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Lent 5 Year B 29.iii.

2009 Eucharist

Jeremiah 31.31-34; Hebrews 5.5-10; John 12.20-33

Today is the 5th Sunday of Lent – known in the Anglican Church as Passion
Sunday. But what does that mean to us? And what does it mean to other
people?

Like many of you, perhaps, I went down into the centre of Shotley Bridge
yesterday for the village‟s “Open Weekend.” Despite pretty awful weather at
the start of the day, a good number of people turned out to take up the
invitation to see what is on offer in the growing number of businesses. Quite
a lot of drivers ignored the requests in the shop windows not to block the
entrances to the shops by parking across the yellow lines. But thankfully still
more discovered that it is possible to walk the hundred yards or so from the
perfectly-well designated legal parking spaces on Cutlers Hall Road – or just
to walk to the village without a car at all. Anyway, most of the shops were
crammed with people. Two bridal shops in a village where I‟ve so far
booked only six weddings this year might seem like overkill, but put a free
chocolate fountain in one of them and the crowd will turn out. Hopefully
people will come from far and wide as the word gets round. And for the first
time in years, every one of our shop units has an occupier – and there are as
well more shop fronts than there have been for years. Who knows? –
perhaps Shotley Bridge will lead the country out of the Recession?

Two of the shops were open for the first time yesterday. And finding myself
in the new patisserie yesterday I thought about Joanne Harris‟s book and

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film, Chocolat. It‟s the story of a young single mother in 1950s France who
comes to a village with her daughter to open a chocolaterie – a shop selling
chocolate and classy sweets. Just what we now have in Shotley Bridge. And
like the owners here, she opens her shop during the season of Lent. Some
people might just possibly remark ironically on that here, but then they shrug
their shoulders, say “Isn‟t it wonderful?” and start buying. Rather different
in the story, Chocolat. There the Mayor - a prominent lay person in his local
church – leads a campaign to get the shop closed. He doesn‟t like the sort of
person he thinks she is. And for him the timing of the shop opening is a
flagrant defiance of the Church‟s rules of fasting: by selling chocolate in
Lent, she is deliberately putting temptation in people‟s way.

Which might all seem rather quaint – and the story is a comedy, though with
a dark side too. But Lenten discipline has been important in the life of
Christians for centuries. Though I welcome the new shop – and the last thing
I‟d want is to see it closed – it‟s not the case that self-denial is simply out of
date, something belonging in the past. Lenten discipline can come in various
forms: giving something up, taking something on especially in focusing on
prayer, study and service of others, generally tuning in to our limitations so
that we can better recognise the place of God in our lives – all have their part
to play. The Dominican priest, Timothy Radcliffe, writes:

Penance and fasting sound grim and world-denying. But the word
Lent just meant “Spring” until the 13th Century. It was a time of
renewal and rejuvenation, as we prepared for the explosion of life at
Easter. By abstaining from things that we want - alcohol, chocolate or
whatever – we are brought back to our deepest desires, for peace and
justice, for the fullness of life, and ultimately, for God.

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I was struck by these words, which recall us to our Christian vocation.

These days people tend to believe that having what they want is a good

thing. Actually there’s a long Christian tradition that says just that: St.

Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, taught that we grow in prayer by

recognising our desires and where they lead us. What we‟ve lost is the

ability to discriminate between those things which we want today but

tomorrow will tire of – and those good things which Timothy Radcliffe calls

“our deepest desires,... for peace and justice, for the fullness of life, and

ultimately, for God.” What do we really want? That‟s what we need to ask

ourselves – and Lent is a good time to do it. In fact the Church gives us a

prayer which we used at the start of Lent in a service of penitence:

Lord our God,


grant us grace to desire you with our whole heart;
that, so desiring, we may seek and find you;
and so finding may love you;
and so loving may hate those sins
from which you have delivered us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Desire requires the whole heart, not simply the passing fancy. And the goal

of desire is God and the knowledge of his love. Find him, and we will

discover how he acts for our good.

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Which brings me at last to today‟s Gospel. Greek speaking Jews on

pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover come to the disciple

Philip and tell him that they want to see Jesus. Philip tells Andrew, and

together they go to tell Jesus. And we never discover the outcome. The Greek

pilgrims express the desire to see Jesus. But we don‟t know whether they

ever get to meet him. Instead we hear what Jesus has to say to the disciples –

that the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified, and what this will

mean is something different from what the crowds had looked for. Most

Bible commentators make the connection between Jesus speaking of his

being glorified and the passage we heard last Sunday where he says that the

Son of Man will be “lifted up.” The glory of God will be revealed in Jesus

when he is lifted up on the Cross. The Greeks came wanting to see Jesus like

today‟s crowds turn out for a celebrity. They look for a sort of glory which

they confuse with fame – and it seems that they must go away disappointed.

What are we looking for? As Jesus‟ response goes on in today‟s Gospel, he

says, “Now my soul is troubled.” Should he ask God to save him from this

hour? We speak of getting our hour of glory. But for Jesus the only

exaltation will be on the Cross. St. John‟s Gospel doesn‟t show us Christ‟s

anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed that he might not have

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to go to his death. Instead here he recognises the troubling of his soul, the

cost of his work in proclaiming the Kingdom of God... a cost which is his

death.

So where can we see Jesus? On the Cross... But also to find him in the

honest searching of our hearts – in recognising our true desire of which the

fulfilment is to be found in God.

Timothy Radcliffe – in his book written for this Lent, “Why go to Church?”

– takes the reader through the drama of the Eucharist asking just what are

we doing here? When we get to the Offertory, it‟s more than simply taking

the collection. He writes,

The Eucharist moves towards ever deeper emptiness and plenitude. At


the Offertory, we place(d) our gifts on the altar so as to have empty
hands to receive Jesus‟ body and blood, but still our hands are not
filled. We learn that it is by being empty that gifts continue to
circulate...”

And as we come to receive Communion, in a sense the body disappears:

eating Christ‟s body and blood, we find that he disappears from sight and

touch. Growing mature in Christ means in a real way letting go of God: “as

if God disappears as someone over against us, and becomes the one in

whom we live.”

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So where are we to find Jesus? Timothy Radcliffe tells the reader about the

monks of La Grande Chartreuse who live in a silence which forms “an

emptiness in which they meet God.” He quotes a review by Laurence

Freeman of a film about their life, Into Great Silence, and these words seem

a fitting place to end:

„It is a love story. This is the secret of the film. The monks seem
happy but are not in love with each other. If they love each other it is
because they are in love with the same invisible yet apparently ever-
present person. Unnamed, unseen, even unspoken-to, God plays in
every scene. At first, one assumes it is the visible people who are the
lovers. Slowly it dawns that they are mirrors. The love we speak of is
not our love for God but God‟s love for us.‟ God is present among
them precisely in the silence. God disappears because he is so close.