That therefore meant that they lived long lives, which might actually be more difficult.  Perhaps they lived long lives because they lived mostly outdoors, since the Irish leaders and people chose to live in compounds of small huts surrounded by walls, and gather in open spaces around fires.  They say, you likely know, that Ireland would be a wonderful place if someone would put a roof on it.  

So was St Patrick there when they crucified his lord?   Most assuredly!   We are the unworthy heirs of his own Confessio, his story of his own life. He tells us he was captured from his own home as a teenager, carried off to Ireland and spent six years tending animals in the woods as a slave until in a dream he was told to escape.  He got home, and received an education until another dream sent back to preach the gospel to his captors in Ireland.  Enslaved and freed and sent to free his enslavers. Listen to how he tells it:  “I know for certain, that before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in deep mire, and he that is mighty came and in his mercy raised me up and, indeed, lifted me high up and placed me on top of the wall. And from there I ought to shout out in gratitude to the Lord for his great favours in this world and forever, that the mind of man cannot measure.” 

Patrick prospered in the work.  Wherever he went people welcomed the liberation of the gospel.  But some armed men, inexplicitly, apparently for their own shortsighted ends, persisted in lawlessness.  Patrick wrote his Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus, which he urged them to read in their generals own presence.  He had to write to protest the execution, and the arrest and imprisonment of newly baptized Christians.  Grieved to the heart, he suffers with those who suffer, and writes to warn and to beseech the soldiers to understand that if there is one God, then to love God is to love your brother and your sister.  I read through the letter again hoping that Patrick would quote St Paul that they have crucified Christ afresh.  He didn’t quote the apostle, but that is what he experienced.  When we see our brothers and sisters suffer, we are standing at the foot of the cross with them.  Patrick was there when they crucified his Lord.

Now, one more way in which Patrick participated in the passion of Christ.  One that is only becoming more obvious as the vulnerability of the earth comes more and more to our attention.  I invoked the idea of living outdoors in Ireland.  Patrick, like most of the Celtic missionaries, walked from place to place, stopping at cross roads or markets or wells to preach the gospel to whoever happened to gather. St Patrick’s Cathedral, the Church of Ireland, that is, Anglican Cathedral in Dublin, is built beside a well where St Patrick preached and, appropriately enough, baptized.  When Patrick and his disciples stopped they would ring a bell—St Patrick’s bell still exists.   His faith was formed in the fields and woods of his slavery; it deepened as he roamed the entire lush Irish isle.  He climbed the steep hill now called Croagh Patrick.  Some now climb it on their bare feet.  He loved the island.  He grew to love the natural forces that declare the gospel, the good news of God in Christ proclaimed without words.  “All thing are created by him, and without him no thing that is created exists,” St John’s gospel declares as the first principal.   Patrick celebrates that.  The Blue Hymn Book # 812, is written by St Patrick.  Consider with me verse four:  “ I bind unto myself today, The virtues of the star-lit heaven, The glorious sin’s life-giving ray, The whiteness of the moon at even, The flashing of the lightning free, The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks, The stable earth, the deep salt sea, Around the old eternal rocks.”  I want to consider that hard won and deep appreciation of the created world as it actually is,  gorgeous beyond words, but  not always serene.  Lightning and wind and earthquakes.  Consider the gospel testimony that when our Lord died—the Word of Life died—the sky was darkened and the earth quaked and the tombs opened.  He, the Word by whom all things were made, died.  And when he rose again he was seen first, by Mary, who had stood in darkness by his cross,  outside the tomb.  She mistook him—well perhaps it wasn’t a mistake—as a gardener.  

So briefly to us.   So many of us have descended from Irish immigrants who came here when the potato harvest failed.  The Irish who were offered shipping to the shores of North America by those who wanted their land,  and entered the rivers of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.  The Province, by the way, when it was created was almost named “New Ireland”  They were not particularly welcomed when we arrived.   We have held to the gospel.  I’ve heard that an O’Donnell from up river travelled downstream to find a priest to baptize his children, and found Father James Hudson, and so the RC’s from Ireland became Anglicans, or Church of Ireland as they would have named it.   No one has died on this river for their faith—so far as I know—but we do know what it is to be scoffed at and ignored by those who think they can make everything work for their own prosperity and comfort.  Were we not indeed there? 

But also on the mighty Miramichi, on this incredibly beautiful river—no see-ums aside—we know the creative glory of the Word of Christ who created it all.   A few months ago CBC reported on the new glamper vacations:  first class cabins in the national parks of the US and Canada; gormet food and even butlers included.  The conclusion:  stay in one of those cabins and you might have well have stayed home and watched TV.  You cannot actually experience the natural world unless you experience the stress and strain that the world demands:  climb the mountains on bare foot, face the wind, welcome the lash of the rain and wait for the tide.  Then you will know the depth of the love of God in Christ that made the sun hide and the earth shake when he died on the hill of Calvary.  And know the risen Christ in the garden you have labored to cultivate.  Then we will indeed be there.

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2018 Stations of the Cross Presentations – He Loved Them to The End

February 23, 2018 – Nicodemus and Jesus by The Rev’d Kevin McAllister

Good afternoon everyone and thank-you for your kind invitation to speak with you today. For those who may not have met me before my name is Kevin McAllister and I am the Rector of All Saints in Marysville as well as the Rector of the Parish of Minto/Chipman.

          Every year Christians gather during Lent and throughout the Easter Season and examine the Stations of the Cross. It is a 14 stage pictorial tour of the final hours of Christ’s earthly existence. As the faithful we feast on Christ’s final words on the cross and try and pray and meditate on the death of Christ and the subsequent birth of Christianity.

           Year after year we read the Gospel of Matthew and Mark who share a similar account of Christ’s final words on the cross with the familiar eye witness account of, “from noon on, darkness came over the whole land[a] until three in the afternoon.  And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”   When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.”   At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink.

    But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”  Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. (Matthew and Mark)

We Anglicans also meditate upon the familiar words of St. Luke who wrote, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. 

Let us not forget about St. John who eloquently wrote, “When Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.”  A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.  When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

Does any of this sound familiar? Good!……… because we won’t be talking about it today!

I would however like to discuss the Gospel of John chapter 3 that describes the relationship of Nicodemus and Jesus.

          Nicodemus was a brilliant man who was very well respected for his knowledge of Jewish law and for his teaching. He was not a confused and simple fisherman. He was well read for his time. Yet he did not have all the answers when it came to the mystery of Jesus Christ. He knew from dealing with him that there was something special about him but yet he could not verbalize it in one neat package or phrase.  Nicodemus’s own faith journey parallels ours today; one that is filled with unanswered questions or more importantly and commonly never asked or vocalized questions.

Why is that? It is simply because we are unsure ourselves. It makes us uncomfortable when we are in a position to verbalize our faith before others. We live in constant fear that we will be asked to discuss openly our life as a Christian. Like us Nicodemus was afraid to ask these questions in the open in front of an audience and sought a private consultation with Christ through the cover of darkness. Since when has it become a crime to misquote a bible passage or mistaken a place or misinterpret a story? We have become so interested and caught up in the facts that we have in fact missed the boat and are left high and dry. In other words in our effort to become historically accurate we can no longer see the forest for the trees.

Yes Jesus lived and yes there are some interesting historic timelines to learn but when we get so caught up in who said what and why the stories don’t match word for word in the Synoptic Gospels, we are missing the most important aspect of our faith. That is recognizing that each person has a unique and different relationship with Christ. Our individual relationships with Christ and our communal worship and prayers with Christ need to be at the forefront. It is only through open dialogue that our faith can grow and perhaps through it we can also learn some things.

Can you imagine if we treated Christianity with the same enthusiasm as we do when following our favourite sports teams? Within this very room people can tell you who the NHL leading scorer is or who won last night. We passionately research facts of our favourite players and musicians and we follow their careers with much zeal. Yet when it comes to our faith we are silent. I know if we all made an effort to follow Christ with the same passion as we currently follow our sport heroes our churches would be full.

Many believe that Nicodemus was afraid to be seen speaking with Christ by his peers and therefore chose to use the cover of darkness as a means to sneak in and visit with Jesus. I will share with you that the cover of darkness is a metaphor symbolizing Nicodemus’s state of faith.

He was spiritually and religiously in an internal struggle with the darkness combating the light that represents Christ. He was caught between two worlds and was not able to comprehend that the way of life that he dedicated himself to was wrong or perhaps was in need of change.

This faith struggle is represented by the darkness because he had not fully accepted Christ and his teachings. This is odd since Nicodemus rationalized that Jesus must be from God because no one could perform the miracles apart from God. The issue here is that faith cannot be rationalized or over intellectualized or can be dissected and examined through a scientific microscope. Faith is a mystery and is as unique as the individual.

Despite having perhaps witnessed some of the miracles that Christ performed or at the very least Nicodemus would have been privy to stories concerning Jesus and his healing touch; still he doubted.  When we doubt something that we have been told or heard we in fact disbelieve the story, which really comes down to denying the authenticity of the story or the person. Who else denied Jesus? Peter yes he denied Christ three times in order to save himself. Who else had denied Christ? We do at times deny Jesus! Think of the reasons when and why this occurs.

When someone close to us dies, or when a series of bad luck has come our way or when we have come to learn of our own death we deny Christ.  People are often heard to say, God must really hate me or I am upset with God because he took my friend. Jesus is on the stick for everything bad that occurs in peoples lives but do we take the time to thank him for the good in our lives? We have this idea that death is the end and Jesus had this same conversation with our friend Nicodemus. Jesus said to him, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” This is the good news that is only available through Jesus Christ who was sacrificed on the cross so we may have eternal life.

          We can thank Nicodemus for approaching Jesus in this way and for asking questions that challenged his earthly understanding of heavenly matters. Through his acceptance of Nicodemus Jesus has given us permission to converse with him in the same manner. Our Jewish brethren have a unique relationship with God which is the polar opposite of how Christians commune with God.  Jews wrestle with God and argue in an attempt to work through what events have taken place in their lives.

They wrestle with God in an attempt to further their understanding of what God is doing in their lives and to advance their faith. They are not afraid to ask God Why and to demand answers. Christians believe that we can’t ask God why in our prayers or shake our fists towards the heavens or stomp our feet in reaction to what has occurred in our lives. We simply have to take it.

In order to have an authentic relationship with Christ we need to have open and honest dialogue with him. Much like our own spouses we often have conversations that are difficult but necessary in order to advance understanding and trust. It is okay to ask Jesus why? And it is okay to wrestle with the death of a loved one. In the end it will challenge our faith which through this process will strengthen it. If we are never wrong or corrected we can never advance our understanding of anything. The same thing applies to our faith which will remain stagnant and idle if we don’t challenge it.

          Let us reflect on what Jesus did to deserve such punishment while keeping in mind who crucifixion was reserved for. Crucifixion for the Romans was implemented to publicly disgrace the condemned.

This cruel form of punishment was primarily reserved for slaves, foreigners, and revolutionaries. What category do you believe Christ fit into? He was a revolutionary in many ways. Christ did not have his eye on the throne but he did challenge the way things always were which threatened a great number of people.  In the church today the phrase, that is the way it has always been, dismisses change and acts as a do not enter sign warning others to stay away. Jesus’ era ushered in a radical change of thinking with the new generation where God was no longer feared. Humanity through Jesus Christ was now invited to enter a loving relationship with God and with one another. Jesus administered to the needs of those who did not have much in this world. He spent time with those who were battling loneliness, homelessness, the poor, and outcasts from society. He gave these people hope which is a dangerous commodity to those in power.

Think about what it takes for a regime to dominate over people. Those in power create a situation where the people are kept ignorant and without hope. That is why during the days of American Slavery it was illegal to teach a slave to read. With reading come understanding; questioning the way things have always been and creating hope.

          It is no different today with some organizations. When I was in the military the guys would quip that the officers treated us like mushrooms. We were kept in the dark and covered with………..a fragrant flower.

Jesus gave us a wonderful gift of ministry where we too can heal pain, give hope and fight injustice. Often when the question of involving our parishes in a form of outreach surfaces we think of the reasons not too such as we are too old, too tired, we have never done that before, it will never work here, and so on. With every reason we dream of to disassociate our selves with mission we are denying Jesus. When we deny Jesus to others we are in fact withholding hope to those who truly need it.

As you are aware hope in Fredericton is in the form of a sandwich or a tee shirt. It really does not take much to shower others with the light of Christ.

Thank-you and have a Blessed Lent and Easter!

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March 2, 2018 – He Loved Them To The End by Klaudia Ross

“… and He knelt down and prayed, saying ‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done’” (Luke 22:42).

Have you ever wondered what it must have been like to see Jesus pray? to witness God the Son go down on His knees before His Father? This, the Word of God, is the same God who addressed Moses from the burning bush, saying: “Do not come any closer. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground” (Exodus 3:50). The same God who spoke to Job out of the whirlwind and clouds, saying: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:4). I imagine the ranks of angels holding their breath in awe for as long as His holy knees touched the ground. It makes me tremble.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus showed us the true meaning of prayer. With anguish so great that His sweat mixed with blood as it ran down His perfect face, He fought off the enemy through prayer. I’ve even heard a preacher say that Jesus struggled the whole Calvary right there on His knees, that the victory was won beneath those olive trees; and as He approached His disciples, to wake them up, His human will was in perfect submission to the will of the Father, even unto pain and death.

How this contrasts with the choice made in another garden, the Garden of Eden, where our first parents, Adam and Eve, followed their own will instead of the will of God, knowingly separating themselves from the Source of Life, and, as a result, death spread like a shockwave throughout God’s Creation. How do we know this? Because Paul tells us that “the creation was subjected to futility” and that “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now” (Romans 8:20a, 8:22).

To this day the high place of humanity in God’s plan remains a mystery to me, for through one single disobedience of man, death entered the world and tainted everything. Not even the angels were given such a position. When the devil fell, death did not come to man. The devil had to tempt man into disobeying God’s will in order to affect Creation in such a way, and the devil continues his diabolical work, even now seeking the ruin of souls.

But what is the remedy? How can we escape from such a tyrant and from the consequences of our sin? Love. True love.

It might sound like a cliché, but how many of us have stopped to reflect on what love is – on how God calls us to love? Love is vital to Christianity. In fact, in the final Sunday or preparation for Lent, we read all about love in the 13th chapter of St. Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians. As such, reflecting on love should be a key part of every Lenten journey.

For example, contrary to popular belief and to what our culture would have us believe, there is nothing loving about allowing people to do “whatever they want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else.” How many times have we heard this said (or perhaps have said it ourselves)? This is a distortion of love, masquerading as the genuine article, but deceiving many, for God is somehow always conveniently forgotten in the word “anybody.” This is the fruit of the devil, the hater of Truth, and stands in stark contrast to the words of David in Psalm 51, in reference to God: “Against Thee only have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight” (4a).

True love is that which loves “to the end” – to the fullest! Not by word only, but by action; and action not to please self or other people, but to serve God and to bring Him the glory, by following His will. This is what Jesus, the Second Adam, demonstrated in the Garden of Gethsemane and most of all at Calvary, where He died for you and me.

This was the culmination of God’s love. Jesus tells us, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13); and St John the Evangelist says “Herein is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10); and St. Paul writes, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Through Jesus’ perfect obedience, God redeemed us, in order to give back to man the possibility of eternal life in communion with Him, and He used the disobedience of Adam and Eve to bring us even closer to Himself. He not only restored us to our former state, He elevated us, for we Christians are no longer servants, but children of God by adoption through the Spirit, and fellow-heirs with Christ, if we share in His suffering (Romans 8). Oh the mercy and love of God!

And, here I quote from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians – which is the Epistle for Palm Sunday:

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).

 I’d like to share a brief excerpt from a recent St. George’s Rector’s Corner on love:

‘… St. Paul describes love as “rejoicing in the truth….” The thing is, without truth, love is not really love. We may call it love, but it is not a healthy love. Without truth–God’s objective Truth—my best efforts to love become misguided. I am easily swayed by emotion.

The Church has really struggled with her understanding of love, and with her practice of it, due to a lack of faith and patience. Instead of keeping the Word with long suffering, the Church attempts to modify the Word to suit the culture. Consequently, in the last twenty-five years, she has tried to chart her course by changing doctrine through majority votes at Synods…. The thing is, our doctrine (what we believe) is not determined democratically. It has been revealed to us by God in Holy Scripture. And that’s good because it doesn’t belong to any special interest party or lobby group. It is objective for all people, regardless of their status in life.

… In His Word, God tells us the Truth about ourselves. The truth is, we are only imperfect people. Yes, we have all kinds of God-given talents and capacities; but we did not create ourselves or the beautiful world around us. And we have no control over the common cold or the flu, let alone the certainty of death. So the truth is, we are just people, who think and say and do all kinds of things on a daily basis that are hard-headed and selfish. And, without the objectivity of Truth, I am quite adept at turning those selfish desires into necessities, sympathetic causes, or even martyrdom.

So I need to know the Truth. As Jesus said, the Truth sets us free (St. John 8.32)–free from the limitations and prejudices of a worldly perspective. Brought by the Holy Spirit, the Truth Illuminates my understanding and gives me correction. It sets me free to find peace, contentment and joy in God rather than in my position or my material possessions.

The Cross speaks the Truth to us. The Cross tells us that we need to be forgiven and saved. It also tells us that God freely offers Salvation to us through the Suffering and Death of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. “God is love”, (1 St. John 4.8) wrote St. John the Evangelist. He is patient and kind and His mercy endures forever; but that holy Love calls us to rejoice in the Gospel Truth, not our own version of it….’

May God help us this Lent to think seriously about love, to follow the example of Jesus’ love in obedience, and to pray; and, in whatever spiritual desert, little Gethsemane, or lesser Calvary we may encounter, may He give us grace to overcome all temptation.

“We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee; because by Thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world.”

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2020 Stations of the Cross Presentations – Full of Grace & Truth

(Note:  due to COVID 19 most services were canceled in 2020)

February 28, 2020 – Losing yourself in the Cross by Archdeacon Keith Osborne

      May I assume that as committed Christians we have all gone beyond the phase of simply wanting to taste the life of grace or to be mere spectators of the Gospel.   Have we not felt the urge and the passion to allow the economy of God’s working to take firm hold of us and to fill our lives to the most complete degree attainable in this life?   The passion of our Lord and the reality of His self-sacrifice is grossly demeaned if not taken wholly into the believer’s life and lived out.  Can we not come to a place in our journey in which His cross in a secondary sense becomes our cross; that His identity in surrender becomes ours; His incarnation, ours, as grace is manifested in and through our mortal flesh?   Yes, the passion and cross of our Lord is meant to consume us, to be the very air we breathe, and as the blood in our veins.  It is in this sense that I pray this Lenten season may be for all of you an enhanced time of renewal.  I pray that as we all further die to the sinful nature we may know more of what it is to live in Him and have His fullness live in us.

      Our topic is rooted deeply within the Hebrew text on the belief in the suffering Messiah.  It is spoken through the Psalmist (Psalm 22) and through the prophet Isaiah (chapters 52 and 53).  Here our Lord is portrayed as the one who becomes a sacrificial and substitutionary atonement for the human condition in all its failure and weakness.   Then the apostle Paul brings this reality to life in full view as he writes to the Church in Philippi; that now this Messianic hope has been realized in the person of Jesus of Nazareth who emptied Himself and declined to assume any equality with the Father.  Here then in this state He endures the horror and shame of an earthly crucifixion (Phil 2: 5-11).  Can His example of self-sacrifice be reproduced in us, notwithstanding our fears, sin and pride?  God lays on us as it were a moral necessity and we speak the words of love to Him:  “Yes Lord, let it be to me as well.”   So it is that the words of our Lord as recorded in Matthew 16: 24 -26 foreshadow the cross and provide for us the paradigm by which to guide our lives.  How can we remain as spectators when once we have fallen in love with Him and are drawn by an unrelenting force into the arms of His love and into death itself?   This Is a death which we freely embrace, both of the sinful nature and ultimately of the body as we look forward to a glorious hope

Our text from the Gospel then reads as follows… “If anyone would come after Me he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for me will find it.  What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world yet forfeits his own soul?”  What could we give in exchange for the soul?  Is it not the most precious thing within us?  To forfeit it by means of apathy, indifference or lack of love and commitment for any reason is a travesty beyond words.

When we consider the beginnings of our Lord’s earthly ministry it is notable as to the focus of the entire scope of events which occur.  First John the Baptist appears in the spirit and appearance of Elijah, repentance is prescribed as a primary step for the journey of the soul.  Then our Lord calls the first disciples and “Follow Me” becomes the criteria for the human response (ie. – cannot be done without a transformation of the inner life).  Then we come to the Beatitudes and the act of being salt and light to the world.  That is, again, the inner life which needs a moral transformation.  The Sermon on the Mount then prescribes the acts of forgiveness, the love of one’s enemies, the shunning of impure thoughts and adultery, in short the living of the 10 commandments with the heart not merely by the letter.  The people are then told that one must lay up treasures in heaven, shun a life of worry and doubt, cease from judging others, strive to be a good tree which bears good fruit and build one’s life upon a rock which is Christ.  It is all about a moral imperative laid upon all who would be serious enough to allow the cross to define who they are and all they do.   Life is not about us, it is about Him and those for whom we live.  We are to be self-effacing, surrendered and dead to sin, emptied and in the process of that to be delivered and more human than ever before.

May I then ask you a soul-searching question?  “Do you wish to step over the line and make a significant step towards embracing your Messiah?”  Dying to self-works because the throne of your life is vacated in order to make room for God to sit upon it.  The degree to which Christ can take charge of our lives is directly proportional to the degree to which we have relinquished the areas of our lives to His control and surrendered in an act of love and trust.  IF you indeed wish to make significant steps in your progress then allow these areas to die, cast them off and submit to Christ’s control, to His forgiveness and healing.  It is then that our brokenness and our self-made agendas can be healed and replaced with His grace, power and abiding influence.

As we follow our Lord through His passion we see Him at the Last Supper with courage and faith, speaking of His demise and offering the Blessed Sacrament for the life of the world.  This divine selflessness is with Him again in the garden as He in a grip of fear offers His will up to the Father and allows Himself to be arrested where there is no turning back, the die has been cast and His fate has been sealed – the mark of a truly surrendered life.  Then in the hall of Pontius Pilate He largely remains silent, the impassive God in the profundity of His nature facing the onslaught of human pride and ignorance.  With this same dignity He is scourged within an inch of His life and carries the instrument of His own demise up the hill.  Has there ever been any other so completely given over to the task at hand and so trusting of the One in charge that they were able to perform such an act of obedience and faith?   Have we also noted what it must have been like to have been the target of all the combined demonic forces and to not merely bear our sin but to be made the essence of sin?  What must it have been like to suffer a rift in the very essence of the Godhead as He cried “ My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  All of this lies far beyond our comprehension and yet should make us love Him all the more.

So, how do you and I die to sin?  I would say, love Him with all your heart, learn to entrust to Him your very life and the things you hold most dear to your heart.  So then in terms of giving it all over you have nothing to lose for you have already lost it all for Him.  Practice the disciplines of prayer, study, worship and gratitude.  Allow yourself to “soak” in His presence (ie. Letting the sense of His presence wash over you in a private place, in silence, and that you may hear Him speak and touch you, that you may leave that place forever changed).   Be willing to lose it all and make a firm resolve to act on that most important decision you will ever make.  We note that the reformer Martin Luther wrote that “God’s works are unattractive.”  He taught that the clearest and least ambiguous picture we would ever have of God and His love is the cross.  It is here at Calvary that we touch His face and He touches us in a way we can be touched nowhere else.

I believe that we as Anglicans are, amongst all other denominations, most blessed (only my humble opinion!)  It is in the profound nature of our baptism and being embraced into the covenant, by participation in the Eucharist into the very body and blood of Christ in a mystical union, into the depth of the liturgy and wherever that may take us into a myriad of places, that we can be in Christ and He in us.  We cast off the old wineskins and put on the new.  We die with Him and put on the new life.  We enter the depths of the worship, are purged and then set free to be more fully human and alive than we had ever imagined possible.

May this Lent be for you all a most blessed journey whereby the Passion of your Lord may speak to you and do the work of melding your heart to His.

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March 6, 2020 – Full of Truth and Grace by Nancy Stephens

Scripture: read John 1:1-18
Repeat: Vs. 14 “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
My thoughts were drawn to the word “glory” – “we have seen his glory….”
– This reminds me of a verse in Ex 33:18 where Moses asked God to show him His glory.
Ex 33:18-23
Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
19 And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
21 Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”
Note that when Moses asked to see God’s glory
– God responded by saying “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence.”
– This helps us to understand that God’s glory is connected with His goodness and His name ….in other words, His character
– His glory is also connected to His actions…as He goes on to speak of His mercy and compassion.
– so the glory of God is that He IS good and He DOES good.
– John says it like this: “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)
Of course, the whole interaction is very intriguing, since we know that God is Spirit. So how can He be seen at all??
– There are a few times in the OT when God does appear in bodily form.
– theologians refer to these as “Theophanies” which means God appeared in human form as the pre-incarnate Christ.
As an aside – you probably noticed the reference to a “cleft in the rock”
– This is the image that Fanny Crosby used in her Hymn “He Hideth my Soul” pub 1890
A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord, A wonderful Savior to me; He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock, Where rivers of pleasure I see.
Refrain: He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock, That shadows a dry, thirsty land; He hideth my life in the depths of His love, And covers me there with His hand, And covers me there with His hand.
Back to our verse in John 1:14: – “We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son…”
– God’s glory is seen in His Son Jesus
– this reminds me of the verse in Heb 1:3 “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being….”
– I love the word “radiance” – some synonyms: brilliance . splendor · resplendence · magnificence · glory ·
– think of Christ at His transfiguration…the radiance of His appearance reflects the glory He has with His Father
– “exact representation” is a word used of stamping an image as in minting coins…i.e. an exact replica
As Jesus said in John 13:9 “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”
– Jesus is God in flesh and bones
– it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like for Him to take on human form
– the incarnation is something we think about a lot at Christmas, since that’s when Jesus was born into this world
– but it’s certainly an appropriate subject for the season of Lent & Easter too

– after all Jesus had to become a human being in order to die in our place
On the matter of the incarnation, C.S. Lewis wrote:
“Lying at your feet is your dog. Imagine, for the moment, that your dog and every dog is in deep distress. Some of us love dogs very much. If it would help all the dogs in the world to become like men, would you be willing to become a dog? Would you put down your human nature, leave your loved ones, your job, hobbies, your art and literature and music, and choose instead of the intimate communion with your beloved, the poor substitute of looking into the beloved’s face and wagging your tail, unable to smile or speak? Christ by becoming man limited the thing which to Him was the most precious thing in the world; his unhampered, unhindered communion with the Father.”
– It is incomprehensible that Christ would leave His Heavenly home to come to live on earth for us – but He did.
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The disciples at that time were privileged to know Jesus face-to-face
– to hear Him speak and to see Him interact with people…performing miracles, etc.
– thankfully they recorded some of what they heard and saw for us to read in the Gospels
– And what did they see in Jesus?
– John answers that question in verse 14 …they saw God’s glory
– “the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”
“grace” – used three times in this short section – in verses 14, 16 & 17
– verse 17 – Contrast with the Law
– the Law was given to show what standard God required of His people
– not just moral law in the 10 Commandments, but all the laws around the sacrificial offerings for sin, etc.
– There was grace even in that…as God accepted the sacrifice of sheep for the atonement of their sin…but it was not God’s ultimate plan for salvation
In Gal 3:24 Paul says “the Law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” Gal 3:24
– like the people of Israel, we are not able to save ourselves through keeping God’s law
– but God used the Law to show us what sin is
– and to point us to our need for a Saviour who is “full of grace”
ILLUSTRATION taken from on-line at IllustrationExchange…source unknown
The glory of the Law was of one kind, but the glory of grace as revealed through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is of another kind all together. “For the sake of illustration,” says…
As one commentator has said…
“think of glory as light. There is a certain glory of the moon and stars that shine at night. But when the sun comes up in the morning, these stellar luminaries pale. Why? Because the glory of the sun outshines that of the moon and stars.”
The same commentator continues: APPLICATION
“Glory is like light in that it speaks of the revelation of God’s true nature. Our knowledge and understanding of God’s glory is increased by the revelations of God’s holy law. But our knowledge and understanding of God is increased so much more powerfully and intimately through the revelation of God’s Son. In this way, the glory of grace far exceeds and outshines the glory of the law.”
Grace is sometimes defined as God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense
James Packer has this to say about grace: from Your Father Loves You by James Packer, (Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986), page for May 4
“Ancient paganism thought of each god as bound to his worshippers by self-interest because he depended on their service and gifts for his welfare. Modern paganism has at the back of its mind a similar feeling that God is somehow obligated to love and help us, even though we don’t deserve it. This was the feeling voiced by the French freethinker who died muttering, “God will forgive; that’s his job.” But this feeling is not well founded. The God of the Bible does not depend on his human creatures for his well-being (see Ps. 50:8-13; Acts 17:25), nor, now that we have sinned, is he bound to show us favor. We can only claim from his justice; and justice, for us, means certain condemnation.
God does not owe it to anyone to stop justice from taking its course. He is not obligated to pity and pardon; if he does so it is an act done, as we say, “of his own free will,” and nobody forces his hand. “It depends not upon man’s will or exertion, but upon God’s mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Grace is free because it is self-originated and proceeds from the One who was free not to be gracious.”
The main thought I take from this is that salvation is not something God owes us…and we cannot earn it
– but we know from Scripture
– that God is not willing that anyone should perish
– He gave His Son so that all who believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life
– God is also slow to anger and abounding in mercy…
– it is to God’s glory that He chose to make a way for sinners to be redeemed
– Eph 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”
– Grace and salvation are free gifts
– but they are not cheap
– they cost Christ His suffering and death on the cross
Jesus is full of grace
– He spread His arms out on the cross, as it were, to welcome all who will repent and come to Him.
We’ve looked a bit at the idea of glory and of grace…so that brings us to truth…Full of grace and Truth.
– Strong’s On-Line- The Greek word used for “truth” comes from the root meaning “true” and carries with it the idea of “unconcealed, true in fact, worthy of credit, truthful”
– it stresses the idea of “undeniable reality when something is fully tested”
– i.e. it will ultimately be shown to be fact/authentic…REAL
– this is “not merely ethical truth, but truth in all its fullness and scope, as embodied in Him” (Vine’s)
– can be translated as “reliability” or “faithfulness”
Jesus is true in every way
– true to God His Father…in carrying out God’s plan of salvation for us
He is true to the Good News of the Kingdom
– certainly the Jewish leaders of His time did not accept what He had to say
– but He did not compromise His message to gain their favour
Jesus is true to His character
– His many miracles reveal His heart of love and compassion for people
He is true to His promises
– He rose from the dead…as He said He would
– and He we can be sure that He will come again in glory
– even as He has promised
As we take time during Lent to think on the glory of Jesus Christ
– “the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”
– I encourage you to spend time reading through the Gospels
– and ask God to open your hearts and minds to understand the depth of Christ’s love for you
– and pray for grace to grow in your knowledge and love of Him

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March 13, 2020 – Commit to Jesus by Daniel Szemok

Upon entering a little country store, a stranger noticed a sign reading “Danger! Beware of Dog” posted on the glass door. Inside, he noticed a harmless old hound dog asleep on the floor besides the cash register. The stranger asked the store manager, “Is that the dog, folks are supposed to beware of?” “Yep, that’s him,” he replied. The stranger couldn’t help but be amused. “That certainly doesn’t look like a dangerous dog to me. Why in the world would you post that sign?” “Because,” the owner replied, “before I posted that sign, people kept tripping over him.”

Have you ever felt like the poor household dog? Old, sleepy and traumatized by outsiders, footsteps and boots? Jesus had called us to be His disciples, to follow Him not just when it is convenient but all the time, to be salt and light at where we are and to save people from death, but, sadly, we are often similar to sleeping dogs at rest rather than shepherd dogs at work. Did you notice that, in our culture many Christians are not bad… just comfortable and in our own comfort we can easily miss out on the blessings God has for us?

Today we are here to remember the greatest sacrifice ever made. You know when we say “salvation is free” well that’s a good statement; I’m not arguing with that, it’s just in my opinion it’s incomplete. Guess for who salvation wasn’t free for? This is the season of time to come together and to meditate on the truth that salvation is only free for us. It wasn’t free for our Father in Heaven. Our Heavenly Dad paid and suffered dearly so we could go around and say salvation is free, but only for us because Jesus paid for it, He paid dearly.

Titanic story:
John Harper was an evangelist from Scotland, headed to Chicago in the spring of 1912 on the RMS Titanic. He was scheduled to preach at Moody Church as a guest speaker. At the beginning of his journey, Harper talked to other passengers and engaged them in conversation, and people noted that he was a very helpful, kind person.

And when the Titanic hit an iceberg and began to take on water, the first thing Harper, a widower, did was put his little daughter into a lifeboat. Then he gave his life jacket away to another man because there weren’t enough.

Harper rushed up and down the decks, asking people, “Are you saved?” and telling them to believe in Jesus Christ. And when the ship sank beneath the water, Harper took hold of some wreckage and made his way to other survivors in the ocean, still shouting, “Are you saved?”

One young man who told him that he wasn’t saved recalled Harper’s response. The preacher quoted from Acts 16:31: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (KJV).
Then he disappeared into the Atlantic’s icy waves.

The young man later said that he believed he was John Harper’s last convert.

If we let it… our society will continue to gently and respectfully push us to surrender just a little of our integrity day by day until we wake up one morning and won’t even recognize what we believe in. I know it is not easy to hear this but this is the inconvenient reality… of the times we live in.

Of course I’m not talking about the fact that we all have to make great sacrifices like that of John Harper’s. Nor am I asking for bold statements. I’m here to get you to think and to inspire, to commit to Jesus… to give whatever little you can offer as a disciple. Sometimes all it takes is to show kindness at a Tim Horton’s; or to call out a wrong for what it is, even if that’s not the Canadian or polite thing to do. Other times discipleship will require us to stand up not for the poor or for the needy but for the values of Jesus so on the day when our time comes and we take our last breath, Jesus would also stand up for us in Heaven.

I know that there is a tendency to say; but what I have is too little too small, its practically embarrassing. But I say to you don’t be embarrassed just give what you can and sit back and watch how Jesus will use that. Remember the Apostles, who could not feed the five thousand even if their life depended on it. It was a physical impossibility. But they weren’t supposed to, all Jesus asked for was the little they had; a few fish and some bread. And Jesus took the little they had and blessed it, and through the blessing of Jesus that little which was practically nothing became enough even plenty for thousands. Amen.

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2022 Stations of the Cross Presentations – Full of Truth & Grace

March 18, 2022 – He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a Cross by Fr. Christopher Tapera

From the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. 53:4-6:

Surely he has born our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

MEDITATION

Man has fallen, and he continues to fall: often he becomes a caricature of himself, no longer the image of God, but a mockery of the Creator. Is not the man who, on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho, fell among robbers who stripped him and left him half-dead and bleeding beside the road, the image of humanity par excellence? Jesus’ fall beneath the Cross is not just the fall of the man Jesus, exhausted from his scourging. There is a more profound meaning in this fall, as Paul tells us in the Letter to the Philippians: “though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men… He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a Cross” (Phil 2:6-8). In Jesus’s fall beneath the weight of the Cross, the meaning of his whole life is seen: his voluntary abasement, which lifts us up from the depths of our pride. The nature of our pride is also revealed: it is that arrogance which makes us want to be liberated from God and left alone to ourselves, the arrogance which makes us think that we do not need his eternal love, but can be the masters of our own lives. In this rebellion against truth, in this attempt to be our own god, creator and judge, we fall headlong and plunge into self-destruction. The humility of Jesus is the surmounting of our pride; by his abasement he lifts us up. Let us allow him to lift us up. Let us strip away our sense of self-sufficiency, our false illusions of independence, and learn from him, the One who humbled himself, to discover our true greatness by bending low before God and before our downtrodden brothers and sisters.

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, the weight of the cross made you fall to the ground. The weight of our sin, the weight of our pride, brought you down. But your fall is not a tragedy, or mere human weakness. You came to us when, in our pride, we were laid low. The arrogance that makes us think that we ourselves can create human beings has turned man into a kind of merchandise, to be bought and sold, or stored to provide parts for experimentation. In doing this, we hope to conquer death by our own efforts, yet in reality we are profoundly debasing human dignity. Lord help us; we have fallen. Help us to abandon our destructive pride and, by learning from your humility, to rise again.

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March 25, 2022 – Grace and Truth Came Through Jesus Christ by The Rev’d Thomas W. L. Nisbett

On this the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary, I greet you in the Name of the One God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit…

I take as the basis for my Reflection today these words from the Gospel of John – John 1:6-17 (NIV):

There was a man sent from God whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

(John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”)  Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.   For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

In this reading we hear of this man John – we call him John the Baptist or John the Baptizer – who came to bear witness to the “light” of God come into the world, so that through that light, all might believe.

John offers us a challenge to “go and do likewise” – to make our lives, in thought, word and deed, concrete examples of the light of God which has come into the world: Jesus, the Son of the Living God.

As people called by the name of Christ – “Christians”, each of us is directed to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Word of God such that we begin to fashion who and what we are according to the example and teachings of Jesus the Christ.

We are called to be living examples of what a life “in Christ” is all about. We are to reflect the light of God through Christ Jesus to everyone we meet, and to the ends of the earth.

St. John’s Gospel reminds us that “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”.

Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words tells us that “Grace” refers to that love, mercy, generosity and compassion freely offered by God to all people, not because of anything they we may (or may not) have done, but precisely because we exist. We are worthy of God’s love because God makes us that way.

By the same token, “Truth” is a divine reality which can only be realized through an intimate, personal relationship with our Creator-God, and it is accessible only through faith in Jesus Christ.

It is important to note that, just because we think something is true does not make it so – it is merely our opinion (informed or otherwise) until verified and acknowledged through the work and power of God’s holy and life-giving Spirit.

Through His very thought, God has chosen to offer Himself to humanity in the character and personality of Jesus of Nazareth.

John’s inspired writing shows us that, not only is God the very source of Jesus, and that Jesus has a relationship with God, but that Jesus is the revealing of God in human form. 

During the Season of Lent, we prepare ourselves with Grace and Truth to again meet the persecuted and risen Lord; and we prepare the world around us through our Christ-like examples, for His coming again in glory.

The unquenchable light of God is that grace and truth revealed only in Jesus the Christ.

Like John the Baptizer, I believe that our critical response must be to bear witness to who Jesus truly is; who He is to us personally; and, what He came to do for us and for the whole world.

Jesus offers us a share in the divine life precisely because God has actively and deliberately demonstrated His love for us since the dawning of Creation.

Jesus presents Himself as the final sacrifice for our redemption from sin and destruction, and into an eternal existence far greater than we could ever ask or imagine.

Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God’s love, mercy and compassion for all that is seen and unseen.

As we journey through this Season of Lent:

Let us marinate ourselves in the Word of God such that the light of God’s grace and truth shines forth in every fibre of our being;

Let us give glory to God the Father as witnesses of Christ Jesus to the grace, truth, and light of Him who has made all things;

Let each of us be worthy of the sacrifice of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

And now to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be all praise, honour, dominion and glory, from this day forward, and forever more.  Amen.

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2023 Stations of the Cross Presentations – “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus…”

February 24, 2023 – Be Like Jesus!  (Philippians 2: 5 – 11), the Rev’d Garth Maxwell

Paul wrote this letter to the Church at Philippi while he was in prison.   The Christians at Philippi were very special to him.   They had helped him on several occasions in the support of his ministry and the cause of the Gospel.   As mentioned in the letter they had sent him a generous gift in his time of need.   So, he writes to thank them and to encourage them as a Christian community.  

In his letter he gives his friends a picture of the greatness of Jesus.   This is what he says:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.

Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.   

(Philippians 2: 5-11, NIV)

In commenting on this passage, George Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury writes:

“It helps us understand the passage if we see that the story of Adam, the first created human being, lies behind it.   Adam was only concerned about himself.   He grasped after equality with God, but, instead, sin and death became his reward.   Jesus, on the other hand, though he was by right equal with God, did not cling to this selfishly, but deliberately laid it aside in order to save us all.

We may trace four steps down and four steps up in Paul’s magnificent expression of Jesus’ humility.   The story starts off in heaven with Jesus being in the ‘form’ of God.   Then:

  • He did not hold on to his rights
  • He gave up all that he had
  • He humbled himself, and became a servant
  • He was obedient all the way to death

And from this ‘rock bottom’ point, Jesus is:

  • Raised to the highest place
  • Given the greatest name
  • Worshipped by the whole of creation
  • Proclaimed ‘Lord’ of all

Because many modern Christians think that the passage is about the doctrine of Jesus, we miss the point of Paul’s argument.   His attention is not on the nature of Jesus as God – that was obvious to him and his readers – but on the way the followers of Jesus should live:   Put other people first, live unselfishly and humbly, don’t grasp after your rights.   This radical discipleship will cost us something, but it will also take us to glory.”

(The Bible for Everyday Life, George Carey, Editor, pp 253-4)

I will conclude with a hymn entitled “in Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend: 

In Christ Alone

In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song,
This Corner-stone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease.
My Comforter, my All in All,
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in help-less Babe.
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied,
For ev’ry sin on Him was laid,
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain.
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand.
‘Til He returns or calls me home,
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.

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March 3, 2023 – “The answer, of course, is Love” – Captain the Rev’d Nicholas J. Saulnier

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

The passage chosen as the theme for this years’ series of speakers is a beautiful passage of poetry in Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians which some scholars regard as a praise hymn to Christ. You can see why, when you read the whole of it: it summarizes, rather succinctly, the thesis of Paul’s theology. Christ lowered himself to join our human estate so that he might be raised up high above all others as the revered and splendid victor, “that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow…and that every tongue should confess Jesus Christ Is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” What a wonderful and sacred thing this is.

Specifically, the theme words invite us to try and enter Christ’s own mind as he fully and embarrassingly emptied himself to take the form of a servant – a servant of God, a servant to his torturers, and a servant for all mankind. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus…”

What does it mean for us to enter into Christ’s mind through the recitation of the Stations each Friday in Lent? I can remember when I was about ten years old (admittedly not that long ago), I would attend the stations of the cross each Lenten Friday night. We did not, at the time, have depictions of the stations around the church in Moncton. What we did have, however, were little booklets with black and white pictures. We would sit still in our pews, rather than walk around, and 10-year-old me would pay far more attention to the pictures in the booklet than the words on the page. I would hear the words being spoken, and they would bring the pictures to life. These pictures were nothing much – merely black and white silhouettes – but there was a particular style about them that captivated the imagination, and occasional stations had a stray foot or hand or tip of the cross poking out of the frame which caused them to come to life for me. I could almost feel the grittiness, the roughly coiffed hairstyles, and the emotions of the people in each panel. Particularly, Jesus had a very thin, almost skeleton-like, figure. I could feel the weakness of his body, the creakiness of his bones, the heat of the sun, and the anguish of those who loved him watching from the sidelines. For ten-year-old me, these pictures really brought the story, the action, to life.

This desire for a deep connection to our suffering saviour is nothing particularly new. The stations of the cross themselves, which we follow, come from just this desire to be closer to our Lord as he endured his passion through the streets of Jerusalem. The Way of the Cross in Jerusalem was founded as a way to literally follow in Christ’s footsteps. To take in the sights and smells of Jerusalem but knowing that the saviour’s feet trod upon the same stones, and that his precious blood was shed there. This idea of enactment shouldn’t be a new concept for any of us: I’m sure many of us are familiar with the concept of re-enacting the American Civil War, for example. But even more importantly for us Christians, there is the enactment of the Last Supper every time we celebrate the Holy Mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist. All of this enactment stems from a desire to be closer to the events, to feel as if we took part in it, to try to believe that we could ever understand what it must have felt like. The advent of modern filmmaking has led to a desire to attempt the portrayal of what it must have looked like and sounded like, too. Take Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ: it was gory and shocking to so many people, but that is part of this desire for us to feel something.

What I am getting at is that humans by our nature are sensing people. We desire connection, we desire to be part of something. And how do you know that you are part of something? We feel it. We smell it. We walk it. We talk to or with it. Think about our experience over the last three years of Pandemic. When we were locked away in our houses, talking to people on Zoom, watching Church on Facebook, hoarding toilet paper, and making bread… did we really feel like we were connecting with people? Did we really feel like we were participating? Yes, it was nice to have a chat. Yes, it was nice to watch church in our pyjamas. But wasn’t something missing? I suspect for many of us, the answer would be “yes, something was missing.” We couldn’t hug each other, we couldn’t hang out in each other’s kitchens, we couldn’t have small chat at the back of the grocery store lines. We were not really taking part in what we normally would do, despite there being some feelings of normalcy. Some people, when watching church on TV, told me they would light a candle to see a real flicker and smell the smoke when it was put out. We earn to see, and touch, and feel things in our lives.

So what, then, about Our Saviour, Christ? Early Christians, wanting this sense of closeness to Our Lord, walked the Way of the Cross in Jerusalem to trace his footsteps. Somewhere along the line, churches worldwide started to mimic the practice locally without the need to be in Jerusalem itself. We read the stations, or make a small walk around the church in order to feel even the slightest bit of connection to our Lord’s passion.

Back to what I was saying earlier – the little black and white silhouette pictures really came to life for me as a boy of ten. I feel that I had a reasonably decent grasp on the material, and I certainly felt sad for the Blessed Mother of our Lord when we would read the verses of the Stabat Mater… “At the Cross her stations keeping / Stood the mournful mother weeping / Where he hung, the dying Lord.”

 A few years later, the parish began the custom of starting our Good Friday commemoration at City Hall, where we took a large, wooden cross through the streets of downtown Moncton, stopping every so often for a word of Scripture and a small song. We did not say the stations as we have done this morning, but instead marked some of the last words of Christ in Scripture before his death. This experience, as a teenager, was harrowing: what if somebody saw me doing this? What if they made fun of me? Why was being a liturgical Christian so weird!? Upon reflection, this was a humbling experience. Why? Because my embarrassment paled in comparison to that of our Lord. The cross we carried weighed maybe twenty pounds. Estimates of the weight of Jesus’ cross range anywhere from 150 to 350 pounds. The humiliation that I might have faced, was nothing compared to the humiliation Jesus did face. But why? Why did Jesus do all of these things? Why did Jesus humble himself and make the brutal walk to the place of his execution?

The answer, of course, is Love. Jesus did all these things because of his eternal love for the created world. I’m sure we all know John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” God so loved the world. He didn’t wipe the earth clean, instead he chose to save it. He didn’t march in with an Army to conquer the lands, he entered the world as a little baby. He didn’t smite his captors and set himself free, he allowed himself to be captured and tortured, and died so that we might be free from death.

Jesus knew that he was going to die, and he knew how he was going to die. He was God, so he knew what he was to fulfill. But he was also human, so he was surely afraid. He had our emotions, our same physical strength. How better of a way, then, to enter Christ’s mind than to imagine ourselves in his shoes through the stations of the cross.

  1. Jesus is condemned to death: how scared must he have been. He has been carted between places, since nobody can seem to decide who has authority to execute him. People are angry, they’re shouting and cursing. They’re throwing things at him. While the God part of him surely knew what was in store, the human part must have been shaking, thinking about the pain that was to come. Once condemned, the soldiers whipped him to force him to humiliatingly drop to the floor on his way out of the building… For God so loved the World.
  2. Jesus takes up his cross: this is perhaps the heaviest single thing any of us would have ever needed to carry. His joints creaking at the mere sight of the massive pieces of wood. They were roughly cut and full of splinters. CRACK! “Going too slow!” Yells the soldier, as he spits on him and pushes Jesus into the mud. How far away that hill is from this place… For God so loved the World.
  3. Jesus falls the first time: The walking is slow and painful. The cross is heavy. Everything hurts. The sun is beaming down and we’re all smelly and sweaty, covered in spit and dirt, with blood mixing in from the piercing thorns on the top of our head. The weight is unbearable, and the uneven cobblestone road is treacherous… one wrong step and woops, down with a crash right on the knees. Followed, of course, immediately by shouting and the crack of a whip… For God so loved the World.
  4. Jesus meets his mother: What a terrible sight for anyone to see, let alone a mother see her own Son. How any mother would want to help take the burden off their child. But no, the job is not for her. She tries to wipe off his face, but to no avail, the guards need this job to be on time… For God so loved the World.
  5. The cross is laid upon Simon of Cyrene: Walking down the street absolutely full of jeering people, Jesus stumbles on the uneven ground. Out from the crowd jumps a man who catches the cross so that it doesn’t fall. They both get the whip. Simon notices how Jesus is already out of breath and is barely halfway to the end… For God so loved the World.
  6. A woman wipes the face of Jesus: What a pitiful sight to behold. This poor man, being thrashed about by the soldiers while being made to carry this supremely heavy object. In what person would such a sight not spur pity. Beneath the dirt, spit, tears, and blood, Jesus looks dehydrated. Oh how refreshing a clean face might be… For God so loved the World.
  7. Jesus falls the second time: Dear God, why me? Strength is failing, my knee feels broken, my hands are splintered. Curse these abominable roads. Down Jesus goes with a crash, the weight of the cross pinning him to the ground. The whips crack and soldiers shout to get up!… For God so loved the World.
  8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem: what a pitiful sight it must have been to see Jesus mangled and struggling as he carried this literal burden down the streets. The sight was too much, and filled the onlookers with pity and questioning how anybody could be so cruel. Jesus, numb to the pain, tells the ladies not to pity him, but to pity themselves. It’s too late for me… For God so loved the World.
  9. Jesus falls the third time: the heat of the Sun was scorching. Everything hurt, some onlookers cheered as he fell to the ground yet again. They wanted to see him dead. What would they have thought if they were in his shoes? Surely they would have the strength to make this look dignified, unlike this wimp of a man… For God so loved the World.
  10. Jesus is stripped of his garments: His clothes were soaked in blood and caked with dirt. What a stench there must have been. He was baking in the hot Mediterranean sun for hours, his lips were cracked and tongue was sticking to the roof of his mouth. The soldiers look to be bringing water, hoorah. Revolting! That’s not water, it’s spoiled wine mixed with tree rot. That would kill me even faster… For God so loved the World.
  11. Jesus is nailed to the cross: If the pain brought on by the walk wasn’t enough, now nails were being driven into his hands and his feet. The pain was so much, he nearly passed out with each tap of the hammer. By this point, his will to live was probably so low that death looked like the better option… For God so loved the World.
  12. Jesus dies on the cross: nailed in place, all the weight of the body gets transferred onto those nailed feet and hands. What an excruciating pain. The screams rang loud for everyone in that part of the city to hear. He could have succumbed to his pain, but even in this state, love was at the fore of his mind: take care of my mother! The one who bathed him, fed him, and raised him was now looking up at her son in so much preventable pain – but what was she to do?.. For God so loved the World.
  13. The body of Jesus is placed in the arms of his mother: she had shed so many tears already this day, she had so very few left. This man, whom she bore, now was resting mangled, tortured, and lifeless in her arms. He was now at peace; the anguish was over – but hers had just begun. What was she to do?.. For God so loved the World.
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb: It was over. All of that drama and terror was now over. And to what end? What had been achieved? That a man who had threated your way of being now laid lifeless in a cave? Does that make you feel good, chief priests? Does it give you satisfaction, scribes? Is this what you wanted, people of Jerusalem? Through all of this drama, this anguish, this torture, this evil, a man who threatened the rulers of the day now lay dead. What a relief to those who wanted him dead, surely. But death comes at a price. There is always somebody else left broken when somebody dies. What a privilege it must be to have the power over another person’s life – you must feel like a god yourself… For God so loved the World.

 

This practice that we do here, these Stations of the Cross, I expect do not make us feel good – at least not without the promise of Easter. What if we didn’t have the Resurrection? What a sad, miserable story this would be. It would certainly be lost to time like the stories of the countless other people the Romans crucified over their centuries in power. But, happily, we know that this is not a story lost in time, for we know that a mere three days later Our Saviour rose again from this rock-hewn grave to life and glory. What a joy!

In order to feel that joy all the more, it is thus important that we can also descend into this place of sadness and grief with Christ and his Blessed Mother. It appeals to our human senses. We get to feel something. Both the sadness of the Passion, and the sheer joy of the Resurrection. For God so loved the World, that he bore a cross for us. He so loved the world, that even though the story could have ended in worldly victory, it instead ends in worldly sorrow so that heavenly victory could be achieved.

As we continue to walk with Christ during this Lenten season, and we follow him into a place of despair and hopelessness, the resurrection provides us with the lens to see that love permeates all that Jesus does. While he didn’t have to let this happen the way it did, it did happen so that we can see that the Love of God is shaped not as a heart on little Valentine’s Day cards, but that Love is shaped like a cross. A heavy, dirty, miserable cross. And for us sensing human beings, that is something for us to grasp to, both in our brightest days, and in our darkest.

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15.54-57).

Amen.

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March 10, 2023, Servants who embody His Humility – Nancy Stephens

The theme this year is taken from Philippians 2:5, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus…”   To give us the context for the verse, I would like to read Philippians 2:1-11 from the NIV:

1Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature[a] God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

 For some background, Philippi was a prosperous Roman colony.  The church there started with the conversion of a woman, Lydia, who was a business woman.  You can read about this in Acts 16.  Paul wrote to the church at Philippi during his house arrest in Rome.  The background of this is recorded in Acts 28. 

Paul’s arrest in Rome was obviously a concern to all the churches associated with Paul.  However, his letter to the Philippians assures them that he is doing well and is able to have visitors and to share the Gospel freely.

In Philippians 1:27 he writes, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.”

Paul is trying to prepare them for whatever might happen to him in Rome.  I think his words “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ” tie in directly with what he goes on to say in Chapter 2.

Now Paul doesn’t name any specific problems in the church, not like he does when he writes to the Corinthians!  But he still sees the need to encourage them to be a church that reflects the character of their Lord & Saviour.  So he exhorts them to “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Phil 2:5) or as the NIV translates it, In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”

Then he goes on in verses 6-11 to quote what theologians think was an early Christian hymn that focuses on Christ’s humiliation and subsequent exaltation.  These verses beautifully describe Christ’s attitude or mindset. They are deep and full of meaning, so anything I say today is just scratching the surface!

Verses 6-7 speak of Christ’s incarnation

6Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.”
In being born as a human being here on earth, Jesus did not cease to be God.  Rather, He laid aside His privileges as the Second Person of the Godhead and, in a sense, covered His glory with human flesh.

As I was preparing this talk, a line from a hymn came to my mind, “All for love’s sake became poor.”  It comes from a hymn titled “Thou who wast Rich” written by Bishop Frank Houghton, an Anglican missionary to China.  The first verse of the hymn captures something of Christ’s incarnation:

“Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love’s sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love’s sake becamest poor.”

It’s hard to imagine what it was like for Jesus to become a man – to leave the glories of heaven to live among His own creation.  Maybe I could compare it to what it would be like for us to become an ant or some other insect!  Why would He do it?  As the hymn says, “all for love’s sake.”

Verse 8 speaks of Christ’s obedience

“And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death…”

Obedient to whom?  To His Father.  Jesus willingly fulfilled His Father’s plan of redemption.  In John 14 when He was preparing His disciples for His departure, one of the things He said is that “the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.”  This was not an easy obedience, as we see from His struggle in the garden of Gethsemane when He surrendered to His Father saying “Not my will but yours be done.”

Verse 8b speaks of Christ’s death: “…by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross!”

Think of it…Jesus died a gruesome death as a common criminal.  This was the ultimate act of loving sacrifice for others…for us.

The remainder of the passage from Philippians 2 speaks of the Father’s response.  He did not just raise Christ from the dead.  He exalted Him high above everything, as King of kings and Lord of lords!  Jesus was restored to the glory He had with His Father from the beginning!

These few verses capture something of Christ’s humility, but in fact His entire earthly life was marked by humility.  The Gospels record story after story of Jesus giving Himself to others in loving service.  And He called His followers to have the same attitude.  More than once He warned His disciples against seeking to be first. 

For example, we read in Matthew 20:25-28: “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”

Another time was after He washed His disciples’ feet, recorded in John 13, where we read:

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

This then is the mindset Paul wants the Christians in Philippi to have.  What would this look like in a church?

We find the answer to that in the beginning of chapter 2 where Paul writes:

2 make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Sadly, church history, from the ancient past right up to today, is full of stories of churches that do not live up to this ideal.  Stories of abuse, power struggles, hurt feelings, personality conflicts, etc.  Churches split over styles of worship, types of music, use of money, etc.  The very division into hundreds of denominations indicates that we have a serious problem with getting along as brothers and sisters in Christ!  I suspect the main problem is that churches are made up of people…and people often have trouble getting along.

I don’t know about you, but I find these verses very convicting.  My capacity to be self-centred is unlimited and humble, loving service to others does not come naturally to me! 

Putting others first certainly does not reflect the attitude of the world either, where we are told again and again to look out for No 1, to assert ourselves and defend our rights.  Perhaps it’s part of our natural survival instinct.  But those who would follow Jesus are called to a differ way of life.  We are called to reflect the “mind” or character of Jesus in our daily lives, not just in church…but in our homes, work places and communities.

How do we become the people God has called us to be?  It is not simply a matter of us trying to be nicer people.  Jesus’ character is only formed in us by an inner transformation.  In Romans 12:2 Paul refers to it this way: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Being disciples of Jesus means learning from Him.  The 12 disciples observed and learned from Jesus for three years, but made very little progress until the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to live in them.  Thankfully, when Jesus returned to heaven, He did not abandon His followers to get on the best they could without Him!  He sent His Holy Spirit to indwell them.  The same Holy Spirit lives within every one of us who believes in Jesus…and it is through the work of the Spirit that we are transformed to be more like Jesus.

I don’t know of any formula or DIY kit for that.  It is a life-long process of daily surrender that keeps Jesus at the centre of our lives.  Following Jesus is not meant to be a part-time thing.  It is not enough to show up in church each Sunday as a “one and done” thing for the week!  Jesus calls us to a much deeper relationship – one in which we grow in our knowledge and love for Him and He transforms us from the inside out.

Even though there is no formula for this, there are things we can do to cooperate with the Spirit’s work in our lives. 

For example, we can spend time reading the Bible, ideally everyday.  As we read, we should ask the Lord to open our minds to understand it.

When the Lord convicts us of a sin, we should confess it and ask Him to help us change in that area of our life.

When we are tempted to resort to our old ways, we should ask for His strength to resist giving in or giving up.

Bit by bit, as we hunger and thirst after the Lord, He will do His deeper work in our lives to make us what He wants us to be – servants who embody His humility, His love and His sacrificial service and who “conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

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