What is the depth of the relationship between us and our nearest and dearest? In the Bible reading for this week, we have the story of Jesus’ passion which includes the account of the Last Supper which Jesus shares with his disciples. As he hands around the cup, Jesus says, “this is my blood of the (new) covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” The word covenant was crucial to the people of Israel and it is crucial to all Christians too. Jesus, by his life and, crucially, death, made possible a new relationship between God and man. In effect, Jesus was saying, you have seen me and, in seeing me, you have seen the heart of God. Jesus by his teachings, healings, compassion, passion and death has revealed to humanity what God is like. Jesus was the personification of God’s love for humanity. Because of Jesus’ suffering and death, the way is now open for humanity to have a relationship with the living God. In these dark times of the corona virus, we need to hold onto the truth of Holy Week which proves that God is on our side. God is for us; God is with us; God will not desert us, especially through these troubling times. Perhaps we can join with the hymn writer: “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.”
Do we stand up for what we believe in? In this time of global crisis where Christians cannot physically meet for fellowship, how do we remain strong in our faith? The Bible passage for this week recounts the story of the blind man at the pool. Jesus healed him and then the pharisees interrogated him and his parents. Despite the isolation and fear of excommunication, the blind man remained resolute. “All I know is that I was blind and now I can see….no man has ever opened the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he couldn’t do it.” It is a tremendous profession of faith in the face of opposition. Why? Because Jesus had changed his life. After the man was thrown out of the place of worship, Jesus did not desert him. He found him and revealed to him who He was. Jesus is always true to the person who is true to Him and this loyalty brings revelation. In this season of trial, this is equally true and relevant.
Where should we worship God? Of course, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic with social distancing and churches shut, this is a topical question. In this week’s Bible reading, Jesus gives clear advice. He tells the woman at the well in Samaria, “It doesn’t matter whether you worship the Father here or in Jerusalem.” What prompted this remark? The Samaritans had adjusted history to suit themselves. They said that Abraham had been willing to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Gerizim and that it was at Mount Gerizim that Melchizedek had appeared to Abraham. Moreover, they held that it was on Mount Gerizim that Moses had first erected an altar when the people entered the promised land. As a result of all of this, the Samaritans had been brought up to believe that Mount Gerizim was more sacred than Jerusalem. It is for this reason that the woman in Samaria asked Jesus the question, “Where should we worship God?” Jesus’ answer is clear: God is Spirit and what matters is not where you worship Him but that you worship Him in spirit and in truth. In church or out of church; in groups or individually, we can worship God anytime, anywhere. Let’s keep praying for the world at this critical time by continuing in a state of worship, wherever we are.
Which verse in the Bible best sums up the Gospel? For many people, it is the one found in this week’s Bible reading from John’s Gospel: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” This verse tells us at least three great truths. Firstly, the initiative of salvation is God’s. Jesus did not change God’s mind. God was not someone who was angry and needed to be pacified by a human response. The origin of our salvation is purely God’s. Next, it tells us that the essence of God is love. It was love that formed the universe and love that drove our salvation. Salvation was not to bring the universe to heel and satisfy God’s desire for power. It was to satisfy his love for us. Finally, this verse tells us of the breadth of God’s love. It was the whole world that God loved. It was every race and every tribe and every person within those. God loves the unlovely, the unlovable, the pagan the atheist and the terrorist. All are included in God’s vast love. As Augustine wrote: “God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love.”
Is Lent about temptation? The Bible passage this week is the account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. However, perhaps ‘temptation’ is the wrong word. The Greek word used in the New Testament is peirazein. A better translation of this word is ‘test’ rather than ‘tempt’ which has connotations of seducing someone into evil. When God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, this should not be seen as God seducing Abraham into evil. It would be unthinkable for God to be like that. A better understanding of Lent is that God is growing our faith through testing. In the wilderness Jesus was learning how to conquer sin. In the wilderness, between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, Jesus was alone. Sometimes, God calls us to be alone so that we can grow in our faith. It is only in the process of doing tests that we can get better at exams. It is only when God, who will never test us beyond our limit, gives us tests that we can develop into the image of Christ. Therefore, the season of Lent is not to be feared but rather to be embraced as a time where we can grow more into the likeness of the one who overcame all sin and reigns with God on high.
This week is Passion week and the Gospel reading assigned is the whole of the Passion narrative recorded in Luke’s Gospel. It is a very long reading spanning two chapters, but it is a wonderful opportunity to grasp something of the enormity of Jesus’ sacrifice and love for us. What strikes us about the whole narrative covering the last supper, the arrest, the trial, the crucifixion and the death of Jesus? The answer is more than words can tell here but, for me, two words stand out. Those two words are ‘humble obedience’. In an age when the church celebrates intellect, fluent oratory and leadership perhaps we neglect these two crucial (this word is derived from cross) qualities. Jesus had unlimited intelligence, great oratory skills and outstanding leadership qualities but He also had phenomenal humility and obedience to see him through his Passion. This Holy Week let us exercise these God-given gifts and see how our world responds. Let me leave you with the Epistle reading for this week: “Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross”. AMEN.