A Reflection for Passion Sunday

“Incipit Lamentatio Jeremiae” (pronounced Yeh reh me ay). The opening line of one of Tomas Tallis’ most beautiful works, his “Lamentations”.

You can tell from our dog’s name that I rate this 16th century English composer very highly. We used to sing the Lamentations in the choir I was in at college. But it felt then that we were singing “Old Testament stuff” that happened years ago. A bible story like the plagues of Egypt that had nothing to do with the present day. But this is the first line

“How solitary the city lies! Her streets are empty, her majesty gone, like a woman in mourning.”

This time last year, it suddenly felt very near as we saw pictures of deserted streets in London, and Rome, and Madrid….

The experience of exile was fundamental to the journey of God’s chosen people, and Jeremiah was prophesying in Babylon where the inhabitants of Jerusalem we now living as slaves. Everything precious to them had been torn away by the invaders and Jeremiah echoes the lament of all God’s people. He pulls no punches – things are as bad as he could ever have imagined. I guess that in our present “exile” the deeply precious thing that is denied us is human contact, fellowship and touch.

The situation for Jesus’ disciples, in the passage from John’s gospel we’ve just read, is not far distant from Lamentations. Things are as bad as they could get. The sweet fellowship of the shores of Galilee have been replaced by a crowd that is out for blood.

And then Jesus says these strange words. “Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” – or, we might say, “… to be revealed”. Now, when things are darkest. Now, when everything precious has been ripped away, as Jesus’ garments are about to be. Now when all hope seems lost. Now Jesus is about to shine.

Now he is revealed.

Now that the miracles are over; now that no one is being healed; now that his teaching is only to the disciples at the Passover meal – and deeply personal; now that he is just a human being, struggling with the things human beings struggle with.

Now God glorifies his name.

“I have glorified it,” the voice says; I have revealed it, because this hour changes everything, and its power goes back to transform history. Because of this hour, the man at the wedding is no longer just a miracle worker, he is the one who turns darkness to light. No longer just the teacher who calls Andrew and Peter, but the Way the Truth and the Life. The signs were all there, in every word, every touch, every encounter. But they are about to be ignited.

“I will glorify it again.”

What, then, is this hour? This hour when a grain of wheat dies and bears a rich harvest?

It’s the hour of clarity – the hour when we see clearly the meaning of love. All bets are off. All previous versions of God that linger in our minds are cancelled. Here he is – “behold the man” we might say. He couldn’t possibly ask the Father to save him from this hour, because here is the human being in whom “there is nothing that love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, its endurance.”

Nothing in all creation can shake that. No virus nor plague, no death nor bereavement, no hell nor high water, can quench the love that is shining now.