Sermon 13 March 2016

Passion Sunday            Isa 43:16-21 Phil 3:4b-14 John 12:1-8


It doesn’t seem possible, does it, that we have got this far in the year already.  Have we really been able to stop thinking about Christmas?  Time & the world move on at a terrific rate and we can hardly keep up.  National and international news pounds us with so much that we become numb to much of it.  Personal life is full or empty, either way posing us with challenges often greater than we can reasonably think about. 


Moving towards Easter we encounter Passion Sunday.  At first glance the name suggests a ratchetting up of activity, a movement towards some climactic moment when all will be sorted out.  Of course, that is just it in one way. The resurrection makes everything drop into place, answering questions, if asking others.


In this context Passion takes on its other meaning, that of passivity.  The Jesus event moves to be defined by the future and he sits and waits while all around him get excited.  The betrayer begins to lay plans; the friends become confused and their relationships stretched to the limits; authority gets the jitters and justice goes out of the window.  All the time Jesus waits quietly.


The disciples will soon be getting ready for the Last Supper.  I wonder if they realize that it will be the last.  That meant for them rush and tear and the following of cryptic instructions, and has left us with a legacy we are still trying to understand.


Some years ago I did a bit of work on teaching a group about the Eucharist.  The angle I came from was to examine why Jesus had chosen a meal as the vehicle for his remembrance.  I got the course members to write menus and wine lists, justifying their choices by the occasion of a dinner party.  One group constructed a meal, which was a farewell occasion for a couple emigrating to Australia. It was to be a joyous occasion with good wine and food chosen to be a reminder of England.  An after dinner speech was written too.  The people began to discover the links between the senses and the conflict of emotions.  They were happy for their friends and the opportunities which lay ahead of them yet they were also facing the possibility of never seeing them again.  In this sweet bitter meal was summed up life and relationship, meeting and parting, and the exquisite intercourse with the eternal, brought into focus in eating together. There was humour, longing, fear and pain expressed in those few words.  The wine would help it all along and if later, they were embarrassed they could blame the wine.


When Jesus revisited the home of Martha and Mary what could they do?  They had experienced at his hands deliverance from their greatest fear.  This expensive ointment was nothing in comparison, almost derisory, and they knew that.  Judas, drunk on money and the prospect of power did not understand.  'You always have the poor with you' is a much more direct comment than we might at first suppose. Does it mean that, 'You are always poor if you do not grasp the simple truth being revealed to you here.'?  It is a very unpassionate passion. There is a calmness amidst the gathering storm.

Next week we will remember that poor donkey, come to be a symbol of the ridiculous yet bearing the hope of the world.  In this month of budget, we probably lapse as a nation into introspection.  The BBC and others have tried to keep us up with goings on in the Middle East and our own Lenten talks have tried to widen our thinking but we will still worry more about the cost of the ointment than the bodies to which it may be applied.  Small wonder we argue so much.  Small wonder we fear the betrayer so much. Small wonder we are so terrified by the visitor at the gate. The donkey bears the Christ of God into the city, into the middle of all human interaction.  He is welcomed at first until the people begin to cotton on.  I think less people come to church than used to because we better preach the implications of Christian faith, laying down the gauntlet of justice to popular culture rather than offering respectable lifestyle.  I am often to be heard crying, ‘God save me from respectability.’ The prophet Isaiah could see it, 'a way in the wilderness…. and rivers in the desert.'


Faith in God through Jesus Christ is about bearing the costs of the world and bearing them well that the world might see the life-giving and life-changing effect of loving and being loved. The questions for you and me are about how different we leave the world after our sojourn on it.


To finish with before I get too embroiled in my own words, a few from Meister Eckhart, a spiritual writer from the late 13th, early 14th century:


"Some people want to see God with their eyes as they see a cow, and to love him as they love their cow for the milk and cheese and profit it brings them.  This is how it is with people who love God for the sake of outward wealth or inward comfort.  They do not rightly love God, when they love him for their own advantage.  Indeed, I tell you the truth, any object you have in you mind, however good, will be a barrier between you and the inmost Truth."

© 2016 Frank Wright

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