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. 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Way to the Father

The gospel reading for this Sunday takes us to the most intimate gathering described in the gospels, namely the Last Supper. As received by John, it is the moment when Jesus, knowing all that is about to take place, commands the disciples to take up a new way of understanding him and the love that he is to share with them. It is a command that calls us to make a commitment to this love, by forgoing our own ambitions and motivations, and instead to be willing and ready to live our lives by adhering to the truth of Jesus' claim that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  If we are willing to make this commitment, it will change us and shape us in his image. It will inform every choice and decision we make, and it will become the pathway of our discipleship.

Trusting - Sieger Koder
We are in the midst of what many people are saying may well become a life changing event. The corona virus and the impact it is having on the everyday circumstances of our lives, is causing us to re-assess and re-evaluate many of the things that we have previously taken for granted. It has made us think about our relationships with one another, and with the environment, but perhaps most of all it has made us all think about the fragility of our lives. Sadly, as the number of deaths steadily increase, the closeness and nearness of the possibility of losing a loved one becomes more 'real' and such thoughts bring to the fore the reality of our relationship with God. 

As Jesus answers the question which Thomas puts, his words shed a deep and searching light on our own thoughts. Thomas' words: "We do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" can be words which we also utter in circumstances of bewilderment and ignorance. When such questions arise, what does our faith ask of us? Jesus wants to reassure his friends that they should not be afraid, and that to overcome this fear, he calls upon us all to put our trust in God and in him. "I am going to prepare a place for you, so that where I am, you may be too" is his response. Fundamentally, Jesus is telling us that we will be with him, and he with us throughout our lives and beyond, by recognising how by living out his truth in our lives, we will find our way, through him, to the Father, our ultimate destination. This calls for trust. Trust in the most trying of circumstances. Trust in the most difficult of situations. When we are close to death and when someone we love is close to death, Jesus asks us to put our trust in him.

At times like these, when such questions rise up in our thoughts, the words of Jesus in today's gospel provide us with deep solace. The mystery of our lives unfold in different ways for each of us, but the mystery into which our lives will pass, is one which in the fulness of time, we will all share together. So, how can we know the way? Listen to the words of Jesus, who having been with us in life and in death, has shown us that through his resurrection, the way to the Father is through the way, the truth and the life which he lived and now lives for all eternity.



 

Saturday, May 2, 2020

The God who knows each one of us by our name.

Celebrate - Sieger Koder
The Fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally kept as Good Shepherd Sunday. Each year in the Lectionary cycle, on this Sunday, the Church reads from the tenth Chapter of John’s Gospel. It is the Chapter in which Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd, the one who knows all of his sheep by name, the one who will pasture the sheep and lead them to safety, the one who will be the gate through which the sheep will enter into the sheepfold. These are beautiful images which portray for us a God of love who cares individually and communally for his sheep. Jesus is the Good Shepherd as he himself expresses, in his famous parable called the Lost Sheep. He is the one who will go after the lost and bring them back. In the  English language, the noun ‘sheep’ remains unchanged whether it is describing one sheep or many. As such it expresses perfectly both the singularity as well as the plurality of what being an individual within a community means - identifiable as unique while at the same time being commensurate and united with one another. 

 A similar thought came into my mind when I was thinking about how God loves us and I wondered what word can be used to describe such love. It needs to be a word that not only defines us individually but also in our discipleship, by capturing  that same sense of singularity and plurality which is so powerful an expression of our witness. When Jesus was baptised the sound of the Father’s voice was heard speaking these words ‘ This is my son, the beloved, my favour rests on him’. The Father calls, or if you like names his son, 'Beloved'. It is a moment of deep tenderness and revelation. It is the moment when every baptised who becomes a member of the body of Christ is identified and is named 'beloved'. In the Gospel of John at he foot of the cross there stand two persons who symbolically represent the beginning, the birth of the Church. They are the mother of Jesus and the beloved disciple, the disciple whom Jesus loved. This moment is a moment of baptism, a sacramental initiation of the coming into being of the new people of God, of the new community of believers who are themselves beloved of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, the triune God who brings them into being.

This calling remains with us. Many times in his letters to his communities, St Paul addresses his readers as the ‘beloved’ of God. It is our title too, as both unique individuals and as the community of believers at work in the world. We may currently be scattered and apart, but we know that Jesus the Good Shepherd, the beloved one, will gather us together once more. We will enter our Churches as sheep returning into the fold, to enjoy that unity and shared love that as the beloved children of God we so need.


Happy Good Shepherd Sunday.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The breaking of Bread

On this the Third Sunday of Easter, the gospel we read at Mass is Luke's narrative of the events that happened to Cleopas and his companion as they walked that famous walk along the road to Emmaus.
The whole story is breathtaking in its power, startling in its impact and life changing in its meaning for us as we continue to live in these very strange times.

The power of the story revolves around the message that it offers. Cleopas and his companion (and that word companion takes on a very important and significant meaning as we'll appreciate later in the story) are wracked with remorse. They are confused, upset and, desperately lost, to the point that they are arguing with one another when the stranger approaches them. Bewildered by the stranger's lack of knowledge of the events of the last few days, they lay out before him the essential reality of the Easter kerygma although they themselves don't seemingly comprehend it. It is as if in failing to recognise who the stranger beside them is, they also have failed to understand the meaning of the message they deliver to him. It is only by being catechised themselves by Jesus that they begin their real journey; that from this moment onwards their lives will change. The events now unfold to bring them to faith and belief. The three of them gather round the table and they become companions in its literal sense, as they share the broken bread. The minds of Cleopas and this friend are enlightened, their hearts aflame with the revelation of what they have just experienced.

Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio
The impact of the story is now clear. In his great picture of The Supper at Emmaus, Caravaggio captures this very moment of revelation. Cleopas,(?) arms outstretched in cruciform shape, alludes to the sacrificial, sacramental meaning of the moment, while his companion, about to leap out of his chair, conveys both the immediacy and the urgency of the message just revealed; that they must return at once to Jerusalem to proclaim the message that Jesus is risen and lives. They have no reservations. Up they get to recount to the apostles what they have witnessed, of how the message of the resurrection was explained to them through the words of scripture, through their participation and sharing in the sacrament, and through the proclamation of the good news which now becomes their task.

Its meaning for us is clear. That even in our domestic confinement we can still exercise our calling to witness to this great event. We can share the scripture, we can make our homes into places of worship and we can deliver the good news to those we speak with over our telephones and through our social media. And when this lockdown is finished we can make that walk to our own places of gathering and share with our companions that broken bread in the light of the resurrection, and with our hearts burning within us sing God's praises.

Have a good Sunday.

Friday, April 17, 2020

The Octave Day

How fitting it is, as we continue to live our lives in lockdown, that the gospel of today begins with that sombre phrase : the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were. Not once, but twice,  as if to drive home the point, does the evangelist, tells us this and it resonates.  What though can we learn from this? Two thoughts come to my mind.

The first is this. Being in lockdown is no barrier to the gospel and its effect. Jesus speaks words of peace when he appears. His first words to the community after his resurrection are "Peace be with you." They are words of deep assurance and comfort, words which we need to hear and understand in these difficult times. The community of the disciples is now the community of the Church. The community which was formed at the foot of the cross, when Jesus gathered the Beloved disciple and his Mother to each other, is now marked as a community of peace. As a result, the community is filled with joy. This peace overcomes the sense of fear that pervaded the disciples following the crucifixion. They had abandoned Jesus and yet they are now reconciled to him, restored and forgiven. Although the doors of our Church buildings are closed, the church herself remains fully at work and open to the Spirit which Jesus has bequeathed to every baptised person. We should therefore understand that the Spirit is free to proceed where God wills and allow that feeling of joy to touch each one of us, and even though we may be restricted physically by the constraints we are having to live with, spiritually through our prayers we can still feel united and connected.

My second thought is this. Thomas was absent from the community when the Risen Lord appeared. Anecdotal evidence seems to be indicating that many people who would not normally come into Church on a Sunday, have during the lockdown, been accessing the internet and following the Mass via the live streaming facility. Is there a new area of ministry for us within this context? Can we use this moment as one in which the Church can reach out to them in a reconciling and welcoming way? When Jesus comes to Thomas he shows him his wounds and he invites Thomas to place his own wounded self into his risen body, to allow the wounds of the resurrection to begin a process of healing and restoration. For Thomas this was a moment of deep significance and revelation, such that his faith was confirmed.

Every eighth day the Lord comes. May these moments be ones of peace and joy and for us all. May they also be moments of deep revelation and renewal, even when the doors remain closed in the rooms where we are.





        


Sunday, April 12, 2020

Alleluia Alleluia! Today is Easter Day

HAPPY EASTER !! 
Let the Alleluias ring out with the joyful news that Jesus is arisen and he lives.

Many of us who are fortunate enough to be able to, have over these last two weeks of cornonavirus lockdown, been spending more time in our gardens than we would do normally. It brings into our minds the centrality of a garden within the narrative of the Easter story which on this glorious day comes to its climax. 

At the end of the passion in John's gospel which was read on Good Friday, John tells us that :

"at the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in this garden a new tomb in which no-one had yet been buried."

The symbolism should jump out and hit us between the eyes.



In the Book of Genesis, we read how God planted a garden in Eden and took Adam and settled him in the garden to cultivate and care for it. Well, we all know the story of what then happened. The fall and its consequence, was that our care for and cultivation of the garden became mired by our sin, and in our turning away from the love of God. We distanced ourselves further and further from God's presence.  John the evangelist comprehends the enormity of this moment, and to make the point of how through the death and resurrection of Jesus, our relationship, our encounter, our standing with God is now made new, the setting of our re-creation happens in another garden. It is a beautifully conceived revelation and resonates powerfully as an image of new life coming forth and overwhelming the powers that previously had held us captive. We are truly set free from the bonds that bound us to our sin, to live in the new creation which the risen Christ has now inaugurated.  

The point is pushed home by the appearance of the risen Christ to Mary Magdelene. She finds the tomb empty and is bereft, She meets Jesus and mistakes him for the gardener! The irony of it! Who is the gardener in Genesis? It is God. It is only when Mary is spoken to by name that she understands. In the Genesis story Adam and Eve hide from God, afraid of his voice, as he calls to them. Mary however hears Jesus call her by name and recognises Jesus as Rabbuni, Master, and in this moment of revelation is no longer hiding but is evangelising! Obeying the command of Jesus she is sent to tell the disciples "I have seen the Lord." The garden of the fall gives way to the garden of the resurrection.

On this Easter Day let Mary's cry be our cry to our world. "I have seen the Lord"

Happy Easter




  






Friday, April 10, 2020

Good Friday

What can we say about this day when our thoughts and prayers are with so many who are contending with the real possibility of losing a loved one as the virus continues to strike so indiscriminately? We have all been moved by the numerous acts of genuine love and sacrifice that so many ordinary people are making and it is so tragic to witness what is happening. We can only stand and express our admiration and our thanks to all the medical and care staff and other essential workers who continue to put themselves into dangerous situations in order to keep us safe. The price that some are paying is total.

Good Friday stands in our midst at this time as a challenge to the human condition. With so many heroic displays of human kindness and caring on show, we rightly step up and applaud all that is being done to alleviate the hardship and distress which the pandemic is causing. But on Good Friday the whole gamut of human emotion is on display and out it comes exposed in front of us. We are presented with the image of a human being seemingly unloved and unwanted. What does this tell us? It is a constant reminder to us of the great dichotomy which exists within each of us, and of the sometimes unnoticed way that we can slip from the one to the other.

The Cross is the reminder to us of how our humanity is a thing of immense and as yet unfathomed profundity. Down the ages, as this day has been remembered, we both hang our heads in sorrow
at what the Cross represents as an image of exposed humiliation, and on the other hand we wonder at it in awe, as an image of limitless, bountiful, sacrificial love. How are these two feelings resolved?

For the Christian, this is the moment, when the Son of Man is lifted up, when we trace the human pathway downwards to its deepest, darkest and furthest point from the love of God in which it was created. Humanity travels not to be left nor abandoned there, but to be gathered up by the same God who awaits us, with the same creative love with which he made us, so as to re-make us and bring us back into his glorious light. This is the incarnational light which Jesus Christ brings into the world.

Good Friday, in all its darkness does not overcome that light, which bursts forth on Easter Day, and the proof of this truth is on display in the lives of all around us, as we see and hear on our TVs, our radios and social media, of sacrifices being made and of love being shown.

"Here might I stay and sing, no story so divine, never was love, dear King, never was grief like thine. This is my friend, in whose sweet praise I all my days could gladly spend." (S Crossman c1624-83)


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.