In our modern world where we meet people of other faiths on a daily basis we must all wonder at times why we are Christians, rather than Muslims or Buddhists. Some might say that it’s just the way I have been brought up. But it isn’t just that, is it? We all know of people who were brought up as Christians but have now stopped practising their faith or even stopped believing in God. So what has made us carry on, or come back after a time away?
For me, the answer must be Jesus. Yes, I have looked at other religions. I have prayed and lived with Muslims, and have admired their strong life of prayer and fasting. I have been impressed by the teachings of the Buddha and found much that it has in common with the best Christian teaching on prayer and meditation. But, for me, the figure of Jesus is utterly different from those who founded these other religions. The Buddha and the Prophet Mohammed were looked up to in their lifetime, and still are today, as great leaders; two men who had much to teach others that was good and holy. But Jesus is different. Yes, he too has given the world some great teachings, but the essence of his teaching is not shown by what he said but by how he died, and so this is what we Christians, every year, focus our attention on in these last days before Easter, for it is not principally what he says but what he does that matters!We see this particularly in our 2nd reading today. (Hebrews 5:7-9) “During his life on earth, Christ offered up prayer and entreaty aloud and in silent tears.” The God that Jesus shows us is not a God who stands on high telling us what to do and how to live our life. No, the God we proclaim here at Mass every Sunday, indeed every day, is a God who weeps, who sheds tears, for us. And more still, because our God, as we will hear in our 2nd reading next Sunday, is a God who “was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.” (Phil 2:6-11)
How sad it is when we take this amazing truth for granted, when we see Jesus hanging on the crucifix in front of us and cannot see for looking too often, That is why, strictly speaking, every cross is veiled from now till Good Friday, so that hopefully when we come to the great moment on that day when we come forward to kneel before Jesus hanging on the cross, we will realise the absolutely amazing love of God that is given to us through this man.
I mentioned last week in our Lent Course that we must never underestimate how much we are giving to others in the Church simply by being here, simply giving up an hour a week just to say to our God of love and sacrifice that we are here for him. Again it is not what we say or what we think that matters here. We may be distracted by all sorts of wandering thoughts, struggling with problems and worries, or simply finding it difficult to believe. What matters is that we are here. I would dare to go even further, and suggest that the more difficult we find it to be at Mass, the more we are actually giving to others; because our being here is that much more sacrificial! So even if we think we have got nothing at all out of being here, we have given a great deal! And in knowing that we will suddenly discover that we have got something out of it after all. It is in giving, said Jesus, that we will, receive, and that is what he shows us on the cross!
The power of sacrificial actions like this is way beyond words. We may think it a small thing! To give just one hour a week to God in return for all we are given : the immensity of the Universe; the beauty of a Spring day; the joy of human love and friendship …I could go on and on! And this is what Jesus shows us. His action of dying on the cross is a tiny unnoticed event in the history of the world. One man dying amongst thousands! But Jesus declares in our Gospel (John 12:20-30) that his death is like a tiny grain of wheat dying in the ground. “If it dies” he says, “It yields a rich harvest.”
For us Christians, this death then is like the moment of Creation. It is the New Creation. The scientists tells us that a fraction of a nano-second after the Big Bang, when matter first came into existence still infinitely tiny, the Universe began its amazing expansion that created galaxies and stars beyond counting, and created us. So too this tiny sacrificial event at one moment in human history becomes the moment of God’s glory – a flowering of love and beauty beyond words, an expansion of spiritual power that matches and exceeds the glory of the expansion of the matter of the Universe. And the Catholic Church, and we sinful human beings, that are that Church, are part of that amazing process, making that New Creation moment present every time Mass is said, and every time we say, despite all the struggles and sadness of life, “Yes Lord Jesus, I put my trust in you.”