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Sermon at Evensong on the Fifth Sunday of Lent 2019

Today is the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end

The Venerable David Stanton Canon in Residence

Sunday, 7th April 2019 at 3.00 PM

Today we mark the beginning of Passiontide and it could well be said that today is the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end. So where does the journey to the cross begin? Certainly long before Good Friday, even before Jesus birth.

In Advent we sing. 'Come thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free,' in the old Passover we recall the liberation of the Children of Israel, and in the new Passover we see how Christ brought it to its full meaning.

Throughout the Old Testament we see a longing for the future Messiah. I wonder when Jesus himself realised that the path of the Messiah led not to earthly victory but through the valley of the shadow of death.

The three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, divide Jesus' ministry into two parts. First (starting in Galilee) comes preaching, teaching, healing and success.

Then comes Jerusalem, characterised by opposition, rejection, suffering and finally death though (we who come after know) that resurrection followed.

A turning point between the two phases of Jesus' ministry appears just after the Transfiguration, as Jesus and his disciples are on the road near Caesarea Philippi.

He asks them 'Who do others say I am? Who do you say I am?' Simon Peter cannot contain himself and responds: 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!'

Thereafter, the gospels tell us, Jesus 'resolutely sets his face towards Jerusalem'.

He begins to teach that there he must 'suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, that he must be killed, and on the third day be raised to life.'

Simon Peter, who was horrified, responds, 'Lord, this must never happen to you!' Jesus turns and says those shocking words, 'Get behind me Satan.' It seems that as they journeyed right through to Good Friday, the disciples still thought in terms of a triumphant Messiah. They did not believe that God would let his son die.

Our New Testament reading this afternoon, (Luke 22. 1-13) speaks of journeying to find Christ in the Passover sacrifice, as the Lamb of God. You will recall how on that day of Unleavened Bread, Jesus sent Peter and John to make preparations and, without hesitation, they followed his command.

These first disciples demonstrate how discipleship is a state of being, about how we live. They embody the fact that disciples expect things to happen, that something will burst through the ordinary and uncover a new light.

They teach us to watch, to remain alert, attentive; watching through symbolic acts (water and bread and wine) as well as listening for words; in other words, discipleship is all about being aware and expectant.

Unlike those early disciples at the Passover, we have the Holy Spirit to direct and inform, to energize our awareness, to kindle our expectancy.

But like those first disciples, we too look as well as listen. We watch with expectancy the world in which live. We listen for the word to come alive for us in scripture. We anticipate the journey into Holy week, entering into both its agony and joy.

We see that discipleship is all about travelling, and growing. How paradoxically, discipleship is a journey away from home, and a journey toward home.

So today is the beginning of the end, the calm before the storm. As it were, dinner with friends on a Saturday night, before the following Sunday when we recall Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. Following that, we enter into the gathering momentum of Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday.

But today is the beginning of the beginning, the new beginning that Jesus makes. It is the beginning of the end of the end, because death will be overcome. We enter this spiritual journey, if we, like Peter and John, spend time learning from our Lord.

As post-resurrection believers we should, in theory at least, understand a little more than Christ's first disciples in the gospels. We have the Holy Spirit to direct and inform us, to energize our awareness, to kindle our expectancy.

But like those first disciples, we look as well as listen. We watch with expectancy and we listen for the word to come alive for us in scripture. We anticipate the great events of Holy Week – and we look for the great self-identifying actions of the Church in the sacraments to come alive.

We look, and we listen with awareness and with expectation. Jesus redefines the Passover. For this farewell meal was not just the old Passover, but the new one, which Jesus himself  accomplished.

Even though the meal that Jesus shared with the twelve was not a Passover meal as prescribed in Judaism, nevertheless, the inner connection of the whole event with Jesus’ death and Resurrection stood out clearly.

It was Jesus’ Passover, and in this sense he both did and did not celebrate it; the old rituals could not be carried out when their time came, because Jesus had already died.

He had given himself, and therefore he had truly celebrated the Passover with them.

The old was not abolished; it was simply brought to its full meaning. How re-assuring it is to know that Jesus’ Passover continues each time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist.

This great spiritual journey reveals how our Lord of life has broken the power of death.

He is the light that shines in the darkness, and this is the message of Lent and Easter.

Jesus wants us to redefine life and death, and face it, as he did, with courage, and faith, and hope.

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