Sermon preached by the Subdean, the reverend Canon John Patrick, at the 9.30 Eucharist on 4 March 2012
Jesus calls the crowds to himself and declared: ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”I stand before you this morning with a thankful and grateful heart. Thankful and grateful for many things: for the welcome and kindness that my family and I have received and known over this last month. For the generous manner in which people across this Cathedral community have given of their time and energy and talents in making preparations for our arrival. Thank you.
Alongside that thankfulness there are other emotions and feelings which are common to us all and which we can all recognise and relate to particularly at times of change and transition: excitement and anticipation, apprehension and wariness. We just need to look back on our own lives to know that.
Over the last few months my brother and I have been sorting out our father’s home after his death in September. My mother (who predeceased him) was a hoarder so everything was there to remind us of days gone by. My prep school cap was there: blue with red stripes and I was reminded of that first day at St David’s in Huddersfield, short trousers, shining new leather satchel with my new ink pen and geometry set – excited but apprehensive. Then school reports were unearthed – now shredded! – from my secondary school this time in Leatherhead no short trousers this time, but a new trunk and a tear running down my mother’s cheek as she said goodbye to me at the beginning of a long 12 week term. In another box was my scarf from St John’s Durham, worn with pride and probably a little arrogance some 30 years ago – and I still remember now driving along North Bailey in Durham apprehensive for what the future held.
Each box and drawer opened delivered its own memories: Trainee Chartered Accountant; Student Assistant for Mission to Seafarers in Yokohama, Japan; Cuddesdon Theological College; curate in Chester Diocese and then to Boston, to Navenby, to Sleaford and now to this Cathedral Church.
The disciples had been on their own life journey with Jesus as we meet them this morning in our Gospel reading, they were excited following their teacher and Lord who Peter had just declared to be the Messiah – the long expected king, David’s true heir – but they must have been apprehensive as well, after all, it was public knowledge that John the Baptist had just been executed by Herod.
It may well be that same apprehension and fear that is finding a voice when Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him for saying that the Son of Man will undergo great suffering and be rejected by the religious hierarchy; and we can sense that same tension and raw emotion when Jesus turns to his friend and says, “Get behind me Satan!” I don’t think for one moment that Peter was in this for the glory and the honour – unlike perhaps James and John who asked to be seated at Jesus’ left and right hand in the kingdom of God – but neither did he want Jesus to be a “here today, gone tomorrow” Messiah.
So, we find Jesus, yet again, having to reinforce the message that his kingdom is not of this world, that his kingdom turns the values of this world upside down and that his kingdom challenges us to consider what it important in this world.
And for St Mark drawing the gospel story together in his characteristically short and sharp manner with clear, concise and precise language what is important in this world is to follow Jesus. So much of St Mark’s Gospel is drawn together in that line: If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For Mark following Jesus is what it is all about.
And, of course, that is the challenge that we all face as individual Christians and as Church today. Following Christ and by so doing being the people he desires us to be.
I have been struck over the last few days by the Stations of the Cross exhibited on the north side of the nave, in the second station Christ takes up his cross and commences the long and painful journey to Calvary. But then in the fifth station of the Cross we have Simon, Simon of Cyrene, who has the confidence and the courage to take up the cross when Jesus falls; and it must have taken courage and determination to step out from the hostile crowd – so graphically depicted on the station – to go against the flow and to take that cross. But, that is what’s asked of us to take up our cross, to take up our Saviour’s cross and walk with him to Calvary.
It’s not an easy task to resist the pull of the world of comfort, personal safety and self-gratification? But in this we are the given the example of Abraham, whose faith kept his walking and thinking God’s way, even when it did not look promising. He trusted God so firmly that he stuck with it through thick and thin, and that is what delighted God: I will establish…. an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.
At the beginning of Lent we remember that our lives all end in the same way – remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return, turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel, the challenge we have is to follow Christ, to be faithful to our calling and to take up our cross.
When your life ends someone will be sorting out your possessions, some to be retained and some to be thrown out. When I die someone will reflect on what I have achieved what was done and what was left undone. However, for all of us, as people gather and reflect on our lives and give thanks for what we have done, let it to be our prayer that they will be able to say that in some small way we took up our cross and thereby, again in some small way, became what God created us all to be – that in denying notions of what we think we are we became what God created us to be, faithful disciples of Jesus Christ our Lord and our Saviour.