Bishop David shared this homily at the Celebration of the Passion of our Lord.
At the beginning of Lent, our faces were marked with a cross of ash. We may have heard these words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Startling words in a world which exalts the assumption of human power and seeks to hide from the fragility of life.
But why do we receive the ashes? This brings us face-to-face with what is real. We struggle to deal with the realities of death. We pretend it doesn’t exist. We do everything to avoid facing death. And long after the ashes are washed from our faces, God’s word invites us to face up to reality.
This Celebration of the Passion of the Lord will not allow us to escape the truth of death. A death, the death of Jesus the Nazarene is at the heart of what we are commemorating this afternoon. After centuries of Christian reflection, we may struggle to put ourselves in the place of the first disciples. So, they may have said to themselves, it’s all over. We have made a mistake. This Jesus has died just as all men do. And one day, it will be our turn.
But in the mysterious suffering servant songs of the prophet Isaiah, God’s word had prepared his people for this moment. For sure, ‘the crowds were appalled on seeing him – so disfigured did he look’. But there is more, an interpretation of what all this means, ‘and yet ours were the sufferings he bore, ours the sorrows he carried’. And of course, a word that points towards another reality, ‘see, my servant will prosper, he shall be lifted up, exalted, rise to great heights’.
Those, seeking to share the Christian faith with others, will not tread the way of witness for long, before questions are pushed in our faces. Questions we collectively know as the mystery of evil. In a few words, if God is so loving and kindly disposed towards us, then why do bad things happen?
What is remarkable about this bad thing, the death of Jesus the Nazarene, is that he knew all about it. He looked forward to it. This moment defines his living. This is why he went to Jerusalem. Before this Hour, his ministry was something else. His teaching made a deep impression on people. When they saw the miracles, the authority over the demonic, they said to each other, no one else has done anything like this. Jesus could have done a lot more good if he had hung around for many more years. After all, he was still a relatively young man. But for him, it was all leading to this moment, the day he would be hung upon the cross.
As we have just heard, when the moment came, Jesus proclaimed, ‘it is accomplished; and bowing his head he gave up the spirit’. This does not sound like the death of other men. Many struggle and cry out with the poet Dylan Thomas, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ But there is no raging from the cross on Calvary. Jesus is not resisting what is happening. He is embracing it with all his heart. Because this is what the scriptures are leading up to.
Yesterday evening, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. He gave us the new commandment, ‘that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.’ And Jesus put this new commandment of love within a breathtaking context, ‘now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.’ This is the mystery of divine love which overcomes the mystery of evil.
In a little while, each of us will have the opportunity to make our own personal act of witness. We may come forward to show reverence to the Cross. We may genuflect or bow to the Cross. We may embrace it for a brief moment and kiss the wood on which our Saviour hung.
The important part of this personal moment of adoration is what is taking place in our hearts and minds, in our souls. We may choose to make acts of faith, hope and love. In our hearts we profess our faith in the victory of Christ over sin and death. We profess our hope that Jesus is our Redeemer, that he the Good Shepherd will bring us safely home to the Father. We make an act of the will, that we would seek opportunities to love others in charity and compassion.
However we approach the Cross, may we experience the power of Christ’s precious blood, cleansing and forgiving, healing and bringing new life. As we prayed at the beginning of this celebration of the Passion of the Lord, and can pray again in our personal moment of adoration, ‘grant that just as, being conformed to him, we have borne by the law of nature the image of the man of earth, so by the sanctification of grace we may bear the image of the Man of heaven.’