The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
Jeremiah 31.31-34; Hebrews 5.5-10; John 12.20-33
Who can forget that edition of the ‘Mrs Merton Show’ when the late great Caroline Aherne playing the spoof eponymous chat show host, was interviewing the lovely Debbie McGee and asked her that incredible question, ‘So what was it that first attracted you to millionaire Paul Daniels?’ It still makes me laugh just thinking about it.
If you’re a people watcher, and at times during the lockdown there’s been little else to do, you can often find yourself looking at people thinking ‘So what attracted them to each other?’ What and who we find attractive is an amazing thing. Dating apps, which have replaced the Church Hall hop as the place to meet, can make it all seem so easy, click on your preferences and up come some possible people who fit what you find most attractive. But left to our own non-digital devices attraction is often much more subtle than height, hair colour and whether or not they support Chelsea!
Some Greeks arrive and they want to meet Jesus, they’ve heard all about him and how he’s attracting people from all over and they want to see just what all the fuss is about. What is the attraction of this man? What is his pulling power? So Philip and Andrew take them over to where Jesus is.
But what Jesus then says is so powerful.
‘When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.’
It’s not his teaching, not his stories, not his miracles, not the bread and fish seemingly conjured out of nowhere, not a dead man raised, not walking on the water, not even the force of his own personality, it will be the cross, it will be his death, it will be the dead man on the cross that will draw the world to him, be the point of attraction, the compelling force that will bring people to God.
John Donne wrote a series of Divine Poems, six Holy Sonnets, that take us through the life of Jesus from Annunciation to Ascension, marvellously linked at their beginnings and endings. This is the one entitled Crucifying
By miracles exceeding power of man,
He faith in some, envy in some begat,
For, what weak spirits admire, ambitious hate;
In both affections many to Him ran.
But O! the worst are most, they will and can,
Alas! and do, unto th’ Immaculate,
Whose creature Fate is, now prescribe a fate,
Measuring self-life’s infinity to span,
Nay to an inch. Lo! where condemned He
Bears His own cross, with pain, yet by and by
When it bears him, He must bear more and die.
Now Thou art lifted up, draw me to Thee,
And at Thy death giving such liberal dole,
Moist with one drop of Thy blood my dry soul.
‘Many to Him ran’ the Greeks, the crowds, attracted by all that they had heard, but ‘Now Thou art lifted up, draw me to Thee,’ draw the world to yourself and ‘Moist with one drop of Thy blood my dry soul.’
The first anniversary of the first lockdown is this coming Tuesday and Passion Sunday last year was the first time we were unable to worship in the Cathedral and the Eucharist had to be broadcast from the hall at the Deanery.
In some ways it feels like yesterday, where has that year gone, in other ways it feels like forever – I can’t quite imagine hugging and kissing you as I would do before, I can’t imagine crowding into a theatre, or fighting my way through a crowd to get to the bar to order a drink. A year of such loss, so many dead, so much we have missed, so much that has gone, so many tears, so much pain. And even as we look forward to reopening and the relaxing the restrictions, none of us really knows if this is it, if we will get back to something like normal life whatever normal life will now mean.
But one of the amazing things for us here, at the Cathedral and at St Hugh’s, has been the way in which our community has held together and has grown. As we began broadcasting Morning Prayer and Night Prayer and the Eucharists a year ago, none of us could have anticipated just how attractive that would be for people, not just from Southwark, not just from London, but from around this country and around the world. It’s almost been as though we’ve been responding to a cry ‘we wish to see Jesus.’
Those Greeks coming to Phillip were coming from a different place but they wanted to meet the man who was making a difference to so many lives. They were attracted, and people still are attracted to Jesus, they’re still drawn by the man on the cross and not least at times like this when we’re having to live with so much loss and pain and uncertainty, when the tears won’t stop flowing. We wish to see Jesus to ‘know the Lord’ as the prophet Jeremiah described it in our First Reading because as the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is so clear
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death
We’re attracted to Jesus, drawn to the cross, compelled not repelled by this place of painful death, because here is someone who knows life as we know it and takes us through death to that new life that we desire.
His tears are our tears, his pain is our pain, his death is our death, his life is our life. And people in their thousands have seen us as a community living this out through this year, being constant in our witness, unfailing in our hope, confident in God, following Jesus, inclusive of our vision of the kingdom which includes even you my sister, you my brother, includes even me.
Whatever we put behind us from the year that is past we must remember that experience because it’s changed our life and it’s changed the life of others as encounter with Jesus always does.
‘Moist with one drop of Thy blood my dry soul.’ writes Donne, looking at the one nailed to the cross, drawn by the one who attracts each of us. And in this Eucharist we look for that refreshment, our dry souls need this bread, need this cup, we need Jesus. There’s a long way to go but Jesus draws us on, attracts us into our future, cross shaped and God filled. As the disciples would say to Jesus, with words filled with the power of attraction
‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.’
Jesus, the attractive incarnation of the love of God, draws us on into his future and we simply respond, ‘O Lamb of God, I come’.