Every summer my parents would bundle me and my two brothers and my sister into the car, and we would set off on holiday to the other end of England. I remember on the way we would keep seeing enticing signs: turn left – a castle just a mile along that road – or 2 miles on the right to the beach. O let’s go see the castle we’d say – or let’s walk on the beach! But my father would keep driving. We can’t stop – we have to keep going or we’ll never get to our destination before dark.
When I read the Gospels I encounter Jesus with a clear purpose and destination. Indeed he would rise a long time before dawn to spend time with his Father in prayer, in order to refocus on that destination, to keep going straight and unswervingly along the road which his Father had set before him.
In our Gospel today (Luke 9:51-62), Jesus and the disciples are on the road together. And we read these two phrases repeated: “Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem” (LK 9:51) and “His face was set towards Jerusalem.” (LK 9:53)
But the disciples were more like us children going on our annual holiday. I’ll follow you – but first I need to bury my father; first I want to say goodbye to everyone at home. O – where are we going to stay the night? “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (LK 9:58)
All these things are good: seeing your family, domestic concerns, like going to visit a castle, or the beach – but they can lead you away from the main thing: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be given you as well.” (Mt 6:33) The main thing is to keep forward on the Way – the way ahead that leads to life. If you take your eye off the destination you’ll come off the path and go astray. You’ll be like the man plowing a field. If he keeps looking ahead, perfectly focused on his destination, the furrows will be straight. But if he looks back, if he takes his eye off the destination for a moment, the furrows will be crooked and his life’s work spoiled.
We who seek to follow Jesus, we who are Christians, we too need a clear sense of destination. Our destination, our final goal, is heaven. Life lived with God forever. And Jesus set his face to Jerusalem because it was to be there, in his crucifixion and his resurrection, that he would open for us the gate of heaven. That is our destination – life eternal. And we have been shown by Jesus the way that leads to life.
And yet, we are constantly being enticed off the way, off the road, onto other roads which seem very attractive or frankly a whole lot easier to walk along. Roads that often dazzle us with the prospect of comforts and riches and pleasures. You’ll know your own particular temptations.
Jesus, too, was enticed and tempted to go down these very same roads. So every day he needed to spend time with his Father to re-orient himself, to refocus on his true destination. Sometimes his disciples were his worst enemy. Remember how at Caesarea Philippi he set his face to go to Jerusalem – and told his disciples he had to go there to suffer and to be rejected and killed. Peter tried to stop him going to Jerusalem. Jesus rebuked Peter: “Get behind me Satan.” (Mk 8:33)
If Jesus faced so much temptation not to focus on his destination, we can be sure that we will, too. If our destination is heaven – life with God forever, you can be sure there will be powerful forces trying to get us off the road that leads to life, to take us down paths that lead to death.
One of the greatest gifts which God has given us, to help keep us on the right path – is the gift of each other – the Church, the Body of Christ. In particular, we Brothers recognize and give thanks to God that our common life together in community is a wonderful way of walking the path together, supporting and encouraging each other, to keep our eyes firmly fixed on our destination. And it is our joy and privilege to be able to invite you and so many others into our life and worship, so that we can all be companions on the Way.
These monastic buildings here in Cambridge, and perhaps especially this monastic chapel, are a powerful sacramental sign of this Christian journey on which we have all embarked. As our Rule puts it, “Our mission is being fulfilled as our prayer, worship and daily life in community draw people into the life in Christ.”
The worship which has been offered here over these past decades has been the means for us and for so many of reorienting us, refocusing us on the path that leads to life, our destination, which is heaven: life with God forever. The next hymn this morning (#361 Only begotten, Word of God eternal) speaks of some of the ways in which this church has guided, strengthened, directed and blessed us. In the receiving of the Body and Blood of our Lord in the sacrament of Holy Communion, in the ministry of healing and the declaration of sins forgiven. In the preaching of the good news of hope over fear, of joy over sorrow. In many ways, for many people, this church has been the very gate of heaven.
Today is our final Sunday Eucharist before we embark on the major work of restoration and renewal of our monastic buildings and church. So today we come before God with great thanksgiving. We Brothers give thanks for all of you, and so many others, who have prayed for us, worked for, and given generously towards our Stone and Light capital campaign.
Today we want to bless and give thanks for you and all who have made these forthcoming renovations possible. Together we want to pray for the workmen who will be giving of their talents and skills over these coming months. We want to bless and give thanks to God for all the grace and mercy which we have known and received from within these walls.
Over these past few years, much of our focus has been upon renewing and restoring our monastery and this church. But today’s Gospel reminds us that this renewal will only be successful if it enables those who live and worship here to more clearly see our final destination. Just as Jesus set his face to Jerusalem, so this monastic church must always point us to Jerusalem – to the cross, to the resurrection and the glory that is to come. So, as we begin this exciting year of the renovation of our monastic buildings, we pray that God will also renew our life and ministry.
We pray that for many years to come the doors of this church and the doors of our hearts will remain wide-open to welcome all who come seeking the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Thank you for being part of this life and this mission.
Now to God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, be glory, praise and adoration, now and forever.
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The brothers of SSJE rely on the inspired kindness of friends to sustain our life and our work. We are grateful for the prayers and support provided to us.