REDEMPTION – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Tonight I want to talk about redemption.  It’s also the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, so as I begin my reflection on this theme my mind turns to Ireland, with thanksgiving to God for the work of redemption which has happened over these past years among the people of Northern Ireland.

I spent three summers working in Belfast at the height of the troubles.  I saw the ravages of broken relationships, divided communities, fear, suspicion and despair.  But I also met extraordinary people who gave of themselves sacrificially to offer reconciliation, hope and redemption to a people in great pain.  There have always been such people in Ireland who have given of themselves in order to mend what is broken, to redeem what is lost.  In those months when I lived in Ireland I heard time and time again a story which is very dear to me, and speaks to me very profoundly about the deep mystery of our subject this evening.  It’s a story which took place in the 15th century in Dublin.  Two clans were locked in bitter conflict: the Ormonds and the Kildares.  There was a lot of violent killing, and there came a point where the leaders of the Ormond clan locked themselves inside the chapter house of St. Patrick’s Cathedral to escape death.  For many weeks the Kildare clan waited outside, swords drawn, besieging them.  But one day something amazing happened.  The Earl of Kildare “came to himself,” and said to himself, “This is foolish.  We are two families: we believe in the same God, and here we are acting foolishly.”  So he walked to the cathedral, approached the great door of the chapter house, and shouted.  “Let’s call this off.  Let us shake hands.”  But there was no answer.

What he did next has gone down in Irish history.  With his sword, he began to gouge a hole through the wood of the door.  When the hole was big enough, he thrust his hand and his arm through it.  (On the other side there were desperate men with swords.)  And his hand was grasped by the hand of the Earl of Ormond.  They shook.  The door was flung open, and the feud was over.

This was an extraordinary act of courage, risk and sacrifice; a great act of redemption;   an image of the redemption wrought by God.  For in Jesus Christ, God thrust the divine hand of friendship, forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption, through the great door separating us from God.  And we grasped the hands of Jesus, those hands of love, and hammered nails through them, and hung him on a cross to die.  To those looking on it seemed that this man’s life and mission were a miserable failure.  Yet, and this is the heart of it, a deeper mystery was silently at work.  Through the death of Jesus Christ a far deeper and cosmic act of redemption was actually taking place – the redemption of humanity from sin and death.  As the Letter to the Ephesians puts it, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.” Eph. 1:7

There is a wonderful irony here, picked up by the Early Church Fathers.  The powers of evil and darkness which crucified Jesus thought that they had won a great victory.  But they were wrong.  The Patristic writers loved to use this image: that Christ was the worm baited on a hook which the devil snatched and caught.  The devil thought he had won – killed the Son of God – but what he had swallowed was to be his undoing.  Paul said much the same thing in First Corinthians – that if the powers of this world really knew their business, “they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.” I Cor. 2:8 For in the crucifixion they set in motion God’s great and powerful work of the redemption of humankind.  In Christ, says Paul, “God was reconciling the world to himself.” II Cor. 5:19 And that hidden work of redemption was made manifest on Easter Day.

The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are the culmination of a long story of God’s great work of redemption.  And every year, at the Easter Vigil here in the monastery chapel and in churches throughout the world, we hear again those great stories in Scripture of God’s redeeming work.  The underlining theme of these readings is of our being delivered from bondage and made free.  This is the essential good news of our redemption.  God appears in Israel as the Redeemer of his people, leads them out of slavery in Egypt and into freedom in the Promised Land.  And as we hear the Hebrew Scriptures unfold, we hear the message that God will send another Redeemer, but this redeemer will save his people from slavery to sin and death.  This Redeemer is Jesus of Nazareth, the anointed one.  Jesus identifies himself with the mysterious Old Testament figure of the suffering servant, and as the one who would offer his life as a ransom.  And so he puts together the two ideas of sacrifice and redemption.  That is why I so like the image in that Irish story.  Sacrificially offering his arm and hand, he brought about reconciliation.

The word “ransom” is a complex one.  Theologians over the centuries have asked to whom a ransom had to be paid.  Was it to the devil, or to God?  But if you read the New Testament writers carefully, they don’t develop the idea of ransom in this way to explain the cross – taking the metaphor too far – but are more concerned about the deliverance from bondage, which was the result.  They talk much more of the freedom which we now have because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  We are like slaves, slaves to sin, who have been forgiven and freed by him, and have now become God’s adopted sons and daughters through the son, Jesus Christ, who has ransomed us.  And all this is because of the extraordinary love that God has for us.  As Paul says in Romans, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Rom. 5:8

Those two clans, the Ormonds and the Kildares, after that wonderful redeeming act in Dublin, became closer friends than ever before.  There is a real sense that when something is broken and then mended, it can be even stronger than it was before it was broken.  That is true of objects or relationships, and in our relationship with God.  You could say, in a sense, that if it had not been for our fall, Adam’s first sin, we would never have needed redeeming, and we would never have had the miracle and gift of the incarnation and the coming of Christ.  This thought is picked up by St. Augustine and expressed at our Easter Vigil service when we sing in the great Exultet the words O felix culpa – “O happy fault, that merited such and so great a Redeemer.”  In the same way, St. Ambrose speaks of the “fortunate ruin of Adam in the Garden of Eden, in that his sin brought more good to humanity through Christ’s redemption, than if he had stayed perfectly innocent.”

That is very good news!  When we go wrong, when we sin and fall and damage our relationship with God, we have the wonderful gift of redemption – of being forgiven and restored.  And we find that our relationship with God can be stronger and more intimate than ever before.

The story of our redemption from slavery to sin and death wrought by our Lord Jesus Christ is ultimately a profound mystery.  It is so beyond the power of words alone to comprehend and fathom that each year we spend a week – Holy Week – reliving dramatically and liturgically the events leading up to the Cross.  Like a diamond which sheds its myriad rays of light, by the grace of God we can catch the mystery in a new way each time we consider it.

At the very heart of the meaning of redemption is a God who loves us more than we can ever know – who so loved the world that he gave his only son.  The writer James Atkinson put it this way.  “So great, so deep, so irresistible and inconceivable is the Father’s purpose to redeem us, that God carried through our redemption at this awful cost.  When we stand before a love as wide as heaven’s arch, that stretches from horizon to horizon as a brilliant rainbow of mercy, the heart is compelled to worship in amazement and awe.”

O Savior of the world, who by thy Cross and Precious Blood hast redeemed us: save us, and help us, we humbly beseech thee.


Click here to share with us in prayers for redemption, composed by Br. Jonathan Maury for this series.  These intercessions followed the sermon at the 5:15 Tuesday Eucharist.

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  1. Jeanne DeFazio on March 23, 2019 at 10:58

    This is very timely. As I care for my elderly mother and Aunt I reached a peak of frustration this week. I started to use profanity not in front of them but to myself. I was repenting each night in prayer but last night I confessed 1John 1:9″ if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from. All unrighteous Ness!” Just then I felt the extent if my gratitude for Jesus redemptive work and the Grace to be patient. It was a relief because I knew this as a sign of carnal Christianity. This am, I read this and felt truly blessed by SSJE:
    “So great, so deep, so irresistible and inconceivable is the Father’s purpose to redeem us, that God carried through our redemption at this awful cost. When we stand before a love as wide as heaven’s arch, that stretches from horizon to horizon as a brilliant rainbow of mercy, the heart is compelled to worship in amazement and awe.”

    O Savior of the world, who by thy Cross and Precious Blood hast redeemed us: save us, and help us, we humbly pray!

    God bless you all!

  2. Rhode on January 12, 2018 at 12:32

    Just before! I read this morning’s sermon I read this from CSLewis’ Mere Christianity… ” Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realising that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor—that is the only way out of our ‘hole.’ This process of surrender—this movement full speed astern—is what Christians call repentance.”
    Whether one likes CS Lewis or not we can certainly agree on the fact we are most rebellious to the will of God. “laying down our “arms” in surrender and then opening them to God’s love to see the world from Christ’s perspective can and has changed countless lives. Thank you!

    • Rhode on March 23, 2019 at 08:59

      One year later and this good meditation brings to mind Isaac Watts beautiful hymn “ When I survey the wondrous Cross” — those last 4 lines say everything — “Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.”

  3. John David Spangler on January 17, 2015 at 11:01

    1 John 2:15-17: Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live for ever. This is passage to which Ruth West made reference. I agree with her that “we need to read very carefully” not only 1 John but all Scripture and theological writings. As I read this passage, I was immediately struck by the writer’s condemnation of the world and all that is in the world. The world and what is in it are God’s creation which he deemed to be good; therefore, I think that we should love it and what is in it. We must, however, love it not with the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches which comes not from the Father but love it with thanksgiving as God’s creation, His gift to us us. If we blame everything bad or evil on the world, we are simply passing the buck, protecting our selves, as the saying goes: covering our ass.

  4. Jonathan Bruce on January 7, 2014 at 07:42

    There is a lot of deep thought in this message. Thank you.

  5. Margaret Dungan on May 10, 2013 at 22:57

    Br. Tristram,

    Thank you so much for this you have put into words ,like the last piece in a puzzle the missing word. I don’t know how to express how much it means to me.
    I am grateful for all these “Words” given to us every day but this one is truly in my heart

  6. DLa Rue on May 10, 2013 at 08:01

    A sad but fruitful, redemptive thing has happened: from the information in the obituary, the rest of the family has been located. Gratitude for that, they’re lovely, kind people.

    I now also have five days to pull together an article on the 13th c.liturgical play I found, and submit it, I ask your prayers that it can be done.

  7. DLa Rue on March 26, 2013 at 05:48

    Back again, later. I ask your prayers for a cousin I’ve been looking for in the UK, whose info I finally found this past Sunday afternoon. She died two years ago, very young, and I’m saddened by the fact that we won’t be meeting now as I had hoped and envisioned. I’ve been surprised how much it’s affected me the past couple of days, we hadn’t met in years (hence the search for her) but I recalled her liveliness and her joie-de-vivre. Sic transit homines….requiescet in pace.

  8. DLa Rue on September 29, 2011 at 07:00

    And of course, the clip for today just appeared in my box!

    Double treasure.

    Ego gratias ago

  9. DLa Rue on September 29, 2011 at 06:58

    I’m reading this today since, for some reason, the daily word didn’t appear in my mailbox and I missed it.

    The reference to the Exultet also reminds me of Thos. Kelley’s work on the beautiful scrolls used in the middle ages from which these chants were to be sung from the ambo–unrolling, as they did, with music, script and pictures to intensify the solemnity of the blessing.

    I’m currently reading and working from one of his articles so the coincidence was a pleasing one.

    Thanks for these thoughts for this day.

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