Saturday, March 27, 2010

Homily / Sermon for Palm Sunday

Blessing on the King who comes, in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens! (Luke 19:38)

Is it wrong, I wonder, for me to say that I love Holy Week?

It seems a bit wrong - after all - it is an immensely sad time, when we recall betrayal, torture, suffering and death. The music with its minor keys takes up the sad tone. The ceremonies in their plainness and their drama are poignant and moving. It is Easter, after all, which is the time of joy … not Holy Week.

But of course, we embark on Holy Week knowing already the end of the story. We traipse the way of the cross guided by the light of the resurrection. The betrayal and agony in the Garden of Maundy Thursday would be bleak, were it not for the promise of new life revealed in the Mass. The suffering and sacrifice of Good Friday would be crushing, were it not for the laying of his body in a tomb which waits for a new dawn. And as we set the new fire on Holy Saturday - we already know that the sacrifice has burnt away sins and his light leads us on to his new life.

And today, as we hold our Palm Crosses, which at the same time represent both the cheers and jeers of the crowds, we share in this hard road which leads to his victory. It is a Holy Week not because it is sad, but it is a Holy Week because together we walk this road with Christ. And that I think is why I love Holy Week - because like life itself, it is journey which we never walk on our own.

The Gospel is about mercy and hope for those who love God from their hearts, and turn to him in truth.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Homily / Sermon for Lent 5

Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger. (John 8:6)

Have you ever wondered what Jesus was writing?
Well you are not the first. From the very earliest days of the Church, preachers have asked this very question.
St. Jerome says he was writing down the sins of the accusers. St. Bede says he wrote down the 10 Commandments. St. Augustine said that he wrote on the ground indicating that the names of these men were to be written in earth, not in Heaven, where the names of the saints are written.
And in our own time, have a look round the internet and you will find preachers and commentators saying similar things.
But all of them seem to making a particular assumption - that what Jesus wrote down had some impact on the accusers. In writing their names, or the commandments, he was shaming and embarrassing them.
I’m not so sure. This is the only time in the Gospels we hear of Jesus writing. We know he could read, but perhaps he hardly ever wrote - there would be little need for him to. And why should he be writing names or words: perhaps he was doodling, reflecting, meditating - not sending a message which had been forgotten by the time the story was written.
There are other striking, conflicting elements in this story: between the gang of men who make their accusations, and the solitary woman whose sin was with some unnamed man; between the stones which these men were ready to hurl, and the dust in which Jesus wrote.
They are contrasts between the strong and the weak, the substantial and the insubstantial, the powerful and the powerless - and yet they are the same: stones become dust, man and woman sinned together, all fall short of the glory of God.
And Jesus - in calling the bluff of the hypocrites - by actions rather than words shames the accusers and saves the accused.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Homily for Lent Four (Motheriing Sunday)

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. (Luke 15:20)

On Mothering Sunday it may seem odd to us that we have a Gospel reading which so clearly speaks of family life, yet which mentions only the men, the Father and his two sons.
The situation is very familiar in one way or another to many families. It speaks of faithfulness and impetuosity, of indulgence and jealousy, of affection for the wayward one, and the anger of the one who feels taken for granted. What family has not known some of these feelings and situations?
Yet as we look at the story - especially today - we might just wonder about the mother. How did she feel about the son who took his money and wasted it all? Did she long for his return, or sympathise with her older son in his bitterness? Or did she just dutifully toil in the kitchen, cooking the fatted calf?
We shouldn’t ask too many of these kind of questions, because if we do, we are in danger of missing the point. This all-too-human family is far more. For we are the sons, both wayward like the younger son and bitter like the elder, sinful and self-righteous. And the Father ... is of course the Father. God himself. Loving, forgiving, yearning to welcome us back to him, when we are ready.
And the great painter Rembrandt had a deep insight when he painted the tender scene of the welcome of the prodigal, for the Father’s hands which embrace the returning son are one large muscular and rough, the other lighter, nimbler and smooth, a male hand and then a female hand, in a loving and welcome embrace.
God is both Mother and Father, indulgent, loving and waiting, ready and waiting, for our sorrow and our repentance. Longing to welcome us to the celebration of our forgiveness.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Homily / Sermon for Lent 3

Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you. (Luke 13:4)

Why? Why?
This is the question which Jesus considers in today’s Gospel.
What about the people who were massacred while they worshipped? Why did that happen? And the people who died when the tower fell on them? Why did they have to die? And the people of Haiti, or the people of Chile? And the victims of the car accident or those afflicted by cancer: why? why?
Jesus’ answer may at first appear a little puzzling. But look again - it is filled with hope.
Firstly, he rebukes those who think these terrible events occurred because these were bad or wicked people. We might hardly think that, and the people of Jesus time clearly struggled with the idea, but still we might ask what have I/they done to deserve this? Why me?
Nothing. Of course nothing. They have done nothing wrong. No, Jesus says. This is not punishment. God does not strike them down through the wickedness of men or the whim of natural disaster. They are no worse than any of you, and possibly even better.
And there is another thing. And this is source of our joy. We must repent. We must turn again to God. And if we do there is hope, and more. Disaster and affliction and persecution make us think again. Consider your lives, live according to God’s will. Because then there is a very real hope.
While the rich and comfortable of the world might look upon such disaster and say to us “How can you believe in God?”, the people of Haiti and Chile have no such luxury. They are fervently and prayer and packing into their cracked and wounded Churches to worship this wonderful God.
The Gospel is about mercy and hope for those who love God from their hearts, and turn to him in truth.