Sermon for Lent 5 (Passion Sunday)
21st Mar 2021
Sermon for Lent 5: ‘The Holy Sacrifice’
Post Communion Prayer at the Eucharist:
‘Through him we offer you our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice’
The word ‘sacrifice’ is a powerful word for us today as it speaks of the utmost selfless love that we human beings are capable. For Christians it speaks of the power and passion of God in Jesus as we are able to perceive and feel His presence in the midst of human brokenness, suffering and pain.
Our Mass is the celebration of the reality of Jesus Christ as today, on this Passion Sunday, we are reminded of the sacrifice he had to make in order to draw all people unto himself. He foretells all this in today’s Gospel. The signal for this foretelling is the arrival in Jerusalem of Greeks and gentiles who wish to see Jesus. Suddenly, John says, the little Christian community is about to open itself to the whole world. Jesus Christ is to become Lord of all. The world’s saviour. At our final Lent group meeting last week we amazed at the strong language of being baptized ‘through the death of Christ’ ‘unto our own death’ with which St Paul empowers his listeners. In such a way the Christian life is to become a recapitulation of the life and death of Christ. It is an invitation to more than surface imitation but a call to imitate the selfless living and actions which are Christ’s example.
We ask, merciful God, that you send, in kindness, your Holy Spirit to settle on this bread and wine and fill them with the fullness of Jesus. Let that same Spirit rest on us, converting us from the patterns of this passing world, until we conform to the shape of him whose food we now share.
The eucharistic sacrifice, this Holy Mass, brings this urging of St Paul into the present. In the sacrament of the bread and wine, it calls us all to become in Christ what we have received in Christ. When St Augustine spoke of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, he said they "are called sacraments because in them one thing is seen, while another is grasped. ... What is grasped bears spiritual fruit." What is grasped is grasped with passion and purpose.
Jesus identifies the bread with His Body and the cup of wine with His blood, and we know that He is the Lamb of God who is to be slain on that first Good Friday. The sacrifice of the lamb and the sacrifice of the Christ are the wheat grains crushed as it were and pulverised - obliterated so that new life might emerge.
In our Eucharist today that it focuses on the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. The prayer at the altar says, “we remember His offering of Himself made once for all upon the Cross… we celebrate with this bread and cup His one perfect sacrifice; and our own spiritual sacrifice: accept through Him our sacrifice of thanks and praise…” so that eating and drinking this sacrament we may be renewed by the Spirit, inspired with God’s love and united in the Body of Christ.
The murder of an Anglican priest took place on a housing estate in Liverpool some years ago. He had been stabbed on the very streets which h were his ‘parish beat’. It occurred at the same time as the Church’s liturgical commission was considering this very word ‘sacrifice’. Nearly every report following his death featured the word ‘sacrifice’ to describe his loving commitment to his parish. People obviously knew what that word meant. it had something to do with love, giving up something in consideration for someone else. This is the Christian call to self-sacrifice : for love for others in the joyful and unselfish and un self-conscious shedding of self.
in the hymn ‘When I survey the wondrous Cross’, Isaac Watts sets this out beautifully and succinctly:
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
We make our sacrifice without hoping to incur favour with Him, but simply out of love for Him, a love which would not be possible for us to have were it not for the Holy Spirit opening our hearts and minds to receive it.
Here is a poem by a parish priest and theologian, Bill Vanstone, which is also a hymn and which speaks of the Divine sacrificial love which we celebrate at the altar today. It appears in his famous work, ‘Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense’:
Love that gives gives ever more,
Drained is love in making full;
Therefore He Who Thee reveals
Thou are God; no monarch Thou