Friday, April 2, 2010

The Incarnation of Truth: A Homily for Good Friday

Homily for Good Friday, 2010
Friday, April 02, 2010
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: The Passion According to St. John

"What is Truth?"
--John 18:38

Before the judgment seat of Pilate, Jesus was asked this question, “What is truth?” In my own never-to-be-produced imaginary Hollywood production of John’s Gospel, I direct a flashback sequence to be inserted, one of those rapid sequences recalling the many times this question has already been answered and reminding the audience of moments they have already witnessed. In rapid succession these snippets pass before our eyes in black and white celluloid:

Cut to: the opening sequence of the film in which John the Baptist is baptizing in the Jordan and suddenly Jesus appears, the omniscient narrator with a deep resonating voice begins –

"There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world … And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth … the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."

"John the Baptist," booms the narrator, "testified to the truth."

Cut to: a quickly succeeding montage of moments of Jesus teaching his disciples; a succession of his great “I am statements.” -

“I am the true bread, which has come down from heaven.”

“I am the true vine and my Father is the vine grower.”

“I am the way, the truth and the life.”

“I have not come on my own, but the one who has sent me is true.”

Cut to: Jesus, the night before his trial, at supper with his friends praying his final prayer for them. He proclaims –

“When the Spirit comes, he will lead you into all truth,” and then prays to his Father, “Sanctify them in the truth. Your word is true. I came into the world to testify to the truth.

The rapid succession of black and white flashbacks end, and the audience reminded of all that has gone before is returned in full colour to the present of Jesus standing before Pilate and making his testimony:

“For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs the truth listens to my voice.”

To which Pilate replies, “What is truth?”

But the actor playing Pilate offers this line neither as a sneer, nor as a philosophically profound rhetorical statement. It is clear to those who watch that this is the empty question of a man who does not understand that the answer to the very question he asks is standing before him, in his very presence.

Jesus is Truth.

We, the audience, understand this, for we have journeyed with him from the outset of his ministry when he was proclaimed as the truth of God by John the Baptist, and through his ministry he proclaimed himself as God’s truth in a world blind and hostile to the truth of God. We have the flashbacks to remind us Jesus’ own confession of his identity, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” His very presence testifies to the truth in our midst.

For a moment we sit, our eyes transfixed upon screen, as the eyes of Pilate meet the eyes of Jesus. At first we experience a sense of anxiety, what will Jesus say, what will Pilate do? And then we realize that Pilate has missed the point altogether; we experience incredulity at Pilate’s ignorance. But soon, our incredulity turns to shame, for we quickly realize that Pilate’s question haunts us, for it is our question, too, is it not? What is truth? Even if we accept that Jesus is the truth, what on earth does that mean?

What is truth? Perhaps somewhere in our silver-screen adaptation, we shall have taken the liberty to create an apocryphal scene. This scene will have shown another teacher, an ancient nameless philosopher, who teaches a philosophy something akin to Platonism. In this scene, this teacher will have taught that Truth (that is, capital “T” Truth) lives in the realm of ideas, in the perfect mind, free from the corruption and decay of the material world. Truth exists in the realm of the divine, in the mind of God, and anything here on earth that appears true is but a reflection of the divine truth. While we may touch truth with our minds from time to time, it is fleeting and any immediate sense of truth is perishable. Truth is only in the mind of God. Anything else is a pale reflection of perfect truth. We can catch a glimpse of truth through the study of philosophy and through a certain ethic, but we are mistaken if we think truth walks amongst us.

Now this scene is not in our Gospel narrative, but I take liberty as the director to include it in my movie because it is a plausible scene and provides a sort of stereotyped image of an ancient philosophical teaching that characterizes the world into which Jesus comes.

Thus, when Jesus is seen amongst his disciples and proclaims, “He who has sent me is true,” our cast of disciples wonder if he is a platonic teacher, and we might wonder it, too, for we have just witnessed another teacher teaching that Truth exists only in the realm of the divine. God is Truth.

But as the film unfolds and the story of Jesus is told, we discover the twist that makes this story different. It is a different story of the truth. It is the story of the Incarnation of Truth. Perhaps that is what we should call the film, “The Incarnation of Truth.” For Truth ceases to be an abstract concept that only resides in the pure and divine mind; rather, Truth enters into the world, becomes part of the world, become part of the human species in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed, Truth transforms the world.

“I am the true bread from heaven,” and “I am the true vine.” Not a mere reflection of the invisible, idealized bread, residing only in the mind of God, not an earthly representation invisible, idealized vine taking shape only in the mind of the Father in heaven. No. Jesus proclaimed, “I am the truth.” And to behold the Truth, to behold his glory is to become children of that same Light, not a light that shines distantly in the heavens, but a light that shines in our darkness. The True Light that was coming into the world.

The Incarnation of the Truth is for the purpose of leading God’s people into the Truth by the power of the Spirit. The Incarnation leads us into the truth, not by having us forsake this dark and broken world, but by shining its light into the darkness. The Incarnation leads us into truth not by lifting us out of an untruthful and unrighteous world, but by bringing Truth into the world and transforming the world in Truth. Jesus is the Truth of God that transforms the world from darkness to light, from sin to righteousness, and from falsehood to Truth.

Jesus stands before Pilate, his presence a testimony to the Truth of God. Truth itself stood before Pilate and Pilate asks, “What is truth?”

Blind to the reality of Truth in his midst, he sends Jesus to the cross – a story more sad than sinister. Yet, be it sad or sinister, God’s truth is made known to the world as Jesus hangs upon the cross. It becomes clear to all who watch the drama unfold that the Truth of God is riddled with paradox: strength in weakness, victory in humility, life in death. The instrument of execution becomes the means to eternal life. The cross intended to damn to death becomes the living tree that saves.

Truth stood before Pilate and Pilate knew him not.

Soon the film will wind to its close. Truth will stand in his risen body before others, in the garden near an empty tomb, in the home behind the locked doors of a house and on the shores of the Galilean lake. Yes, others will see Truth and recognize him. As director, I shall cut away to an image of cross resting on its side on a hill, its wood beginning to decompose, but from which green foliage and flowers begin to grow. And lastly, we shall see a man named John (another John, the disciple whom Jesus loved best), dictating words to a scribe. He will dictate words that that testify to the Truth, words we continue to read, believe and proclaim, that even on this darkest day, we might know the answer to the question, “What is Truth?”

c. 2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

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