LAST SUNDAY JESUS said these words in the gospel reading, to the background of what on-lookers thought was a thunderclap: ‘Now is the judgment of this world, now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all people to myself.’ (John 12:31-32) These words should be ringing in our ears as we embark this weekend on the most sacred time of the year, Holy Week. The picture [in our Newsletter] shows Pope Francis last Good Friday lifting up the cross. This weekend is also special for us here as we reopen for some public worship for the first time this year. As you will imagine what we are doing this Palm Sunday and this week is different from what we did two years ago and before that because of current restrictions, but we still have a precious opportunity once more to enter into the sufferings, death and triumph of the Lord. Our thanks go to stewards, office staff, cleaners, singers, altar servers and readers for making all this possible this Holy Week. Please make sure you abide by the regulations we have to follow to safeguard each other’s health and safety.

Jesus says that he will ‘draw all people’ to himself. During Lent we have been helped in our understanding of his words by the document we have focussed on in our parish Lent programme – the Holy Father’s new encyclical letter, Fratelli Tutti. We have had really good Zoom discussions after the Wednesday evening sessions and I am grateful to our webmaster Steve Hewitt for making the slides and links available on the parish website and to those who arranged for the talks to be recorded. During the Holy Father’s reflection on the parable of the Good Samaritan the Holy Father writes this: ‘Jesus asks us to be present to those in need of help, regardless of whether or not they belong to our social group…he challenges us to put aside all differences and, in the face of suffering, to draw near to others with no questions asked. I should no longer say that I have neighbours to help, but that I must myself be a neighbour to others.’ (section 81) The pope’s letter reiterates constantly the need to break down barriers and borders – among countries and communities, and within our own hearts. One reason why this was such an important text for us to look at this Lent is that Jesus drawing all people to himself, regardless of background or nationality, is at the heart of what Holy Week is about. Amidst so much hatred and competitiveness in the world, and in the middle of a terrible health crisis which has brought so much suffering and death, the universal message of the Cross gives us strength and confidence: but it also helps us discern what it is about our faith which makes us different. You have only to look at a crucifix – and sadly because of the restrictions you won’t be able to come and kiss it on Friday – to see how counter-‘cultural’ Christianity really is. No expert in marketing or advertising would come up with a depiction of a man nailed to a cross and dying as an attractive symbol – indeed for many it’s positively off-putting. That’s the whole point: the Lord, ‘lifted up’ challenges us in every way, all our ways of thinking, all our sins, all our inadequacies; and he challenges too the ways in which people get things wrong. That is why Jesus says ‘Now is the judgment of this world, now the ruler of this world will be driven out.’

In our final parish Lent talk last Wednesday we talked about specific ways in which the pope’s letter can help us in our process of renewal in this parish, especially as we begin to open our doors again, hesitantly and with care. There are many priorities for us at this time, but four in particular emerge from listening and taking to heart the Holy Father’s words: the need to learn more about our faith, putting first the needs of the poor and suffering, the need to break down border and barriers in our hearts and in our community and the needs of migrants and refugees. In this Holy Week we draw near to the Saviour of the world, ‘lifted up’ hesitantly, possibly even fearfully (and we can’t really draw near to each other very much at the moment); we should ask the Lord Jesus, drawing all people to himself, to give us the grace we need to live out the message of the crucifixion in our lives and in the life of our parish. Please also pray for the Holy Father in Rome this week, as he leads the world in prayer and worship.