The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel looks at the heightened tension of Passiontide saying it is a time "when we focus on Jesus’ death so that we
can all the more celebrate his life in two weeks’ time."
Exodus 24: 3-8 Hebrews 12: 18-end
Today, Passiontide begins. We sense a gear change in our observance of a holy Lent: the tension is heightened and the focus is narrowed. Our
prayerful walk to the cross slows down and we sink perhaps to our knees as the shadow of the cross covers our path and darkens our way.
Indeed, the very sight of the cross may be eclipsed by our anxiety to be found worthy of that moment when we will stand at the foot of the cross on
Good Friday and remain there for three days until we dare to look up and find the cross empty and the tomb empty and, in the words of Edwin Muir,
all the wrong done, undone, and never more be done.
In some traditions, the crosses in church are veiled from today for two weeks – with a purple veil, not translucent, nor in any way ornamented – so
that the veils may be ripped away on Holy Saturday and the cross, the symbol of our faith, revealed once more at the celebration of a joyful
A liturgical trick, if you like, thought necessary by some because otherwise the cross is a symbol of life and not of death and therefore a
distraction in this intense season of Passiontide when we focus on Jesus’s death so that we can all the more celebrate his life in two weeks’ time.
Because what Lent is not is an opportunity to buy our place in heaven with God – nor is any part of our life and our witness to the faith.
Salvation is a gift already given through the overflowing grace of God in Christ Jesus.
This morning’s two bible readings stand in contrast to each other: the one, from the Book of Exodus, speaks of an agreement between God and his
people made on earth; the other, from the Letter to the Hebrews, speaks of a relationship between God and his people which will be fulfilled in
heaven. But, because the benefits of what Jesus has done for us are already within his people’s grasp, the writer speaks to us as if we had already
arrived in heaven, despite only currently being on our journey there, as it were.
So much of the Church’s teaching misses this clear and undeniable truth: that a place with God and God’s favour towards us have already been
assured. For most of the history of the Christian Church, clergy have taught their people to believe that they must earn their place in heaven by
jumping through a series of hoops – all of which have been devised by human minds.
Our faith, our worship, and our sharing of our faith is a response to a gift already given – and one of the most important lessons for all clergy
to learn is that they are not the guardians of the gift: they are merely the channel through which the gift already given is revealed.
Passiontide isn’t another hoop through which we must jump. If anything, it is merely a useful device to prevent us from forgetting just how amazing
the gift already given is: a place with God and God’s favour towards us already assured.
Hence, in some traditions, the veils covering the cross – the symbol of our faith – so that the cross can be revealed again at our annual
celebration of life in all its fullness, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.
What a joy it is to be a Christian and yet how joyless most people consider Christianity to be. I’ll never forget my Scots Presbyterian grandmother
hiding the sherry bottle when the minister walked past the house. It’s an amusing thought but she was taught a joyless Christianity where being
human was sinful and was likely to lead you to perdition unless you dehumanised yourself and reshaped yourself in the image of the minister.
And that’s how Christianity is being taught up and down the country and throughout the world today and every day.
And yet we clergy have an amazingly joyous role and one role only – to point to a person’s post box and reveal the beautifully wrapped parcel with
their name on it. Haven’t they seen it? Haven’t they un-wrapped it? And yet its postmark suggests it’s been waiting for them a long time: Easter
Day two thousand years ago.
No postage to pay and it’s non-returnable. I’m not here today in the hope that one might be delivered to me one day. I opened mine once and that’s
why I’m here.
Let us pray:
O Lord Jesus, who can love as you do? Through your deeds and nurture I have become as ripened fruit. How blessed it is to share in your glory;
eternally in your providence. I am your treasure, product of your arduous labour.
And so may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all, evermore. Amen.