Sunday, 28 February 2021

In Lent, what does it mean
to deny ourselves, take up
the Cross and follow Christ?

‘Let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’ (Mark 8: 34) … Simon of Cyrene takes up the Cross, Station 5 in the Stations of the Cross in the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 28 February 2021

The Second Sunday in Lent

10 a.m.:
The Parish Eucharist

The Readings: Genesis 17: 1-7 and 15-16; Psalm 22: 23-31; Mark 8: 31-38.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

How many of us are continuing on the Lenten journey? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Lent in Ireland is traditionally a time for making resolutions – resolutions that are often like New Year’s resolutions. We start out well, giving up drink, or sweets, or smoking or chocolate – at least for the first week or two.

But now that we are into the second week of Lent, I imagine many Lenten resolutions are forgotten already, just like New Year’s resolutions.

How many of us can remember what your New Year’s resolution was this year?

And if we can remember it, have we stuck to it?

How many of us are continuing on the Lenten journey?

How many of us probably feel that the pandemic lockdown is enough without even thinking of doing something extra for Lent?

When we start doing the things associated with New Year’s resolutions or Lenten discipline, we often start doing them, not as spiritual disciplines, but to reshape, remould ourselves in an image and likeness that I imagine I or my friends are going to find more acceptable.

Then, when we fail, when we go back to our old habits, how often we feel precisely that – that I’m a failure, that I am worth a little less in the eyes of others, that I’m not quite as close to perfection as I thought I might be

And we are constantly reminded in advertising and through the media of the need to be perfect. If only I drove this car, had that new DVD player for home viewings, cooked in that well-stocked kitchen, or drank that tempting new wine or beer, then I would be closer to others seeing me like a perfect Greek god.

Yet the readings this morning are a call to put aside the struggle to conform to outside demands and pressures, and instead to journey in faith with God.

The story of Abraham, Sarah and Isaac (Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16) is deeply interwoven with the story of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. We too can laugh with God, for we have been incorporated into a covenantal relationship with God as God’s children.

We are to be a people who are peaceful and a blessing to all. We are to be a people who go out and who find God in the world. We are a people who have a covenant with God, who see God at work in the world, and who show this to the world.

This story is also a counter-balance to those tendencies that overemphasise personal salvation. The story of salvation is not about a personal covenant but about God’s covenant with a whole family, that expands to a whole people, and that then widens out to the whole of humanity.

There are no individual, solo Christians; we are always in partnership with God and with others who are invited into that covenant.

In the Gospel reading (Mark 8: 31-38), we meet Christ with the disciples on the journey from Bethsaida to the villages of Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8: 27), in today’s Golan Heights.

To their dismay, Christ speaks openly about his imminent death and resurrection. He then describes true discipleship: first, a disciple must renounce self-centeredness (verse 34) and follow him. Those who are prepared to give even their lives for his sake and for the sake of spreading the good news (verse 35) will find true life. But those who opt for material well-being deny their true selves and lose out (verses 35-37).

There is a cost to discipleship, but the challenge to take up the Cross and to follow Christ is open to the crowd, not just to the disciples, is open to Gentiles and not just Jews, is open to all (see verses 34-38).

God in Christ has come to enfold humanity. The cross will not stop the proclamation of the Good News, nor will it keep salvation history from breaking into the cosmos.

So often, in the face of criticism, the Christian response is either to shut down or to retreat to a different understanding of God and Jesus. But Christ tells the people that if they want to follow him on the journey, there is a cost to discipleship.

We are challenged on this Second Sunday in Lent to take up our cross and follow Christ on that journey.

Christianity cannot be reduced to an individual mental or philosophical decision. It is a journey with Christ and with not only the disciples but with the crowd, the many, who are also invited to join that journey.

If Saint Peter knew what was ahead of him, perhaps he might have been even stronger in rebuking Christ in this Gospel reading. But the triumph comes not in getting what we want, not in engineering things so that God gives us what we desire and wish for, so that we get a Jesus who does the things we want him to do. The triumph comes in a few weeks’ time, at Easter, in the Resurrection.

True discipleship and true prayer mean making God’s priorities my priorities: the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the isolated, the marginalised, the victims, the unloved. If that is difficult, nobody said that being a Christian was going to be easy, that being a Christian would not cost anything.

As the German martyr and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer might have put it, being a disciple means having to pay the cost of discipleship. There is no cheap Christianity and there is no cheap grace.

Pope Francis puts it another way.

He asks, ‘Do you want to fast this Lent?’

And then, he answers:

Fast from hurting words and say kind words.

Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.

Fast from anger and be filled with patience.

Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.

Fast from worries and have trust in God.

Fast from complaints; contemplate simplicity.

Fast from pressures and be prayerful.

Fast from bitterness; fill your hearts with joy.

Fast from selfishness and be compassionate.

Fast from grudges and be reconciled.

Fast from words; be silent and listen.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen, Amen.

‘Let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’ (Mark 8: 34) … the Byzantine-style crucifix by Laurence King (1907-1981) in the crypt of Saint Mary le Bow on Cheapside in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 8: 31-38 (NRSVA):

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’

Simon of Cyrene takes up the Cross and follows Christ … Station 5 in the Stations of the Cross in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical colour: Violet.

The canticle Gloria is omitted in Lent.

Penitential Kyries:

In the wilderness we find your grace:
you love us with an everlasting love.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

There is none but you to uphold our cause;
our sin cries out and our guilt is great.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed;
Restore us and we shall know your joy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
you show to those who are in error the light of your truth
that they may return to the way of righteousness:
Grant to all those who are admitted
into the fellowship of Christ’s religion,
that they may reject those things
that are contrary to their profession,
and follow all such things
as are agreeable to the same;
through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Being justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5: 1, 2)

Preface:

Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who was in every way tempted as we are yet did not sin;
by whose grace we are able to overcome all our temptations:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Creator of heaven and earth,
we thank you for these holy mysteries
given us by our Lord Jesus Christ,
by which we receive your grace
and are assured of your love,
which is through him now and for ever.

Blessing:

Christ give you grace to grow in holiness,
to deny yourselves,
and to take up your cross and follow him:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer distinguishes between cheap grace and costly grace, and reminds us of the ‘Cost of Discipleship’

Hymns:

93, I danced in the morning when the world was begun
599, ‘Take up thy cross’, the Saviour said (CD 34)

‘Take up thy cross’, the Saviour said (Hymn 599) … the East Window in the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Nicholas, Beaumaris on the Isle of Anglesey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

‘I danced in the morning when the world was begun’ (Hymn 599) … dancing in the square in front of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, Barcelona, on Easter morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)



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