Sunday, March 31, 2013

I do not know where they have laid him

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is easy for us to forget, because we have the Gospel story embedded so deeply into the fabric of our being, that the story of that first Easter morning, in the garden early in the morning, cold and dark, begins not with joy, but with despair and confusion. Mary arrives at the tomb, desolate at the death of her master, planning to complete the burial anointing that had been so hurriedly done a few days prior, and discovers the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. 

She rushes back to tell the others. And what does she tell them? Not that he has risen as he has promised, but that the body has been taken and hidden. Peter and the beloved disciple then rush to the tomb. They see and believe. What do they believe? That the body is gone. Not that he is risen. For as St John tells us, they still do not understand. They leave, but Mary remains in the cold and lonely garden, weeping. And when angels ask her why she is weeping, she explains that her sorrow is because the body of her dead master has been taken. 

So certain is she that this can be the only explanation for the empty tomb, that when faced with the Risen Lord she even asks him where the body is. And it is not until he calls her by name that the scales finally fall from her eyes, and she knows who he is. And then she goes to the others again; this time not to say that his body is missing; but that she has seen the Lord. It is only at this point in the story that there is joy for those who are in the middle of it.

So what is it that they needed to understand? What is it that we need to understand about the Resurrection that we may enter in the the joy of this most glorious event? What lies at the heart of the Resurrection? Well, as St Paul put it in 1st Corinthians chapter 15 'And if Christ be not risen again, your faith is vain, for you are yet in your sins.' 

The Resurrection is the foundation and bedrock of our faith, his last and greatest witness that all he said about himself and all he taught was true … if Christ did not emerge from the tomb to leave it empty that cold, dark Easter morning, then we have nothing to hope or trust in at all … but knowing that he did truly burst asunder the bonds of death, we know that we too can have hope in his promise of eternal life … 

but – and there is a but – but only if we do not forget the other half of the verse I quoted from St Paul … the first half says that without the Resurrection our faith is in vain … the second that it is through the Resurrection that we know that our sins can be forgiven … and in order for them to be forgiven, we have to accept that they are indeed sins and repent of them … 

and having repented, radically change our life according to the way that Jesus taught … because just as his Resurrection gives us hope, so too does it also give ultimate authority to what he taught … to accept the Resurrection and then to reject it's full implications is foolish indeed. It is to recognise that we do indeed have the hope of all Christ promised … and then turn our backs on the hope of ever attaining those promises … and if that is what you chose to do, then there is no joy for you in the Resurrection … and never can be … 

Logic would dictate that everyone in the world would be filled with joy this day, having rushed to embrace that joy that comes with the Resurrection, with the hope of eternal life that it promises. Yet there are quite a lot of people in the world for whom this day is no different to any other … indeed in this country … because the Resurrection has no meaning for them. 

Even if they are not people without faith, there are a huge number of people who are nominally Christian for whom today will barely register … for those who rarely go to Church, Christmas is a popular choice, with it's candles, & carols, and cribs, and general feel good factor … 'we go every Christmas, if we can,' as one couple told me once … but Easter is often forgotten amongst the 'seldom attenders' … and I suppose we can see why … Easter doesn't get the same plethora of signals and reminders that Christmas does … 

Easter eggs don't have the same visual impact as Christmas trees & flashing lights & tinsel & all the other hallmarks of the season … especially now that Cadbury's crème eggs are in the shop pretty much all year round … and their larger cousins, the hollow chocolate eggs, make their appearance on the shelves weeks and months before the day itself … 

but of course, we should not be leaving it up to the secular media and commercial interests to provide people with signals regarding the major festivals of the Church … the joy that we have in understanding what it is that Christ has accomplished for us by his Resurrection is something that we should share with them ourselves … not only at this time of year, but always … Christ came that all should be saved, not just those 'in the know' … we must share it so that all may understand and so that Easter may be a source of joy for all people … it is a duty that Christ entrusted to us, the people who make up his Church … and I pray that the joy we feel this Easter will give us the strength to be faithful to this duty: today & always. Amen.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

a Holy Saturday reflection on a Good Friday service

last night we had an ecumenical service in the parish. We began in one of 'my' churches with the reading of the psalm that begins 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' Then, singing the Taize chant 'Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom' we processed carrying a rough timber cross the 15 minute walk to the Catholic church. The cross was set in a stand before the altar. A large brass bowl stood nearby in another stand with charcoal already burning in it. Incense was added and soon the church was filled with its odour. Then we had a short service of hymns, prayers, & readings, followed by the veneration of the cross before departing into the night. 

As I sat near the altar during the service, I looked up at the empty tabernacle, its doors open, the veil drawn back, and experienced a sense of desolation, of absence. Today that feeling of absence continues ... and I long for the vigil Eucharist of this evening, that this strange desolation may depart and I may know His return, that he is risen indeed.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday: an hour with the Cross

'Could you not watch with me one hour?'
An hour of readings, reflections, and silence

Arrest from the Passion according to St John 
After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, ‘For whom are you looking?’ They answered, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus replied, ‘I am he.’ Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he’, they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, ‘For whom are you looking?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.’ This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, ‘I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.’ Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’ 

So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.

Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing round it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

Jesus is handed over to his enemies as a result of an act of betrayal by one of those closest to him, one of the 12, a man he had picked to be one of his apostles. We are rightly appalled that he could do so; and not just us, but generation after generation. Judas has become a figure of loathing in all places where the Gospel in known, and his name has become a by-word for treachery. But think what it was that brought the Son of Man into this world in the first place – the Sin of Adam; our sinful nature; our rebellion against the will of God. We must not be too quick to condemn Judas ... for to do so is in a sense to condemn ourselves. Yes he sinned, and sinned grievously, in handing Jesus over to those who hated him; but it was for our sins that he was handed over ... and allowed himself to be taken. St John strives to make it abundantly clear that no force on earth could have taken Jesus prisoner had he not willingly let himself be taken in their power. Look at what happens when he tells them that he is the one that they are looking for: they stumble backwards and fall to the ground. Note well his reply 'I am he,' echoing God's reply out of the burning bush to Moses 'I am who I am.' There is divine power in his reply. And to underscore the fact that he goes willingly, he prevents his disciples from fighting those who have come to arrest him. He goes willingly, for his hour has come, and this is what he has come to do. He has been betrayed into their hands by Judas; but only because our first parents betrayed the Father first; and also because we betray him still by our sins. 

pause for silent prayer & reflection

Trial from the Passion according to St John 
Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered, ‘I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.’ When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?’ Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. 

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, ‘You are not also one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’ One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, ‘What accusation do you bring against this man?’ They answered, ‘If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.’ The Jews replied, ‘We are not permitted to put anyone to death.’ (This was to fulfil what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’

Pilate asks Jesus 'what it truth?' when Jesus tells him that he has come into the world to testify to the truth. We hear those words with wonder: how can any man stand in the presence of Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and ask 'what is truth?' We can excuse Pilate in one sense, I suppose ... he acts in ignorance. He has been drawn into a situation not of his making; pressures that are alien to us are conspiring to bring him to the point where he will have to condemn a man to death for reasons he does not understand, and almost against his will ... but in the sense that he is the man with the power and the one making the decisions we can not excuse him at all. Pilate is about to condemn a man he believes to be innocent of any crime for no other reason than it is the expedient thing to do: he doesn't want to risk riot, or a breach in relations with the Jewish authorities, or the chance that they might use a refusal to condemn to undermine his position in the Roman system of government. He fights them, but only enough to soothe his conscience, not enough to actually cost himself anything. And his words 'what is truth' is the prelude to the handing over of an innocent man to the most horrible death imaginable. Because in a world where there is no certain truth, any thing is possible, any thing is allowable. His question should fill us with horror ... but does it? Perhaps we identify with those words more than we should ... because at heart we are happy with the idea that truth can be relative ... what is true for you, may not be true for me. Who is to say that what I do is sin? Who can say? What is sin? Or as Pilate would say 'what is Truth?' Except that Jesus said that he was truth; and he came to testify to the truth; and so we know there is no such thing as relative truth ... something is either true or it is not; and if it is true it is true or all people; and those who try to claim otherwise speak a lie. 

pause for silent prayer & reflection

Condemnation from the Passion according to St John 
After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, ‘I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ They shouted in reply, ‘Not this man, but Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas was a bandit.

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, ‘Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’ When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.’

Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, ‘Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.’ From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.’

When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, ‘Here is your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but the emperor.’ Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

The scouring at the pillar and the crowning with thorns is a scene of horror. St John describes it in only a few words. But his listeners would have known only too well what a Roman flogging consisted of: being whipped with leather cords tipped with bone or metal weights at the end. They would not only have drawn blood; they would have stripped flesh from the body; the pain and the blood loss would have left a man barely able to stand; add to this the peculiar agony of having a rough cap of long thorns driven into the scalps, with blood running in the eyes from a hundred puncture wounds ... weak, in pain, blinded, he also had to bear the mockery of being dressed in a purple robe, having them cry 'hail, king of the Jews' ... knowing each time they cried it he was about to be punched in the face, unable to see where the blow was coming from ... what kind of brutes would torture a man like that? A man for whom they could have had held no personal animosity? For they after all, were not Jews. Indeed, if they had heard anything about him, surely it must have been good, for had he not healed the centurion's servant? Soldiers talk; they must have known that this was a good man that they were treating so savagely. And yet they cold-bloodedly beat him to within an inch of his life, crying 'hail, king of the Jews' as they did so. And yet we, who know him to be the Son of God, and King of Kings, and know full well all that he has done for us ... do we not with equal cold-bloodedness, continue in our sins? How different are we from the soldiers that day, when we, like they, call him King, yet mock him and wound him with our deliberate sins? 

pause for silent prayer & reflection

Crucifixion from the Passion according to St John 
So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’ Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.” ’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’ When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfil what the scripture says,
‘They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.’
And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

Why does Pilate refuse to change what he has written? Is he being simply willful, almost like a child refusing to make any alterations to what he has done? Or is he being petulant, taking a petty revenge? Saying to the Jews: 'you made me do this, even though I didn't really want to; now I will embarrass you by placing a sign above this bloody and battered figure, declaring him your King; because this pathetic figure is all the king your deserve; and to rub the insult in, I will write the lie in all the languages spoken in this area, to make sure that all that see will be able to understand; and so Jews will be humiliated; and Gentiles will laugh and look down on you!' Or is he being prophetic? Because we know, that unknown to himself, he speaks the absolute truth – Jesus truly is the King of the Jews. More, as he hangs on the cross, dying, he is close to accomplishing precisely what he came into the world to do. It is ironic that the man who not long before asked 'what is truth?' should not be the one who defends the absolute truth of Christ's kingship against those who wish to water it down and he will not let those who object to to the title 'the king of the Jews' have instead 'he said he was the king of the Jews.' They are the ones who should have known the truth of who Jesus was; yet for various reasons they could not let themselves believe it to be true. How like them we are sometimes; for we, of all the world, know the truth of Christ's message. Yet for our own purposes, how often we try to water it down, to remove the hard teachings, to declare as unimportant the parts that are inconvenient to how we chose to live our lives, to angrily push to the side as 'out of date' the parts that embarrass us in front of our liberal, secular friends. How extraordinary it is that it is Pilate who reminds us that he is King; and that what he has written, he has written; because the truth can not be changed. 

pause for silent prayer & reflection

Death from the Passion according to St John 
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 

Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the Sabbath  especially because that Sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.(He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘None of his bones shall be broken.’ And again another passage of scripture says, ‘They will look on the one whom they have pierced.’

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

And so we draw near to the end of our Hour with the Cross with the words of Jesus ringing in our ears: it is finished. He had accomplished all he entered this life to do. He had taken flesh and lived as a man in solidarity with us, so that we might know that we had a God who understood from lived experience all it was that suffered in this life. He had preached the Kingdom to us, so that we might have his teachings to guide us in order that we might know how we should conform ourselves to God's will. He founded his Church, entrusting it to the faithful Apostles he chose, so that his guidance might continue through it, and we might strengthened by the sacraments she ministers to all who follow him; and he suffered and died on the cross to redeem us from our sins so that at the last we might be with him in heaven. Well he might say 'it is finished.' It is tempting for us to look past that moment of atonement to the glory of the Resurrection ... but let us not. Christ is now laid in the tomb. Let us pause and stay a while in the shadow of the cross and the darkness of the tomb. In that dark place let us consider what it was all for. It was done in order to purchase for us the rewards of eternal life. Will we claim that reward for our own? Will we work out our salvation with fear and trembling  Will we humbly turn aside from all those fleeting things that world calls pleasures, but we know to be empty and a lie? Will will let blood that flowed from Christ's hands, Christ's feet, Christ side wash us clean so that when the time comes for us to lie in our own tomb, we will awake to life everlasting? I pray that each of us will ... but it is a prayer that can only be answered if each of us first answers Christ call on our lives and to live totally in his truth, this day and always. Amen.

pause for silent prayer & reflection; depart in silence

Thursday, March 28, 2013

sermon series for Holy Week: hell

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Our journey through Holy Week is almost complete. Soon we will enter into the Glory that is Easter Sunday & the penitential season that is Lent, whether it was marked with penitential spiritual disciplines or not, will be over for another year. We have marked our time together by considering over the course of these evenings one of the four last things that the second coming of our Lord will bring about: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. 

We spoke of death as the gateway to the other three, something we all must experience, but not something to be feared because we know from our Lord's promises that we pass through the grave to eternal life. We looked at judgement, the time when our God & Judge will respect the choices we have freely made during our lives, using our God-given free will, to live in accordance with his will. If we have chosen eternal life with him in heaven by the way we have lived our lives, then what we spoke of about heaven becomes relevant. That is the choice we have made, and been enabled by God's Grace to live our in our lives, and God in his gracious love will welcome us home to dwell in all eternity in the place he created us to be. But if we chose otherwise, then that choice will also be respected … and then what we will be talking about today on hell becomes of most relevance …

I hope you are not expecting a 'blistering' sermon on hell … I think the days of hell-fire & brimstone sermons are done … most people today are intelligent and well educated … they are individuals who are comfortable with making choices … and they understand that choices have consequences … why someone would chose hell over heaven is beyond me … it seems something of a 'no-brainer' as the expression goes … but perhaps I can speculate …

Some, I suspect, may not truly believe that hell exists … alas, for those who think thus; because Jesus spoke more about hell than just about any other topic … We have Christ's own assurance that it does exist … and Christianity is very much something of a package deal … you don't get to pick and chose the bits you like … and you are not going to be exempted from hell on the basis that it was one of the bits of the Christian faith that you never really liked …

Others I think believe hell exists but that God doesn't really send people there … to those who think thus I must say that you can not have really been paying attention when you were reading your Gospels. Because again it was Jesus himself who told us that people would go there … and I do not think on judgement day telling our Lord that you shouldn't be held accountable because you weren't paying attention is going to hold much water …

Then there are those who accept that hell exists, & that people will indeed go there, but not them … hell is for really, really bad folk … not for those who live ordinary, everyday lives like they do … the problem there is that many who take that view think they can't go to hell mainly because they do not regard the wrong that they do as sin in the first place … they have decided that they are the ones who decide what is right and what is wrong … and because they are OK with the way they lead their lives, they all but demand that God agree with them … they want to have their cake and eat it too … they want to live as they please, ignore the sin in their lives, and still be thought of as being righteous … well, I'm afraid it doesn't work like that … we do not get to freely chose to reject God by how we live & then claim after that we were choosing him also …
And what is this hell that people chose? It is real, it is eternal, it is the dwelling place of those who have rejected God. Do we really need the thoughts of flames or images of demons tormenting us to make it seem even less attractive? Hell is the place where you go when you chose forever not to go to the place you were created to be … but the good news is that you do not have to choose it; it is not where God wants you to be; he sent his only Son into the world so that all might be saved. That is the message of the Resurrection:    that the Creator of the universe loved us enough to become man so that we might spend all eternity with him … this is why he came to earth, why he spoke the truth of his Gospel, founded a Church, suffered and died on the Cross, and rose again from the dead … and this is why we have been looking over these last few nights at what will happen to each and every one of us when he comes again so that we might at the end go where he wants us to be  … all we have to do is let him into our hearts & do his will … and I pray tonight that he will give you the Grace to do that, this night and always. Amen.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

sermon series for Holy Week: heaven

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Holy Week is a time of journeying … we as a Church journey with our Lord and Saviour through his last days in Jerusalem, sitting with him at the Last Supper, praying with him in Gethsemane, and suffering with him as he is arrested, beaten, condemned, and crucified. But it is impossible to think of his crucifixion without thinking of what comes after – his glorious resurrection … followed shortly thereafter by his Ascension … which brings to mind his promise that he would come again … it is that knowledge that makes us contemplate those things that his second coming will bring to pass – that which we call the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, & hell, which he have been considering on our own journey through this holy week …

This evening we contemplate something of a more cheerful subject. We first looked at death, which will for most human being be the doorway we pass through in order to face the other three last things; & last night we looked at judgement, the one which will decide what our eternal reward will be. Death and judgement are of their nature grim subjects … but tonight we look at the most cheerful of the four, heaven, and the hope we have of attaining it …

So what can we say about Heaven? Well we know from scripture that it is the dwelling place of God, the angels, and the saints … and as God is eternal and therefore existed before the creation of the universe, it follows that heaven exists outside of our time and space … it is what we might call a spiritual dimension … and therefore the 'three-tier' model of the universe, which showed images of the earth with heaven above and hell beneath, while picturesque and perhaps helpful to the limited human mind when it comes to trying to imagine these things, is clearly not literal!

However, even though it is a spiritual place, that does not mean that human beings do not occasionally have access to it … many times in scripture we hear of prophets and other holy people being granted visions of it … the prophet Isaiah for example & his vision of the temple … the patriarch Jacob and his vision of the ladder with angels ascending and descending … in the Gospels, at the baptism of Jesus, John the Baptist sees the heavens torn open and and he sees the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus … in Acts, St Stephen just before his death sees the heavenly throne with Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father … and of course in the Revelation to St John the Divine we get perhaps the lengthiest account of such a vision of the dwelling place of the Almighty … and it is from Revelation that we learn that it is the place where tears and sorrow are no more … a place where the suffering we face in this life is left behind … We hear in the psalms: Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God … in the Gospels, Jesus tells the parable of Lazarus and Dives where heaven is described as a place of good things … and in Matthew's Gospel, we hear Jesus tell us that at the judgement he will tell those standing at his right hand ' come, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.' Heaven is the place we were created to be … but we can not assume because of that that we will automatically attain it … St Paul tells us that we must work out our salvation with 'fear and trembling' … fear and trembling can not be interpreted to mean lazy complacency … that ordinary decent folk, like we assume ourselves to be, are assured of a place in heaven as long as we do not commit some kind of monstrous crime … St John the Baptist says to those who come to him, who no doubt thought they were ordinary decent people: You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?' They ask him what they must do … do we wonder what we must do? Think of the commandments and all the teaching that Jesus has given us through his Church … do you lead your life accordingly? Serious sin un-repented of kills the love of God in us … and it is all the more dangerous when you have hardened your hearts to it to the extent that you no longer even think of it as sin … everyone else is doing it … all the world applauds and says it is OK … why shouldn't I? Why? Because narrow is the gate that leads to eternal life … because the pleasures of this life are a poor substitute for the eternal bliss of heaven … because Jesus came to save us from our sins not to soothe our consciences when we behave as if we were living in a pleasure palace where anything and everything goes …

I began by saying Holy Week is a time of journeying … part of the reason that it is so is to remind us that our journey through life is intended to take us from the cradle to the grave and past it to heaven … and so today I pray that your Spiritual journey through Lent and Holy Week and your Christian journey through all your life may, with God's Grace and mercy, help fit you to end that journey with him in that place where pain and suffering is no more … with him in Heaven forever. Amen.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

sermon series for Holy Week: judgement

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

During these last days of Lent, as we move ever closer to the death of our Lord on the cross, we are considering what it is that we will face ourselves when it comes to the end our our own lives: death, judgement, heaven, & hell. Last night we looked at death … which is, essentially, the gateway to the other three … tonight we think of judgement … the one which decides whether heaven or hell is our ultimate & eternal destination …

The topic has become particularly difficult for many Christians of late … we think of verses from the Bible telling us how much God loved the world … we're told that God is love … & it is hard for us to reconcile the image of a Loving God with one that will judge us … judge us & perhaps condemn us … because let us be honest … none of us really has a problem with the idea that God will judge us and welcome us into paradise … on the other hand, we are deeply uncomfortable with the idea he might judge us and send us to Hell for all eternity …

Perhaps it is a difficult subject for the modern world because we as a society have become so unused to the idea of openly judging the behaviour of another or having another judge ours … look at some of the 'mantra's' that have become popular in the modern age: live & let live; I'm OK, you’re OK; don't be so judgemental …

Maybe the problem is the times in which the doctrine of the Last Judgement was formed are so different from ours … earlier ages had no issues with swift judgements and severe punishments … think back to the days of the early Church and a society that had no problem with crucifying someone or throwing them to the lions in the arena … think of the list of punishments that were common in medieval times … branding, whipping, burning, amputation, blinding … and of course death …. and often for offences we would consider quite minor today … death for stealing something as small as a loaf of bread … death for expressing the wrong religious opinion … death for not being sufficiently humble before even a relatively minor nobleman … a world with such severe and often arbitrary punishments didn't wonder at the idea of God dishing out eternal damnation for the sins one committed in this life … indeed, I'm sure it was a comfort to many of the lowly that those who made their life on this earth a living hell would be repaid with hell for all eternity in the next life for their cruelty in this!

But we live in different times … softer times compared to those days … we don't torture people … the death penalty is gone in most societies … we live in democracies, where in theory even the poorest person enjoys equal protection before the law … whose vote is as powerful as the wealthiest person in the land … each person has the right to live as he or she pleases … we are autonomous … no one can tell us what to do … when we make a choice, we expect the world not only to accept it, but to approve …

And maybe that is the way for us, with our modern mindset, to understand Judgement … it is not God condemning us and punishing us … it is God respecting our choices … he gave us free will so that we might freely chose … and if we decide to make choices that reject him, then he will accept that choice … it is not what he wants … he created us to spend all eternity with him … and he sent his Son so that we might be saved from our sins … but if we deliberately decide to reject him, then he will respect our choice … he will not take away our free will …

When judgement day comes, it is not really God judging us … it is we judging ourselves … he gave us his Son to save us … he gave us Christ's body on earth, his Church, to pass on all we need to know to lead our lives as we should … and he gave us free will so that we could decide to follow his Son and his teaching or not … and if we chose to reject all that then we have judged ourselves and decided our eternal fate … and in the same way if we decide to throw ourselves daily on his mercy and faithfully decide to live as his children we also chose … God gave us free will so that we might freely chose eternal life … but he will not force us to accept it … but I pray that you, & all God's children will. Amen.

we must imitate Christ in his death: Saint Basil, bishop

When mankind was estranged from him by disobedience, God our Savior made a plan for raising us from our fall and restoring us to friendship with himself. According to this plan Christ came in the flesh, he showed us the gospel way of life, he suffered, died on the cross, was buried and rose from the dead. He did this so that we could be saved by imitation of him, and recover our original status as sons of God by adoption.

To attain holiness, then, we must not only pattern our lives on Christ’s by being gentle, humble and patient, we must also imitate him in his death. Taking Christ for his model, Paul said that he wanted to become like him in his death in the hope that he too would be raised from death to life.

We imitate Christ’s death by being buried with him in baptism. If we ask what this kind of burial means and what benefit we may hope to derive from it, it means first of all making a complete break with our former way of life, and our Lord himself said that this cannot be done unless a man is born again. In other words, we have to begin a new life, and we cannot do so until our previous life has been brought to an end. When runners reach the turning point on a racecourse, they have to pause briefly before they can go back in the opposite direction. So also when we wish to reverse the direction of our lives there must be a pause, or a death, to mark the end of one life and the beginning of another.
From the book On the Holy Spirit by Saint Basil, bishop

Death Notice

The death has occurred of MARY BURKE, (née O'Keeffe) of Douglas, Cork

Burke (Douglas and Creamers Court, Belgooly) On March 25th 2013, after a long illness bravely borne, in the excellent care of the staff of Marymount Hospice, Mary (Nee O’Keeffe) beloved wife of Jeremiah Burke, devoted mother of Jim, Patrick and Joan (Hurley). Sadly missed by her husband and family, grandchildren Isaac, Jeremiah, Daniel, Jacob, Malachi, daughters -in-law Valerie and Ruth, son-in-law James, brothers, sisters, extended family, carers and friends. May she rest in peace. Removal on Tuesday evening (26th) at 7.30pm from Marymount, Curraheen to St. Columbas Church, Douglas. Requiem Mass on Wednesday (27th) at 1.30pm followed by cremation at The Island Crematorium, Ringaskiddy. Family flowers only, donations in lieu to Marymount Hospice or the Mercy Hospital Foundation.

Date published: Monday, March 25, 2013
Date of death: Monday, March 25, 2013
link to death notice here

Monday, March 25, 2013

sermon series for Holy Week: death

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

During Holy Week we journey with Christ during his final days as he moves ever closer to the Cross. For many in the world this time is the same as any other – business as usual – but for those of us who make up the body of Christ, the Church, it is a time when we realise more than ever that while we are 'in the world' we are not 'of it' … Christ, our God, took flesh & was born into the world, and suffered and died for our sins so that we might attain everlasting life … and because of this our ultimate aims and goals are different in many ways from the aims and goals of the world … being in the world but not of it, our eyes are on the prize that Jesus purchased for us:

And as that prize consists of something that is outside the experience of this world, I thought that as we made our journey with Christ on these last, most intense, days of Lent, that we would think about what it was that he died that we might gain, the life to come, by looking at what we will be faced with when he comes again: the reality of what we call the 'four last things- death and resurrection, judgement, heaven, & hell …
For the most part these are uncomfortable topics … we as a society are increasingly uncomfortable about talking about death … the idea of judgement is something of a bad word – after all to be judgemental is to be a bad person in the modern world … hell has been all but side-lined - how could a loving God send anyone to hell? So why talk about where no one is going? … and as for heaven, since since no one is going to hell, everyone must be going to heaven, so what more needs to be said?

But it is precisely because so much 'bad theology' has crept into our understanding of these things that we need to talk about them … judgement and hell are real … our Lord and Saviour himself told us about them … to ignore them is to put souls at risk … our souls & the souls of others ... and possibly the easiest way to fail to get to heaven is to believe that there is no possibility of not going there …

And so, let us begin with the cheerful subject of death. When Jesus comes again we know not the day nor the hour … it might be within the next five minutes … in which case you will be spared the rest of this series of sermons … but it might not be for two thousand years or more … we have no idea … the early Church thought it was something they would see within their own lifetimes … it was only gradually that they came to understand that Jesus meant it when he said no one could predict when he would come again … and so for most of us, like all those of generations past, it is likely that we will know death before the time of the Parousia, his second coming.

So what is death? The theologian Karl Rahner called it an 'obscure event.' Why obscure, you might ask? Any one can tell you that death is the cessation of life … yet theologically that definition is of no use to us … when a plant or an animal dies it might be true to say that life has ceased … but for the human being that is not the case … because it is the Christian hope that life does not end with what this world calls death … and we have that hope because Christ himself assured us that this was true … one of the most popular readings at funerals is the one from St John's Gospel where Jesus tells his disciples that in his Father's house there are many mansions and that he is going there to prepare a place for us … death is not the end of life … it is merely the end of life as we know it …

And in fact it might be said that it is the defining act of a human life … certainly we know from a young age that we are going to die … alone of all living things we carry the knowledge with us all our lives that we are alive and our death is certain … and also we alone of all living things have God's own promise that death is not merely the grave but the beginning of something new … that it is through death we achieve the purpose for which we were born in the first place … we reach the point in our existence where it is possible for us to enter into God's presence … we were created to be happy with him for all eternity … and it is through death we have the possibility of entering into that bliss …

But that does not mean that we should not fear death … it is natural to fear any major change … and it doesn't get much more major than this, to leave the only life that we have known … indeed, we know that Christ himself feared death … we have the witness of that fear from the Gospel accounts we call 'the agony in the Garden' … & we can take comfort from the fact that if Jesus was afraid than it is not wrong for us to be afraid …

But of course, we have a reason for fear that he does not … for even while we have his reassurance through his glorious Resurrection that our death will also be followed by a resurrection, unlike him our resurrection will be followed by judgement … a judgement that will be followed by one or two thing: heaven or hell.

And which we will ultimately face will be decided by how we have lived up to the moment of our death … something that we also do not know the day nor the hour of … which is why it means that if we live our lives in any other way than if we were to face death within the moment, then we are gambling in a game in which the stakes are incredibly high … eternal life versus eternal damnation … all eternity is on the table …

Which is why it is of vital importance to think of these things on every step of our Christian journey … and why we will think of them during these final days of our Lenten Journey … so that as we come ever closer to the death of our Lord on the Cross, we may consider what it is that we will face ourselves at the time of our own deaths … and by so considering, that we may with God's help live in such a way that in death we will go to where we will see his face forever-more. Amen.
(regular readers will recognise this as a reworking of my sermon series for Advent - recycling for a different congregation!)

May she rest in peace

My mother, Mary, passed away a short time ago. May she rest in peace. Please, of your Charity, pray for the repose of her soul.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Let us run to accompany Christ as he hastens toward his passion

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the king of Israel. Let us go together to meet Christ on the Mount of Olives. Today he returns from Bethany and proceeds of his own free will toward his holy and blessed passion, to consummate the mystery of our salvation. He who came down from heaven to raise us from the depths of sin, to raise us with himself, we are told in Scripture, above every sovereignty, authority and power, and every other name that can be named, now comes of his own free will to make his journey to Jerusalem. He comes without pomp or ostentation. As the psalmist says: He will not dispute or raise his voice to make it heard in the streets. He will be meek and humble, and he will make his entry in simplicity.

Let us run to accompany him as he hastens toward his passion, and imitate those who met him then, not by covering his path with garments, olive branches or palms, but by doing all we can to prostrate ourselves before him by being humble and by trying to live as he would wish. Then we shall be able to receive the Word at his coming, and God, whom no limits can contain, will be within us.

From a sermon by Saint Andrew of Crete, bishop

Prayers Palm Sunday

let us pray … Heavenly Father, 
you promised through your Son 
to hear the prayers of those who ask in faith: 

On this Palm Sunday, 
we think of the Truth 
your Son gave to your children; 
help us as your Church 
to make that truth known throughout the world Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer 

On this Palm Sunday, 
as we continue in this Lenten season 
to deny ourselves some of the good things 
you have blessed us with, 
let us always remember 
your Son's care for the poor and needy 
so that we may ease their suffering 
as we share with them from the abundance 
you have given to us 
Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer 

On this Palm Sunday, 
help us to put Christ and his Truth 
at the centre of our lives 
so that they may also 
be at the heart of our communities 
making them places that share in his joy & peace. 
Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer 

On this Palm Sunday, 
we give thanks for all those 
who have answered your call 
and lead your children in your truth; 
we pray for all ministers of your Church, 
for bishops, priests, & deacons everywhere, 
thinking especially at this time 
of your servants Francis & Justin 
as they take on their new roles within your Church; 
and we pray that your truth 
will guide us towards ever greater unity 
with our brothers and sisters in Christ 
from whom we are separated Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer  

On this Palm Sunday, 
we thank you for those 
who have followed your Truth in this life 
and have entered into their eternal reward in the next; 
we pray for those who mourn; 
those who are unwell, 
those who face their final illness, 
and those who care for them; 
we pray for those parts of the world 
that are denied the peace you desire for them; 
& we remember those who struggle in their relationships, 
with others or with you. Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer  

And on this Palm Sunday 
we ask that you hear also 
the the prayers of our own hearts, 
for ourselves and for those 
we know to be in need of our prayers 
(pause for silent prayer) Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer  

Merciful Father
accept these our prayers
for the sake of your Son
Our Saviour
Jesus Christ

do we do cry 'crucify?'

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Our Gospel reading today presents us with a dramatic scene: Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem. He rides on the colt covered with the cloaks of his followers; the crowd, remembering the deeds of power he has done, cry out: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!’ They spread their cloaks on the road before him. Other Gospel accounts add further details: the people cry out 'Hosanna!' and hail him as the 'Son of David.' They break branches from the palm trees near by and strew them on the road and wave them in the air. It is like the parade that might be given to a military hero, returning home in triumph, only with religious overtones. The religious authorities who are watching are alarmed. They see the homage being given to Jesus as not only sacrilegious, but dangerous … what if the crowd goes too far, and tries to make Jesus their king, sparking a rebellion, which will bring down the wrath of the Roman Army? They demand that Jesus order the crowd to stop. But his reply is surely even more offensive to their religious sensibilities: 'I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’

But this triumphant scene is, from our perspective, filled with foreboding … there is a tension contained within the joyous acclamations … because we know that a few days later, Jesus will be arrested by night by those same religious authorities whom he defied; they will hand him over to the Romans, demanding his death; the Romans will scourge him, crown him with thorns, and mock him; and then the bloodied and battered Messiah will be presented to the crowd; and instead of looking with pity on this tortured figure, the man who some called him King & Son of David & cried 'Hosanna' will now hear them cry 'Crucify him!'

Why do the crowd* find it so easy to switch from adoration to hatred? Partly I think because they are disappointed in Jesus. When they are cheering him as he enters Jerusalem, they think he is the Messiah, but they have a very particular idea of what the Messiah is. They see him as a hero, someone who is going take on the Romans who have invaded their country, whose soldiers stroll their streets, whose tax-collectors squeeze them endlessly for money … they saw the Messiah as a liberator … and the shattered man who stands before them on Good Friday … the man who was taken prisoner by the Jewish religious authorities … and then tortured by the Romans … well, he very clearly does not live up to that image … many times before Jesus had presented his followers with 'hard teaching' and refused to compromise on the fullness of his good news for the sake of popularity … this time the hard teaching is that the Messiah is very different from what you want him to be … and for this, perhaps the hardest of his hard teachings, the crowd decrees that he must die … and even those who were closest to him flee, unable to bring themselves to stand by him at this, his most difficult hour ...

Can we see ourselves behaving is such a manner? Trying to create Christ in our own image? Rejecting him violently when he refuses to conform to our expectations? Failing to stand by him in the face of the opposition of others, even though we know he speaks the truth? Most probably we behave like that every day … many of us daily cry 'hosanna' with our lips, but in our hearts shout 'crucify' … what else what might we call it if we declare that we are his followers, but refuse to keep to his teachings that he gave his Church and which have been passed down faithfully from generation to generation? When we say that his teachings are too hard, not relevant, out of date? When we say we want Christ in our lives, but only on our terms … When we want Christ and the Church to conform to the fashions of modern secular society. To do this is to attempt to re-make Christ in our own image that we desire … we're happy to pay homage to Christ; but only as long as we're not challenged by what he has to say; when that happens, how many of us turn nasty, and have very hard things to say about his body on earth, the Church he left us.

Christ said the truth will set us free; he did not say that the truth would change with the times; or that it was something that we could take the bits we liked from & reject the rest; trying to change the truth of his words, hard or not, is to cry 'crucify' like those long ago; And to not defend what we know to be the truth when we hear others mocking or denigrating it, is to be like those who deserted him that night in Gethsemane … the night he was taken for a show-trial that ended in his torture and death.

If we are to be followers of Christ, then we must accept him for the Messiah he is: the one who died for our sins so that we might attain everlasting life; and the one who spoke hard truths in order that we might turn away from our sins in order that our time in this life might prepare us for eternal life in heaven. This is the Messiah we are called to follow, the one whom we must joyfully declare to be the Son of David, the one who comes in the name of the Lord, as we wave our palms this Sunday. This is the Messiah I ask you to pray that I will have the strength to cry 'hosanna' for ...even as I will pray for you to have that strength also … in the Name of the Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit. Amen. 
Sermon 24 March 2013 (6th Sunday of Lent; Palm Sunday) 

*I know there is argument as to whether it was the same people who acclaimed him on Palm Sunday & called for this crucifixion on Good Friday. Personally I have a hard time believing that there wasn't a good number of the same people present at both occasions.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

We must be ready to be crucified: Saint Gregory Nazianzen

We are soon going to share in the Passover, and although we still do so only in a symbolic way, the symbolism already has more clarity than it possessed in former times because, under the law, the Passover was, if I may dare to say so, only a symbol of a symbol. Before long, however, when the Word drinks the new wine with us in the kingdom of his Father, we shall be keeping the Passover in a yet more perfect way, and with deeper understanding. He will then reveal to us and make clear what he has so far only partially disclosed. For this wine, so familiar to us now, is eternally new.

It is for us to learn what this drinking is, and for him to teach us. He has to communicate this knowledge to his disciples, because teaching is food, even for the teacher.

So let us take our part in the Passover prescribed by the law, not in a literal way, but according to the teaching of the Gospel; not in an imperfect way, but perfectly; not only for a time, but eternally. Let us regard as our home the heavenly Jerusalem, not the earthly one; the city glorified by angels, not the one laid waste by armies. We are not required to sacrifice young bulls or rams, beasts with horns and hoofs that are more dead than alive and devoid of feeling; but instead, let us join the choirs of angels in offering God upon his heavenly altar a sacrifice of praise. We must now pass through the first veil and approach the second, turning our eyes toward the Holy of Holies. I will say more: we must sacrifice ourselves to God, each day and in everything we do, accepting all that happens to us for the sake of the Word, imitating his passion by our sufferings, and honoring his blood by shedding our own. We must be ready to be crucified.

If you are a Simon of Cyrene, take up your cross and follow Christ. If you are crucified beside him like one of the thieves, now, like the good thief, acknowledge your God. For your sake, and because of your sin, Christ himself was regarded as a sinner; for his sake, therefore, you must cease to sin. Worship him who was hung on the cross because of you, even if you are hanging there yourself. Derive some benefit from the very shame; purchase salvation with your death. Enter paradise with Jesus, and discover how far you have fallen. Contemplate the glories there, and leave the other scoffing thief to die outside in his blasphemy.

If you are a Joseph of Arimathea, go to the one who ordered his crucifixion, and ask for Christ’s body. Make your own the expiation for the sins of the whole world. If you are a Nicodemus, like the man who worshiped God by night, bring spices and prepare Christ’s body for burial. If you are one of the Marys, or Salome, or Joanna, weep in the early morning. Be the first to see the stone rolled back, and even the angels perhaps, and Jesus himself.

From a homily by Saint Gregory Nazianzen, bishop
(from today's office of readings)

Friday, March 22, 2013

keep the blogosphere free

I found this on Let Nothing You Dismay:

A free and open world increasingly depends on a free and open internet. The internet empowers everyone — anyone can blog, create, learn, and share. It is controlled by no one — no single organisation, individual, or government. It connects the world. Today, more than two billion people are online — about a third of the planet.
Hacked Off supporter Max Mosley told parliament he wants the government “to cut off the wires” to websites he thinks should be censored. Millionaire celebrities like Hugh Grant want to regulate free speech on the internet. They want laws to force dissident refusenik bloggers to risk paying exemplary fines if they refuse to submit to the regulator.
The Hacked Off-drafted press control Royal Charter aims to regulate any blog that carries news-related material aimed at readers in the United Kingdom. Tell Max Mosley we will not be cut off, tell Hugh Grant we will not be regulated, we will not be fined. Keep the world wide web open and free.


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Or use this link to go to the page to sign the petition!

update on the senior generation

It's been a while since I gave an update on the 'senior generation' ... hard to know what to say: everything has stabilised somewhat ... & I suppose we've 'normalised' into the situation. My dad went back to the nursing home about a week ago; they really only kept in hospital for observation ... with his Alzheimer's as bad as it is, he can't really tell them much about how he's feeling. Both mothers are now in hospice: my mother-in-law yesterday (she hates it, of course); my mother just over a week ago (as she's hanging in there, there's a good chance they may release her back to the nursing home to be kept comfortable there instead). Naturally, they are in different hospices about 35 miles apart! 

As my mother has been 'dying' on and off for the last three years, we're trying to prioritise the time my wife has with her mum ... Sarah certainly has only a short time left (in as far as one can ever be certain about things); whereas my mum could well pull another of her Lazarus-like bounce backs from the brink ... after all, three weeks ago the doctors were giving her only a day or two. But we'll see how it goes. 

Thanks for your prayers and others supports. It is good at times like this to know that others are thinking of you. God bless.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Church as sacrament of unity and salvation

See, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah… I will plant my law within them and inscribe it in their hearts. I will be their God and they shall be my people… All shall know me, from the least to the greatest, says the Lord.

It was Christ who established this new covenant, the new testament in his blood, calling into being, from Jews and Gentiles, a people that was to form a unity, not in human fashion but in the Spirit, as the new people of God. Those who believe in Christ, reborn not of corruptible but of incorruptible seed through the word of the living God, not from the flesh but from water and the Holy Spirit, are constituted in the fullness of time as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people God has made his own…, once no people but now the people of God.

This messianic people has Christ as its head: Christ who was given up for our sins and rose again for our justification; bearing now the name that is above every name, he reigns in glory in heaven. His people enjoy the dignity and freedom of the children of God, in whose hearts the Holy Spirit dwells as in a temple. They have as their law the new commandment of loving as Christ himself has loved us. They have as their goal the kingdom of God, begun on earth by God himself and destined to grow until it is also brought to perfection by him at the end of time, when Christ, our life, will appear, and creation itself will be freed from slavery to corruption and take on the freedom of the glory of God’s children.

This messianic people, then, though it does not in fact embrace all mankind and often seems to be a tiny flock, is yet the enduring source of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human race. It is established by Christ as a communion of life, of love and of truth; it is also used by him as an instrument for the redemption of all, and is sent out into the whole world as the light of the world and the salt of the earth.

The Israel of old was already called the Church of God while it was on pilgrimage through the desert. So the new Israel, as it makes its way in this present age, seeking a city that is to come, a city that will remain, is also known as the Church of Christ, for he acquired it by his own blood, filled it with his Spirit, and equipped it with appropriate means to be a visible and social unity. God has called together the assembly of those who in faith look on Jesus, the author of salvation and the principle of unity and peace, and so has established the Church to be for each and all the visible sacrament of this unity which brings with it salvation.

From The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council, taken from today's Office of Readings in The Divine Office

Thomas a Kempis: take up your cross

Unto many this seemeth an hard saying, "Deny thyself, take up thy cross, and follow Jesus" (Matt. 16:24). But much harder will it be to hear that last word, "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire" (Matt. 25:41). For they who now willingly hear and follow the word of the Cross, shall not then fear (Psalm 112:7) to hear the sentence of everlasting damnation. This sign of the Cross shall be in the heaven, when the Lord shall come to judgment (Matt. 24:30). Then all the servants of the Cross, who in their life-time conformed themselves unto Christ crucified, shall draw near unto Christ the Judge with great confidence. 

Why therefore fearest thou to take up the Cross which leadeth thee to a kingdom? In the Cross is salvation, in the Cross is life, in the Cross is protection against our enemies, in the Cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness, in the Cross is strength of mind, in the Cross joy of spirit, in the Cross the height of virtue, in the Cross the perfection of holiness.

Take up therefore thy Cross and follow Jesus (Luke 14:27), and thou shalt go into life everlasting.

Imitation of Christ, by Thomas á Kempis: Book 2, Chapter 12
Of the King's High Way of the Holy Cross

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

the ancient faith

Fr Charles Lowder, on Confession & Absolution
He spoke of it openly, and with no bated breath, to those who were awakened and troubled, of confession and absolution; not as a dangerous remedy to be used in extreme circumstances, but as freely offered to all requiring more comfort and counsel than they could find without it. He spoke of it in the spirit of that Canon of the Irish Church, now swept away by those who rose up against her ancient faith, saying, 'Let us root out the remembrance of it from off the earth.'*
Addition to the 19th Canon made by the Irish Convocation of 1634: -'And the minister of every parish shall, in the afternoon before the said administration, give warning by the tolling of a bell, or otherwise, to the intent that if any have any scruple of conscience or desire the special ministry of reconciliation he may afford it to those who need it. And to this end the people are often to be exhorted into a special examination of the state of their own souls; and that finding themselves either extreme dull or much troubled in mind, they do resort unto God's ministers to receive from them as well advice and counsel for the quickening of their dead hearts and the subduing of those corruptions to which they have been subject, as the benefit of absolution likewise, for the quieting of their conscience by the power of the keys which Christ hath committed to His ministers for that purpose.'
From Charles Lowder, A Biography, by Maria Trench, 1881, p.161, Trench & Co.

Interesting what hidden bits of history one comes across. I may offer some comments on this tomorrow ... for now, I'm still digesting!