Friday, February 24, 2012

Lent One : Homily / Sermon


You may expect a homily to focus on the story which is the subject of the Gospel and always features on the first Sunday in Lent - the Temptation of Jesus. But I want to take our reflection elsewhere, to the first reading, not the Gospel.

The first reading at Mass is chosen not at random, but to provide a sort of reflection or anticipation of the Gospel

And this weekend begin with the story of the covenant of God with Noah, and a reminder of the sign of the covenant - the rainbow. How can we understand this story, and what on earth has it got to do with Lent? With the temptation of Christ?

Some people will look at this story and try to find the historical evidence to support it, and some of that is intriguing: in many cultures there are stories of great floods, and some archeologists have even tried to find evidence of the Ark, and the mountain on which it landed.

At the other extreme, there are those who reject the story out of hand. It is just a tale from primitive people, they say, to explain the rainbow, and a way to explain the presence of some beauty in the midst of much danger. Such people would also point out that the destruction of men, women and children alike, cities and civilisations, is very unworthy of a God of love.

For the Church though, neither of these paths are satisfactory. Neither explains why this reading sits alongside the story of the Temptation of Christ in the desert. The search for historical detail will tell us little of use, and the complete rejection of the story fails to take it seriously at all. Even if one view or the other is true, neither tells us what the story actually means.
No, from ancient times, Christian writers have pointed out that it is the symbolism of the story which gives its underlying message.

It is a wonderful story with which to begin Lent, and it casts light both upon the life of Christ, and our living through this holy season.

Here we have an account of sin and salvation, of destruction and compassion, of faith and hope. Here is a tale which speak of water, and a boat which rides on the water - danger and the rescue from danger. Again and again in scripture, water is a symbol both of the threats of evil and the overcoming of it by God. We hear echoes of the salvation of nations through the waters of the Red Sea, the stilling of the storm by Jesus, and the walking on the water. There are reminders of death and resurrection. We are reminded of the journey of baptism through water, and of the promise of eternal life.

And the 40 days on the boat are the 40 days of Christ in the wilderness and they are our 40 days of Lent. The water is an image of sin, forgiveness and resurrection. It is disaster and it is hope.

And it reminds us that Lent is a time of jouneying from sin, a time of patient hope, a time of promise, a time of trial, and a time for redemption.


[Image source:]

Friday, February 17, 2012

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Homily / Sermon

We have never seen anything like this! (Mark 2:12)

NewImageThis week, Lent begins. Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, when we start our Lenten fast and preparation for Easter.

And Tuesday … Tuesday is what people nowadays call ‘pancake day’. 
In many countries, that day is Mardi Gras - or ‘Fat Tuesday’, a day when all the rich food left in the pantry is cooked up and enjoyed. Even the name Mardi Gras has come to mean a party, a celebration, a time of enjoyment and excess.

In English, we have a rather different name. Not one that refers to partying or celebration, but rather to something much more serious and rather dour. We call it Shrove Tuesday, the day when we are shriven, absolved of our sins by making our confession to a priest.

The English, O the English: we don’t go a-partying like the Europeans, but we glumly traipse to confession, encouraged only by a pancake and some lemon juice.

Actually, this has long ceased to be our custom, and while we are likely to go confession at any time during Lent, we are unlikely to go on Shrove Tuesday.

But I wonder, is the forgiveness of sins so different from the celebrations of the Mardi Gras? We may look upon confession, in a dark box to a stern priest, to be far away from the party, but in today’s Gospel when the man had his sins forgiven - the paralysed man no less - he stood up for joy, held his head high, and walked before the crowd.

No doubt there was also a spring his step. Perhaps he tried a little jig. And the astonished crowd praised God.

What better celebration could there be?

Enjoy your pancakes. Go to confession. And celebrate the freedom and forgiveness you receive.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

6th Sunday of the Year : Homily / Sermon

Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. (Mark 1:41)

NewImageWhat is the most amazing thing about this story?

That Jesus healed the man? That he sent him to the priests? That Jesus told him to keep it secret? Or that the man took little notice of this and great crowds came after Jesus?

Is the most notable detail that the man doesn’t seem to be sure whether Jesus would want to heal him? Or that Jesus seems to heal him because he felt sorry for this man, as if he might not feel sorry for others?

I don’t think so. None of these. I think the most interesting detail is in the words ‘Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him.’

We can say that we care for those in need. We can express compassion for the homeless, or drug abusers. We can say that all are equal in the eyes of God, and profess that we are not racist, that we do not look down on others. We  care about those who have terminal illnesses. We express sympathy for the severely disabled and the mentally handicapped. We are moved by compassion for those who have nothing.

But. But. But we keep our distance. We might express our concern, but we keep our distance.

Yet before he heals him, Jesus touches him. Before he sends him away Jesus extends his hand on the untouchable person, the one who was meant to keep his distance from others, the one who had been cast out of society for fear that his infection might spread.

Jesus touches the man. He takes a risk. He is not satisfied with kind words, but turns his words into action.

He stretched out his hand and touched him.