Thursday, April 14, 2011

Homily / Sermon for Palm Sunday (Passion 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)

Palm Sunday

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.


Saturday, April 09, 2011

Homily / Sermon for Lent 5

Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:1-45)

Question mark

When someone dies we often have questions, questions which nag us and even obsess us. What if I had been there? What if I had visited more often? What if someone had done, or not done, this or that. They are questions which plague us with guilt when we pose them to ourselves. They are questions which can inflame us with anger if we direct them at others, even at God.

When we lose someone close, it not unusual to direct hard questions ands tough statements to God. Why were they taken from us? Why now?

And this is what Martha does. Her words seem harsh, almost angry. Her sister echoes the same. Jesus delayed going to visit his friend Lazarus for too days. And when he got there - or so it seemed - he was too late. And the crowd said “Ha - he healed the blind man … couldn’t he have prevented this?” And Jesus wept at the loss of his friend Lazarus, and the grief of his family.

Why were you not here? Martha seems to say.

If you had been here, this would not have happened, Mary also says.

But notice. These words of Martha are not only words of rebuke. They are also words of faith. If you had been here … he would not have died … And I know that even now …

In the midst of sadness there is also hope. And the hope that surrounds Lazarus is a hope not simply for his sisters, or neighbours or even for the amazement of the crowd. It is a hope still recalled thousands of year after the event. A hope not just for this one man and those who mourn him - but for all who believe in the One  who is The Resurrection and the Life.





Friday, April 01, 2011

Homily for Lent 4

If Jesus were to stand here before us today, and we were allowed one question to ask him, I wonder what that would be? I guess for many, if not for most, it will be something very challenging, like “Why do people suffer? How can a good God allow suffering, and sickness and disability?”


It might seem strange to us that the disciples never asked him this question, so far as we know. When they say the man born blind, they asked not “Why does God allow this” but they assume it is God’s punishment “Who sinned – this man or his parents?”


The question is different – but in a way it is just the same. They – and we – want to ask the question why? Why is this man blind? Why is there sickness and disability? And so the answer to them is just as valid for us:


“He was born blind so that the works of God may be displayed in him”


In our youthful, active and technological world, we don’t see sickness and disability as a punishment for sin, but like the disciples we do see it as a kind of failure. For them it was a moral failure. For us it is a failure of care, because of accident, or because of genes or heredity. It is failure, it is a dis-ability. The ‘disabled’ we think, lack something which we – the rest of us - have.


But remember the words in the first reading: God does not see as man sees – man looks at appearances, but God looks at the heart.


Jesus answers the question by challenging our assumptions.


No – Jesus says. God does not want anyone to suffer, least of all the innocent. No – Jesus says. Sickness and disability are not any kind of punishment, not for the disabled nor their parents. No – Jesus says. This is not disability, but opportunity. In the midst of whatever problems, sickness and even pain, God’s glory can be seen.


We want to know why this has happened, but Jesus tells us not how we got here, but where we can go from here. And we know it is true. How often have seen courage in the face of adversity. How often are we impressed by those who seem to have so many difficulties! When we, and those close to us, experience sickness and disability, we encounter also love, and compassion. We meet dedication, and commitment. We discover the tenderness of others and the mercy of God. In suffering and affliction, God is certainly close to us. When the world is at its cruelest, God is at his most loving.


Though we walk through the valley of darkness no evil will we fear, for the Lord our Shepherd is with us, and comforts us.