I was on a day trip to one of our most beautiful Cathedrals. I was about seventeen years of age. I was walking down the Nave gazing around (as you do) …. and something told me I must turn around and look at the Cross. I still struggle to put into words what I felt gazing at that man…. on that cross… but something changed. It was just one moment; one of a series of moments over about a year in which I found myself being drawn into Christian faith; but the heart of it was just that man ….on that cross.
Again, I`ve never really made sense of it but I always remember that moment when I hear the words of our Gospel reading this morning; “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12.32)
And this little episode which begins with some Greek speaking visitors to the festival wanting to see Jesus acts as a pivotal moment in John`s Gospel. Jesus` reply to Philip and Andrew seems to indicate that he believes that they and we will truly `see` him and come to know him, when he is lifted up… on that Cross.
Jesus seems to think- and St. John bears this out in the way he tells the story- that it`s the Cross (and as I want to add) the events of Holy Week where we will see him at his most compelling and engaging and I think this is true. So his short passage invites us to reflect on how WE are drawn to him….. and to ask “What do we see?” as we gaze upon him.
I am extremely grateful to the Parish Church that first received that seventeen year-old who`d seen something on the cross, because they taught me the importance of Holy Week. Of how important it is to keep on looking at the cross. Each day was marked with some act of worship; some opportunity to hear and enter into the unfolding account of what led to the lifting up of Christ on that cross.
The highlights of course were Palm Sunday- Jesus` entry into Jerusalem. Maundy Thursday- the last Supper and foot washing. Good Friday -and the Words from the Cross. Holy Saturday- the lighting of the Easter Fire…. and of course, Easter Day itself. The point is that at every turn I was invited to accompany Christ on his way to the cross; to watch him; to listen to him and to want to be like him.
And in those days I recall being bowled over by some of the things Christ said and did. So for example, the way Christ sat light to the cheers of the Jerusalem Crowds; how he refused to accept their agenda for him…. taught me that sometimes being a Christian means standing out; doing the unconventional thing; refusing to follow the herd. And it was borne out by what he had said in Luke`s Gospel: “Woe to you when all speak well of you” (Luke 6.26).
I was astonished as well, at the Christ who washed his disciples` feet. He totally overturning everyone`s expectations, assumptions and values. But then I heard him say in Matthew`s Gospel “…if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same?” (Matthew 5.46). This Jesus broke down and transcended barriers which I and others took for granted.
And I realised how I had been brought up in a world that lived on instinct and excused all kinds of behaviour by calling it `human nature`….. So being confronted by someone who was so battered and abused and yet refused to hate in return was quite a revelation. “Father Forgive… “ he said, from the cross (Luke 23.34).
These are just my earliest memories… much else has happened since but it`s all tied together by a passage in John`s Gospel which, again caught me by surprise. We`re told of the time when Jesus` first disciples were deserting him in droves.
They couldn`t stomach his teaching and Jesus asked the twelve if they were going to run out on him as well. It was Peter who replied, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life”. (John 6.68) And that was it for me. I realised there could be no-one else to compare with him.
Now, thank you for bearing with part of MY story. Just part of the way I would try to express how I have felt drawn to Christ. This is how I have felt blessed. These are the things that continue to make me want to watch him; to listen to him and to be like him. I realise that I`ve been privileged over the years to have the opportunity to reflect and think about these things. I`ve even been given a `religious language` to try to describe it all… although as I say sometimes these things are not easily put into words. But I wonder. Where would you start telling the story of what has drawn you to Christ?
Each year as we get closer to Holy week – for some unaccountable reason I always find one line or text from the Passion Story just seems to appear from the `memory bank` ….. and as it were `accompany` me over the weeks that follow.
Earlier this week it happened again. I found myself recalling the moment in Matthew`s Gospel where just after Jesus is crucified we`re told “then they sat down there and kept watch over him”. (Matthew 27.36) Perhaps you`d like to join me in holding onto that picture; “they sat down there and kept watch over him”.
It`s often said; but it needs endless repetition: “The Christian faith is not a philosophy or a series of propositions or even doctrines. The Christian Faith is a person- that man, on that Cross”. So this, I think is my invitation to you this year. Holy Week is soon to be upon us. I`d like to ask you to generously enter into the unfolding story of how Christ is lifted up on that cross. As I was saying last week- re-shape your life and family commitments to make it possible. Keep watch over him. Listen to him, desire to be like him and become more aware of how he is drawing you closer to himself ….as he promised.