Archbishop writes on The Passion of Jesus Christ and what this means..
Sunday 25th March 2012Writing in the Sun, the Archbishop writes on Passiontide, the 5th Sunday of Lent, and of two community projects at Coffee Plus and St James Benwell which gave him hope on a recent visit to the parishes of Newcastle this week. His article follows.....
You hear a lot about ‘passion’ in our society today – and that’s a good thing. Much better than apathy! But what’s it all about?
Well, there’s the passion we all feel for things which arouse our strong emotions and love. Then we hear the Apprentice hopefuls assuring Lord Sugar that they are ‘passionate’ about selling things; footballers in our teams are ‘passionate’ about winning silverware. What they’re talking about is the focus and purpose of their lives, and their total commitment.
This Sunday is the 5th Sunday of Lent. The beginning of ‘Passiontide’ – the season of The Passion of Jesus Christ. What does this ‘passion’ mean?
The origin of the word means suffering and pain. And if you saw Mel Gibson’s Film ‘The Passion of Christ’ you will have seen what that suffering looked like when Jesus was crucified. But why did he have to suffer? Why did he ‘set his face towards Jerusalem’ – where he knew he would end up being killed? What was it for?
Well this week in the news, we have seen the bodies of 6 young soldiers being brought back home, and have heard about the death of another one; and people in my county of Yorkshire, in particular, have joined in the grief of their families. We have seen the tears of families of the children killed in the coach crash, and those killed by the gunman in France; we see our families and our neighbours struggling with debt, illness, loneliness and fear for the future.
But what we see in Jesus’ Passion is his love, his commitment, the purpose of his life – in sharing in our experience. He stands in for us to save us from the ultimate suffering of being cut off from God, from hope and from love, and draws the sting of sin and evil to himself – like the mother who sees a cobra and envelops her baby with her body, taking the deadly bite herself.
He’s been there – deserted by friends, scorned by enemies, humiliated, tortured and killed; looking hopelessness in the face, but going through it. He knows what it’s like and he can tell us there is still hope and there is joy to come.
A piece of 2000-year-old graffiti was discovered in Rome – showing a man on a cross, with the head of a donkey. Many people just can’t understand the point of Jesus’ humiliating death. They can’t see how it could be called a ‘victory’. But the victory is in the fact that Jesus took death on and conquered it. That victory is for us. We are now invited to step into his victory and know the gift of being forgiven.
This week I visited the diocese of Newcastle and saw two things which filled me with hope.
The first was a coffee shop, called ‘Coffee Plus’ which opened just under a year ago in the Shiremoor area of Newcastle. The population doubled in this area in the past ten years and there is a lot of new housing but very few places for people to get together to chat.
So, parishioners from St Mark’s Church had a vision of setting up a coffee shop where people could do just that. They found the perfect place, on a row of shops, just by Sainsbury’s.
Many of the helpers at Coffee Plus are volunteers, giving a warm welcome and a helping hand to all those who come – young mums with toddlers, pensioners wanting a chat, people with problems and those new to the area wanting to make friends.
What a wonderful place of hope it is! As one lady there said to me, “If this place didn’t exist, I’d have no friends”. Coffee Plus is love in action in the community, just like the ministry of Jesus who went out to where the people were. I pray Coffee Plus goes from strength to strength.
St James Benwell
The other fantastic place of hope is St James Church in Benwell, once a posh area of Newcastle during the city’s industrial heyday, but now one of the poorest areas in England.
But is the congregation depressed? No! I was amazed how cheerful and positive they were. Everything they do is inspired by their love of Jesus and their passionate belief that everyone matters. Even with a leaking roof and the need to raise £50,000 for urgent repairs, they continue to be the centre of community life and hope: running a lunch club , and a ‘knit and knatter’ club for the elderly, providing clothes and furniture to those in need, and projects with schoolchildren make the overgrown churchyard a green haven. And people in the community are being inspired to help each other too.
Twenty different groups in the area have knitted a great Noah’s ark as a sign that God cares for all of us. I came away with the gift of a knitted mouse from the ark. It’s sitting in my chapel, reminding me to pray for St James’. Their knitted Ark reminded me of the words of St. Aelred a local Saint. He said, our hearts are like ‘a spiritual Noah’s Ark’ where we should gather and care for all those who are in any kind of need – including our enemies! What a wonderful image, and what a great way to change people’s hearts. Who will go in your Noah’s Ark today, I wonder?