A Sermon for Holy Tuesday | Revd Dr Robert Wilson

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, every one hath turned aside into his own way: and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Today is the Wednesday in Holy Week, and we hear from perhaps the most powerful passage in the Old Testament, the prophecy of Isaiah about the suffering servant. He had neither form nor comeliness, and was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins, the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed. He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, even though he had done no iniquity, neither was there deceit in his mouth. He hath borne the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressions.

The image of the servant who dies on behalf of others, and suffered in their place brings us face to face with the problem of undeserved suffering. In this fallen world we are faced with a seeming contradiction, namely that God is all good and all powerful, the maker of all things and judge of all men, who has made man in his own image, and yet evil exists. How can this tension between faith and experience be reconciled if we are not to deny either our faith or our experience? The simplest view is to say that God rewards virtue and punishes vice. Hence, suffering in this life is a consequence of sins. The historical books of the Bible often seem to support this view. They show that the nation had peace and security when it was faithful to God, but brought disaster upon itself when the people fell into sin and idolatry. But at a deeper level many found this view too simple to fit the facts. It was often those who were most faithful to God who seemed to suffer the most. The theme of the righteous sufferer is a frequent one in the psalms. The psalmist often laments that he was grieved at the wicked, for he sees the ungodly in such prosperity. They seem to have no misfortunes like others, but are all powerful and strong. How can this be reconciled with the belief in the divine goodness? The book of Job addresses, but does not fully answer, this question. Job was a seemingly righteous man, on whom had fallen much undeserved suffering. His friends try to convince him that his sufferings must be a punishment for his sins, but Job knows that this view is too simple to fit the facts. Ultimately, he has to confess that God’s ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts. But this still leaves the question unresolved. The prophet Jeremiah agonised over this same problem. He had been faithful to God in the face of a nation that had fallen into apostasy, but yet he constantly experienced opposition and undeserved suffering.

Ultimately the only answer that could be given was that, though in this life there was an unresolved tension between faith and experience, God would eventually himself intervene to establish his Kingdom on earth, when his will would finally be done on earth as it is in heaven. The swords would finally be beaten into ploughshares and the wolf would dwell with the lamb. The saints of the most high would eventually inherit the kingdom if they persevered and were faithful in the face of suffering and tribulation in this present age.

But there was one prophet who penetrated further than the others with the image of the suffering servant. He did not simply contrast the sufferings of this present time with the future glory that shall be revealed, but said that the servant through his sufferings on behalf of others was himself the means by which redemption would be achieved. In taking the weight of the evil of the situation upon himself he would somehow subsume it into good. Instead of raging with anger at his undeserved suffering, he willingly accepted this as the fulfilment of his vocation. In so doing the righteous servant bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

It was the Suffering Servant that Jesus took as the model for his ministry. His proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom of God in his own person and ministry brought him constant opposition and ultimately death. But instead of railing against the situation he embraced it as the fulfilment of his vocation. In the future the Son of Man would be enthroned as judge of the nations, but in this present age he came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. He taught a message of non- violence, about turning the other cheek and going the second mile. He not only taught, but himself was the perfect embodiment of that message. He could have either resisted his betrayal and capture with violence, or he could have ran away and escaped from the situation. But though he prayed that the cup might pass from him, he also prayed “not my will, but thine be done.” For this was the fulfilment of his vocation. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us and revealed his glory, not simply in his life as a man among men, but above all in his suffering and death. In consenting to be betrayed into the hands of wicked men he was baring the other cheek and going the second mile. Instead of crushing the people with his indignation, he suffers and dies for them. His passivity in his passion was his most powerful action, for through this means God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself rather than counting our sins against us. For God commends his own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. For he bore the sins of many and made intercession for the transgressors.

O Sacred Head, sore wounded,

Defiled and put to scorn;

O Kingly head, surrounded

With mocking crown of thorn

What sorrow mars thy grandeur?

Shall death thy bloom deflower?

O countenance whose splendour

The hosts of heaven adore.

Thy beauty, long desired,

Hath vanished from our sight;

Thy power is all expired,

And quenched the light of light,

Ah me! For whom thou diest,

Hide not so far thy grace:

Show me, O love most highest,

The brightness of thy face.

My days are few, O fail not,

With thine immortal power,

To hold me that I quail not

In death’s most fearful hour:

That I may fight befriended,

And see in my last strife

To me thine arms extended

Upon the Cross of life.

Leave a Reply