I watched a slightly silly science fiction film last night called “Independence Day” which was surprisAll Linksingly appropriate for Good Friday, as a Jew risked his life to save the world from an alien invader! He had to enter into the heart of the invaders spaceship, and only there could the enemy be destroyed!
This idea of Jesus as the one who risks all to save us from the enemy is one of the most ancient ways of thinking about his death and resurrection. Indeed even his name, Jesus, which is Joshua in Hebrew, is the name of the battle warrior of the ancient Israelites. Maybe you know the song – “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho… and the walls came tumbling down.” And we had the image too in the first of our readings tonight (Exodus 14:15-15:1) when God saved the people of Israel from the Egyptians by destroying them in the sea.
Such images of war are not always popular with Christians nowadays, as we stress the need to work for peace and against war, but they are important, provided we realise that the battle we are talking about is a spiritual one against evil and death. As it says in the Letter to the Ephesians: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but …… against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (6:12)
Ancient writers describe Jesus as the one who being Life itself, with a capital L, allows himself to be swallowed by death and thus enters into death to defeat it from within. Of course by death, we do not mean that people stop dying. Physical death is something we all have to face one day. No, the “death” Jesus defeats for us is the prospect of eternal annihilation. The point is that without the death and resurrection of Jesus our physical death is simply the end of everything – we face eternal death – eternal nothingness – a prospect which makes life now quite meaningless. Now, the best things we experience in life – friendship – love – hope – seem to us more than just physical sensations – they seem to be a glimpse of something that we call “spiritual”.
Without God, these spiritual feelings in our hearts and minds, the idea that we are still linked with our loved ones who have died, all of this, is simply an illusion – that indeed is what atheists say. Eternal life, symbolised for us tonight by light defeating darkness and water washing away dirt, can only come to us if we accept that God, through Jesus, has conquered death and given us an eternal victory. Thus we will sing in the well-known Hymn :-
“Thine be the glory, risen, conqu’ring Son;
Endless is the victory, Thou o’er death hast won;
Angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away,
Kept the folded grave clothes where Thy body lay.”
Of course some people in today’s world tell us that this is a stupid illusion. That “modern” people do not need this kind of nonsense. They present religion as a thing of the past, and atheism or humanism as the modern and rational approach to life. It is worth reminding people when they attack us in this way, that their views are just as old as ours, that there is nothing modern about their ideas. Listen to Psalm 14 written some 2500 years ago where believers then had to cope with those who refused to believe in God :- “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
Now I wouldn’t call an atheist a fool because I have many atheist friends and family, and I respect their right to believe as they want to. But I do get annoyed when they imply that I am old-fashioned and that atheism is the future, because that is just nonsense. Belief like so many other things goes up and down through the centuries, and history shows us that just because we have many around us now who doubt, in 50 years time religion may well be back in fashion.
Of course, the fashion at the moment, does make some of us doubt; to wonder whether all this talk about God is nonsense; to wonder whether when we pray we are just talking to ourselves. But tonight is a night to renew our faith together and to affirm that the God who defeats death is real, that his love is deathless, and thus we sing:-
“No more we doubt Thee, glorious Prince of life;
Life is naught without Thee; aid us in our strife;
Make us more than conqu’rors, through Thy deathless love:
Bring us safe through Jordan to Thy home above.”