Homily preached by Fr Daniel Trott
on Wednesday 17th April 2019
Isaiah 50.4–9a; Psalm 70; Hebrews 12.1–3; John 13.21–32
This week we focus on Jesus’s last days. We follow his every word and move, and try to commemorate him appropriately. But this can give the impression that Christian faith is all about remembering, whereas actually, of course, it’s all about following. It’s not remembering what Jesus did two thousand years ago that makes us Christians, it’s following him as his disciples now.
One of the things that I think gets in the way is when we give the impression that Jesus wanted to die. One of the verses of the morning office hymn in Passiontide goes:
Thirty years among us dwelling,
his appointed time fulfilled,
born for this, he meets his Passion,
for that this he freely willed:
on the Cross the Lamb is lifted,
where his life-blood shall be spilled.
This implies that Jesus’s thirty-or-so years were just waiting for death. But the gospels don’t suggest that Jesus wanted to die. On the contrary, when Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane after the Last Supper, it seems that he really doesn’t want to die:
They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ (Mark 14.32–36)
The idea of dying really troubles Jesus – but he does want to follow his Father’s will.
So (I’m sorry, Fr John) it’s not all about Judas. Judas wasn’t a particularly evil person who scuppered Jesus’s mission. If Judas hadn’t betrayed him, they’d have caught up with him sooner or later. The Father had sent Jesus on a mission that was bound to bring him into conflict with the powers of the world – the religious authorities and the political authorities – and Jesus was determined to continue with that mission, come what may.
There are parallels with the ‘servant of the Lord’ in our first reading, from the second part of Isaiah. This prophet knows that he has been given a message from God, and he will preach it, whatever reaction he gets. And he will end up being put to death, as we will hear in our reading from chapter 53 of Isaiah on Good Friday.
There are also parallels with many Christian martyrs. One example is Óscar Romero, who has recently been declared a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. He was Archbishop of San Salvador during the Salvadoran Civil War, and he spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations, and torture. He wasn’t looking to get killed, but he knew that what he was doing made that more likely. He was murdered in 1980, probably at the order of a far-right politician. Romero had been faithful to the end in carrying out God’s mission as he understood it.
So what does this mean for us? Jesus’s death was unique, and, as we say in the creed, he was crucified ‘for us’ – but that doesn’t mean he’s done all the missioning and dying so that we don’t have to. Our second reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, describes Jesus as ‘the pioneer and perfecter of our faith’. Jesus is an example for our lives of faith, and his devotion to the Father’s will, even unto death, is something we are called to embrace.
Our faith calls us to believe in the kingdom of God, a better world, the eternal purposes God has for his creation. The ‘servant of the Lord’ in Isaiah believed in this, Jesus believed in this, and Óscar Romero believed in this. God invited them, and he invites us, to work for that kingdom, that glorious future – and to face the difficulties along the way.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.