Wednesday, March 01, 2006

B, Ash Wednesday - 2 Cor 5:20b - 6:10 "The Great Exchange"

Text 2 Corinthians 5:20b -6:10
20b We [Paul & Timothy] implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
1 As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 For he says, “In the time of my favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.
3 We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonour, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
Three days ago we celebrated the Transfiguration of our Lord. The son of Mary – the Son of God, shining brighter and more pure than the stars that gem the sky, giving us a glimpse of his post-resurrection perfection, now leads us from the mountain into the valley. The reality of who we are, and the reality of what God had to do because of who we are, now comes into view as we descend the mountain of transfigured glowing glory and walk the darkened road with Jesus to the mountain of Calvary!
But our Lenten walk is a walk of reflection, repentance, and remembrance. Jesus has walked this walk already; two-thousand odd years ago he resolutely set his face towards Jerusalem and walked alone to the cross, for you and for me. During the next 40 days we walk the walk of repentance knowing that our sins are forgiven in his destination – his crucifixion and subsequent death on that cross. But we walk knowing our lives are eternal in our baptism into his victory over death and resurrection from the grave. So our walk today and every day is one of contrition and sorrow, but is one of eager expectation and joy.
Everyday our walk is one of great paradoxical contradiction, so it seems! We know we are sinners, but we know we are made saints in Christ. We are called to repentance but we know we are forgiven. We know we have eternal life but we know that everyone ends life on earth in death. We know we are Sons of God in Christ, but we also know we are weak and that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
In just a few moments time the stark reality of our morality will be announced as we speak those familiar funeral sentences in the Act of Penitence. And we will receive the imposition of ashes - a symbol of the substance our sinful bodies will become. And with this ash we receive the mark of the cross on the forehead – with the dust of death we receive the mark of life. Even in the midst of life we are in death, but also, in the midst of that death we are in life eternal!
Paul and Timothy, in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, plead with us, “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, ‘In the time of my favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2)
This is the first part of the Epistle reading for today, Ash Wednesday, and it places in front of us the paradoxic nature of Christ’s life and death here on earth; that the Son of God would die as if he was a sinner, and give us the gracious lifeblood of his body. We receive grace because Christ has received our sin on himself in death. So we walk in the knowledge of our approaching human earthly death, but we also walk as reconciled sinners knowing and existing under Christ’s call for us to trust his walk to the cross for us.
In the following five weeks of Lent we will look at the second half of the Epistle text, for Ash Wednesday, and identify ourselves with Paul’s struggles, and in fact, Jesus’ struggles when he walked to the cross and death. We will also see how he walks with us in our struggles today as we approach death too, but also as we live in the hope of the resurrection to eternal life. We will see ourselves in the purpose of Christ’s death, so we might see our lives in his resurrection, so we might become the righteousness of God; and so we might not receive his grace in vain.
Martin Luther speaks of Christ’s action for us frequently which has come to be known as “the Great Exchange” or “the Happy Exchange”. To conclude tonight let’s hear Luther speak to us using the analogy of marriage about this exchange Jesus implements for our salvation…
Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation; the soul is full of sin, death, and condemnation. Let faith step in, and then sin, death, and hell will belong to Christ, and grace, life, and salvation to the soul. For, if He is a Husband, He must take to Himself that which is His wife's, and at the same time, impart to His wife that which is His. For, in giving her His own body and Himself, how can He but give her all that is His? And, in taking to Himself the body of His wife, how can He but take to Himself all that is hers?
In this is displayed the delightful sight, not only of communion, but of a prosperous warfare, of victory, salvation, and redemption. For, since Christ is God and man, and is such a Person as neither has sinned, nor dies, nor is condemned, but rather, cannot sin, die, or be condemned. And since His righteousness, life, and salvation are invincible, eternal, and almighty, - when I say, such a Person, by the wedding-ring of faith, takes a share in the sins, death, and hell of His wife, in fact, makes them His own, and deals with them no otherwise than as if they were His, and as if He Himself had sinned; and when He suffers, dies, and descends to hell, that He may overcome all things, and since sin, death, and hell cannot swallow Him up, they must be swallowed up by Him in stupendous conflict. For His righteousness rises above the sins of all people; His life is more powerful than all death; His salvation is more unconquerable than all hell.
Therefore the believing soul, by the pledge of its faith in Christ, becomes free from all sin, fearless of death, safe from hell, and endowed with the eternal righteousness, life, and salvation of its Husband Christ. Thus He presents to Himself a glorious bride, without spot or wrinkle, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word; that is, by faith in the word of life, righteousness, and salvation. Thus He betroths her unto Himself "in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies" (Hosea 2:19, 20).[LW 31:351-352]
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, as we walk with Christ, let us see the depths of our sin which Christ so willingly bore on the cross, so that we might not receive him in vain as we walk in the morality of this life, and in the eternity of life with you forever more, Amen.