Fifth Sunday of Lent
7 April 2019
10.30 Sung Eucharist
Revd Nicholas Mercer
Today marks the beginning of Passiontide
It is a two week period which marks the final journey of our Lord to his death on Good Friday
The term, perhaps, is confusing as we normally associate Palm Sunday with the start of Passiontide particularly as we will read the Passion narrative in Luke’s Gospel next Sunday
The liturgical colours also give mixed messages.
Today, the Church is in purple for the fifth Sunday of Lent but Purple gives way to Red this week
Red marks Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Saints Days
Red is also the colour of blood –
The colour is a stark reminder of the story at the heart of this season and the fate which befalls our Lord in a fortnight’s time
At this time of year however most of us are looking forward to Easter
Easter, is probably the most important feast day in the Christian calendar and a time for celebration of the Resurrection
However, the Resurrection, in a sense, marks the end of Christ’s journey, not the journey itself.
And the fortnight before Easter is anything but joyful
In the next fortnight, we will follow Christ’s journey from the Judean countryside to an inevitable confrontation with the political and religious authorities in Jerusalem.
As a result, blood will pour from his wounds
We are often loath to remember this part of the Christian year
However, Passiontide is an integral part of the Easter story, and, above all, reminds us of the potential price of Christian discipleship
The fifteenth century Dutch/German Theologian, Thomas a Kempis wrote a book called “The imitation of Christ”
It is the second most read book in Christianity after the Bible
The book asks, in essence, “How [does] Jesus wants us to live”?
And, in a round about way, Thomas a Kempis posed the question in his book, “When did you shed blood for your faith”? (“single drop on the pavement”)
This is a very stark question to be posing in the beautiful tranquillity of Bolton Abbey on the fifth Sunday in Lent
Of course, most of us don’t.
We prefer to live out our lives in peace – avoiding such confrontation or indeed any confrontation at all when it comes to our faith
I don’t say that in any arrogant way.
If we seek to avoid such things we are in good company for, in the next fortnight, Jesus’ disciples will do exactly the same thing.
But this week in Passiontide, we will remember the Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer – whose anniversary of his death falls on Tuesday
Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran Pastor who found himself in confrontation with the political authorities in Nazi Germany
In particular, he refused to swear allegiance to the Nazi regime and undertake military service – something he was criticised for by other Churches
In 1939 he was invited to flee to the United States to avoid an almost inevitable confrontation with the regime
He duly did so but realised that he had made a mistake
“I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America.
Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilisation may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization”
On his return, he confronted the Nazi regime
He was, inevitably, arrested and was executed in the closing days of the war
He suffered a form of execution every bit as brutal and bitter as that of our Lord
He was stripped naked and strangled by hanging at Flosenberg Concentration Camp on the 9th April 1945. Two weeks before the camp was liberated.
His anniversary falls on Tuesday
Before his death, Bonhoeffer wrote a book called “The cost of Christian discipleship” where he stated
“the ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from [his difficulties], but how the coming generation shall continue to live.”
This fortnight now in front of us reminds us not only of Christ’s witness but our duty to confront injustices in the world and the possible price that may bring to us
The former Bishop of Oxford, John Pritchard wrote a very readable book called “Living Faithfully – following Christ in everyday life”
This included a chapter which he called “being political”
In the chapter he quotes the Old Testament prophet Isaiah who said that he did not want our worship in the Temple, but rather that we should
Learn to do good, seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, defend the fatherless and plead for the widow (17)
In other words, to walk God’s path, to walk in the way of the Cross, you may need to become political not just religious
There is a tendency in the Church, particularly in the Church of England to avoid politics altogether
We have become a sort of national referee
But Christian witness and politics go hand in hand
This relationship is neatly summed up by Archbishop Helder Camara who said
When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist
In our own local setting, Bolton Abbey provides food for the Foodbank as well as Baby Basics
In doing so we are bearing witness to our faith
However, as well as providing food and other necessities, we also have to ask ourselves why this should occur in the fifth richest economy in the world?
This was examined on the BBC News this week where they looked at food poverty in Yorkshire
It is a complicated issue but includes the cost of housing and the expense of utilities.
These are, by their very nature, political issues
It is our duty, not only to feed the poor but to confront the system which allows this to happen.
As I was saying good bye to the Bishop Helen Anne on Monday, she told me that she had had a most interesting conversation with my son at the reception afterwards
I was obviously pleased as a parent but curious as to what had been said on my first day in post! What secrets had he revealed?
The next day, I inevitably asked my son what he had been discussing with the Bishop
He said that he was interested about her comments in her sermon about discipleship being with people in their journey.
Bravely, he took issue with her definition
He said that Bonhoeffer, whom he was studying at School, had said that discipleship was not just about being with people but about cost
He quoted Bonhoeffer who said
“When Christ calls a man, he bid’st him come and die”
Christian discipleship is more than just about going to Church- it is more than generous giving – it is about confronting injustice at the same time
And confronting injustice often comes at a price
What is that price?
The clue is in the colour – the cost is potentially our blood
In the name etc