21st March 2021 – Passion Sunday

The Readings

Jeremiah 31.31-34

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.


John 12.20-33

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.


New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

The Sermon
By the Revd Canon Julian Sullivan.

God’s Passion

We are all inspired by visionary people, original thinkers who create something out of nothing, turning the equivalent of base metal into gold. The kind of people who found pioneering institutions, start drama festivals, develop new forms of health care and innovative charities, make whole businesses out of nothing, invent life-saving devices, produce works of great art. Trevor Bayliss, invented the wind up radio, wind up torch and solar radio for use in countries where electricity is rare. Andrew Mawsom created a vibrant community centre out of a decaying church at Bromley by Bow in East London with the church at the heart of it. Julia Middleton started Common Purpose, a community leadership programme which has influenced decision makers everywhere.

You can read more in Charles Handy’s Book The New Alchemists, where he identifies three common characteristics of the entrepreneurs I have named above. Passion or determination, Creativity or seeing things with fresh eyes and Tenacity or persistence. Alchemy, building something out of nothing is not a chance affair - unless you care passionately about your enterprise it is unlikely to take wings and fly. We are made in the image of God who is the ultimate alchemist, creating out of nothing! He has invested himself wholeheartedly in his creation, with passion, just as an artist, musician, sports person is fully immersed in their
pursuit. Find the passion - find the champion.

Yet we know that creation is marred, diminished and disfigured in so many ways. If something you have lovingly created and care for is defaced, how do you feel? Can we stretch our imagination to ponder how God sees the defilement of humanity, made in his image, or the natural world, over which we are given the responsibility of stewardship? Perhaps we can begin to understand the passion of God’s purpose in redemption. The reshaping of a new heaven and a new earth. The renewing of hearts and minds - ransomed healed, restored, forgiven.

The Passion of Christ is used in particular to refer to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus which comes into focus on this Passion Sunday as we prepare to mark the events of holy Week and Easter, beginning with the arrival of Jesus the Messiah into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. All through his life and ministry we find clues directing our thoughts towards his passion. Simeon’s words to Mary that a sword will pierce her heart.” His own words full of portent: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, be rejected … and killed and on the third day be raised.” His hearers did not understand what he was saying at the time, but now his words are coming to reality in the journey to Jerusalem, Gethsemane and Golgotha. Through it all we see the passion of his heavenly father: “God so loved the work that he gave his only son so that we
should not perish but have everlasting life.”

God’s purpose from all eternity is to heal what is sick, to mend what is broken, release captives, free the oppressed, like the potter to begin again with the misshapen clay on the wheel. God’s passionate purpose, inspired by love, is now revealed in human history and reaches towards its dramatic climax, as Paul records:

“And being found in human form, he humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross.” Phil 2:7-8.

Christ endures the cross as a passionate expression of God’s love for all he has made and his determination to rescue it from bondage to futility and decay. What is truly remarkable is that He begins that rescue mission with us, humanity just a little lower than the angels. Our reading from Jeremiah this morning contains a remarkable promise which resonates throughout the Old Testament. It is the promise of a new, secure relationship between God and his people, based not on laws that are easily broken, but by an unshakeable intimacy where “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be my people.” God makes a promise to change our hearts from stone, to hearts of flesh, after his own heart.

The hour has come

Greeks pilgrims ask to see Jesus: Philip and Andrew show some diffidence, perhaps because they are gentiles but Jesus gave them an audience in which he reveals that the long wait is coming to an end.

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23)

We might think back to the wedding in Cana, where Mary mother asks him to intervene in an embarrassing situation. Jesus in emphatic: “This is no concern of mine - My hour has not yet come!” Yet that miracle is the first of his signs that reveal his glory. Jesus embraces our humanity, precious in God’s sight, transfigures it for God’s glory and pleasure and makes it fit for life and purpose beyond our imagining, like water transformed into the finest wine fit for the top table but actually available for everyone. With Mary and the disciples, we are left waiting and wondering when that hour will come and what it will mean. Like a recurring theme running through a piece of music, we hear snatches of a tune, as Jesus gradually reveals the reason for his coming, and what that means for all people.

But now the hour has come! The waiting is drawing to a close. But Jesus goes on to speak words that are difficult to hear:

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies its bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it and those who hate their life in this world, will keep it for eternal life.” (John 24-25)

All around us, Spring is uncoiling and we discover again how everything has a passion for life, vibrating with energy. Many of us will be planting seeds, or nurturing young plants in greenhouses. Every year we experience the truth of Jesus’ words that a seed will remain just that, a seed, unless it falls into the earth and dies, in order to produce much fruit. But it is hard for us to hear that he equates the seed with our life in this world. “Those who love their life will lose it and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”


I have always found this use of love and hate with regard to our life difficult to understand. But it is about priorities: Jesus is not telling us objectively to "hate" our lives. Rather, He urges us to put our priority, emphasis, and effort into the will of God. Those who want to cling to the world, instead of Christ, will find, like 007,James Bond, that the world, is not enough! Nothing in this world can ultimately satisfy our deepest spiritual longings, be it for justice, spiritual fulfilment, our own highest aspirations. As Augustine says “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” This life is not enough because we are created with passion for something greater, to follow Christ and imitate his sacrificial love.

Lent is an appropriate time to wrestle with these ideas. We belong to God’s kingdom which is our true home. To serve Christ and follow him means to live those values of the kingdom, both as a sign of what is to come and a present reality, reflecting the now-and-not-yet nature of God’s new creation. But living values of love, truth and justice is a challenging, costly enterprise, stretching us to live faithfully day by day. The rewards are high as we bring the light and salt of the gospel, to bear on the needs of our world. We are not alone. We are imitating Christ who himself wrestles with his own calling to do the will of his heavenly father. “Now my soul is troubled - Father save me from this hour - No it is for this reason that I have come to this hour!” In our lenten journey, we look forward with Jesus, to Jerusalem, Gethsemane and Golgotha.

Breaking out

This coming Tuesday 23rd March will mark the first anniversary of National Lockdown. It will be a day of remembrance and lament as we reflect on the terrible damage inflicted on our nation and on our world by Covid-19 Pandemic. We will not forget those who have died, over 125,000 in UK alone. We may think of those who contracted this disease, especially those with symptoms of Long Covid. We may remember those who face financial ruin or debt due to loss of jobs and businesses. We may pray for deprived urban communities, for families coping with hunger and destitution. It’s a day to pray for professionals in health, education and social care; for governments national and local. And indeed for our churches, where access has not been possible. It will be a day for us to stand with the disciples by the cross, to stay with Jesus and
unite ourselves in prayer with those damaged by the pandemic.

Bearing that in mind, it was a joy to witness, on YouTube or Zoom, the licensing this week of The Revd Sue Hammersley as Priest in Charge and The Revd Canon Dr Matthew Rhodes as associate Priest in Charge of St Mary’s Walkley by Bishop Sophie. It was an inspiring and uplifting service in which we heard how the church of St Mary’s Walkley sees itself. I think they speak for all of us:

They see themselves as a church that welcomes and includes everyone, in their uniqueness, lifting the lowly, feeding the hungry as only the body of Christ can. As Christ’s people, they aspire to be agents of God’s healing grace, offering the ‘balm of Jesus Christ’ to a wounded world, be it physical, emotional, relational, reconciling. St Mary’s is a eucharistic community giving thanks together in a shared meal in the presence of our crucified, risen, ascended Lord, at the heart of the people of God.

The world is not enough. It needs God’s passionate concern for alleviating the world’s suffering, working through his church. It needs the explosive presence of the seeing and liberating Spirit of God, in the midst of human life, bringing healing, wholeness and peace.

So let us pray for creativity, tenacity and Passion to be alchemists, taking base metal and turning it to gold through the transforming passion of Christ.

“The vitality and passion and wakefulness of God be mine
That I may be fully alive this day!!
Celtic Benediction J Philip Newell


The Prayers

Prepared by Catherine B

Christ, by your Passion
Write your covenant on our hearts.

We pray for the worldwide church,
for unity within its great diversity,
for co-operation wherever we can,
for open dialogue, mutual respect,
and the skills to disagree well
whenever we find things difficult.
We pray for Sue and Matthew,
now formally licensed
as our ordained ministers at St. Mary’s,
and for our sister churches
of St. Mark’s and St. John’s
as we prepare to re-open our church buildings for worship.

Christ, by your Passion
Write your covenant on our hearts.

We pray for the world,
for the people of Tanzania,
mourning the loss of president John Magufuli,
for the people of France,
entering another lock-down,
for war-stricken places
with no end to the violence in sight,
for areas of poverty and famine.

Christ, by your Passion
Write your covenant on our hearts.

We pray for our nation and local communities
for all those involved in administering the census
and those who will use the data
to make plans for the next decade.
For all those working in health and education
and in our shops and providing other essential services.
For all those striving to end violence.

Christ, by your Passion
Write your covenant on our hearts.

We pray for all who are ill or downhearted,
For the lonely and bereaved,
For those caring for sick friends or family members
We name in our hearts anyone particularly known to us...

Christ, by your Passion
Write your covenant on our hearts.

We remember those who have died
and pray for their loved ones,
Thinking of Sarah Everard
and all who have died at the hands of another person,
Thinking of those who have died
after illness or a long life.
Thinking of those known to our own community,
and, in particular, of Frank.

Christ, by your Passion
Write your covenant on our hearts.

As we begin to ponder more closely
Christ’s passion and death,
we think of that grain of wheat,
falling to the earth,
and the resulting new life
about to spring forth in abundance.
A year into the pandemic
we think of the many mini-deaths,
and changes made
in our own lives
in our community
in our country
and worldwide over the past year
and pray that they too
might bring forth something new
and abundantly fruitful.

Christ, by your Passion
Write your covenant on our hearts. Amen.