Sermon – 13 March 2005

On Friday afternoon, I had the pleasure of spending several hours sitting in our Cathedral Church in Perth for the consecration of our new Bishop, the Rt Rev David Chillingworth.

Sadly, I was not sitting in a seat which afforded me a view of the proceedings. Indeed, I was very much behind a pillar and could see nothing of what was going. Inevitably, as I tried to sit and look suitably pious, I found my eye beginning to wander from looking at the pillar in front of me to what was around me.

And I found my eye drawn to a stained glass window, which is actually one of the saddest of memorials, yet it is one of the things in the Cathedral which I rather like. It is a window known as the Kinnoull window. It was erected by one of the Earls of Kinnoull, one of the benefactors of the cathedral as a memorial to some of his children. These were several children who had died, one or two as children and one young man. And the window depicts various scenes of resurrection from the gospels. And one scene in particular I just love. It depicts the raising of Lazarus. A blonde haired Jesus stands by a tomb and calls ? Lazarus, come out. And indeed, appearing from the cave-like tomb is a young chap ? there is no other way of describing him. He is very much a late Victorian chap, with a very proper moustache.
What is happening in the stained glass, is the benefactor, in his grief for his son who has died has asked the artist to depict his son as Lazarus, being called from the tomb by Christ. And underneath it all, the words ? I am the resurrection and the life.

I?ve always found the window both moving and utterly charming. Even though I sometimes find myself wishing that we could demolish some of the pseudo-Victorian church clutter which inhabits our minds, I still like that window. In it there are two things that are very real. Firstly, raw grief. There is in that window the acknowledgement that when someone has died, grief is real. Grief is raw. You can still feel the pain of the person who commissioned it all these years later.

But there is also something else that is real too ? the belief in and the commitment to resurrection.

We do not know exactly what happens to us when we die. Yet Christians have always been committed to proclaiming resurrection ? new life, even when grief is raw.

This morning we mark Passion Sunday. (Whatever modern liturgists say!)

This is the day when we are expected in Lent to turn our hearts towards the cross and to begin to walk with Christ as far as we can go towards his Jerusalem, his Calvary.

And the truth of the cross is that life is hard. Griefs are hard to bear ? some of the hardest things we have to deal with. As we turn our faces to the cross, we turn knowing that Jesus is with us. And we are with him.

Jesus set his face towards Calvary as a real person who knew what it was like to share the pain that each of us bear by being human.

And although I believe that joy and celebration are at the heart of the gospel, I would never ever claim that living as one of God?s friends means living without pain, without suffering, without grief. It doesn?t. Though sometimes, we can see through the pain of that the truth that Christ is walking the same road and there is some comfort somewhere in that. Our God does not will us on our way to our own private Calvary but walks with us and ultimately will go further than any of us in identifying with the pain of the world.

This Sunday morning as we turn our faces to the cross, I want to give you something to think about during this week and on into Holy Week.

I told you about a window which had been commissioned with a real person in one of the gospel stories. This morning I want to ask you to imagine your way into this gospel story and suggest that you do the same with the things we will hear in the next couple of weeks in church.

Who are you? Are you someone who is angry with Jesus for not coming soon enough and for not doing what you want? Are you someone who stands and weeps, perhaps when no-one sees you weep? Are you someone who seems to be living life to the full but who feels empty and deathly inside? Or are you a saviour, a grief sharer, a passion bearer?

Who are you in this story? If I were to commission a picture or a stained glass window, where would the artist put you in the frame?

Who are you? And what words do you want to hear from Jesus?

And as you think about that, when you come into church over the next couple of weeks, cast your eyes up to the cross in the stained glass above the altar. For there you will find that something similar is going on. As is the custom in many churches, you will find that the crucifixion scene is portrayed in countryside near to hear and not near to Jerusalem at all. It is not Mount Zion or Mount Tabor or the Mount of Olives in our window. No, it is Ben Ledi, which most of you will see in your cars on the way home from church.

For Christ is crucified amongst us.

And in the days to come, you will all be there in the stories that we hear. Watching from the crowd. Singing Hosanna one minute and shouting Crucify the next. Being washed by him. Being fed by him. Betraying him. Weeping for him. Watching him die.

We are off to Jerusalem. And all human life is there.

As we shall see.


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