A prayer tree has been planted in church. If you would like us to pray for any person or situation please write on a leaf and hang on the tree. If you cannot attend church you can hang a virtual leaf on the tree by clicking on the leaf button at the bottom of the home page to complete a contact form. All requests will be prayed for by a member of the prayer team each week.
Thursday 27th May Mass 10.00am
Sunday 30th May Parish Mass 9.30am
Special PCC meeting with the Archdeacon
When will “Freedom Day” arrive? The headlines of some of the newspapers show that many people are eagerly awaiting June 21st as a day when our country can proclaim freedom once again. This freedom, of course, would be from all the rules that have been imposed to keep the coronavirus under some kind of control. There are now some reasons to doubt that there will be any dramatic change by that date. All the same, there are still a great many people who would see the end of face coverings and social distancing as a freedom that cannot come soon enough.
Today the Church celebrates a freedom that is of a different kind. We hear in the Acts of the Apostles about the way in which the apostles, who had previously been hiding away from the world, were once again free to proclaim with confidence the love of Christ. No longer confined within the same four walls, they went everywhere, proclaiming the good news that Christ is risen. What’s more, they even broke down the language barriers that prevented people from understanding the message. In fact, it was not they who were breaking down those walls, but it was the work of the Holy Spirit - the fire of God’s love.
When they were set free by the gift of the Holy Spirit, these people who proclaimed and received the message, would no longer be bound by the constraints of an old law. The Law had been brought to its fulfilment through Jesus and now everyone who was baptised in his name would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. They would live by the law of God’s love. St Augustine said that it is love alone that separates the children of God from the children of the devil. He even went as far as to say: “Love and do as you will.” When we are born of the Spirit, we are born to love and the power to love is the gift of the Spirit.
For Christians, freedom also means that we are released from the power that sin and death hold over us. St Paul names two sets of contrasting types of behaviour. He lists such things as factions, quarrels and envy alongside other tendencies that arise from a lack of self-control. When we put our own selves at the centre of everything and when we are only concerned with indulging our own desires, then these are the kinds of behaviour that bubble up to the surface. What people witness is something deeply unattractive. The other list is of those attributes that Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit”, the first of which are: love, joy and peace. These are the things that flow naturally from a life of faith and which arise from the gift of the Holy Spirit. What a huge difference there is between these two ways of living!
So, true freedom is not about self-indulgence. The Holy Spirit witnesses to the presence of Jesus himself. What we see in Jesus is not the glorification of his human self, but the glory of God. In the gospel passage today, Jesus is promising to send the Spirit of truth to lead us into complete truth. At an earlier stage in St John’s gospel, in Chapter 8, verse 32, Jesus said: “The truth will set you free.” If it is true freedom that we long for, then let us pray this Pentecost that the anointing Spirit may be poured out on us once more.
There is only so much we can accomplish in human strength and we are limited by our own shortcomings. That fruit of the Spirit of which St Paul spoke can only be brought about by the gift we celebrate at Pentecost – the fire of love that descended upon the first apostles. This is what makes all the difference, perfecting within us those things we could otherwise never achieve. A life of genuine faith will yield fruit, but we need to be open to what God is freely offering. People can see the difference this makes to the lives of those who believe. As the first apostles found, the barriers between people are removed and you don’t even have to share the same language, because the Holy Spirit speaks the universal language of God’s love.
The Swiss theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, shared the insight that we don’t have to conform to a particular culture to be a Christian. We only have to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit through our baptism and live in the freedom of that gift. Then others too will recognise and want to receive this gift for themselves. As von Balthasar says: “The fruits of the Spirit are tasty in anyone’s mouth”.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Forthcoming Services are:-
Thursday 20th May 10.00am
Sunday 23rd May 9.30am
APCM 18th May 2021 7.00pm followed by PCCM
PCC MAP Group 24th May 2021 7.00pm
Sermon Easter 7
Jesus, as he prays to his heavenly Father on behalf of his disciples, says: “They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.” That same sentence would apply to anyone who follows Jesus.
We might think: “Well, I do belong to the world, and it is the only world I have known.” Also, we may be quite attached to the world in various ways. After all, it is a beautiful place. As Louis Armstrong sang: “I say to myself, what a wonderful world.” It is the world of God’s creation and it is given for us to enjoy. There is so much to see and so many experiences to be had.
For all that, it is a world that is scarred in various ways, by violence and disease. The violence in the Holy Land is a crying shame. The effects of a year of Covid are tragic too. The world is also a place of exploitation where some people make themselves very rich at the expense of others. The resources of the world are being depleted, oceans are being polluted and carbon poured into the atmosphere. The results are all too clear. Humanity has not lived up to its calling to be the steward of God’s creation. So, it is a wonderful world from the point of view of creation and natural beauty, but it is a far from perfect place on account of natural disaster and human failure.
To all of this, God’s response is not to wipe away what he has created. Instead, we have a different approach. Earlier on in St John’s gospel, in Chapter 3, verse 17, Jesus says:
“Indeed, God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
So, God does not hate his own creation - including humanity - but intends to redeem it. For this reason, Jesus was born for us, died for us and was raised to new life for us.
Even so, Jesus tells us that he does not belong to the world. By this he means that he does not subscribe to the values of this world. When Jesus stood before the Roman governor, he told him that his was not a kingdom of this world. He did not come to rule over others or to crush his opponents. He came so that the kingdom of God might begin to transform the injustice and the cruelty of this world. In the end he would reign over all, but his kingdom would be one of justice and peace.
In the same way, all who follow Jesus are sharers in the kingdom of God. Whilst living very much in this world, there is a different law to follow and a different value system written on our hearts. In the first letter of St John, we are told that if we love one another, then God lives in us and his love will be complete in us. This way of living is one which is unmistakably different from that which arises from following the ways of a world in which selfishness and the lust for power are all too obvious. People can tell whether or not our faith is genuine. If we profess the faith with our lips, but live as if it made no difference to our lives, then it will make no difference to anyone else either.
Jesus, because he lived by a different set of values, came up against vested interests. The people with power closed ranks against him. Yet, he found the strength and inspiration to follow a different and greater path. Anyone who lives by the values Jesus taught will feel a pull from the opposite direction. Through all this we have a strength and inspiration to draw upon and this does not originate from our world but from its Creator.
As we are just a week away from Pentecost Sunday, we are reminded of the gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift received by all who are baptised. The Holy Spirit of God breathes new life into our mortal bodies. We are no longer subject to a law that corrupts, but we live by a higher and greater law based on the perfection of love. The things of this world come to an end, but we are citizens, through faith, of an everlasting kingdom.
Services this coming week are:-
Thursday 6th May The Ascension of the Lord Mass 10.00am
Sunday 9th May Holy Communion 9.30am
Final notice is given of the following meetings:-
APCM Tuesday 18th May at 7.00pm
PCC Tuesday 18th May immediately following the APCM.
Thy Kingdom Come (Novena of Prayer): Between Ascension and Pentecost we keep a special time of prayer for the church. You can obtain resources through the Diocesan web-site.
Sermon Easter 6
Jesus says: “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
Friendship is a wonderful thing. Even at the best of times, it is important to have friendships, but over the past year it has surely been even more vital for our emotional and psychological flourishing. True friendship is a bond that lasts the test of time and that grows through adversity. When we hear Jesus speak of friendship, it is closely linked to what he has to say about love. Jesus invites us to enter into a relationship which is the extension of that loving connection of Jesus with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Of course, that love and that friendship must be more than mere talk and more than just an ideal. When we learn to love God, we find a deepening desire to live by what Jesus has taught us, bringing to life the ancient commandments of God. The Holy Spirit inspires us to live by what we believe.
So we discover that the love of God is not something exclusive, but that God is prepared to come and meet us where we are, willing us to find a love that can never let us down. After all, Jesus held nothing back for those he loved:
“A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.”
The life of Jesus was laid down for us and by taking it up again, he invites us into a friendship that will outlast anything the world may throw in our direction.
There is a lovely story about St Teresa of Avila, a Spanish mystic and reformer of the religious life in the sixteenth century. During one of her last journeys to Burgos to found another convent, she was obliged to undertake it during a period of weather so severe she had been advised not to proceed. However, convinced of her mission, she and her sisters suffered the wet and freezing temperatures, frequently having to drag the carriages out of the mud and reciting the Creed to keep up their spirits.
Teresa understood hardship, but she was ill and this experience aroused real fears for their survival. After eventually struggling to safety Teresa complained bitterly to God that doing his will cost her so much. God is said to have replied: “But Theresa, this is how I treat my friends. To which Teresa replied: “Yes, my Lord, and that is why you have so few of them.”
Well, true friendship can be costly and not everyone is prepared to make that sacrifice. We see just how much Our Lord’s friendship with us cost him in that he did indeed lay down his life for us. There are no short-cuts, but what costs us in terms of our struggles is infinitely repaid because we come to share in a relationship through which we find a perfect love and a life that has no more endings.
Jesus did not invite his followers to enter into a business partnership with him. There is nothing cold or transactional about our friendship with God. He does not bark commandments down to us from on high, but is here with us in our life experiences and struggles, sharing our joys and our sorrows and restoring our hope and our life.
Today Jesus makes clear to us that we should no longer regard ourselves as his servants who know nothing of our master’s affairs. Instead, we are invited to become friends who are intimately acquainted with God’s thoughts and desires for the world. This relationship is not passive, but a dynamic one, involving action. This is where I think many on the fringe of the Church can miss the point. It’s not about signing up to a rather dull list of do’s and don’ts so that in turn you might get special protection for your efforts. Friendship with Christ does not promise an easy life, but becoming God’s friend means that we grow to see things with his eyes, to care in the way that he cares and to love in the way that he loves.
Services this coming week are:-
Thursday 6th May Feria 10.00am
Sunday 9th May Communion 9.30am
Notice is given of the following meetings:-
APCM Tuesday 18th May at 7.00pm
PCC Tuesday 18th May immediately following the APCM.
Sermon Easter 5
“Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing.”
Jesus speaks to his disciples about how important it is to stay connected. Being in touch is important for everyone. Nowadays of course, a big part of being connected is through the internet. It can’t replace direct contact, but it has certainly made life more bearable for many over the past year and in some cases has been a lifeline. I don’t know where I would have been over the past twelve months without Facetime – being able to see family members and speak to them. In the most extreme cases this has enabled people to be in touch with loved ones when they could not be with them in person at the last. Being completely cut off at such times would have been unthinkable.
When Jesus urged his disciples to stay connected with him, it was long before the days of the internet. He speaks of a deeper and more lasting connection that flows from the intimate communion that Jesus shared with the Father. Because this mystery is difficult to explain, Jesus used familiar imagery – that of vine husbandry. We might not be very familiar with it ourselves, any more than we are with sheep and shepherding, but the idea is not so hard to grasp. Vines produce fruit, but not all the branches are fruitful. This is where pruning comes in, to help the vine to focus its energy on those places that are bearing fruit. Remaining connected to the vine is of course vital, because as Jesus tells us, branches that are no longer in touch with the vine itself will soon wither and die.
For Christians, the life of prayer is what provides sustenance and strength, not just when life is good, but especially through the hard times, when we cannot rely on our own strength alone. For many, this has been a barren year and the usual sources of happiness have not always been on tap. It is at times like this that we can discover just how much we need the strength and the life that God alone can give. If we allow ourselves to be nourished on word and sacrament, then we remain connected to, and receive from, the living God. The vine is Christ himself and we are the branches. From our baptism flows a grace that fills our lives and accomplishes within us those things that we could never do alone.
The disciples of Jesus are called to bear fruit. This means that we do not live for ourselves alone, but that we produce goodness for our world. We can only be sure of this if we live out the faith we have received. In the first letter of St John, we hear:
“Whoever keeps his commandments lives in God and God lives in him. We know that he lives in us by the Spirit that he has given us.”
If, like me, you enjoy a handful of grapes, or even more so, a glass or two of wine, you might not think much about where it has come from. But if it tastes good, you can be sure that a lot of time and skill has gone into producing it. Providing nutrients through good soil, ensuring that there is enough warmth and light – and then pruning – all these things encourage growth and fruitfulness. All this comes as a reminder for us not to forget the source of our own growth and flourishing.
And let’s not shy away from the pruning imagery either. As Jesus says, the fruitful branches are pruned to produce even more growth. Gardeners know all about that. Not all of our life and energy is always being used in the best way. God helps us to see our priorities – what we really need, so to live a good and fruitful life - and what we need to let go of. This past year has helped me and perhaps you too to see what is good and life-giving and what it was that was drawing our energy away.
At Pentecost we shall be reminded of the good fruit that is produced by a genuine life of faith. As St Paul tells us, the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When that fruit is produced by faithful Christians – the branches of the vine – then the world is a better place for it and others will want to experience that life for themselves.
Let’s ensure that we are a living as part of that vineyard of the Church. Above all else, as branches, let’s be sure to remain connected to the vine which is Christ, drawing life from him. If we do this we shall be sure to bear fruit and then, as Jesus himself says in today’s gospel, we shall know that we really are his disciples. The life we draw is not limited to this world alone. Christ our Lord, who has overcome death, transmits to us that life which is eternal.
If we think it is important to keep our internet connection, let’s remember just how much more life-giving it is to remain a part of the vine, in connection to the living and eternal God.
N.B. There will be no mid-week service this Thursday (29th April).
Sermon Easter 4
At this time of year we hear quite a lot about sheep in the Gospel according to St John. I didn’t grow up in the countryside, so I know very little about sheep. The only one I know is Shaun the Sheep. I don’t know whether you are familiar with him too, but it turns out that sheep are not as dim as we might think, especially Shaun. He is brighter than his companions and he runs rings around the dog who is supposed to keep the sheep in order. He also runs rings round the farmer. It is perhaps a good thing that the farmer doesn’t know the half of what goes on in his farmyard when his back is turned. In the movie I saw a few years ago Shaun leads his fellow sheep and the farmer as well into the unknown territory of a city and even though they are county folk, they devise some wonderful methods of survival before managing to get back to the more familiar and comforting territory of the farm.
The thing about those sheep is that they don’t really need a member of another species- a human being- to guide them. They have one of their own who can do it perfectly well. When St John’s Gospel speaks about sheep it is speaking of the flock that is God’s faithful people and of the shepherd that is Christ. He does not belong to another species, but he is one of us. Jesus appeared in human flesh, but this was not just a trick of the light. In this person we see someone who is every bit as human as we are. He became the shepherd of God’s people. This was not because he was cleverer than we are. It is true that Jesus impressed people with his knowledge from a young age, but cleverness is not the point about Jesus. He is our shepherd because of his deep and intimate communion with the one he called his Father and because of his compassion for us.
Shaun the Sheep and his companions were intent on saving their own skins and getting back to safety through a variety of entertaining escapades. If that is the instinct that sheep have then we could say the same about human beings. Survival seems paramount and so does the safeguarding of our own interests. But what Jesus revealed to his disciples was that he was the shepherd who loved his flock to such an extent that he was prepared to stand in the way of danger for them. He was ready and willing to give up his life for the sake of those he cared about. When the time of reckoning came, he was quite clear that he would not run away. He gives them the image of the hired hand who professes to care but who, when it comes to the crunch, will abandon the flock in order to save his own bacon. For Jesus, there was to be no by-passing of the Cross. From his point of view this wasn’t just a sad and unexpected ending to the life of a good man, but the choice he himself had made; a sacrifice out of which would flow new and everlasting life.
The world in which we live is often governed by self-interest. This can be true of those who lead as well as those who follow. Sacrifice of any kind can be a rare quality, sometimes seen as inspiring and sometimes as foolish. But the sacrifice Jesus made was consistent with his entire life: a life of compassion, truthfulness and integrity. He is the one who can, in all humility, call himself the Good Shepherd. He can claim the loyalty of those who make the choice to follow his way… the way that leads to the fullness of life. None of this would have made any sense at all if Jesus had not been raised out of death into newness of life. Jesus spoke about his life, saying: “No one takes it from me; I lay it down of my own free will, and as it is in my power to lay it down, so it is in my power to take it up again...” By reclaiming his own life, he invited believers to follow him so that they themselves can discover a life that is complete.
Whether we lead or whether we follow, the Good Shepherd is our model for the kind of care and love that God calls us to show to one another. Christians – disciples of Jesus – do not live for themselves alone but look to the needs of others. In this we unite ourselves with the Good Shepherd himself, who walks with us across the hills and valleys of human experience and brings us to safe pasture. Let’s listen to his voice through the words of the Bible and through our prayers; let’s be nourished by the sacraments; and let us then follow him and live as he showed us, as he leads us along the path of eternal life.
Forthcoming Services are as follows:
Thursday 22nd April 10am Feria at Eastertide
Sunday 25th April 9.30am Parish Mass
Please be aware Services are still socially distanced, masks are required and congregational singing is still not permitted.
Sermon: Third Sunday of Easter
One of the things about getting older, as I have discovered, is that our faces and our bodies tell something about the story of our lives. Childhood scars tell the story of mishaps. Then there may be the traces of surgical procedures. On top of that there are laughter lines and frown lines. Maybe if I had more money than sense - as we say in Yorkshire - I might be tempted to visit a plastic surgeon who would make me look a decade or two younger than I am. Instead, I tell myself that the marks we bear on our faces and bodies are the reminder of an authentic life story. We are who we are, with all our memories and experiences – all those things that make us real and that give us a personal history.
The earthly life of Jesus was shorter than I have already lived, but the marks on his body tell a remarkable story. When Jesus appeared to his disciples, as we hear in St Luke’s gospel today, there was no filling in or airbrushing out of the wounds that he bore:
“Look at my hands and feet; yes, it is I indeed. Touch me and see; a ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have.”
When the disciples first saw Jesus, they were terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost. But there was nothing insubstantial about his appearance. The man who stood before them was the man in whose earthly life they had shared. Now, once again, he stood there and, as we heard last week, said: “Peace be with you”. Once they recognised Jesus for who he really was, the doubts and agitation that had risen in their hearts were overtaken by an incredible joy. It was the Lord.
Jesus, when he appeared again to his disciples, explained the real meaning of the Scriptures to them, just as he had to done on the Road to Emmaus. It was only through understanding the message of sacrificial love and the deliverance of God’s people that the death of Christ made any sense to the troubled disciples. God knows that we are not capable of rescuing ourselves from the snares of human folly and certainly not capable of overcoming the power of death. Therefore, through Jesus, God accomplishes these things and opens up for us the way to new and everlasting life.
The thing about Christianity is that it is an embodied faith and the Incarnation is central to our understanding of who Jesus really is – truly God and truly human. It is not just abstract and spiritual, but something that makes a real and physical difference to our lives on earth.
The man who stood in the presence of his amazed disciples was the same Jesus that they had known, but now he was no longer living within earthly boundaries. He has been set free from all earthly limits and above all, from the power of death. As Mary Magdalene discovered, Jesus was not someone to cling to like an earthly possession, but someone whose life was to be shared – and Jesus himself poured out his life unselfishly and completely. He calls his disciples -each and every one of us – to share his life and to give of ourselves in his service.
For us, being Christians does not mean losing our humanity. Far from it. Jesus was just as real when risen as he was when he first became known to his disciples in Galilee. In the same way, God does not expect us to play a part but to be transformed by a life of grace. It means coming before God as we really are, with our life history, and with our faults as well as our gifts. We still bear he wounds of the lives we have lived and our history is not wiped away. As Rowan Williams points out, the Resurrection does not mean that Jesus was un-crucified, but that he was raised to new life.
In the same way, when we become Christians, our lives are not rewound as though we could start over from the beginning. As Rowan Williams puts it, “The gospel will not ever tell us that we are innocent, but it will tell us we are loved… Grace will remake us but not undo. There is all the difference between Christ un-crucified and Christ risen.”
All we have to do is to bring ourselves and our life story into the presence of Jesus. Through the gospels the words of Jesus come to life in us and we understand just as we ourselves are understood. We share the presence of Christ in the Sacrament and his love takes shape in our lives. In this way, the risen life of Jesus is something into which we ourselves are incorporated as sons and daughters of the eternal Father. By the grace of God, may we live that life always.
“Peace be with you.” Those are the very first words we hear Jesus speak to his disciples as he appears to them in the room where they were locked away for safety. The greeting “peace be with you” is not really familiar in our culture, but it is used frequently by people in church services. We wish one another peace because we know that this is God’s will for us. Normally the greeting would be accompanied by a handshake or even a brief hug, but in these days of limited contact, we have had to make it a more socially-distanced greeting.
The word used in the original Greek New Testament is “eirhnh” (érené), from which the name Irene comes. Even so, Jesus being a Hebrew, would probably have used the word “Shalom”. For the people of Israel, this is not just what we understand by peace, which is probably tranquillity or an end to war. It has a wider meaning of wholeness or completeness and it would also be used as a greeting for “hello” and “goodbye”. Jesus is bestowing a peace upon his disciples such as the world cannot give – a peace that would bring wholeness of spirit and bind together a scarred, divided and fearful community.
Our peace has been disturbed over the past year or more. As individuals and as a society we have been thrown into unfamiliar circumstances. Some of the comforts we usually enjoy, such as social contact, sitting in a café, going to a football match, relaxed and lively worship – all these things have been suspended. In times like this the world can seem an unfamiliar and disturbing place. Perhaps we can feel at least a certain identification with the disciples who could no longer go about freely, whose lives were in danger and whose hope had been shattered. It seemed that getting to know Jesus had not brought them in the end to a place of peace.
But now they meet Jesus again and he breathes upon them the Holy Spirit, the bringer of peace and unity – the Spirit of courage - inspiring enthusiasm and a sense of belonging. The life Jesus lived on earth was not really filled with the kind of peace that we would normally recognise. He was frequently in conflict with the religious authorities and his life ended in dreadful violence and suffering. His followers were scattered and afraid. But through all of this, Jesus maintained an inner peace that could only come about through deep communion with the Father. The peace of God really is a peace that the world cannot give. As Rowan Williams writes in his book “The Truce of God”:
“He is ‘at peace’ with the Father because he is aware that nothing can sever his anchorage in this root of his existence.”
Jesus is anchored in that relationship of true and perfect peace and wants us to share in it. Just as no worldly events or powers could uproot Jesus from that relationship of peace, if we ourselves put down our own anchor in that place, the waves cannot overwhelm us. We may not see Jesus in the way that Thomas and the other disciples did, but we can recognise the presence of Jesus through our worship and in our relationships. In Holy Communion we participate in the sharing of the Body of Christ, who stands among us and speaks to our heart: “Peace be with you.” Yes, happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.
One of my favourite prayers is the second collect for evening prayer in the Book of Common Prayer, and I would like to share it with you now:
O GOD, from whom all holy desires,
all good counsels, and all just works do proceed;
Give unto thy servants that peace
which the world cannot give;
that our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments,
and also that by thee, we,
being defended from the fear of our enemies,
may pass our time in rest and quietness;
through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
Jesus came and stood among his disciples and he stands among us now, saying: “Peace be with you”.
There will be no mid-week service this week.
The next service is on Sunday 18th April at 9.30am.
“What we call the beginning is often the end
and to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.” (Little Gidding, T S Eliot)
At the Easter Vigil, Christ is proclaimed as the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega. It is Christ who is the human face of the creator God, who heals our memories, forgives our sins and raises us from death to new life.
Today we begin our story at the end. There is perhaps no clearer image of an ending than a tomb. Mary of Magdala arrives to pay her respects and to spend time with her personal grief. The life story of Jesus is at an end and the shared experiences of the disciples now seemed to be in the past. All they were left with was their loss, their sadness and their memories.
And yet, on that morning of the first day of the week, nothing was as expected. Mary is confronted by a stone rolled away and a tomb that was empty. The body of Jesus was no longer there. She runs to tell the others, not filled with a sense of joy, but shocked and distraught. As far as she knew, his body had been taken away.
In the same way, Peter and the other disciple are confronted by a puzzling scene. We are told that only Simon Peter went into the tomb and there found the grave clothes. The cloth that had been placed around the head of Jesus was not just dumped on the ground, but we are told that it was rolled up in a place by itself. Of itself, there is nothing about this scene that might have convinced the disciples that Jesus was risen. Even so, John’s gospel tells us:
“Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in; he saw and he believed. Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”
Something about that scene stirred their memories and brought home to them what Jesus had taught them. Somehow in that moment that same teaching seemed to fit with the stories they had heard related to them through Scripture: the story of our salvation.
This was a turning point and a new beginning. Throughout these days of Easter we hear stories of how various different people become aware of the presence of the risen Lord. In every case it was unexpected and it marked a new beginning, both in their way of seeing things and in their way of living.
So where do we begin with our own story? It seems that in various ways we begin with an ending. A lot of things have seemed to come to an end over this past twelve months. All too many have died and many people are left mourning their loss. Even without the experience of physical death, there have been other kinds of endings: jobs lost, opportunities that have had to be laid to rest and plans that have not come to fruition. Some things may never come back and some changes may be lasting ones.
Easter does not bring some kind of fairy-tale happy ending, but it does hold out the prospect of a new beginning. The first disciples would carry with them their story of grief and loss, mingled with memories of their own failure and sinfulness. But life was no longer the same. The Lord had risen and was breathing new life into the sad stories of his disciples. No longer were they prisoners of the past, wallowing in grief and in guilt. Jesus was with them and was calling them to follow him into a future of hope and of lasting joy.
This is not just a story of events long ago, because it is our story too. Wherever there are endings, the risen life of Christ brings new beginnings. All time belongs to him and nothing in this world can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. In the words of T S Eliot again:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And at the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And to know the place for the first time.”
The disciples began again where they started, but this time they knew and understood, they saw and they believed. This, my brothers and sisters, is a journey of discovery on which we are called to follow in the way of Jesus. Happy Easter!
Palm Sunday Sermon
“A murderer they save, the Prince of Life they slay”: words from one of my favourite Passiontide hymns, “My song is love unknown”. As was the custom at Passover, a prisoner was released. It could have been Jesus, but the crowd called for Barabbas. Ironically, the name Barabbas in Hebrew means, “Son of the Father.” The insurrectionist was released and the real Son of the Father, Jesus, was condemned to die.
The Passion reading we have just heard from Mark’s gospel turns all conventional wisdom on its head. So does the Gospel passage we heard at the beginning of Mass. The one who is acclaimed as king enters Jerusalem in humility, riding on a donkey, as the prophet Zecharia had once prophesied.
The crowds were enthusiastic in their welcome, but we hear in the Passion reading how that same welcoming crowd ended up shouting for the blood of Jesus. Human nature is fickle. We see examples all the time in the news of people who once were the flavour of the month becoming objects of derision. Jesus was spared none of that and neither did he expect to be.
“Not to be served but to serve”, in the words of another much-loved hymn, “The servant King”. Through Holy Week we are reminded of the humility of this King. The washing of feet cannot take place this year on Maundy Thursday, but the reminder is there in the gospel. On Good Friday, we see Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate and refusing to defend himself, other than to testify to the truth.
Jesus is exalted, but on earth that exaltation would come through being lifted up on a Cross. Through the crucifixion, which was intended to be a sign of shame, we see human dignity in its purest form. In the distorted, mocking symbolism of the crown of thorns, we see kingship as it really is. Through the death of Jesus, we see the power of sin and death being overturned. The love of God conquers all things.
This week is central to our faith. We see the real purpose of the ministry of Jesus and the true nature of God. Whereas the love of human beings is fickle, the love of God is constant and unconditional. Through the outpouring of God’s love from the Cross, we can be sure that in every trial we face, God will never desert us. This week I pray that our participation in the liturgical events of Holy Week will lead us into a deeper knowledge of God’s love and a stronger desire to reflect that same love in our lives.
I am a rather old Saint.