Passion Sunday at Westminster Abbey 2008

16 March 2008

Lord, I  do believe that you are the Messiah  John 11: 16

A colleague pointed out that as today’s Readings are so long, a short sermon would be appropriate. That reminded me of one of my feisty sisters at our Convent, on Ham Common, observing, ‘I’ve never heard anyone saying, What a nice long sermon.’ And today Passion Sunday brings us to mysteries so great that it is hard to find any words that could be even vaguely adequate. - Perhaps  St. Francis of Assisi  may be our guide:  kneeling before the Cross  he spent much of one night repeating over and over again, ‘Who are you my dearest God and who am I?’  ‘Who are you my dearest God and who am I?’  Mystery indeed.  

We stand on the cusp of the anamnesis (the remembrance by 

bringing it into the present) of the death of Jesus yet  on this Passion Sunday the Readings this morning  speak of  a God who brings new life out of death.  This  God  stands with us not remote from us, a God who shares human suffering - that of the Israelis and Palestinians mourning their dead this weekend and all the others.  

The other gods were strong but you were weak/ they rode but you have stumbled to your throne/ yet to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak/ and not a god has wounds/ but you alone.  

The Gospel  mirrors and anticipates Christ’s own death and 

resurrection. He stands with Martha in the midst of a gut-wrenching situation which most of us will have experienced (&  which we see portrayed constantly on our TV screens) - loss, bereavement, grief.  There are the tears  and the ‘if onlys’ ; the puzzles and confusions yet  Jesus  leads her on to a fuller faith in him. He promises, ‘your brother will rise again.’ But that is not good enough for Martha.  Belief in an After-life  is remote and no comfort. She needs something more accessible now. 

Then there is drawn from Jesus a divine self-declaration, one heard at every Christian funeral:  I am the resurrection and the Life.- a Truth whose meaning  in its profundity cannot be expressed in words.  Who are you my dearest God.... Undoubtedly there is some assertion of triumph over physical death.   But this Truth applies equally to life here and now.  We read one modern translation as, ‘You don’t have to wait to the end.  I am right now the resurrection and the life.’  It is 

about living with a quality of  Christ-life, of being touched in all that is most human and ordinary by the life of God which is eternal.  This may mean leaving anxieties, fears and resentments, sadnesses, bitterness and despair behind in the tomb as we hear Jesus cry out to us as to Lazarus, NN come forth. Come forth to a new way of living and being.  Leave the tomb behind, let me remove all that binds you.  Live in my forgiveness and joy and pass these on to others.  Begin NOW.  If peace exist in you at least it is  somewhere. 

Earlier Martha was challenged with a question which could also be addressed to all of us here:  Martha or N or N..., do you believe?  Yes, Lord, I do believe..’  I believe in and trust you even if I can’t make head or tale of a lot of it. The whole subject of faith can be rather a torturous one.  A week or two ago there was an article in a Weekend Newspaper about one of our writers, Julian Barnes, who was reported to have said, ‘I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him.’   The poet Rilke puts it another way:  ‘God is the great homesickness we can never shake off.’   Perhaps some of us here can identify with that. 

In the Gospel doughty, pragmatic and loyal Thomas says ‘Let us 

also go (to Jerusalem) that we may die wit him..and we too are to participate in this anamnesis of the Passion, Cross and Resurrection and  allow ourselves to be embraced by a divine love we cannot fathom or understand.  Who are you my God and who am!? Christ says:  Do you, can you believe? Yes, Lord I do believe, help me where faith falls short. 

And now 

May the life-givng Cross be the source of all our joy and peace.

Sister Judith CSC