Homily for Lent 5A (Passion Sunday)

In Uncategorized on April 10, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Last week we had Psalm 23 set down.
“Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me…”

Well, we’re in death valley today.
Literally, in the passage from Ezekiel.
The valley of dry bones,
remnants of some long-lost defeat in battle perhaps.
And there is the question,
“mortal can these bones live”.
To which the prophet’s only response is non-committal,
“O Lord God, you know”.

Then we are at the tomb of Lazarus.
There, we are told, the axel on which the story turns,
“Jesus began to weep”
or more simply, “Jesus wept”.
The single shortest verse in the Bible.
Perhaps, apart from another moment of revelation,
“I am”,
among the shortest sentences it is possible to construct.

The shortest verse, but perhaps telling us as much
about the nature of God
as it is possible for us to comprehend.

Jesus wept.  There is simply nothing else you can do.

Jesus wept and we must too.
Grief is part of being fully human.
Death appals us, an affront to every breath we take.

We try to euphemise our way about it,
“passing away” or as in Jesus’ day “falling asleep”,
but death will not be sidelined.
We don’t like to dwell on our own mortality,
in fact we insulate ourselves from it.
But death and grief will not be denied.
In fact, great damage can be caused
to ourselves and others if we try to ignore it.

But we are reminded this Passion Sunday
– and “passion” means, literally, “suffering” –
we are reminded that the pain of separation
is what Christ comes to destroy,
sin and that last great fearful enemy, death.
Which is not to say we will not die.

Clearly, as sure as we are born, our bodies will decay.
Lazarus is given back his breath,
his heart beats once again,
but whether the next year or in many long years’ time,
Lazarus was buried again,
and there would be no similar resuscitation.

We – you and I –
will pass through the valley of the shadow of death,
the valley of dry bones, deep grief,
when we wonder if life – a life worth living –
can ever be restored.
But we do not settle in that valley,
under that shadow.
We do not grieve as those who have no hope.
In the mystery of the Cross,
in compassion – literally “suffering with” –
Christ shows us that ultimately
“death shall have no dominion”
as poet Dylan Thomas powerfully puts it.
Grief is bourne of love.  Loss is bourne of care.
Suffering of attachment and identification.  “Compassion”.

Christianity is not a faith that seeks to disengage,
to become aloof and divest oneself of “passion”,
in its usual sense.

We are called to follow and conform our lives towards God.
The God we see in Jesus.
A God who is not disinterested, aloof or dispassionate,
quite the opposite:  Jesus wept.

This is where we see God-with-us:
the God who loves, the God who is love.
The God who in Christ Jesus dares
to enter with us into the shadow of death, human grief,
because he is the source of the love which casts that shadow.

Who in Christ Jesus dares to embrace shame,
pain and death itself
in order that he might proclaim the absolute power,
the enduring, undefeatable power of the love that is God.
Jesus wept, because Jesus loves.

In this Passiontide, these days
leading up to Good Friday and the Easter mystery,
may we be reminded that,
to continue with Dylan Thomas:
“Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.”

St Paul writes,
Love bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
For now we see in a mirror, dimly,
but then we will see face to face.
Now I know only in part;
then I will know fully,
even as I have been fully known.

And now faith, hope, and love abide,
these three;
and the greatest of these is love.”


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