Saturday, 14 April 2012

Sermon for Sunday 15th April - John 21

Sermon for Sunday 15th April 2012
John 21

Well as its the last time for a few weeks I’ll be preaching I thought I might just indulge myself a little by choosing the New Testament lesson myself - this Wonderful story from the end of John’s gospel. I Had thought I might indulge myself a little further. When I was a curate in Pudsey at a large evangelical church where the musical tradition was heavily weighted to modern songs and musical accompaniment I began one sermon by playing a piece of music that was Most definitely Not in that Genre - the Dies Irae from Verdi’s requiem. If you know it you will be most aware that it most definitely does Not fall into the easy listening acoustic guitar category of a lot of contemporary church music. And I had thought to as it were balance things up at this evensong service by playing a loud Christian Rock piece which I love, based on this story, but perhaps one indulgence is enough for the evening :)

And in part I have to do this for this reading is not found elsewhere in the Sunday Eucharistic lectionary this year and in part that is because people aren’t entirely convinced that it was in the original version of John’s gospel. It is one of two parts of John’s gospel that seem a little suspect. Interestingly, both have the theme of forgiveness. There is the story of the woman caught in adultery from Chapter 8, which I tend to think might actually be Luke’s and then this story - the restoration of Peter.

I’m spending some time of late thinking about the relationship of John’s gospel to Mark’s. There is evidence in places that John is very conversant with Mark and on one or two points seeks to put the record straight :) But here there is a very interesting connection. Mark has a somewhat disturbingly spartan account of the resurrection. There is no sign of the risen Jesus. Just a young man who tells them ‘Go tell his disciples, and Peter, that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you’

It’s Very interesting that this extra story in Johns gospel seems to follow on from MArk’s bald ending

Go tell his disciples, and Peter - the message seems to put Peter outside the flock - there is a work of restoration as we all know to be done - Peter has denied Jesus three times - but Mark leaves it there

But this addition to John’s gospel seems to respond to this unfinished business. Once more the disciples are fishing in Galillee - the Sea of Tiberias is another name for Galilee - and there is Peter, seemingly at a loose end. When we have failed someone very badly and know it, it can feel just like that - Life stops. What seemed a future of promise becomes one of pointlessness - such is the nature of broken human relationships. So Peter, tries returning to his old ways - in a sense giving up on this whole business of following Jesus. ‘I am going fishing’ he declares and the others agree to come along. And they catch nothing.

Jesus comes to stand on the shore - but they do not know him. the post resurrection accounts of Jesus are not bold - there is doubt, there is uncertainty. These stories are not written as simplistic narratives. Faith in the risen Christ as I said this morning is of a different category. And so the gospel accounts are not ‘Scientifically clean’ Proofs. They are written ‘that we might believe’ - but not written to Compel us to believe, rather to invite us in And so it is a seeming stranger on the shore (to steal the lyric of the rock song :) ) - he Knows them but they do not yet fully Know him. They will only come to fully know him as they love him more dearly and follow him more nearly and Jesus comes to invite them once more to pick up the journey -the disciples, oh yes, and Peter.

Of course they’d been fishing all night before and had a similar experience - a stranger asking them to let down their nets of the other side - a miraculous catch. But still it is not Peter but the disciple whom Jesus loved who Sees - the one who had Seen and believed in the tomb. The one whom I suggested last Sunday stands for us all and Stands for the church, the bride of Christ, the beloved (to use John’s own imagery from the Apocalypse)
It is the beloved disciple who declares ‘It is the Lord!’ - like the herald in the story of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. SImon Peter we are told - ‘heard it was the Lord’ he does not yet see the mysterious Stranger as Jesus - and so hearing he clothes himself, as our first parents did when they heard Him walking in the garden in the cool of the day, hiding, jumping into the sea ( a place of death - of chaos - a place which denies the God who makes the sea turn back and appoints it s bounds and at the last will declare ‘and there was no more sea’)

Yet as Jesus once more calls, Peter begins to respond - it is Peter who climbs out of the water to finally haul the net ashore - the invitation of Jesus continues to find a place in his heart. They share breakfast. Still their eyes are not open. Still he is a stranger - yet at once known also. They dared not ask him who he was, because they knew it was the Lord. Actually this continues a theme from before the resurrection, when Philip asked ‘Show us the father’ - ‘DO you not yet know me Philip,’ he asked them? Don’t you yet know who I am? NOw they know who he is but the reality is as yet veiled form their sight.

But the moment must come. There is a sense of them eating in silence - a waiting.  To Peter all there is is fear of Judgement - of the anger of Jesus. He has Utterly failed. What more can he expect. Perhaps he too had heard the words of the young man, ‘tell his disciples, oh, and Peter’, perhaps the other disciples weren’t too comfortable with him either - oh yes, they too had abandoned Jesus in the garden, but they’d never been foolish enough to promise otherwise. Certainly the account of John places Peter to one side of the other disciples. Jesus has revealed himself, to deal with Peter.
    And here we see the Grace of God, this Life that is Not like ours - this way that is not like ours. Jesus does not confront Peter with his terrible sin, except in that his restoration is if you like the shadow side. He uses the fact of Peter’s sin to restore him - He had denied him three times? Then he must be thrice restored. Indeed Jesus invites him to restoration on the same bold terms. ‘Do you love me more than these?’ ANd of course the reality was that deep down in his heart he did - that was why he made such foolish claims - he Did love his Lord - he was desperate to Get it right for Jesus. that is why he was utterly bereft, for he had utterly failed the one he loved. And the one he loved, restored him.

Three times - do you love me, do you love me, do you love me? Peter finally is hurt for he knows that Jesus Knows his heart - “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you” Jesus is So tender in his restoration. He sees beyond all the falsity and betrayal, he never even mentions it, he just gives a way to full restoration. three time you have denied - three times I will allow you to speak your true heart, to come to yourself.

And each time Jesus restores him to the work he has given him. Feed my flock. Like the Prodigal son, he is not welcomed back just to be the lowest of the low - he is restored to being the shepherd of the flock of the Great Shepherd. As I have just fed my flock at breakfast, now you feed them. As I have cared for them, now You care for them - and the greatest blessing, Jesus restores to him that which in his heart of hearts Peter desired to do but could not. ‘I will lay down my life for you’ he had boldly declared. It was what he wanted to do, but the flesh was weak. And the flesh still is. Peter is still frail flesh as Jesus gracious invitation makes clear.
     Jesus restores to him the grace of the ultimate witness  - Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.‘There was a time Peter, when it was all about you, all about your need to be right, you fastened your own belt, you went wherever you wanted - it was all about you, Peter’ - that was why you could not lay down your life, because you wanted to preserve yourself. But when you grow old, (perhaps when finally Your strength is spent?) you will stretch out your hands, the belt will not now be a sign of your own self assertion, but of submission to others who lead you were you do not wish to go - as Christ himself had finally willingly been led, not turning down the final cup of the Passover.

Yes, Peter Loves Jesus, but at the last his death will not be as the willing lamb - you will not want it. Peter is restored, but he is still Peter. He now knows himself far better. He knows that he doesn’t want death, but in the grace of Christ grace he will finally go that way.
    What happens in forgiveness is not that we are restored to be Better than we were before, but we are Fully restored. And given the depths to which Peter in his denial had stooped, that was No small thing

Peter is Peter. the beloved disciple is the beloved disciple - what of him, Peter asks. If it is my will that he remain til I come, what is that to you? I have told you my will for you, that is all you need to know. Follow me . . . his call is at once particular to each of us. As I said on Easter Day we all need to hear the call - we all need this confrontation with the Stranger on the shore

Follow me - Peter heard the Lord and responded - Follow me - we all need that restoration that Peter knew, he is slow to anger and swift to forgive. Perhaps Peter like the res of us needed to hear Jesus say, ‘you shall not forgive the other seven times, but seventy seven times’. Peter knows who he is now - he is weak and fallible - bold and adventurous - an amazing mass of contradictions - his life one moment speaking one word and the next another  word - Yet Christ, God’s true and Sure Word has drawn him to himself, lifted him up out of the waters of despair as he had once lifted him from the waters of the lake. Follow me - for there and there only will you find All that you need - a sure ground for faith, a firm support for hope, and the assurance of sins forgiven

As we may too if we hear his Word to us and follow - Grace abounding to the chief of sinners, as another errant St put it - bread for the journey and a Home at the last


Sermon for Sunday 15th April - Easter 2 2012

Sermon for Easter 2 Sunday 15th April 2012

This Extraordinary Life

“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul,
and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions,
but everything they owned was held in common. And with Great power the Apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus’

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead defies all categories - it makes no sense in our world - it is totally Other. And the evidence for it is not to be found in anyway like the evidence for anything else in all of Creation. Despite the plethora of books arguing ‘from the evidence’ either for or against and both with Compelling certainty - it cannot be Proven. But that is Not to say that there is no evidence. Rather there is evidence which fits the Extraordinary nature of that to which it attests. As the Resurrection of Jesus is an event Like Nothing ever encountered, it produces communities of people who live in a way that defies any explanation, Except that Christ is Risen and his Life is flowing out into the world.

The idea of a group of people living together in such freedom as the Acts church, not grasping onto things but freely sharing all they had with one another is beyond our categories our understanding of how the world is supposed to work. We hear it and Have to dismiss it. What we as Christians have come to call stewardship is nothing of the kind in the light of God’s Light and life. The Acts church are true stewards of their possessions - they do not understand them as their own - they only exist for the benefit of others. No economic model will account for  this - no theory of life together - only the resurrection of Christ - the one who does not grasp but lays down His life.
The one who does not hold on but lets go

And if we truly believe in the Resurrection then we too should be set free to live likewise, in such a way that people have no choice but to consider the Extraordinary Truth which they see enacted. It is This Visible lif of the church which lends the preaching of the Apostles its ‘Great Power’

So we come to the second Sunday in Easter - as I said last week -it takes time for this Easter message to sink in - it seems just too vast for us to grasp and comprehend and in a sense that is Important. For it is not to be grasped - it is to be received! And lived out. Even He in his great humility does not grasp at equality with God - If we try to grasp, if we wait until we grasp this Resurrection of Jesus - we will Never Live in its light. Mary Magdalene in the garden wanted to grasp - to take hold of him, but He wouldn’t allow her. ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” there would come a time shortly when she would be Given this life as a gift but for now she had to learn not to grasp.
    I remember as a teenager talking long into the early hours with a friend about God and at some point came up with an utterly cast iron ‘Proof’ of his existence. We were utterly thrilled - we’d Got it! We’d Grasped it. The following morning we arose excitedly to tell all we could meet - but when asked, ‘What is your proof?’ - we couldn’t remember :) It had slipped through our fingers
    The Life of God is not a set of rational propositions which we can master, He is Light and Love and Life. Like the daily bread for which we pray - it is His Life which is Given and we are to receive and live out of it, not grasp it. The Israelites in the Wilderness were taught this lesson early on in the Manna - they were told ‘collect only that which you need for the day’ - which is freely provided, but they tried to grasp more and it turned to maggots in their hands. Not grasping.
    Strangely enough it is Thomas of all people shows us the way of faith - the so called doubter - yet the only one who believed far better the way of Christ than his companions - ‘Let us also go that we may die with him’. Thomas Knew that to follow Christ meant Death - unlike those who hoped it wouldn’t and like Peter were prepared to gamble on it not being the case and so promise never to leave him. Not Thomas. But Thomas Knowing where it must go. And thus Knowing Jesus was going to his death he is all the more to be surprised by Joy. ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ For Thomas it was not enough that one should come back from the dead - no. After all in the days following his resurrection there had been tales of tombs opening and the dead walking around - no for Thomas he had to Know that it was Jesus - I need to Know it is the Crucified one - I must see - I must touch and then Jesus appears to him - and it is Enough. He knows he doesn’t have to grasp him.

And that perhaps is why faith at the end of the day is expressed in obedience to him and not in a set of beliefs - for we cannot grasp what this resurrection life means except through the obedience of faith we live into it. In a sense there is no other way to discover the truth of the Christian faith than to live it. As I said all through Lent - the more we live into it - the more we discover it is true, the More we want to enter deeper and deeper in.
    We have to live the Resurrection life - the Life that Jesus sets free and gives to us - we have to live His Life. And unless we understand that we don’t begin to get off first base in this Christian Life - for the Resurrection teaches us that the Christian life is the life of the Risen Lord. The Christian Life Is the Life of the Risen Lord - there is No other Life.

And Christ begins to share that life with his disciples in these weeks following the Resurrection. Do not cling onto Me, Mary. I have given my Life for you and so now you may receive it ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

Some years ago - when I was just starting out in my first parishes - I led a course on the Lord’s prayer. I began one session by paralleling what we might call the old words - with its ‘thee’s and temptations and trespasses, with a more modern form, with its ‘you’s and trials and sins. One member of the group, a good man and very devout, said he could not agree with the new form - he said ‘As human’s we can forgive trespasses, but only God can forgive sins’. We then began a very interesting discussion as to what if anything was the difference. But it struck me that this in a sense was precisely how the Scribes criticised Jesus when he healed the paralysed man “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Who Can forgive sins but God alone??     Actually it is a Very good question if we properly understand the nature of Sin, that it is a breaking of the bonds of the Love of God that sustain the world - Sin is Always against God - we are in a sense Never sinned against - Sin is Always a rejection of the Love of God, if often we find ourselves on the receiving end of it, ultimately it s God’s Love that is Rejected. As David said after his murder of Uriah and adultery with Bathsheba - Against You, You only have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight’ When we are sinned against we always lose sight of God - We are afronted, but in the end all sin is only ever against God, against Life and Love. Who CAN forgive sins but God alone?? Only God truly Can forgive - which brings us to the next step in this extraordinary Resurrection account. We are already left breathless by the fact of the Resurrection  - our hearts and minds racing and struggling to catch up with the reality of the Crucified AND Risen Lord and then ‘Jesus came and stood amongst his disciples and breathed on them and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

He breathed on them the Very life of God - and what work did he give them to do?? It is odd how we do not think this so very odd - ‘Receive the Holy Spirit and . . .Love people?’, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit and . . . heal people?’  But no. ‘Receive the Holy Spirit and - forgive’ Everything else is secondary - the first need is forgiveness. The first work of the cross is Forgiveness - Restoration. Because Only when one is Forgiven and knows it can we be Restored and so set free to Love and Heal. God Creates his New Heaven and New Earth by forgiving Sins - by reweaving the broken tapestry of Creation, as it were remaking all the delicate connections through which Love and life can flow.

As anyone who has ever been forgiven much will tell you, it makes All the difference in the world. As Jesus said of the woman ‘She who has been forgiven much loves much’ Forgiveness precedes Love. Without Forgiveness Love cannot flow. We need First to forgive and we say - Ah this is so hard, but the point is this - it s not Our life - it is His life in Us - He forgives Through us. Receive the HOly Spirit - He gives us his life as a gift and it is like the manna to be freely used and spent on the undeserving, in unmerited acts of forgiveness like the prodigal Father does to the errant son. Does he ask forgiveness? Does he come crawling back in sorrowful repentance? No!! - He comes to the Father, that is all - he is forgiven. This is what God does. So he enters into the joy of his father.

You see we gasp at the extraordinary nature of the Resurrection - mocking our careful sense of decency and order and ‘how the world works’, as if we Knew. He is risen from the dead??
But wonder of wonders - this Resurrection Life is then poured out on all who will be open to receive - on all who will become themselves forgivers, on all who would be children of their heavenly father. Who like their heavenly father do not hold on even to their own son. Even God does not seek to possess - He is the Great Giver. And so the early church Lived - not grasping or hoarding - just letting it flow through their fingers, out into the world.

The Christian Life is Pure Gift. We can never grasp it - we can only receive it and Live it.


Saturday, 7 April 2012

Sermon for Sunday 8th April - Easter Day - 2012

Sermon for Easter Sunday 2012

‘Early on the first day of the week, whilst it was yet dark’

What can prepare us for Easter?

Today we celebrate The Great Feast of the church’s year. Easter Day. Christ is Risen. He is risen indeed!! Alleluia -The church is Full of Glad triumphant shouts - we Celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ . . . but  . . . today is just the first Day which the church in her wisdom gives to us for this celebration of Easter - this Season of Easter is six long weeks long - and it needs to be. For this message of Resurrection takes a long time to sink deep into our hearts and minds wherein it might ignite the fire of death defying faith. This is clearly revealed in the gospels as Jesus appears again and again and again to his disciples, teaching Rebuking, forgiving - it will be six weeks before he has prepared them to receive within themselves that concrete Assurance of the Resurrection, the Holy Spirit. We do not find Peter rushing from the tomb to declare ‘Christ is Risen and preaching boldly to all who will hear. No, bold Peter will not be seen until Pentecost. Today is Just the beginning? We are not yet ready.

I know the church is more beautifully bedecked on this day than any other, yet there is a sense in which we actually need to build the flowers up gradually over six weeks, until this Resurrection message has sunk deep into us - that over the six weeks of Easter the church becomes brighter and brighter. The message is Too big - we cannot receive it ALL at one go. We are not yet ready or prepared. It is early on the first day of the week, it is yet dark. John in his gospel makes much of light and darkness, Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the dark - he doesn’t understand.  ‘For as yet they did not understand’ Here John reveals that Easter Brightness is So bright that it blinds and dawns only slowly in the hearts and minds of Christ’s disciples as their hearts and minds are transformed by this Reality. While it was yet dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb

Of course we have the benefit of having gone through Lent and Holy Week and Easter many many times - We might think we do not need time for the message to dawn in our hearts, we know the story. ‘Of course Christ is Risen!’ Yet are we Alive with indestructible life and faith? We look back to the early church that had taken those six weeks to absorb the message and see what became the most incredible missionary movement the world had ever known, empowered by the Truth of the Resurrection. We think of the many many martyrs of the church in those early years who went fearlessly to their deaths because the Knew that Christ was Risen, and a whole New Reality had been ushered in, in which one might live lives of Bold faith, Lives without fear. And now almost one in 4 of the population of the world in some sense other own the name of Christ. Will this day send us out to do likewise? Have we yet entered into the Deep Magic of this story, to use CS Lewis’s phrase  - have we Particpated in it - or have we been mere observers? Has it become Our Reality?

It was Maundy Thursday in 2001. As was my custom I went to the Diocesan Chrism Eucharist - but I went with a very heavy heart. 2001 was a Very bleak year for some of us in England - it was the year of the terrible foot and mouth epidemic. Our TV screens were full of scenes of burning mountains of cattle and sheep - and for me it was very personal. Just a couple of days before, a farm adjoining my uncle’s farm had had a case of Foot and Mouth found on it - we knew what this meant. In the policy enforced at the time, there had to be in the clinical language of death, a contiguous cull. In an effort to stop the disease spreading, not only the stock on the affected farm, but all stock on all adjoining farms had to be culled. As I went to church that MAundy Thursday, I knew that the stock wagons and the men from the Ministry with their rifles would be rounding up my uncles stock and shooting them. His prized wild fell cattle, the eldest of which was born the first summer they’d gone to the Lake district farm 31 years earlier, all of them were to be slaughtered in an effort to stop the spread of this terrible disease. So I was in tears as I left the mass that morning - barely able to shake the bishops hand as I walked out of church.
    Only to return home to hear of the cruelest of twists. My uncle’s farm is remote and the track up to it deeply rutted and overhung with ancient trees - the stock trucks hadn’t made it up to the farm that day in time to carry out the cull. They would return the following day, Good Friday. It was Appallingly bleak  - and I was due to preach on Easter Day, to a church full of good and smiling folk, wanting to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ - How can you preach Life in the midst of Death? Humanly speaking?

What can prepare us for Easter? It is So outside our categories - the terrible reality of life often denies any sense of hope that we might know for ouselves. To have grieved with my family in that most terrible of days and then to preach resurrection?

What can prepare us for Easter, I was speaking to someone earlier in the week who told me that they found joy on Easter Day all but impossible, for on Good Friday it felt to them like their best friend had died - ‘and now three days later He is Risen?? Excuse me, but it will take time’ - when someone in whom you have invested you life dies, very publicly and before your eyes - and then in the space of only 40 hours or so, you hear a whisper, a rumour of life, are you suddenly going to shout Aloud - He is Risen indeed Alleluia!! When you’ve gone through Hell, Rumours of Life can only first come as a whisper. And a shocking whisper at that. Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; - but there isn’t widespread rejoicing. No, it is a total shock to the system - the gospel is silent about the reaction of the disciples - Shock - Silence - what can this mean?? How, humanly speaking could they have ever begun to speak of this? In the face of Death it is an Utterly shocking message - almost Mocking our senses - HOw Can this be!! It will take time and great gentleness - the Risen Christ does not burst onto the scene - compelling people to believe - Grief and darkness must be fully known, because this is not a message of life, but of New Life. The old life must die before the word can come that awakens to this New Life

On Good Friday, the hope of the disciples did not merely die, it was put to death. He was their hope . . . their hope had died. Unlike in our liturgical cycle - Easter was not going to come around. He was their Life and their hope and He was dead. Their hope had to die, because it was inadequate, their faith had to die, for it was inadequate, their dreams had to be smashed, because they were inadequate. It was only those who lost their life whom he said would find it. Humanly speaking all the lights had gone out - ‘it was early on the morning of the first day of the week - whilst it was yet dark.’ And it was Thus He had prepared them for Easter.
    They had in their hearts and minds spent Holy Saturday in the tomb - he had died and in a real sense they had died with Him. And so they were as Ready. Ready to Hear the voice of the Risen one,for there were no other voices now. All was silent. But even so, ready as they were, it would be a a long six weeks of constant appearances and reassurance before they were ready to declare boldly and confidently ‘They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day’

But, How does that Life come alive in us?
Two of the characters from our Gospel give us each give us a clue. Firstly there is the disciple whom Jesus loved - we tend to think this is John himself, but John uses this elusive term, the disciple whom Jesus loved. This disciple outruns Peter to the tomb, he sees the folded grave clothes but does not go in - then we can imagine Peter - still full of remorse and now terrible shock desperately pushing him out of the way - seeing - but perhaps his eyes blinded still by his weeping, John uses one word for See - When the beloved disciple then goes into the tomb, he Saw and believed - John uses a different word - he Sees beyond the empty tomb - he sees beyond the evidence to its meaning - but as yet they did not understand.

The beloved disciple can stand here for the Church. In our failure to believe - in our slowness to understand, she leads us for six weeks through account after account of the resurrection, gently teaching us as Christ did his disciples the Reality of the Resurrection. When we as individuals struggle to come to terms with this all, it is the Church in faith which holds us, and leads us through the six weeks of Easter, from the darkness of this first morning into ever increasing light.

How does this Life come alive in us?
. . . then there is Mary Magdalene - The first Apostle - the First witness to the resurrection. She sees the Lord but does not recognize him - no but she Hears him. As Lazarus had lain in the tomb and been awoken by The Voice - that called him by name, Lazarus - Come Out!,  Mary too comes to life and faith by hearing one word - she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).

How is this Easter Joy awoken in us? We diligently search the scriptures thinking that in them we may find life - we from our modern ever so well informed, and at times deeply skeptical viewpoint look at these ancient texts and think that this is just to incredible for words - we want a story we can make sense of - we want some neat proofs that we will believe - How can we believe? How did MAry believe??
    Why do so many millions now believe? ‘Mary!’- ‘Rabbouni!! Why do so many believe Because down through two thousand years, the Risen Lord has spoken their name, Mary, Simon, Cornelius, Saul, Irenaeus, Felicity, Monica, Augustine, Benedict, Clare, Francis, Theresa, Ignatius, Martin, John, Theresa, Dietrich, Dorothy, and millions upon millions more - like a Great Wave of Life and Faith - He has come out from the tomb - he has been calling us by name out from ours - Come out and Live!!

Rabbouni! Teacher - Lord - I have seen the Lord - I was in the dust of death and he has called my name! He is Alive - Life HAs triumphed over death - Death is defeated My Lord Lives - Our Lord Lives!

Christ is Risen - Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia
And the church responds in faith ‘He is risen indeed!’ Alleluia, Alleluia Alleluia

May we by the Grace of God follow this journey through Easter with ever increasing Joy and Hope and Life and may we hear His voice ever and Ever louder - till it is as clear to us as it was to those first disciples - and now as with those first disciples on the road to Emmaus - may he be known to us in the breaking of the bread.           Amen

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Sermon for Maundy Thursday - Participation in the Life of God

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?
The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

One of the themes we have been developing in our journey together through Lent and now Holy Week has been that of participation. In Lent we explored Christian practices of Generosity and Hospitality, of Love and Forgiveness, of Truthfulness and Openness one to another, but what I was at pains to point out was not that we should sit around and come up with Our ideas of what these were - asking ‘how might We be hospitable or Generous?’ Rather that we were called to enter into the very Life of God’s Generosity and Hospitality. That Forgiveness can only be understood Christianly in terms of God’s forgiveness  - and that to Live the Christian Life was no more and no less than to live ever more fully into and Participate in the Very life of God in the Life of God. This is the invitation of The Last Supper, an invitation to Participation

As the disciples are gathered together, Jesus revealed the full extent of His Love. He shows them what Love is when it is Enacted. (there is no such thing as Love that is Not Performed). And he does it by washing the feet of his disciples and only then inviting them to participate. ‘So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.’ It is our Lord’s Gracious Invitation at His table to enter in, to Participate in His Life which He first reveals. To Simon Peter he says ‘You do not now understand what I am doing’ - he is a Stranger to Love at this point only having his own ideas to go on. And of course that footwashing is a reminder of forgiveness - Perhaps Peter does not understand, because he doesn’t yet understand how much he will need Jesus’ forgiveness. Perhaps this is why we all find it so hard to Participate in the lIfe of God, because we don’t yet understand how much we need it ourselves? That we need God’s hospitality before we can be hospitable and that that hospitality is expressed in forgiveness. If we would come in, we needs must accept his Love

As it would be unthinkable for the guests to eat without their feet being washed - and so we see one part of this Participation, that we cannot approach the table of the Lord, unless we have been forgiven. Peter of course doesn’t get this - Poor Peter :) It seems to be his Role. ‘‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’’ Jesus invites us into Participation by first serving us - be One with me is his invitation and He serves us. In so doing he reveals the Nature of the LIfe of His Life that we are called to participate in.

Peter of course has a Big problem with Participating fully in the Life of JEsus. It is He who said ‘this shall never happen to you!’, and perhaps in a fit of remorse - in a very short while he will gird his loins and try to enter the Life for himself Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterwards.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times. We are so quick thinking we can do things for HIm, not understanding that we cannot, unless we first encounter and accept his Hospitality. FAce up to our Utter Need of Him.

Will You lay down Your Life for Me?? ‘No you will not - I Will lay down My Life for You!’ is Jesus unspoken response. Of course Peter was not alone in this bravado, It had been the same with those two Sons of Thunder, James and John. "You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said. "Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?". “You don’t know what you are asking? You will lay down your life for me??

Can you drink the cup? Of course we have been thinking much over the last hour about cups, the four cups of the Jewish Passover. But there is something odd. Try as we might we cannot perfectly match the Jewish Passover meal with the Last Supper. It seems clear it Is a Passover meal - but . . . it seems to be strangely unfinished. We rehearse the story in our Eucharistic liturgy. ‘After Supper he took the cup and when he had given thanks he gave it to them’ The Cup after Supper is the third cup . . . we read that after drinking this they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives. ‘You do not yet understand what I am doing for you - this Passover is not yet complete’

This is an unfinished Passover - there is as yet, no fourth cup . . .

Can you drink the cup? our minds wander forwards an hour or so, into the Garden of Gethsemane, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Again he went away for the second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’

‘My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me’ There is yet another cup - and the lack of the fourth cup is not the only odd thing about this meal. A Passover meal is presided over by the Father of the house - He is the one who rehearses the story and blesses the cups - But the Father has not been visible in the story until now. Jesus is continuing the Passover meal out in the garden but now it is not Jesus with the disciples, it is Jesus with his Father. If this cannot pass unless I drink it . . .The Fourth Cup signifies the end of the meal, the Passover cannot be completed unless the fourth cup is drunk, and that lies ahead of Him.

it was not permitted to drink wine between the third and fourth cups - it was not permitted to drink wine until the end. Jesus does not actually drink of the Third cup  - for this is his self offering to his disciples - This is my blood of the New covenant - and he will not drink of the final Cup until the Father ends the PAssover meal. Jesus in the self offering to His Father waits in obedience until the end - At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, . . . the final cup is drunk . . . Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.

‘It is finished’ - Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. ‘You will lay down your life for me?’ Jesus asks Peter - No, I will lay down my life for You

Yes there is a Passover meal, but it begins with the Last Supper and ends on the cross and in so doing the Whole focus is shifted , entirely away from remembering the Exodus, to Remembering Christ Himself - but it is no mere memorial. This is Participation in a Way that we could scarcely begin to imagine -  a Huge new dimension is opened up - for the cup is not of wine, but of Blood. ‘drink this all of you, this is My blood of the New Covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins’. Do this as often a you drink it in remembrance of Me.

This is My blood. Do this In remembrance of Me

The Passover meal was meant to be a remembrance of the great saving act of God in bringing his people out of Egypt - Do this in Remembrance of Me? And as for drinking Blood!! Whatever else you did with the Passover Lamb - you did Not drink it’s blood, For its Life was in its Blood

Which begins to make sense of John’s Lack of a Last Supper - it's actually there in shocking clarity ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’ Drink the blood, the Life is in the blood. It is a great promise of Participation in the Life of God

To participate in the Old Passover - it was imperative - you had to eat the lamb! Five times the scriptures commanded that the whole lamb Must be eaten - None was to be left. But you were Not to drink the blood for the Life was in the blood -  To participate in the New Creation life of God - you must eat the Lamb, the Lamb of God - you must eat his flesh and drink his Blood - that His Life might be in you.

Christ invites us into Participation in life - His Life - He gives his life For us  - He washes us that we might have a part with him  - and then gives his life TO us. His eternal life, in Bread and Wine.

James and John - they thought they could drink the cup - they thought they were up to it.  but they didn’t know what they were asking. They didn’t realise that the life they were called to was God’s Life to only do what they saw the Father doing.  Peter, desperate to get it right Just once wanted to Go where Jesus went - but he couldn’t - he couldn’t - not yet. For this was God Work and Life For the PAssover was not complete - the eternal life of Christ that is His own self offering had not yet been made. The Life was not yet available - not set free and wild in the world - His Spirit not poured out on all flesh - No Peter, not yet - you will not lay down your life for me - but when at last the work was finished,when God’s Life was released into the world -  he would say to him

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

If you drink the Third cup - the cup of my blood - when it is poured out - THEN Peter you can participate and drink the Fourth in costly self sacrifice - then it will be no act of bravado - no girding up the loins of our will is required for it is His life in us, to will and to act according to the impulses of the Love of the Father

Eat my flesh, drink my blood - now you can follow for it is no longer you who live, but I who live in you - now you can  participate in this Life of God - for when you eat the bread and drink the wine - my Life is in you

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?
The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Holy Week Meditation - On the Margin (3)

Reflection for Holy Week
“On the Margins” (3)

Reflection for Holy Week
“On the Margins” (3)

Now the Lord is about to lay waste the earth and make it desolate,
   and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants. 
And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest;
   as with the slave, so with his master;
   as with the maid, so with her mistress;
as with the buyer, so with the seller;
   as with the lender, so with the borrower;
   as with the creditor, so with the debtor. 
The earth shall be utterly laid waste and utterly despoiled;
   for the Lord has spoken this word.

The earth dries up and withers,
   the world languishes and withers;
   the heavens languish together with the earth. 
The earth lies polluted
   under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws,
   violated the statutes,
   broken the everlasting covenant.

Therefore a curse devours the earth,
   and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt;
therefore the inhabitants of the earth dwindled,
   and few people are left. 
The wine dries up,
   the vine languishes,
   all the merry-hearted sigh. 
The mirth of the timbrels is stilled,
   the noise of the jubilant has ceased,
   the mirth of the lyre is stilled.

No longer do they drink wine with singing;
   strong drink is bitter to those who drink it. 
The city of chaos is broken down,
   every house is shut up so that no one can enter. 
There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine;
   all joy has reached its eventide;
   the gladness of the earth is banished. 
Desolation is left in the city,
   the gates are battered into ruins. 

For thus it shall be on the earth
   and among the nations,
as when an olive tree is beaten,
as at the gleaning when the grape harvest is ended.
Isaiah 24:1-13

As we have made our way through Holy Week, we have been considering the Margins - the place of boundaries and where we have come to. As we considered Jesus entering into the Temple and then leaving we were reminded by the words ‘as it was already late’ that the darkness gathers - and so in the gathering darkness we await the words ‘Early, on the first day of the week’. Boundaries, Edges, Margins, times of great upheaval. And we have expressed this as a sort of turning inside out - of the reality of the Cave or the City which seems to have everything we need being revealed as a place which actually rejects and denies life.

We thought about this at a personal level - our own need of Conversion - our own need to be turned inside out, that God might be our Centre. And then yesterday, being reminded we never think of the Scope of Salvation in large enough terms, we thought of it in terms of the church - of a church on the margins - of how we find ourselves to be outside, thought of as irrelevant - do we try to be relevant and go back into the city - or do we take the risk of being found on the outside - on the rubbish heap, with our Crucified messiah? On the edge. In the place of Salvation.

But we still haven’t really begun to grasp the scope of this breathtaking Salvation. All of which we have so far spoken has been about our perception of where we are, the Centre or the Edge and how we mistake the two, the place of Life being to our observation a place of death (consummately in the Cross). Where are we? What is our Place? Fundamentally that is the issue - it always has been - what is our place as human beings. In the Beginning we were given a place - the crown of God’s creation, but forgot it was God’s Creation - we lost our place. We began to think of it as our home, and I guess that is perhaps why we are so comfortable on the inside, in the City, in the Cave - because we made it to suit ourselves - it became our servant, instead of we its tender and keeper. The Creation became ‘the Environment’ - our Environment. And now we stand on the edge, on the margin. Quite literally the Cave, the City is revealed to be the true rubbish heap.

The earth lies polluted
 under its inhabitants;

for they have transgressed laws,
violated the statutes,
broken the everlasting covenant.
What was the Everlasting Covenant? Well it was the oldest of all Biblical covenants - the covenant with Noah - where God promised, Never again would he cover the earth with the floodwaters. And now, it seems as icecaps melt and waters rise above the low lying pacific islands, it seems we are doing it ourselves.

In the beginning was a Garden with two trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of knowledge.
What we do not realise is that the Tree of knowledge makes us Blind. So many of Jesus’ healings are of the blind. We think we see well enough - but we do not see at at all. Knoweldge, Facts. These reduce Everything to objects. We become Observers rather than Participants. We thought a little about this last night, when I suggested that perhaps we spoke to glibly of the church, as if we could step away from it and observe it and so declare ‘It is clearly in a bad state’ - but immediately we have begun to use the language of ‘It’ we reveal that we have stepped away from Life. We are out of Relationship. Our language has become Impersonal - we do now Know that of which we speak. We are reduced to knowing about it. We do not understand that We are the Church. The Church is an It. And so it is even more so with The Environment. We imagine It as It - A stage perhaps on which we play out life’s little days. We do not understand that In the beginning we were actually woven deep into the fabric of the Created order , that we Participate in it with our Very Being - that in a Real sense we are One with Creation as we are with the Church. We have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. We, being blind never realised for a moment that How we lived with regard to God would affect anyone but ourselves - it may affect the church, perhaps . . . but the Very fabric of Creation?? 

Having drunk deeply of the fruit of the tree of Knowledge we now Know enough to realise what we have done, or at least the damage we have caused but our perception that we have done this because we were Part of Creation is dim at best, for our knowing is impersonal. And there is the most Horrible irony in that this Knowledge is coming to fruition, just when it seems to be too late.

The Temple had always been a profound symbol of the Creation - and so at this very late hour one comes who enters the city and goes into the temple; and when he has looked around at everything, as it was already late, he leaves . . .’ It is Late - Very late - the darkness is gathering hard and fierce.

In the case of us as individuals - it is very hard for us to see that we dwell in a cave of our own making, so used we are to referencing everything to ourselves - with regard to the church of which we are at once part and also observers it is perhaps easier to see there is a problem, but difficult to know how to respond. But in terms of the Creation there can be little or no doubt, we stand on the edge - indeed we may well have crossed the boundary - which with its dark theme actually brings us to Easter

However we try, we Always underplay Easter -Nothing can convey the Wonder of the Resurrection - so accustomed to the darkness of the cave have we become that the brightness is itself like dark - blinding us. We talk of Easter in terms of the great feast of the churches year, but it is Breathtakingly beyond any description. Perhaps were we better to comprehend the darkness in which we all too readily live, we might better comprehend the Miracle of Easter and the scope of a Salvation which encompasses quite literally Everything. We may at a personal level see Easter as the transforming Hope of our Life -we may even hope that the Easter message will transform the church also - but This Sacrifice is for the Sin of the whole World. The first Christians understood the Sacrifice in these truly Cosmic terms, Behold, A New Heaven and  a New Earth.

We are left asking in the darkness - do we believe in Easter?
And if so, just how big is our Easter Vision and Hope?

Holy Week Meditation - On the Margin (2)

Reflection for Holy Week
“On the Margins” (2)

 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
 Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

Yesterday we left off thinking about this call to go with Jesus and die with him - about how we needed to be Converted from a life which however Christian it feels and indeed looks to the outsider, is actually self centered. Not in the sense of the sort of crass selfishness that is clear to others, but something far more subtle. That we are still the centre of what we call Real. Indeed we may well look far from selfish in the eyes of others - our lives may well appear to be sacrificial, and yet still we can be self centered. In a sense this is perhaps why we so resonate with the story of Martha and Mary. We think it is about the Active OR the Contemplative life, but in reality it is not that. Martha is self absorbed. Upset and worried about many things, She sees all that needs to be done. Her perspective is central. ‘This is the way the world is!’ She is self centered. It is eminently possible for us to be like this. Yet it is also eminently possible that like Mary we might be sat in quiet devotion before the Lord, but still be self centered, for we have brought all that is on our mind, all our concerns , all our worries - we can be in prayer at the feet of Jesus and still be upset and worried about many things. Conversely we can be actively working, but our heart and mind are with Christ and Him alone. We have learned the First commandment - Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul with all your mind and with all your strength and He is our Centre. We have come to see that in truth, ‘our only real need is God’ - we have learned what it means to only do what we see the Father doing. We can be an Active Mary, or a Contemplative Martha

What is our centre? As we walk through Holy Week with Jesus, we realise that we are on the edge, not at the centre - most fundamentally, passing from death to Life. But as we make this journey, something becomes increasingly clear, that the Scope of this Life is Far more vast than we had thought, for it is the Life of God into which we die and are born. To use Ruth Burrows imagery again - we were in a Cave that seemed to have it all, and our Christian life was to be found within its confines. ‘Our Christian life’ . . . ‘within its confines’. ‘Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there”, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’

A moments reflection tells us when we hear these words, that we are in a Cave - our Faith is Us sized, within comfortable confines - we are afraid of a faith that moves mountains.
But it is not only the scope of our faith that we discover to be confined - actually it is our whole view of this whole business of Salvation. As we walk through Holy Week and in the years after as the New People of God discover, the Work of Jesus upon the Cross goes far far far wider than mere ‘personal salvation’ - that is too small a thing

So I wish to think for a moment about a larger object for the work of Christ. The Church. And the call is the same - to leave the Cave, where all seems well, yet it is on a scale we can handle, to go out to the edge. And it seems clear in these days especially, that the Church is in that same Marginal position as we are as individuals, on the edge

Like the person facing the boundary between life and death, Stood on the banks of a river - a secure past - an uncertain future. My two former churches in a sense epitomised  these two states. One was by at least three hundred years the oldest building in the village. It had always been there. It stood on a crossroads - probably the intersection of two ancient droving roads and the village had grown up around it. It was at the heart of the community and although there were many who only came through the doors for a funeral or wedding, no one thought little of it and many in the village would lend a hand in one way or another. The other, however was different. The village although it had similarly historic roots, had not had a church, there being an ancient church only a mile away. So when the church was finally built it was not in the centre of the village, but on the edge - outside the city walls, so to speak. What was plain in both cases was how much church folk wanted to be at the heart of the village. Our view of the church dominated by the longing to feel all was well and that we weren’t marginal to the world’s story. For many this was all to do with the traditional Patrician Vicar - who would chair all of the villages important committees and generally bless and sanctify all that happened. [I was, I fear to say a little bit of a disappointment in this regard]. We craved the safety of the Cave..

Our fear of being with Jesus outside the city, on the margin of things, as I said betrayed our false understanding of where life was to be found. The idea of church at the centre of things leaves us with a great sense of security - the idea that we are Marginal, nay even worse Irrelevant to the lives and concerns of those amongst whom we live, Most disturbing. And it is all too easy for us as the Church to try to go back into the City - yet it was the city that expelled Jesus. They declared Him Irrelevant - in his nakedness and vulnerability he was thought worthy only of the Rubbish tip of Golgotha. “I will build my church” Jesus declares, here - Whoever would Be my church - must come to where I am. Where I am, there my disciples will be also.

I have spoken several times these past weeks of how we have disconnected Christ and the Church - that we deny the Glory of the Church, that we are the Body of Christ. That in False humility and through bad theology we stand apart saying ‘we are not worthy of that’ - well, how humble do we have to be, to identify with This Glory? The Son of Man lifted up upon the Cross - on the rubbish heap, outside the city walls. Perhaps the problem is that his church is not humble enough, not small enough, not sufficiently insignificant in the eyes of the world to associate with its Lord?

That we too have now been declared irrelevant to the World’s idea of life, places the Church on the bank of the river - on the margin - that we might cross over from death to life.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Holy Week Meditation - On the Margin (1)

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’

‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’ 

Facing his impending death, Jesus goes back to the place where Resurrection has been foretold, to spend time perhaps with his friends

Yesterday we left Jesus, surveying the Temple and then leaving for Bethany,
as it was already late . . .

Holy Week is bookended by two phrases - ‘it was already late’ . . . and ‘Early, on the first day of the week’. It is clear that this is a time of transition, of change, of movement, on the edge of something, we are not in the thick of Life but on the edge of it, ‘On the Margins’.

One of the privileges of priestly ministry is to accompany people through their own Holy weeks, the whole business of ‘Dying’.
    I had a very dear friend who was a priest and died from a brain tumour. In her last days as is so often the case on this Margin, we saw something very special. As she drifted in and out of consciousness it was clear that she knew where she was, on the bank of a river, and her priestly ministry continued as she was obviously helping others to make the transition.

But this Dying is not necessarily physical, indeed the gracious invitation of Jesus is to die before we die, so to speak, to understand that our physical deaths are only the Secondary deaths, that there is a Far more significant death that Must happen.

    And the work of the priest is to accompany many in this regard. It is a work that must be done in all of us and that when we understand it, we might all participate in - we too might learn to stand at the shore and encourage others to cross over. In a Real sense, it is the work of accompanying someone through their Conversion, from a life where they are at the centre, to one where they are at the edge (and discover that Life had always been there and that that which they called life was no life at all.)

Life is Always to be found at the edge. Paradoxically, Christ, although as he rides into Jerusalem appear to be the centre of everything, is in the hearts and minds of the people on the edge of - they will readily expel him into the wilderness from the edge of the camp. His Place, His Throne is beyond the City walls. The Temple is Not in the heart of the city, it is not in the city at all - this is a discovery we all need to make - it is the beginning of Our conversion

The Carmelite nun Ruth Burrows speaks of this Conversion in her book, “to believe in Jesus”

“We live in a cave. The cave is so vast and we are so small that we cannot perceive it is a cave until we have grown in stature. It seems a limitless world, a most beautiful city full of good things, everything we need for our stimulation and growth. Here, it seems, is love and knowledge of god, here is wisdom, here true worship. The ensign of Jesus flies over its citadels. Christians recognise the ensign, they know the name of their king and wish to serve him. there is no need to question the raison d’ĂȘtre of this city; it seems to exist in its own right and needs no explanation apart from itself. How can there be anywhere else, except heaven when this mortal life is over?

In reality the cave does not exist for itself but exclusively for another world, the kingdom of god where even in this life he truly reigns over human hearts. Were it not so, were there no way out of it, it would be nothing but a great trap, a hideous mockery; we would be trapped for ever in our own limitations, our innate yearning for God thwarted for ever. Redemption means there is a way out. Jesus has made the way. He is the gate through which we pass, the way on which we walk and the goal of our journey. Everything God has provided for us in this cave-city is for one purpose only, to fit us for passing through that gate, out of the natural mode of existence which is ‘death’, into the life of God.

Although it does not seem like it, when we are in the cave, we are like Lazarus, dead in his tomb. Jesus calls us to come out. To be brought to life from this death is to begin to die mystically with Jesus, so as to rise with his life.”

Lent gets us ready for Easter, but actually that getting ready is just a preparation for the work of Holy week, it is a letting go of the little things in preparation for this work of dying. Having through Lent learned to deny ourselves through Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving we are truly ready to walk with Jesus to the Cross, unlike those first disciples - as I said yesterday “they melt away. Perhaps because they had heard but never understood what he meant when he said - ‘no one can be my disciple unless he gives up Everything he has - lets go of the world - no-one can be my disciple unless he hates his father and his mother, yes indeed life itself - whoever would become my disciple must take up his cross - whoever would gain his life must lose it’. Like the crowd they had an image of Jesus that didn’t fit with his words, [they were still in the Cave-city] -  [yet] now as they approach the end it becomes terrifyingly clear, he meant every word of it, to become obedient even unto the death of the cross.”

We are his disciples - in Holy week we see them disappear from Jesus presence. We symbolise this in Not spending the whole night on Thursday in prayer and Watch, but departing. But we have One advantage over them - we know how the story ends - thus if we have faith we need not flee form going with him, through the narrow gate - crossing over the Margin - through death to life

Monday, 2 April 2012

Lenten Meditation - Fasting (2)

 ‘When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting-place, but it finds none. Then it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first."

Amongst the sayings of Jesus , this one has always intrigued me - in part because it can be understood in so many ways. [Like all of Jesus' stories it is Universal, and thus meaning is continually opening up in it. We must beware of the Closure that says "this means . . .". Rather as we are open to the Spirit, it is perhaps better to say "God seems to be saying This to me through this story at present . . ."]

Amongst the sayings of the Wise there is one which seems apposite to this subject of fasting and especially, if you have been reading this series, my avoidance of the subject of Prayer. In the Philokalia we read that to fast with out praying is the work of the devil. In part this is because it is to see the Disciplines as Ends in themselves. It is to substitute our Spiritual Fortitude for the very Life of God. So we fastidiously Clean out our house by fasting - we ward off our sins by almsgiving, we deal with our Sloth by rigorous studies, we deal with pride by Finding some Lowly service, but we do not Pray. So there is nothing to replace what we have cleaned out, which leaves plenty of space for other spirits.

We are so determined to make ourselves better, to make ourselves Good - that we reject the Life of the Healer, the One who is Good. We clear out the house so it is fit for Our idea of the Perfect guest - but we do not come to prayer. To allow Him to reside there and now all we have is the Pride of our spiritual accomplishment, which is the Worst kind, for it most readily counterfeits Life in our understanding (although in reality there is No point of correspondence)

But of course, Our idea of the Perfect guest is of course Ourselves and of course the presence of Our Spiritual accomplishments is far more amenable to us than is the presence of the living God - indeed we all too readily confuse the two - we need to ask ourselves over and over - What do we Really want? Do we Really want Him? Will we Empty ourSelves to receive Him?

The Carmelite, Ruth Burrows in her book, 'to believe in Jesus' - puts this in terms of a fast.

"Faith is a fast", she says, "it is a refusal to put anything in the place of God, and an acceptance of the consequent sense of deprivation. Faith refuses to seek sensible assurances our nature craves for, and insists on looking beyond, reaching out to Him who cannot be savoured in this life. For the one who had given his heart to the Lord there is a perennial fast whilst this life lasts"