Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday), Year B - Mucknell Abbey
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Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday), Year B

The Community here at Mucknell is, as with any group, made up of diverse individuals with varying opinions on just about everything! As such, sermons posted on our website represent the ideas of the preachers who wrote and delivered them, not necessarily those of the entire Community.

Sunday 10th March, 2024

I come from ‘up North’.

When I told folk at home that I was going to be a curate in Leeds, several asked why on earth I was going away ‘down South’ rather than staying ‘up North’. From Cumbria, Leeds IS ‘away down South’!!!

‘Up North’; ‘Down South’ we are used to; it has a very different ring to ‘Down North’ or ‘Up South’ – Yet I was taught that one always went ‘up to London’, even if London was ‘down South’.

In her last years the increasingly diminutive figure of Queen Elizabeth the Second was often accompanied by the kilted 6-foot odd Major Jonny Thompson. To say that he ‘looked down’ on her was literally true….but also true was that he ‘looked up to her’, as his much respected Sovereign. To say that he ‘looked down on her’ would have implied that he despised her.

So what do we understand when Jesus says that ‘the Son of Man must be lifted up?’ – and later in the Gospel, ‘When I am lifted up I will draw all people to myself.’

Having been reminded in today’s first reading of the story of Moses and the poisonous serpents in the wilderness, we have an idea of what Jesus is alluding to –to gaze on the bronze serpent when it was lifted up was healing and life-giving. When Jesus is ‘lifted up’ it will be to give healing and life to those who believe in him.

Yes, he was literally ‘lifted up’ on the cross – but in the eyes of everyone crucifixion was not only painful but deeply shameful. You couldn’t get much lower than to be crucified…it was the very essence of being despised….and yet for the writer of the Fourth Gospel, this was Jesus’s moment of glory, this was the moment when he was most fully human and most fully God, ‘closest to the Father’s heart’.

How to unpack this a bit?

‘What do you seek?’ Jesus asked John’s disciples. ‘Where are you staying? Where do you live – abide?’ – In a sense, the rest of the Gospel is the answer, crystallised in chapter 17 where he prays: ‘Father, I have given them the glory you gave to me, that they may be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me…’ Christ makes his home in us. But not only that, remember that his ‘glory’ – the glory he has given us – is revealed in the agony and shame of Calvary, in neediness, not in warm, fuzzy sentimentality – think of the parable of the Last Judgement: ‘whatever you did to the least, you did to me’.

Christ ‘abides’ in each one of us, recognized or not. With his presence comes the gift of eternal life, NOW! We don’t have to wait until we die. We need to pray urgently for the grace to receive that gift and to know that this is for real and not just a religious aspiration…and to receive it not only in the parts of ourselves we are proud of but, and perhaps especially, in our neediness and in the parts of ourselves we are ashamed of, and also, and importantly, allow it to be true in the aspects of others we find irritating or despise. Very few of us choose to be irritating or difficult.

To grow in the knowledge that the ‘in-dwelling of God’ is true, is real; – this is what Lent is about. God is in the mess and pain, the glory and wonder of every aspect of life.
Every evening during Lent here in the monastery we sing an antiphon before and after the Nunc Dimittis: (you have the words on the slip of paper) I would like to finish with a brief and very inadequate reflection on it.

When you see the needy, be compassionate.
Find in them your own true fast:
Then the wound of your heart shall be healed:
You will call and the Lord God will answer.

‘When you see the needy’ – if we are to ‘see’, it helps to look and to notice, and to want to see and understand. This is akin to the beginning of the Prologue to St Benedict’s Rule: ‘Listen. Listen carefully with the ear of your heart’. That is, really want to hear and understand. Very often that can be the last thing we want to do; we are too busy already; we are in a hurry; we don’t want to get involved; we don’t want to intrude. I suspect that the parable of the good Samaritan has something to say here.

‘be compassionate’ – literally: own and share the passion – the neediness, the suffering of ‘the needy’.

‘find in them your own true fast’ – it’s risky; much more so than giving up chocolate and alcohol for Lent or adding ten minutes to our prayer-time. To share the passion of someone in need requires us to share their neediness, in some measure at least. It’s not easy because we risk it putting us in touch with our own, perhaps unacknowledged, neediness…

‘Then the wound of your heart shall be healed’ – it is there, deep in our own neediness, that we will find the Lord breathing out the Holy Spirit’s healing love if only we will receive it, slowly healing those deep wounds from the past that can so easily limit our life and our capacity to love and to receive love; deep wounds that paralyse us, that give rise to our need to be liked, to be thought well of, to our fears of getting things wrong, of offending, of being criticised, of being a nuisance.

‘you will call’ – from that place of need – ‘and the Lord God will answer’ -“Here I am, deep within you. You are precious and I love you. Ephphatha. Be opened to receive the healing and freeing I long for you. Believe me, you, too, are close to the Father’s heart, now and for all eternity.”


Amen.

Br. Stuart

Image: Coming into focus – Rose window, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54860 [retrieved April 12, 2024]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mjhbixby6/5700689477/.