Yesterday, some of the churches who are taking part in our ‘Money Talks’ process, or doing the longer ‘Seeing Change’ course this Lent, gathered under the Dome of St Paul’s Cathedral – where this important work was held in prayer at the 6pm Eucharist.
We reproduce Canon Michael Hampel’s sermon below (the readings were Isaiah 43: 16-21 and John 12: 1-8)
The Fifth Sunday of Lent marks a gear change in our observance of Lent. The pace of our journey to the cross, following in the footsteps of Christ, quickens as we focus on Jerusalem and the final events of Christ’s earthly ministry. Today, in the Church’s calendar, Passiontide begins.
The word ‘passion’ may seem a strange word to use to describe the darkest part of the Gospel story. We often use the word today to describe emotional excitement but, at root, the word means ‘suffering’ – this case, Christ’s suffering in betrayal and death.
The word, then, has a sense about it of both the agony and the ecstasy: the agony being the very real experience of so many of the world’s people and the ecstasy being those moments when we try to stand outside of ourselves and look at how the world could really be if only we could rebuild the city and truly be the people whom God intends us to be.
On this gear-changing moment in Lent, then, perhaps we should try to stand outside of ourselves and consider – both in prayer to God and in collaboration with each other – how to redeem the agony and ensure that every human life is transformed from the darkness of Good Friday into the new life of Easter Day.
Those of you who are following the Lent course developed by the Contextual Theology Centre know about the importance of listening to people’s stories and about working together in order to respond to people’s needs. And both halves of that equation are crucial. It’s no good just criticising the Government for trying to resolve an economic crisis to which most of us have contributed without also proposing alternative solutions to the problems of recession. We must listen to people’s stories and, together, work out how to respond.
Perhaps something along those lines is going on in this evening’s Gospel lesson. The problem of the poor is placed on the table by Judas – not, we’re told, for particularly charitable reasons – but the solution to the problem is far more valuable and effective than a quick bit of fund-raising and the solution to the problem is sitting at the table. It is Jesus.
Why? Because Jesus both in his life and in his death turned upside down all conventional theories about leadership, politics, economics, law and order, relationship, community – well, and everything in fact – by coming among us as one who serves and by dispensing grace, mercy and truth as gifts from God.
It sounds very simple but it is vastly more effective than raising three hundred denarii by selling a jar of costly perfume because our discipleship of Christ obliges us as faithful people to make ourselves responsible for the plight of our neighbour and by not resting – even if it kills us – until our neighbour has his equal share of the grace, mercy and truth which flow from the generous God who made heaven and earth and who came among us as one who serves.
As one former Bishop of Durham has said, “You may not feel up to it but God is certainly down to it!”