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.