Eastertide remains with us as we are compelled to believe and see that the Lord is good. Happy and forgiven are they that trust in him. There is a glimpse of optimism in our readings today, but also some very pointed and clear accusations and bidding us all repent. Strong words to those being labelled as those who killed Christ.
JESUS in his new glory visits those who have travelled with him through thick and thin, amidst the Cana's of life and clamour of silence in Gethsemane.
The apostles were and are, through intercession, our guardians in and of faith, whom Christ has called. Thomas became the bishop in India and to this day the Mar Thoma Church is named for him, a denomination in full Communion with the Anglican communion. Peter and Paul end up in Rome and history and legend gives us the leader of the Rome Christians in Blessed Peter.
In reading and re-reading this Sundays lections I was surprised at the reference very prominent of the need for repentance and absolution, yes in the midst of Eastertide. That is why Jesus in last weeks reading gave the power of pardon to the church's leaders, those ordained and imbued with the Holy Ghost and power from on high. The tradition says that the bestowal of the holy spirit in the upper room is the first consecration of bishops, presbyters, for the universal church.
Remember friends the bible is full of story and history, and John reminds us that no book could ever hold in them the full story of the redeemer Christ. But the point from this is that we believe. I wonder how you feel when you see the good works of non-believers as if they heard the Christ-message. I ask myself and you, in a notion borrowed from Bishop Michael Marshall: If you were arrested like many of our fellow Christians face, and you were brought before the court for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict us.
I am aware that, as revealed in the PCC meeting, that not all the hopes and plan I certainly had have not been realised. People have died, people have moved, yet what can we do and what can we accomplish in bringing people not just to Church, but to a living relationship with the Jesus of the Bible and Sacrament. Christ the King Salfords where I am to serve, faces many challenges, many similar to those still needed here in Merton. In confession we used to pray in the BCP, forgiveness for the things done and not done. Again the need for forgiveness abounds, media will always keep you posted on the world scene. Myanmar, Northern Ireland, Yemen, Minneapolis, Middle East, are riddled with the scars of hostility and death, but where, Lord, is the forgiveness.
The why’s of life engage us in worry and anxiety, why me? Have you ever said that, I have and do! I have said time and time again that we get one chance to meet and greet the new person on the street or next door, or who visits. Will the appearance of the church compel them back, was the music inspiring; and dare we ask the quality of the preachers example and words.
One notion I most openly embrace is that the tradition here is a real gift to new and old members alike. Small but powerful in the power of the glorified Christ.
The call for Christian is to be and have a narrative of hope. Is not hope what we all want? Can we find true love, human and divine, by abiding in the hope we are called to. Where do we find those aspects of God, do we sing or does Jesus shine.
100,000 complaints to the BBC on how much time given to honour Prince Philip. What the media doesn't share is the many more than 100,00 are most happy to hear this story of a royal in both word and deed. In his Easter sermon the Archbishop of Canterbury
Yet it is in walking with Jesus Christ that there is light rather than darkness. It is often a seemingly fitful light for those caught up in sorrow, but it shines, and it grows and it brightens and it beckons, and calls us to hope rather than despair. The hope is not based on vain myths and legends but on the reality of the resurrection. In Christ we see that in death we are but separated for a while, borrowed but for an instant, and it is in faith that we find the light is not an illusion but is the deepest and most reliable of realities. The people around the apostles were first hand reporters and I believe their witness to the full.
Luke is an instructional book, only 11 left (and we the gory details of the death of the others save Beloved John. My preaching mentor said this week in our session that Easter is the most significant event in world history. Nothing short of alleluia! Greif is the price we pay for love, Queen. This is not a too good to be true story, no it is a travel from a place of shadows to resurrection of life eternal, even when the violence and hatred we find on our streets overwhelms. You name the issues, all sorts that haunt and taunt us. Practice up on your stories (in my hope to hear some testimonies) only I came forward. How do we share the story. A tall order.
One of the more startling mentions in our readers is when Jesus asked for food and was given broiled fish. Thus very real indeed. It is interesting that the bewildered apostles try to go back to the life of fishing and life without the Rabbi, Messiah and Leader, Jesus. Alas the scene changes and they see the Lord and realise the depth of his love and his strict orders to teach, preach and heal in his name. Remembers this somewhat nicety of nations, remember these nations Jesus now worries about are enemies, not people just waiting to hear from or about a Jewish preacher.
So in a review we have a trilogy of finding forgiveness in this Christ and that we can offer the means of grace and hope of glory. The notion of a spiritual resurrection does not work for me, rather it is a doctrinal story and creed. Remember the broiled fish, He can be heard: I am not a ghost. Personal confession is important whether in the privacy of the box or offering that pledge of reconciliation to those who hurt you, sometimes regularly, and those who wish you unwell for reasons only known to the angels!
Are we sincere in our hope of salvation for the other – the diverse creation-basically what do we bring to the table of sacrifice, yes his sacrifice and when needed, ours. Where does our confidence lie. Lucky for us Easter is a full 50 days, a God-given time to be good to you and others.
The buddy system, the daily prayer, the quizzes, the various worship offerings have reached out to many, shown by the new faces at ZOOM at quiz central and the wonderful numbers viewing our worship. Will a return to normal be something that will help maintain our improved communications and togetherness or will it be back in the saddle of the way we always did this or that. I love the peace wave, by the way, it seems very authentic as it is usually accompanied by a wide smile. Money is a real issue indeed, and the lonely hall stands empty before us.
I pray that as distance will separate me from you, that collectively we can be part of the “tie that binds”. The trauma of moving house might cover the emotion that is involved when people go different ways. I still marvel and wonder who was the model for the middle mural!
So what can keep people like us look for, as the Celtics say –
Deep peace of the running wave to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the shining stars to you
Deep peace of the gentle night to you
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you
Deep peace of Christ the light of the world to you
Deep peace of Christ to you.
We are not who we were four months ago. We have lost, lamented, learned, longed and loved. We cannot be squeezed back into our former shape. The sobering words of the Bishop of Manchester. His pastoral letter has haunted me a bit, as my main pre-occupation is asking myself and you – that is what is Jesus Christ asking of us, and where or how can we find the answer.
We are not who we were four months ago. We have lost, lamented, learned, longed and loved. We cannot be squeezed back into our former shape.
I say A prayer and a bit of Bible would be a good starting place, along with emptying the larder to help that community we say in one of our catch-phrases, in the heart of the community with the community at heart. Our main help point comes with the multitude of persons and causes that hire our hall. Used far more by others than ourselves, which could also be true for the church proper. I so miss my Sunday Pentecostal serenades (really ) and I cant help but borrow the phrases we’ll meet again or when will we see you again. But what if we have never seen, from the vantage point of heart to heart, a new face, or a new opportunity. Look at us, who are we in all this. Some of you on WhatsApp have seen the ultimate identity shakeup caused by the costume changes in the Nick and Alison family. What costume do you want to wear. I know mine. What motivates you to be an active participant in the physical witness of the church of the open door. By the way those not here today during the uncertainty of COVID19 are not part of what is happening here, they are, and very much so. I cant look at you today and think of 3 or 4 people up in age, that I bet are praying at this hour for us.
Bishop Walker is still haunting me, he says, “Developing new vision and purpose, and doing it now, will bring not only fresh energy but refreshment and renewal. When we are clear how we are going to be different, we will find rest in release from the things we have stopped tiring ourselves out with.” Strong but important words.
Ready for the future.
My hope and my yearning is that these months of lockdown have readied us to be a Church that treasures its people and its resources enough to release them to where the opportunities and challenges for mission are the greatest; not a Church YORK example that seeks to do everything just as we have always done, but to do it more frantically and with fewer assets available than ever. I hope for patterns of ministry that do not tire our clergy and lay leaders to exhaustion, but equip them to expend their energies building the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed;
So for those who names are on our lips and in our hearts we name:
For government leaders who decision-making can life changing for people, like it or not, and for church leaders that they can be full of hope and maybe grace too. So many have died, who do you miss, I name Colin, Simon, Matthew
As I think of our prayers together, I close with an admonition from Archbishop Welby:
Let’s remember that we are in this together. Let’s look after ourselves and our communities, gain courage from each other, and walk together in hope and faith.
See what a Christ-shaped church looks like! It delights in God. It sees beyond what is simply visible and hears what others do not. It has the heart of God. It is the very presence of God, the hand of God, the wisdom of God. It is hope that springs out of what looked to be utter despair.
This is what we aspire to be and do:
In repentance, to reform and look more like Christ, in bearing the image of God in all its diversity.
Thus we have come into the church we love and we come for solace, yes, but please Lord, strength, fortified by word and sacrament, and even that nod of the peace. In our joys and in our sorrows, the hymn says, days of toils and hours of ease.
Jesus does call us as the hymn says, from the tumult of life restless sea. So be it. Use his freedom and freewill gifts for the best, the hymn continues, with the request that we love him best of all. Safe in the arms of Jesus, let Christ live in you
Christ-like society from the struggles we have faced, and have yet to face.
Given he hope of resurrection we proclaim, given the solace and comfort of the risen Christ, we go out to bring solace and comfort to those we don’t know, those who are different. To go out and give the love of God.
Well we made it! Welcome home, one and all. In our hearts and minds we know the reality of COVID 19 is still with us, thus we need to get used to social distancing and take yourself, others and this horrid disease seriously but please not mournfully. We must be people of hope, not magic, but hope Yet we cant help but be thankful of our fellowship and our salvation. The goodness of which has been manifest so much over these past months, and indeed in the many months ahead.
I am determined to make you smile today. I was glad when they said unto me let us go into the house of the Lord. So we are here and we represent church family unable to join us, which is fully understandable. Yet I had one of those quiet moments when I visualised 30 of us just sitting and being within and in partnership with the universal body of Christ in the quiet of this holy temple. Just like married couples after the oneymoon is over!
Are you excited about taking Communion, I hope so. Remember we confess that Jesus passion becomes resurrection so hang in there with all your might. Without you we are incomplete, full stop!
I wonder if you feel Jesus walking with you, crying with you, and yes giving thanks for that wonderful song:
Everytime I hear a baby cry, or touch a leaf, or see a star, then I know why I believe. Nice, Fr Jim, but my doubts remain. You are not alone. Those of you of maximum certainty, well bless you, but we are an inclusive family, and being diverse as Fr Mark reminds us is not always easy. We see feel and experience life in differing ways. Yet we are often known in ways that surprise us. July 3rd was the feast of the doubter Thomas, maybe we should look at his way of dealing with grief and see how it can help us.
What is our identity. (School story) Archbishop Tutu used say of the Anglican Communion – God’s rainbow people.
I hope my looking back to golden moments, do any remember the words, bless this house, O Lord we pray, make it safe by night.
I continue to salute this church for your concern that we are the church of the open door. there were preparations done with great care, so thanks, but we are used to being there 7 days a week for the weary Kumon parent, or weary bus driver, lonely widow, retired persons, scared teenager and kids galore, sometimes I find them on the floor of chapel by Mary’s candles, making themselves at home.
One thing we must continue to look at with care is the rather goodly numbers that have worshipped with us on line. We have had some VIP preachers and more.
What are we learning day by day. Maybe it is time to think on these words:
Day by day, of thee 3 things I pray……
See thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly
The gospel reading makes us challenge the deaf ears of those who seem blind or impotent in hearing Christ moving us toward new life. We are compelled to be impressed, we are not full-faith, we grow, every time we open the Bible or say a Prayer.
Today after a seemingly long time we come face to face with each other and the Lord himself in the gift of his real presence, yes in the ordinary, bread, but lets be clear, there is nothing ordinary about this virus and its destruction
In that reality, we must, should and be wise to pray without ceasing. SO in that challenge also in heart, mind and spirit let us we pray
Those in our hearts and the first we think about at this happy reunion time. We remember Fy, Jo, Mary, Jim, James Nathan, Mark, Ian, Christine, Ian George and Eileen, Flo, Jill, Fred, Simon and Clare on this NHS anniversary day.
For our government and church leaders, pray for their commitment to a better world, where justice and peace, reign. Pray for those seeing a vaccine for the dread COVID19.
We pray for all effected by this virus and for the many who have died. May they rest in peace and rise in glory, and for those who mourn in this vale of tears. As a community may we find joy in believing and in each other,
All those hosannas may still be ringing in our ears, the palms, the joy, the parade, and lets not forget the donkey, not always the cleanest or most presentable animal. Alas, this was the prophecy and yet again this Jesus brings it all together in flesh and later blood, to a reality moment that is disheartening for us who believe and brutal to whom the shouts of hosanna fade as another chant begins to gather momentum. Crucify, crucify, ah yes crucify him, this king of the Jews and more. Robbers seem more acceptable than prophets, dare we say saviour. Others were crucified on the roads, yes right in the clamour of what we called the Old City, we tread as pilgrims and tourists. A few hosannas are lingering in the crowd, I am sure I can hear one or two hanging on as crucify gains momentum. The sounds of day by day living in Palestine are sprinkled with sweat and blood as we get close to God's Friday, Good Friday no less. According to tradition
Jesus's action prior o the Passover event dictate more revelations of who he is before the crunch comes and it is all seemingly over and done with. But ah, we gathered in this 900 year old sanctuary of love and peace, see his actions and character shine though the gloom and points us to the skies, as the hymn tells us so emotionally, help of the helpless, O abide with me.
What does one do when awaiting (not quite clear yet) for death. Those of us who have sat at the bedside of a dying family member or friend, know full that our times are truly in “his” hands, and in the blessed hands of affection and expertise we give along the Way.
I think here of Mary, Mary Magdalene, Beloved John, lovers of him who no longer even hears a faint hosanna, care-givers as the storm clouds gather. The quiet of the holy men gathered for the Passover by necessity has a few women around to do what is needed and maybe a servant boy.
This coming week we have the privilege and dare I say obligation to help tell this story to those who love and know it most and to those who find it all too much to absorb.
The shortest verse in the Bible comes from St John, when seeing the discord and feeling the pain of the people around him and indeed all of Jerusalem, the verse reads JESUS WEPT. He weeps, and as his followers so must weep and if we cant, we better stop and listen as the chant get louder and crucify starts its nasty tolling through the streets. Both St Marys and St James both have offerings of timeless worship each day of the week leading up to Easter itself.
Tonight and through Holy Week we are called to try to comprehend what will bring this story to a close. Again we are lucky because we know not only the story but the person who is the story, our Lord Jesus Christ, and to him be glory for ever and ever. No amen yet, as in the far distance I hear another chant, I cant quite make it out, it seems more upbeat. O my it is that word we do not say or sing in Lent, but we can keep it silently in our hearts, it begins with a, but sorry, we must wait just a bit longer, a few days, and then we will see that heart of Jesus throw open his heart so we can open ours to a waiting world.
O dearest Lord thy sacred heart….thou didst give thyself for me
now I give myself for thee
Tonight's Gospel reading from John begins on a note of real hope & optimism. Some Greeks [who represent the non-Jewish, Gentile world] ask to see Jesus. They are the first-fruits of the harvest of gentile believers (and that includes us here); those who would eventually come to put their trust in our Lord, and so come to the knowledge of God and the divine compassion and love.
For Jesus this is a great moment, & he exults: The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Yes. Already his ministry is bearing fruit. Praise the Lord for that!
Then comes a change of tone as Jesus points to the significance of his impending death: Just as the grain of wheat must die as a seed if is to bear a rich harvest, so he must die if his Father's will is to be fulfilled; he must die if the world is to be filled with the knowledge of God's love, and God's name be glorified.
The thought of crucifixion is terrifying, unbearable: should he pray to be spared the ordeal? No! never, not according to the 4th Gospel's understanding. Why? Because his death, and all that it signifies, is (from the Gospel writer's understanding), the whole reason for Christ coming into the world. This is the hour for which his whole ministry has been a preparation. There were a number of times when, in John's Gospel, Jesus or the gospel writer says that his hour has not yet come. Now it has come; and it will bring glory to God.
It will bring glory to God because Jesus' death will be the sign that the ruler of this world [Satan, - the power of evil] will be overcome.
All that is contrary to God's will is destined to be vanquished. And our Lord's cross can't be isolated from his resurrection. In John's gospel they're inseparable. The dying of the grain of wheat leads to the rich harvest of new life.
Jesus then alludes to an incident in the OT when the Jews were wandering in the wilderness after escaping from slavery in Egypt. They are plagued by snakes and suffering from snake-bites. So Moses makes an image of a snake; he attaches it to a pole and holds it up high so that all who have been bitten can see it. And all who see it are healed from the effects of the snake bites.
It's that OT incident that Jesus has in mind when he said of himself in chapter 3, This Son of man must be lifted up as the serpent was lifted up by Moses in the wilderness, so that everyone who has faith in him/ may in him possess eternal life.
So now Jesus says, When I am lifted up, I shall draw all people to myself. As the pole with the serpent fixed to it brought healing to the Hebrews in the wilderness, so Jesus, nailed to the cross, will bring us our salvation in the wilderness of our tortured world; his crucifixion will bring wholeness, it will restore our at-one-ment (atonement) with our heavenly Father. The stricken Jews in the wilderness had to look at, had to see, the serpent on the pole. Those Greeks asked to see Jesus.
There is a difference between looking and seeing. Many look at crucixes at roadside shrines on the continent, and millions of visitors to our churches and cathedrals also look at crosses and crucifixes. But how many see the significance of our Lord nailed to his cross - that it's actually a declaration of God's love towards us? How many women and men who wear a cross or crucifix as jewellery round their necks, or as earrings, are conscious that they are wearing an instrument of excruciating torture? And how many recognise the crucifix as the glorious sign of God's power over sin, evil, and death?
When Christians see the cross of Jesuswe see not just a man dying in agony on a cross; we see through that to the sacrificial love of our Lord's self-offering in obedience to the Father, for our sake; it is personal to us; in words used in the Stations of the Cross last week, This is for me. We see that the cross brings our ultimate wholeness and healing/ when we embrace that same sacrificial love; for it's that love which is the foundation of Christ's kingdom, the secret of his realm. Our Lord's sacrificial love overcomes the power of evil in us, and the consequences of our sinfulness; that love breaks down the barriers which keep us from God.
Many kingdoms of this world have come – some, perhaps many, by force of arms and oppression and been maintained by tyranny, but now have fallen and gone, or they will fall one day, perhaps even our own. But Christ's kingdom, his realm of sacrificial love, will endure into all eternity, because it isn't dependent on earthly power, status and ambition. Christ's kingdom is a kingdom of hearts and minds in tune with God's will, and which reveals the eternal nature of God our Creator and heavenly Father.
As we, the equivalent of those Greeks, contemplate our Lord's cross this Good Friday, may we all see more deeply into its meaning - for the world, for the Church, and for ourselves. Let it speak to us in our hearts to draw us ever closer to our Lord as his willing disciples.
And when we hear, or think of our Lord's words, I, when I am lifted up..., we might just ponder that he could also have been referring to what lay beyond the cross: the lifting-up of his resurrection. Together, the cross and resurrection have the power to draw all people to Jesus.
Let us pray:O Lord, our Saviour and God,
whom nails could not hold to the cross, but only love: Grant that we, who have received the fullness of your love, may be ready to bear before the world the marks of your Passion; You who are alive, and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Today is Passion Sunday marking the two weeks leading up to Good Friday and Easter; The time when we're invited to focus on what our Lord's death on the cross means for us and for the world.
Today's events in John's Gospel occur two days after our Lord's triumphal entry into Jerusalem = Tuesday in our Holy Week, the time of the Jewish Passover Festival. Philip and Andrew, our Lord's disciples are no doubt on a high: Not long previously they witnessed Jesus wonderfully raising Lazarus from death in Bethany, and because of this, witnessed the increased interest in Jesus by the crowds – indeed the Pharisees complained that “all the world has gone after him”. Philip and Andrew again witnessed the excited acclamations of the crowd as Jesus entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday just two days previously. And now two Greeks are asking to see Jesus – perhaps Greeks who have converted to the Jewish faith, or Greek-speaking Jews. Whichever, they represented the wider world outside of Judaism. This was good news indeed! Our Lord's message and influence was clearly spreading beyond the Jewish constituency that Jesus had confined his ministry to. Wasn't it wonderful!
So Philip and Andrew find Jesus and tell him the great news that some Greeks are asking to see him. And what is our Lord's response? It hit Philip and Andrew like a cold wet flannel across the face! “Unless a grain of wheat fall into the earth and dies, it remains a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit&rdquo. And then words about loving your life and losing it, and hating your life and finding eternal life. Why talk about death and hating life when now, after 3 years of public ministry, things seem to taking off, with all the signs of a successful ministry? They couldn't understand it.
“Now my soul is troubled”, Jesus goes on to say. In Gethsemane, according to Luke's Gospel, Jesus prays for the cup of suffering to be taken from him, praying in extremis of dread, his sweat like drops of blood. But according to John's gospel, our Lord's attitude is the opposite to that! “What should I say”, says Jesus, “Father, save me from this hour. No! This is the very reason I have come to this hour”. It's a moment of great glory for Jesus.
Jesus sees the bigger picture. God has bigger plans than Philip and Andrew and we can imagine, and a different way of bringing in God's harvest. Jesus recalls God's promise to Abraham (Gen 12) that in him ALL the families of the earth will be blest. These two Greeks were barely a taste of what God is doing! And Jesus states as much when he says “I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw ALL people to myself”; not just two Greeks. Jesus understands the breath-taking scope of what his heavenly Father has promised; his expectations were far, far greater than those of Philip and Andrew. Jesus knows that God's way of working is very different to what Philip and Andrew and we would choose. It's the way of death and resurrection, death and NEW LIFE; that is God's way of bringing forth fruit, abundant fruit – not only in the life of the spirit, but also in the natural life of the world and the universe.
STARS die to bring forth new cosmic creations; studies in the world of nature show clearly that the death of creatures and plants is essential for all life to continue. The principle of SACRIFICE is written into the fabric of our wonderful creation. Aren't our own deaths necessary to make way for new generations to arise and flourish?
To help us understand the meaning of his death on the cross Jesus uses the image of the single grain of wheat dying in the earth if it is to produce a harvest of 30, 40, even 100-fold. It is so that ALL people may experience true life, the life eternal, with God. “I have come”, said Jesus, “that people may have life. And may have it in all its fullness”. And the Signs that Jesus performed in John's gospel all demonstrate the truth of his words: The abundance of new wine at the wedding in Cana to ensure the joy and celebration of the bride and groom and all the guests; the healing of the man born blind, opening to him a radically new experience of life - seeing his parents for the first time, seeing the magnificence of the Temple buildings, the wonder of creation around him, and living a much more independent life, a much fuller life. The same applies to the paralysed man at the pool of Siloam, whose healing by Jesus transformed his whole existence (not without challenge it has to be said), giving him also the gift of a much fuller life. Feeding the 5000, with so much abundance that there were 12 baskets of food collected afterwards – a wonderful sign of God's intention that people should experience God's overflowing generosity, enriching their lives. The healing of the son of a royal officer in Capernaum led to that officer and his household becoming believers in Jesus. And the greatest sign of Life in Jesus' ministry thus far - the raising of his friend Lazarus from the dead.
All these were signs of God's constant, overflowing, generous love, God drawing us and all creation into the fullness of new creation revealed in and through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That this is one, if not the greatest, meaning of our Lord's signs in John's gospel is revealed in the words at John 20.31 where the evangelist states “These signs … have been recorded in order that you may hold the faith that Jesus is the Christ …and through this faith you may possess life by his name”. Jesus came that we may have Life, life in its fullness!
In Passiontide, when we are encouraged to meditate on our Lord's death and its meaning, we should keep in the forefront of our minds that it is God's desire, revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, that we and the whole of God's creation should have abundant life, life fulfilled; to live lives that rejoice in God's creation, that find love and affirmation in relationships, lives that look to build up and affirm and heal, lives that express joy and fulfilment through art, music, poetry, dance – all creativity. This is why I believe that Holy Week and Easter has little or nothing to say about Jesus dying for our sins, dying to ‘redeem’ us from our ‘fallen state’, or paying the penalty for our wicked ways. Despite what the Church has taught us for so long, and what we repeat in our Holy Week worship and our hymns and prayers, this isn't the focus of our Lord's ministry and teaching in the Gospels. Jesus didn't constantly tell his listeners how bad they were, how great their sins were (something we hear about ourselves at the beginning of all our services. Would you repeatedly encourage your children or grandchildren to think how bad they are? It's unhealthy psychologically and spiritually).
I'm sorry if that sounds shocking, but this emphasis on sin and how awful we are doesn't fit the picture I get of the meaning of our Lord's ministry, as I've tried to show. There are only 14 references to sin in the four Gospels, not one in Mark or Luke; it's not a major concern. St. Paul is very concerned with sin (35 references in his letter to the Romans, for starters). Somehow the meaning of our Lord's ministry and his death on the cross changed. If any of the gospel writers knew of Paul's letters or his teaching on sin, they didn't incorporate it into their gospels. In today's gospel reading where Jesus is pointing to his death he makes no reference to sin at all. Instead, he speaks of great fruitfulness, of new life, of bringing ALL people to a knowledge of, and a relationship, with, God.
John's Gospel has Jesus crucified at the same time the Jews would be slaughtering their Paschal lamb. The Paschal lamb was not a sacrificial lamb, it had nothing to do with sin and forgiveness, but it had everything to do with escaping death. Passover celebrated the Jews' deliverance from death in Egypt the night before they escaped from slavery to their freedom in the promised land. At God's command the angel of death was to pass over Egypt killing all the first-born Egyptian males. The Jews would avoid that death by smearing blood from the lamb they had been instructed to kill and eat that evening onto the doorposts and lintels of their homes, so that the angel of death would know which homes to ‘pass over’. The paschal Lamb delivered from death, and John is telling us that the death of Jesus both delivers us from the finality of death and separation from God, and gives to his people the possibility of new and abundant life even here and now, let alone into eternity. That's what I believe the cross of Jesus is about.
‘Hold on’ I hear someone saying. In that same Gospel of John we read of John the Baptist saying (to whom we're not told) ”Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Sometime later, we read, the Baptist points to Jesus, telling two of his own disciples, “Here is the Lamb of God”, and they follow Jesus. So, there you are, Jesus is about sin. I don't think so. John the Baptist was the last prophet of the Old Testament, the old dispensation. His was the old understanding of the need for sins to be taken away by animal sacrifices. He was not a Christian; and he did not live long enough to witness our Lord's death as the Passover lambs were being slaughtered, and understand its significance. Unfortunately, the Church has failed to take up the understanding of the 4th Gospel, and has instead gone with John the Baptist's understanding, encouraging us all think of ourselves as primarily ‘miserable sinners’.
If any of what I have said strikes a chord, speaks to your own experience, or helps you see our Lord's death in a fresh light, then I hope as you share in our Holy Week worship you will be able to see beyond the emphasis on sin; rather, that you will be led to gaze in wonder at God's love shown in our Lord's embracing his cross for our sake, which he did in order that we may experience and live the fullness of life which he came to bring in fulfilment of his divine Commission.