Sunday, April 5, 2020

A Very Strange Holy Week

How are we to understand what is happening in this coronavirus Holy Week? None of us has ever experienced anything quite like it and it leaves us somewhat bemused. Our Churches are shut and we are not able to gather as we normally would. How are we to enter into the spirit of this special week feeling so disorientated?

Can we apply our own feelings of disorientation to help us enter into the minds of those who were caught up in the whole drama of what happened in Jerusalem all those years ago? Perhaps we can sense the thoughts that were rushing through the minds of Jesus' disciples and friends as they experienced the events of that first Holy week? Is it possible for us to feel the same shifting moods, to somehow allow them to wash over us, and give us some perspective as we try to fathom what is happening to us in this coronavirus Holy Week?

Using Matthew's gospel as our guide, we sense that the exhilarating mood of Sunday will soon be passed, replaced with a feeling of uncertainty and even danger. Jesus' parables take on a slant which cloaks them in the apocalyptic language of crisis and judgment and the Pharisees sit up and take note. A time of tribulation is described and it ends with the great parable of final judgment ... 'in so much as you did(n't) do this to these the least of these you did(n't) do it to me'. 

Jesus is then anointed by Mary at Bethany in an act that mirrors his burial. He and the disciples now gather in the Upper Room, where in an atmosphere of intense intimacy, he disturbs their thoughts once more with talk of betrayal and denial and of his going to his fate. It is the offering of himself for them, in his own very body and blood, which confounds them. They leave for Gethsemane, where he prays with the weight of that awesome fate on his mind. 'If possible let it pass' he prays 'but not my will but yours'. His arrest is imminent. It's not as Peter would have wanted it - and it's all very disconcerting, so much so that his anger boils over. He can't understand as his mind is all over the place. 'I don't know him'. He leaves in tears.  Jesus is now alone and at the mercy of his captors. No longer free. There is a trial of sorts, and sentence is passed. A cross is loaded onto his shoulders. Up a hill he stumbles. This is not the hill of the beatitudes, where justice, peace and consoling mercy were ushered in, but a hill where anger and vitriol and scorn instead are vented. He cries out 'My God, why have you forsaken me?'

Is this the cry of our world today in all of its confusion and disorientation? What answer comes forth? None but that the events of the first Holy Week, and of this and of every Holy Week, are the events of the Trinity, and in this everlasting bond of love which flows eternally between Father and Son through the Spirit, the loving presence of God is immersed within the lives of each and every one of us. It is in the essential necessity and reality of the ascent of both hills, the hill of Beatitude and the hill of Calvary, that the answer lies. It is where, in the disorientation of this present age, we find our consolation and our hope, our Resurrection.

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Fifth Sunday of Lent

So we enter the second week of no public masses, and I'm sure like me you are finding it all very difficult to take on board and comprehend. With the best will in the world, and with no disrespect to our priests, watching the mass being celebrated by them on their own, in an empty Church, through the lens of a TV screen, is hard. But it is what it is, and it is better than nothing at all. I'm sure our priests are themselves feeling the complete weirdness of it all. I liked the inventiveness of the priest in Italy who emailed all his parishioners asking them to send in selfies so that he could print them all out and sellotape the pictures to the pews in his Church, thus giving him at least some semblance of the congregation he knew and loved being alongside him, as he celebrated Mass. Here's a link to the article. It is a lovely idea and one perhaps worth emulating where possible.

That said what are we to make of this Sunday's gospel which is the telling of the raising of Lazarus. It is unique to the Gospel of John and it has a particular strategic meaning within the layout of his gospel. The evangelist has very deliberately divided the gospel into three sections. The Prologue, the Book of Signs and the Book of Glory. The story of Lazarus is the concluding episode in the Book of Signs. We have to ask then what is the sign, and how can we relate it to what is going on in the world at the moment?

If we listen carefully to the message which Martha and Mary send to Jesus, we immediately notice something which we might think is strange. It is a statement rather than a request. "Lord, the man you love is ill". There is nothing else. It is a stark message and it makes its point. I wonder though if there is something here that has a wider connotation about our world at large. That in a real sense our world is itself ill and ailing, and that we all need to turn to the Lord and admit what we all realise - that we are sick and in need of the love that the Lord has for us, a love that will lift us and renew us and bring about the new creation in Christ.

This new creation is what we will now be thinking about, praying for and celebrating in two weeks time as the gospel of John moves us from the story of Lazarus at the end of the Book of Signs, onto the Book of Glory, wherein the passion and resurrection of Jesus unfold as that momentous expression of Jesus' glorification as Lord. It ends in and then begins from a new tomb in a garden, where tears of sorrow give way to tears of joy, climaxing in the risen Lord breathing the breath of new life onto the disciples as they receive the Holy Spirit, the giver of life, who renews the face of the earth.

Let us pray for that great renewal of our world and let us be uplifted as we gather in front of our screens to listen to the Mass this Sunday.







Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Solemnity of the Annunciation


Ordinarily many of us on this day, would be attending Mass to celebrate the great Solemnity of the Annunciation, that moment when the Archangel Gabriel was sent to Mary, to announce to her the great task which God asked her to do. Sadly, because of the restrictions we are now living under, this is not possible, and we are being asked instead to stay in our homes.  

However the gospel today tells us that the angel Gabriel was sent to Mary in Nazareth, where she was living, and many of the great artists down the ages have interpreted and depicted this moment as having taken place while Mary was in her home. How appropriate it is then, as we are enduring these difficult times, that the message of this day is being received by us in our homes.

The whole encounter is one of exchange. The news which the angel brings is at first received with concern and bewilderment and many of us are similarly concerned and bewildered by the sudden and disturbing changes which have taken place with regard to our ordinary lives. But there are words of reassurance too, of not to fear or be afraid and the whole structure of what is taking shape, is being built by Luke, to take us along a pathway of understanding the mystery of what is about to unfold.

Into our very confused and uncertain world comes the real and certain presence of God as one like us.  He will come to us because of Mary's "Yes" amid her uncertainty and fear. She speaks for all humanity at this moment and her affirmation, her "fiat" is framed with an acknowledgement that in accepting this pathway she opens the door to a way of living which places at its heart the role of service or of "diakonia". It will become the way through which the incarnate word unfolds.

All of us in this time of uncertainty are being asked to accept new and different roles. We are being called upon, in our homes, to find a new perspective of how as disciples, we can continue to live the "diakonia" of Jesus. It may involve big changes to our way of life, but let the message come to us as it came to Mary: let the Spirit of the Lord come to us, and let us receive it anew with open and generous hearts to serve God and each other through our "Yes".

We remember all who are suffering and are anxious at this time and we pray to the Lord for our loved ones as through the intercession of Mary, Heath of the sick and Comforter of the afflicted. we say Hail Mary...


    
The Annunciation: Leonardo da Vinci
        







Saturday, March 21, 2020

Happy Mother's Day

The Fourth Sunday of Lent - Laetare Sunday, is Mothering Sunday and it goes without saying that many of our parish families would ordinarily have been planning to celebrate the occasion by travelling to visit and be with Mum in person on this day. But this Mother’s Day is unlike any other we’ve experienced before, since because of the restrictions now in place, many won’t be able to be physically alongside Mum to enjoy the day as you would have wanted to.The coronavirus is having a huge impact on each one of us, as our normal lives are being disrupted and we are being asked to change radically how we do the things which before now, we have simply taken for granted. 

Traditionally from the Elizabethan Age in this country, this Fourth Sunday of Lent also known as Laetare Sunday (Laetare being Latin for “Rejoice”) was the day in which people would make pilgrimage from the countryside and the local towns and villages around where they lived, to gather together in the Cathedral or “Mother” Church, to celebrate the Eucharist in anticipation of the great joy of Easter to come. It was an opportunity for families to come together from a wider geographic area. It was a day of great joy. 

As Christians, the gathering together each Sunday to celebrate the Mass is an integral part of what defines us, and not being able to share in the Eucharist is very sad and upsetting. The mood is hardly a joyful one! Nevertheless I think that we can perhaps lift our spirits in a virtual sense, by copying our forebears from the Middle Ages, and make a virtual pilgrimage of our own. On Sunday, Mass will be streamed from the Cathedral at 10.00am www.stbarnabascathedral.org.uk/01_Community/livestream.html So if we can, let’s gather around our computers, and although apart in body, we can, in spirit, feel connected to one another through the vehicle of the internet. Not the same as being together I agree, and sadly not possible for everyone, but it does allow us at this time to be together in thought and in prayer. 

We are without doubt creative enough to still enjoy this Mother’s Day and to celebrate all our Mums in a special way. But of course let us keep all those who are undergoing great distress because of the virus in our  prayers. Let us remember them as mass is celebrated. 

To all our Mum’s have a special day and in the circumstances we pray that it will be a joyful one.


May God bless and preserve all our families and let pray for the special intercession of Our Blessed Lady.