Today is Passion Sunday, the fifth Sunday of Lent and the beginning of Passiontide. The word comes from the Latin word passio, meaning suffering, as remembrance of the terrible death of Jesus draws near during these last two weeks of Lent. As the global pandemic of Covid-19 continues to inflict such worldwide suffering, Passiontide may have an added significance for many this year. These extraordinary times can bring out both the best and the worst in those living through them, as headline events have shown – and perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised about what’s happening. For it’s also forty years since Archbishop Oscar Romero was martyred for speaking out about human rights violations in El Salvador and, as he said: “The word of God is like the light of the sun: it illuminates beautiful things but also things we would rather not see”.
The word of God set for today as the Gospel is John 11:1-45 and, in it, sisters Mary and Martha send a message to Jesus about their brother Lazarus: “Lord, the one you love is sick”. Later, after Lazarus has died, the shortest Bible verse tells us that “Jesus wept”, reminding us that this is no automaton, but One who feels pain, sorrow and grief just as we do.
It may be that, today, we are worried about our loved ones being or becoming sick, fearful that we will catch Covid-19 and anxious about all that is being enforced in our lives and what may lie ahead. Perhaps we, too, weep as did Jesus. Oscar Romero’s words remind us that there are things we would rather not see or have to deal with – but, each day, God’s word and our prayers will also show us beautiful things being illuminated too. At times like this, we have consciously to look for them and not allow negativity or hopelessness to overshadow them – amidst the suffering, what are the beautiful things you have also seen recently?
The photo is of a Celtic cross placed on the altar here at St Melangell’s this Passion Sunday as a statement of hope in the circumstances we all now face. Melangell’s story suggests that she may have spent possibly ten solitary years in the valley before her encounter with Brochwel – may her example hearten us as weeks and possibly months of confinement and restriction lie ahead. The cross has four figures detailed on it and could represent those we bring to God in prayer as Passiontide begins. This season may focus on the passion of Jesus, but it also eventually leads on to a new way of being which we may also discover when Covid-19 is eventually overcome, as it will be. Even as the ongoing suffering and the death of his loved ones is acknowledged by Jesus, he also proclaims the future hope and unfolding beauty of the resurrection life to which his death would, in time, lead. His words also speak to us as we face all that lies ahead:
“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die; and those who live and believe in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
With my prayers,