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16 March 2014
posted by Canon Dakin on 21-03-2014

2nd Sunday of Lent

The Dream of Gerontius is a poem by Cardinal Newman. It was brilliantly set to music by Edward Elgar. It is the story of a man’s passing over, through death, into the presence of God, lovingly attended by his guardian angel. As he lies dying Gerontius speaks of the ‘dissolution of all that makes me man’.

We can’t imagine the experience of dying; we have only the experience of living. Death may happen in so many unexpected ways that it may be superfluous to speculate; better simply left to God. “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit”. If our imaginations are troubled by the prospect of death we may identify with Our Lord.      The Transfiguration was the turning point of his public life. It is not apparent in Matthew’s account, which we heard this morning, but St Luke tells us what his conversation with Moses and Elijah was about. They were discussing his death. They were telling him: the time has come and St Luke describes how then he set his face towards Jerusalem expressing his determination to walk towards crucifixion. This was not the beginning of his awareness. There were some spiritual writers who said that because he was God, and therefore could look into the future, he was oppressed by the shadow of the cross whilst still in his crib, but the majority agree that, accepting the limitations of being perfectly human, he only gradually came to appreciate that he was the Servant of God, described by Isaiah, who was to die to save his people. A judicial death, he knew, meant crucifixion.  Just imagine how many sleepless nights a man with his sensitivity would have endured even years before the revelation on the mountain. If ever we are troubled by thoughts of dying we may share them with him. But that is rather negative.  Abraham’s call to leave home we may translate into God’s call to us to leave our earthly home. It must have been a wrench to Abraham to leave his familiar home and take to the road. He lived in Ur of the Chaldees. I would say that the highlight of a visit I once made to the British Museum was coming across some domestic articles from Ur going back to Abraham’s time. There was a comb, for instance, that might have been used by Sarah, Abraham’s wife.  He abandoned all the cosy domesticity of a rich civilisation to live in a tent. He set out because he had been promised by God that his journey would be worthwhile. And he believed.  So by faith we believe that our passage from this world will bring us to the fulfillment of God’s promise of sharing his life forever. It is a worthwhile journey. That is not all. It may be a painful departure but that is where St Paul becomes relevant. ‘Bear the hardship for the sake of the Good News”. We don’t die on our own. We share the death of Christ. We die in his arms and so our death, united to his, takes on some the power of his death to save the world.

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