St Stephen's Lewisham 

18 April 1993 


A Bloody Priest

On Good Friday, just over a week ago that is, I was on my way home from the Liturgy at St Stephen's riding my moped along Lee Terrace when I saw a whole number of police cars with their blue lights flashing on the road ahead

There had obviously been a serious accident: sure enough a little further along there was a policeman diverting traffic away from the road and down Church Terrace

I was in two minds as to what I should do. When it becomes clear that there is plenty of qualified help (as there was) it's sometimes best to keep out of the way and let them get on with the job; on the other hand it's not always the right thing for a priest to "pass by on the other side" as the one did whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan, because sometimes one can be of use comforting the non-injured parties to the accident

And least of all would it be right for me to pass by on the other side, I decided, because I had just heard Fr Kirk's sermon about victims and in particular the True Victim, Jesus Christ the Lamb of God, our Lord who offered his body and blood on the cross to take away the sins of the world

So I left my moped in a nearby street and went to the scene of the accident

There on the pavement was the body of a young man, obviously dead, and beside him stood a young woman, sobbing hysterically. I asked the policeman on duty if I might speak to her, and he seemed quite relieved when I told him I was a priest and he agreed at once

"Can I help?, I said to the girl who mush have been the friend of the may whose body lay at our feet. "I'm a priest", I added

She looked at me for a moment and her grief suddenly changed to anger. "What use is a bloody priest to me?", she shouted; and then, just as suddenly her look of rage changed to one of defiance and challenge "Go on then!", she said, "bring him back to life for me! That's how you can help"

Then without waiting for an answer she turned back to the policeman and sobbed "Why doesn't the ambulance come!"; and at that precise moment another siren was heard and it was the ambulance arriving, and I decided that I couldn't really be any further help to her

Now I wouldn't want you to think that I am blaming anyone for what they blurt out at such a grief-stricken moment as that. When the bottom has suddenly dropped out of your world in the matter of a few seconds anyone may be excused for what they say

But I was particularly struck by the two things she did say to me. Let 1 me remind you, they were: ""What use is a bloody priest to me?" and "Go on then, bring him back to life for me

I was struck by the extraordinary appropriateness of these two words to what happened on the Hill of Calvary on Good Friday. What that girl said in 1993 might have been exactly what was going through the mind of Mary Magdalen in AD30 outside Jerusalem as they took the body of Jesus down from the cross

In each case there lay the dead body of a young man who had died tragically; there in each case was a young women, distraught with grief whose world had had the bottom knocked out of it. We don't know what Mary Magdalen in her grief may have blurted out to St John the Apostle who was standing at the foot of the cross with her, but it may well have been something along the same lines as the girl said in Lee Terrace: "What use is religious faith in a situation like this?"; and "Why doesn't God do something about it and bring him back to life for me?" God's answer to both these questions lies, of course, in what happened two days later nearby in the garden on the first Easter; but of course neither St John, nor St Mary Magdalen, nor the sorrowful girl in Lee Terrace could be expected to understand that on Good Friday

However, you and I, who have lived through the darkness of Good Friday and come out of it on Sunday as the Resurrection people into the marvellous light of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, may be expected to understand a great deal more

We know, for instance, the answer to that girl's first question: "What use is a bloody priest to me?". We believe that what happened on Good Friday afternoon was what men call a Sacrifice. But instead of being a token offering of a sheep or calf, this offering was one of a perfect victim, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who had taken upon himself the sins of the whole world (yours and mine included), in order that we might be cleansed in heart and mind from dead works to serve the Living God

Unlike human priests such as you come across at St Stephen's Lewisham and elsewhere, priests who have all the failings and shortcomings of which I am sure you are only to aware, this priest, Jesus Christ, committed no sin. So here we have something unique in the history of the world - a perfect victim and a perfect priest to offer it up for you and for me

So to that grief-stricken girl who asked "What use is a bloody priest to me?" the answer is: "If by a bloody priest you mean 'someone like myself', then the answer perhaps is 'nothing at all'; but if you mean Jesus Christ, our great High Priest who through his death on the Cross has entered once for all into the Holy of Holies, not with the blood of bulls and goats, but with his own blood, into the presence that is of the Father, then he is the person before all others with whom you and I need to deal". If one rephrases the question so as to read "What need do I have for Jesus Christ and his blood?" the answer is "Every Need". He is. literally the Bloody Priest that man has been waiting for since the world began

And to the girl's second exclamation "Go on then, bring him back to 2 life for me" the answer is that God the Father did precisely that. He raised Jesus from the dead and Mary Magdalen was the first witness of that, very early in the morning in the Garden on the first Easter

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God offers to you and me and to the dead man in Lee Terrace and to his girlfriend the two things we really need most: the bloody priest whose sacrifice on the cross reconciles us to God; and the resurrection to life everlasting

So in a strange way that girl asked exactly the right questions! Your job and mine is to be witnesses, like Mary Magdalen and St John, to the atoning death of Jesus and his victorious resurrection

The question we must always be asking ourselves is whether we are being good or bad witnesses

By coming to Church on Sunday we are, of course, doing exactly that - witnessing to the cross and the resurrection; and that sort of witness is really the only satisfactory place to start from

But it is only a starting point

St John, and Mary Magdalen and you and I are commissioned by our Risen Saviour to go out into the whole world and preach the gospel, which can be conveniently summed up as follows: Christ is risen: he is risen indeed. Alleluia! Praise the Lord! 3

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