Saturday, 19 May 2018

Pentecost

For most people up to 1965, Pentecost, or Whitsunday, was probably associated with gifts: new clothes, a Bank Holiday on Whitmonday, and trips, picnics, and ice-cream. The bank holiday was moved to the last Monday in May, and there it has stayed. While Pentecost is with Christmas and Easter one of the three major feasts of the Christian Year, its roots are older.

Fifty days after the Passover, the Jews celebrated Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, a week of weeks, the grain harvest in Ancient Israel, and the giving of the law to Moses on Mt Sinai, it was an important festival, and Jews would gather in Jerusalem to celebrate the Law, which defined them as Jews, and regulated how they lived their lives. They would offer their first fruits in the Temple, rather like our harvest festival, and read the Book of Ruth, whose story is centred around harvest time.

The disciples have gathered in the Upper Room, with the Blessed Virgin Mary, where Christ instituted the Eucharist, and washed his disciples’ feet. They have gathered together because Jesus told them to be together and to pray, for ‘you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses … to the end of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). They are filled with the Holy Spirit, tongues of fire rest upon them, and they speak in a variety of languages. People from all over the world, who have come to Jerusalem for the feast hear the mighty works of God, they hear a proclamation of who Jesus is, and what he has done. People think they are drunk, but it is nine o’ clock in the morning. The prophecy of Joel is fulfilled. God can and does do wonderful things. And he will still, if we let him. 

Jesus promised his disciples that he will send ‘the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.’ (Jn 15:26-27 ESV) He also promises that, ‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.’ (Jn 16:13-15 ESV) 

We know that Jesus speaks the truth, that his promises can be trusted, that he pours his Holy Spirit upon the Church on the day of Pentecost, and continues so to do until he comes in glory as our Saviour and our Judge. He wants us to tell people about Him, and how he came to show the world LOVE.

The Apostles have obeyed Jesus’ command, they have waited and prayed, and they are filled with the Holy Spirit, so that they can proclaim the good news of the Kingdom, so that they can make Jesus known, so that people can come to know him and be filled with his love. People are amazed and perplexed, they simply cannot understand what is going on, some people assume that the disciples are drunk. Just as once people called Jesus a drunkard and a glutton because he used to hang around with the wrong sort of people. 

Instead St Peter can show that what is happening has been prophesied by the prophet Joel, whom he quotes (Acts 2:16-21) to show that Christ, the Word made flesh is the fulfilment of Scripture, it finds its true meaning in and through Him. He can preach Christ crucified and risen, for our salvation: ‘This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses’ they have seen and can testify that Jesus is alive. “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36) Peter and the apostles can confess their faith in Christ and bear witness to him. It has an immediate effect: (Acts 2:37) ‘Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”’ To which Peter replies, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’ (Acts 2:38-39) 

This is what the church is called to proclaim, so that people can come and have new life in Christ. You and I are to tell people about Jesus, so that they can repent and believe. Then, later in the Acts of the Apostles we see them all living a recognisable Christian life: ‘And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.’ (Acts 2:42) 

This is what we are called to be and to do as Christians, to a life where we are close to Christ, in Word and Sacrament, so that we may be strengthened to live the life of faith, and to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ so that the world may believe. It is just as true here and now as it was there and then: Jesus promises his spirit to transform and empower people to tell the Good News of the Kingdom. ‘And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgement, because the ruler of this world is judged.’ (Jn 16:8-11) Sin, that which separates us from God, and each other is tied in with not believing in Jesus, who he is, what he does. He is God, and he dies for love of us, to reconcile us, to heal our wounds. He is the true Balm of Gilead which heals sin-sick souls, and He gives himself here, under the outward forms of bread and wine, to heal us, to restore us, Righteousness: having been obedient to the will of the Father, dying and rising again, He returns from whence he came, so that He can send the Holy Spirit. Judgement: the ruler of this world has been judged, the world, the flesh and the devil can have no power over us as Christ has overcome them. They offer us death, whereas Christ has brought us life, eternal life in Heaven. God’s judgement on the world was to offer His Only Son to die, to heal its wounds, and reconcile its differences. God’s judgement is LOVE, and he calls us to live as people of love. To live out the same sacrificial redemptive love in the world, to transform it, into the world God wants it to be, where people are filled with love, and live lives of love, where they are generous and peaceful, loving and forgiving. Fed by Christ and fed with Christ we can be transformed more and more into His likeness, inviting others to share in His LOVE, so that they and all the world may know the love and sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Saturday, 12 May 2018

Easter VII [Acts 1:15-17, 20-26; 1 Jn 5:9-13; Jn 17:6-19]

On Thursday the Church celebrated the Ascension, when the Risen Christ returns to his Father’s side in Heaven. The Apostles haven’t been left or abandoned, instead Jesus tells them to wait ten days, until the feast of Pentecost. To wait and to pray for the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus shows us that we are made for heaven, 

For all those of us who live after the moment of Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven, we too are called to wait, to wait for His Holy Spirit, and to wait for Him to come again as our Saviour and our Judge. But if we are honest, none of us likes waiting, let’s be honest! There’s an old joke that if you put three Scotsmen together for long enough they will form a bank, three Welshman, and they will form a male-voice choir, and three Englishmen will form a queue. While it may be a characteristic which has come to define us, as British people, we do it rather grudgingly, and with a sense of resigned reluctance. And yet, our vocations as Christians is JOY, the joy of the Lord is our strength. We wait in eager expectation, and filled with the joy of Easter, of the Risen Christ, who promises us His Holy Spirit. We wait that God might continue to be generous towards us, and all who believe in Him. 

God will give us a new heart and put his Spirit within us, just as he did on the day of Pentecost. So we in the Church are to wait to prepare to live as the people of God, filled with his love, and forgiveness, and proclaiming his Truth to the world. That’s what this time between the Ascension and Whitsun is for: to pray to God, for Him to be at work in us, and in people all around the world. Indeed there is now an initiative called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ which encourages people to pray in this time between the Ascension and Pentecost. To pray for the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit, that people may come to know Christ, and that we may all be one — for the unity of Christians everywhere. If heaven is our home, which it is, as we are made for relationship with God, and each other, then we should prepare, here and now, for what awaits us. We should pray that, through the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit, we are built up in LOVE.

This Sunday in the Gospel we are in the middle of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, which is the summit of his teaching just before his arrest and Passion. Christ has made God’s name known to us, we know God in a different way, we pray to him as ‘Father’ and we are His, we are not our own, despite the Western Liberal infatuation with personal freedom, we are God’s, which affects both who we are, and what we do.We belong to God, and we do what He tells us to do, so that we may flourish, that we may have life and have it to the full.

We are to be one, as Jesus and His Father are one — one in mind, heart, and soul, filled with LOVE, sanctified with the truth which comes from the Holy Spirit. This is Christs’s will, it isn’t a pipe-dream, or an optional extra. We have to do it. If we really love Jesus then how can we be other than wishes us to be. The pain and division will not be healed in a moment, there is no magic wand to be waved, life is not like that. We have to start by praying, and working for unity, doing what we can to make Christ’s will for the Church a reality. 

Christ speaks to us, and teaches us so that our joy may be complete in him, filled with his love, and the Holy Spirit. The world’s reaction to this is a negative one: because what we are, what we stand for, and how we live as Christians is to be opposed to what the world around us stands for — selfishness, greed, which it makes into false gods, as though material wealth, or power, or status could save us — such things are transient and fleeting. The world seeks to offer us a short-cut, an easy road; whereas if we are following Christ, then we are walking the way of his Passion, we are walking the Way of the Cross, dying daily to sin, and letting God’s grace be at work in and through us. It is certainly not easy, it is difficult, most of us are unable to manage on our own, we need the grace of God. We need the Eucharist to strengthen us on our journey of faith, and we need the love and support of the Christian community to help us, even the first Christians, those who had been with Jesus, needed each other’s help and support, so they can continue what Jesus started.

We need to be together, to meet together to pray for our needs and those of the world, and to be nourished by the word of God, the Bible, and the Sacrament of Our Lord’s Body and Blood, not because they’re something nice to do on a Sunday morning: a sort of add-on, an optional extra that we can opt into and out of as we feel like, but because as Christians they are crucial to who and what we are, if we are to remain in the love of God then we have to live this way. Only then can we offer the world an alternative to the ways of selfishness and sin. It will certainly hate us for doing this, it will despise us, it will call us hypocrites when we fail to live up to the example of Jesus, but as Christians who live in the love of God we forgive each other our trespasses, so that we can live out that same radical love and forgiveness which sees Jesus die upon the Cross for love of us and all the world.

It is a message of such love, such forgiveness that the world cannot or does not want to understand it, we may not understand it, but we know that it can be experienced, in encounter with Jesus, and we are living testimony to its power to change lives. It turns our lives around and sets us free to live for God and to proclaim his saving truth in our words and actions, calling the world to repentance, to turn to Christ, and to be renewed in and through Him.

So as we wait with the Apostles for the gift of the Holy Spirit let us pray that God may be at work in us, building us up, and giving us strength to live his life and to proclaim his truth, to offer the world that which it most earnestly desires, a peace, a joy and a freedom which pass human understanding, and the gift of eternal life in Christ. And let us share these gifts with others, so that they may come to believe and give glory to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever…

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Wednesday, 2 May 2018

A Thought for the day from Pope Benedict XVI

Seeing God’s Love

God has made himself visible; in Jesus we are able to see the Father (cf. Jn 14:9). Indeed, god is visible in a number of ways. In the love story recounted by the Bible, he comes to us, he seeks to win our hearts, all the way to the Last Supper, to the piercing of his heart on the Cross, to his appearances after the Resurrection, and to the greta deeds by which, through the activity of the Apostles, he guided the nascent Church along its path. Nor has the Lord been absent from subsequent Church history; he encounters us ever anew in the men and women who reflect his presence, in his word, in the sacraments, and especially in the Eucharist. In the Church’s Liturgy, in her prayer, in the living community of believers, we experience the love of God, we perceive his presence, and we thus learn to recognise that presence in out daily lives. He has loved us first and he continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love. God does not demand of us a feeling which we ourselves are incapable of producing. He loves us, he make us see and experience his love, since he has ‘first loved us’ (1 Jn 4:19), love can also blossom as a response within us.

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Sunday, 29 April 2018

Easter V — I am the true Vine [Acts 8:26-40; 1Jn 4:7-21; Jn 15:1-8]

 

Meetings and conversations can be important, insofar as they provide opportunities for us to share our faith with others. In this morning’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles we see a chance encounter which leads to faith, and new life in Christ. When the Apostle Philip, a Greek-speaking deacon, meets an Ethiopian court official on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, he comes across a man reading the prophecy of Isaiah: who is a financial expert, highly trusted, and well-educated, he is a man of power and influence. He’s clearly looking for something, he’s been worshipping God in Jerusalem. Philip asks him if he can understand what he is reading. The Ethiopian replies that he cannot, unless someone shows him the way. ‘Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.’ (Acts 8:35 ESV) 

The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was open at the fifty-third chapter, a reading which we read on Good Friday, which talks of suffering and death. The Ethiopian was reading ‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.’(Acts 8:32-33) and asks whether this is about Isaiah or someone else. Philip’s reply is that Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus and this is the proclamation of the Church: we proclaim Jesus Christ and him crucified, who suffered and died for love of us.

We read scripture so that we can understand it, and see in its words how it discloses the truth of the Word made flesh, who suffered and died for our sake. Isaiah prophesies Our Lord’s Passion and Death, and thus it makes sense, it can be understood, and the more we come to understand, the more we come to know just how much God loves us. The Scriptures, the entire of the Law and the Prophets point to Jesus Christ, they find their meaning and fulfilment in Him, who is the Word of God made flesh. Just like the story of the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham points to the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, where God gives his only Son for love of us, it is prefigured by the ram in the thicket, which points to that moment where John the Baptist can cry out ‘Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!’ (Jn 1:29)

How can I understand it unless someone guides me? It is a good question, a difficult question, and a controversial one. How we interpret the Bible matters, and who can or cannot, is a vexed question. There are those who consider it a private matter, that everyone can make their own mind up, but that will only lead to chaos and confusion. In the Church, for two thousand years we have interpreted the words of the Bible in a way which is consonant with Tradition, handed down through the Church Fathers. The Church has always understood the entirety of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures in a Christological way — they point to Christ and they find their fullest meaning in Him: the Word of God discloses the Word made flesh. Such things matter, we don’t just make things up as we go along, or according to our feelings. I don’t preach to you in that way, but rather I try to explain how the Bible talks about Jesus, and how that affects our lives as Christians. 

Having been nourished by the Word of God, our unnamed Ethiopian desires baptism: he points out a water source, a rarity in this desert landscape, and asks what is preventing him from being baptised. Nothing, Philip replies, if you believe in Him. The Ethiopian states his belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and is saved, and reborn in the waters of baptism, something we focus upon in this Easter season.

He desires baptism so that he may be ‘in Christ’ rooted and grafted, close to him, filled with His Spirit, so that he may bear much fruit. It is believed that this man went home, and began the Church in Ethiopia. Something which has continued for two thousand started with one man, and a conversation. 

When we were baptised we were clothed with Christ, we were grafted into the vine, which is Christ, and we abide in Him. It is Christ’s will that we, as Christians bear much fruit, which means that we live out our faith in our lives, so that it affects who and what we are and say and do. We do this because it is what Christ expects of us, but also because, as we heard in the First Letter of John, ‘the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him’ (1Jn 4:9 ESV).

 

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When I was a teenager  I went on holiday to Greece with my parents, and while we were there they bought an icon for our home, it depicts Christ and the Disciples as a vine. It is a powerful vision of what the Church is, people who are grafted into Christ, connected to Him, in a relationship with Him. We entered into that relationship in our baptism, and it is a relationship which will continue through and after our life on earth. 

Because we are grafted into Christ we are in communion with Him. He gives Himself to us in the Eucharist, His Body and Blood, so that we can have life in Him. He gives Himself to us out of love, so that we might have life in Him, and have it forever. It is a pledge of eternal life with Him, united in this world and the next, given to us to strengthen us on the journey of faith. It is given to help us live out our faith in our lives – fed by Him, fed with Him, to live in Him and for Him. 

When we are close to Christ, washed clean by our baptism, nourished by Word and Sacrament, we can truly be Christ’s disciples, living in Him, living for Him, proclaiming Him, and bearing much fruit, so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. 

Thursday, 26 April 2018

A thought from Fr Christopher Rabay OCist

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Words of the late Fr Christopher Rabay O.Cist. from Candlelights: Meditations (Dallas: Cistercian Abbey Our Lady of Dallas, 2017) via Fr Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Easter II

I have something of a confession to make: I’m a bit of a fan of St Thomas the Apostle, probably because it is my middle name, but I’ve always felt something of an affinity towards him. He is somewhat hard done by, and on the basis of this morning’s Gospel reading he is generally known as ‘Doubting Thomas’ which is something of a misnomer. If anything he should really be understood as ‘Believing Thomas’ but more about that in a minute.

None of us likes to feel left out, it crushes the soul. We’ve all experienced it at some point in our lives, and it is painful. Imagine the joy the disciples felt when Jesus appears to them on that first Easter Day. He gives them peace, and commissions them, sends them out, to be apostles, to proclaim the Good News to the world. When Jesus begins his public ministry He calls on people to repent from their sins, to turn away from them. Now that He has died for us and been raised from the dead, He commissions his apostles to forgive or retain sin. The Church exists to deal with the mess we make as human beings, through what Jesus has done for us, in the power of His Holy Spirit.

Thomas feels somewhat left out of it all. He wants to believe, but he needs to see with his own eyes, he doesn’t yet have Faith. So, a week later Jesus comes again and shows Thomas His hands and His side, the wounds of love, which take away our sin. He commands ‘Do not doubt, but believe’ and Thomas does. He says, ‘My Lord and my God!’ He confesses his belief in Jesus as Lord and God. He makes a radical statement of belief in WHO and WHAT Jesus is. He is our Lord and our God, our allegiance to Him is more important than anything else. It was this fact which caused the death of thousands of Christians over the next few hundred years. We are all used to seeing pictures of Queen Elizabeth, in homes, schools, and public buildings. Imagine for a second that had to kneel down in front of them and worship the Head of State as a god, offering prayer and incense. To us as Christians it is unthinkable — worship is something we give to God alone ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods beside me.’ (Exodus 20:1-2). We worship Jesus because He is God. Like St Thomas we kneel before him, and confess that He is Our Lord and our God, our Saviour, who LOVES us. The world around us may find this strange, that we make such a declaration, and we are not going to compromise over it.

The Cross had asked the questions; the Resurrection had answered them…. The Cross had asked ‘Why does God permit evil and sin to nail Justice to a tree?’ The Resurrection answered: ‘That sin, having done its worst, might exhaust itself and thus be overcome by Love that is stronger than either sin or death.’

Thus there emerges the Easter lesson that the power of evil and the chaos of the moment can be defied and conquered, for the basis of our hope is not in any construct of human power but in the power of God, who has given to the evil of this earth its one mortal wound—an open tomb, a gaping sepulchre, an empty grave.

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This morning as we rejoice in the joy of the Risen Lord, as we are filled with joy, with hope and with love, we can reflect on what the Resurrection does: when Jesus comes and stands among the disciples he says ‘Peace be with you’ Christ’s gift to the world in His Death and Resurrection is Peace, the Peace ‘which passes all understanding’. He shows the disciples His hands and side so that they can see the wounds of love, through which God’s Mercy is poured out on the world to heal it and restore it. In this peace Christ can say to them ‘As the Father sent me, so I send you’ as the baptised people of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, the Church is to be a missionary community — one sent to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world, that it may share the joy and life of the Risen Lord.

As well as giving the Apostles the Holy Spirit, ordaining them as the first bishops of the Church, we see that the power of the Cross to bring peace to the world is also the power to absolve sins — priests and bishops can absolve the people of God in God’s name, and by God’s power — this is what the Cross achieves — reconciling us to God and each other. The Church, then, is to be a community of reconciliation, where we are forgiven and we, in turn, forgive, where we are freed from sin, its power and its effects.

When Christ breathes on the disciples and says ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ it is this gift of God’s Holy Spirit which transforms them from frightened people sat in a locked room in fear into the confident, joyous proclaimers of the Gospel, such as Peter in his sermon to the people of Jerusalem. In Peter’s sermon we see that all that Christ is and does is confirmed by Scripture — it is the fulfilment of prophesy, such as we find in Isaiah 25:6-9:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death for ever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’

As the Church we know that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who gives freedom to Israel, a freedom from sin — a bringing to completion of what God started in the Exodus, in the crossing of the Red Sea — we too are free, freed by the waters of baptism, sharing in Christ’s Death and Resurrection.

Thomas was not present with the disciples, he cannot believe in the reality of Jesus’ Resurrection unless he sees with his own eyes, and feels with his own hands — such is his grief, such is his love for Jesus. Our Lord says to him, ‘Doubt no longer but believe’ which leads to his confession, ‘My Lord and my God’. Blessed are we who have not seen and yet have come to believe, and through this belief we have live in Christ’s name, we have the hope of eternal life and joy with him forever.

The disciples go from being scared and stuck in an upper room to missionaries, evangelists, spreading the Good News around the world, regardless of the cost, even of sacrificing their own lives to bear witness to the fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he died for our sins, and that he rose again, on this day for us, that God loves us and tells us to love Him and to love one another. It is a simple and effective message which people still want to hear — we need to tell it to them, in our thoughts, our words and our actions.

The heart of our faith and the Gospel is forgiveness — no matter how many times we mess things up, we are forgiven. It is this reckless generosity of spirit which people find hard to believe that they too can be forgiven, by a loving God, and by their fellow Christians. That we can, despite our manifold shortcomings be a people of love, and forgiveness, and reconciliation. That God’s Grace will in the end not abolish our nature, but perfect it, that being fed by Christ, with Christ: so that we too may become what He is. That faced with the sad emptiness of the world, and its selfishness, its greed, we can be filled with joy, and life, and hope. That like the first apostles we too can spread the Gospel: that the world may believe.

It’s a tall order, perhaps, but one which God promises us. That is what the reality of the Resurrection is all about, it’s either nothing, in which case we are the most pitiable of deluded fools — idiots who are more to be pitied than blamed, or it is the single most important thing in the world. It should affect all of us, every part of our life, every minute of every day, all that we do, all that we say, all that we are. This may not fit in with a reserved British mentality, we think we’re supposed to be polite and not force our views on others. But this simply will not do. We are, after all, dealing with people’s souls, their eternal salvation, it’s a serious matter. And what we offer people is entirely free, can change their lives for the better, and make life worth living.

So let us be filled with the joy of the Resurrection this Easter, let us share that joy with others, may it fill our lives and those of whom we meet with the joy and love of God, who has triumphed and who offers us all new life in Him, that all that we do, all that we are, all that we say or think may give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, dominion and power, now and forever.

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Saturday, 31 March 2018

An Easter Homily ascribed to John Chrysostom [PG 59:721-4]

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Εἴ τις εὐσεβὴς καὶ φιλόθεος, ἀπολαυέτω τῆς καλῆς ταύτης πανηγύρεως· εἴ τις δοῦλος εὐγνώμων, εἰσελθέτω χαίρων εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ Κυρίου αὐτοῦ· εἴ τις ἔκαμενηστεύων, ἀπολαβέτω νῦν τὸ δηνάριον· εἴ τις ἀπὸ πρώτης ὥρας εἰργάσατο, δεχέσθω σήμερον τὸ δίκαιον ὄφλημα· εἴ τις μετὰ τὴν τρίτην ἦλθεν, εὐχαριστῶν ἑορτάσῃ· εἴ τις μετὰ τὴν ἕκτην ἔφθασε, μηδὲν ἀμφιβαλλέτω· καὶ γὰρ οὐδὲν ζημιοῦται· εἴ τις ὑστέρησεν εἰς τὴν ἐννάτην, προσελθέτω μηδὲν ἐνδοιάζων· εἴ τις εἰς μόνην ἔφθασε τὴν ἑνδεκάτην, μὴ φοβηθῇ τὴν βραδυτῆτα. Φιλότιμος γὰρ ὢν ὁ Δεσπότης δέχεται τὸν ἔσχατον, καθάπερ καὶ τὸν πρῶτον· ἀναπαύει τὸν τῆς ἑνδεκάτης,ὡς τὸν ἐργασάμενον ἀπὸ τῆς πρώτης· καὶ τὸν ὕστερον ἐλεεῖ, καὶ τὸν πρῶτον θεραπεύει· κἀκείνῳ δίδωσι, καὶ τούτῳ χαρίζεται. Καὶ τὴν πρᾶξιν τιμᾷ, καὶ τὴν πρόθεσιν ἐπαινεῖ. Οὐκοῦν εἰσέλθητε πάντες εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν, καὶ πρῶτοι καὶ δεύτεροι τὸν μισθὸν ἀπολάβετε, πλούσιοι καὶ πένητες μετὰ ἀλλήλων χορεύσατε, ἐγκρατεῖς καὶ ῥᾴθυμοι τὴν ἡμέραν τιμήσατε, νηστεύσαντες καὶ μὴ νηστεύσαντες εὐφράνθητε σήμερον. Ἡ τράπεζα γέμει, τρυφήσατε πάντες· ὁ μόσχος πολὺς, μηδεὶς ἐξέλθοι πεινῶν. Πάντες ἀπολαύσατε τοῦ πλούτου τῆς χρηστότητος. Μηδεὶς θρηνείτω πενίαν· ἐφάνη γὰρ ἡ κοινὴ βασιλεία· μηδεὶς ὀδυρέσθω τὰ πταίσματα· συγγνώμη γὰρ ἐκ τοῦ τάφου ἀνέτειλε· μηδεὶς φοβείσθω τὸν θάνατον· ἠλευθέρωσε γὰρ ἡμᾶς ὁ τοῦ Σωτῆρος θάνατος· ἔσβεσεν αὐτὸν ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ κατεχόμενος· ἐκόλασε τὸν ᾅδην κατελθὼν εἰς τὸν ᾅδην· ἐπίκρανεν αὐτὸν γευσάμενον τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ. Καὶ τοῦτο προλαβὼν Ἡσαΐας ἐβόησεν· Ὁ ᾅδης, φησὶν, ἐπικράνθη. Συναντήσας σοι κάτω ἐπικράνθη· καὶ γὰρ καθῃρέθη· ἐπικράνθη· καὶ γὰρ ἐνεπαίχθη. Ἔλαβε σῶμα, καὶ Θεῷ περιέτυχεν· ἔλαβε γῆν, καὶ συνήντησεν οὐρανῷ· ἔλαβεν ὅπερ ἔβλεπε, καὶ πέπτωκεν ὅθεν οὐκ ἔβλεπε. Ποῦ σου, θάνατε, τὸ κέντρον; ποῦ σου, ᾅδη, τὸ νῖκος; Ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ σὺ καταβέβλησαι· ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ πεπτώκασι δαίμονες· ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ χαίρουσιν ἄγγελοι· ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ νεκρὸς οὐδεὶς ἐπὶ μνήματος. Χριστὸς γὰρ ἐγερθεὶς ἐκ νεκρῶν, ἀπαρχὴ τῶν κεκοιμημένων ἐγένετο· αὐτῷ ἡ δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. Ἀμήν.  
If anyone is a devout lover of God, let them rejoice in this beautiful radiant feast. If anyone is a faithful servant, let them gladly enter into the joy of their Lord. If any are wearied with fasting, let them now reap their reward. If any have laboured since the first hour, let them receive today their just reward. If any have come after the third hour, let them celebrate the feast with thankfulness. If any have arrived after the sixth hour, let them not doubt, for they will sustain no loss. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let them not hesitate but draw near. If any have arrived at the eleventh hour, let them not fear their lateness. For the Master is gracious and welcomes the last no less than the first. He gives rest to those who come at the eleventh hour just as kindly as those who have laboured since the first hour. The first he fills to overflowing: on the last he has compassion. To the one he grants his favour, to the other pardon. He does not look only at the work: he looks into the intention of the heart. Enter then, all of you, into the joy of your Master. First and Last, receive alike your reward. Rich and poor dance together. You who have fasted and you who have not, rejoice today. The table is fully laden: let all enjoy it. The fatted calf is served: let no-one go away hungry. Come all of you, share in the banquet of faith: draw on the wealth of his mercy. Let no-one lament their poverty; for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no-one weep for their sins; for the light of the forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no-one fear death; for the death of the Saviour has set us free. He has destroyed death by undergoing hell. He has despoiled hell by descending into hell. Hell was filled with bitterness when it tasted his flesh, as Isaiah foretold: ‘Hell was filled with bitterness when it met you face-to-face below’ – filled with bitterness, for it was brought to nothing; filled with bitterness, for it was mocked; filled with bitterness, for it was overthrown; filled with bitterness, for it was destroyed; filled with bitterness, for it was put in chains. It received a body, and encountered God. It received earth, and confronted heaven. It received what it saw, and was overpowered by what it did not see. O death, where is your sting? O hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns in freedom. Christ is risen, and the grave is emptied of the dead. For Christ being raised from the dead has become the first-fruits of those who sleep. To him be glory and dominion to the ages of ages. Amen.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Maundy Thursday

Tonight Jesus does many things, many things which we still do in the Church. To put it simply we do them now because He did them nearly two thousand years ago, and told us to do them. So we do; it’s plain and simple.

Preparations were being made to celebrate the Passover, Israel’s journey from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. Lambs were slaughtered in the Temple for the Passover, at the same time that Jesus will die tomorrow. He is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Tonight He gives the Church the Eucharist, the memorial of His Passion and Death, so that we, the Church, can feast on His Body, and drink His Blood, to have life in Him. For doing this we were once condemned as atheists, and cannibals, followers of strange rites. People died for doing this. It was once a risky business, and in countries around the world it still is.

But we come here to do what Jesus did, to be with Him, as His earthly ministry reaches its climax. We gather as disciples of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to be fed by Him, and with Him. He has given us an example that we should copy. We do things as the Church, not because they’re nice, not because they make us feel good, but because Jesus told us to.

Jesus begins this evening by removing his clothes, taking water, and washing his disciples’ feet. He, the son of God, who was with His Father before the universe and time began, kneels before his disciples, and serves them. He takes the place of a slave or a servant and shows us as Christians that to follow Him is to serve. Never did a cross redeem nature from the curse: never was a lamb set upon the altar that could take away the sins of the world, until God took on the nature of the servant. We as Christians are to serve one another; we are to wash one another’s feet, to help each other to pray for each other, and not to think that any of us is better than the other.

Despite what the world may think about clergy: that we are weak, ineffectual, and well-meaning, or that we love to lord it over our flock, to stand pontificating six foot above criticism, we are in all things to fashion our life and example after Christ. In giving an example of service before the Last Supper, in praying for and setting apart his disciples as the first priests of his church, we who follow in their footsteps are shown in the clearest possible way that to love him, to care for his people is to serve them: we are to imitate the mysteries which we celebrate: offering our lives in His service and the service of His Church. It is truly extraordinary that we should have such a responsibility placed on our shoulders. We are all of us, if the truth be told, incapable of such a task if we were acting solely in our own strength and our own abilities. But through the Grace of God, and with the help of the prayers of you, God’s people, it is our hope that we may conform ourselves ever more closely to Christ, our great high priest.

Priests are amongst other things set apart for the service of God and the administration of His sacraments. At this time on this night, Jesus gives us himself, His Body and Blood to feed us, to nourish us, to strengthen us and to help us become what he is. So that we may share in the outpouring of love which is the very life of God, that we may be given a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, that we may experience something of the joy and love and life which awaits us in heaven, forever united with the triune God.

To do this Our Lord takes bread and wine, simple ordinary foodstuffs, to transform them, to make something other than they are to view them with new meaning and new life, to strengthen and heal his mystical body of the church with his own true body and blood. It is remarkable and extraordinary, words cannot fully express our awe that we poor wretched sinners, though unworthy are fed by our Lord as both priest and victim. It is not something for us to understand with our minds, but a mystery for us to enter with all our lives.

Jesus, receiving the cup, gave thanks and gave it to them saying: drink ye all of this, for this is my blood for blood of the new and everlasting covenant which will be shed for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven. This is my blood, he says, which is to be shed. The blood shed and this blood are not two different things, but one and the same. Tomorrow it shall be shed from my side, tonight you drink it and behold it in the cup.

We here, tonight, have come together as the people of God, to be fed by God to be strengthened by him, to live lives in his service. Both tonight and tomorrow, we will see how God loves us. In his service, in his giving of himself to be taken, beaten, falsely accused, scourged and crucified, God shows us what true love, true glory, and true service are. The world cannot understand this: it goes against everything people are told about putting themselves and their lives first, to judge their importance or worth by what they own, rather than how they live their lives. And yet this world is wounded by sin, the image of God is marred. In its selfish searching, what it truly wants and needs is to be healed, to be embraced by a loving God. That is why it tomorrow on the cross our Lord’s Arms will be flung wide open to embrace the world with God’s love.

Let us then prepare ourselves, let us have our feet washed by Christ, let us be fed by him, with him, strengthened by him, to fashion our lives after his. Let us prepare to go to Calvary with him, laying down our lives in his service, picking up our Cross and following him, to death and beyond, to the new life of Easter. Let us live his risen life, and share our joy with others, that the world may believe and trust in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now, and forever…

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Rembrandt Christ washing the disciples’ feet, (c.1645)  Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Palm Sunday 2018

If anyone asks you why you are untying it [the ass the disciples were sent to find], this must be your answer, ‘The Lord has need of it’ (Lk 19:31). Perhaps no greater paradox was ever written than this: on the one hand the sovereignty of the Lord, and on the other hand his ‘need’. His combination of Divinity and dependence, of possession and poverty was a consequence of the Word becoming flesh. Truly, he who was rich became poor for our sakes, that we might become rich. Our Lord borrowed a boat from a fisherman from which to preach; he borrowed barley loaves and fishes from a boy to feed a multitude; he borrowed a grave from which he would rise; and now he borrows an ass on which to enter Jerusalem. Sometimes God pre-empts and requisitions the things of man, as if to remind him that everything is a gift from him.

Fulton J. Sheen Life of Christ

Today seems like a triumph. Jerusalem is celebrating: the people treat Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as the triumphal entry of the Messiah. People lay down their clothes and wave palm branches The crowd cry out ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessèd is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’ (Mt 21:9 ESV) They cry out for God to save them, and that is exactly what he will do in a few days time, upon the Cross. This is a God who keeps his promises and who also defies our expectations. The crowd in Jerusalem is expecting a king of the Davidic line. One who would be seen as a challenge to the ruling élite, the status quo. But in Christ God gives Israel something else: a King of the line of David, yes, but one who rules with love, who has no desire for power, or honour. Those who have power are threatened by him: he turns their world on its head, he is awkward, an inconvenience. Jesus does not want their power, as he has come to be and do something completely different: what is taken as a political coup is in fact a renewal of religion, the fulfilment of prophecy, and a new hope for Israel.

In riding into Jerusalem Jesus is fulfilling the prophecies of Zechariah (9:9) and Isaiah (62:11). The King of Israel comes riding on a donkey: a humble beast of burden, which carried his Mother to Bethlehem for his birth, and carried the Holy Family into exile in Egypt. It is an act of humble leadership which fulfils what was foreseen by the prophets. It shows us that Jesus Christ is truly the one who fulfils the hopes of Israel. The Hebrew Scriptures look forward to the deliverance of Israel, which is enacted in front of their very eyes. God is saving His people, but they cannot see it. In a few days time it will all have changed, love will turn to hatred; joy to sadness.

This is why today and throughout Holy Week we will have readings from the prophet Isaiah, which are known as the Songs of the Suffering Servant. This morning we see the servant being mistreated, he is struck on the back, his beard is torn out, he is spat at and insulted. This will all come to pass as Our Lord goes to the Cross on Good Friday, it is the fulfilment of prophecy. God will show us how much he loves us by enduring such treatment.It shows US what humanity is capable of: anger, hatred, bitterness, mob rule, the desire to have a scapegoat, someone to blame. This is fallen, sinful humanity at its worst, and we will see more of it over the coming days. It should shock us, we should feel sick to the pits of our stomachs, because it shows us why Christ had to die – to take our human sin, to overcome sin, the world, and the Devil will the redemptive power of God’s LOVE.

And so it begins: a week when Our Lord and Saviour makes a triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He is hailed as the Messiah, it is a cause for celebration and joy. It is a week which will see Him betrayed by a close friend, arrested,  abandoned, tried and killed as a common criminal. Strangely enough, the world around us can still be just as fickle, just as quick to turn someone from hero into pariah. Lest we think that somehow we’re better, more advanced, more civilised, as though we’ve learned our lesson. The plain unvarnished truth is that we’re not. We need the annual reminder which the church gives through its liturgical year – a chance to be confronted by stark realities, and to be brought up short by them. What Christ says and does in this coming week He says to us, he does all this for us – to HEAL us, to RESTORE us, so that we can live His risen life HERE and NOW, as the people of God, fed by Him, fed with Him, sharing in His Death and Resurrection though our baptism, trusting in Him.

In our pilgrimage through Lent, through our prayer, our fasting, we hope to increase our closeness to Christ, so that following Him, and meditating upon His Passion, we may be transformed by His love, following in His footsteps, entering into the mystery of God’s LOVE poured out on the world. In the next few days we will go to the Upper Room, to have our feet washed, we watch and wait with Christ, we walk the way of the Cross, we gaze upon Christ crucified to see just how much God in Christ loves us – the lengths to which God will go to demonstrate that love, and make it a reality in our lives. Let us prepare to celebrate Easter: Our Lord’s rising from the tomb, His conquering death, so that we may have new life in Him.

In his Letter to the Christians in Philippi, written in prison in Rome in ad62, St Paul lays great stress upon the Humility of Jesus Christ. It is not a popular virtue these days, in fact the world around us would have us be quite the opposite: full of ourselves, with a high opinion of ourselves. Our is a world which is more and more characterised by sin and selfishness. The individual is all that matters: me and what I want, that’s what counts. At the root of it all is pride, thinking that we are more important than we are, making ourselves the centre of things, whereas we need to put God at the centre of things, and learn to be thankful.

Gratitude is characteristic only of the humble. The egotistic are so impressed by their own importance that they take everything given them as if it were their due. They have no room in their hearts for recollection of the undeserved favours they have received.

Fulton Sheen On Being Human 1982: 325

We need to have the mind of Christ, a mind devoted to love and service of God. Christ doesn’t just do what he wants to, but everything he says and does is the will of God the Father. It is a mind which lays down his life bearing the sins of all humanity, past, present , and future, out of love. This is humility and obedience in action: embracing the most shameful death possible, for love of us. Thus we should love Jesus, we should worship Him, because He is God, and He loves us. It is extraordinary, it goes against everything that we think about God, that scorning majesty, He embraces shame and sin, total utter degradation to save us. The Saviour of the World will suffer and die, and rise again, for us. This is why we are thankful — because God in Christ Jesus has done this for us, poor sinful humanity, to save us from ourselves, to save us from the Hell which we deserve, and to show us that God loves us, and longs to reconcile us to Himself and each other. He des this to heal the wounds of sin and division, so that we might have life, and life in all its fulness, with Him, for ever.  This is why Jesus is willing to suffer, to be vulnerable, to take our human frailty and to redeem it through His suffering, through His vulnerability, to show the World that God’s ways are different from ours, and that this is the only way to sort out our problems, through what Jesus does, and who He is. This is the example for us to follow — the way of suffering love and humility.

Today and in the coming week we will see what God’s Love and Glory are really like: it is not what people expect, it is power shown in humility, strength in weakness. As we continue our Lenten journey in the triumph of this day and looking towards theHoly and Life-giving Cross and beyond to the new life of Easter, let us trust in the Lord. Let us be like him, and may he transform our hearts, our minds and our lives, so that they may have live and life in all its fullness. We are fed by the word of God and by the Sacrament of His Body and Blood to be strengthened, to share in His divine life, to fit us for Heaven, and to transform all of creation that it may resound his praise and share in his life of the Resurrection, washed in His Blood and the saving waters of Baptism: forgiven and forgiving so that all that we say, or think, or do, all that we are may be for the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion and power, now and forever…

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Saturday, 17 March 2018

Lent V (Jn 12:20-33)

Imagine a scene if you will, it’s the Passover – the highlight of the Jewish Year. It is when they celebrate their journey from slavery in Egypt, through the wilderness of Sinai to the Promised Land. It’s a big deal. Some people have come who speak Greek, and are not Jews, to worship at the festival. They’re righteous God-fearing people They approach Philip, a disciple with a Greek name, it means ‘lover of horses’, and they ask him a simple question, ‘Sir, we should like to see Jesus – Syr, fe hoffem weld Iesu’ (Jn 12:21).  They want to see Jesus. It’s understandable – he’s a teacher, a man with a message. They long for an encounter with Him, to hear what He has to say.

Jesus speaks about his coming death upon the Cross, this is glory, not a human idea of glory, quite the opposite – dying the death of common criminal. It doesn’t make sense, in human terms, and it isn’t supposed to. As it says in the prophet Isaiah (55:8), ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.’ The point is that we need to do things, God’s way, not ours. Christ is the grain of wheat who dies, and who yields a rich harvest, in the Church, saving the souls of countless billions of people over the last two thousand years. The mention of wheat makes think of Bread, because (Jn 6:35), ‘Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’ This is why we obey His command to do this in memory of Him – in the Eucharist we will be fed with Jesus, the living Bread. His blood which he sheds for us is ours to drink, so that we can have a foretaste here on earth of the banquet of Heaven. It can transform our souls and bodies, so that we share His risen life.

Jesus calls us to follow Him, and to not care for life in this world – heaven is our home, it is what we prepare for here on earth, and if we want to share His glory, then we need to follow the same path of suffering love which takes Him to His Cross, and will take us to ours. As sales pitches go it isn’t going to win plaudits from an Advertising Agency, and that’s the point, it’s honest, it is the truth, plain and unvarnished, a truth which changes the world, and which sets us free (cf. Jn 8:32). Which sets us free because He hung on a wooden cross and died and rose again for us. That’s God’s glory – dying for love us, to set us free, free to live for Him, and with Him, forever.

Syr, fe hoffem weld Iesu’ (Jn 12:21 BCN) Mae’r rhain yn eiriau sy’n herio ni i gyd. These are words which challenge us all. When people see us, as Christians, do they see Jesus in us?

I have heard of these words being placed on a card in a pulpit so that they are visible on the lectern, for the preacher to see. It is quite an ask, that simple request, and I feel their great responsibility . When people hear me, or read my words, do they see Jesus? Do they see the God who loves them so much that He died for them? It is a burden to great for me, to carry that cross, and follow Jesus – I cannot do it in my own strength — my words and my life aren’t up to the task, and that’s alright, because it is in’t about me, it’s all about Him. As St Paul says (2Cor 12:9), ‘But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me’.

It is a great responsibility, that in what we do and say and think, people might see Jesus in us. We need to be living, breathing, walking advertisements for the Good News of Jesus Christ here and now. It is what we signed up to in our baptism, and we can use this time of Lent to consider important matters in out lives. Nothing could be more important than this: that people might see Jesus in who and what WE are, and what WE do.

How do we do this? We do it through the Grace of God, and by trying, by co-operating with that Grace. The simple answer is by trying, by making a conscious effort to live out our faith together, as a Christian community, filled with love, filled with grace, in the knowledge of the forgiving power of His blood which was shed for us. We need to do it together because we cannot just do it alone, we cannot save ourselves, only Christ can do that, nor is salvation solely an individual matter. Christ came to change the world, and He does, one soul at a time, through the Church, and the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, outward and visible signs of the inward and spiritual grace, the free gift of God to his people.

We will fail to practise what we preach, so that people can call us hypocrites, but the point is not failure but that we keep on trying. God will not abandon us, He dies for us, bearing the burden of our sins, so that we might become like Him, that’s why Jesus was born for us, lived, died, and rose again for us.

Because of this we can live no longer for ourselves, but for the God who loves us, and we can offer the world around us an alternative to the  way of selfishness and sin. We need to trust Him, and fashion our lives after His example, together, nourished by Word and Sacrament, carrying our own cross, trusting in His grace and proclaiming His truth, so that the world may believe and follow God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever…

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Saturday, 10 March 2018

Lent IV – Mothering Sunday

Lent is a time of preparation. We prepare to celebrate the Death and Resurrection of Jesus by forty days of praying, fasting, and almsgiving. We recognise how we fall short of how God wants us to live our lives and we try, with God’s help, to repent, to turn away from sin , and to turn back to God. It is hard work, and so it is nice to have a chance to relax our disciples and emphasise joy and celebration. Today is such a day. We recognise this by wearing rose rather than purple, a lighter, more joyful colour. We have flowers, and we rejoice in the warmth of spring. Traditionally it was a chance to go back to your mother church, the church in which you were baptised, and thus to spend time with your family. Because of this it is often conflated with Mother’s Day, a celebration which began in America, and is of an entirely secular character.

The church, however, is used to adapting, and it is good to celebrate. We all have mothers, whether they are still with us, or not. They give birth to us, and hopefully show us love. Likewise, the Church is mother to us all: we find new life in her, through our baptism, and we become part of a greater family, where we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, where we are all part of one family. This identity is in fact the most important one we have, it is how God knows us. Like any relationship it can have its problems, but it is through our common baptism that we enter the church, and come to new life in Jesus Christ. So we give thanks for our mothers, who gave us life, and for the church which gives us new life.

In our Old Testament Reading this morning we see the birth of Samuel, the prophet, who would anoint David as King of Israel. His mother, Hannah, had longed for children, and promised that any children she had would be dedicated to the service of God. He does lead the people of Israel to worship God. He is a true prophet. Just like Sarah, the mother of Isaac, Rebekah, the mother of Jacob, Rachel, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin and Samson’s mother, we see women who long for children, women who trust God.

Likewise in the Gospel we see Mary at the foot of the Cross. As she watches her Son put to death , He entrusts her to a new family, with John, the Evangelist and Beloved Disciple as her Son. We honour her as the Mother of God, and as an example of Christian love in action. She lives a life which is obedient to God, regardless of the cost. She is a model for us to follow in trusting God, just like Hannah before her. As she watches her Son die, she knows the cost of love. Such is God’s love for us, and this is what we are preparing to celebrate – God’s love for us. Our human love helps us to understand this. Mary becomes a mother to John, the Evangelist, hers is a life characterised by love and care. It is a model for how the church SHOULD be ; a place of care, of love and support – we may fail in this, but we need to remember that the God whom we serve is one of love and forgiveness, He forgives us our sins, so that we might become more like Him.

In this morning’s Epistle we hear St Paul writing to the Church at Colossae. He encourages them to live Christ-like lives, living out their faith in their lives, so that other people may know who and what we are. We do this together, as a family, a Christian community, sharing the common task of bearing witness to the faith of our baptism. It takes effort on our part: we have to try to do it, but we are not alone in our efforts. God gives us the Church, so that we can do it together. We can meet together to pray, to read the Bible, and most importantly to celebrate the Eucharist together, so that we can be faithful to Our Lord Jesus Christ, who told us to DO THIS in memory of Him, so that we can be fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, fed BY Christ, and fed WITH Christ, so that We can become what He is. We can share in His life, and be transformed more and more into His likeness. This is our soul’s true food, the greatest medicine we could ever receive, the Bread of Eternal Life, and the Chalice of Everlasting Salvation. Christ dies for us, to show us what true love is, so that we can share in that love, and share that love with others. This is why we died in baptism and were raised to new life in Christ, to share in His Body and Blood, and to live that life out in the world, growing more and more into His likeness, to be prepared for Heaven where we might enjoy His love forever.

So let us come to Him, to be fed by Him, and with Him, to live lives of love, and encourage others so to do, so that all may give glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever…

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Sunday, 4 March 2018

Lent III – The Cleansing of the Temple

It is hard for us to imagine, but for Jews in Jesus’ day, the Temple was the most important building in the world. It was the religious centre of Israel, a busy place, where devout Jews and others came to pray, to be near God. In this morning’s Gospel we see Jesus in quite an uncompromising mood: this is no ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ but rather here is the righteous anger of the prophets, a sign that all is not well in the world. Sin separates us from God and each other, it isn’t how we’re supposed to be.

When Moses receives the Ten Commandments from God on Mt Sinai the first is, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.’ Could it be that the temple traders, in their desire to profit from people’s religious observance, have broken this first and most important commandment? Has their desire for making money, for profit got in the way of what the Temple is supposed to be about: namely, worshipping God? It’s become a racket, a money-making scheme to fleece pilgrims who have come from far away and who do not have the right money or the correct sacrificial animals with them. This is no way to worship God, a God who loves us, and who showed that love by delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt.

The temptation to have power, to be concerned above all else with worldly things: money, power, success, and influence, are still a huge temptation for the Church and the world. We may not mean to, but we do, and while we think of God as loving and merciful, we forget about righteous anger, and our need to repent, to turn away from our sins — the desire to control others and to be so caught up on the ways of the world that we lose sight of who and what we are, and what we are supposed to do and be. This is why we have the season of Lent to prepare ourselves, and to repent.

The Jews demand a sign, and Christ prophesies that if they destroy this temple then he will raise it up in three days: He looks to His death and resurrection to show them where true worship lies — in the person of Jesus Christ. Christians should be concerned with a relationship, our relationship with God, and with each other. Likewise Christians can all too easily forget that Jesus said, ‘I have come not to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfil them’. The Ten Commandments are not abolished by Christ, or set aside, but rather His proclamation of the Kingdom and Repentance show us that we still need to live the Law of Moses out in our lives: to show that we honour God and live our lives accordingly. In His cleansing of the Temple, Christ looks to the Cross and to the Resurrection, He shows how God will restore our relationship. The Cross is a stumbling-block to Jews, who are obsessed with the worship of the Temple, and it is foolishness to Gentiles who cannot believe that God could display such weakness, such powerlessness. Instead the Cross, the supreme demonstration of God’s love for us, shocking and scandalous though it is, is a demonstration of the utter, complete, self-giving love of God, for the sake of you and me — miserable sinners who deserve condemnation, but who instead are offered love and mercy to heal us and restore us.

When we are confronted with this we should be shocked — that God loves us enough to do this, to suffer dreadfully and die for us, to save us from our sins, and from the punishment that is rightly ours. We do not deserve it, and that’s the point. But we are offered it in Christ so that we might become something other and greater than we are, putting away the ways of the world, of power and money, selfishness and sin, to have new life in and through Him.

‘In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.’ [J.H. Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845) Ch.1, §1 Part 7] If we are changing into Jesus Christ, then we’re on the right track. If we listen to His word in Scripture; if we talk to him in prayer and let him talk to us; if we’re fed by Him and with Him in the Eucharist, by Christ who is both priest and victim, so that we might become what He is – God. If we’re forgiven by Him, through making confession of our sins, not only do we come to understand Jesus, we become like him, we come to share in his divine nature, you, me, all of humanity ideally. We, the People of God, the new humanity, enter into the divine fullness of life, we have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet — we are prepared to enter the new life of the Kingdom, and to live it.

Lent should be something of a spiritual spring clean, asking God to drive out all that should not be there, preparing for the joy of Easter, to live the Risen Life, filled with God’s grace. In our baptism we died with Christ and were raised to new life in the Spirit. Let us prepare to live that life, holding fast to Our Lord and Saviour, clinging to the teachings of his body, the Church. Let us turn away from the folly of this world, the hot air, and focus on the true and everlasting joy of heaven, which awaits us, who are bought by his blood, washed in it, fed with it. Let us proclaim it in our lives so that others may believe so that all may praise the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever…

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Saturday, 24 February 2018

Lent II Year B

In Mark’s Gospel, just before the passage we have heard Jesus asks his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ After he hears the answers Jesus asks, ‘But who do YOU say that I am?’ (Mk 8:29) Peter answers that He is the Messiah, and Jesus told them sternly not to tell anyone about this.

He asks the same question of each and every one of us this morning, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ It is worth taking a few moments to consider just what our answer would be. A very nice man? An inspiring teacher? Yes, all those things, and more; as Christians we can only echo the words of St Thomas after the Resurrection and simply say, ‘My Lord and My God!’

That’s who and what He is, and nothing less. True God, and True Man, who comes among us to proclaim that God’s Kingdom is near, and that we need to repent. We need to turn away from sin, and turn back to God, a God who loves us, and who sent His Only-Begotten Son to show us just who much He loves us.

Jesus teaches that the He must undergo great suffering, like the servant in the prophecy of Isaiah, be rejected by the Jewish  religious authorities, be killed and after three days rise again. It is quite a lot to take in. Peter, who only a few moments earlier has acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, the Lord’s Anointed, just can’t take this. It isn’t part of the plan. It isn’t supposed to happen. Peter cannot bear the thought of Jesus suffering and dying, he loves Him. Peter just cannot understand that it needs to happen, that it is Who and What Jesus is.

Fundamentally, ours is a God who makes promises, and keeps them. He makes a promise to Abraham, and keeps it. God makes promises because He loves us. We don’t deserve to be loved because we sin, we alienate ourselves from God, and each other. But because God loves each and every one of us, then Jesus goes to die upon the Cross to demonstrate this love to the world.

Jesus says to us, that we have to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. It sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it! But like many things Jesus says it is fine in theory, but in practice it is a lot harder. For two thousand years we’ve been struggling with it, and that’s the point. It isn’t easy, I wish I could say that it was, but quite frankly it isn’t. I know that I struggle, that I’m not a good Christian, that I need to trust God more, but also I know that I am not alone in this, there are several billion Christians alive today, and countless billions through the last hundred thousand successive Sundays who have felt just like this. Rather like Peter, I don’t want Jesus to die for me, I don’t deserve to be saved, such are my many sins, that I should be cast away from God’s presence for all eternity. And yet, Jesus died for me, to save me, and for each and every one of you.

God loves us: frail, weak, sinful humanity. He gives us this time of Lent to prepare to celebrate Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection. He gives us a chance to enter the desert of repentance, and, with renewed vigour, to follow Him. It really is good news. And we need to lose our lives for Christ’s sake: living out our faith in all that we say, or think or do — to follow Him, whose service is perfect freedom. We live, not for ourselves, but for the God who loves us, who died for us.

So now the Cross is our only hope — the sacrifice of God for humanity, not something we can give God, but something he gives us — a free gift of infinite value. God gives it to us and to all the world for one simple reason — love, for love of us — weak, poor, sinful humanity, so that we might be more lovely, more like Him. God sends His Son into the world not to condemn it, but so that the world might be saved through Him — an unselfish act of generosity, of grace, so that we might be saved from sin and death, from ourselves, so that we can share new life in Him.

It is that same sacrifice which we see here this morning at the altar, which we can taste and touch, which we can eat and drink, so that our lives and our souls can be transformed more and more into God’s likeness. It is something which we treat with the uttermost reverence because it is God, given for us, because it can transform us to live as children of the Holy Spirit, freed from the shackles of this world, free to live for Him, to live as He wants us to, His new creation, of water and the Spirit. This is what the Church has done on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, in memory of Him, to make the holy people of God. To make us holy: so that everything which we say, or think, or do, may be for His praise and glory, living out the faith which we believe in our hearts, as a sign to the world that the ways of selfishness and sin are as nothing compared with the generous love of God.

So great is this gift, that we prepare to celebrate it with this solemn season of prayer, and fasting, and abstinence, to focus our minds and our lives on the God who loves us and who saves us. We prepare our hearts and minds and lives to celebrate the mystery of our redemption, so that our lives may reflect His glory, so that we may live for Him, fed by Him, fed with Him, with our lives and souls transformed by Him. We are transformed so that we can transform the world so that it may live for Him, living life in all its fullness: living for others, living as God wants us to live. Living the selfless love which saves us and all the world, living out our faith, and encouraging others so to do, can and will conform us to Christ, so that we may be like Him, and become ever more like Him, prepared for eternal life with Him, so that we may sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Saturday, 17 February 2018

Lent I Year B

It can be all too easy to see the forty days of Lent, the season of preparation for our celebration of Our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection as a time of sadness and misery. Too often it is seen in entirely negative terms: we focus on what we are giving up — the world around us seems to understand Lent solely in terms of giving up chocolate.

Now, the practice of abstaining from bodily pleasures is a good and ancient one, though it is not simply some sort of holy diet. Rather, we turn away from something which we enjoy so that we may focus upon something else instead — we focus on our sins, and how they separate us from God, and from each other. The other practices of Lent: prayer and almsgiving are there to focus our minds upon God and other people, so that we may enter the desert of repentance with JOY, thinking of the needs of others and growing closer to the God who loves us and longs for our repentance and our healing.

In this morning’s first reading we see a covenant between God and humanity, a sign of God’s love for us, and a promise of reconciliation between God and the world which underlies what Jesus does for us, it allows us to have hope, to see things in an entirely positive way, and to see behind what we do, that it is a means, a means to an end, namely our sanctification, rather than an end in itself. In our second reading from the first letter of Peter, he draws the link between Noah’s ark, which saves people through water, and baptism, which is prefigured in it. Lent is a season of preparation for baptism at Easter, where we can die with Christ and be raised like him and with him to have new life in him. For those of us who have been baptised it is good to have a chance to spend the time in Lent praying, drawing closer to the God who loves us, and living out our faith in our lives — we can all do better, especially when we try, and try together, supporting each other, so that we might grow in holiness as the people of God.

 

When St Antony was praying in his cell, a voice spoke to him, saying, ‘Antony, you have not yet come to the measure of the tanner who is in Alexandria.’ When he heard this, the old man arose and took his stick and hurried to the city. When he had found the tanner …. he said to him, ‘Tell me about your work, for today I have left the desert and come here to see you.’

He replied, ‘I am not aware that I have done anything good. When I get up in the morning, before I sit down to work, I say that the whole of the city, small and great, will go into the Kingdom of God because of their good deeds while I will go into eternal punishment because of my evil deeds. Every evening I repeat the same words and believe them in my heart.’

When St Antony heard this he said, ‘My son, you sit in your own house and work well, and you have the peace of the Kingdom of God; but I spend all my time in solitude with no distractions, and I have not come near to the measure of such words.’

It is a very human failure, for far too often we make things far too complicated when all we need to do is to keep things simple. In the story from the Desert Fathers, which we have just heard, St Antony, the founder of monasticism, a great and a holy man, is put to shame by a man who spends his days making leather, treating animal skins with urine, hardly a glamorous job. The key to it all is the tanner’s humility, his complete absence of pride, and his complete and utter trust in God — his reliance upon him alone.

In this morning’s Gospel we see the beginning of Our Lord’s public ministry — he is baptised by John in the River Jordan before immediately going into the desert for forty days. He goes to be alone with God, to pray and to fast, to prepare himself for the public ministry of the Proclamation of the Good News, the Gospel.

 

During this he is tempted by the devil: he faces temptation just like every human being, but unlike us, he resists. The devil tempts him to turn stones into bread. It is understandable — he is hungry, but it is a temptation to be relevant, which  the church seems to have given into completely: unless we what we are and what we do and say is relevant to people, they will ignore us. So we conform ourselves to the world around us, we package worship as entertainment, rather than being counter-cultural: offering the world an alternative to selfishness, and consumerism. Being part of the church is not a consumer choice about how we spend our leisure time, it is a call to repent and believe and trust in something greater, a God who loves us, and will die for us, so that we can live in Him.

 

There is the temptation to have power, symbolised by worshipping the devil. It leads to the misuse of power. The church stands condemned for the mistakes of the past, but in recognising this there is the possibility of a more humble church in the future — a church reliant upon God and not on the exercise of power. It is not fun to live through, but the result may actually be something more authentically Christian.

 

There is the temptation to put God to the test — to be spectacular and self-seeking. Whenever we say, ‘look at me’ we’re not saying, ‘look at God’. Worship is not entertainment — it is there to praise God and to help us to love Him.

Jesus resists the temptations because He is humble, because He has faith, and because he trusts in God. It certainly isn’t easy, but it is possible. It’s far easier when we do this together, as a community, which is why Lent matters for all of us. It’s a chance to become more obedient, and through that obedience to discover true freedom in God. It’s an obedience which is made manifest on the Cross — in laying down his life Jesus can give new life to the whole world. He isn’t being spectacular — he dies like a common criminal. He has no power, he does not try to be relevant, he is loving and obedient and that is good enough.

 

It was enough for him, and it should be for us. As Christians we have Scripture and the teaching of the Church, filled with His Spirit, to guide us. We can use this time of prayer and fasting to deepen our faith, our trust, our understanding, and our obedience, to become more like Jesus, fed by his word and sacraments — to become more humble, more loving, living lives of service of God and each other.

The time spent in the desert leads to Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ Jesus calls us to turn away from sin, to turn back to God, to trust Him, and to know that He longs for our healing and reconciliation. His Son, Jesus Christ will die for us, so that we may know just how much God loves us. This is the heart of our faith, something we will experience again in a few weeks time, and also which we will experience here, this morning, when we can see, and touch, and taste just how much God loves us.

These words are good news indeed, which the world still longs to hear, and which we need to live out in our lives, so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion and power, now and forever