Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Sermon at Parish Mass Lent 5 2012

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Hebrews 5:7-9
John 12:20-33

124 days to go! Have you got tickets? Have you rented out your spare room for £900 a night? Have you worked out how you’re going to get on the underground or the buses, or drive around avoiding the VIP lanes? Can you can work from home, or change your hours? Have you stockpiled the food you might need in case the shops run out?
Of course, I’m talking about the Olympics. We don’t know quite what the impact is going to be like on the normal life of this city but no-one can say that we’re not being told to get ready. The whole world, it seems, is going to arrive on our doorstep. And I’m sure we will make everyone as welcome as we can.
Our experience this summer is probably going to be a little bit like being in Jerusalem at the Passover, at the time of Jesus. The temple in Jerusalem was the one and only place of ritual sacrifice in Judaism and everyone who could would try to be there for the Passover celebrations. The city was routinely so crowded at Passover that people had to sleep camped out in the surrounding districts, places like the Mount of Olives.
And it wasn’t only Jews who came for the festival. There were Greeks and Romans who found in Judaism something that their ancestral pagan religions lacked, truth and meaning, a foundation for life based on a relationship with the living God. They mostly didn’t formally become members of the Jewish faith, because of official discouragement and the obstacle, for men, of circumcision. But they attended the synagogues and the festivals in Jerusalem, kept the commandments, and became known as “God fearers”.
So in today’s reading from John’s Gospel we have some Greeks who have come to Jerusalem for the Passover. And this scene is in fact on Palm Sunday, just after Jesus has entered Jerusalem. Sometimes our readings get out of step with the liturgy, mainly because so much happens in the last week of Jesus’ life in the gospels that we can’t fit it all into one week of Mass readings.
Anyway, here are some God-fearing Greeks come for the Passover. But something unexpected happens: they ask to see Jesus. The reason they ask Philip about this is probably that he has a Greek name and came from a Greek speaking town, Bethsaida. “We want to see Jesus.” And seeing doesn’t simply mean looking at Jesus, it means they want to know, to understand, to believe. Jesus turns out to be the focus of attraction which draws them, even more than the temple and the Passover. They have come for one thing, and found something greater.
And it is this which prompts Jesus to say, “Now the hour has come”. Up until now in John’s gospel on a number of occasions we are told that Jesus’ “hour” had not yet come. And that “hour” is both his death and his glorification, which in John are the same thing.
The fact that Gentile nations are now coming to Jesus is the signal that his death and glorification are at hand, so that Jesus says, “when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all people to myself”.
This attractive power of Jesus, his glorification which draws in all nations, is the signal that the prophecy in Isaiah 60 is fulfilled:
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Now this is truly an inclusive teaching. “Inclusive” is perhaps a word which is used so much that it is in danger of losing its meaning, but it is the right word here. “I shall draw all people to myself.” Not some, but all. No distinction of race or nation, or anything else. Which is exactly what Isaiah tells us to look for. Indeed some manuscripts have “I shall draw all things to myself”. Everyone and everything will be drawn to Jesus.
And everyone will be drawn to Jesus because he will be crucified. The death of the Messiah is his glorification, and is that which will draw in all people. And the sweep of two thousand years of history since then seems to bear this out. The Church of the crucified Messiah is planted in every nation, and day by day more and more people find themselves drawn to this unique and compelling figure, even in spite of the way his Church so often fails to reflect him.
That figure is the Man on the cross whom we know to be innocent. He is the victim who is revealed as God, on the receiving end of the violence which is revealed as our own. As we have been seeing in our Gospel readings through Lent, Jesus progressively does away with the dark forces in human life which demand sacrifices and exclude victims. Those dark forces are personified as the “Prince of this world”, and the cross is the judgement on those powers: it reveals that they are wrong, and is the means by which they are defeated.
The cross is not God demanding sacrifice, but doing away with it, by substituting himself for the victims of our violence. It is the revelation of Divine love, the revelation that there is in God no darkness at all.
The light, the glory, of God shines forth from the man on the cross, and all peoples are drawn to that light. God is love, and wants us to live in love. That is the truth. That is the deep truth behind the universe, the word through whom all things exist. Love.
Humanity has lived its conscious existence down the ages in a desperate fear, the fear that the deep meaning of everything is death, and that this has to be warded off as long as possible by deflecting that death elsewhere.
The light of the cross shows instead that the deep meaning of our existence is love. By seeing Jesus we come to know him, to believe, to live with his life. In seeing Jesus we know that we are forgiven and loved. In seeing Jesus, we are set free from the old order of sin and death and made new in him. Made new in the vision of love which is the deep truth of who we are.
The Olympics have got nothing on this. To be sure, half the world will descend on our city, for a few weeks. And in a few years it will all be forgotten. But not Jesus. “When I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all people to myself.” The light of the love of God shines steadily from the cross, and hour by hour new souls are finding their way to him. He is drawing us. He will draw others. All the nations will gather to him, will come to his glory.
Now is the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, Lord Jesus, draw us to your light, draw all people, and glorify your name in all the world. Amen.

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