What God says is always infallible – and that voice is the sound of the poor! We can and do proclaim: man does not live by bread alone – which is in fact only half true; it needs to be completed with man cannot live without bread. What Jesus brings as Bread of Life is how these two actually fit each other – so much so that we could equally say – what God has joined together let no one break apart…
How can a person be food for another? A strange question when that is how every one of us began life in the womb. Indeed the Bible uses this example to express how God sustains creation. The Mystics speak eloquently of Jesus’ relationship: how often I have longed to gather you children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings – Matthew 23.37. Equally do we sustain each other when rescuing from hopelessness and desperation; like the Apostles on Good Friday night. But now they have been enlivened in a new way – as if they too had been raised from the dead.
Passover acquired a new meaning with the Resurrection – the difference Jesus makes in himself becoming food is linked directly with his death. Our Eucharist of bread and wine must remind us that here we have the Paschal Lamb – a lamb becomes food only when it is killed, not when it dies! Its vocation is to become food for others – to be slaughtered and eaten. When Jesus spoke of becoming food many were scandalised; yet it is in his death that he becomes the bread of life; and it is through our being taken into his death [Baptism] that this food satisfies human hungers.
Our shared meal is a token piece of food celebrated within an elaborate ritual. God blessed creation making it fruitful. He also blessed the 7th day for us to enjoy what is given. The flood symbolises our complete disregard for what God offers. God blesses Noah with this very same blessing, now with a more explicit covenant. Blessing is a creative act, bringing something new, and making the one blessed a source of blessing for others. It is not only God who blesses – in certain places parents bless their children before they go out. Parental blessing is calling from within another something not yet there, it is an expression of hope for sustaining new life.
Do you ever, probably unconsciously, feel that a teaching of Jesus is not aimed personally? Recently I had a reminder to think again. I’m thinking of this little story from the Lord’s final journey to Jerusalem. Mrs Zebedee has just tried to get top jobs for James and John.
Jesus called the apostles to him, and said: You know that the princes of the Gentiles lord it over them; and they that are the greater, exercise power upon them. It shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be the greater among you, let him be your minister: And he that will be first among you, shall be your servant. Even as the Son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a redemption for many.
I’m no Prince of the Gentiles, and indeed the royal princes in the United Kingdom seem to have taken this text to heart. But still, ‘It shall not be so among you’ suggests that Jesus expected that it often would be. The various scandals in the Church are to do with exercising power over other people.
But a more mundane instance hit me during the cold spell we had in March. I had to go to a place where dedicated people care for others, and to reach the area where the hands-on care actually actually happens, walked past the administration offices. The path as far as that door had been treated with grit, so that all the snow had melted and walking was easy. For the last fifteen metres the grit had not been applied.
If you asked the admin staff straight out, are you more important than the carers, they could hardly say yes. But the pathway tells another story.
So perhaps a little examination of conscience on where I might be lording it over people? Even though I never thought I was?
When Peter’s mother-in-law was cured, she at once ministered to Jesus and his companions. With all the gifts I have received, I should be ministering to his friends too.
PS: spare a thought and prayer for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as they prepare to marry tomorrow. The timing of this post was co-incidental; I only noticed on rereading it today.
Different town, different winter, deeper snow…
Dismas is the name by which we know the repentant thief who was crucified with Jesus. He saw Jesus die and spoke to him at the last. There are many references to Jesus eating with sinners, including the call of Matthew. But read Luke 15, 1-7 which leads to the parable of the lost sheep. Saint Luke also tells of Dismas in 23:42.
I know this man. I met him before : you must have heard how he ate and drank with sinners. I was there, of course. I invited him.
That was when I began to forgive myself. He forgave me. He did not turn away. He will not turn away now.
Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom!
Let us kneel and pray in silence.
And sing : Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.
Crucifixion in Winchester Cathedral.
JESUS MEETS THE WOMEN
James and John were with Jesus in Jerusalem, and so, no doubt was their mother, Mrs Zebedee, for it was just before Jesus went up to Jerusalem that she asked him to give them special places in his Kingdom.
Now she sees him on the way to Calvary . . .
The story of Mrs Zebedee is told at Matthew, 20:17-23. Jesus’ meeting with the women on the Way of the Cross is told by St Luke (22.27-31).
I know this man. I followed him, him and my boys, all the way to Jerusalem.
We wouldn’t have it when he said he would be handed over and killed.
We were sure it would work out better than this. Only last Sunday the people acclaimed him, the King who comes.
Now Pilate calls him King of the Jews and sends him out to die.
I put my boys forward — any mother would — I knew they would work hard for him.
But now he tells us, weep for yourselves and your children.
Oh God, Is this the cup my boys have to drink?
JESUS FALLS UNDER THE CROSS
Our witness is a man who was cured by Jesus. He was lame, but now can walk.
You will find his story in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 9, vv 2-8.
I know this man. Jesus took away my sins. He said they were forgiven.
Then he told me to get up, pick up my bed, and walk home.
Now he is down, under the weight of the cross, too heavy to pick up, too far from home. Crushed by the weight of our sins.
Lord, many people are far from home, or crushed by sorrow or sin.
Help us to care for them, to make them welcome, to show them your love.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
‘As I was saying …’
‘You just don’t listen!’
I overheard this brief exchange in the street, and offer it as a reflection for Lent. Do I listen? Do I let the Lord get a word in edgeways? Is my heart open to the Lord, in whatever guise he may present himself to me?
As Jesus himself said, quoting the prophet Isaiah:
This people honoureth me with their lips: but their heart is far from me.
‘As I was saying …’
The joys of late winter: some lover of nature, humanity, God or all three has set a clump of snowdrops between the fast Eurostar line to France and the old mainline from Ashford to Folkestone. Just a glimpse as we speed by, most will not notice, I too often miss them – but there they are, and beautiful they are, even from a distance. A promise that will be kept.
These others, with their rubbish, were at Aylesham station, not far away. No chance of a meaningful photo of the ones beside the Eurostar line.
And soon, in Wales, the daffodils will be out along the roads. Some say the lily of the field in Matthew 6:25ff was a daffodil. I’m sure Saint David would approve of that exegesis!
Happy feast day tomorrow!
A version of this post has appeared on the Will Turnstone blog.
Saint Francis was very conscious of himself as a sinner: perhaps I should be more so. The trouble is that dwelling on personal sinfulness can be crippling: ‘I’ll never get out of this mess!’ Of course, on my own, I won’t. So who can get me out of the mess?
Canterbury’s Father Daniel Weatherley challenges us to ponder the last times in preparation for our death and resurrection, when the secrets of hearts will be laid bare. He offers us three steps on our journey through Lent.
The Cosmic Courtroom is a truly awesome scene. When Jesus comes in glory every single one of us – and everyone who has already passed through the first death – will stand before Him as one great sea of humanity. Each one willed into being by God, each one loved totally and uniquely by Him. But this is a courtroom with a difference. Not only are there no attorneys, no advocates, but there is no trial! The verdict upon each has already been decided. The proceedings consist only of the sentencing. And the pronouncement, comes as a surprise for everyone: whether it be punishment or paradise. Only then is the summing-up offered.
There are, however, witnesses. Firstly, each of us will witness the judgement of each other, as our hidden motives and acts of love (or otherwise) are laid bare. And then there is the vast array of angels, all of whom made their decision to serve, to love (or not), in the first instant of their creation. Since that moment those angels who rejected God have persistently laboured to tempt men and women to do the same – usually so subtly that it goes unnoticed. And then there are the holy angels – thankfully in the majority – who have spent their existence urging us on to lives of perfect love and selfless service, to conform ourselves to Jesus Christ. And at the same moment each of us will behold that angel which has been given to us alone as our guardian.
Jesus’ own account of how this scene will unfold is, in Matthew’s Gospel, magnificently constructed. The Lord’s authority is depicted in a rapid succession of 6 action verbs: He comes; He sits; He separates, He sets on His right and left; He speaks out and declares blessed; He commands to approach and inherit. And then comes the stunning revelation: 6 conditions of wretchedness in which He has been anonymously present with us all the time, just as He promised: hungry; thirsty; stranger; naked; sick; in prison.
Today we recall the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.
Around Easter time in 2017 Princes William and Harry spoke about the time when their mother died. For Harry, just twelve at the time, it was a traumatic period, and had repercussions for many years to come.
The princes rightly called for less fear around mental illness; I’ve known plenty of young and older people who perceived themselves as rejected by friends and family on account of their mental illness.
Yet, talking this over with my daughter and son-in-law, we felt a bit uneasy. Emotions such as grief or anger or remorse may be totally appropriate reactions to events or the consequences of our own actions. They are not in themselves medical conditions. Simeon told Mary to expect a sword of sorrow through her heart (Luke 2:34); we would ask what was wrong if a mother did not feel great hurt when her child was killed.
She loved; she was hurt.
That is not mental illness, it is a question to ask of God and oneself, ‘Why?’
Mary’s ‘Fiat’ – ‘Let it be done according to your word’ – at least begins to answer it. Her words, of course, are echoed by her son at his life’s end: indeed at the Presentation she is like the parents and godparents of an infant at the baptismal font. We make the promises to believe in God and reject all sin, whatever the consequences, knowing the baby may be hurt on the way through life. And here is Jesus: Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. (Luke 22:42) It must all have felt meaningless: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27:46).
Grief happens because we love and because we are human.
The memory of a liberated people, that they were once enslaved, should compel us to welcome the stranger in our midst. The experience of Biblical Israel resonates with the experiences of the peoples of the Caribbean region, the majority of whom were once slaves. We remember how God restores the dignity of God’s people and the churches of the region play an important role in reminding their society of the duty to welcome refugees and displaced persons.
Leviticus 19.33-34 You shall love the alien as yourself
Psalm 146 The Lord watches over the strangers
Hebrews 13.1-3 Some have entertained angels without knowing it
Matthew 25.31-46 I was a stranger and you welcomed me
REFLECTION We are good because we are loved, not loved because we are good. If it was up to each one of us to earn it, we might not be loved very much. Too much goat and not enough sheep. And yet loved we are, since God is in all things, even the bits we think are ugly and unmentionable. We are loved, but God wants us to give some love back, giving and receiving in a mutual relationship. Love makes us better holds us together reaching out to the other. Being in relationship with God means being with other people, doing some good. Looking after the creation and not seeing everything as being there for our enjoyment. It means being fair and not exploiting others. It means giving and not taking. It means being alongside not overpowering others. It even means welcoming and respecting the stranger in our midst since it may be the Christ unannounced.
QUESTIONS How have you experienced being a stranger? Have you visited another church (perhaps whilst on holiday)? How were you welcomed? How did you feel? How might being truly hospitable be challenging? What might hold us back from being genuinely hospitable?
PRAYER Barrier-breaking God, You embrace all cultures and lands, But keep a special place in your heart For the stranger, the widow and the orphan. Grant us the gift of your Spirit That we may become as You are, Welcoming all as brothers and sisters, Your cherished children, Citizens together in Christ’s kingdom of justice and peace. Amen
GO AND DO (see http://www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo) The Caribbean Council of Churches has been involved in advocacy to challenge those nations that are restricting or stripping Haitians of citizenship rights.
Visit Go and Do to read Milciades story about being denied his rights in the Dominican Republic.
Visit Go and Do to find inspiration and encouragement to keep helping those who have been forced from their homes across the world.