‘Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem,
and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.' Luke 18:31
Brothers and sisters, the twelve disciples picture to us the Church in miniature. In a few days, on Ash Wednesday, we will be invited, in the name of the Church, to keep a Holy Lent ‘by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word’. When we hear this invitation, we stand with the disciples listening to the words of our Lord Jesus: ‘We are going up to Jerusalem’. That is the journey of Lent, a journey toward Jerusalem and toward the cross. Our Lord’s address to us is one of the basic reasons why it is important to gather together on Ash Wednesday: Christ addresses the whole Church, His body. This is a journey we can only make together, however much we also need to make it ourselves.
Well, what happens at Jerusalem, what are we invited to see? ‘He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.’ (v.33) What leads Christ to Jerusalem and to the cross is love, what he displays there is love—a love which bears all things, the sins of the world, a love which believes all things, a love which gives us a share in the divine life. The goal of the Lenten journey is that we both see this love, and that this love is shaped in us. We can only make the journey because this love has come to us already. The love of Christ is the beginning and end of our journey. And this is also the problem. Remember, we are standing with the disciples, and their confusion is in some measure our confusion. ‘The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.’ (v.34) The three-fold repetition emphasises the disciples lack of understanding. In the same way that the invitation is to us, this three-fold repetition of the blindness of the first apostles is to us, a mirror in which we are invited to examine our not seeing both journey and the destination.
What do we need to see? The disciples may not have understood, but we know what happened, sure we ‘see’ don’t we? On the one hand, we may already know a great deal about the Passion which we are invited to go up to see again. On the other hand, however many times we have made this journey, whatever we know of the wisdom and love of God, we have seen only a small part of the love of God. The riches of the wisdom and goodness of God are so much above our capacities to grasp or understand, it is as if we are blind. There is so much more to see and to discover. That’s why we need to go up to Jerusalem again. This is not depressing, this is a promise. We arrive over the crest of the hill and discover another vista to be enjoyed and entered into. But in this case, we are not tired by the climb, but lifted up. Have we been disappointed by the love of God? Whatever we know of the love of God, we have more to learn or receive than we can even imagine. Unless we know that we still share in something of blindness of the first disciples, the not-seeing and not-understanding, we are like children with their hands closed, unable to receive what the Father would give. But we are not simply left with this message, we see something about how about how our eyes will be opened more fully in the Gospel miracle: ‘As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.' (v.35) Have you noticed that the blind man is already part of our worship each week? He cries out Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! We make his words our own every time we come to the Holy Communion: ‘Lord have mercy on us. Christ Have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us’. Whenever we pray these words, whenever choir sings them, we pray with the man who wants to see.
What happens next? The man cries out, and the crowd tells the man to be quiet (v.39). Sometimes, this is the voice of the world: don’t take that religion stuff too seriously, Don’t admit you’re blind, don’t be so weak and stupid. The world does not want us to open our eyes to see what love gives and what love demands of us. So the world asks the man to be quiet. Don’t be surprised if this happens to you, if there are voices which tell you that you don’t need to take the journey so seriously. Haven’t you done this before anyway? If you expect discouragement, you are prepared to walk through it. Sometimes, the voice does not come from outside, but from within. This may be our own voice, a kind of despair: I’m tired and worn down, why bother, I cannot change. The blind man shows the better way: but he cried so much the more, Son of David, have mercy on me. Part of what we do when we gather Sunday by Sunday, is that we cry out all the more. We encourage one another to make the pilgrimage. In Lent, we don’t just make this prayer with our lips. All the disciplines of Lent are all ways by which we put flesh on this prayer. In praying we let love draw us, we stir up the voice of love in us. In reading the Bible, we learn to recognise love, to hear the voice of love. In giving up food, or in self-denial, we choose the cross for ourselves. We know that our loves are out of order. The disciplines of Lent are how the rocky soil is broken up, the help to care away the thorns of care or the thorns of self-indulgence. So let us cry out, not just with our lips, but by choosing the little things which help us to see love, which prepare the soil of our hearts to receive love. Learning to see the love of God is not about having the right information. Learning to see is about receiving love, it is about turning away from sin, it is about having the rocky soil broken up or the weeds pulled out.
Let us begin the journey of Lent with expectation, with faith and with hope. The journey to Jerusalem is a journey toward the love of God, in the love of God. If we know ourselves, and how difficult it is to be shaped by genuine love, then we know that this cannot be an easy journey. The failures and the struggles won’t surprise us. Our Lord does not pass by, he stops to ask ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ (v.41) What do you want me to give you? The Love which is described by St Paul, in our first reading (1 Cor. 13) is the same Love which takes our Lord and all His disciples to Jerusalem and to the cross. Whatever we know of this love, there is more to be discovered.
‘O LORD, who hast taught us that all our doings without charity are nothing worth: Send thy Holy Spirit, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whosoever lives is counted dead before thee: Grant this for thine only Son Jesus Christ's sake. Amen’ (from Fr George Westhaver).