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

Friday, 13 April 2018

Sermon at Parish Mass Lent 5 2018

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

“Stop the world, I want to get off!” We’ve probably all felt something like that, from time to time. The news this past week has highlighted the fragility of life. The nerve agent in Salisbury has shocked us all and led to accusations and threats between the UK and Russia. It is an anxious time.
And yet this is nothing compared to other parts of the world. Syria knows all about chemical attacks on civilians. The war in Yemen continues unabated. Migrant boats are sinking in the Mediterranean.
Humanity, it seems, is always fragmenting and flying apart. History tells us this is pretty much a normal state of affairs. Humans tends to live by opposition and violence. The unity most often achieved is the false but persuasive unity of us against them. And even our personal lives, our friendships and families, are not immune from this force of fragmentation.
So what happens in today’s Gospel reading is really important. Some Greeks in Jerusalem say that they want to see Jesus. And Jesus in response says that now the hour of his glory has come, and when he is lifted up he will draw all people to himself. All people, it could even be translated all things, will be drawn into unity by Jesus. The fragmentation and violence of our history will at last be overcome.
The scene is Jerusalem, just before the last Passover of John’s Gospel, when Jesus will be betrayed and crucified. It is city crammed with people. Jews, of course, but there were also foreigners who found in Judaism something that their ancestral pagan religions lacked, truth and meaning, the living God who is the creator of all things. These foreigners mostly didn’t formally become members of the Jewish faith, but they attended the synagogues, listening to the scriptures and the prayers, and were known as “God fearers”.
So today we meet some Greeks, God fearers, who have come to Jerusalem for the Passover. But they find something greater than the Passover: for some reason, they ask to see Jesus. The attraction of this person calls to them. More than the scriptures and the prayers, the temple and the Passover. Long before, Isaiah had prophesied that foreigners would be gathered to worship the one God who had been revealed to Israel: non-Jews, people from the whole world. And now in Jesus that promise is fulfilled. In him the Gentile nations begin to find the one God they have always been seeking.
And it is this which prompts Jesus to say, “Now the hour has come”. Until now in John’s gospel we are told that Jesus’ “hour” had not yet come. The “hour” is both his death and his glorification, which in John are the same thing. The cross and resurrection are two sides of the same reality, the mystery by which humanity is redeemed and made new. It is both the judgement of this world, and the gathering of all things into one in Christ.
Jesus says, “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself”. This is truly an inclusive teaching. “I will draw all people to myself.” Not some, but all. No distinction of race or nation or gender or age or sexuality, or anything else. The force of fragmentation and division is overcome. The ruler of this world is driven out. All things will be gathered into unity in Jesus. His power of attraction reaches out to the whole creation.
The light, the glory, of God shines forth from the man on the cross, and all peoples are drawn to that light. In place of fragmentation, unity. In place of violence, love. As we heard in last week’s Gospel reading, “the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”.
The light of the cross shows that the deep meaning of our existence is love. We wish to see Jesus, because to see him is to know him, to believe, to live with his life. In him, humanity begins again, gathered into unity, becoming indeed the new body of which Jesus is the Head.
“When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” The Church is where this new unity in Christ is becoming real, where diverse people from every race and culture and time are formed into one body, one new humanity, in Christ. And what Jesus accomplished once for all through his cross and resurrection is shown forth in every time and place through the sacramental signs he has given to his Church.
In the two thousand years since the time of Jesus the Church of the crucified Messiah has been planted in every nation, and day by day more and more people are drawn to him. Here we are, very far removed in time, and place, and culture, from 1st Century Jerusalem. And yet we too are worshipping him, we too would see Jesus.
In union with the Church in every time and place we are united with Christ through baptism and celebrate the sacrament of unity, the Eucharist by which we become what we receive, the Body of Christ. It is Jesus himself who does this, uniting believers in every time and place: though we are many, we are one body, because we all share the one bread.
Here, even the last and greatest fragmentation of death is overcome. As the risen Christ makes himself known in the breaking of the bread the veils of time and space are stripped away. We worship him, lifted up into the heavens to draw all to himself, with the great communion of saints, with “angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven”.
Jesus is the one in whom all nations, all peoples, will be gathered into unity. The church is present in every nation and every culture to bear witness to him, united by the sacraments he has given us to extend his saving work through all time. We are here, we do this as he commanded, not only for ourselves, but for all the world that longs to find its lost unity in him.

“We wish to see Jesus.” Andrew and Philip brought the Greeks to Jesus in their own day. We, like them, are to be his ambassadors, bringing people to Jesus in our own time and place. In a world of anxiety and fragmentation, those who have consciously responded to the call to unity in Christ have a part to play. In our worship. In the sacraments we celebrate. In lives that show to the world the sacrificial love of Jesus. If we don’t help people to see Jesus, who will? “As the Father sent me, so I send you”, says the Lord to us. “And when I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself”.

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