THROUGH DEATH TO LIFE
SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON MARCH 29th, 2009
Hebrews 5:8 “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death.”
Many of you will know the Actor Antonio Banderas. Many years ago he played the part of a young priest in the movie “The Body“, which was based on a book about 10 years ago. The body of Jesus was purported to be found in the basement of an Arab shop in Jerusalem – and the Vatican sends one of its top young priests to investigate.
As the story unfolds we discover that the priest is an ex-commando, and had an adventurous life before his call and ordination. So we are not surprised when in Jerusalem he gets shot. The archeologist who is his guide looks after his wounds, and she has a very Jewish house-keeper – a woman with all those wonderful sayings J
When she sees Antonio Banderas having his wounds tended without his shirt on – she looks longingly at him and says: “Now I understand the Jews for Jesus!”
Now my point about recalling this movie is not that story – but it is earlier, when the priest is summoned to the Vatican to be offered this particular job. The Cardinal says to him: “What are your credentials?” The priest played by Antonio Banderas says this:
“My credentials are that I believe that Jesus is God.
Because I spoke to him this morning.
In my prayers.
I have always believed in him.
He has always been my best friend – though I have not always been his”.
“I spoke to him in my prayers this morning”. I wonder if that would be our reply? If we would be able to simply say that we were a follower of Jesus, and that we spoke to him this morning in our prayers? If we were asked about our prayer life, would we answer: That is when I speak with Jesus?
In today’s Epistle reading from Hebrews 5 the writer says this about Jesus: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears”. With loud cries and tears. That is not exactly how we pray most of the time. In fact when prayer gets to be like that, when it’s difficult or frustrating, we may just give up and think it’s just a waste of time. We don’t like to think that a relationship with God can be difficult.
For most of us prayer is not just simple talking to Jesus. It’s entreating him for concerns and needs. Asking him to be with us and to help us – especially when life is tough or unfair. More so, I believe, when we think of other people rather than ourselves. We entreat God for those for whom we are concerned about and those whom we love.
Hebrews 5 gives us encouragement that Jesus has been through exactly the same thing also. That he knows what it is like to entreat God about a difficult situation – indeed when it seems hopeless. The writer of Hebrews is referring to Jesus when he prayed on Maundy Thursday, the night he was betrayed. He says that Jesus prayed “.to him who was able to save him from death”. Now we know that God did not save him from death. That was what happened the next day, Good Friday.
So we understand how the prayer of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane is such a tough call. Jesus prayed that the cup of suffering might pass him by – but then he added: “nevertheless not my will, but thine be done”. The prayer that all of us would find difficult.
This Maundy Thursday night when Jesus wrestled with God his Father in prayer is described as Christ’s agony in the garden – one of the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary.
The Gospels tell us that Jesus’ sweat fell from him as he prayed, like large drops of blood. When we talk about the passion of Christ – it’s not just the nails, it’s not just the whip, it’s not just the humiliation – it’s also this internal struggle that Jesus has, this incredible prayer struggle, this mental anguish. This is a great encouragement for us – more often than not our struggles are not physical, but mental and spiritual.
In John 12:20-33 we see Jesus was going through in his mind. Firstly, Jesus says to his followers that he must die and rise again in a wonderful image – a seed planted in the ground, so that it can grow and produce wheat. A fascinatingly simple image: just as the seed seems to die and then grows, so Jesus will die and rise from the dead.
On another occasion previously Jesus told a parable of the sower and the seed – to indicate the growth of the Gospel and the spread of the kingdom. And also why some people would not persevere in the faith. Now Jesus gives a parable about the seed to describe his own perseverance.
Jesus continues to talk about discipleship: “If anyone serves me, he must follow me”.
Finally he declares that the hour has come for him to be glorified. He is referring to the Cross. Even though Jesus is going to suffer and die, he says that this will be his glorification. The glory will come through the Cross.
We know that Jesus previously experienced glory. We see it in the miracles, in the healings, on the Mount of Transfiguration – all wonderful signs of his glory. But now at the heart of salvation Jesus’ glory is to die on the Cross.
We could cast our minds back to happier days at the beginning of his ministry – to the Wedding in Cana, when they ran out of wine. His mother Mary asked him to do something about it. You remember his reply was quite strange: “Women, my hour has not yet come”.
Well now the hour has come – the hour for him to be glorified on the Cross. And that women will be there at the foot of the Cross.
Thus at the heart of Jesus’ prayer of in the garden on that night of betrayal he says: “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself”.
As we look to Holy Week, and ponder this great truth that when Christ is lifted up on the Cross he will draw all to himself -let us pray that the four children receiving Holy Communion for the first time today, and those three teenage boys, and two young women who were confirmed last Wednesday, together with all of us, may be drawn evermore closer to Christ in his passion and in his Cross – so that we may ultimately experience the glory which comes at His Resurrection.