Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ps 50; Heb 5:7-9; John 12:20-33
preached for the Guides & Scouts of Europe in Scotland by Fr. Lawrence Lew OP
The Liturgy changes its mood in these days, and the focus shifts to the Cross. St Luke says: “When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51). So now, two weeks before Easter, the days when Christ will be lifted up on the Cross draws near. We call this time, which focuses on the sacrifice of Christ for our salvation, Passion-tide. And we know it is Passiontide because it is our custom to veil the images of the Cross and the saints in our churches until the Sacred Triduum. We ‘fast’ from the image of the Crucified Lord, which can become too familiar to us, so that when the Cross is unveiled again on Good Friday it makes a stronger impact on us. And so, now in Passiontide, with Jesus, we set our faces also to go to Jerusalem with him. This is one of the powerful signs of celebrating Mass in this way where we all stand together to face the Altar and Cross. Together, we have turned towards Jerusalem, towards the place of Christ’s sacrifice; we are turned to face the Lord altogether.
This symbol of a common direction, of being orientated towards the Lord is something we Explorers will be used to. The international symbol of the our movement is itself about going in the right direction towards a common destination; it shows the Way. For the fleur-de-lys, which was found on the compass and on maps, pointed to the North; on our Baussant, and on the Cross we wear on our uniforms it points upwards. So it reminds us of where we must face in our lives: not just to Jerusalem and the Cross, but beyond that, to the Resurrection and eternal life. So, we’re headed towards Christ, who is the true North Star, who gives us direction when we are lost. And with him, and with Our Lady – whose symbol is the fleur-de-lys – we’re headed upwards towards heaven, towards “that Camp of rest and joy where [Christ] has pitched [His] tent and ours for Eternity.”
Every Explorer is called to lead the way, and show others the way to God. And, as our Chief Explorer, Jesus has really led the way; he is the Way. He has gone before all humanity and marked out the way that leads Man to heaven. So, we must follow his way and walk along the path he has trodden. That path is the Way of the Cross: it is way of humility, service, and love. As the letter to the Hebrews says, “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb 5:8). So you and I, my dear Explorers, will also need to learn to serve, learn to humbly obey, learn to love. As we heard in the Gospel: “If any one serves me, he must follow me.” So, we will follow Jesus’ own way, his example of perfect love.
Do you want to do this? Do you want to learn to love like Jesus? Do you want to follow him? Because if you want to you must be brave and ready to swim against the current. Our commitment as Explorers will require us, firstly, to go against our own desires. It will mean sacrificing the things we like — even good things, such as sleep, or playing on our computers or mobile devices, or other activities. It will mean turning our backs on comfort and conveniences and laziness. But if we learn this virtue of self-sacrifice, then we will be following Jesus our Chief; we will be learning to love like he does. But if we do this, then we will also be going against the current of a world that is alien territory for us. It’s a challenging world because humility, service, and love is not very fashionable in our world, even though people talk a lot about these.
But you, Explorers, will learn how to cope with the difficulties of life outdoors in nature; the hardship of camping and the wilderness. So, you will also learn how to survive in the wilderness of the world, how to do the hard work of defending your Faith and to stay always loyal to Christ our Chief, how to follow him, even to the Cross!
This is what we should keep in mind when we hear Jesus say today: “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn 12:25). Now, we must be careful to understand this properly. The word ‘hate’ is a translation of a Hebrew idea that means, “love less, prefer less.” So, we’re called as followers of Christ to be willing to give up those things we love in life — our comforts and conveniences and the easier ways — and to walk in Christ’s Way. And we do this, we sacrifice and serve and obey, because we want to gain something greater. We follow Jesus’ way for the sake of eternal life; for the sake of being a true friend to others; for the sake of honouring the Promise we made.
And maybe this frightens you a little. The temptation is always great, when we’re afraid, to run away. But remember, Jesus says: “Where I am, there shall my servant be also” (Jn 12:26). In other words, God is with us; we are in Jesus’ Patrol! And so, we know, don’t we, that the strong protects the weak. So, Jesus, the Strong One of God, is always protecting and helping you and me. You may think you’re only little — our Patrol is only small, and there are few of us. But don’t worry, don’t be afraid. If you ever feel frightened or worried remember that fretting about something will not help; being anxious and worried doesn’t solve the problem or change anything. What we should do, if we’re worried, is to pray. Jesus reminds us today that a grain of wheat if it is buried in the ground bears much fruit (Jn 12:24). And a grain of wheat is small, not very much, just like you and me. But if we offer what little we have to God, if we give what we can with love and sacrifice, if we want to be faithful to our Promise, then God will do great things with us; his grace will make us fruitful. So, dear Explorers, don’t be afraid, and don’t worry – turn to the Lord!
Turn to your Chief in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist. He is the grain of wheat that has risen and borne much fruit. With his Body and Blood, he will console us, and strengthen us. And the Eucharist is planted in us to to raise us up from our anxieties and fears, to fill us with God’s presence so that we can be fruitful — we bear the fruit of joy and hope in our hearts. So, let us always turn to the Lord and face him. He looks upon us with love and he calls us to be with him for ever, to be his friend. This is what it means to be a good and genuine Explorer. We will have honoured our Promise to serve God and one another, and so God the Father honours us with his friendship (cf Jn 12:26). Nothing in this world could be better than this.