This is Passion Sunday. Although the Passion of the Lord is not read on this Sunday, we wait for that until Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week, yet the emphasis changes. It may be that in your church, certainly in Southwark Cathedral, there is an even greater sense of austerity and solemnity. The statues are covered in purple veiling. It is as though the building itself is weeping, as though the whole place is already in mourning. The Lenten fast has even taken the images and the icons and the statues from us. There is nothing to ‘feast’ our eyes on.
Instead we are called to look upon Jesus and to enter into the experience not so much of the wilderness, which is where it all began, but enter into the passion itself.
Over the past four weeks we’ve been making a virtual journey around the art installation – ‘Earthworks’ that is at present in the Cathedral. The images will be there until Holy Saturday. They are not veiled. Instead there is something very austere about them already. There is nothing sumptuous, nothing gilded, nothing glamorous about them. They are dust and as with us, ultimately to dust they will return.
Last week we were looking at the series of heads that are in the retrochoir. As we move past them we come across another standing figure, similar to the one we saw in the distant. But now we are quite close to it. In its starkness we look upon it.
The prayer that accompanies the journey which we have called ‘Earthworks’ is this.
from the earth you took us,
to the dust we will return
and from the soil
you brought your son, Jesus,
to lead us heavenward.
Open our earthy hands to receive you,
guide our earthy feet to find you
and may we stand before you,
created before creator.
Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’ (John 19.5)
Is this the same person that you saw on your way into the retrochoir? But now you are closer and can look more closely. Who is this person?
The climax of Jesus’ journey to the cross came in the courtyard, the gathering place, the residence of the Governor, Pontius Pilate. The arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, the subsequent beatings and false accusations had delivered Jesus – broken, bleeding, exhausted – to this place of judgement. Many of those who saw him now had seen him before, but not like this. They had seen him by the lakeside in Galilee and decided to follow him. They had seen him in towns and villages, healing, touching and they had been attracted to him. They had seen him teaching on hillsides and in the Temple and they had listened to him. They had seen him on a donkey entering Jerusalem and had welcomed him. But they had not seen him like this.
Above the noise of the crowds, as Jesus reappears wearing the mocking garb of a ‘dress-up’ king, Pilate shouts ‘Ecce Homo’, ‘Behold the man’. And they looked.
We have seen this figure before but not like this. Behold the man. Nothing hides him from us. His nakedness has removed any clue we might have had as to who he is. Does that shock you? Does his nakedness in a sacred place offend you? Here is the man, made from the earth, the earthwork of God, and, stripped of all as he is nailed to the cross, Jesus is the man of the earth raised towards heaven.
earthwork of God,
by your cross and resurrection,
raise us from the dust of the earth
to the glory of heaven.