Covenant, sacrifice and temptation

When Jesus came to Golgotha,

they hanged Him on a tree,

they drave great nails through hands and feet,

and made a Calvary;

they crowned Him with a crown of thorns,

red were His wounds and deep,

for those were crude and cruel days,

and human flesh was cheap.


When Jesus came to Birmingham,

they simply passed Him by.

They would not hurt a hair of Him,

they only let Him die;

for men had grown more tender,

and they would not give Him pain,

They only just passed down the street,

and left Him in the rain.


Still Jesus cried, 'Forgive them,

for they know not what they do’,

and still it rained the winter rain

which drenched Him through and through;

the crowds went home and left the streets

without a soul to see,

and Jesus crouched against a wall,

and cried for Calvary.


This poem was written by Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy who was a chaplain in the First World War commonly known as ‘Woodbine Willie’. Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy and Phyllis Simmons are the two people we will be looking at within our Lent group today, taken from Bishop Graham James’ book The Lent Factor.

In the readings today we hear about three things:  covenant, sacrifice and temptation. From Genesis we hear of God’s covenant with Noah, from the 1st Letter of Peter Jesus is portrayed as a sacrifice for sin and in the gospel we have Mark’s account of the temptation of Christ.

Unlike the other synoptic gospels of Mathew and Luke, Mark does not go into any details; it almost seems to be like a foot note: ‘oh, by the way Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by Satan’.

Is this because it was unimportant? No. If it was Mark would not have put it in.

Is it because Mark did not do not know what the temptations were? Possibly. We cannot see into the heart of man.

Is it because what the temptations were did not matter to Mark? This could be true. Each of our temptations are different, they are as individual as each one of us.

What is important is the fact Jesus was tempted as we are tempted, rather than the nature of the temptation.

Like many things in life, temptation has been downgraded by our society so that it has almost become irrelevant. Our Lenten fast is also regarded as just a purge of past excesses.However, what others think should be an irrelevance to us, as we continue to give up things for Lent.

Our fasting is a good spiritual tool to bring us closer to God, when we are tempted to break the fast it is then a time to turn to God in prayer until the temptation has passed.

We should not be superficial either, but fast inwardly where God can see, not outwardly where man can see. In doing so we will not be like those whom Pope Francis criticized in his address to the Curia in December who have a divine exterior but a rotten interior.  

Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy and Phyllis Simmons lived different lives in different worlds, but in many ways their lives were one and the same.In 1975 Phyllis Simmons was a retired widow living on a council estate in Dogsthorpe Peterborough. She was an active member of her Church.You could say she was an ordinary person living an ordinary life, but doing extraordinary things with what she had, just little things that helped others that would probably go unnoticed by others, such as baking an apple pie for the husband of a dying woman simply because she knew he would like it.

Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, was a chaplain to the soldiers in the trenches in the First World War. He became popular with the soldiers simply because he would talk to them and give them cigarettes, which earned the nick name ‘Woodbine Willie’. Geoffrey would also go through the trenches reading the burial service over corpses he found, offering some dignity to those who had lost their lives. His work featured in his poetry.

They both seemed to have made their covenant with God to serve those around them. They both sacrificed what they could have had, through their generosity in caring freely for those who needed them. The temptation they faced was to do nothing and leave it to others.

For this is the nature of temptation and sin, and probably the greatest challenge that faces us today, being selfish, to only think of ourselves, be part of the ‘me culture’ uncaring and indifferent to those around us.

This is reflected in the poem at the beginning by Geoffrey, the cruelty of Golgotha is far out weighed by our indifference to each other, only caring for ourselves or those close to us.

Bishop Graham remarked that Phyllis was not want one to tell others what to do for ‘it is always a silly thing to give advice, but to give good advice is absolutely fatal’.

The example of Phyllis Simmons and Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy tells us not to tell people how to live their lives, but care for them in the situations they find themselves in.