3rd April. Today is known as Passion Sunday. This is the moment when Lent, if you will, changes gear. St. Luke gives us the traditional scripture which marks this moment: “Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem”. So, it’s the things which took place in Jerusalem which will now occupy our attention in the coming days. And the point is that this goes beyond mere academic interest. What we want to do, (as we’ll affirm next Sunday, Palm Sunday) is to, as it were, go with him. Holy Week is an exercise in prayerfully accompanying Christ in all that he endured on our behalf. As the old prayer has it, we want to “know within ourselves and show forth in our lives the fruits of (his) redemption”.
So, what I want to do this morning is to give you two things to pray with; to hold in mind, as again, we hear the story of all that Christ accomplished. For the first, we turn to this morning’s Epistle. (Philippians 3.4b-14) One of the things which is often misunderstood when we think about St. Paul, is that whilst we often refer to his ‘conversion’; what he actually experienced was something rather different. Paul didn’t, as it were, transfer his allegiance from one religion to another. Even less, did he move from a place of atheism to belief. Far from it. Paul wasn’t lacking in enthusiasm for the things of God; in fact, as he tells us this morning, he considered himself a cut above the rest (that’s a joke about circumcision, by the way!)
No, what knocked Saul of Tarsus off his horse on that road to Damascus was the realisation and discovery that everything he thought he knew about God was just plain wrong. And this was simply devastating for him. In today’s reading Paul tells us how his ‘orientation’ is now entirely different. In a phrase I would suggest you commit to memory, Paul says, ”I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own”. In other words, in meeting the risen Jesus, Paul is being forced to completely rethink both his image of God and his understanding of who the prime mover is in this relationship. Again, he says, “Christ Jesus has made me his own”.
What I’m suggesting is that here’s one way of entering into Holy Week. To recognise that from the outset, that as we accompany Christ, as we gaze upon him washing feet, praying in the garden, forgiving those who crucified him… and so on; we are going to find our own understanding of who we think God is, challenged; not to say completely re-written. Then, as did Paul, we’ll find ourselves looking at the cross and saying, “all of this is for me” and marvelling al the more. As he told the Galatians, “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”.
The abiding Gospel question is always, “Who do you say I am?” I suppose the next thing is, “What does our life begin to look like when we worship a God who says and does the things this Jesus does?” So, Holy Week, in this sense is a time to pray with your images of God and perhaps to be surprised; to the point of being knocked off your horse!
The second thing to ponder is there in our Gospel reading. (John 12.1-8) Today we heard the story of the woman who lovingly anointed Jesus at the meal in Bethany. I love the way St. John tells us that as a result of Mary’s devotion, the “house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume”. Because true devotion to Christ has an aroma to it, doesn’t it?
So, as well as inviting you to embrace ‘surprise’ and the notion that our God may be very different from how you have been operating until now; consider making these days a time of devotion. Ask for the grace of a ‘heart-felt’ experience of being with Christ in his passion and sorrow and suffering. Now, there are two particular points at which we might especially enter into this.
The first is Good Friday itself. Spend some time before the cross and ask the Lord to reveal his heart to you. The second is Holy Communion. There are three, particular occasions, this week. Palm Sunday, when we recall the entrance into Jerusalem. Maundy Thursday, where Christ shares the Last Supper with his friends and washes their feet; and of course Easter Day.
What I’m suggesting is that you ask the Lord for a deeper, heart-felt insight into what exactly is happening there. Ask to be drawn in to what’s going on when he says: “This is my body….. this is my blood, given for you?” I’m not talking about taking on extra things; I mean, being at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday is just what the Christian does. Similarly, in receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, we’re only being obedient to him. No, it’s all about looking more closely and more deeply into some things we might otherwise gloss over or take lightly.
This was brought home to me a couple of weeks ago, when I saw some film from Ukraine. You’ll be aware perhaps of the practice in some Churches, of reserving bread and wine, the blessed sacrament, for purposes of adoration and distribution to the sick and housebound. Well, the clergy at the Cathedral in Kiev, in view of all the shelling, decided to transfer the sacrament to a place of greater safety.
The film report showed a car (containing the sacrament) escorted on its way through the streets of Kiev. But as it was passing, the people lining the streets fell to their knees in devotion to the Lord. Pray for that kind of devotion to the Lord. The kind of devotion that brings you to your knees because you realise that in some amazing way- this was done for me. The kind of devotion that resolves, ”I press on to make this my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own”.