Site hosted by Build your free website today!

El Greco's Crucifixion


by Bishop David Horsman

The Cross of Christ gives us a vivid picture of the cost of sin, and must move all of us to deep shame. "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

We are made for fellowship with the eternal and so cannot be totally satisfied with the superficial delights, the "lesser goods," of this world of appearances. We are made for a reality that is unseen, but for which we are born with a wistful hope and desire. Does this inborn desire for the eternal betoken the reality of something beyond the flimsy delights of our senses. Yes! If there is a thirst, there is water to quench it. Yet no water on earth can quench this deepest of thirsts. Listen to the great Augustine of Hippo: "Suppose we were wanderers in a strange country and could not live happily away from our fatherland, and that we felt wretched in our wandering and wishing to put an end to our misery, determined to return home. . . " (On Christian Doctrine I:4 )
Does not this describe how we all feel at one time or another? Again the great Saint says, "You see in a fashion-although at a distance, although with filmy eye-the country in which we should abide, but the WAY to it you know not. " (City of God X:29) And, finally, as he comments on the verse we quoted from John's Gospel, "My Savior says this to you: there is nowhere you may go except to me; no way except by me." (Tractate on the Gospel of John XX:8)

Without Christ, we were strangers,"having no hope and without God in the world: but now in Christ Jesus ye who were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ." (Ephesians 2:12:13) Christ is the WAY back to our fellowship with God. But the way is the way of obedience and we must each follow Christ and take up our own Cross. We must find in him the Way in which we walk. How can we do that? Certainly not in our own strength. We are saved not by OUR righteousness, not in OUR strength, but by grace- the word means "undeserved, unmerited favor." Listen again to Saint Paul: "By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works lest any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8:9)

In order to walk in the Way of obedience, we must not only HOPE in Christ as the WAY, we must also place our FAITH in him as the TRUTH. What does that mean? Well "truth" comes from the Old English word "treowth" meaning faithful, loyal. It is related to a word we used to hear in our Wedding ceremonies before the advent of more mod language. Remember the word,"troth." The groom would take the bride as his "wedded wife to have and to hold, from this day forward for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, til death us do part according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth."

The bride would similarly take the groom as her "wedded husband to have and to hold from this day forward for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish and to obey, til death do us part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth." Much in this mutual pledge must seem quaint to those who have grown up in a culture in which very few marriages are, "til death do us part," in which "poorer," and "sickness," are among the easier causes for divorce, and in which few women would even think of pledging to obey their husbands. But here we have as St. Paul tells us a "great mystery . . . concerning Christ and the Church." (Ephesians 5:37 )

"The husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is head of the Church: and he is the saviour of the Body. Therefore, as the Church is subject to Christ, so let wives be subject to their husbands in everything. Husbands love your wives even as Christ also loved he Church and gave himself for it." (Eph. 5:22-23 )

So Marriage is a type of the relation between Christ and the Church and obedience is required by the latter as a reciprocal of the love and sacrifice of the former. This mutual love is symbolized by the giving and pledging of troth: faithfulness, loyalty, truth. Another Scripture that we must add to this mix is from the First Epistle to Timothy 3:15b: "the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth." Just as we must HOPE in Christ the WAY, if we are to find our way home to a renewed relationship with our Creator and Heavenly Father, so we must have FAITH ( i.e. put trust) in Christ the TRUTH, if we are to be able to live the life of obedience required by following the WAY. The ground of this truth is said to be the Church. We will return to this idea later.

St. Peter Walking on Water (tempera on wood)
by Lluis Borrassai

We cannot trust in ourselves, nor in the world as reported to us by our senses, in matters of our eternal salvation. We are made for eternity not for this brief moment in the ante-room where worldly men strut and fret their brief hour upon the stage. And so, as Saint Paul tells us: "we walk by faith, not by sight," (II Corinthians 5:7 ) "while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." 4:18) There is a clue in the metaphor of the Bride and Groom, and in the idea of the Church as, "the pillar and ground of truth."

One piece is still missing. In pressing his marriage metaphor, Saint Paul says that husbands, "ought to love their wives, as their own bodies . . .even as the Lord the Church, for we are members of his body of his flesh and of his bones." (Ephesians 2:28-30) This last phrase is an allusion to the creation of woman in Genesis 2:23, where the meaning of the term "woman" is explained as meaning "taken out of man," that is taken out of his side. Just so was the Church taken out of Christ's side, as the soldier at the Crucifixion, while Jesus hung on the Cross for our salvation, "with a spear pierced his side and forthwith came there out blood and water." We will have more to say about this water and blood later. For now, let it suffice to say that the Church as the body of Christ is formed by Sacraments: the water of Baptism and the Blood of the Eucharist. The sacraments are a bridge between the invisible realities in which we place our faith and the visible appearances in which we, as human beings, must sojourn. They are, visible signs of invisible grace. So the Church is formed as the "household of faith," (Gal 6:10 ) as the "pillar and ground of truth." Thus, it is not as solitary individuals seeking a "personal" relationship with God that we make this act of faith but as very members incorporate in the Church, The Body of Christ, The Bride of Christ," who loved the Church and gave himself for it." (Ephesians 5:25)

First of all, the act of faith is not so much our act as that of the Holy God who draws us to himself. The same Jesus who proclaimed himself the only Way to the Father, said "No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him." (John 6:44 ) When Saint Paul exhorts Christians to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling," he adds immediately: "for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12-13) And, to return to the marriage metaphor, the bride cannot give a pledge of faithfulness and loyalty, "troth," or truth until the groom plights his troth to the bride.

Second, both "bride," and "body" are corporate, not individual, expressions. We come to Jesus in and through his body, the Church, for that is the household of faith. We are united to Christ as members of that body; only thus can we be found, dressed in his righteousness. We can give our troth, our pledge of truth, to him who is the truth, only as we are incorporate in the bride, which is the Church.

The Church's one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord, She is his new creation by water and the word. From Heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride: With his own blood he bought her and for her life he died. Samuel John Stone


By faith, we give and receive pledges of troth to Christ our Bridegroom. We can only do this in the bride, which is the Church. So, how do we become incorporate in the Church? What is the Church? The Greek word for Church means those "called out." Called out of this world, to live and move in the invisible world of spirit. Remember what Jesus told the woman he met at Jacob's well: " God is a Spirit and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." (John 4: 24 ) We know what "worship in truth" means-in loyalty and faithfulness- but what is "in spirit" ? The Greek word for spirit also means "breath," and "wind," " inner life," and "power." Whatever do all these things have in common? They are all, it may be said, invisible but vital things, unseen but very real things. The Church then is the assembly of those "called out," from the visible world of appearance to live in the Spirit world of reality. In Scripture, this realm of Spirit is sometimes called the "Kingdom of God."

Jesus Christ, the Word of God was "in the beginning with God, and the Word was God.. . . all things were made by him and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life and the life was the light of men . . . The true light which lighteneth every man that cometh into the world. . . . And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. ( and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth." (John1:1-14) He came "preaching the Gospel [ good news ] of the Kingdom of God , and saying, the time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand!" (Mark1:14-15) He then called-out the first disciples. He saw Peter and Andrew "casting a net into the sea, for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, come ye after me and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they forsook their nets and followed him." (Mark 1:16-18) Going a little farther, he called James and John, also fishermen. A little later he called Matthew, a tax collector, and so on til he had chosen twelve, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. These men followed him through his ministry: they saw him heal the sick and pronounce sins forgiven, and finally eleven of them saw him die on the cruel cross.

Resurrection by El Greco

Three days after his death and burial, Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to the disciples and greeted them, saying, "Peace be unto you, as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this he breathed on them and saith unto them: receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained." (John 20:21 ) Thus these disciples (learners, followers ) became APOSTLES, (sent-ones ). He spent forty day with them, during which he"opened their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures," during which he showed them " that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses and in the prophets and in the Psalms concerning," him. (John 24:44-45) Did I not tell you, I am "the Resurrection and the Life"? (John 11:26) Did I not say, "I am the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE'? (John 14: 6) And when this instruction was completed he took them to a mountain and said: "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." (Matthew 28:16-20) He then sent them back to Jerusalem, with orders to tarry there, "until ye be endued with power from on high." (Luke 24:49) "Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and in Samaria and unto the uttermost part of the earth. And when he had spoken these things while they beheld, he was taken up: and a cloud received him out of their sight." (Acts 1:8-9)

In another ten days, on the festival of Pentecost, the Holy Ghost did indeed descend on them ( Acts 2 ) and the Church was fully born. When men turned to the Apostles and asked what they must do to be saved, they were told: "repent and be baptized." Baptized? What is that?

What is the significance of this baptism? Why was it commanded by Christ as one of his last orders to these he sent, "as my father hath sent me,"? Why did the Apostles carry out this order unfailingly? What's so important about baptism? Let us look back at a conversation between Jesus and a Synagogue Ruler named Nicodemus. "Except a man be born again," Jesus tells Nicodemus, " he can not see the Kingdom of God." "How can a man be born when he is old?" asks Nicodemus, "Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb and be born?" It is easy to imagine our Lord smiling here. For the Greek word translated "again," in this verse is a double entendre : it means both "again" and "from above."

Pentecost by El Greco

"Jesus answered, verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of WATER and of the SPIRIT, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven." (John 3:1-5) " Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he that came by Water and Blood." says the Beloved Disciple. (I John 5: 4-6 ) This expression,"Water and Blood," is the same we met earlier in the scene where the soldier pierced Christ's side and out of it came "water and blood." This was what Saint Paul meant when he spoke of the "mystery of Christ and the Church," and explained the nature of this mystery by an allusion to the creation of woman, "taken from man's side." The Church then is created from Christ's side in this mystery of water and blood.

Rock of ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee, Let the water and the blood from thy side a healing flood Be of sin the double cure, cleanse me from its guild and power. Should my tears for ever flow, should my zeal no languor know, All for sin could not atone: thou must save and thou alone; In my hand no price I bring, simply to thy cross I cling. Augustus Montague Toplady

(Part 1)

(Part 3)

Back to Main Page