Reflection for Passion Sunday Evening

This week as we begin to prepare to celebrate the Passion of Christ, no doubt in ways that will be somewhat different this year, with church buildings closed due to Coronavirus, I wonder what God is calling us to be and do?

I had been due to preach this Sunday evening so I thought I would offer this short reflection on one of the readings set for this service - Matthew 20.17-34.

In this reading from Matthew, the Mother of James and John comes to Jesus with a request – proud Mum that she, is she wants to know that her boys are guaranteed a place close to Jesus in his Kingdom! Jesus asks her if she actually has any idea what she is asking for! Can they drink of the cup of suffering that he knows lies ahead? This request angers the other disciples and Jesus reminds them that he has come to serve rather than be served. The passage then continues with an account of two men who are blind asking Jesus for mercy. Jesus comes close to them and asks them what they want - ‘Lord let our eyes be open’ they say. Then he touches them and their request is answered – they could see! And we are told, they followed him.

So here in this passage we have two requests – one to be close to Jesus and the other for mercy and eyes to be opened. I wondered what does it mean in these days of COVID-19 to come close to people? And how do we come close to God?

Some years ago when I received a diagnosis of breast cancer and as I was trying to come to terms with it, I remember driving along and seeing a road sign which simply read - 'Changed priorities ahead! This really spoke to me - that in my changed circumstances I needed to see things differently

We are certainly living in strange times and much that we have taken for granted is no longer possible - seeing family, going to work, going to school, going to church, shopping, popping out for a coffee or a beer with friends. So what does it mean in these days of changed priorities to come close to people? And how do we come close to God?

Here in Norwich we can perhaps learn something of this from Mother Julian who lived in a time of sickness and plague and was in a sort of social isolation in her cell in King Street. Living her life of prayer and solitude, people would come and speak to her through her cell window. She had none of the means of communication through technology that we have and yet she was (and still is through her writings) able to communicate wonderfully the compassion and love of Christ!

What can we offer? Prayer, a phone call, a text, an email, Facetime? Somehow it seems that the kindest and most compassionate thing we can do is to keep away from people physically …. But of course there are those who are coming close to people, those in the medical profession caring for those who are ill!

One of the memories that will stay with me from this time of social isolation is of opening an upstairs window, just before 8pm last Thursday evening to, as I thought, add my solitary clap for the NHS staff and others who are working to help and offer their skills and care in the present situation and hearing a strange sound I did not immediately recognise, a gentle sound almost like the flapping of wings .... The sound grew and I suddenly realised it was the sound of clapping. On our normally, very reserved and sedate road of mainly older residents, there was suddenly a huge noise, people applauding, cheering, whistling, calling out their gratitude to those in the health service and supporting services, who have become the heroes of our day!

We are all involved in building a great national work to protect the sick and the most vulnerable in our society and then rebuild household by household. Like those blind men who came to Jesus asking for mercy may our eyes may be open to see what we are called to be and do as part of the church.

Revd Liz Cannon