Sermons preached at Easter 2019 in the Anglican Parish of Glenelg
by Ven. Andrew Mintern, Parish Priest and Archdeacon of Torrens
The Journey Begins – Palm Sunday
Here we are at the beginning of Holy Week. The most important week of the year for Christians around the world. A week which is more than just a re-telling of the passion narrative, but is an invitation for us to journey deeper into our faith, no matter how many times we have walked this week before.
I want to share a little anecdote that Rev. Julia told me on Friday. She was on road crossing duty at school and a little ELC child came up to her and said: “my dad says you’re crazy!” which would be enough to floor most people, but Julia responded “is that because I believe in Jesus?” The girl nodded and said “he says you can’t prove it.” To which Julia said something like “and that’s why it takes faith! And I love talking to people about Jesus, so tell your dad if he would like to talk about it so more, tell him to come and see me.”
Belief can be a stumbling block for people. We all have things in the great panoply of Chrisitan beliefs that we struggle with, but as Bishop John Robinson famously once said (borrowing from Alice in Wonderland) Christianity is not about believing six impossible things before breakfast.
Many people get stuck at that point of belief, but they are failing to grasp that Christianity is just not a set of beliefs nor a set of behaviours but is more accurately a set of relationships and an ongoing journey. A set of relationships and an ongoing journey.
I guess we have ourselves to blame for any misconception because Christians themselves get excessively hung up on matters of belief. All the time we are saying to each other “Oh if you believe that you’re not a real Christian”. Yet we had in our bible readings a few weeks ago from Saint Paul: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved” and “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” [Romans 10:9 & 10:13] There is a beautiful simplicity to this and, at its heart, this is about being in relationship with Jesus. Perhaps a good way to understand Christianity is as a pilgrimage through life in relationship with Jesus. This view becomes particularly real for us in Holy Week.
The metaphor of journey is starkly before us this week. Jesus journeys into Jerusalem in an unusual and symbolic way, on the back of a donkey. He journeys to the temple and to the upper room for the last supper, then to the mount of olives, where he is arrested and dragged before Pilate and King Herod. He takes the arduous journey of the Via Dolorosa, carrying the cross to Golgotha. His lifeless body is carried to Joseph of Arimethea’s tomb. Andthen, in Luke’s Gospel, the women disciples and Peter see the empty tomb on Easter morning, but it is on the journey to Emmaus, later that day, that Cleopas and the other disciple recognise the risen Jesus who has journeyed with them.
The journey of Holy Week is a well-worn journey, we have walked it before. We know its steps, its unavoidable hazards, its blessings as well. But we don’t just look at this journey of Jesus as a historical story, as something that happened to him.
We walk the journey in companionship with Jesus. I use the word companion intentially, for it means literally – “to break bread with”. In Luke’s Gospel the breaking of bread is highly significant. Jesus is our companion on our Christian journey, our pilgrimage through life. As he was known to the disciples on th Emmaus road in the breaking of the bread, and so he is known to us and present with us in the breaking of the bread. We proclaim and celebrate this every week in the Eucharist.
I find every year the journey of holy week is different. Parts of it are predictable but parts of it are always new. I always learn new things and I am touched in new ways. Maybe that’s because I am a little different every year, but also it is the nature of relationship, it isn’t static, its always evolving. I don’t observe this journey from the outside, I participate in it with Jesus. I walk it as a companion of Jesus and I am changed by the experience.
The Sunday Kids have looked at four big themes this Lent – Compassion, Sacrifice, Forgiveness and Love. These themes are all present in big measure on this journey. On this journey we will encounter these themes in transformative ways. I will reflect on them further on Good Friday.
So today, wherever we are in our lives, whatever we are wrestling with, we enter the journey through Holy Week with trust and expectation. Trust that Jesus is with us, and expectation that there is something here for us in our journey. Don’t park the rest of your life at the door and see this simply as a church exercise, a collection of liturgies. Rather bring the whole of your life with you on the journey, carry it in your backpack as you journey and allow Jesus to walk alongside you as a companion, as he did with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, wanting to be made known to us in new revelations.
If we approach Holy Week in this way there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain.
The Journey to Golgotha – Good Friday
The reading of the passion on Good Friday is confronting. It is not easy. The journey with Jesus to the cross takes us to the very depths of human experience. It confronts us with the difficult themes of human life:
- Failure of the disciples to stay with Jesus
- betrayal of Jesus by his friend Judas
- Violence pervades the story
- Injustice from Pilate, Herod and the crowds
- Denial by his closest friend Peter
- Despair especially in Peter after he realises what he as done
- Mocking, belittling, taunting, suffering inflicted on Jesus
- Fickleness of the crowd
- Grief and mourning seen in the wailing and weeping of the women of Jerusalem.
And yet within this unrelenting pain and horror there are small glimpses of light. Surprising when you add them all up, because they seem so overwhelmed by the violence and injustice that pervades the story.
But when we look we see:
- The healing of the high priests slave by Jesus
- Pilate’s plea for Jesus’ innocence,
- The help given by Simon of Cyrene
- The compassion of the women in the crowd
- Jesus’ forgiveness of those who crucified him
- The repentence of the second criminal
- The centurion’s conviction of Jesus’ innocence
- The kindness of Joseph of arimathea.
- The faithfulness of the women disciples who followed to the tomb
All of this phenomenal drama takes place in just a few hours over a journey that could not have been more than 1.5 kilometres from Gethsemane to Palace to Golgotha. Yet in this smallest of slices of human history we we find so much to define our faith and our humanity:
- Violence and healing,
- Denial and support
- Repentance and forgiveness
- Mocking and kindness
- Injustice and innocence
- Betrayal and faithfulness
- Despair and … and…
I want to say hope but its not there yet. The passage today seems to end with despair. But the story will continue on Easter Day and hope will emerge then in a most remarkable way. So for now, on Good Friday we stay with the intensity of the passion narrative.
Why? Why should we stay with the cross when we know that the hope and joy is coming?
Because true faith acknowledges the hard stuff of life. Our Christian faith lets us look at the cross and recognise the pain and suffering that is there. Recognisin that all human suffering, all the crosses of life, fall beneath the shadow of this one cross, so that all human suffering can also be touched by the light of hope that is to come.
The journey to Golgotha stands in stark contrast to the triumphal journey Jesus took into Jerusalem accompanied by the shouts of “Hosanna” and the waving of palm branches. Yet on this short final journey, guessed to be about 600metres, we encounter deep Christian themes of Sacrifice, Forgiveness, Compassion and love.
Our Sunday kids have worked during Lent on a cross that is in four quarters with those four themes – sacrifice, forgiveness, compassion and love. At our next service we will scatter them around the church for kids to find and put together – physically piecing together the meaning of this day.
Sacrifice can be understood in so many ways, in the atoning sacrifice to pay the cost of sin, the sacrifice of God to conquer evil with good, the sacrifice that shows the extent to which love will go. Sacrifice shows us that God is love is, in essence, self-giving love – love that W H Vanstone sums up in his hymn “Morning Glory, Starlit Sky”
Love that gives, gives ever more,
Gives with zeal, with eager hands,
spares not, keeps not, all outpours,
ventures all, its all expends
Forgiveness is dramatically shown when even whilst being crucified Jesus forgave those who did it to him. He showed compassion for the women in the crowd and for the criminal by his side. These two beauitfully moving interactions are captured by hymn writer Robin Mann in his song “when our time began again”
Women wept to see him; he said, ‘don’t weep for me.’
Many laughed and mocked him: “forgive them, they don’t see.”
Jesus , please forgive me, you know what I am;
I was one who nailed your hands when our life began again.
There was one who asked you, “remember me this day.”
Jesus, when I’m dying remember me that way;
When my life is over, be with me, my friend,
Like the thief upon the cross, when our life began again.
So what do we do with all of this? How do we respond? We bring our honesty. Our Christian faith takes us to the heart of what it means to be human. It allows us to face all that we fear, all that pains us, that paralyses us, and brings it into the embrace of the sacrificial love of God, who offers us compassion, forgiveness and love – even in the shadow of the cross – any cross.
Today you may come with concerns for another, concerns for our world, concerns for yourself. You may come with concerns that have no easy answers, that you have carried for a long time, or perhaps they have just recently come your way. Perhaps they are experiences of failure, violence, betrayal, suffering, injustice, denial, despair, grief or something else. It can all be brought to the cross. It is all part of the passion of Christ. All part of God’s redeeming embrace of love. The Easter hope that is to come will transform the cross, but it doesn’t deny the pain and tragedy of the cross. It was real suffering. We come to the cross because we want to know God in the midst of reality – our reality. And God wants to be known to us there as well.
Let us pray with another hymn verse. (from O Sacred Head Sore Wounded)
In this your bitter passion Good shepherd, think of me,
look on me with compassion unworthy though I be:
beneath your cross abiding for ever would I rest,
in your dear love confiding, and with your presence blessed.
The Journey to New Life – Easter Day
The Lord be with you
And also with you
Christ is risen, Alleluia
He is risen indeed. Alleluia
Both of those greetings are Easter greetings. When Christians say to one another, as they have for 2000 years, The Lord be with you, they are affirming that the Lord is risen, that Jesus Christ has been resurrected and is with us on our journey, our Christian pilgrimage through life. We say The Lord be with you so often that we take its meaning for granted. We are affirming the resurrection, and doubly so today with the extra greeting Christ is risen.
As former Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsay, famously said: “No Resurrection. No Christianity.” The resurrection is the birth and foundation of our faith. We are a resurrection people with a resurrection faith.
On Good Friday we sat before the cross, prepared to face the suffering of Christ and acknowledge that all the suffering of our world, all the suffering we have known, falls under the shadow of the Cross of Christ, acknowledging that it all comes within the embrace of God’s love and all comes within the power of Christ’s resurrection.
A powerful symbol of grief in our world at the moment has been the devestation by fire of Notre Dame Cathedral. And yes I acknowledge it is just a building, albeit one that is steeped in history, a building that has stood for 900 years, surviving wars and revolution, a receptacle for memories and faith, but nevertheless just a building. There is far worse suffering in our world due to poverty and persecution, so I do acknowledge that. But as humans we do attach so much power and meaning to place. Notre Dame isn’t just another building in another city – it symbolises much more. No doubt many of us here have been there, seen the stunning rose window, the flying buttrresses, imagined the hunchback swinging from the towers, captured selfies in front of it, paused inside for a prayer, maybe even attended a service there. Yes, it is just a building but it its one that carries the memories, prayers, faith and story of a whole community and generations before.
Have a look at this photo.
On Good Friday, Geoff, our archbishop emailed all the clergy with an Easter message and this photo, he wrote. “the cross is shining in the midst of the gloom and destruction for many a sign of hope that all is not lost with the cathedral.”
In the midst of difficulty, tragedy, challenge and despair we look for signs of hope – a reassurance that there is a future. For the disciples the first sign of hope was the empty tomb, something had happened. But that wasn’t enough, that left confusion, did someone take the body? Surely that was unthinkable but not impossible. It was later on the first Easter Day, on the road to Emmaus, that two of the disciples journeying away from Jerusalem in sadness were accompanied by the unrecognised risen Jesus who comforted them finally at the end of the day making himself known to them in the very act of breaking the bread at dinner. Sprinting back to Jerusalem, these two shared the good news that the risen Jesus had appeared to them, and as they did this Jesus again appeared to the whole group of disciples.
[Christ] was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8
The resurrection appearances of Jesus transformed his followers from hopeless to hopeful, from fearful to faithful, energised believers who shared the good news that the Cross did not have the final word, that life had conquered death. Affirming this whenever they said ‘The Lord be with you” because he was with them.
The resurrection appearances helped them believe, As Archbishop Desmond Tutu powerfully expressed, that:
Goodness is stronger than evil;
Love is stronger than hate;
Light is stronger than darkness;
life is stronger than death;
Victory is ours through Him who loved us.
I am always captivated by the road to Emmaus narrative. I relate to the disciples journeying together with all their worries and concerns, I relate to Jesus being with them but them not being aware of it, not recognising him. I think of all the times I journey along not trusting that Christ is there, not recognising him helping me, speaking to me, directly or through others. But then there are moments, little gifts, resurrection moments, when the scales fall from my eyes and I see Christ is with me, I get it, I grasp the hope.
I love Caravaggio’s painting of that moment when the two disciples on the road recognise Christ in the breaking of the bread. They disciples see the power of this action with the eyes of faith their hearts are touched. The inkeeper doesn’t see it, he doesn’t realise.
Last year I was fortunate enough to be surprised again by this painting, when I was in the National Gallery in London. I didn’t realise that this painting was there. I turned a corner and it was just one of those moments, I was captivated and transformed, other people there just walked past looking at other paintings.
The resurrection allows us to live a resurrection faith, so see life with the eyes of faith. Paul expresses this when he says: we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7). Any cross which stands in our world and in our lives does not have the final word. Christ is risen and walks unseen beside us. Pain is still pain, sadness is still sadness, but it is given meaning and transformed by divine hope and love.
I will finish with the final words of the Archbishop’s greeting to the clergy which I think can be for all of us this morning. he wrote:
“I pray that through the great three days [of Easter] you will have the opportunity to have your hope refreshed and renewed so that you are able to celebrate not just this weekend but onward through the year, being ourselves lights in darkness, reflecting like the cross at Notre Dame, not the sunshine but the light of the Son – crucified, risen and ascended.”