Sermon – 28 March 2004

This week is the start of a mini-season in the church ? we are travelling through Lent towards Holy Week ? the Great Drama. This final part of the journey, we call Passiontide. The time of the Passion.

This year of all years ? the Passion of Christ is at the forefront of people?s minds. Mel Gibson?s movie, with almost that very name has gone on show this week in local cinemas. All around the world it seems, certain parts of the church are encouraging people to go to see that film in the belief that it will convict and convert those who go to see it.

It is, of course, a very particular view of what the Passion of Christ is about.
It won?t surprise many of you to know that I am not that keen on the ideas that seem to be portrayed in the film.

I don?t believe that there is any redemption to be found in pain. I don?t believe that anyone suffering anything ever did any good for anyone.

But that begs a number of questions ? what was Jesus?s death all about? What were the events of Holy Week all about? Why did it all happen the way it did? Was it foreplanned and preordained since time began that Christ would enter Jerusalem and die in the way he did?

Simply not accepting Mel Gibson?s very particular gory version of events is not good enough. What does it mean to me.

I am conscious this week as I preach that this is a week for trying to deal with some of those hard questions. After all, this is my last chance to preach before Easter Day.

For over the next fortnight, every opportunity to preach a sermon is subverted by the liturgy. Next week is Palm Sunday ? we will enter the church with great joy, only to hear the whole of the Passion story read to us. Then on the Thursday ? Maundy Thursday, intimate Thursday, the sermon is itself the actual washing of feet. For thinging else can portray as well what Jesus was up to that night with his friends. On the Friday, the preaching gives way to Jesus appealing from the cross ? Oh my people, what have I done to you, why do you hurt me, answer me. And then at the Vigil, the preaching loses its place to the lighting of the new fire the fire of new life, the fire of the next Easter itself.

So, no more preaching until Easter day ? better make this one count them.

The story we have today of Mary anointing his feet with perfume and drying them with her hair is so emotive. We can practically smell the scene. John?s portrayal of it in just a few words evokes an extraordinary evening. A special time, just before Jesus made his was to Jerusalem. Just before the Lord?s own Passion.

John is the most symbolic of the four Gospels. The writer uses symbols and plays around with time to make his own special commentary of the life and death of the Lord.

This scene in this household is just before the Passion. We can be sure, with it being John, that he intends this to be a commentary on the Passion that is about to unfold.

And we have all kinds of parallels.

? We have a special meal with special friends. (Parallelling the last supper)
? We have footwashing (and rather a controversy about it)
? We have Judas betraying himself this time ? next time it will be Jesus himself.
? And in the middle of all this, Jesus teaching ? enigmatic phrases which have never been forgotten.
This is more than merely a recollection of an event ? this is the writer reinterpreting the significance of the last supper for us anew.

Reinterpreting it for us and subtly telling us what he thought is was all about.

And here are the themes:

? Intimacy
? Devotion
? Grace
? And love

There are two meanings to the word Passion ? the one that means pain and the one that means love. As John tells us about this last days of Jesus? life ? it is love he is telling us about. Costly love granted, but there is no pain here.

There is intimacy ? there is little more intimate (that you can do in company) than the washing of feet.

There is devotion ? costly devotion. Who knows whether Mary had an inkling that his days were numbered. Who knows what she thought as she heard of the plots and counter-plots against the one who had raised Lazarus her brother. We do not know these things, but we can measure her devotion.

There is grace. One of the themes of my preaching is that there is more grace than you can measure. More grace than you can use up. More grace in this world than you as an individual will ever need. The world reeks of God?s grace. There is no getting away from its sweet smell ? not in any corner of the kingdom. The grace of God is like the smell of the stuff that Mary poured out lavishly on his feet.

And there is love. Who can deny it. She chose the intimate act. She chose to show her devotion. She prefigured the grace of God seeping into the world. And all because she loved him.

All because she loved the Lord. Loved him with a passion.

And that for me is what passiontide is all about. Intimacy. Devotion. Grace. Love.

This is the passion of the Lord. Let is seep, steadily seep, into our consciousness over the days ahead.


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