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Sermon – 22/02/15

posted 27 Feb 2015, 00:19 by Rosie Addis

So, the first Sunday of Lent. The time when we prepare for Easter, the season in the Office of Daily Prayer of ‘Returning to God’. Last Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, we remembered that we are fragile human beings … a fact brought home to me all too clearly by going to the dentist and finding out I need fillings. We are dust and to dust we will return.

Except that the fact of being human is not something to feel despondent about. These passages point to something intrinsically human – that there is something hardwired within us that latches on to signs and symbols. Our world is full of them …. This ring on my finger is not just a ring, but a symbol of the promises I made before God to another person. As a wedding ring it is a statement of fact – that I am married – and also a sign of hope – that my marriage will continue into the future.

In Genesis the promise made by God to Noah is sealed with a rainbow. A few chapters later, God’s covenantal relationship with Abram is marked by the new ritual of circumcision for every Israelite boy. God gives tangible reminders to frail human beings that there is a promise, a relationship, here, even when the situation seems to indicate otherwise.

And for a long, long time it does seem to the Jewish people that they are hanging on to a memory. Each male generation shows that they are different to the other men, and their circumcision remains a viewable sign of fact, but increasingly the hope for the future becomes a yearning for a messiah. From time to time prophets are raised up, who point again to the heavens and say that God has made a covenant, and God is reliable and can be trusted, but the situation doesn’t match the expectations. What has gone wrong?

And then into this apparent silence there comes a man – John the Baptist, who begins to use an old ritual with new significance – baptism, a new sign that shows repentance and turning back to God. Water has always had a cleansing property, but now it is used metaphorically to cleanse from sin.

And Mark writes about how Jesus comes along and asks to be baptized. Jesus – a man whom Mark has introduced in his opening sentence as ‘Son of God’. And he asks to be baptised as a sign of repentance! This sign, this ritual must be something special.

And then in the story we the reader are given a picture of the start and the end of the story, all at the same time. The verb in the original Greek – ‘skizomenous’ – ‘splitting’ links in one word the opening of the heavens as Jesus comes out of the water with the tearing of the veil in the temple when Jesus dies on the cross. Here at the start of the journey of Lent we get the full picture – Mark is saying, ‘Look, God himself is confirming what I said in the first line of my scroll – this is the Christ!’ The Kingdom of God has now arrived, and it will be here forever.

It is this finality that the writer of 1 Peter picks up on when he writes to refugees, scattered and persecuted. ‘Christ died for sinners once and for all’. The rainbow for Noah, the smoking fire pot and flaming torch for Abraham has become a human being. Death is not the end because someone went through death and was raised back to life.

How do we know that it is true? How do we know that this is the ultimate sign of God’s covenant with us? What do you say when Coptic Christians are beheaded? When the situation around us seems to say that we are on our own?

For me, it comes back to communion. When the chalice and host are lifted up as the body and blood of Jesus we hear again in our heads his final cry – ‘It is finished!’ This the ultimate sign of the final covenant God made with His people. It is the sign of the fact, in the same way that my ring is the sign of my marriage. And it is the sign of hope for the future as well.

And I would suggest that during this journey of Lent, we who are hardwired to see signs and symbols would notice them and tell each other. God’s kingdom is breaking through, in ways we don’t understand or expect.