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Cursed No More

April 19, 2011 Length: 8:29

Why did our Lord have to suffer and die? We cannot conclude with the benefit of hindsight that this was simply what He had to endure to make the resurrection possible. Orthodox Christianity insists that there is necessary meaning in both the death and resurrection of our Lord.

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Christ enters the holy city of Jerusalem. He rides on a beast of burden. Here is a lowly King, ready to embrace the way of the cross and most of the people do not see it. Some expect this Messiah to throw off Roman rule and to restore dignity and freedom to the nation of Israel. They want another leader like Judas Maccabeus who, some 200 years earlier, routed the Greeks. Others just go with the crowd and thrill to the extraordinary spectacle. Some who had followed Christ, or at least heard Him preach and seen Him heal, were doubtless puzzled.

Why was Christ walking into this trap? They had sensed the mounting tension and the plots against Him. What was the sense of walking into the lions’ den? Maybe St Peter and the others now realised the significance of the prophecy that our Lord must suffer and die … and yet what was the meaning of this willing self-sacrifice? Even after the resurrection we see the two disciples walking to join the others at the Eucharist in Emmaus still debating this issue. They said to the unrecognised Christ walking with them: “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel,” [Luke 24:21] . Indeed, this is what He was doing, and not only Israel but also the whole world and for all time; yet they still did not understand how this might be. They did not appreciate what He had to do to achieve this, what pains He had to suffer, the sacrifice that freely He had to make.

Let us therefore ask the same question of ourselves. Why did our Lord have to suffer and die? We cannot conclude with the benefit of hindsight that this was simply what He had to endure to make the resurrection possible. Orthodox Christianity insists that there is necessary meaning in both the death and resurrection of our Lord. The death of Christ is not merely a prelude to His resurrection nor is His resurrection simply a vindication of His sacrifice. Such responses empty Easter of all its meaning and are therefore worthless if not downright misleading. Christ had to die on the tree of the cross to deal with the curse of death which had hung over all humanity from the time of Adam.

This curse of death was the ghastly and dark consequence of our sin, bringing corruption upon the whole human race. St Paul, quoting Deuteronomy, wrote to the Church at Galatia in these terms about the curse: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’” [Galatians 3:13 - cf. Deuteronomy 21:3].

Our Lord died to take this curse of our death upon Him in order to heal us. In the Garden of Eden, that great serpent, the devil, had poisoned us by our own foolish and willing consent; so God now Himself sucked that poison of death out of the wound of our sin, and so He Himself became fatally wounded on the cross. Yet, as St Basil says in his Liturgy: “it was not possible that the Author of life should be held fast in corruption” – indeed the death destroying life of God undid the curse in the glorious resurrection of Christ, bringing life to the world and an end indeed to both the wound of sin and the poison of death.

We Christians receive that eternal life by following Christ on His way to the cross and this comes nearer today as He enters the holy city, Jerusalem. However, the costly and unique sacrifice of Christ, unrepeatable by any person, will not save anyone unless, in faith, he takes up his own cross as a disciple of the King. This will be for him both a voluntary humiliation, ridding him of his pride, and the very means by which his love for God and for his neighbour will grow stronger. We must not shrink from taking our cross upon our own backs as if there were some easier way in which we might be saved. It was not true for Christ the Saviour and it is not true for us being saved. Even in great fear and trembling we must touch this wood, then grasp it and carry it to Golgotha that Place of the Skull. In short, we must be content to die even amidst our fears.

As St Paul said, again in his letter to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” [Galatians 2:20] This is the secret of salvation, hid from the dawn of creation and now revealed to the elect even as it is proclaimed afresh to a heedless generation: “To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory,” [Colossians 1:27] For this great salvation [today] we shout today with full understanding and assurance of faith:
“Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Hosanna in the highest!” {Matthew 21:9]

Even so come Lord Jesus into the Jerusalem of our hearts and wound them for ever with Your healing love, Amen.

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