05.08.2016 Preaching Text: “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (John 20:22)
It was recently reported in the Times of Israel that a man from the coastal city of Haifa went to court in January to take out a restraining order on God, claiming that the Almighty has been particularly unkind to him.
The reporter wryly noted that though God did not turn up for the session there was in fact no way to prove whether the Omnipotent was absent or merely “exercising the right to remain silent.”
The man testified that God had exhibited a “seriously negative attitude” toward him, though the specifics went unreported. Notwithstanding, the judge threw the case out.
Of course, if truth be told, the Incarnation does present us with a bit of a conundrum. Having God so close to human life is a bit unnerving. It’s much easier to think of God at a comfortable distance in some far off place, like, say, heaven (like the other gods of antiquity).
Yet Christianity’s insistence that Jesus is both God and human being, the pre-existent God born into human weakness, forms the very basis of its understanding of human redemption.
Last week we talked about how sin colors our existence and robs us of the joys of a paradise now lost, joys we all long for, whether we admit it or not. Our hearts are restless, as it were, until they find rest in God.
So Christ is sent to effect the restoration of this paradise, first by being born as a human being and then dying as one. How so, you ask?
As some of you know, Linda’s and my brother-in-law, Bill, is now living as a resident at Pleasant Bay. No longer able to manage things on his own, he’s been forced by circumstances to give up his independence.
Over the last few weeks he’s slowly accepted that he can’t return home. But what he hasn’t accepted is the loss of his wife, Ann, Linda’s sister, who died a year-and-a-half ago.
On any number of occasions, when asked how he’s doing, he tells us he’s sad. There are several pictures of his family on the cork board opposite his bed, pictures of his 4 children and pictures of his grandchildren, all taken at the annual July family gathering at the Centerville Conference Center.
But the picture he looks at mostly is one of Ann taken not long before she died. Looking at this photograph, he says, often makes him cry. He sits and thinks of his 60-year marriage and all the good times. Which only reminds him of how devastating is her absence now.
To this, however, the Incarnation offers a response. For in Christ’s humanity we are offered an unexpected comfort in the midst of life’s unavoidable suffering and loss.
Timothy Ware explains: “Christ…saves us by becoming what we are; he heals us by taking on our broken humanity into himself, by ‘assuming’ it as his own, by entering into our human experience and by knowing it from the inside, as being himself one of us.
“But had his sharing of our humanity been in some way incomplete,” he adds, “then man’s salvation would be likewise incomplete. If we believe that Christ has brought us a total salvation, then it follows that he has assumed everything.”
This “assuming everything” includes the worst of human suffering. And Ware locates this worst on the Cross. There, because Jesus is fully human, he experiences real death, as well as God’s absence, crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
“Physical death,” Ware points out, “is the separation of man’s body from his soul; spiritual death the separation of man’s soul from God.”
It is this spiritual separation, affirmed in the creeds, that Jesus experiences as he descends into hell (that place devoid of God) just prior to his Resurrection. And it is here that Jesus, as God, most identifies with the worst of human suffering.
Christ is not, Ware insists, a God who only pretends to suffer the terrors of this spiritual separation, but one who experiences human agony in the full, an agony complete with a sense of failure, abandonment, isolation, and loneliness.
But on the Cross Jesus suffers life’s deepest loss not just as a suffering man but as a suffering God. It is here that God’s mysterious love is revealed, a love so complete that God suffers the worst of earthly pain. In Christ’s subsequent victory on the Cross, the victory of suffering love is manifest.
In today’s reading from John’s gospel we heard the end of Jesus’ famous prayer which concludes his “farewell” address to his disciples in the Upper Room just prior to his arrest and crucifixion.
Here he prays that we “may all be one,” that we may know the fullness of God revealed in Christ, that in Christ’s Spirit we may know the glory of God both in this life and that to come.
“The glory that you have given me,” Jesus says “I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
In the Incarnation, then, Christ’s identifies fully with humanity, enabling us to become, as Ware phrases it, “ingodded,” “divinized,” “made sharers in the divine nature.”
God has become human and shares, or “assumes,” our human nature so completely that every single aspect of who we are is redeemed.
If suffering and death were excluded from Jesus’ experience, that part of us would not be redeemed. For every part of human existence that Jesus does not “assume” remains all but unhealed.
So for Bill, the loss and pain he currently is experiencing is not foreign to our suffering God. Such human suffering is rather divinized, ingodded, by the power of Christ’s suffering love.
This is made so by the victory of the Resurrection, the victory over suffering and death, and the complete restoration of a paradise lost.
For all the discomfort of knowing a God who is near comes redemption, mercy, and, ultimately, victory.
Ware sums it up: “The crucifixion is itself a victory…Christ rises from the dead, and by his rising he delivers us from anxiety and terror: the victory of the Cross is confirmed, love is openly shown to be stronger than hatred, and life to be stronger than death. God himself has died and risen from the dead, and so there is no more death: even death is filled with God [italics mine].” Amen.