Friday, 17 April 2015

Witnesses

Gospel Luke 24:35-48

The disciples told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised him at the breaking of bread.

They were still talking about all this when he himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you!’ In a state of alarm and fright, they thought they were seeing a ghost. But he said, ‘Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet; yes, it is I indeed. Touch me and see for yourselves; a ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have.’ And as he said this he showed them his hands and feet. Their joy was so great that they still could not believe it, and they stood there dumbfounded; so he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ And they offered him a piece of grilled fish, which he took and ate before their eyes.

Then he told them, ‘This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms has to be fulfilled.’ He then opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘So you see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.


My granddaughter often picks up a question or situation from somewhere that she likes to stew over for a bit. The questions 'why....?' are something to treasure and can come thick and fast. Often discussed in the car, or the front bench of church as we are usually impossibly early. 

Which is wonderful as, like many six year olds, she now has quite an incisive, theological mind. 

Her latest quandary was about Father Christmas and Jesus. Can you believe in both and if you stop believing in one can you still believe in the other? 

Being only six, I really wanted to leave this in her backyard. She knew that some people didn't believe in Jesus. She knew that some people didn't believe in Fr Christmas. 

We talked about what impact believing in either/both of them made on people's lives and when or why would you have to choose. 

After some discussion about faith and belief - this is her thesis - 


People have to be asleep to 'see' Father Christmas, 
but you have to be awake to 'see' Jesus. 



Enough said...

wordinthehand2015

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Too many Thomas'

Gospel of John 20:19-31

In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.
‘As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.’
After saying this he breathed on them and said:
‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord’, he answered, ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. ‘Peace be with you’ he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’ Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him:

‘You believe because you can see me.
Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’

There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.



I have always thought of this as a two sided Gospel - that the gift of the forgiveness of sins and the doubtful Thomas make a complex passage for reflection. Especially as most homilies I have heard tend to concentrate on Thomas and his unfortunate reputation. I was reminded today that whenever I have seen an either/or in the Gospels that I should look for a both/and. Thomas and the forgiveness of sins belong together.

I have to admit that my sympathies have lay more and more with Thomas over recent years. It is easy to criticise him now that we imagine we understand the Resurrection. Although I would sincerely question how we could ever truly understand the Resurrection? Perhaps we have been taught to believe, have accepted the evidence of others to give us a faith that we could never have imagined for ourselves.


I sympathise mostly because of repeated conversations, even with Confirmation candidates, when they demand proof that Jesus exists; that God exists; that heaven exists. They are studying what 'we believe' but they don't believe it - it doesn't give them answers.
Lots of Thomas' making the same demands as two thousand years ago and who, really, can blame them? They live in a world of cynicism and disbelief; they live in a world that, as far as they can tell, hasn't benefited much from the Resurrection even if it did happen. There is still suffering; bad things still happen.

Although there is a lot of bravado when challenging authority; there is something else in their challenge that wants to be comforted and proved wrong. False hope is far worse than no hope and this is what Thomas fears. As he was away from the group; it seems that he had managed to find some reason to carry on; caring for others in the community, getting supplies? However he feels inside; he has started to rebuild himself; he has put on the brave face and put away hope. A survival instinct that is not always healthy but is all too common.

His grief has sent him so far outside himself that only the physical presence of his Risen Lord will bring him back; the words of reassurance that tell him it is true.
Blessed indeed are those whose sense of God allows them to 'just know'. Although who can say if the time will come when 'just knowing' will not be enough?

An option with young people is to withdraw from the debate; to suggest that 'we have a session to finish'; that it can't be discussed now; that perhaps they should talk it over with their family. To blame them for their doubts as we so readily blamed Thomas. If I just give their doubt back to them - would this be retaining their sins; would this be keeping them from a Truth that they deserve as much as I do? Is this the link?

I saw a cartoon recently where Thomas was challenging the Twelve - 'How come you never get 'denying Peter' or 'Runaway Mark?'.

And it's true; their 'sins' have been forgiven -why not Thomas? Because doubt is a dangerous emotion in a group of believers; especially believers who have doubted themselves. Doubters are mirrors to our own anxieties; our own disbelief echoed back to us.

But what else can I do? What I do is try to be some sort of witness; which is difficult because that means giving them 'me' - why I believe; things that have gone wrong in my life; where God was when they happened; I have to be vulnerable to them (nerve-wracking I have to admit) - letting them have the opportunity to look at my wounds and my scars. Being as open in my faith around them as I would be with my adult church friends.

Does it get rid of the doubt? Well at least what they get is some honesty and that helps- knowing that even those who claim belief don't have all the answers. They will always need that personal experience but perhaps with gentleness and invitation they are a little nearer meeting Jesus, their Lord and their God, for themselves.

wordinthehand2015

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Breaking of fish

Easter Thursday 
Gospel - Luke 24:35-48 

The disciples told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised him at the breaking of bread.
They were still talking about all this when he himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you!’ In a state of alarm and fright, they thought they were seeing a ghost. But he said, ‘Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet; yes, it is I indeed. Touch me and see for yourselves; a ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have.’ And as he said this he showed them his hands and feet. Their joy was so great that they still could not believe it, and they stood there dumbfounded; so he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ And they offered him a piece of grilled fish, which he took and ate before their eyes.
Then he told them, ‘This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms has to be fulfilled.’ He then opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘So you see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.


We have trouble believing anything these days so we can't feel too badly about the disciples. Actually that's not true - we can believe in lots of rubbish - ghost TV, fortune tellers, the Da Vinci Code and so did the disciples - their world was full of shades, spirits and demons.

And if they saw the Risen Christ then this was probably what they were expecting - a possessed body, something intangible, a shiver up and down their spine. But that wasn't what appeared before them. Christ appeared from nowhere but then spoke; and not only spoke but ate - real food that was given to him, not conjured up.

I am still considering, more than halfway through Easter week now, how quietly and ordinarily Christ did this. This is the Resurrection - have you ever seen a painting or work of art that has treated this event so casually as Christ himself does? There's always light, clouds, angels, an exuberance of something - but when Christ does it - it's just him - him being the 'more than enough'.

That he then is resurrected as all he was, scars, wounds and all, still human , still Divine and can hold Time and Space in one hand, whilst eating fish with the other. Probably broken every God law that he ever made (but he's God - so that's ok). That's definitely a God thing to do - quite, quite beyond me and whilst I am inspired to spend hours meditating on it - I hope I never 'get' it.

Jesus the Nazarene is a man that I love, and I can see the God-ness in him as I can see the Charism in others. He is a teacher, a brother, someone I would love to sit by the campfire and eat with. That the Risen Christ, holds the All of Everything together yet wants to sit and eat with me?

wordinthehand2015

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Walk this Way



Gospel 


Luke 24:13-35

Two of the disciples of Jesus were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking together about all that had happened. Now as they talked this over, Jesus himself came up and walked by their side; but something prevented them from recognising him. He said to them, ‘What matters are you discussing as you walk along?’ They stopped short, their faces downcast.
Then one of them, called Cleopas, answered him, ‘You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.’ ‘What things?’ he asked. ‘All about Jesus of Nazareth’ they answered ‘who proved he was a great prophet by the things he said and did in the sight of God and of the whole people; and how our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and had him crucified. Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free. And this is not all: two whole days have gone by since it all happened; and some women from our group have astounded us: they went to the tomb in the early morning, and when they did not find the body, they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive. Some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything exactly as the women had reported, but of him they saw nothing.’
Then he said to them, ‘You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?’ Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.

When they drew near to the village to which they were going, he made as if to go on; but they pressed him to stay with them. ‘It is nearly evening’ they said ‘and the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them. Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him; but he had vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’
They set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven assembled together with their companions, who said to them, ‘Yes, it is true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ Then they told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised him at the breaking of bread


We are not a patient people. Just a few days waiting in the garden, deciding it was all an anti-climax. The city is starting to get a bit scary now. Time to be making our way home.

Thinking about our journey of faith, everything up to Easter is the foundation - the teachings- the basics. This is what you have to know to be a Christian; informative, educational, even institutional. Whether or not YOU are a Christian depends on the next bit - the Road to Emmaus. You may 'know' it but do you believe it and do you let it change your life?

Emmaus, you may know, was a spar town, the early version of Blackpool or Las Vegas, the sort of place that you would take yourself off for for some fun; to cheer yourself up; to forget your worries. 

Jerusalem is all about the faith; responsibility; the way to Heaven. And most of us spend our time wandering between the two, depending on where we are in our lives - we will all be aware of the peaks and troughs in our faith when we 'haven't had time' for God and then needed Him to answer questions we didn't want to think about. We move back and forwards, often travelling in the wrong direction to where we should really be.

And we can't be told, oh no, we don't believe the women because it is too hard, too outrageous; too challenging. They are not reliable witnesses.

Until the stranger appears, often when we are at our lowest, our saddest, the mid-point when we don't know if we are coming or going. The time of the journey when you realise you need some direction and are ready to listen. And suddenly alongside you is Jesus, patient, loving, compassionate and it is made clear; it makes sense, the reality of the Resurrection hits home. 

The God of Always, holding together the whole cat's cradle of the Cosmos yet is here, where you are; because that's how much he loves you



wordinthehand2015

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Amazing Grace

Mark 16:1-8
When the sabbath was over, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices with which to go and anoint him. And very early in the morning on the first day of the week they went to the tomb, just as the sun was rising.
They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ But when they looked they could see that the stone – which was very big – had already been rolled back. On entering the tomb they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right-hand side, and they were struck with amazement. But he said to them, ‘There is no need for alarm. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: he has risen, he is not here. See, here is the place where they laid him. But you must go and tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him, just as he told you.”’

There is such a quietness to Mark's Resurrection; the natural dawn - no special star or eclipse. The stone rolled away - not blasted. The God of the weak, the unwanted, the unclean, the unworthy still will not put himself above us. He is, even more so, where we are. Jesus simply came back as he left - with the humility of a servant - and he went home.

The women, faithful disciples, follow the traditions of family and community. The desire to blend their grief with love opens them up to beginnings of healing. The pragmatic concerns of how to carry out their task a counterpoint to  their regret that it had ever happened. Of course they are amazed. Who would have ever believed that life goes on?

Resurrection is seen in the willingness to begin again when hope is lost.  Jesus,  lifted from the pain, persecution and betrayal of his human life, experiences his Father's creative grace for himself. His journey to Galilee is a reasurrance and an invitation. It is the courage to seek hope out again that creates new life in us all. It is a faith found at the graveside, the sickbed, in the pacing floors of three am worries. It is not easy. It is the open hand, the welcoming hearth, the noticing gaze. It is a movement of the heart that draws the person out of darkness. It is the gift of discipleship. 

The witness of Mark places us in the distress and confusion of the mourner. The man in white is no angelic messenger. He could be any one of us. A still light in the darkness, a steadying hand, a calming voice, a guide to the place where love has made its home. 


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wordinthehand2015

Friday, 3 April 2015

Good Friday

Magdalen Lament

I am sick.

Not the sick of an excited, shrieking, palm filled road
Not the sick of what happens next?
Not the sick of too much food, too much wine.
Not the sick of too little sleep.

This is the sick I felt lost in the market-place
This is the sick I felt sold into slavery
This is the sick I felt at a child born dead
This is the sick I felt when the demons laughed and the men spat at me
This is the sick of fear drenched, screaming desolation.

He is gone.

The one who knew me,
The one who saved me,
The one who loved me.

Oily clouds draw a veil over the night sky
Moon and stars refuse to look upon those
That condemned the Brightest One.

His light no longer in this world.

Eclipsed by the blackness of men’s hearts,
The blindness of their eyes,
The shadows of their ambition.

He is gone.

But I have a star,
Fallen from his mouth.
A promise to return.
I fear I misheard,
A demon awakened at his going
Taunts me with my loss.
For where are the others?

I have a star,
And by its light I will wait.
The garden embraces me.
My watchfulness may feed the lilies
And sparrows find a home in my hair
Yet I will not leave the place
Of his descent.

For I have a star
And I have named it Hope.



wordinthehand2009

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Tipping Point

Palm Sunday 


Mark 11:1-10
Wouldn't it be lovely, just one year, not to have the horror of Good Friday looming over this event? For some paradox of time to switch the ending of the week to something less guilt-riddenOne of the hardest parts of the Gospel for me to read without shuddering at what was going to happen next. 

Ignatian Spirituality embraces the practice of imaginative meditation as well as contemplative prayer. Placing yourself in the Gospel can teach, heal and inspire. 
This year, the thought occurs to me that Pope Francis may well be joining Jesus in having a Palm Sunday moment or two. 

For both of them, all that time in the desert, the message was being passed, believed, ignored, dismissed. Until the summoning of the Spirit brings them out of the soul thirsting, dryness and the unending struggle of the darkened and dry valleys of hopelessness and poverty. 

As they teeter on the tipping point of their lives a decision is made - how am I going to do this? How do I subvert the expectations of the world.

Jesus, for the first time ever (and against the desire of the authorities) accepts a position of honour and the homage of the crowd. Pulling together prophecy and  expectationhe creates the image everyone was waiting for. And they react in kind. Rephrasing the usual pilgrim's welcome to bless the King who comes in the name of the Lord; they deafen the onlookers with their praise. The world is present in Jerusalem. The crowd, overcome by the spectacle, are giving him the clothes off their backs.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been following his Lord's example for over two years now. As Francis, he stands as a servant; with borrowed clothes and second hand jewellery; he speaks to the faiths and cultures of the world; the crowd pour blessings onto him. He feeds the hungry and provides showers and hairdressers for the homeless. He takes hospitality with him wherever he goes, for whoever he meets.  The media delights in daily discourse and uncovering one more fact or fancy. 

In the next few days for Jesus, and the following years. with God's grace,  for Francis, life is going to get much more uncomfortable. 

How easy it would be to keep Jesus on his colthow easy to keep Francis up on his pedestal - letting them challenge the status quo whilst we wave our flags from the sidelines. How easy, then, to be the onlooker; the critic; the cynic; believing that these challenges are surely not made towards us. 

The authorities will have little patience now with Jesus; a threat to the spiritual and the imperial leadership, he has put his head in the lion's mouth and it is only a matter of time. Even his followers of three years will turn on him in one way or another.    

 For Francis - asked to build a living church - a different culture; a different time; a different set of values - two thousand years of faith and tradition- surely we are better prepared? The scandals of Rome are a matter of opinion. Feeding the poor, welcoming the marginalised, women on the sanctuary. 

The crowds will fade taking their memories with them; the media will pack up and go home; the flag will be used as a duster and the only people left will be those for whom the Gospel is a living truth. Those who want to destroy it and those who want to build it. 

wordinthehand2015