The Seven Word Sermon: Letting go is hard, but enables grace.
“I don’t want to go!”
David Tennant played the Tenth Doctor in “Doctor Who”. In his final episode, he was slowly dying from the effects of radiation. He knew that this was about to cause his body to regenerate into a new personality, but faced with what he was about to lose, he was frightened. It was one of the hardest lines for Tennant to play just right – the Doctor had to be truly afraid, yet not totally lacking in confidence. It took four takes to get the message just right – “I don’t want to go!”
Letting go of a life is not easy. This week, many of us bade farewell to Harri Pritchard-Jones. All of us have lost loved ones – parents, brothers and sisters, friends. Some of us have nursed them through their final months, living with that terrible tension of not wanting them to leave us, but not wanting their agony to be long, either. Sometimes, the most loving thing we can do is to make our peace with the person we love and give them permission, by a word or a sign, that they are free to leave us and go to God.
Today, Jesus senses that the time of His Passion is drawing near. Is he to flee from it or embrace it? He knows that his death will be both meaningful and powerful. He is the wheat-grain which must die if the harvest is to be born. The letter to the Hebrews recognises that Jesus first feared his own death, then embraced it. If God’s own Son is not spared a painful death, then perhaps we can resist the temptation to blame God for the suffering we see in the world. Why doesn’t God do something about it? God has done the most important thing possible, opening the gates for us to an eternal life free of all pain, suffering and tears.
Jesus is the source of eternal life. In just two weeks, we will gather here to celebrate his own triumph over death. Before that, on Holy Thursday, we will remember the night he accepted death, and on Good Friday, the day on which he breathed his last. Our weekly celebration of Mass is our perpetual act of thanksgiving for what Jesus did. As Christians, we are secure in the knowledge that because we follow Jesus, our place in heaven is assured. But heaven is not guaranteed for everyone. Part of our duty as Christians is to spread the message that there is only one secure path to eternal life, following Jesus, forgiving our enemies, pouring out our lives in service of others.
The Tenth Doctor was afraid of losing his identity. Jesus promises that the only way we can secure our identity is to ‘lose our life’ by putting others first. Great saints have always understood that they can pass securely into God’s hands, from the elderly Simeon in the Jewish Temple to St Maximilian Kolbe, offering his life for a Jewish father in Auschwitz. Christ suffered great pain and humiliation before entering into eternal life; our loved ones too, might suffer not only pain but also the humiliations of incontinence, dementia and bodily decay. If it was necessary for God’s own Son to be made perfect through suffering, we must trust that these indignities in some way purify our loved ones and prepare them for heaven, too.
On Thursday night, Jesus Himself was tempted to cry, “I don’t want to go.” But by Friday afternoon, after walking the Way of the Cross, he had overcome his trial. No longer afraid of what he was to lose, confident of what he was to gain for himself and for those he loved, he cried out: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Let us pray for the grace that we, and our loved ones, will be able to do the same when our Father calls us home.
If you are still painfully aware of a bereavement, you may wish to find support from Cruse.