Passion Sunday 2020
We have a very active grandson, currently under lockdown with his younger sister. Joshua loves practical challenges and aged nine – revels in Lego. He has inherited his collection from parents and uncles in a variety of boxes so it is not clear to him which instructions he should be following, which picture to copy. Truth to tell, he loves to embellish the design anyway, giving vent to his creative imagination.
All of this is fine until his sister brushes by and – accidentally – knocks over this fantastic creation. Then there is war in the playroom: tears, scraps and a dark mood descends until a more positive moment arrives when re-building can commence. But how will Joshua re-build?
Children’s play explores real life in miniature but few of us would have expected real life to arrive in the form of this current crisis. It is almost unimaginable. We are now leaning to live a new sort of life. For how long, who knows? But in the here and now, life is rapidly changing and so have our expectations. This is a global change. We have heard how smog is lifting from China, pollution is dispersing over Italy and the canals of Venice are becoming cleaner. And values are shifting. We look forward to an unexpected phone call; we ache for a daily walk; a tour round the garden brings greater pleasure.
At the same time as this terrible pandemic is being fought with all its practical implications and sad consequences, we are all trying to grasp its meaning at a different level. Moral, financial, spiritual as well as physical re-calibration is happening. The Prime Minister is talking about morality; new initiatives are springing up across the Benefice; we are all exploring a different register in our lives: a spiritual level.
Passion Sunday marks the start of the run-in towards Easter. Some churches on Passion Sunday distribute nails to bring home the message of suffering on the cross. For the meaning of ‘passion’ is not just fired-up emotion but ‘suffering alongside’ as we believe that Jesus came to do: to share our lives and lead us in a more positive direction. It was costly, just as so many NHS staff are sacrificially serving us all at the present time. One man working in the Respiratory Department at Papworth Hospital with relations in one of our villages is not allowed to go home to his family for fear of infecting the patients.
The gospel reading for Passion Sunday describes the death of one of Jesus’s close friends, Lazarus (John 11. 1 – 45). His sister Martha rips into Jesus, saying that Lazarus would not have died had Jesus visited sooner. We can see in Martha’s reaction so much of the panic which grips some folk in today’s crisis. But Jesus’ reply is instructive. He moves the discussion into that deeper register and suggests to her that Lazarus, as a friend of Jesus, shares in that quality of life which we call eternal. It is not ended at death.
We are all taking our part in this Coronavirus prevention, foregoing many normal freedoms. There is a growing sensitivity one to another; a greater sharing of burdens. This is Passion-tide when we share in the sufferings of Jesus as he approaches death. He also shares our sufferings. Eternal life is reciprocal: ‘He in us and we in Him’ (John 14.20). There will come a time for re-building but now is the time of shared suffering and suffering shared is suffering halved.
But how will we re-build this tumbled edifice? How will Joshua re-configure his Lego? That lovely story of the Valley of Dry Bones (Ezekiel chapter 37) give us a clue. Bones scattered and isolated is not a living entity. It is only when the Spirit comes that they join together and live. Will we bounce back in the same form after this crisis? I hope not. This time of isolation, suffering and reflection must suggest a different way to live. Amen.