Easter II Year A

The Cross had asked the questions; the Resurrection had answered them…. The Cross had asked ‘Why does God permit evil and sin to nail Justice to a tree?’ The Resurrection answered: ‘That sin, having done its worst, might exhaust itself and thus be overcome by Love that is stronger than either sin or death.’
          Thus there emerges the Easter lesson that the power of evil and the chaos of the moment can be defied and conquered, for the basis of our hope is not in any construct of human power but in the power of God, who has given to the evil of this earth its one mortal wound—an open tomb, a gaping sepulchre, an empty grave.
Fulton J. Sheen Cross-Ways
This morning as we rejoice in the joy of the Risen Lord, as we are filled with joy, with hope and with love, we can reflect on what the Resurrection does: when Jesus comes and stands among the disciples he says ‘Peace be with you’ Christ’s gift to the world in His Death and Resurrection is Peace, the Peace ‘which passes all understanding’. He shows the disciples his hands and side so that they can see the wounds of love, through which God’s Mercy is poured out on the world to heal it and restore it. In this peace Christ can say to them ‘As the Father sent me, so I send you’ as the baptised people of God the Church is to be a missionary community – one sent to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world, that it may share the joy and life of the Risen Lord.
          As well as giving the Apostles the Holy Spirit, ordaining them as the first bishops of the Church, we see that the power of the Cross to bring peace to the world is also the power to absolve sins – priests and bishops can absolve the people of God in God’s name, and by God’s power – this is what the Cross achieves – reconciling us to God and each other. The Church, then, is to be a community of reconciliation, where we are forgiven and we, in turn, forgive, where we are freed from sin, its power and its effects.
          When Christ breathes on the disciples and says ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ it is this gift of God’s Holy Spirit which transforms them from frightened people sat in a locked room in fear into the confident, joyous proclaimers of the Gospel, such as Peter in his sermon to the people of Jerusalem. In Peter’s sermon we see that all that Christ is and does is confirmed by Scripture – it is the fulfilment of prophesy, such as we find in Isaiah 25:6—9:
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death for ever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
          As the Church we know that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who gives freedom to Israel, a freedom from sin – a bringing to completion of what God started in the Exodus, in the crossing of the Red Sea – we too are free, freed by the waters of baptism, sharing in Christ’s Death and Resurrection.
          Thomas was not present with the disciples, he cannot believe in the reality of Jesus’ Resurrection unless he sees with his own eyes, and feels with his own hands – such is his grief, such is his love for Jesus. Our Lord says to him ‘Doubt no longer but believe’ which leads to his confession ‘My Lord and my God’. Blessed are we who have not seen and yet have come to believe, and through this belief we have live in Christ’s name, we have the hope of eternal life and joy with him forever.
          The disciples go from being scared and stuck in an upper room to missionaries, evangelists, spreading the Good News around the world, regardless of the cost, even of sacrificing their own lives to bear witness to the fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he died for our sins, and that he rose again, on this day for us, that God loves us and tells us to love Him and to love one another. It is a simple and effective message which people still want to hear – we need to tell it to them, in our thoughts, our words and our actions.
          The heart of our faith and the Gospel is forgiveness – no matter how many times we mess things up, we are forgiven. It is this reckless generosity of spirit which people find hard – to believe that they toocan be forgiven, by a loving God, and by their fellow Christians. That we can, despite our manifold shortcomings be a people of love, and forgiveness, and reconciliation. That God’s Grace will in the end not abolish our nature, but perfect it, that being fed by Christ, with Christ: so that we too may become what He is. That faced with the sad emptiness of the world, and its selfishness, its greed, we can be filled with joy, and life, and hope. That like the first apostles we too can spread the Gospel: that the world may believe.
It’s a tall order, perhaps, but one which God promises us. That is what the reality of the Resurrection is all about, it’s either nothing, in which case we are the most pitiable of deluded fools – idiots who are more to be pitied than blamed, orit is the single most important thing in the world. It should affect allof us, every part of our life, every minute of every day, allthat we do, all that we say, all that we are. This may not fit in with a reserved British mentality, we think we’re supposed to be polite and not force our views on others. But this simply will not do. We are, after all, dealing with people’s souls, their eternal salvation, it’s a serious matter. And what we offer people is entirely free, can change their lives for the better, and make life worth living.

So let us be filled with the joy of the Resurrection this Easter, let us share that joy with others, may it fill our lives and those of whom we meet with the joy and love of God, who has triumphed and who offers us all new life in Him, that all that we do, all that we are, all that we say or think may give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, dominion and power, now and forever.

A thought for the day

From the Jerusalem Catecheses

The bread of Heaven and the cup of salvation 

On the night he was betrayed our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples and said: “Take, eat: this is my body.” He took the cup, gave thanks and said: “Take, drink: this is my blood.” Since Christ himself has declared the bread to be his body, who can have any further doubt? Since he himself has said quite categorically, This is my blood, who would dare to question it and say that it is not his blood?

Therefore, it is with complete assurance that we receive the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ. His body is given to us under the symbol of bread, and his blood is given to us under the symbol of wine, in order to make us by receiving them one body and blood with him. Having his body and blood in our members, we become bearers of Christ and sharers, as Saint Peter says, in the divine nature.

Once, when speaking to the Jews, Christ said: Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you shall have no life in you. This horrified them and they left him. Not understanding his words in a spiritual way, they thought the Saviour wished them to practise cannibalism.

Under the old covenant there was showbread, but it came to an end with the old dispensation to which it belonged. Under the new covenant there is bread from heaven and the cup of salvation. These sanctify both soul and body, the bread being adapted to the sanctification of the body, the Word, to the sanctification of the soul.

Do not, then, regard the eucharistic elements as ordinary bread and wine: they are in fact the body and blood of the Lord, as he himself has declared. Whatever your senses may tell you, be strong in faith.

You have been taught and you are firmly convinced that what looks and tastes like bread and wine is not bread and wine but the body and the blood of Christ. You know also how David referred to this long ago when he sang: Bread gives strength to man’s heart and makes his face shine with the oil of gladness. Strengthen your heart, then, by receiving this bread as spiritual bread, and bring joy to the face of your soul.

May purity of conscience remove the veil from the face of your soul so that by contemplating the glory of the Lord, as in a mirror, you may be transformed from glory to glory in Christ Jesus our Lord. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Easter 2014

 
What is most peculiar about Easter is that although the followers of Jesus had heard him say he would break the bonds of death, when he actually did, no-one believed it …. The followers were not expecting a Resurrection and, therefore, did not imagine they saw something of which they were ardently hoping. Even Mary Magdalene, who within that very week had seen been told about the Resurrection when she saw her own brother raised to life from the grave, did not believe it. She came on Sunday morning to the tomb with spices to anoint the body—not to greet a Risen Saviour. On the way, the question of the women was: ‘Who will roll back the stone?’ Their problem was how they could get in; not whether the Saviour would get out.
Fulton Sheen The Way to Inner Peace
Early in the morning on that first Easter Day, Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John come to the tomb. They have seen their Lord and Saviour betrayed by a close friend, falsely accused, flogged, and killed. We can scarcely imagine what’s going through their minds: grief, anguish, bitterness, Peter’s regret at having denied Jesus, of not being brave enough to say that he was a follower of Jesus, Mary and John who stood by the Cross, just want to be close to him in death as in life. They can’t quite take in what has happened: a week ago he was hailed as the Messiah, God’s anointed, the successor of David, now he has been cast aside: all his words of God’s love have fallen on deaf ears, he has been cast aside, ignored, a failure, a madman who wanted to change the world.
          Mary sees the stone rolled away, in the darkness, she doesn’t understand but says to Simon Peter ‘they have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre and we know not where they have laid him’ her concern is for the dead body of Jesus. She does not know, she does not yet believe. As Mary has run away from the tomb, John and Simon Peter run towards it. John sees the cloths but does not go in. Peter goes in first and sees everything. Then John sees and believes: God has raised Jesus from the dead. It is John’s love for Our Lord and Saviour which allows him to see with the eyes of faith, to make sense of the impossible, the incomprehensible.
          As Christians we need to be like the Beloved Disciple: to love Our Lord and Saviour above all else, to see and believe like him, and through this to let God work in our lives. For what happened on that hillside nearly two thousand years ago, early in the morning, on the first day of the week is either nothing at all: a delusion of foolish people, a non-event of no consequence or interest, something the world can safely ignore or laugh at, mocking our credulity in the impossible, poor childish fools that we are, or it is something else: an event of such importance that the world can and will never be the same again.
          In dying and rising again, Jesus has changed history; he has changed our relationship with God, and our relationship with one another. He has broken down the gates of Hell to lead souls to Heaven, restoring humanity to the loving embrace of God, to open the way to heaven for all humanity, where we may share in the outpouring of God’s love, which is the life of the Trinity. His death means that our death is not the end, that we have an eternal destiny, a joy and bliss beyond our experience or understanding: to share in the life and love of God forever – this is what God does for us, for love of us, who nailed him to a tree, and still do with our dismissals or half-hearted grudging acceptance, done for propriety’s sake.
          There can be no luke-warm responses to this; there is no place for a polite smile and blithely to carry on regardless as though nothing much has happened. Otherwise, we can ask ourselves: why are we here? Why do Christians come together on the first day of the week to listen to the Scriptures, to pray to God, to ask forgiveness for our manifold sins, to be fed by Christ, with Christ: His true body and His blood, and for Christ: to be his mystical body, the Church in the world?
          We are to be something different, something out of this world, living by different standards and in different ways, living lives of love not selfishness, self-satisfaction and sin. In baptism we died with Christ and were raised to new life with him, we are to live this life, and to share it with others: ours is a gift far too precious to be kept to ourselves, it is to be shared with the whole world, every last human soul, that they too may believe, perfecting creation, and bringing all of prodigal humanity into the embrace of a loving Father, filled with His Spirit, conformed to the pattern of His Son. This is our life, our calling, to have that same singularity of purpose of those first disciples, who saw and believed, who let God in Christ change their lives and share this great free gift of God’s love with all the world.
So let our hearts be filled with joy, having died with Christ and raised to new life with him. Let us take that new life, and live it, in our thoughts, our words, and deeds, and share that life with others that the world may believe, that what happened outside a city two thousand years ago has changed all of human history and is still changing lives today. Christ died and is alive so that we and all the earth may have life and have it to the full, sharing in the life and love of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. 

Good Friday


The green tree was Christ himself; the dry tree the world. He was the green tree of life transplanted from Eden; the dry tree was Jerusalem first, and then the unconverted world. If the Romans so treated him who was innocent, how would they treat the Truth that is in his Church; in an uneasy conscience perhaps he beckoned you to his confessional; in a passing prayer he called you to greater prayerfulness….You accepted the truth, you confessed your sins, you perfected your spiritual life, and lo! in those moments when you thought you were losing everything, you found everything; when you thought you were going into your grave, you were walking in the newness of life….The antiphon of the Empty Tomb was striking on the chords of your heart. It was not you who died; it was sin. It was not Christ who died it was death.
Fulton J. Sheen The Eternal Galilean
So much of the action of this week has taken place so that Scripture may be fulfilled. What God told the people of Israel through his prophets comes about in His Son’s death. It shows us in the clearest possible way that what we see in the prophetic descriptions is true.
          If the truth be told, the suffering, the rejection, torture, and death of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, is beyond our understanding. We stand silent before the Cross, unable to take the cruelty, the horror and the profound beauty of it. It is a mystery, the mystery of God’s love: an act of loving service, the power of silent love overcoming a world of political scheming, deception, self-interest and sin. The chief priests and elders can only think of a threat to earthly power; they fail to see that here, now, is the salvation for which they long. That God’s own son should come from heaven and die to save a sinner like you or me is extraordinary. We are shown today in the clearest possible terms how much God loves us: that there is no length to which he will not go to save us, to embrace us his prodigal children. The chief priests and elders think that they’re ridding themselves of an heretic, a potential troublemaker, a fool who claims to be the son of God and King of Israel. When Pilate asks “Quid est Veritas – What is Truth?” he does not wait for an answer, or understand that the source of all truth, the word of God incarnate, is stood in front of him: ‘est vir qui adest – it is the man who is present, who is standing in front of him’. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life of the whole world.
After scourging him the soldiers put a purple robe around our Lord, they crown him with thorns, and give him a reed for a sceptre. They think they’re being clever and funny: they’re having a laugh, mocking a man about to be executed, but this is God showing the world what true kingship is: it is not pomp, or power, the ability to have one’s own way, but the Silent Way of suffering love. It shows us what God’s glory is really like: it turns our human values on their head and inaugurates a new age, according to new values, and restores a relationship broken by human sin.
          In being raised upon the Cross, our Lord is not dying the death of a common criminal, but rather reigning in glory – the glory of God’s free love given to restore humanity, to have new life in him. His hands and feet and side are pierced, as wounds of love, to pour out God’s healing life upon the world. In his obedience to the Father’s will, he puts to an end the disobedience of humanity’s first parent. Here mankind who fell because of a tree are raised to new life in Christ through his hanging on the tree.  Christ is a willing victim, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the Silent lamb led to his slaughter, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep that have gone astray. At the time when the Passover lambs are slaughtered in the temple, upon the Altar of the Cross, Christ as both priest and victim offers himself as the true lamb to take away the sins of the whole world, offers his death so that we may have life, new life in Him.
          Death and hell, the reward of sin, have no power over us: for in dying, and being laid in a stranger’s tomb, Christ will go down to Hell, to break down its doors, to lead souls to heaven, to alter the nature of the afterlife, once and for all. Just when the devil thinks he’s won, then in his weakness and in his silence Christ overcomes the world, the flesh, and the devil. The burden of sin which separates humanity from God is carried on the wood of the Cross.
On the way to Calvary our Lord falls three times such is the way, such was the burden, so we too as Christians, despite being reconciled to God by the Cross, will fall on our road too. We will continue to sin, but also we will continue to ask God for his love and mercy. But those arms which were opened on the cross will always continue to embrace the world with God’s love.
We don’t deserve it, that’s the point, but it is there to help us become the people God wants us to be: to be strengthened, fed, healed, and restored by him: to die to sin and be raised to new life, and to share that life and love with others, that the world might believe and be saved through him. Christ pays the debt which we cannot to reconcile humanity to his loving and merciful Father. He shows us the meaning of true love: that we might live it out in our lives, forgiving one another, bearing our own cross, and living lives of love for love of him who died for love of us.

          We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life, and our resurrection, through him we are saved and made free.

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper


Since our Divine Lord came to die, it was fitting that there be a Memorial of his death. Since he was God, as well a man, and since he never spoke of his death without speaking of his Resurrection, should he not himself institute the precise memorial of his own death? And this is exactly what he did the night of the Last Supper….His memorial was instituted, not because he would die and be buried, but because he would live again after the Resurrection. His Memorial would be the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets; it would be one in which there would be a Lamb sacrificed to commemorate spiritual freedom; above all it would be a Memorial of a New Covenant…a Testament between God and man.
Fulton J. Sheen Life of Christ
My brothers and sisters, on this most sacred night Our Lord and Saviour did three things: He washed his disciples’ feet, he instituted the Eucharist, and inaugurated the priesthood of the New Covenant. We have come together on this most holy night to enter into the Mystery of Our Lord’s Passion: to be with him in the Upper Room and in the garden of Gethsemane, and to prepare to celebrate his suffering and death – to behold the glory of the Lord and his love for the world he created and came to save.
          Obedient to the Old Covenant, Our Lord and his disciples prepare to celebrate the Passover: the mystery of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt to the new life in the Promised Land. While they are at table Our Lord lays aside his outer garments and takes a basin and a towel and washes the Apostles’ feet. He then says to them ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.’ (Jn 13:12–16 ESV) God, who created the universe and who will redeem it, kneels and washes the feet of sinful humanity. This is true love in action. Only having done this can Jesus say ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’(Jn 13:34–35 ESV) What he says to his disciples he says to us here tonight. As Christians we are to love him and one another, we are to show this love in all that we say, or think, or do, so that the world may believe.
          Christ then takes bread and wine and blesses them and gives them to his disciples. Again, this would look and feel like the Passover celebration to which they were accustomed. Except that before he broke and distributed the bread he said ‘Take, Eat. This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And before the Cup was distributed he said ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ He feeds his disciples with his own body and blood to strengthen them, to show them what he is about to do for love of them and of the whole world. When, earlier in his public ministry, he has fed people he taught them in the synagogue at Capernaum ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.’ (Jn 6:52–7 ESV). ‘Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, ….  just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God’ [Dix The Shape of the Liturgy 744] Our Lord institutes the Eucharist, the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, to feed us, to nourish us, so that we may become what he is, that we may have a foretaste of heaven and the divine life of love, of the beatific vision of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Holy, Eternal and Consubstantial Trinity. It re-presents, it makes present again, here and now, the sacrifice of Calvary, where upon the Altar of the Cross, as both priest and victim, Christ sacrifices himself for the sins of the whole world. He is the Lamb of God, foreshadowed in the ram offered by Abraham and Isaac, in the bread and wine offered by Melchisedek. In the blood and water which will flow from his side we are washed and creation is renewed. Christ gives the Church the Eucharist so that his saving work may continue, so that people may be given a pledge and token of their eternal life in him.
          Christ sets apart his disciples so that they may be priests of the new covenant in his blood, so that they may continue to share in the offering of himself for their sins and those of the whole world. They are washed, and fed, and taught – prepared for the work of the Gospel: spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ and feeding his faithful with his body and blood. They are told to do this and they still do. Never have such words and actions had such a profound effect in all of human history. This is the glory of God: in transforming bread and wine into his very self for the life of the whole world – a sign of love and a pledge and foretaste of eternal life. This is love that we can touch and feel and taste – given for us so that we might have life in him.

So let us come to him, to be fed by Him, and with Him, healed and restored by Him, through the sacraments of the Church, his body, so that we may be prepared to share in his Passion and Death and to celebrate with joy the triumph of His Paschal victory, so that we and all the earth may give praise to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion and power, now and forever.

Palm Sunday Evensong

Gratitude is characteristic only of the humble. The egotistic are so impressed by their own importance that they take everything given them as if it were their due. They have no room in their hearts for recollection of the undeserved favours they have received.

Fulton Sheen On Being Human 1982: 325

In this evening’s second lesson we are given the parable of Lazarus and Dives. Jesus has been in the company of Pharisees, members of a religious elite, figures of authority, who have been described as ‘lovers of money’. It’s always slightly uncomfortable when clergy are faced with Our Lord’s views on religious authorities. His audience are selfish, avaricious, self-satisfied, and arrogant: we need to be careful that the Church never becomes like this.

The parable the has at its heart the important message that charity and generosity are at the heart of our faith. We see this charity and generosity above all in Our Lord’s life, his preaching, his healing, his miracles, his passion, and death. They act as a paradigm, an example for us to follow. We need to live our lives so that they look like his.

The rich man is singularly unable to do this. Even when he is in Hades he wants Lazarus to come and cool his tongue, and to go and warn his brothers: even now he’s still treating Lazarus like a servant – giving him orders, making him work for him, even in death he is still arrogant, and self-absorbed, he needs to learn humility, to know his need of God.

Quite rightly Jesus can say that the Rich Man’s brothers have the Law & the Prophets: as we know from our 1928 Prayerbooks that we hace Jesus’ own summary:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind, and all your soul, and with all your strength, and your neighbour as yourself – on these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.

It’s all about faith & action: putting it into practice in our lives, it’s exactly what Jesus is doing in Holy Week, in his passion and death, showing us how much God loves us and the lengths to which he will go to heal and restore humanity – for love of us, each of us, you and me.

How do we respond to this other than living it out in our lives: living out the same costly self-giving sacrificial love in our lives, so that we can be like Jesus, fed by him in Word and Sacrament, becoming ever more like Him. The world around us may not believe, it’s too selfish, too self-absorbed, to be like Jesus. The cost is too great, and yet it is what our faith is all about. Following Jesus means being like Him, doing what he did, and how he did it, so that we may be more and more conformed to him, living out our faith and drawing others to him so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit …

Palm Sunday 2014

Most people rather like the idea of a Royal visit: crowds, flag-waving: a chance for a celebration, a bit of a do. Yet what we are celebrating is far more than that.
And so it begins: a week which begins with Our Lord and Saviour making a triumphal entry into Jerusalem, hailed as the Messiah, a cause for celebration and joy. It is a week which will see Him betrayed, arrested, tried and killed as a common criminal. Strangely enough, the world around us can still be just as fickle, just as quick to turn someone from hero into pariah. Lest we think that somehow we’re better, more advanced, more civilised, as though we’ve learned our lesson. The plain unvarnished truth is that we’re not. We need the annual reminder which the church gives through its liturgical year – a chance to be confronted by stark realities, and to be brought up short by them. What Christ says and does in this coming week He says to us, he does for us – to HEAL us, to RESTORE us, so that we can live His risen life here and now, as the people of God, fed by Him, fed with Him, sharing in His Death and Resurrection though our baptism, trusting in Him.

          In our pilgrimage through Lent, through our prayer, our fasting, we hope to increase our closeness to Christ, so that following Him, and meditating upon His Passion, we may be transformed by His love, following in His footsteps, entering into the mystery of God’s love poured out on the world. In the next few days we will go to the Upper Room, to have our feet washed, we watch and wait with Christ, we walk the way of the Cross, we gaze upon Christ crucified to see just how much God in Christ loves us – the lengths to which God will go to demonstrate that love, and make it a reality in our lives. Let us prepare to celebrate Easter: Our Lord’s rising from the tomb, His conquering death, so that we may have new life in Him.