The Very Rev'd Andrew Nunn, Dean of Southwark
Lections: Lamentations 3.19-33; Matthew 20.17-34
The Dean's sermon preached at Evensong on Sunday 26 March.
Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem, he knows where he’s going and he knows what will happen to him when he arrives. Even the blind men by the roadside see what’s happening, see who he is, but for his disciples, for those who are following him, it’s much more difficult.
In their minds eye they’re thinking of the kingdom in the terms that they’ve already experienced, power, hierarchy, thrones and privileges. No wonder an ambitious mother wants a slice of it for her sons, no wonder when there’s a hint that someone is making a grab for the best seats the others are indignant.
They have got it so wrong.
From this point onwards in Lent things get more serious and with Jesus we set our face towards Jerusalem. This Fifth Sunday of Lent is known as Passion Sunday and today we enter Passiontide. The statues and the icons have been veiled in purple, the mood changes. Jerusalem is on the horizon and we know where we’re heading. But in fact, we’re not so different, at times, from those first disciples, we don’t necessarily have the insight of the blind, we may not see the kingdom in terms of the cross but of the crown.
But purple, though kingly, is a sombre colour and its presence around us in church, in this Cathedral, is to focus our minds, focus our mood, remove the distractions and help us to concentrate on what really matters and on what Christ’s kingship really means.
The prophet Jeremiah in his Lamentations, part of which we heard in our First Lesson, begins like this
‘The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!’
Jesus is the one who has had no where to lay his head, who has relied on the hospitality of strangers, who has sought company amongst the outcasts, who even when at the tables of the influential feels like a challenging outsider. Jesus continually takes us to the edge, that place of homelessness, of which the prophet speaks, whilst we look to that true homeland and that better place, the eternal Jerusalem.
It’s to those places of homelessness, the refugee camps, the shanty towns, the temporary but fragile lodging that so many of our brothers and sisters have to survive in, the place, to use Jeremiah’s words of ‘affliction and .. homelessness’ that Jesus heads and where Jesus takes us.
When he’s heading for Jerusalem it’s not to the fine palaces, though he’ll be a prisoner in those; not to the places of power, though he’ll be subject to those; but outside the city wall, to a rubbish heap where the outcasts live and the rejected struggle and amongst them the Son of Man is lifted up ‘that he might draw all people to himself’, as St John describes it.
Can we travel this hard road with him? That was the challenge to the disciples and that’s the challenge to us over these remaining two weeks. ‘Are you able?’ says Jesus to the disciples and they respond ‘We are able.’ But none of us knows where that journey will really take us.
Today we are saying goodbye to Andrew, our Canon Precentor, and Lloyd. On one level we know where they are going and so do they, to Gloucester and all the delights it will undoubtedly hold. But on another level, whenever we set our face towards a destination, as Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem, we don’t know what the journey nor the arrival will hold. But we travel nevertheless, because we never travel alone, and nor do you Andrew, nor do you Lloyd.
The blind men, sight regained, stand and walk with Jesus and we’re called to do the same, part of this motley band heading to the edge of the city, the shanty, the place of affliction and homelessness, knowing above all else that
‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.’
And it is with that blessed assurance that we send you, our brothers, on your journey and we are sent on ours.