Forgiveness is a nonsense word for anyone unaware of being an oppressor. The risen Lord, with the 5 wounds – at once dead and alive – shows that we cannot obliterate or remove what we have done. God is faithful to himself as Creator and will destroy nothing created, but through the risen Lord restores all things to us again, giving us the second chance – to say yes where we formerly said no. This reality of God to keep the past open gets rid of our delusion that oppressive violence has the last say.
God identifies with the victim through his incarnate reality as pure victim – a mature human being who owns no violence, nor seeks revenge, this union of victim and Father – who knows no death – now becomes our memory and our salvation through the Resurrection. Before ever we become conscious of it we are swallowed up by a world saturated with oppressive victimising.
God is the presence to which all reality is present, giving back our memories of our oppressive living because my whole self is in need of redemption, including my past. My self as it is now is what my past is presently doing. It is not acting, deciding independently of where I have been. I am not just a product of my past, I have the ability through memory and reflection to be prompted to transcend – to take another way. While my past is unalterable – it has happened; how can this set me free?
And last, the rending pain of re-enactment of all that you have done and been; the shame of motives late revealed, and the awareness of things ill-done and done to others’ harm; which once you took for exercise of virtue – T.S. Eliot: Little Gidding II.
Forgiveness cannot be abstract – it brings freedom and the recovery of my past in hope. It is seeing the victim as saviour that is crucial. But how does it work? Every saint has a past, and every sinner a future.
The disciples’ first faith in Jesus had to be transformed – when they met him they left their nets and followed him – after Calvary they went back to their nets, as if Jesus had never happened. It is the stranger on the shore – Jesus as he is, not as they think him to be, who shows the way to real living. He is preparing food, he doesn’t need the fish they’ve brought, but invites them to bring it and share – and it is in the sharing that they recognise him.
He is calling now as he did then – in between is their history of betrayal. His 3 fold questioning of Peter has found many interpretations, but to see it as highlighting Peter’s 3 fold disowning is to miss the whole point. Peter cannot be free without recovering his past, if he is to be the Peter Jesus sees, and no longer the hesitant and fearful Simon. Recalling memory in this positive way is very different from being made to remember what you’ve done.
Matthew’s Gospel sends them back to Galilee, and from there be sent to the whole world – not to return to fishing – I will make you a fisher of men – it is a promise kept. They go back to their origins to emerge in a new way, as Jesus told Nicodemus. They had started as men of hope and found themselves abandoning and betraying. In seeing this in the light of Jesus risen they experience forgiveness and find themselves trusted again. This highlights conversion as being for the whole self, and not simply starting afresh and trying to do better. Peter realises that his betrayal does not cause God to betray.
But simply recovering my past is not, in itself, an experience of Grace – it can haunt and dismay me. When done in the context of Resurrection there is a new perspective. The Lord who has come back risen still wants me as I am and my love. Simon, do you love me is asked in the context of all that he has done and is an invitation to carry on growing. The recovery of pardoned memory is crucial for moving forward in hope. There is nothing about me that God finds unacceptable, including my sin; since God is faithful to me no matter what.
Before the risen Jesus can be preached to the City that killed him, he needs to be back with those dearest to him, and show their part in his death – they had the greatest hope and so the greatest disillusion. They need to see their part in the violence of his death but within the context of the pure victim – back with them and desiring their company. This didn’t just bring a re-think to the Apostles – they are being evangelised by the pure victim risen, betrayed but never betraying. My connection with him led him to the cross, not so his connection with me. To know the reality of my untruthful living, and not be intimidated by it through the Resurrection, is memory restored in hope.
He promised that the Spirit would lead us into all truth, and make clear everything Jesus had said – we are being given both a past and a future in an entirely new way. Forgiveness means seeing the victim as saviour and what I can become as a consequence.
As we have seen, to try to understand the Resurrection we have to start with the reality of death. Created for intimacy with God we lost this, turned away from communion with God, towards whatever we create as our own gods, or deny any need for God – if we turn away from life all that awaits us is death. Jesus, truly human, born, lived and died and in rising from death swept away forever the dominance of death. The most visible sign of death is the corpse; the most visible sign of Jesus’ Resurrection was the empty tomb – there was no corpse.
The Resurrection remains mystery, no one saw it happen. The crucial evidence for it comes from his few followers. Not just telling something; but first experiencing something, literally life-changing themselves. They were given a totally new way of seeing God, and an understanding what it really means to be genuinely human. This was far more important than any attempts at rational explanations of what happened. In a very real sense they found themselves taken-up, included, in Jesus’ new bodily presence.
This highlights the Eucharistic reality of Jesus. Debates and discussions have taken place about bread becoming the body of Jesus – issuing in the somewhat awkward neologism [a new word because we can’t find an existing word] Transubstantiation. Before we attach any importance to what we have to say about this mystery we must heed what Jesus says: this is my body for you – his body becomes bread, food for us to eat. It is important to stress this today because the history of the celebration of the Mass shows it being separated into two parts, with the emphasis clearly on part one: the consecration, bread and wine becoming Jesus’ real presence; the second part, the ritual meal of Jesus’ as food seems to be a kind of afterthought.
Eucharistic Rood of the risen yet dead Jesus, OLEM, Cambridge.
According to tradition, the human being, designed and destined for intimacy with God, has fallen out of knowing God in this way, and settled for simply knowing good and evil, a knowledge of which God is not the source. Fallen away from God [life] we are on our own with death on the horizon, compelling us to struggle for survival for as long as possible – so much so that we even justify war and violence in our pursuit. Death in place of God is how we chose to live our three score and ten. Death is that terrifying nothing that draws us to selfishness and sin, the ultimate black hole.
Jesus is human as originally intended by God; yet totally part of our history – even under the reign of death. Death swallowed him up, intending to thrust him into the negativity into which we have fallen – it has been called his descent into hell, where death is king with oblivion its promise. Highlighting how death is the controlling factor of all our thinking.
However, there is a difference – in Jesus’ case death is for unfallen man, and so marks the removal of the final obstacle to union with God – the transforming of the finite and limited. Everything that death means for fallen humankind – the horrors, the abuses, the murders – nature’s cynical reply to any claims to be God-like – all this changed with the death of Jesus from the highway-to-nothing to the gateway into intimacy with God – forever.
His death is real, he endured the death of fallen man though sinless – was made sin for us – 2Corinthians 5.21. It is this darkness of our fallen state that the Easter Candle illumines with new hope. Darkness is swallowed up in God; a darkness felt in moments of despair, in the hopelessness of teenage suicide, in those long and interminable bouts of loneliness. But how can the divine removal of all this be brought home to us?
It is dramatic – the drama of the empty tomb. The absence of the body is the sign of something that cannot be seen or imagined, only available through life-changing faith – the coming of Jesus through death, when through the death of the god of fallen humanity, there is the fullness of God. The trophy of our own god – is not there, there is no corpse. But if we fail to understand, forgetting to be human as we face the Easter mystery, then the empty tomb fails to speak to us; and leaves us with the Sanhedrin trying to work-out how it happened – who stole the body.
The empty tomb is a fact – the resurrection is a mystery that cannot be witnessed or imagined. There is no way of combining the two other than to say the empty tomb is beyond what history can say, leading us to the reality of something transcendent. That is the realising of God’s original plan for us mortal beings to be drawn into complete intimacy with God, through the removal of what was impeding this, our tendency to the nothing of oblivion we were inevitably facing.
We enter next into an interim period, a time when the risen Jesus was visibly with them, the time before the Ascension. It was a time when the new way had the chance to take hold – the fact that it did take hold is seen from the Easter texts. After the Ascension, when the disciples were sharing their experiences, there is no hint of nostalgia. Nowhere does it say if only you were there! He had not gone away – he is till with them and them with him through the dynamic faith he brought to them.
The new life he has introduced is not what we commonly call life after death. He is alive among the disciples, and they are aware of it. He is still here but otherwise. They enjoy a new togetherness of love binding them together, from which he is never absent. The Apostles were telling us what it is like to have Jesus with them in this new way.
If we are to hear the Easter message as it is – we need to hear the question: Why are you looking for the living among the dead? If we remain locked-into our way of understanding, Easter has not yet happened. As a new community the disciples experienced the real now of Jesus – the new way of living was so overpowering that things could not remain the same. The lesson here: their experience of the now of Jesus brought them together as a community. If we are not experiencing community – dare we look at the now of Jesus in our own lives?
We have him under the appearances of bread and wine, he came to them through hands and feet. Reflect on: He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit – 1Peter.3.19. The move from the body dead to the body alive was experienced by the disciples as from the body we killed to the body we are in. We are all too familiar with put to death in the world – but he comes alive in an entirely new way – not back from the dead. He would not walk the earth again, but showing himself in moments of real community, it was through this that they recognised him when they saw him – incarnate in a Church of joy and welcome, as a community, not a man alone.
The Doctrine of Original Sin is the doctrine of unnecessary death. Forgiveness is not an external absolution from what we have done or failed to do it penetrates to the very core of who we are, making us able to become what we are receiving. The crucified and risen Christ reveals how wrong we are about God and ourselves with God, not wrong as in mistaken but in such a manner that we can give thanks for the joy of being wrong, and showing the non-essential nature of our mortality.
Chapter 9 of John’s Gospel redefines sin for us, with an understanding worked by Jesus. He was asked about the blind man’s affliction [whose sin was it]. Blindness was believed to be a moral defect, barring the sufferer from sharing cultic life through being unclean. Jesus heals him on the Sabbath – so much for cultic barring – then comes his exclusion. To recognise the cure would mean acknowledging Jesus as coming from God. Instead they become more aggressive in their questioning and finally throw the man out. He had never seen Jesus, his sight only returned when he washed in the pool of Siloam; but his witness increases from saying Jesus is a good man to saying he is a man from God – superior to Moses.
He comes more aware of Jesus during his exclusion – while the Sadducees are more and more hardened. Jesus says: for judgement I came into the world, so that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind. Jesus has made no judgement as yet – it is by being crucified that he judges his judges. Jesus is the cause of the blind man’s exclusion – which means the blind man shares Jesus’ role as judge of those expelling him. Jesus does not do away with judgement, but with the accepted notion of judgement.
What does this say about sin? The ever increasing history of expulsions culminates on Calvary. As the story begins blindness is seen as a moral defect, making the man ritually unclean. The story finishes with sin clearly in the act of expelling. What the Gospel refers to as the sin of the world is being involved in the work of your father, the devil. Sin is the mechanism of exclusion, and they are blind sinners whoever is complicit in this. There is no problem with the partially blind – they don’t know what they are doing. The sinners are those who are, by choice, part of the exclusion process, claiming to know [see] they are doing God’s work.
Jesus doesn’t abolish sin, rather he identifies it for what it is. Sin is not what excludes [blindness] but the act of excluding by those claiming to see, and are doing God’s work. There has been blindness in the world from the beginning; only now is it identified and shows itself able to be healed – when not blocked by those claiming to know what they are doing and who persist in excluding. Peter excluded Jesus in betraying, but discovered, albeit painfully, that he could be forgiven.
We are all blind about Jesus, the light of the world come to enlighten us. He is rejected by some who, though blind, claim to see what they are doing. When the blindness in which we all share is compounded by actively excluding by any claiming to see – then is it culpable. In this 9th Chapter of John we have at once the world view of sin and the way Jesus has come to heal us of it. Human culture from its very beginning – with Cain and Abel – through our saying no to God is both murderous and mendacious.
This is the insight from the Resurrection. To believe in Jesus is to experience the forgiveness of sin, the risen victim of exclusions is forgiveness. Being wrong can be forgiven through accepting a relationship with forgiveness, it is the insistence on claiming to be right without the relationship that brings us to having no need for forgiveness – I’ve done nothing wrong. I don’t need Jesus!
The first fruits of the Resurrection bring a new way of seeing God, along with a new understanding of humankind situated within death’s parameters – by our own choosing – prone to exclude in order to justify; but now revealed as capable of forgiveness for any who will accept this new way of seeing. At last, no longer clinging to I believe in God…but discovering how and why God believes in me.
Cafod, the English and Welsh Catholic Church’s Development and Social Service arm has invited us to join in the day of prayer for the care of creation. Here is a prayer you might like to use.
Tomorrow’s Solar Eclipse over America has caused great excitement over the weeks before it happens.
Enjoy this post from someone taken by surprise by a partial solar eclipse.
And if you’re watching the eclipse tomorrow, enjoy it. May the clouds part for you!
“Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught” (He said),
“And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come.”
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.”
When I told Anne (see August 14 2016) I was sharing Francis Thompson on the blog, she said, ‘Francis Thompson, my father’s favourite writer.’ I hope you can see why. Maurice.
Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
With unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed majestic instancy
And past those noisèd Feet
A voice comes yet more fleet—
“Lo! naught contents thee, who content’st not Me.”
Naked I wait Thy love’s uplifted stroke!
My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,
And smitten me to my knee;
I am defenceless utterly,
I slept, methinks, and woke,
And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
I stand amid the dust o’ the mounded years—
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist;
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding; cords of all too weak account
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.
Ah! is Thy love indeed
A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?
‘Unperturbèd pace, Deliberate speed’ – we can trust God to save us in his own time and as Good Shepherd he will seek out the lost. Maurice.
THE HOUND OF HEAVEN: II
I tempted all His servitors, but to find
My own betrayal in their constancy,
In faith to Him their fickleness to me,
Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit.
To all swift things for swiftness did I sue;
Clung to the whistling mane of every wind.
But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
The long savannahs of the blue;
Or whether, Thunder-driven,
They clanged his chariot ’thwart a heaven,
Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o’ their feet:—
Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.
Still with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following Feet,
And a Voice above their beat—
“Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.”
I return to ‘unperturbèd pace, / Deliberate speed’ as an image of God at work which makes sense to one who would be his ‘servitor’. Thompson did like his words!
The story of Francis Thompson’s struggle with his demons which led to drug addiction and homelessness after leaving Ushaw College is perhaps better known than his poetry. Some of it needs much work on the part of a reader not versed in the Classics of Greece and Rome, but not The Hound of Heaven. We invite you to read the whole poem in short extracts.
THE HOUND OF HEAVEN:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes, I sped;
And shot, precipitated
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbéd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”
I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
Trellised with intertwining charities;
(For, though I knew His love Who followéd,
Yet was I sore adread
Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside)
But, if one little casement parted wide,
The gust of His approach would clash it to
Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.
Across the margent of the world I fled,
And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,
Smiting for shelter on their changèd bars;
Fretted to dulcet jars
And silvern chatter the pale ports o’ the moon.
I said to dawn: Be sudden—to eve: Be soon;
With thy young skiey blossoms heap me over
From this tremendous Lover!
Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see!
One time I thought it was my brain
That made the songs I sing;
But now I know it is a heart
That loveth every thing.
And while his heart’s blood feeds his brain.
To keep it warm and young
A man can live a hundred years,
And day break into song.
Here, for Mary Magdalene, are two more stanzas from The Song of Love by W.H. Davies.
Which sit well with three verses from Psalm 119 (145-147):
With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord!
I will keep your statutes.
I call to you; save me,
that I may observe your testimonies.
I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I hope in your words.
Mary rose before dawn – but was there hope in her heart that Easter morning? She did not give in to despair, but rose before dawn to make her way with her women friends to observe the laws and anoint the body of their Beloved.
Their hearts were still full of love and that daybreak her brain caught up with her heart and hope rose within her. ‘Rabboni!’ (John 20:16).
We celebrate that moment in song to this day:
Dic nobis, Maria.
Quid vidisti in via?
Sepulchrum Christi viventis
Et gloriam vidi resurgentis.
Sudarium et vestes.
Surrexit Christus spes mea;
Praecedet suos in Galilaeam.
Tell us Mary Magdalene, say, what you saw when on your way.
I saw the tomb where Christ had lain; I saw his glory as he rose again;
Napkin and linen clothes, and Angels twain.
Yes, Christ my hope is risen, and he will go before you into Galilee.