This meditation were given by Ms. Leslie Spatt
“Christ our passover has been sacrificed for us” – Good Friday 2017 Meditation Hour
Reading: Matthew 16:13-17, 21-23
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
Christ, for us
Christ, messiah, anointed – all three words mean the same thing in three different languages. As Christians we’re so used to associating the word “Jesus” with “Christ” that it’s very easy to forget these two words point to different aspects of the One we proclaim as the Second Person of the Trinity. Hebrew scriptures talk about the Messiah as a redeemer, someone who would bring about freedom for the children of Israel. And thus in a Jewish understanding – what was expected in Jesus’ time – a messiah was going to be a liberator sent by God to deliver the Jewish nation from oppressors and release them from the domination of others, in this case, Rome. That understanding of what the messiah would be and do was very different from what Jesus had in mind.
The literal translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, mashiach, is “anointed”, a ritual of consecrating someone or something by putting holy oil on it. It’s used in connection with kings, priests and prophets, and interestingly, also a non-Jewish king Cyrus who allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem thus liberating them from the great Exile to Babylon.
For Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed – the Christos – was not going to be a military deliverer but one who would bring about reconciliation to God, deliverance from sin and from the finality of death as the end of all things. His Hebrew name Yeshua means ‘God is Salvation’ or ‘God saves us.’ The disciples in Matthew’s Gospel, as usual, don’t get it. They can only relate to their cultural understanding of “messiah”. Peter, having received the revelation from God that Jesus is the Messiah, and Peter being only human, can’t grasp the idea that someone he believes to be the Messiah could suffer, could be killed. And Jesus, in turn, criticises Peter for raising the temptation to become a worldly Messiah, the same sort of temptation which Jesus experienced right at the start of his ministry; to put worldly things ahead of divine things. “Get thee behind me Satan”, was Jesus’ response then, and is the response to Peter.
So who, then, is Christ, for us? Christian mainstream theology considers Jesus as Messiah to be the Son of God and God the Son, a Messiah fundamentally different from the Jewish understanding. But we have to leave behind the Jesus of history, tied to only one place in time and space; and engage with the theological Christos, the Messiah, the Anointed who lives in all times and in all places. Christ the Messiah is certainly a deliverer but not from military oppression, or someone who will restore the Kingdom of Israel. He’s there to give us a new way of seeing all of life itself – Messiah, the one who liberates, the one who brings new life by deliverance from the fear of death. A messiah whose mission is not to destroy a political enemy or the occupying Romans, as many thought he would; or indeed to bring in the Kingdom of God by worldly means; but a messiah, an anointed one who comes to save us from ourselves – or “from our sins” if you want to look at it that way; overcoming death so we can also overcome death. We who are separated from God simply by being broken and incomplete human beings who, by the choices we make, continue in that separation. The fully human Jesus has become one with the fully divine Christos, and both are inseparably bound together as the Messiah, both king and priest consecrated with the act of anointing by God. Jesus as the Christos does indeed deliver us but in God’s own way and in God’s own time. We are asked to give up the temptations of our wants and expectations and to trust God.
Reading: Homily on the Pasch – Melito of Sardis
The Lamb slain in sacrifice rescued us from death to life. The prophets announced many wonderful things about the Passover mystery which is Christ. To him be glory forever. Amen. He descended from heaven to earth for the sake of suffering mankind, clothed himself with a human nature through the Virgin Mary, and appearing in our midst as a man with a body capable of suffering, took upon himself the suffering of those who suffered. By his Spirit which could not die, he slew death, the slayer of men. Led forth like a lamb, slain like a sheep, he ransomed us from the servitude of the world, just as he ransomed Israel from the land of Egypt. He freed us from the slavery of the devil, just as he had freed Israel from the hand of Pharaoh; and he has marked our souls with the signs of his own blood. He has clothed death with dishonour and he has grieved the devil, just as Moses dishonoured and grieved Pharaoh. He has punished wickedness and taken away the children of injustice, just as Moses punished Egypt and unchilded it. He has brought us from slavery to freedom, from darkness to light, from death to life, from tyranny to an eternal kingdom. He is the Passover of our salvation. Not a bone of his was broken on the tree. He was buried in the earth, but he rose from the dead, and was lifted up to the heights of heaven. He is the silent lamb, the slain lamb, who was born of Mary the fair ewe. He was seized from the flock and dragged away to slaughter. Towards evening he was sacrificed, and at night he was buried. But he who had no bone broken upon the cross, was not corrupted in the earth, for he rose from the dead and raised up our humanity from the depths of the grave.
Passover, for us
At the first passover, the final plague sent to the Egyptians was death of the firstborn. But the Hebrews were protected from this death by the sign of blood on their doorways. The Passover observance combines two stories of salvation; protection from death and escape from slavery; the passing over of the angel and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The blood of the sacrificed lamb shows the Angel of Death which are the houses of the Hebrews, the houses to ignore. And this leads directly to the liberation of the Hebrews, where their flight from Egypt is so fast that their bread doesn’t have time to rise before they have to get out. God leads the Hebrews through the barrier of the Red Sea, into the desert where they have to depend on God to provide food and water, gives them the Law and the Law-giver, Moses.
Passover isn’t a re-enactment but a remembrance, a yearly recital of the Jewish story of salvation. Jesus the Christ becomes our story of salvation, our passover, by being himself both the lamb whose blood is given to save us from the finality of death, and also the one who gives us a new relationship with God, the freedom of being fully alive, open to live in God as Jesus lives in God. St Paul teaches us that just as the first Passover marked the Hebrews’ release from Egyptian slavery, so the death of Christ marks our release from the slavery of sin. Christ’s blood on our doorposts, the entry to our being, causes God’s judgment to pass over sinners and gives life to believers. As Melito says, “He has brought us from slavery to freedom, from darkness to light, from death to life, from tyranny to an eternal kingdom.”
Christ brings us to our own liberation, through the waters of baptism, our Red Sea. We escape from the slavery of tyranny, the slavery of our own bad choices resulting in continued separation from God. He gives us the unleavened bread of the Eucharist, or the manna provided by God in the wilderness, and he is the passover lamb which provides the blood to save us from the Angel of Death. We tell the story of our own passover in the words we speak and the actions we take at every Eucharist, and in the stories we will tell tomorrow night. Like the Jewish Passover, it’s not a re-enactment but a remembering of our new relationship with God. In Christ we have our passover.