Sunday, July 5, 2020

Come unto me

One of the major themes of the Bible is that of "returning". We see it perhaps most vividly in the return of the exiles from Babylon back to Jerusalem. The imagery painted by the prophetic words of both Isaiah and Jeremiah provide us with a treasure trove of descriptive language which explores to the full, the depth of feeling and emotion which is being experienced as the joy and elation of what God has done for his people is articulated. This sense of homecoming is one which we all experience at some stage, the return home from a holiday being just one example. But it is one which plays out those same themes which the prophets were so compelled to deliver. The opening of the eyes of the blind, the restoration of the whole person, the bringing of the good news, these are the realities which were central to what God, through the prophets, would achieve as a result.

Jesus understood that a renewed homecoming was now necessary. The people were once more under the captive hand of an occupation which went further than a simple physical one. He saw that the hearts, and minds, the very souls of the people he lived amongst, were bound up in a such a way that their understanding of the love of God was becoming distorted and distant, functional and
peremptory, and he wanted to liberate them from the internal exile which they were now living. So he began by proclaiming that the message which Isaiah had delivered all those years before regarding the Spirit of the Lord, was now his role. He was the anointed one who was to bring the good news to the afflicted, to soothe the broken hearted, to liberate the captive and that this mission was the "return" to the Father through the inauguration of "the kingdom of God" not as a imposition of power and authority which kept people oppressed, but as a liberation of God's love which lifted people up and restored their dignity and respect. He saw how through the poor in spirit, the pure of heart, the peace makers, the merciful, the seekers of justice, the meek, that the blessedness of God would be a light to open peoples' eyes to the path which restored broken hearts and established true liberty and freedom.

Today's gospel in which Jesus calls us all to return and to come to him is a message that resounds in our hearts today. We are all captives in one sense, bound by all sorts of things which inhibit and restrain us. It is only when we come to him and let him shoulder the yoke, that we find the load lightened. Thankfully we are today taking our first steps towards our restoration. Our Churches are opening and we are once more able to receive the sacrament of love which so restores us and lifts us up.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Amen to that.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Eucharist - giving thanks.

So now we have a date. As from 4 July our Churches will be open once more for the public celebration of the Eucharist.

I think that this is how it should be addressed - as eucharist, a word which we know means thanksgiving - and that it is in the spirit of thanksgiving that we should approach this moment. There remains much preparation for us in our three parishes to do in terms of practicalities and organisation in order that we get our Churches ready, but we must also ensure that our mindset in all of this is a eucharistic one so that when the day arrives we are truly ready for what we are to receive.  If we look at the moment when the first eucharist was celebrated (and here I am referring to the account of St Luke of the disciples on the road to Emmaus) we can perhaps gain a glimpse of how this momentous event can be experienced.

As we look at those two disciples gathered around the table we can recognise certain characteristics which we ourselves might have felt over these last 12 weeks. What do I mean? Certainly isolation for one. They had taken themselves away from their friends on account of their feelings of fear and we have all had to isolate to some extent. They were also filled with a deep sense of sadness as they mourned the loss of Jesus. Many people sadly have suffered similarly, through the loss of a loved one. They argued about the state of their changed situation in the light of what had happened, and no doubt there have been arguments and discussions over the rights and wrongs of the changes we have experienced. All in all, their state of mind, was deeply confused, about the present, and about the future. Both their hearts and minds could simply not rationalise what had happened.

In the midst of all this puzzlement, without fanfare, Jesus has come alongside them. Notice that this coming alongside happens not at the end of all their discussion and arguing, but within its very midst. Jesus listens but says nothing until they have professed the whole of the story once more to him, including their own doubts and questions. It is only then, after they have described to him the facts of the empty tomb, that he begins to unfold the reality of the mystery which they have lived through and related to him. Yet having done so, strangely Jesus now makes as if to go on. How so?

I think this is a vital moment in the story, because it is the start, a moment, the beginning of their becoming enlightened. The onus moves back onto them. Do they let the stranger go or what?   Falteringly at first, they realise they want him to stay and they express this desire : it's late, almost evening. Then more ardently comes their plea  the day is almost over, as if subconsciously they knew that if they allow this moment to pass, something vital would always thereafter remain incomplete. So it is in the breaking of the bread that their eyes are opened and their pathway becomes clear. Their confusion is gone. Their present is secured, and their future made manifest before them. Jesus is risen and lives amongst us.

As we begin to return to the mass, his living presence in both word and sacrament, let it be with this sense of eucharist or thanksgiving in our hearts, so what we receive becomes a living flame burning within us and enlightening our path.

We celebrate this day the solemnity of Sts Peter and St Paul remembering the great witness that they gave as apostles. May their example of discipleship inspire us all at this time.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Around the Table

I'm sure all of us are wondering when is it going to end? Ninety-two days and counting since lockdown began and although some of our Churches are looking to open up for private prayer, the thing we want most of all still seems a long way off.  For most of us the heartbeat of our week is the gathering together around the table to celebrate and receive the Eucharist - without it, we feel empty. I have no problem with the watching of streamed masses, but it is no substitute. I feel sorry for our priests, as I'm sure that they too feel the disconnect as well. I hear people saying amusingly that "I've been to Mass this morning in Walsingham!" and I wonder what does all this mean when the essential element for us as participants, is actually being there.

Siger Koder - Closeness
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ and how strange a celebration it will be.  In the gospel we hear Jesus saying to us: if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you will not have life in you and we wonder how are we to listen and understand him in this current situation? I suppose we have to realise just how fortunate we have been for all of our lives, to be able to partake of this food on a daily basis. We think of so many of our fellow catholic brothers and sisters for whom the abundance of our experience of the eucharist is so different from theirs. If the word eucharist which means thanksgiving, really does strike that chord, then it is perhaps required of us to remember our communion with them especially this day, as we pass through this lockdown desert of our own.

So the challenge for us is to educate ourselves as to where this experience is going to take us. It is interesting that the gospel we read today is not the familiar one from the Last Supper, in which we hear the words of institution. Today instead we listen to those words in a different context altogether.

The bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world

Jesus speaks these words after having been with people in a wilderness, a desert. A place of exile where food and shelter are scarce. Where resources and the means to acquire them are hard to come by and where the desperate and the needy are searching and looking for meaning and healing. Jesus tells them: it is here, in this space, in the mess of all our mistakes and wrong choices, and in the midst of our selfish desires. This is where the word becomes flesh and lives amongst us, combining to both nourish and nurture us. Jesus brings this word into our own locked-down environment so that we can share and exchange its wealth of meaning, its love in our own situations. The word made flesh comes out of the Upper Room and begins to flourish in these spaces, around our tables, in our homes, and it brings us life in his presence. We are called to pass it on, in spite of our current difficulties, because as he says anyone who eats this bread will live forever. 

As a memorial, let us decorate our tables at home this Sunday, and light a candle, and before we begin our meal, pray for the food of life, that is our real food and our real drink.

Happy Corpus Christi


Sunday, June 7, 2020

Trinity Sunday - Three into One

It is a very sobering thought that last week, the number of deaths in the UK from Covid 19 has now passed 40,000. The combined population of Aspley, Bilborough and Wollaton, the area which our parishes serve is just over 60,000.  Looking at the figure of 40,000 deaths in that light is quite alarming. Of course statistically speaking, the comparison is not perhaps a helpful one, but what it does do is to focus our minds on the reality that every death is a real tragedy for the families involved, and we should pray and keep in our thoughts all who are suffering and trying to come to terms with the loss they have suffered. We are only too aware how easily this number can quickly become a statistic on a page and the lives of people they refer to overlooked. As we celebrate Trinity Sunday, how does our faith help us to cope?

Stronghold S Koder
I think the only way that we can do this is by understanding the Trinity not as some sort of statistical mystery which remains unfathomable to us, but by listening to the words and teaching of Jesus and seeing that by his life and death and resurrection, the reality of the Trinity unfolds for each one of us as a living out of a relationship of love. A love that connects us to each other. A love that reaches out to each other. A love that is experienced through each other. The Gospel of John speaks about  the relationship of Jesus with his Father in ways which define this love. Right from the beginning of the gospel in the Prologue, we are told that the love between Father and Son is characterised by fulness. It is a concept which the evangelist will use on several occasions to express how through this fulness, we too are brought into this relationship. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son... is one of the most telling and illuminating sentences in the New Testament, because it opens up the essential heart of the Trinity as pure gift to humanity. Nothing will be withheld or withdrawn. Nothing will remain secret or hidden. Nothing will be excluded or denied. Of his fulness we have received one gift replacing another... grace and truth come through Jesus Christ. This love is constant, replete and without end, because as Jesus told the disciples, the Father will send the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is this love. A love which is poured out in its fulness, upon us all, animating and enabling us to share all the relational love that flows between Father, Son and Spirit in the Trinity, and which is now made manifest through Christ's Body the Church, of which we are the active members. No-one is therefore overlooked or ignored. No-one remains lost or forgotten. No-one is orphaned or abandoned. No-one, in other words, is a mere statistic.

So let us pray on this Trinity Sunday for all those who have died as a result of the virus. Let us commend them to the God, who in the fulness of time, brings them to himself. Let us pray for the families who grieve and let us remember the love that was, and continues to be outpoured, as the example par excellence of the Trinity living and moving in this place.


Sunday, May 31, 2020

Pentecost Sunday - The Language of the Spirit

How was it that all those people in Jerusalem from so many different countries, were able to hear words spoken in their own language? Is there then a universal language? I believe that the answer is of course yes, there is a universal language but it is not necessarily the language of words that we are so accustomed to. No, the universal language to which I am referring is the language of God’s love, which is celebrated on this Pentecost day.

When you study the gospels what strikes you most clearly about Jesus is the overwhelming capacity that he has to love. It is not just a love directed towards his friends either, as he loves even those who despise and hate him. This is demonstrated most notably during the last two days of his life. If we want to know the power of God’s love, then it is to these last two days that we should go. Looking at them from our own perspective challenges us to the core. We are sometimes so unwilling and so unable to show our love that we cannot grasp the immensity of the love that Jesus shows to us. Knowing the trauma that is about to engulf him, Jesus tells the disciples in the intimacy of the Last Supper, that the Spirit will come to remind you of everything I have said to you.  

As the current pandemic so dramatically shows, we know that circumstances change with great suddenness. Situations arise and conditions are created which impact on us very often in ways that sometimes seem unfathomable. We want answers and solutions that orientate us and provide us with certainty and security. It is often in the sphere of personal dilemmas that these changes have their most disturbing effects: sudden illness, bereavement, marital breakdown, loss of employment. All of these events lead to a questioning of what is happening and why? Suddenly our certainty has been wrenched aside and we feel cast away, drifting and unsure of our compass. Where do we look and turn to recover? 

By sending the Spirit, we have been given the pathway to hope and the language that we speak as we walk that pathway is the language of God’s love. This pathway doesn’t have a ring road or a bye pass that circumvents the problems as described above. The reality of these traumas are not diminished or reduced, but we know that the Spirit reminds us of what Jesus has told us, and we set the standard of our care for each other as that which Jesus himself called us to copy, when he washed our feet. It is with this sacrificial, sacramental love that the Spirit proceeds. We are to shape our application of this love to both the everyday problems that confront us as well as the pressing global issues that impact on us. It is through the Spirit that we respond to the call to minister this sacramental love. Each one of us has a sphere of influence, no matter how small or insignificant we may feel that it is, and even if we feel that our contribution is negligible, we may be unaware of what the Spirit achieves through our small acts of reconciliation, of encouragement, of support and of consolation. The language of the Spirit is ever growing, ever changing to meet the needs of our generation, to provide us with insight into understanding the needs of others and the pressures and anxieties that we all face. The image of dazed and stunned men and women stumbling out of that Upper Room into the glare of a Jerusalem sky and proclaiming the message of a crucified yet risen saviour seems incongruous and yet the language of the Spirit, in all its incongruity still fills the whole world and in doing continues to renew and change it.       

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Let us pray

Nine weeks into lockdown - when will it be over? Sadly no time soon. I think it's likely to go on for a few weeks yet and so it's important that we continue to support and look out for one another, and for us as Christians in the present circumstances, the best way we can achieve this is by continuing to offer up our prayer.

The readings from Mass today have that theme of prayer as the elemental reality of our calling. In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles St Luke specifically relates that the apostles, along with several woman including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers, were praying continuously during this time. It was a time of anticipation, a time of waiting, a time expectation of what was to come. They knew that Jesus had promised that they would been baptised with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and that they were to await the Spirit's coming, and so in preparation they gathered in the upper room.  It was the place that had such a deep resonance for them. They sensed that this was the place for them to be united and together at this time. I'm sure, as they assembled there, their minds would have drifted back to that original gathering, when in company with Jesus, they listened to his words in wonder of what they meant. Now, in the light of the resurrection, they would once more break the bread with an new understanding of what Jesus had said and done. Their minds were full of memories and now those memories were being made present again as they remembered his words and began to comprehend and to understand them in a completely new way.

In today's gospel from John, we listen to the words of Jesus spoken during the Last Supper from the upper room. These words are a deep and heartfelt prayer of Jesus to his Father, but they are also addressed to us too and to hear them in our current predicament helps us to recognise the closeness of Jesus to us. Jesus prays "all I have is yours, and all you have is mine" - the Father and the Son share everything in an overflowing exchange of love, and this love is the Holy Spirit, the gift which we await in the coming days.

Let this be our prayer. That in common we can face the difficulties we face knowing that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are with us and amongst us.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Another Advocate

We await the coming of the Spirit but how does this make us we feel, especially in these very extraordinary times? Are we feeling expectant or apprehensive, challenged or indifferent, enthused or exhausted; how do we react to the gifts of the Spirit? Jesus speaks of the Spirit as an advocate, and in a very real sense he personifies the Spirit in a way that we tend to overlook.  We all know what an advocate is – someone who speaks and acts on our behalf, someone who is on our side. If we think about this a bit more then its not so hard to regard the personification of this advocate in the very people that actually surround us – in other words our fellow Christians who live and work alongside us. 

The reality of the Spirit is made present therefore by the contact and interaction that we have with each other, which in these times of lockdown, is expressed, by the love that we share between us. The presence of this love becomes the true manifestation of God’s Spirit in us. It is a living and breathing vitality that endows the ordinary and everyday rituals of being who we are, and of doing what we do, with dignity and sacredness. Remember where we began. The Church begins from a moment of deep crisis and difficulty. Jesus relates to the disciples that he is to be betrayed and put to death. From the very outset then the Church is confronted by the trauma of this moment. It is from the heart of this moment of trauma, that the Spirit is promised. Not as some incomprehensible ethereal force but as a personification of truth, lived out in the lives of all believers.

The Spirit rejoices in our humanity, and recognises that moments of crisis and trauma are integral to it. These are the moments when truth becomes paramount. Humanity will not move forward in justice and peace unless it comes to adhere to the truth. Jesus knew this, he knew that in the moment of crisis into which he was about to enter the world would not see or know the truth. His passion and death was the culmination of humanity’s blindness and refusal to the truth and Jesus acknowledged and accepted this. He tells us though that he will not leave humanity orphaned, or in other words without recourse to the truth, and the resurrection is God’s decisive act in response to humanity’s crisis. This is the moment of supreme significance for all humanity. In the words of The Exultet this moment casts out hatred, brings us peace and humbles earthly pride. It is the moment in which we now live, and whilst we still encounter our crises and our traumas, we do so from a viewpoint that says that the truth about the nature of our human condition is that it has been redeemed by the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. The realisation of this truth must therefore change our outlook. We must become advocates for each other and Jesus tells us that this will be so. 

We often think that the language of Jesus in St John’s gospel is complex and difficult to comprehend, but if we take that language and apply it to our needs and the needs of those around us, we soon see that the message conveyed is centred on our application of the command to love as he showed us. We can only live this out if we are totally committed to an advocacy of truth. Many times in our lives we will be offered moments that demand difficult choices, times when our advocacy is put to the test and we will struggle to come to an answer. It is with these times in mind that Jesus speaks to us from the depths of his struggle. The language he uses is profoundly Trinitarian, expressing how Father, Son and Spirit are one in understanding and experiencing all our needs. Such language conveys the single truth that God loves the world so much that he sent us his only Son and the Spirit of truth is the advocate that is his ongoing gift and expression of that love.