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

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.