The Civic and Parish Church of Bournemouth

Passion Sunday Service – 29th March 2020

Good morning and welcome to our video service.

Even though church buildings are closed and public worship is suspended – with us all doing our best to keep safe, and to live safely and with consideration for others, in this time of the Coronavirus – God isn’t ‘closed down ’ – and never can be! – God is always open to our prayers and delighted that we want to come close to Him.  So, let’s begin by coming close to God in a prayer.  Today is Passion Sunday, when we remember Jesus suffering for us, as a victim of the violence of humankind, so let’s pray:

“Christ our victim, whose beauty was disfigured and whose body torn upon the cross; open wide your arms to embrace our tortured world, particularly as we agonise with the Coronavirus, so that we may not turn away our eyes, but continue to seek your face – that we may see you in the poor and broken, the homeless and despairing, and even in each other.  Amen.”

In John’s Gospel, chapter 12, some Greeks say to Philip, ‘Sir, we would see Jesus.’ – and so would we – but the face of Jesus is not always a pretty sight.  

This is the suffering servant of God spoken about by the prophet Isaiah, in chapter 53 – the one who was ‘despised and rejected’.  The sculpture of the crucified Jesus that we’re looking at is in Coventry Cathedral. It was made from the metal of a crashed motor car.  It is a poignant reminder that the daily crucifixions of man by man in careless driving, like those in war, can only be redeemed by love.  But that it is easy …

A few weeks ago I heard a 93 year old German theologian, Jurgen Moltmann, speaking about: How can one talk of God after the horrors of Auschwitz?  He quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who was executed for being part of a plot to get rid of Hitler. Bonhoeffer had seen the horror of what was happening in the death camps, and he wrote: ‘Only a suffering God can help’.  

Moltmann had himself been to Auschwitz, after the war had ended, and he asked himself: Where is this suffering God? – and after returning from the camp he wrote his book, ‘The Crucified God’, in an attempt to make some sense of that dreadful experience.  

We come back to request of the Greeks to Philip:

‘Sir, we would see Jesus’:  – well, if you want to see Jesus, look at the death camps, look at those whose lives are being turned upside down at the moment, look at the man hanging on the cross. This is the image of his book cover.

‘Is God himself the victim?’, Moltmann urged us to ask, ‘Does God die in the innocent children?’ He suggests that we have to endure the unending suffering of God, because if God cannot suffer, God cannot love.  So, we see God’s love poured out for us. John’s Gospel shows the love of God focused, as never before, in the man hanging on the cross.  

And, although this expresses God’s love for each one of us, this is not just personal and subjective, it forces us to an examination of the attitudes and prejudices that dominate our society.  To whom are we terminally indifferent?

‘Sir, we would see Jesus.’  We would see him in others, in ourselves, in the suffering and needy, and in the broken structures of our society.

We stand, aghast, with Moltmann and Bonhoeffer, and all of us who are wanting to see Jesus in each other.  We are left without words at the foot of the cross.  

Let me end with this reflection in verse:

Countless Jews transported

By despotic hate

To the cruel camps

Where they will meet their fate.

Where was their God then?

What words can explain?

Does their God still love them?

Who will share the pain?

Countless victims swallowed

By the raging tide.

Through the spreading virus

Future are denied.

Where was their God then?

What words can explain?

Does their God still love them?

Who will share the pain?

Single victim hanging 

High upon the tree.

Jesus by his suffering

Dies to set us free.

There is our God now

Showing to make plain

That our God still loves us

And will share our pain.

The shadow of the cross, in which we travel during Lent,

is cast by the light of the Resurrection behind it.  

There is hope.  God can be trusted.

Jesus said, ‘When I am lifted up from the earth on the cross

I shall draw all humanity to myself.’

The Blessing:

May the God who dies on the cross,

Whom death could not contain,

Who lives to disturb and heal us,

Cherish you, and all your loved ones, in his arms of love,

And bless you richly, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.