Readings for Liturgy of the Passion 1 April 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Liturgy of the Passion Textweek

Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:14-23:56

The Most Reverend Roger Herft, Archbishop of Perth:
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be now and always acceptable in your sight, O God, our Strength and our Redeemer.

‘And the crowd returned, beating their breasts.’ If the broadcasting authority were to apply stringent measures on the story that we have just heard, I wonder what rating it would receive. We are tempted to sugarcoat this enigmatic figure with hot-cross buns, chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs, so a G-rating that has the family happy-ever-after feel about it. Such escapism goes over the real drama of what took place on that eventful week. Perhaps an R-rating, restricted viewing, should be applied to this event - for mature audiences only, for it contains adult themes, coarse language, nudity, extreme violence, horror scenes, supernatural effects, and it must contain a warning every time it is read or contemplated upon. ‘Many viewers will find the themes and contents offensive.’ Many viewers will find the themes and contents offensive.

A few months ago we were at a wedding, the wedding of the daughter of the Jewish Rabbi of the Orthodox tradition in Perth and it was a remarkable event, full of festivity and joy but always within the process of this celebration there was this sense of incompleteness - that this couple reflected the fragile nature of all relationships, and therefore when their betrothal took place, a plate was broken to remind them of the fragility of their own lives and their relationships. And even at the final ceremony when the seven rabbis gathered and prayed around this couple and the wine was shared the young boy who had just become a husband, took the glass that they had shared, threw it on the ground and then trampled it. And the Chief Rabbi said ‘Until the whole world is shalomed, until the whole world is shalomed, until peace comes to the entire universe, this couple can never be happy.’
How does the Gospel, the story that we have just heard, offend us? The rabbi’s brother was seated at the same table with us, a secular Jew of high intellect, and after we had had a few drinks, he said to us – we were the only gentiles, together with Bob Kuchera and his wife, Susan, who had been invited to the event – he said, ‘I really need to ask you a question. I can cope with everything else of the Jesus story: I can cope with his birth, his remarkable ministry, his teaching and his wisdom; I can even cope, as a secular Jew with my intellect, with all the miracles that Jesus performed. But what I find absolutely offensive,’ he said, ‘is that you could possibly place upon this world, a god who is offended, insulted, killed and dies. I cannot,’ he said, ‘with all the intellect that I can bring to bear, ever consider such a divine act. I can never comprehend,’ he said, ‘such divine folly. I find it offensive,’ he said, ‘and every time I hear the story my heart beats with agony that you have foisted this on our world.’

How offended are you and I by the story of Jesus? One hundred and fifty years ago, William Hale was consecrated in Lambeth Palace and was sent to the remote area of Western Australia which he had visited once before with Bishop Short of Adelaide, and on the 25th of July, we will celebrate in our cathedral this great event and on 29th, a Sunday, all the congregations across Perth, from Esperance to Kalgoorlie to the Wheatbelt, right across the city and I hope including this parish, will turn up for a festival, a folk festival, at Challenge Stadium, to remind ourselves of this great event. But there is no doubt, that when the Christian Gospel came here, from the time of Camfield and Wollaston, that Christianity and its leadership and its congregations were considered offensive. They were not places of comfort, they disturbed people, for to believe in the Christ, to follow in his ways, to be empowered by his resurrection truth, to know the power of what the Cross meant, required of them certain things – to stand up against authorities, to write to London and say how badly the indigenous people were being treated, to reflect on the nature of our agricultural produce and to ask questions about exploitation and profit, and because of that the Church and its leadership found themselves offensive.

How does the Gospel offend you? How does the Gospel offend me? Does it offend my intellect, does it offend my emotions, does it offend my memory, does it offend my relationships, does it offend the way in which I view the world, my community around me? Above all, does it offend my loving? For from the beginning of time we have always sought to place God within a box, within certain perimeters, within certain boundaries, so we can live within the comfort zone of God, but the truth is that God will always break out of the boxes and the boundaries and the systems and the institutions and the laws and the codes that we create for the divine, and that is the scandal of the Cross; that is the scandal of this journey that takes place this week. And if you and I dare to be a part of that journey, we too will be scandalon – offensive, not in a nasty or awful way, but we will offend, offend by our loving, offend by our courage.

I came across recently the words of a Danish pastor, which I found quite offensive; I want to read it out to you:
What is, therefore, the task of the preacher (or the church) today?
Shall I answer: “Faith, hope and love”?
That sounds beautiful.
But I would say – Courage.
No, even that is not challenging enough to be the whole truth..
Our ask today is recklessness: that is the scandal and the offence.
For what we Christians lack is not psychology or literature,
we lack a holy rage.
The recklessness that comes from the knowledge of God and humanity.
The ability to rage when justice lies prostrate on the streets…
And when the lie rages across the face of the earth -
a holy anger about the things that are wrong in the world.
To rage against the ravaging of God’s earth, and the destruction of God’s world.
To rage when little children must die of hunger,
when the tables of the rich are sagging with food.
To rage at the senseless killing of so many, and against the madness of militaries.
To rage at the lie that calls the threat of death and the strategy of destruction – Shalom, Peace.
To rage against complacency.
To restlessly seek that recklessness that will challenge and seek to change human history until it conforms with the norms of the Kingdom of God.
And remember the signs of the Christian Church have always been -
the Lion, the Lamb, the Dove and the Fish…
It has never been described as a creature that changes its colours to compromise and to be complicit.
‘And they returned to their homes, beating their breasts with agony.’

Prayer after Sermon (Most Reverend Roger Herft, Archbishop of Perth)

Holy God
We are offended by the intimacy and nakedness
of a love that journeys through this week.
A love that is restless and reckless, that gets under our skin
And demands of us.
A loving that goes beyond boundaries,
A loving that refuses to be complicit,
A loving that calls us to wholeness.
When we are offended by such loving,
help us to know that it is you who are at the heart of that offence, the scandal
And help us to be enriched by all that you would offer us in the journey of life.
We ask this in the name of the one that is the scandalon, the Christ, the Lord.
Amen