Sunday 3 April 2022 Passion Sunday West Kirk
Welcome Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16: 26
Hymn 378 Praise to the holiest in the height
What love is this, to come among us as one of us
the Creator become one of the creatures
the Almighty, the Infinite, the Eternal
become limited by time, space and human frailty?
Yet, freely you did it
to share our experiences
to free us
to redeem us
to make us your own for ever
The cost included the suffering and death of Jesus
Maybe the woman with the jar of perfume
who anointed his head and feet
glimpsed something of his specialness
and his coming trials
But amongst his friends, among the crowds
no one understood who he was or what he was doing
no one entered into his agony and torment with him
They all kept their distance at his time of crisis and death
All too often we keep our distance too
We don’t want to be involved
we don’t want to wrestle to know and understand you better
we don’t want to face hard questions
about the impact on us of being your people
We don’t even express thanks and appreciation
for all that you have done for us
We are sorry
Fill us with a longing to serve you
to live lives that give you glory and honour
and help in the building of your Kingdom
through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen
All age time
Back in the 8th Century the Venerable Bede urged the laity to ‘fortify themselves and their possessions frequently by the sign of the Lord’s Cross against the continual snares of the unclean spirits’, a practice which many did and do today. And many others effectively do the same when they cross their fingers and hope for the best.
The cross is usually regarded as the main symbol of the Christian faith – though initially it was the fish. It was a secret code, with the letters of the Greek word for fish – ichthus – being an acronym for Jesus Christ Son of God Saviour. PPT slide 3 Nowadays most churches have at least one cross in them, and there are pictures of crosses in the three churches of the Linkage.
Greek churches usually had mosaics or frescoes telling the life of Jesus, which included his crucifixion, but the dominant one was of him in glory, ruler of all. Saints have haloes or nimbuses, Jesus always has a cross on his – even in pre-Easter scenes. Some, like that monastery shown earlier, only had the bare shape of the cross.
Free standing crosses were a regular feature of the early church in Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Northern England, maybe building on earlier traditions of free standing stones having a role in religious or community life. Different sources suggest that some were to be used as a focus for prayer by the laity, some were used as preaching stations by itinerant monks, and some marked the site of burial grounds or later church buildings.
Here is one in Cornwall, some in Northumbria, one from across the Clyde now in Paisley Abbey. They are all similar in that they are free-standing crosses, they are decorated with a mixture of scenes and scrollwork, and they usually have a ’ring of glory’ connecting the arms of the cross (though that might actually originate in a pagan practice honouring the sun. The Picts in North East Scotland carved crosses onto large stone slabs. Historic Environment Scotland’s illustration of the Dunfallandy Stone highlights an import point about these stones – they are believed to have been painted in bright colours/
In all these crosses from the first thousand years or so of the Christian faith there is no real expression of the pain and suffering Jesus endured on the cross. The dominant theme is that he underwent this suffering on the road to victory and glory, and that was what people were to focus on. A hymn attributed to Columba describes this well, ‘For Christ the cross ascended’. It’s the picture presented in John’s Gospel too.
In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries a new focus began on the pain and suffering that Jesus endured. He begins to appear on crosses in agony and despair. This is more the picture presented in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels. Here are a couple of depictions, one from the Holy Door in St John Lateran, the cathedral of Rome, and the other a window in West Kirk.
In the earliest days of the church the crucifixion was something of an embarrassment: that was the kind of execution reserved for traitors, conspirators, the lowest of the low. A public spectacle of pain and shame designed to discourage others. And it was a pretty grim way to go – physically very painful, but also a way of losing all dignity as control over bodily functions collapsed.
However we show the crucifixion, it was a horrible and lonely death that Jesus suffered, but he did so willingly, because he loved us so much, and wanted us to be reconciled with God.
Hymn 386 Lifted high on your cross
Bible reading John 12: 1-8 (will be done live, Charlie Gothard)
When I had the joinery business I always hated haggling about money – whether it was buying wood and nails, or setting a price for articles that I made, and had work to carry out for someone. My grandmother used to say, ‘You are due a decent price for your work, and so are they.’ I was amazed at the different ways the fishermen approached charging for their fish. Andrew was quiet and deliberate. He didn’t argue, just dug in his heels and wouldn’t budge. Pity help whoever chose to argue with James and John – the air was bluer than the sky above. And Peter? He was all over the place. He offered bargains, he talked about the great deals he’d done, but at the end of the day he always looked sheepish telling his dad that he hadn’t made as much as he’d hoped.
Money is a big issue for most people. Some don’t say a lot, because they are embarrassed and worried. They don’t have enough, aren’t good at managing it, and are anxious about how they’ll pay their bills and their taxes. How will they feed their families, will they be made homeless, have they become entangled with loan sharks who keep threatening them, and they often have health problems and complex lives. I worry about them, and I know that my Heavenly Father cares so much about them. In the new world that is coming their needs will be addressed.
Then there are those that frequent the dinner parties of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees are largely successful business people, living in comfortable houses. The Sadducees largely get their income from rents through their extensive property portfolios. They sometimes live in their ‘in town’ mansions, and sometimes on their estates in the countryside. They talk a lot about money and wealth. How much they have, the size of their income, how they hope to increase it, the problems they have raising rents and getting tenants to pay. They tend to view people on the basis of their financial standing. If someone is poor, they are dismissed as being of no worth or consequence; but if they are well off, then that relationship must be cultivated – invite them, include them, do business with them.
Money is important in life. You can do a lot of good with it, you can also do a lot of harm. It can also cause a lot of problems, whether you have it or not. But money isn’t the most important thing in life, and you can’t take it with you when you die. People matter more than money. You can’t put a financial value on someone – even if the Romans try when they buy and sell people as slaves. For me everyone is valuable, equally valuable, whether it’s my mum or the Samaritan woman at the well, a leper, a foreigner, a criminal or the High Priest. I am willing to sacrifice my life for them – for each and every one, the loveable and the unlovely, the caring and the malicious, the honest and the crook. My Heavenly Father loves them, and so do I. As my life blood is shed, I do so for all of them – whether they respond to my call or not.
Mary has just poured that highly scented perfume over my feet. The price is eye-wateringly outrageous. What a waste of money! Or is it? Mary had that bottle put aside for a funeral. She has used it in anticipation of mine. Mine is coming, but the authorities will not allow her near to anoint my corpse. They will dispose of me quickly and quietly, and hope to have no trace afterwards [There will be no trace of my corpse afterwards, but that’s another story]
Mary’s act was a sign of devotion. In it she offered herself, her all, to god, a sign of commitment to serve him and live his way. Yes, the money could have gone to ‘the poor’ [or into Judas’ pocket] but she and others who respond to my call can still give to the poor. If she and others commit themselves to serve God and walk in his way, then they must continue to care for the poor, and all in need, for as long as there is need – which might be till this world comes to an end. Loving care in action will be a sign of them being my followers.
Such ‘good works’ are not enough, however, and cannot be sustained on their own. Like Mary, they must be ready to commit themselves, their time, skills, abilities and all that they have to serving my Heavenly Father. I will feed and nourish their hearts, and they will know how great his love for them is, the steps he has taken to make them his own, and what I will suffer for them, to make that happen.
Hymn 370 Ride on ride on the time is right
Prayers for others
We want to be with Mary offering you our devotion and commitment
but all too often we are like the other disciples and back off
or we are like Thomas and are sceptical about things
or like Judas, arguing with you in our hearts
Kindle anew in us the flame of commitment
that we might be wholeheartedly ready to respond to you
We pray for those who, like Judas, feel cut off from those around them
and particularly from those who feel so cut off that they wish to cause harm to others
We pray for those like Jesus who feel isolated and alone
those who feel let down and betrayed
Jesus spoke of the poor being always with us
We pray for those in need in our community, country and world
those who are ill, those who worry about them,
those who care for them
those waiting for or receiving treatment
and those for whom there is no treatment
those who are feeling lonely, down
or grieving a friend or loved one
those who don’t have enough to eat
don’t have somewhere to call home
those who are worried about family, friends, work, home,
those who long to live in peace and safety
we pray for the Queen, the Government
all in positions of leadership in this and every land
we pray for your church
the worldwide church, the wider church in Dumbarton
our own congregation
We bring to you our prayers for people and situations of special concern to us
And we sum up our prayers in the words of the prayer Jesus gave us
Hymn 396 And can it be
Blessing (3-fold Amen)
Secure in God’s love
be steadfast in his service
and the blessing of God Almighty
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
rest and remain with you
today, and every day, and for ever