The Price and the Prize

In the beauty of the love and wisdom and power of His triumphant suffering (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2:7-9), Christ displayed the glory that His people will exult in forever. He became the price and prize of the new covenant. The ground and the goal. The redemption and the reward. This was God’s plan before the foundation of the world.

—John Piper, Providence, 174

In Christ

Great God, your love has called us here
As we, by love, for love were made.
Your living likeness still we bear,
Though marred, dishonoured, disobeyed.
We come, with all our heart and mind
Your call to hear, your love to find.

We come with self-inflicted pains
Of broken trust and chosen wrong,
Half-free, half-bound by inner chains,
By social forces swept along,
By powers and systems close confined
Yet seeking hope for humankind.

Great God, in Christ you call our name
And then receive us as your own
Not through some merit, right or claim
But by your gracious love alone.
We strain to glimpse your mercy seat,
And find you kneeling at our feet.

Then take the towel, and break the bread,
And humble us, and call us friends.
Suffer and serve till all are fed
And show how grandly love intends
To work till all creation sings,
To fill all worlds, to crown all things.

Great God, in Christ you set us free
Your life to live, your joy to share.
Give us your Spirit’s liberty
To turn from guilt and dull despair
And offer all that faith can do
While love is making all things new.

—Brian Wren (1936–)

Eastertide (6)

Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands,
For our offenses given;
But now at God’s right hand He stands,
And brings us life from Heaven.
Wherefore let us joyful be,
And sing to God right thankfully
Loud songs of Alleluia! Alleluia!

No son of man could conquer Death,
Such mischief sin had wrought us,
For innocence dwelt not on earth,
And therefore Death had brought us
Into thralldom from of old
And ever grew more strong and bold
And kept us in his bondage. Alleluia!

But Jesus Christ, God’s only Son,
To our low state descended,
The cause of Death He has undone,
His power forever ended,
Ruined all his right and claim
And left him nothing but the name,
His sting is lost forever. Alleluia!

It was a strange and dreadful strife
When life and death contended;
The victory remained with life;
The reign of death was ended.
Stripped of power, no more it reigns,
An empty form alone remains
Death’s sting is lost forever! Alleluia!

Here the true Paschal Lamb we see,
Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursed tree—
So strong His love!—to save us.
See, His blood doth mark our door;
Faith points to it, Death passes o’er,
And Satan cannot harm us. Alleluia!

So let us keep the festival
Where to the Lord invites us;
Christ is Himself the joy of all,
The Sun that warms and lights us.
By His grace He doth impart
Eternal sunshine to the heart;
The night of sin is ended! Alleluia!

Then let us feast this Easter day
On the true Bread of Heaven;
The Word of grace hath purged away
The old and wicked leaven.
Christ alone our souls will feed;
He is our Meat and Drink indeed;
Faith lives upon no other! Alleluia!

—Martin Luther (1524)

The Wondrous Cross (3)

My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I,
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh and die?

He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend,
My Friend indeed,
Who at my need
His life did spend.

Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!”
is all their breath,
And for His death
they thirst and cry.

Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight,
Sweet injuries!
Yet they at these
Themselves displease,
and ’gainst Him rise.

They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He
to suffering goes,
That He His foes
from thence might free.

In life no house, no home,
My Lord on earth might have;
In death no friendly tomb,
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say?
Heav’n was his home;
But mine the tomb
Wherein he lay.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend,
in Whose sweet praise
I all my days
could gladly spend.

—Samuel Crossman (1664)

Holy Saturday

Today a grave holds him
who holds creation in the palm of his hand.
A stone covers him
who covers with glory the heavens.
Life is asleep and hell trembles,
and Adam is freed from his chains.
Glory to your saving work,
by which you have done all things!
You have given us eternal rest,
Your holy resurrection from the dead.

—Orthodox Church, The Matins of Holy Saturday

Why do we call this Friday “Good”?

Although Catholics and Protestants in the past have followed somewhat different forms, in both camps the observances have been such as to cause people to ask, “Then why do we call this Friday ‘good’?” Emphasis has been on the seemingly senseless suffering of Jesus rather than on the purposeful humiliation of God through which redemption comes. In other words, we have failed once again to read the sacred story backward. Friday has been observed as if Sunday had never come.

Good Friday can and should proclaim divine purpose as paramount. Indeed, the term “Good Friday” may be a corruption of the English phrase “God’s Friday.”

This day is good precisely because God was in control at Calvary. The crucifixion of Jesus was not some bad deal that God had to try to make the best of; it was a working out of divine intention with a view to the salvation of an otherwise doomed creation.

—Laurence Hill Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 96

Love bade me welcome

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked anything.

“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.” “You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.

—George Herbert (1593-1633), “Love (III)”

Stretching Christmas

Observing Christmas as a season helps us to move beyond the sentimentalism that has become so much a part of “Christmas” and commemorate the true significance of Jesus’ birth. It enables us to see that Jesus’ coming truly transforms all things. It marked the end of the old world (under the dominion of sin and death) and the beginning of the new. And it reminds us of our new identity and purpose. We are now children of the King and are called to rejoice and give thanks and show the world the new destiny that now has come in Him. To celebrate for twelve days (as opposed to one) enables us to realize afresh the significance of what happened in Bethlehem and it declares to the world the remarkable reality that Jesus has destroyed the works of the devil and established a kingdom that shall have no end.

—Steve Wilkins, “Stretching Christmas” https://theopolisinstitute.com/stretching-christmas/

The Enfleshment of God

Christmas is the enfleshment of God, the humiliation of the Most High and divine participation in all that is painful, ugly, frustrating, and limited. Divinity takes on humanity, to restore the image of God implanted at creation but sullied by sin. Here is the great exchange Christmas ponders, that God became like us that we might become like God. God accepted death that the world might accept life. The Creator assumed temporality to redeem creation from futility. A hymn writer summarizes it this way:

This night of wonder, night of joy,
was born the Christ, our brother;
He comes, not mighty to destroy
to bid us love each other.
How could He quit his kingly state
for such a world of greed and hate?
What deep humiliation
secured the world’s salvation!
(“Break Forth O Beauteous, Heavenly Light,” Methodist Hymnal 1989)

—Laurence Hill Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 106-7

Hark!

Come, Desire of nations come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the Woman’s conquering Seed,
Bruise in us the Serpent’s head.
Adam’s likeness, Lord efface:
Stamp Thy image in its place;
Second Adam, from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
        “Glory to the newborn King!”

—Charles Wesley

Born Again

The kings have come and gone; the shepherds, too;
Now who is this still standing at the door?
An old and careworn woman, tired and poor,
So old she makes the stones themselves seem new.
She carries something in her trembling hands,
And, bending low, her eyes alit with joy,
She lays it down beside the sleeping Boy.
And then—a wonder happens! As she stands,
The wrinkles disappear, her stance grows tall,
Her head stands high; face radiant as the dawn,
She looks at Mary, smiles—and then she’s gone.
A glance at what she’s left tells Mary all—
The ancient, withered apple makes it plain:
Through Second Adam, Eve is born again.

—Brent Davis

God’s Initiative and Our Response

The biblical view of worship, which governs the actual worship of Jews and Christians, is distinguished from all other religious understandings of the cultus [worship practices] by the fact that the worship of God’s people in the Bible is always represented as the worship offered by those who have been redeemed. Thus it would be no paradox to say that for us worship does not start with man, but with God, who has taken the initiative to which we respond when we worship Him. He has made His Name known to us, and so we worship that Name.

Worship takes place within the Covenant, and the Covenant is established by God on the basis of His own redemptive acts which He has already performed.

—William Nicholls, Jacob’s Ladder: The Meaning of Worship, 16-17