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.