Sunday, 26 April 2020

Christ alongside us, 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A

Lk 24:13-35
Today, 3rd Sunday of Easter, we’re still at this wonderful part of Eastertide when our Sunday readings are recounting or us the different Resurrection appearances of the Lord to His disciples.
This Sunday we have the long but significant account of the road to Emmaus, and I want to draw two applications from this:
first, that the Lord is walking at OUR side, even if unseen 
-just as he walked by their side, initially unrecognised by them;
second, that the Lord has something to SAY to each of us 
-just as He spoke to them, spoke to them so powerfully that they said, “Did not our hearts BURN within us as he talked to us on the road?”(Lk 24:32)

So, He walked by their side.
Now, let’s recall the context:
They were “downcast”(Lk 24:17);
They were focused on all that had gone horribly wrong: 
How the great “prophet” they had followed had been “handed over” and put to “death”(Lk 24:20).
And, this point is very symbolic:
They were WALKING AWAY from it all, they were leaving the centre of activity at Jerusalem, and off elsewhere (to Emmaus).

But the Lord did not abandon them to that state:
He walked by their side, a LONG time it seems;
He LISTENED to their woes, their full description;
But then:
He taught them, enlightened them, showed them what they had failed to see:
They had seen “the things He said and did”(Lk 24:19) -His mighty wonders,
then HE explained to them that He was not just “a great prophet” (Lk 24:19) but the long-awaited “Messiah” (Lk 24:16) -that all the Scriptures were about Himself.
And His words to them transformed them, their “hearts [burnt] within” them (Lk 24:32).
And then:
He went in to “stay with them”(Lk 24:29);
and, in what would seem to be the first Mass after the Resurrection, 
He gave Himself that he might “stay with them” in a new way.

For us, He does something very similar:
In this COVID19 lockdown, many us are “downcast” too (cf Lk 24:17);
many of us don’t RECOGNISE that the Lord, is NONETHELESS, still walking by our side 
-this is His promise:
“I am with you always, yes, until the End of Time”(Mt 28:20).

Let me suggest something else:
The Lord has something he wants to SAY to you at this time.
He ALWAYS has something to say to us, something particular,
but when times are tough, unusual, weird, He particularly has things to say.
And this particular moment of history we are living through is unusual.  It's not unprecedented, for example, thinking especially of our situation with the Mass:
Churches have been locked before in times of plague:
St Charles Borromeo, the great Archbishop of Milan in the 16th Century, locked all his churches for 2 years due to plague (see here and here), even while he personally dedicated himself to caring for plague victims;
more recently, churches were locked during the 1918 Spanish Flu (see here).
Nonetheless, while not unprecedented, it is unusual.
The whole world is in a kind of silence now:
The media notes that people are sleeping more now,
people are dreaming more now,
some of us, are PRAYING more now.
This enforced silence wasn’t asked for:
I read of a nun someone comparing this to a 90-day silent retreat 
-even for a nun that’s tough!
But, this must also be an opportunity:
The hectic pace of life has been interrupted -this is an opportunity!

What might God be saying to us, to me, to you?
He might be asking us to consider whether our lives have been focussed on the right things:
All my usual things are interrupted, what SHOULD I be focused on?
When this is over, what WILL I be focussed on?
He might be asking us to consider how we relate to different PEOPLE:
Many of us can’t meet family in the normal ways,
is that going to change how I VALUE them after this?

The Lord hasn’t forgotten you,
“though a mother forget the baby at her breast… I will never forget you”(Isa 49:15).
Let’s remember He is at our side, even if unrecognised.
And let’s try and listen harder to what He is saying to us.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Thomas the Cynic, 2nd Sunday of Easter

on Jn 20:19-31
Today I want to directly address the difficulty of doubt that we face amidst the suffering and difficulties the coronavirus situation is throwing at us,
and to consider how St Thomas’s doubt helps us in this regard.

In our part of the world, the Southwest, COVID19 doesn’t seem to have directly affected us yet, 
but it has HUGELY affected us INDIRECTLY, with the lockdown,
and I quite sure than more than a few of us have had this weaken our faith.

As some of you will have heard me argue before, I think that St Thomas’s doubt was precisely THIS sort of doubt: the doubt that come from seeing suffering.
People often refer to Thomas as a sceptic.  A sceptic is someone who doubts everything.
I think, however that he had become a CYNIC, not a sceptic.
A cynic is someone who believes the worst about everything.
A cynic is person with a specific type of doubt: 
He doubts the reality of goodness,
and pretty much always, he doubts goodness because he has seen evil.
And this means he is a useful example for us today.

My reason for saying Thomas was a cynic is this:
When the others said they had seen the Risen Lord, he didn't say, 
"Show me his risen body", but, like a cynic, he points to evil:
He speaks of the wounds that killed our Lord, of the experience of suffering, of what has gone wrong.

Now, Thomas wasn't always cynical.  
Earlier in the Gospels we see him expressing bravery, 
in fact, uttering one of the bravest statements in the Gospels: 
When Jesus set out for Jerusalem where He faced certain death, Thomas bravely said to the other apostles, "let us also go, that we may die with him"(Jn 11:16).

But by the start of today's gospel passage, this brave disciple seems to have changed dramatically, he had become cynical, and refused to believe.  What had happened in between?  
The Cross.  
The sight, the experience of the suffering of the Cross had shattered his faith.  
And suffering can destroy our faith too.  
We can allow an experience of evil to so overwhelm us that we no longer believe in the existence of what is good

How does our Lord respond to the cynic's doubts?
The Lord points directly to what is worst, what is evil, and says He has triumphed over it.
In response to Thomas's doubts, our Lord showed him His wounds, showed His triumph.
The same Jesus who hung before on the Cross, also appeared to show that He had faced and OVERCOME suffering.  
Thus Jesus says, "In the world you will have tribulation.  But be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world"(Jn 16:33).

So, in summary, if you’re doubting now,
if you’re seeing problems and evil more than you’re seeing good,
Then, remember the image in today’s Gospel:
The triumphant Lord showing His wounds, showing how He had confronted all that is worst, and overcome it.
And as His wounds healed St Thomas’s doubts, let them heal our doubts too.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Easter is MORE than just Spring! Easter Sunday

One of the things that lots of people are saying has been helping them these past few weeks is the good weather:
Flowers are blooming, the sun is shining, spring is in the air.

New life is something that gives us hope.
Nature is full of life, it has a natural dynamism.
There is a natural cycle of death and then new life,
and so as we worry about this crisis,
we see signs of hope that life will re-emerge.

There is an amazing natural power in life, that we see continually,
Of life arising after destruction
So often we see it:
After war and turmoil, societies rise again
After illness, the body recovers
After winter, spring comes.
Just NATURALLY speaking, as God has made nature, Life is powerful.
And this gives us hope.

My point to you today, however, is that Easter is something even MORE than this.
Easter is NOT just about natural cycles of dying and rising, of autumn then spring.
Easter is about a more definitive event, an event that changed everythin.g

What we recall today is:
There was a man from Galilee, 2000 years ago,
Who lived and breathed and walked among us.
And who yet showed Himself to be more than a man,
Who preached as no man can preach, “
“no one has ever spoken like this man”(Jn 7:46), said the guards who were sent to arrest Him (and returned empty handed!).
Who cured and healed and worked wonders like no man,
Who showed himself to be God among us.

who gave Himself up to die.
And then, as He foretold,
to the amazement of His slow-to- understand followers,
ROSE from the dead.

Death is no longer part of a natural pattern of dying and rising
and dying again.
Death is defeated.
Death, hell, evil, the devil, threw all it had at Him,
And was defeated.
Death was defeated.

The new life in Him is beyond the cycles of further dying.
The new life in Him is definitive.
“Life now lives, and lives to reign”, as we sing in the Sequence for Easter Sunday.

So, as we look for signs of recovery amidst this crisis,
As we see signs of new growth amidst the spring,
Let us be clear that what was worked in Christ is a new life BEYOND such categories.
Easter is about something even greater than the new life of spring.

Friday, 10 April 2020

Glory in weak Flesh, Good Friday

Jn 18:1-19:42
Today, in my Good Friday reflection for you, I want to consider:
In my flesh, is God absent or present?
When I am weak, is He absent or present?
Our world is seeming pretty ‘weak’ right now, pretty much experiencing ‘the weakness of human flesh’.
Is God present in that? or absent?

We’ve just heard the Passion narrative from John’s Gospel.
As we hear the horror of that event, there are two extremes that are put before us by St John’s account of the passion: 
the extreme of the kingship and glory of Christ, 
and the extreme physicality of the suffering to which He chose to lower Himself for our sakes.  
These two themes run throughout John, 
and they tell us something incredibly important for how we can find the Lord in our own experiences of being low and weak in our fleshy existence and suffering.

At the start of St John’s gospel He says of the Lord Jesus, that
God “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father”(Jn 1:14).
“The FLESH” is something that St John notes repeatedly about the Lord.  And his account of the Passion includes many small physical details that the other Gospel writers pass over:
He records that the Lord is not only insulted and mocked, 
but that He is physically “slapped” in the face.
He records not only that the Lord was led out to be crucified, 
but that He physically “carried his own cross”.
He records not only that the Lord was crucified, 
but he explicitly refers to the “nails” that went through His hands (Jn 20:25, noted after His resurrection).
He records not only that He hung on the cross, 
but the physical detail that He cried out, “I thirst”.
He records not only that He died,
but that the physical detail of His side being pierced by the spear, showing His death by blood and water flowing from His side, with “not one bone of His broken”.

When St John tell us that God has taken “flesh” we are left in no doubt that this includes all the PHYSICAL reality that OUR own flesh can suffer and experience.
HOWEVER, at the same time, St John is also clear about the “GLORY” of the Lord being manifested in all of this.
The glory of the Lord is not just something to shown in bolts of lightening, 
in fire on Mount Sinai, 
or in the parting of the Red Sea waters.  
Rather, the glory of the Lord is shown in how He has chosen to accept our weakness, 
chosen to take our flesh.
It is His ‘glory’ to be manifested not in worldly splendour 
but in manifesting Himself as intimately involved in our weakness, our lowliness, our flesh.  
He is not a God distant from us, 
but a God who is manifested and glorified in our weakness.

“Glory” in weakness 
–now this might seem a contradiction.
What enables His being weak to be a manifesting of His ‘glory’ is the fact that He freely CHOOSES it, 
that He uses His POWER to enter into our weakness.  
To turn, again, to the details that we hear recorded in St John’s account, 
his account notes details that point out very explicitly the fact that He is in charge, 
that He CHOOSES to lower Himself for us:
He notes not only that soldiers came to arrest Him, 
but that they first fall to the ground when they meet Him 
-they only arrest Him when He allows it.
He notes that, before Pilate, 
He declared Himself a “king” 
-though not of “this world”.
He is dressed in a purple kingly robe, 
though only to be mocked by it.
He is crowned with thorns, 
though, again, only as a form of mockery.
He repeatedly declared a King by Pilate: 
before the crowd, 
and by the inscription written above Him on the cross.
And His final recorded words before He “gave up His spirit” 
were words indicating it had all been a work He was wishing to fulfil: 
“it is accomplished”.

He is king.  He is in charge.
But, He uses His kingly power to lower Himself 
and share the weakness of our flesh.
What this means, for you and for me, 
is that in our weakness, 
in our experience of the “flesh”, HE IS WITH US.
When I am insulted and undignified, 
He has granted me dignity, 
the Almighty is with me.
When I am weak and defeated, 
He offers me strength to be my victory.
And when our world is weighed down my the burden of its current affliction, 
He is here among us.
“The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us”(Jn 1:14)

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Service and the Mass, Holy Thursday sermon

Jn 13:1-15
Tonight, for obvious reasons, I won’t be washing anyone’s feet -because there are no feet here except my own!
It does mean, however, that this became, in MY mind, an event when I was thinking even more clearly on the connection between Mass and the feet washing.

Foot washing is about service,
about that act of giving and loving whereby we do for another person something that is not pleasant for ourselves.
-nobody likes feet!

These past weeks,
amidst this lockdown restricting our lives;
amidst this fear of the virus
in these past weeks most of us have felt the STRETCH that comes with serving and giving in ways that we don’t normally:
Helping people in ways we don’t normally need to;
Being patient with others when cooped up for so long together;
Being bored in our isolation;
-this is a time to test and develop how giving we are.

The Mass is about giving and service too, in fact, EVEN MORE than our giving and serving.
Now, you can’t get to Mass at this time,
so, you can either forget all about the Holy mass,
you can, especially on this night, reflect on how your service and giving are a participation in the giving of the Mass.

How did the Lord Jesus give Himself and serve?
Most dramatically, He gave Himself on the Cross,
as the sacrifice that takes our sins away.
This was an act of SERVICE,
as he said of Himself, He “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”(Mt 20:28).
This was a GIFT, freely given, of Himself for us,
as Scripture says, He “gave Himself up to death”(Eph 5:2)

What we as Catholics PARTICULARLY remember on THIS evening,
is that His giving on the Cross is linking with His giving in the Mass.
He gives Himself in the Mass, in Holy Communion:
He comes as the food for our souls.
This is only the secondary aspect of the Mass.
The primary reality of the Mass is its relationship to the sacrifice of the Cross,
As St Paul teaches, when we offer the Mass, “you proclaim the Lord's DEATH until he comes”(1 Cor 11:26)
The Mass is the perfect prayer, the perfect act of worship.
It was established by the Lord Jesus:
The night before He died, at the Last Supper,
He instituted a ritual that would make present, for all time,
the sacrifice, the prayer, the worship, He knew He would offer the next day on the Cross.

That prayer, that sacrifice, that GIVING, becomes present on our altars.

And, the feet washing, the symbol of service,
is a symbol of:
that self-giving He would make on the Cross;
that self-giving He was making of Himself in the Eucharist.

Back to our situation:
We are being called to serve and give in unusual ways:
Am I allowing myself to ACCEPT doing the unusual?
Am I being PATIENT with others and the situation?
Am I OFFERING in love my frustrations to God, uniting my little cross to His big Cross?

This is a wonderful time to take that all to the Mass, even when you can’t be at the Mass.
Remember the service and giving that The Lord gave at the Mass:
Remember His gift of self on the Cross;
Remember His gift of self in the sacrifice of the Mass;
Remember His gift of self in Holy Communion;
Remember His gift of the sign of His love and service and giving in the footwashing.
This is a great time to be giving in new ways

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Sadness, Darkness, Stay with Me: Passion Sunday

Mt 26:14-27:66
Today, for the observance of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, I want to connect 3 details that Matthew’s account of the Passion gives us:
(1) sadness, (2) darkness, (3) and, the Lord’s call to His disciples: “stay awake with me”(Mt 26:38).

When I read that lie about there being “darkness over all the land”(Mt 27:45),
I, obviously, thought of the feeling of darkness over all the world today.
Many of us spent the first week of this lockdown feeling a little unreal, but perhaps even enjoying the sunshine and change of routine.
But as time has gone on, and we hear more and more reports of deaths,
and get more frustrated locked up,
and hear more analysis of the long-term economic suffering expected,
it’s hard not to have a sense of ‘darkness’.

So, my first observation is to connect this with the darkness in the Passion narrative.
Darkness is real now;
darkness was real then.
God was in the midst of that darkness,
and He is, though we don’t see how, in the midst of our darkness today.

My second observation is to note the “sadness” (Mt 26:38) of the Lord.
How does God feel about our situation?
Is He remote and indifferent?
No, He feels “sorrowful and troubled”(Mt 26:37).
This is a pivotal part of Christian revelation of what God is like:
The gods of the pagans were fickle and unreliable.
The gods of the philosophers were removed and indifferent.
But the one true God revealed in Christ:
He cares;
He is involved;
and, He took flesh that He might feel with us.

A third and final observation, about how we are to respond.
God knows what we are like, God knows that are weak.
He said to Peter, James and John, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”(Mt 6:41).
He said to them, “stay awake, and keep watch with me”(Mt 26:38).
Surely, He says something similar to us too today.
As we are tempted to be fearful,
or bored ,
or irritable
-or have various odd reactions with the stress.
Let us stay with Him, let us not inwardly drift away, inwardly go to sleep.

So, to bring that together, let’s think of the cry of the Lord Jesus from the Cross, “My God, my god, why have you forsaken me?”(Mt 27:46).
The people didn’t understand what He meant.
Some thought He was crying for Elijah.
The Roman soldiers thought He was “a” son of a god, but not THE Son of God.
In truth, however, as the Scripture scholars tell us, He was quoting the start of Psalm 22, which we thus use as the responsorial psalm at Mass today.
That psalm was a prayer of trust amidst suffering.
He trusted to the Father, even amidst that suffering.
So should we.

There was darkness then, there is darkness now.
God was involved and felt “sadness” then, He is involved and feels with us now.
And He calls on us not to give up, not to go spiritually asleep,
“Stay awake, WITH ME” -He is with us.