SEE US IN A NEW LIGHT
Passion Sunday Address
The Very Revd Geoff Miller, Dean of Newcastle, gives his Address on Passion Sunday 29 March 2020…
An audio version of this Address is available on the Cathedral’s YouTube channel. Click here to listen (The Address begins 28 minutes in).
Like you I am reeling at just how fast the world can change around us. Less than two weeks ago who would have imagined our situation today – not just here but throughout the world. It seems to me that Covid 19 has done with speed what no other situation has been able to do. In a few months the whole world has been sent into overdrive – war, famine, threats to the environment have not been able so quickly to mobilise (or is it demobilise) the world. There have been (and will be) terrible sadness and suffering and there have thank god been better things to come out of all this. For the Church and the Cathedral, the demand for a different ‘modus operandi’ has been challenging and perhaps one day we will reflect it has been life giving as well as life destroying.
Now to be blunt (with apologies to my colleagues) it seems to me that in the Church we have been bleating on for years that we have to ‘do church differently’, to ‘set the laity free’, to ‘reimagine ministry’: We all know the catchphrases – in this case even better than Mr Chips and Stephen Mulherne! But now we are being urged, in ever starker terms, to get on with it – for heaven’s sake – and this new context will not afford us the opportunity to be distracted, unfocussed, perfectionist or even ponderous. Like at no other time in my life time the scale of the challenge before us is unmissable even to a numb scull like me!
Of course, we should not forget that for many in the world vulnerability on this scale is already (even without Covid19) an everyday reality. Just as there are times in history when society and the church have faced huge challenges not dissimilar to our present plight – after all the infant Church learned this in the catacombs. If nothing else their experience should alert us to the fact that there will be huge opportunities ahead for the Gospel and the Church and just as many pitfalls that we could encounter.
My mind has been drawn back to the stories I heard as a young Christian of eastern bloc disciples unable to gather or even access a copy of the scripture and of course to Chinese Christians not just unable to meet but also cut off and out of communication with other Christians in their country. The stories they told should at least warn us that the proffering of cheap (and usually false) hope, sentimental comfort or warped theological reflection that could seem to support the idea of a vengeful God in need of appeasing or one who keeps tally of our prayers until they reach ‘enough’ before bestowing his bounty on his favoured ones. Even worse is the temptation to the Church as an institution: In 1970 Jan Milic Lochman offered a Czechoslovakian view:
‘Under a strong challenge from the outside, the power and the glory of self-concerned church institutions was utterly shaken. Thus, the traditional temptations of such institutions diminished. At the same time, their genuine possibility emerged:
to once more become modest, functional centres of common Christian life and activity.’ 
In China they came to rely for a time almost completely on the so called three self-movement – self governance, self support, self propagation and as Christians went underground they could only be encouraged by the hope of the growth of the ‘hidden seed’. Bishop Ting told the gathered congregation in the Chapel of Lambeth Palace in 1982 that they feared everything was lost – not a single church remained open:
‘Christianity, perhaps for the fourth time in Chinese history was again breathing its last breath. What we were blind to was that when we were weak and dying life was in the offing’ 
Our readings today should encourage us:
From Lamentations there is much to learn…. I think we have will have to learn again how to lament, individually and corporately; it will be a painful but valuable lesson for us. More specifically though we should be encouraged to know that whatever people may say or perhaps more importantly our feeble negative self-reflections might tempt us to affirm, God does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone. We need to learn the patience of waiting in silence and simply hoping in him ….. this is what it will mean to be ‘modest functional centres of common Christian life and activity’
The Gospel passage splits neatly in to three
- Jesus heads to Jerusalem and as they journey he tells his disciples what they are to expect… and it’s not an easy message he offers – it has never been suggested that following Christ is a comfortable option. How could it be his own path was troubled.
- As the disciples hear about all that – find out about the core of his costly mission to humankind, all that is to come instead of strengthening their resolve, standing at least in support and solidarity with their teacher or mustering their resources for the task ahead the disciples spend their time squabbling among themselves – competing for attention and favour.
- Jesus in his non-anxious presence calls them back to who they must be … like him ready to serve others before themselves and then he gets on with the task in hand moved by compassion bringing sight to the blind.
Here is a manifesto for a people who would be about God’s business
Amid our lamentation trusting in God
Not shying away from the difficulties that we face
Learning to compassionately be for others
There is no doubt that we will need much encouragement, wisdom and prayerfulness. We cry for help to be imaginative, creative, fresh in how we are with each other in and among our communities. We need to keep to task, focussed on our calling to be ‘modest functional centres of common Christian life and activity’ – nothing more, nothing less!
So now we must walk together – albeit virtually – the road to Jerusalem, together we face the Passion and the Cross, together we follow the one who goes always before us. We may weep with the women on the way – for ourselves and for our loved ones – but together we can follow until we reach Golgotha and beyond. And like the characters in our Gospel reading we can pray
‘Lord, let our eyes be opened.’
 Lochman, Jan Milic, Church in A Marxist Society: A Czechoslovak View, SMC Press, London 1970, p.87
 Ting, K.H., Address in Lambeth Palace, 1 October 1982, The Church in China, British Council of Churches, 1983