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  • Revd Robert Bashford

The Cross, The Empty Tomb & The New Creation.

This Easter devotional is based on three sections of my book published by the Latimer Trust and entitled, 'Cross, Creation and Everlasting Rest: A Guide to the Message of Three Great Oratorios.' I have selected a thought from each of the three oratorios. First, there is a Good Friday thought; secondly, an Easter Day theme; and thirdly, a comment on the new creation.



1. A GOOD FRIDAY message. Bach, in his St Matthew Passion, includes Matthew’s record of Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate. Pilate cruelly allows his soldiers to carry out one final humiliation on Jesus before he is crucified. “And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head” (Mt.27:28-30).


What a dreadful parody of homage to royalty! But we would do well to ponder on the truth that Jesus is indeed the King. Paul reminds us that God’s purpose, as a result of Jesus’ death and resurrection, is that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil.2.10-11). This “every” includes Roman soldiers and Pilate and Caiaphas. Not all who will bow the knee to Jesus will do so willingly and gladly – but how great will be the praise and adoration of those who do love and honour the Son!


Bach follows this incident with one of the oratorio’s beautiful chorales, which invites us to focus on the sufferings that Jesus endured, in order to be our Saviour. The chorale includes these words (translated from the German):


“O Head, once beautifully adorned

with the highest honour and beauty,

now rather supremely defiled:

be greeted by me!”


2. An EASTER DAY thought: words of the apostle Paul:


“… then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’

‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’”

(1 Cor.15:54-55)


Brahms includes these two verses in his Requiem. Brahms, following Paul’s lead, points away from mortal life on earth to the immortality that awaits the Christian believer because of Jesus’ resurrection victory. Here is Paul’s announcement of the fulfilment of two Old Testament prophecies concerning the complete victory over death when Christ comes again.


First, Paul quotes from Isaiah 25.8.


“He will swallow up death for ever;

and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces,

and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,

for the LORD has spoken.”


“Swallowed up in victory” is a powerful metaphor for the complete destruction of death. The reference to God wiping away tears from all faces is echoed in Revelation 21.4 as part of the picture of the new heaven and the new earth, where there will be unbroken fellowship between God and his people. “Reproach” (in the verse in Isaiah) is a reminder of the curse that death, as the consequence of sin, represents for the human race, but one day it will be completely removed.


Then. Paul quotes from Hosea 13.14:


“O death, where is your victory?

O death, where is your sting?”


The tone of this verse is one of exultation. This is a victory-cry over a defeated enemy. The fact that we still have to face death (unless we belong to that generation who are still alive at Christ’s Second Coming) does not lessen the certainty of that joy. The picture in the second part of the verse is of a bee or a scorpion, whose harmful sting Christ has drawn by taking it upon himself, and therefore death is now harmless to all who are in him.


3. A brief comment on the NEW CREATION. Haydn’s Creation focuses on God’s glory displayed in all that he has made: the universe, this world and mankind. But almost at the very end there is a hint of the Fall in Genesis chapter 3.


“O happy pair! And happy still might be

if not misled by false deceit.

Ye strive at more than granted is;

and more desire to know, than know ye should.”


Here is an anticipation of Paradise Lost. Nevertheless, the oratorio ends on a final note of praise. We know that Genesis chapter 3 also points to Paradise Regained. The woman’s seed who will bruise the serpent’s head is our Saviour, who died for us and rose again, heralding the new creation for all who trust in him.


___________

Revd Robert Bashford is an actively retired minister in Northamptonshire. He was involved in Christian work with young people through Crusaders and a CSSM beach mission. He has written a couple of books published by Latimer Trust, which you can find here. His second book Creation, Cross and Everlasting rest can be purchased this month at a discounted price. Click here if you would like to order it.


Views expressed in blogs published by the Latimer Trust are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Latimer Trust.


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