Thursday, March 31, 2016

prayer diary Thursday in the Octave of Easter, 31 March 2016

Jesus said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.' 
Luke 24. 46,47

From the very first day of his resurrection Jesus commanded his disciples to share his good news of repentance and forgiveness. Their task has descended to us. What an honour and privilege it is to be entrusted with calling others to him.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday in the Octave of Easter, 30 March 2016

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. 
Luke 24. 30,31

The eyes of the disciples were opened and he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread. So too are we privileged to meet with our Lord Jesus in the breaking of the bread in the celebration of the sacred mysteries of the most Holy Eucharist.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday in the Octave of Easter, 29 March 2016

The angels said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ 
John 20.13

Mary was bereft to think she had lost her Lord. So too should we have an equal sorrow to think that anything we do may separate us from Christ our Lord.

Monday, March 28, 2016

prayer diary Monday in the Octave of Easter, 28 March 2016

Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 
Matthew 28.9

The natural first reaction to the woman meeting with Jesus on that first Easter was to worship. We must strive to recapture that sense of love, wonder, and adoration in our daily lives.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

the resurrection report

May my words be in the name of the Father, & of the Son, & of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

The events we gather here to celebrate, that first Easter morning, literally changed the world. Faith in Christ's resurrection and what it means for every human person changed how people looked at the meaning of their lives and how they should live them. Western civilisation is underpinned by the teachings of Christ and his Church. And why would it not have changed the world? As St Paul tells us, if it is true it is the most important thing that ever happened; and if it is false, we are all sadly deluded.

So what really happened that day? That is a question which no doubt many in Jerusalem at the time were asking themselves. Perhaps no one more than Pontius Pilate, the man who had condemned Jesus to death. We know that he was uneasy about what he had done. Harsh man though he was, he hadn't liked sentencing an innocent man to be crucified. He had tried not to do so – not going so far as taking a stand against pressures being put on him, but he had tried. His wife had told him she had a dream warning him to have nothing to do with this man and the Romans were a superstitious lot and he would have placed great stock in such a warning. And this Jesus' fellows claims to kingship without an earthly kingdom and hints at divinity certainly seem to have made him very uncomfortable.

So stories that he was back from the dead would have been quite worrying for him. He would have wanted to know what was going on. And also, he had yielded to the persuasion and have him killed in order to stop unrest in the city; if he was really back, then trouble might be brewing. So what to do? Well, most likely what politicians always do at all times and all places – commission a report! In this case, an investigation to be conducted by some trustworthy man on his staff who would go out into the streets and try to figure out what was going on and then report back to the governor what he had discovered.

So some stalwart fellow would have been dispatched. Someone on his staff, bright enough not to have the wool pulled over his eyes, but tough enough not be frightened off by anyone who didn't like the questions he was asking. A man with military experience who was now serving in an administrative post – there would have been plenty like those in the empire. So out the old soldier would have gone. And a few days later he would have returned to Pilate with his report. And what would he have said?

Well, he would have covered the basic questions one asks when someone is looking into a case where someone who was thought to be dead is now apparently walking around alive and well. The first was, whether there had been a mistake in identity: perhaps the wrong man had been executed and now the right fellow was walking around claiming to have risen from the dead. But that would have been easily dismissed.. One of his own followers had betrayed him and handed him over to the religious authorities. The trial and execution had been very public; Jesus was so well known in the city that everyone would have know if it was the wrong man. His mother had even wept at the foot of the cross. No, certainly the right man had been executed.

But perhaps he had survived somehow and escaped the tomb? That idea also had to be dismissed. Romans executioners knew their business. No one survived the cross – Jesus most certainly hadn't; he had hung motionless and apparently lifeless for hours after he had breathed his last – long enough for Joseph of Arimathea to go to Pilate and request the body, for Pilate to send for the centurion to ask if he were indeed dead and the centurion to come and affirm this, and for Joseph to return. That would have taken a long time – and once a person stops moving on the cross they are dead within minutes. And, even if the cross somehow hadn't killed him, he had been stabbed through the heart with a spear. It was doubly sure he was dead. But even if he had lived, how could a man who been scourged so badly that he couldn't even carry his own cross, a man who would have been crippled by the nails driven through his hands and feet to pin him to the cross followed by a spear through his chest, how could a man in such a condition break out of a sealed tomb – a tomb closed with a stone so heavy that several men would have been needed to move it?

The next question would be perhaps people had simply made a mistake and gone to the wrong tomb? But that would be the most easily dismissed of all. Too many knew exactly where he was buried; if some had gone to the wrong place, then others would have corrected them; and the religious authorities, who certainly didn't like what they were hearing, would have been quick to point out the mistake.

The last possible explanation was that his followers had stolen the body and were now telling lies. But this was the most ridiculous idea of all. His followers were, frankly, cowards. They had run away when he was arrested; they had made no attempt to rescue him after, even though there were enough of them; and they had hidden themselves away in terror after he was dead. No, these were not the men to attack a tomb guarded by soldiers and steal away a body. True, there were some stories that the soldiers were saying they had fallen asleep and his followers had taken the body then. But this was patent nonsense. How men claim to be both asleep and to have seen what happened? And what kind of soldier admits to falling asleep on duty? He looked into that; and at first the soldiers had tried to give him some guff; but when he pointed out what the penalty was for falling asleep on duty and that he worked for the governor they were quick to admit that they had been bribed by the authorities to say his followers had stolen it. The truth was that there had been some kind of an earthquake, bright lights, and the stone seeming to roll back by itself. Then they fell to the ground as if dead men; and when they came to their senses there was nobody there but themselves and no body in the tomb.

The old soldier would have stopped there. And I imagine there would have been a long silence while Pilate waited for the rest of the report. And finally he would have said:
'Well? Keep going – why have you stopped?'
'There is no more, sir,' the soldier would have replied. 'Those are all facts that I have to report.'
'But that can't be all,' Pilate would have replied. 'On the basis of those facts the man has indeed risen from the dead!'
'It is you that say it,' the old soldier would have said. And after he was gone, as Pilate sat there, alone and wondering at what he had been told, he would have remembered that this Jesus had said something very like that when he had asked if he were a king – it is you who say it. Could he have risen from the dead? The Jewish authorities had said he had claimed he would – and three days after he died, which was when the body went missing. And he had also, according to them, claimed to be the Son of God. And his wife had been warned in a dream that he should not involve himself. What could it all mean? Could he have really risen?

We will never know what Pilate made of the events that took place in the city he ruled in those days. He essentially disappears from history thereafter. But we know what it means for us. A cold , rational examination of the facts show that Christ did indeed rise from the dead. And therefore all his promises are true. He has broken the bonds of sin and death and the promise of eternal life is open to all who believe in his name and will follow him faithfully. As the initial confusion of his disciples dissipated, as they came to understand what had happened, it was replaced with joy – a joy that has been felt by all Christians down through the ages – a joy that we share in today – a joy that I pray you will share in always. Amen. 

Examin Easter 2016

This holy morning we rejoice to remember that our Saviour has risen from the grave, conquering sin and death. How many pause to remember that Christ began his earthly ministry with a call to repentance? In this age many do not repent because they do not think themselves guilty of any sin. The Gospel truths may accuse them, but the world applauds them, and it is the latter that they prefer to believe. We must pray for them night and day; and strive to lead lives of every greater holiness ourselves; so that by our prayers and example we may turn them from the evil which ensnares them and places their immortal souls at risk.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

prayer diary: Holy Saturday 2016

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. 
John 19.41

Hush! Let all keep silence. Our Saviour, who died for our sake, lies dead in the tomb. Let us grieve the part we played in placing him there, even as we hope for what is to come.

Friday, March 25, 2016

prayer diary: Good Friday 2016

‘For whom are you looking?’ They answered, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus replied, ‘I am he.’ 
John 18. 4,5

All that Jesus suffered he did so freely for our sake. Let us then not be afraid to suffer a little not only for the sake of his name but for our own eternal happiness.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me’: a reflection for Thursday in Holy Week

May my words be in the name of the Father, & of the Son, & of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Tonight we have some passages from St John's account of the Last Supper as our Gospel reading. And it is notable, to those who are alert to such things, that St John, alone of all the evangelists, does not include any reference to the institution of the Eucharist in his Gospel – by which I mean he does not recount how our Lord took the bread and blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples telling them it was his body and they should take and eat; nor his taking of the cup and blessing the wine and telling those present it was now his blood of which they should drink. Why he does not do so has been cause for much scholarly speculation. Most compelling, I think, is the theory that all of John's Gospel is already so Eucharistically centred, particularly as it relates to the miraculous feeding narrative where he tells those who follow him the hard teaching that they must eat his body and drink his blood if they are to have life in them, that the evangelist sees no need to repeat again what has been said by the other gospel writers concerning the Institution of the Most Holy Eucharist, instead choosing to focus on other details of that night.

A very striking detail – and one that has very much entered into the imagination of Christians down through the ages – is Jesus' washing of the feet of his twelve apostles. He does so with great deliberation. The thirteen men are all gathered in the upper room and already recline at table. Jesus gets up and takes off his outer robe and then ties a towel around himself. The apostles must surely have wondered what was going on. Then he fills a basin with water and goes to each of these men, one by one, and washes their feet and dries them with the towel tied about him. Think of it: Christ, the Son of God, kneeling at the feet of men, doing the work of the lowliest of servants … and one of them is Judas!

St John records no speech while he does so; so presumably these men are shocked into silence while he is doing this. An uncomfortable silence … the only sounds that of the basin being moved from person to person, clanking on the floor as it is set down each time, the water splashing as our Lord washes the feet of each apostle, and then the rustling of the towel as he gently rubs their feet dry. Until the silence is broken by Peter who, always impetuous, asks our Lord what he is doing? Who at first refuses to accept such service from his master … and who then, in a moment of comic relief in such a solemn occasion, when told that he can have no part of Christ if he will not let him wash him, offers to then let him wash his hands and his head as well!

Christ is teaching here by example. He could have just said – I want you all to show loving service to others; instead he acts first, showing that he does not see such service as being beneath him; and if it is not beneath him, then it is not beneath any man. Wash each other's feet he tells them … following my example … serve one another …

And then he points to another way he has led by example: he reminds them of the love that he has shown for them and tells them that they must love each other other as he as loved them. He elevates this teaching to the status of a commandment – a new commandment I give to you that you love one another just as I have loved you. This love will show all the world that they are followers of his.

So by word and example, Christ calls us to loving service of each other. But let us not think he means here what the world sometimes calls love – letting a person do as they please, no matter how disobedient their actions are to the will of God, and not only nodding approval, but speaking warmly of their deeds and even applauding them. We have details in this passage that speak to the fact that Jesus does not mean anything like this by love. He looks at Judas and says not all here are clean – he knows what Judas will do and he does not approve and he says so; and he tells Peter if he will not do as he says he can have no part in him – obedience is called for in the Christian life, and failure to be obedient has consequences. And so just as Jesus, as part of the way he showed his love for mankind, warned his followers of the consequences of disobedience to the will of God, so the love we show to others, if it is to be Christ-like must also warn people of the dangers they risk by straying from the path that Christ sets before us all.

So this night, the night before he died, we think not only of Christ's loving service by the washing of feet, not only of the wondrous grace he bestowed upon his people by giving them his body to eat and blood to drink, not only that night but every day until he comes again in glory, we think of his command to love as he did – a love that is not afraid to correct, even as it is not afraid of the most humble service. I pray that you have the courage to show such love; and I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen. 

prayer diary: Thursday in Holy Week 2016

Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.' 
John 13.5

Christ, the Son of God, did not shrink to do the work of the lowliest slave. Why then should we think any task in the service of our fellow man beneath us?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

'Satan entered into him': a reflection for Wednesday in Holy Week

May my words be in the name of the Father, & of the Son, & of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

It is clear from our reading tonight that Jesus not only knew that he would be betrayed but who it was that would betray him. St John tells us that he was troubled in spirit by this – which is something that Jesus is not very often is. He is troubled at the grave of Lazarus; he is troubled earlier in this Gospel when only a short time before he speaks of his death on the cross. And now he is troubled at the thought of his betrayal. We can but speculate as to why he is troubled, as the evangelist does not specify; but part of it is surely the enormity of the sin about to be committed by one close to him. Jesus called this man, taught him, sent him out to teach others; and now he is about to hand him over to his enemies so that they may kill him. Jesus loved all his followers; and those closest to him most of all. So he surely must have had a great love for Judas; and the knowledge of the consequences of what Judas was about to do, not only for Jesus, but for Judas' own immortal soul, would have undoubtedly troubled him greatly.

The evangelist tells us that after Jesus gives Judas the piece of bread he had dipped in the dish so as to indicate to the beloved disciple – in other words himself – who it was would betray him, that Satan entered into Judas. But I think it better to think here that it was at this point that Satan claimed him fully for his own. This was the point at which his path was fixed, and his decision to betray Jesus was final. But he had long been slipping down the path that leads to damnation. Had not Jesus before this night said that one of the twelve was a devil? Had not Judas long been tempted by the money he carried on behalf of the group, stealing from it, using what was intended for the good of all the disciples, and also for helping the poor, for his own benefit? And was it not before this night that he had gone to Jesus' enemies and agreed to take money from them in return for handing his master over to them? And earlier in this very Gospel passage, St John tells us that the devil had put it into his heart to betray Jesus.

So Satan had long been nipping at the heels of Judas. And this night the prince of devils, the father of lies, claimed him for his own, entered fully into him. And Judas was lost.

His fate should make us tremble. We think of Judas as being the most terrible man in history, someone whose name can not be spoken without loathing at worst, and extreme pity at best for the wretched fate he brought down upon his head by his own actions, a wicked, evil man. But he was not always evil. He must have been good once; a seeker after truth like all the others. He went out to bring the good news of Christ to the towns and villages like his brother apostles; and like them he returned joyfully, recounting to his master how he had cured the sick in his name and cast out demons. The words of our Lord 'I saw Satan fall from the sky like lightening' – his response to the deeds of power they had done – were spoken as much to Judas as to Peter, John, and all the others. And yet Judas was to ultimately fall prey to Satan – and a more spectacular fall was never seen before or since, from the height of being an apostle to the depths of being a minion of Satan himself.

How was this brought about? We can not be sure. But avarice, greed for money, certainly seems to have been a weakness of Judas'. Perhaps his downfall began with a coin here, a coin there from the common purse he carried; with Satan whispering in his ear that it was OK, it was only a small amount, and he was working so hard and doing so much good that he deserved a little something extra every now and again. When it began and how long it went on for we can not know. But his reaction to Mary's anointing of the feet of Jesus with expensive perfume is illuminating. He explodes with anger with what he calls a waste; even as his heart lusts for the valuable ointment to be sold and the money put into the purse he carries so that he can help himself to it. Illuminating also is the fact that he took money to betray Jesus. Many in the modern age have tried to find excuses for Judas' actions, attempts made to argue that he didn't really know what he was doing. But the fact remains that he took money to lead men armed with swords and clubs to his master – men working for those Jesus had made clear time and again sought to kill him. Judas knew what he was doing, and that what he was doing was wrong – he was even warned by his master of the dreadful fate that awaited the one who would betray him, that it was better that he had never been born - and still he handed him over to his enemies of his own free will.

And as I said earlier, his fate should make us tremble. For we also betray Jesus, many times daily; we fall prey to temptations and let them lead us into sin. Christ will forgive us – just as I think he would have forgiven Judas had he only sought his pardon – but only if we repent. And without it, our fate is that of Judas', we will let small temptations lead us to greater and greater wrongs until at last Satan will enter into us and claim us as his own for all eternity. Let us end this night by praying for forgiveness, brothers and sisters, for all we do wrong and the grace to resist all that tempts us; and not only because we fear to suffer the fate of Judas, but even more out of love for God and all that he has done for us in Christ. Amen. 

prayer diary: Wednesday in Holy Week 2016

‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ 
John 13. 21

Judas betrayed Jesus; and woe unto him. And what of those who betray him daily by their stubborn resistance of God's will? Woe unto them also.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

'Now my soul is troubled': a reflection for Tuesday in Holy Week

May my words be in the name of the Father, & of the Son, & of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

We read this evening of some Greeks who wish to meet with Jesus. By Greeks here we may presume some Jews of the diaspora who are living in Greece, or perhaps some Greek speaking city of the Empire, who have come to Jerusalem for the great festival soon to take place. They have heard of the great signs performed by the one many are thinking might be the Messiah; and realising that they have come close to him they seek to arrange a meeting.
But Jesus is apparently unresponsive to their request. Instead he begins to speak of his suffering and death. 'Now my soul is troubled,' he says. Well might it be troubled. He knows precisely the fate that awaits him in only a very few days now. Dark forces conspire against him. Soon he will be betrayed by one of those closest to him. He will be arrested, beaten, put on trial, tortured further, condemned to death, and then executed in the most brutal fashion known to the world – death on a cross. Why would he not be troubled? He may be God incarnate; but he is also fully a man … and even the bravest man experiences trepidation at the thought of such a future. He would hardly be human if he did not.

However, even though he is rightly troubled, he does not seek to avoid what awaits him. After all, all he would need to do is leave the city. It would not be difficult for him to avoid his fate. We read how easy it would be in tonight's reading, which ends by telling us that after he had finished speaking 'he departed and hid from them.' Despite all the crowds, all the people hanging on his every word, those wishing to see him, hear him, touch him, when he wills all he has to do is walk away and suddenly he is hidden from them. It would be no more difficult a task for him to depart Jerusalem altogether; and all that troubles him would be at an end.

But this is something that he does not do. More, he will not even ask the Father to save him from this hour, the time of his suffering and death. It is for this reason he has come into the world – and he will neither disobey the Father nor will he abandon us to our fate; for of course if he will not suffer and die, then we can not be saved by his death on the cross.

We should pause and wonder, at this point, why it is that these dark forces gather together to bring about his death. It is important, I think, not to be so caught up in the familiarity of the narrative as to cease to wonder at the actions that take place. Jesus is a good man. His teaching is profound. He has worked many great signs. Yet consider their response to his raising of Lazarus from the dead – they conspire to kill him also so as to remove the proof of what Jesus can do. Why behave in so wicked a fashion? Indeed, how can they plan such objectively wicked deeds – to conspire against a good man, to bribe a follower to betray him, to procure false testimony against him, to beat him in contravention of their own laws, to seek his agonising death from the hands of foreigners, and to threaten mayhem and riot if the Romans will not give them what they want? Deep questions – too deep to be answered in detail tonight. Suffice it to say that evil will always seek to extinguish what is good; and the very evil actions we think of here are being contemplated against the greatest of goods – God himself made man.

All this should be a source of shame for us. Christ did, in no way, seek to avoid the consequences of his obedience to the Father. He could have run from his enemies; he could have sought some compromise with them that would have spared his life. But he did not do so. Because that would have meant not passing on the true faith to men in all its fullness. But what of us? How often we run from the fray; how often we seek some middle-ground with the world; how often we betray our Saviour, just as surely as Judas did, for the sake of a quiet life and the approval of a world that the more we compromise the more it will seek for us to give up.

But let us return, as we end, to those Greeks who sought Jesus; and his reaction to their request to meet with him that was seemingly so unresponsive. Yes, they sought him; but they were part of the great multitude that would soon turn on him, and cry for his crucifixion. Perhaps it was that knowledge that prompted him – seemingly out of nowhere – to begin speaking of his death. Tonight, let us pray that we will not be like them: claiming to seek Jesus one minute and casting him aside the next. Let us pray instead that we will try, hard as it is for us, to be like Jesus. Obedient to the Father, even unto death; and stalwartly refusing to be party to all that is evil in the world, no matter how much it may seem to be to our advantage. Amen. 

prayer diary: Tuesday in Holy Week 2016

'Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.' 
John 12.25

Love of the things of this world leads to spiritual death. But those who can bring themselves to be as dead to such things are on the path to eternal life.

Monday, March 21, 2016

the anointing of Jesus: a reflection for Monday in Holy Week

May my words be in the name of the Father, & of the Son, & of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

We have an interesting contrast between Mary and Judas in our reading this evening. Mary, while Jesus is reclining at table with friends, places herself publicly at his feet; her sister Martha is, as usual, the one looking after the guests. Then she anoints his feet using pure nard, an expensive perfume. Finally, she wipes his feet with her hair.

Does Judas approve this extravagant gesture? He does not. He complains, loudly, that this is a waste; that the perfume could have been sold for 300 denarii and the money given to the poor.

And we might easily approve Judas' words of condemnation, be led to think 'well yes, what is this woman doing? acting in a very sensual way toward our Lord, pouring a very costly perfume-oil over his feet, when she would probably have been better occupied helping her sister to look after people?' But there are things that get in the way of our forming such an opinion.

First there are the additional words of the evangelist. St John tells us that Judas cares not at all for the poor; this is simply a pretext. He was the keeper of the common purse for Jesus and his Apostles; and he was not a trustworthy man when it came to carrying out his duties. Instead, he would steal from the purse and use the money for his own purposes. His angry words directed at Mary are motivated by greed. He would have liked to see those 300 little silver denarii go into the common purse so he can have them there for him to steal and spend. And knowing what he will do later for a mere 30 pieces of silver, it is not hard to understand his frustration at seeing 300 slip from his grasp.

However, the fact that Judas is lying about why he grumbles does not mean that he is necessarily wrong to say the money would have been better spent on the poor. But Jesus also weighs in against him. 'Leave her alone,' St John reports him as saying; other evangelists tell us that Jesus says she has done a beautiful thing for him. What she does, Christ tells us, she does to prepare his body for burial – a prophetic action, then, as certainly non of the apostles have yet grasped that Jesus has journeyed to Jerusalem to suffer and die.

What do we learn from comparing these two, the man and the woman, the apostle and she who wipes men's feet with her hair - the crowning glory of woman, as St Paul puts it? Judas it seems is the person who lives our his faith with fine words – but does not back them up with actions in his life. Religion, for him, exists to benefit his life; and when it does not he will discard it – and at a profit if he can. Mary, on the other hand, shows her love for Christ in her actions. We meet her three times only in the gospels: once when she chooses the better part by sitting at the feet of Jesus to hear him teach; again at the grave of Lazarus her brother; and here where she anoints the feet of the Word made flesh. On two of these occasions, she says not a word – the first and the last mentioned. And when we do hear her voice at her brother's grave it is to hear her express her faith in Christ. But the silence of her actions are eloquent: prayerful and rapt attention to the words of our Lord; and worshipful adoration of him, showing an extravagant love for him, a love that knows no limits, even to the extent of anointing him with perfume-oil that literally costs a fortune.

Little wonder then that elsewhere in the Gospels Jesus says where his Good News is told this story will be recounted in memory of her. Little wonder also I think that we should see here as as an example for us all to follow in this Holy Week and always – an example of a love for God that knows no bounds, that tries to mirror in its poor human way the extravagant love that God showed for us his children by sending his only Son to suffer and die for us. Her's is the example that leads to eternal life; while that of Judas can lead only away from it. So I end with the prayer that you will be ever more like Mary in the way you show your love for God; and I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen. 

prayer diary: Monday in Holy Week 2016

Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.' 
John 12. 7

Jesus' words when Mary anointed his feet show well he knew and accepted the suffering that awaited him. We who are called to be like him must not fear to take up our own crosses.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

the long gospel

Today is the Palm Sunday also called Passion Sunday. The first because it is the Sunday when we read the Gospel of the our Lord's triumphant entry in Jerusalem ... joyful, yet ominous as it marks the beginning of Holy Week and therefore starts the countdown to the events of Good Friday. The second because is the Sunday when we read what is called the Long Gospel, one of the evangelists accounts of our Lord's Passion from the Last Supper to his being laid in the tomb. Why do we read it this day? Because next Sunday is Easter and if we did not read it this day there would be no Sunday on which these important events in Salvation History were heard read in our churches. And because the Gospel is so long, generally there is no sermon. This is the Sunday we let Sacred Scripture speak for itself, unfiltered, raw; what need is there for more words when the blood of our Saviour is still fresh on the wood of the Cross. Some silence after, yes. Let people reflect for themselves on the awesomeness of Christ's sacrifice. But no more words. The Word has spoken; let man keep silence. 

Examin Sunday 20 Mar 2016

'I can't help how I feel.' How many today use these words or similar to excuse what they do. The adulterer his infidelity, the violent person her anger, those consumed with avarice their desire for the material things of this world. And indeed, while all may be tempted by such passions from time to time, they do not control us. We are the ones who decide to follow such inclinations or not. What we do is controlled by our will; and by our will we may do either good or evil. The claim that we allowed our passions rule our actions is not an excuse for doing evil; it is merely an admission that we did so of our own free will.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

funeral address: Richard Boyle, RIP

May I speak in the name of Almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen

There is no way to speak easily of the events that bring us here today. Richard went into hospital for an operation; and while no surgical procedure is without its risks, the one he was scheduled for is one that normally would see the patient discharged the next day, perhaps even back at work. There was no inkling of any danger; but danger there was. And soon the dreadful news began to spread: to his family, to his neighbours, to the community in which he was born, grew up in, and lived all his life. Richard had gone.

It is difficult to know what to say. The death of a decent man at a relatively young age is a hard one for all who knew and loved him. Richard was a hard-working man who set up his own business and threw his energies into it until his back forced him to ease off; a man who got through the tragic loss of his brother Mark at young age to forge a good life for himself in the area he grew up in, marrying happily, raising three children he adored into young adulthood; a man who enjoyed the simple pleasure of going rambling of an evening, as his wife Bernie put it, to visit with friends and family; a steady, trustworthy man – 'we all relied on Richard,' his mother Mary told me so many times over the last few days. A man who no one has a bad word to say about; a man the news of whose death was met with by shock by all who heard it, bringing tears to the eyes of neighbours as well as family.

His mother, Mary, when she called me said: 'I have terrible news.' And it was terrible. Three generations left not only bereaved but bereft: his children Wayne, Keith, and Eímear have lost a father they loved dearly and whom they expected to have in their lives for many years to come; his wife Bernie has lost without warning a husband whom she loved and who loved her, and his sisters Martha, Margaret, Roberta, and Christina have lost their brother; and then there is his parents Mary and Bobby. Parents are not supposed to have to bury their children – and this is the second time they have had to do so.

Three generations at one blow – what does one say in the face of so much pain and sadness? Perhaps it helps to remember that our Lord also knew this kind sorrow in his life; and that those important to him in his life were not spared such pain either. Today is the feast of St Joseph; and we tend to think most on his day of how he had looked after the Virgin Mary when she was with child, protected her and her infant when they were threatened, and raised the Christ-child as if he was his own son. But, of course, we have no mention of him in the Gospels once Jesus begins his ministry; and that has led, quite naturally, to the tradition that he had passed away before then. This means that our Lord would have known the pain of losing a father – a pain he would have experienced while he was yet a young man. This also leads us to the realisation that his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, knew what it was to lose a husband while she was still a relatively young woman herself. To this pain was added that of seeing her Son dead on the cross while she stood at the foot of it, a mother watching her child suffer and die before taking him in her arms to lay him in his tomb.

If God and his mother experienced such suffering, we must accept, I think, that suffering is an unavoidable part of human life – this valley of tears, as the poets and writers of prayers call it. And if this life was all there was, then such suffering would be essentially unbearable: life is short, we suffer, and then we die. But this life is not all there is; and the pain we know during it is not meaningless. As St Paul tells us in the Epistle we heard earlier: For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.' This life, and all it brings us, sorrows as well as joys, prepares us for for eternal life. And that hope we have of eternal life is not something imaginary, something based on the fear that the grave is all that awaits us. It is something that is based on the sure and certain promises made to us by Christ himself: We heard his own words spoken to us today from the Gospel of St John: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.' He showed the truth of those words by his own Resurrection from the grave; a resurrection we think of in particular at this time as we prepare shortly to enter into the sorrows of Holy Week knowing that they will be followed by the joy of Easter morn. And if Christ himself tells us of the glories that await all those who love him, we have nothing to fear; and we have hope indeed.

Such hope sustains us at times like this, when grief would otherwise be unbearable. This is the hope that his mother Mary expressed when she said to me soon after hearing the shocking news of Richard's death: he's in a better place now. This is the hope his wife Bernie expressed when she told me: his pain and suffering are ended; he is at peace; I'll see him again one day. This is the hope we all express as we gather here today as the people of God, a Christian community coming together to bid farewell in Christ to one who was our brother in Christ. Such a farewell is not a final 'good-bye,' but rather an 'until we meet again' in that place where tears and suffering are no more. And this is the hope we have as we prepare, all too soon, much much too soon, to take our leave of Richard today. Amen

Lent 6: Do you come to Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life?

May I speak in the name of Almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen
Tonight we come to the last of our baptismal promises: Do you come to Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Let us begin with the words 'do you come?' They are an invitation. The reasons for accepting that invitation have already been dealt with during the course of the previous promises. To refuse it is to instead align oneself with the devil and proud rebellion against God; it is to embrace the deceit and corruption of evil; it is to deliberately to enter into a life of sin, knowing that such a life not only separates us from God, but from the people around us as well. It is to refuse to turn to Christ as Saviour and therefore to reject the salvation he offers to all; and it is to refuse to submit to him as Lord, in the full knowledge that he is not only our Saviour and Redeemer, but God himself made man.

But, a I said, it is an invitation. And invitations can be declined as well as accepted. We have free-will; God gave it to us so that we might not be puppets who, because we could not choose to do evil, neither could we choose to do good; he gave it to us so that we might love him, the one who loved us enough to create us and all the world around us to live in – and love without the ability to choose not to love is not love at all, but a kind of slavery. And he did not create us to be his slaves, but his children. And so we may choose to accept or decline his invitation to come to him through his Son; but, we may not claim if we reject that invitation that we did not know what it is was we were doing and what the consequences of that action are.

And the warnings we have given as to what rejecting God means for our eternal destiny can not be seen as some kind of threat or coercion. The man who throws himself off a cliff is dealt only the natural consequences of his actions when gravity drags him screaming down to his death. And if he was foolish enough to believe others when they told him he could fly, in the face of the overwhelming evidence that the world presented him with that he could not, that will not save him. So it is with life in the world to come. We can not both reject God and expect the eternal happiness that results only from our free-will decision to love him, and show that love by obedience to his will in this life. In his love, God gives us a choice; and from that same love he will respect the choice we make, even if it is to reject him.

But because he loves us, he does all he can to guide us toward the right choice, the choice that is a loving acceptance of him on our part, instead of a hate-filled rejection; and he has given us many graces to help us on our path. The greatest of these is his Son, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. What greater proof of his love for us could there be, to paraphrase St John the Divine, than that he sent his only begotten Son that we might have eternal life? And he did not send him to a life of ease and comfort, the life of a king in a palace, waited on by servants, eating choice delicacies and never having to lift a finger for himself. No, he sent him to live a life of poverty and hard work, and to finish that life on a cross – not for any crimes that he had committed, but for us, for our sins, so that he might conquer death and open the gates of heaven to us.

That is why Christ called himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life; because no one comes to the Father except through him … and unless they eat his Flesh and drink his Blood in the blessed Sacrament of the Altar – something that can only be done by those who are members of the Church he founded – they can have no life in them. Therefore, we must come to Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life if we are to have eternal life. This idea makes some uncomfortable. What of those outside the Church, they wonder? They listen too much, I fear, to those who think all religions are the same. Clearly that cannot be true, for they all make many conflicting claims. Only one can be true – and Christ told us that he was the Truth itself. And if you do not believe that, then you do not believe Christ.

Those who do believe worry about the implications of this for those who are not Christians. They need not fear. God is merciful; and such things are for his judgement, not ours. And I do not think that the Father who desired that all men be saved will deal harshly with those who have not heard of Christ, or reject him through no fault of their own … perhaps because they have not heard him preached … something, I think, he is more likely to hold those who have heard accountable for for failing to bring the Gospel to all peoples.

But leaving the above aside, we in any event do not have the excuse of not knowing Christ. We have been baptised into his Church, received the Sacraments she offers and the Grace they give, and been instructed in the faith. In theory we have accepted the invitation to come to Christ - and I say 'in theory' because as Jesus himself told us not all who call him 'Lord, Lord' will be saved. Many have called themselves followers of his with their lips but not shown themselves to be so with their lives; they have, instead of a life of humble obedience, chosen to follow the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. It is not, of course, too late for them to amend their ways. God, as I said, is merciful. But time, it must be said, is short; for we know not the day nor the hour.

But we need not fear, I think. God is indeed merciful. And those who take seriously their baptismal promises, and live them out daily, truly repenting when they stumble and fall, and returning once more to the Way Christ sets before them, may hope that at the last their journey will end with him in heaven. This is my prayer for you all; and I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen

prayer diary Saturday 19 Mar 2016 St Joseph's Day

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you.' 
Matthew 2. 14

What great esteem in which we must hold St Joseph. God spoke to him in visions; he was the protector of the child Jesus and his mother; and he raised the Son of God as if he were his own.

Friday, March 18, 2016

prayer diary Friday 18 Mar 2016

‘I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?’ The Jews answered, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy.' 
John 10. 32,33

The enemies of the truth will always find excuses to fight against it. Just as they condemned Christ, so many of those who are faithful to his word are condemned by the world today.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 17 Mar 2016 St Patrick's day

Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work'. 
John 4.34

St Patrick escaped a life of slavery in Ireland only to return to work tirelessly as a missionary. But he thought his efforts worth it; for to do God's will is to be richly fed.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 16 Mar 2016

Jesus said ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ 
John 8. 31, 32

Only those who are obedient to Christ's words are truly followers of his. But it is in such faithful service that true human freedom lies.

prayer diary Tuesday 15 Mar 2016

Jesus said 'I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.’ 
John 8. 24

Hard as it may be for those who think all religions the same, salvation is linked to the person of Christ. For as he told us, he is 'the Way, the Truth, and the Life.'

Monday, March 14, 2016

prayer diary Monday 14 Mar 2016

Jesus said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ 
John 8. 7

We must remember that Jesus also told the woman to 'go and sin no more.' He would not condemn her to death in this life; but neither did he excuse her sin.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

anointing the anointed one

May I speak in the name of Almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen

Our Gospel today is St John the Divine's account of the anointing of the feet of Jesus by a woman as he sat at table. The story is told at this time during Lent because in terms of timing, today being the 5th Sunday of that season, it happens around the same time as the events we will mark next Sunday, our Lord's triumphant entry into Jerusalem; and because, of course, our Lord's words that this is done in order to prepare his body for burial remind us not only that he fully knew the fate that awaited him, but went willingly towards it; and helps focus our attention more fully, if such were needed during Lent, that our Lord's passion and death hangs like a shadow over this whole penitential time.

Versions of this event are recounted in all four of the Gospels; true indeed were our Lord's prophetic words, as recorded by others of the evangelists, that wherever his good news was preached this story would be told in memory of her. However, it is only St John who names her, telling us that it was Mary, the sister of Martha, the woman who was often so busy, and of Lazarus, who had been raised from the dead. As before, Martha is the one who serves, and Mary is the one who worships the Lord. Before she sat at his feet, drinking in all that he has to say, devouring his words of divine wisdom as others eat; on this occasion she brings perfume and anoints his feet. And not just any perfume, but pure nard in an alabaster jar. We are told that it was worth about 300 denarii; and a denarii, as I think all here know, was what a labouring man was paid for a day's work. So, allowing for the Sabbath rest and other holy days when he might not have worked, we are talking about a year's wages – an enormous sum.

Both Mark and Matthew tell us how shocked some of those present were at her extravagance. What a waste, they say; and they grumble at her. But it is only John who tells that among those who criticised her was Judas, one of the 12. It is, of course, shocking that one of the apostles should be a ring-leader among those trying to deny Christ such worshipful attention; but for many I think the shock is lessened by the fact that it is Judas, a man whose later actions have proved such a challenge to even the best of Christians to feel any compassion for, even knowing the dreadful fate those actions will bring down upon his own head.

It is interesting to contrast the actions of Mary with the words of Judas. He claims to be appalled by what he calls a waste, and that the money would have been better spent on the poor. But St John tells us that his reason was only an excuse; it was not that he cared for the poor, but for the lost opportunity to place the money it would have fetched into the purse he carried so that he might use it for his own greedy purposes. In that sense he may be called the patron non-saint of all those who cry out in false-indignation when they see money being spent on building fine churches and making them beautiful places to worship in and give glory to God. A waste of money that could have been better spent, they claim; and often they speak in the name of the poor. But how often, I find myself wondering, do they spend the money that they themselves refuse to give for glorifying God instead to the poor? And in any case, as Jesus tells, there is no conflict in this matter. The poor, who are always with us, are to be looked after; but that does not prevent us from also doing what we can for the body of Christ, the Church he founded.

There is another thought that I have about this anointing. Jesus says that she does so in order to prepare him for burial. Is it possible that she, alone of all that follow him, understand what it is that he has been telling them for so long – that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and to die? It would be irony indeed if it was the woman, so criticised and misunderstood by so many, even at times by her own sister, was the only one to fully take into her heart what was going on here, that she was at the centre of the drama of salvation itself.

Now consider the actions of Mary. She worships Christ, both by anointing his feet and wiping them with her hair. And we know from previous evidence in the Gospels that this is not something that is done for show, or to draw unwarranted attention to herself. She is truly a lover of Jesus, a woman who by sitting at his feet to hear his good news shows herself to be a prayerful and godly woman. And what of the poor? Well she is, as has already been stated, the sister of Martha and Lazarus; it was to them that Jesus and his apostles went to stay on many an occasion. This, and the fact that she had the albastar jar of nard, shows they were a family of means; and people who were not unwilling to share with others who had less than themselves. And we know that Jesus loved Lazarus; can we really believe that Christ would have been so fond of a family who did not show their love for God by way of showing love for their neighbours also? And would the woman who sat at Jesus feet so often, listening to his teaching, the one Jesus said had chosen the better part, would she not have put that teaching into practice in her life? Would Jesus have declared her choice the better one if if was all listening but never used in any way? I can not think so.

Perhaps that is what we should hope for ourselves during Lent; that our prayers, and fasting, and alms-giving will help us be more like Mary, help us draw closer to Christ, so that we may put all he has taught us better into practice in our lives. It is something, I think, that all should pray for – both for themselves; and for others. Amen

Examin Sunday 13 March 2016

No athlete expects to win the race without hard work and self-discipline; yet many seem to expect to attain heaven without any training at all. Lent is the time to focus again on the training needed to reach that great goal by engaging in prayer, fasting, and works of mercy. And if you will not train, then you can not be surprised if in the end you do not finish the race.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 12 March 2016

They went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, ‘Why did you not arrest him?’ The police answered, ‘Never has anyone spoken like this!’ 
John 7. 45,46

Ordinary men recognised Jesus' extraordinary qualities, while those whose power and authority were threatened by him refused to. Consider this when you hear people speaking ill of the faith today.

Friday, March 11, 2016

prayer diary Friday 11 March 2016

'But the one who sent me is true, and you do not know him. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.’ 
John 7. 28,29

Reason tells us God exists; but for us to know him requires that he reveal himself to us. He has revealed himself most fully in Christ; therefore we must follow him.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Lent 5: do you submit to Christ as Lord?

May I speak in the name of Almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen

How swiftly time passes! Already we are come to the fifth in our series of Lenten reflections on our baptismal promises. And let us remind ourselves, at this point, why it is that we are looking at them during this time. The first is that because Lent had its origins as a time of special preparation for those who were about to be baptised into God's Church; and also, of course, because it is good to remind ourselves during this penitential season of the promises made at our baptism, and again not only at our confirmation but also every time we renew our baptismal promises, of these sacred vows we have made that we may see where it is that we fail to live them fully and rightly so that we may endeavour to do better into the future … not only for the sake of our own souls, but also so that we may set a better example of Christian living for those around us, our neighbours, our friends, and our family – those we are commanded by Christ himself to love as if they were ourselves and whose eternal salvation we should earnestly desire to bring about at all times.

And so to our fifth promise: do you submit to Christ as Lord? Let us think here what is meant by Lord. The word trips off our tongue easily enough in our prayers, and in our reading of the Sacred Scriptures; we hear it said many, many times in the Liturgy of the Church. But do we, people of this modern age, really understand what it means any more? We are all so used to thinking of ourselves as the equals of all others; so much so that we find it difficult to use titles of respect. To call another person Mr or Mrs or Miss is difficult; and even the youngest children believe it right that they should be on first-name terms with the most venerable adult. In some ways this may be a good thing; in others it is not, particularly in the way in which this modern informality may make it difficult to show respect to those who are deserving of respect. Can the one who is used to calling the university professor 'Bob' or the government minister 'Mary' really understand what it means when they call Jesus Lord? The title means that we see him as one who is far above us, that we are not equal to him in any way. But do we truly understand that in our hearts?

We must; for we must never forget that he is the Messiah, the Son of God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, the one who is fully God and fully man, the one who died on the cross to save us from our sins because he was the only one who could redeem us from them so that we, poor, weak, frail, mortals, might enter into the eternal life we were created for. We must never lose sight for a moment of his divinity, his infinite superiority over us, his absolute worthiness not only to be addressed as Lord, but also by other titles royal and divine.
Keeping that to the forefront of our minds will help us to do what we promise in this baptismal vow, which is submit to him. 

That is because to submit to anyone requires a recognition that they stand above us. Sometimes that submission is undeserved: the threat of violence or the dictates of society demand that we treat someone who is unworthy as if they were our superior. But this submission is not forced; God grants us free will and therefore does not force anything upon us. Our submission in this case is something that we must freely choose; and to freely accept that another is superior to us in every way and totally deserving that we should humbly admit that to obey them in everything we think, or do, or say is not just a duty or a privilege is no easy thing. Particularly as this is no aspirational or theoretical promise of submission; it is very concrete, as God has given us very clear indications of what this submission entails.

We have this, first and foremost, in his Word given to us in Sacred Scripture. Then we also have the Word made Flesh, Jesus himself. And he has established his Body on Earth, his Church, to which he has given authority, and whose teachings and doctrines we must follow. The promptings of the Holy Spirit are also ways in which God guides us; but all inclinations of our heart are not to be treated as if they were the Spirit of God speaking to us. Such thoughts must be tested against what we read in Scripture and has been taught by the Church from the earliest times. God does not contradict himself; and what he condemns in what he has revealed to all his children he does not contradict by way of private revelation to one or a few. If it does, then it is much more likely to be the voice of the world, the flesh, or the devil creeping into our ears and tempting us to do evil even as it tries to persuade us we would be doing good by doing so.

The sacred ministers of God's Church, those he has called to be bishops, priests, and deacons can be of great assistance in helping one discern what is of God and what is not. The book of common prayer, after all, refers to them as 'discrete ministers of God's word' for a reason; and obedience to them in such matters can be of great spiritual benefit. As St Thomas a Kempis reminds us, he that endeavours to withdraw himself from obedience, withdraws himself from grace. And it is obedience to God that allows us to submit to him in the person of his Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I pray that you will daily grow in holiness, that you may with greater and greater humility bring yourself to submit to him more and more fully until at last you stand before our Lord in heaven to be greeted by him as his good and faithful servant. And I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen

prayer diary Thursday 10 March 2016

'I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him.' 
John 5.43

Jesus spoke with divine authority and was yet rejected. Then and now there are those all too ready to listen to the voice of the world rather than God's.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 9 March 2016

'Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.' 
John 5.19

Christ's will was in perfect alignment with that of the Father. Therefore we who are called to model ourselves on Christ are also called to that same perfection.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 8 March 2016

He told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath. 
John 5. 15,16

Many use the example of Jesus to excuse to do whatever they please on the Lord's Day. Yet Christ was doing God's work; what Jesus did gave him glory. Is that what your actions proclaim on a Sunday?

Monday, March 7, 2016

prayer diary Monday 7 March 2016

The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my little boy dies.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’ 
John 4. 49, 50

People sometimes wonder why miracles are so rare today. But they have always been rare. That many happened in the presence of Jesus does not mean they were common elsewhere. Also, who is not to say that many miracles today go unrecognised?

Sunday, March 6, 2016

a story of redemption

May I speak in the name of Almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen

Our Gospel reading today consists of one of the most famous passages from the Bible, and therefore in all of literature, that of the prodigal son; a story so famous that even those who have never read the Bible or indeed anything else are likely to know it, and even when they don't they will probably have a good idea what is meant if they hear someone referred to as a prodigal son.

The story, I think, can be broken down into three parts. In the first, the younger son asks his father for his inheritance. It is a shocking enough thing to do, in a way, for it is almost like saying you want your father dead. And what happens next is even more shocking – the son turns his share of the property in ready cash and, in a complete rejection of home and family, heads off for the bright lights of a far away country. There we are told he squanders the lot in dissolute living. We are not given any details of what this may consist of – his brother later fills in some of the blanks with some particularly sordid information, but we can not be sure if what he says is based on a sure knowledge of the facts or if he is simply letting his imagination run wild. However, the younger son later admits that his behaviour has been sinful so we can be sure that whatever it was that the younger son spent his fortune on, it was not on anything good and pure and wholesome. And all too soon it is gone, every penny.

That is where we move to the second part of the story – and this section begins with the son discovering the sad reality that the temptations of the world are made up of false and empty promises. Once the money is gone, he finds himself broke and on the scrap heap of life. No one wants anything to do with him. To stay alive he has to find work tending pigs – the lowest of the low for a Jew. And he is so hungry that even the food the pigs is eating starts to look good to him. How far he has fallen from his glory days: he who was not that long ago a rich man able to fling his money about getting whatever he wanted, is now a day labourer, all but starving as he ekes out a living in another man's fields herding his pigs.

But out of this suffering something good comes – the young man comes to himself, realises how foolish he has been, the great wrong he has done to his father, and determines to go home. And he truly has learned his lesson, for he does not seek to return on the terms that he had left, as a son of the household. No, he realises he has sinned against heaven and his father, so instead he will seek admission as the lowliest of servants. And so begins the journey home to his father.
With his return begins the third part - and what a loving father he returns to! There is no anger, no bitterness, no desire to see his son grovel and beg for forgiveness. No, the fathers stands watching for his son, hoping for his return. And when he sees the ragged, woebegone, and miserable creature in the distance he doesn't wait for him to walk every last step to the door; instead he runs to his son. And before ever he speaks a word of apology, or indeed speaks at all, he throws his arms about him, embraces him, and kisses him. The son tells him how he has sinned against him and heaven, and that he is no longer worthy to be called his son. But it is as if the father hasn't heard a word. The son never even gets to beg to be allowed to be treated as a servant, for the father is already calling a ring for his finger, fine clothes, and a feast to be prepared. The elder son is not best pleased to see his wastrel brother greeted so lavishly on his return; but the father explains that his joy stems from the fact that coming to his senses and coming home it is as if his brother had returned from the dead – something that must be celebrated.

The story is a powerful message of sin and redemption; and the great and merciful love that God has for his children. It has captured and held the imagination of mankind down through the ages; and rightly so – for we all know ourselves to be sinners who needed to be saved from the consequences of our own. And the message that it does not matter how low we can sink that God will forgive us is one we need to hear.

But there is an important part of the story that is not to be overlooked, although I think it is by many. Yes the son sins and the father forgives him – but in between those two lies the sons suffering, his realisation and acceptance of his sinfulness, his true and abject repentance, and his return to the father begging for his forgiveness. There is a tendency to gloss over all that, I think; which is a huge mistake, for without it the forgiveness that the father grants him could not happen. The son is saved in the end – a salvation which, as his elder brother points out, he in no way has earned or deserved – because of the abundant love and mercy and the father; but it is his own repentance that allows him to access that love and mercy.

And so my prayer as I end today is that you will be like the prodigal, not in his sinfulness, but in the repentance and return to the father that follows when he at last comes to himself, so that you may at the last be saved; and I ask that you pray the same for me.


Examin Sunday 6 Mar 2016

There are many who think they are not too bad; and certainly not as great a sinner as many they know. And that may well be true – but what of it? We are called to be as Christlike as possible and perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. By that standard we all fall short – even if we are as close to a living saint as it is possible to be. Repent therefore and ask God's pardon. He will grant his mercy to all who seek it; but for it to be granted, you must indeed seek it with all due humility.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 5 Mar 2016

(The tax-collector said) “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified.' 
Luke 18. 13

The hope of salvation requires an awareness of one's own sinfulness; for it is in that one can find the humility to throw oneself on the mercy of God and seek his forgiveness.

Friday, March 4, 2016

prayer diary Friday 4 Mar 2016

'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' 
Mark 12. 30

Consider the full import of this verse: every fibre of your being is to be devoted to the love of God. And that love must be reflected in how you live your life. This Lent ponder how much of your life reflects love of God; and how much love of self.