6th Apr, 2003

The Fifth Sunday In Lent

Preached by the Rev. Ian Elliott Davies

From the twelfth chapter of St John’s Gospel, ‘some Greeks said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” … Now is the hour of judgement for this world. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’

Just above our heads for the past week or so a miracle has been taking place. Weston Harris, our organ builder and restorer, was working on the walls of the Church high up on a ladder one day when he spotted that around the tops of our lights or lanterns were ornate designs that are not readily seen from ground level. The designs, each of which is about six inches by six inches, have been there for as long as the lanterns have. I presume the lanterns were installed when this building was begun in 1930 but until now the exquisite filigree designs have been relatively invisible because of the many years of grit and grime, candle and incense smoke- but remember, that is not an excuse to discontinue lighting candles or using incense!

Now, being the industrious fellow that he is Weston suggested that the indistinct designs might profit from being gold-leafed. They are now beginning to stand out and still need a little more work, but they can be seen if you take a careful look. There are eucharistic bunches of grapes, squirrels, the ancient Chi-Rho, X-P that are the first two letters of Christos or Christ. There are chalices and hosts, there are pelicans and baby pelicans and, significantly for me there is the most prominent and frequent design, the Tudor Rose. For those of you unfamiliar with Welsh history and heraldry the Tudor Rose is the symbol of the Welsh Royal House of Tudor, Henry VII, Elizabeth I and so on, that is still seen to this day in British coats of arms in various places. As far as I am aware I am the first Welshman directly connected with this Church and Parish and so I find myself wondering: did our Anglican Hollywood ancestors have the gift of foresight or did they simply like the perfect symmetry of the Welsh rose? Hmm, I wonder.

That other design I mentioned, the pelican, is a mediaeval symbol for Christ. In the Middle Ages it was widely believed that the Mother Pelican loved her offspring with an inexhaustible devotion. Alas, as the young pelicans were wilting away from exhaustion and lack of food the Mother in her great devotion, piety and love for the chicks and to save their lives plunged her beak into her own breast: from her own heart would then flow life-giving blood that the brood fed upon and were thus brought back to life and sustained. That is, of course, a eucharistic symbol for the self-giving, sacrificial love of Christ for the world; giving his own life-giving blood in the Mass to revitalize the dying world. Olivier Messiaen, the French composer, famously depicted that wonderfully evocative image in music for the organ in his Banquet Celeste.

In the twelfth chapter of St John’s Gospel that we have heard this morning the themes of seeing, hearing, understanding and perception are of crucial significance. You see, with Holy Week and Easter just around the liturgical corner it is very easy for us to skim over the surface of these verses, to swallow them whole without much consideration of the underlying details and message, to imagine that this chapter is merely some kind of brief intermission or interlude before we get on with the real business in two weeks time, of the cross, crucifixion and death of the Son of Man. But what the author of the Fourth Gospel would have us do is stay with the moment, wait where we are, take the time to look around and become a little more acquainted with the architecture of the place we are in. Like the Greeks who wanted to see Jesus. To pay attention to the people around us, to value, cherish and love the gifts that God has given.

One of the strange paradoxes of Johannine theology is this; the things around us that we take for granted, the details of our relationships, dialogues, dynamics and conversations are, in fact, none other than the vehicles for glory, for the divine, are the very fabric and architecture of heaven. You would have thought that a bitter, cruel and sadistic execution at the hands of the Roman authorities would be an ignominious death for the Christ: but for St John this betrayal, death and seeming catastrophe have a more critical theme. If we are prepared to wait, to stay with this moment we will realize that what the world sees as defeat is, in reality, a triumph; what in this-worldly terms is seen as the end of Christ’s hopes and aspirations is really the beginning of Christ’s ascent into glory. The paradox is not that the hour of the glorification is the hour of the passion, but the reverse: the hour of the passion is already the hour of glory. We are not expected to see the crucifixion as merely a kind of exaltation or glorification but to SEE PAST, to see beyond the physical reality of Christ’s death to its true significance: the reascent of the Son of Man to his true home in heaven. I am not dismissing Calvary or the horror of dereliction on the Cross but trying to re-emphasize the massive dislocation and disorientation that it signifies in the being of God. The life of the Trinity is disrupted in a moment of human time, in the kairos, in the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world. This brief glimpse is the hint that what is revealed is God’s eternal out-pouring of love, not just in a brief span but always and everywhere. That eternal out-pouring of self-giving love, like the Pelican in her Piety, is always there.

The mystery that God’s life is aligned with our living and growing, our predicament and death is abundantly generative and life-giving beyond anything that can be imagined. It’s always been there, not just under our noses but just above our heads as well.

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus; Jesus said ‘I, when I am lifted up [glorified, exalted] from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

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