Rector's Letter

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.

During the season of Lent, many of us were reading Tim Chester’s wonderful book “The Beauty of the Cross”, a series of reflections on passages from the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah. On 25 March he wrote about Isaiah 53:4, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows”, exploring the way in which Christ substituted himself for us in order to save us.

He showed how such substitution is a theme that runs through the whole Bible, starting right at the very beginning in the book of Genesis when God made clothes for Adam and Eve out of animal skins. An animal died to cover their shame. Later, in the period of the Temple, the price of sin was paid in blood, but not in our blood. Leviticus 16 describes how, on the Day of Atonement, two goats were taken. One was sacrificed for the sins of the people, and the other, the “scapegoat”, had the sins of the people confessed over it before it was taken out into the desert and there set free, to bear the sins of the people far away.

The whole idea is horrifying, but Isaiah saw that at the heart of human history would be a great act of substitution. It would be an act so horrific, he wrote, that we would “hide our faces”. But, terrible as it is, it is the greatest act of love ever known – that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was willing to swap with us, to take our place. He would die in our place, so we might be free from our sins. It’s what we celebrate at Easter – the ultimate act of substitution.

Many do find it hard to comprehend. Tim Chester helps us by pointing to the moving story that we all remember from the news broadcasts in March last year when a gunman stormed a supermarket in Trèbes in France. He killed two people before taking others hostage. The police managed to rescue some of the people, but the gunman seized a woman, using her as a human shield. A policeman, Lt Col Arnaud Beltrame, volunteered to take her place. The woman was freed, but Lt Col Beltrame was shot, and died the next day from his wounds.

Tim Chester suggests that this story of heroism might help us to glimpse the self-sacrifice of Christ. Indeed, we wonder all the more at it when we think that, whereas the woman in the supermarket was an innocent bystander, Jesus chose to die for us who (if we’re honest) are far from innocent. How deep is God’s love for you and for me? Deep enough for His own Son to step in to die in our place. Can you believe it? What difference might that make to how you view yourself, Him, and the world?.

Rob Thomas

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