Marchons! Marchons!

6th Sunday after Trinity

Mark 6,7-13

“An army marches on its stomach” – It was the Corsican adventurer and sometime emperor of France and hate figure for the English, one Napoleon Bonaparte, who said that. He was the one who insisted on being crowned in St Peter’s Rome by the Pope, and when the Pope was a bit slow off the mark, grabbed the crown and put it on his own head. However, the meaning of that self-evident truth can be easily misunderstood. Napoleon did not mean that he was going to ensure that an endless caravan of supply carts laden down with the offerings of the best Parisian restaurants was going to cater to the whims of the French Army. No, what Napoleon meant was that the French army was expected to live off the land, as it went along. And if the land they marched through was barren, the troops could starve, as on the famous retreat from Moscow. It was a strategy that could bring great success, but it was also high risk.

Though Napoleon probably wouldn’t have recognised it, the self same policy had been adopted by parts of the church in the Middle Ages. As far back as the thirteenth century, Franciscan and Dominican friars often took to the road, living off what people would give them, and responding quickly to requests for help from local bishops. And in the campaigns of these friars, Francis and Dominic themselves showed the way by example – often sleeping rough, begging for food and drink, eating whatever was put before them.

These friars, following the example of Christ and the apostles, despite their high-risk strategy, were never let down. As they served the high king of heaven, his protection as they travelled on – on campaign, as it were – never dried up. And also I am sure that they were helped by the fact that the believing millions in Europe would have know instinctively that in helping them they were in some way helping Christ himself. 

And what prompted them to adopt this approach, when so many powerful men in the church in the Middle Ages had totally forgotten that the Son of Man had had nowhere to lay His head, and enjoyed lives of great self-indulgence? The answer lies in passages in the Gospels such as this one from St Mark. What we see Jesus doing is part of a larger strategy. In fact, as St Paul tells us, the strategy was laid down by God from the beginning, as a predetermined plan. And as an aside, behind these verses lies a truth that many today ignore or do not or choose not to acknowledge: Jesus’ choosing of twelve male apostles is a deliberate way of showing that His aim is to re-found the people of God, as once the twelve tribes of Israel were called by God.

This passage shows Jesus the Lord, like a commanding officer, but a commanding officer like none other, giving his troops their marching orders. These men, however, carry no weapons of war; they are to be, like Jesus Himself, themselves the message, both by what they are and by what they say. The apostles are to move quickly, and to move on swiftly where their preaching is not welcome. This creates a sense of the urgency of Christ’s message. The kingdom of heaven is close at hand; the time is now. And here, even before the resurrection, we see the two main weapons that Christ gives the Church – the word of God and the sacraments, both of them signs of His continued love for the church and His abiding presence with it. So, the apostles are to preach the Word, and, in a sacramental act, to anoint with oil those who are sick.

(C) Magne V. Kristiansen –

Obviously we need care in applying Christ’s strategy to our own time and our own situations. And yet, awe inspiring though it is, remember that, like the apostles, we have each been chosen from all eternity, to be co-workers in God’s plan of redemption; by virtue of our baptism we are enlisted as Christ’s faithful soldiers and servants in order to advance His campaign. It took great faith and courage for the apostles to do what Christ told them, but do it they did, and we too can ask for and be given that same faith and courage, the same resolve to carry out our Master’s will.

Fr. Edward Bryant


The Kingdom of Caesar

5th Sunday after Trinity

Mark 6,1-13

The season of Pentecost is a time to reflect on word’s of Jesus for today, to gain a greater self understanding of “being church”. Jesus tells his friends that a “prophet is without honour” even among his countrymen and relatives. This remark comes after his teaching around Galilee and after performing numerous healings, including taking his inner group of disciples into the home of a leading member of the synagogue to restore the daughter to life. The crowds were amazed yet at the same time some were outraged. The outrage would grow and grow over the course of time urged on by religious enemies.

This saying that “a prophet is without honour” was no doubt well known at the time, for outrage had been the reaction to many of the great Hebrew Prophets including John the Baptist. All had suffered at the hands of secular and religious leaders. This was important for the twelve disciples to know as they are about to undertake their first training mission. [Mark 6,7 ff]

Moissac, Jeremiah [Cancre, CC BY-SA 4.0]

The Lord saw himself as fulfilling the prophet’s mission because they were all inspired by the Holy Spirit to speak the “Word of God”. The great Prophets were not primarily foretelling the future or interpreting dreams and signs. Those who predicted in that way were “the Seers” and were often called upon to do so in the Old Testament by people of power. The great prophets were highly tuned to the ways of God inspired by the Holy Spirit to speak the truth, whatever the consequences, entirely from the perspective of God rather than the political and social entitlements of mankind. They were totally committed, whatever the price, to obey and speak out. This kind of prophet has always caused outrage and fierce opposition from those in authority who like Caesar had the power to arrest, imprison and put to death. This continues to this day, so that the Lord’s remarks “the prophet is without honour” are highly important for us who witness right now!

There are still prophets today throughout the world ready to speak in truth about “the dangers of spiritual blindness” and the inherently ungodly and egocentric Kingdom of Caesar that is even destroying Christianity from within. This has been going on for some time even before Karl Marx when another German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach in 1835 wrote “politics is now our religion”. This was part of an enlightenment that has been advancing the idea that life can be lived without reference to a God given creation. A philosophy centered on the self and individual happiness. George Orwell saw the coming of this Gnostic obsession with economics alone which he correctly said, would create the death of objective truth.

Today aggressively hateful rejection of Christ is everywhere and western countries are no exception. In the USA we read of Catholic priests being told by frightened Bishops to resign their parishes for upholding tradition. Recently, London’s famous Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, the home of public free speech, no longer protects Christian speakers who are arrested by the police for being offensive rather than the abusive mob of violent and threatening hooligans. A teacher and a church school chaplain have been fired for preaching tolerance and freedom of speech. Schools are becoming a battleground reports Christian Concern. These events are now commonplace in a society of anti Christian ideologies who are intent on silencing Christ’s teaching of the kingdom of God. All Christians are now called to be prophets without honour, proclaiming that the true infrastructure of life is the relationship between humanity and the living God. He who reminds us of the response to God’s prophets also says, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake; rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven”.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

Signs and Wonders

4th Sunday after Trinity

Mark 5,21-43

The two words “Signs” and “Wonders” often occur together, but mean rather different things. A Sign directs people towards what they are looking for: Maybe an historic building, or a panoramic view. It exists to guide people away from itself, but towards the real Wonder.

Wonder describes our feeling when suddenly confronted by a panorama of mountains, lakes and majestic buildings – which words like ‘awesome’ or ‘breath-taking’ fail to describe adequately.

The healing of a bleeding woman, Rome, Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter. [Unknown author, Public domain]

The two miracles in today’s Gospel were both Signs and Wonders. We should behold every miracle with Wonder – because that’s what ‘miracle’ means. But we should equally use our minds and imaginations to learn what Lessons Jesus intended us, like their first beholders, to draw from them.

Lesson One: Whenever Jesus detected the slightest vestige of Faith in His power to heal and save, on the part of those who came, or brought others for Him to ‘make whole’, a Miracle became more likely to be the outcome. Sometimes “He could do no miracle because of their unbelief”. He flatly refused to oblige those Scribes and Pharisees who ‘asked Him for a Sign or Wonder’ in order to gratify their curiosity. But it was just as often the faith of those who brought sick people to Him, rather than the faith of the victim which made the critical difference.

We know that the woman had such Faith. “If I can only touch his clothing, I shall be healed”, she said to herself. Jairus, when he learnt that his daughter was dead was told by Jesus to “have faith, not fear”.

Lesson Two: Sign posts, as we have seen, have only a single job to do. They are put there to point away from themselves and towards their desired object. But Wonders demand a great deal more of us than Signposts. Like signposts, they rightly demand our immediate attention. But unlike a signpost which points away from itself, a Wonder just goes on demanding our attention.

Such is the power of Wonder that we return to that panorama time and time again. We take others to see it. We’d like to explore the city, meet its citizens, and enter its buildings, to learn about its history. Does that sound remarkably like Evangelism? Well, it ought to – because that’s what it is!

As Christians, we have been allowed a glimpse of Eternity and the City of God in all its Wonder. However most of us are still at the ‘Panorama/Wonder’ stage, though we have followed all the signposts dutifully. So how about taking our pilgrimage a stage further? That will, of course, mean leaving our much-loved Panorama Point which it has taken us a lifetime to reach, and going on a long downhill journey which can be just as demanding as uphill – or even more so!

But of this we can be sure: that the Panorama will not be lost by leaving it. New Visions of our Destination, much clearer ones, will continually open up before our eyes the closer we get to it!

Fr. Francis Gardom

A Lesson in True Power

3rd Sunday after Trinity

Mark 4;35–41

Never has humankind been more powerful than it is today. We have the power to send men to the moon, we have the power to split the atom, and artificial intelligence is affecting our lives in all manner of ways. But it was British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin who said in 1931 that power without responsibility is the mark of the harlot throughout the ages.

Have we become a generation of harlots? What do we do with the power that has been put into our hands? Do we use it for good or ill? Aren’t we rather like children set loose in the film, Willie Wonker’s chocolate factory, gorging on the sweets set before us, and then getting upset when we get stomach ache? And because of humankind’s misuse of power, we all stand in great danger of getting something far worse than an upset tummy. Then we all begin to make excuses for this state of affairs: “nothing to do with me, I am quite powerless”. Don’t believe it. We all have power and exercise power over others in countless ways. but we need to understand very clearly that what power means to a Christian is very different from what the world means. And if you want to know about Christian power, then you need look no further than Jesus, whose divine power is always put at the service of love, and a love that goes far beyond what the world likes to call love.

Jan Brueghel the Elder, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Throughout the Gospels, others seek to lure Jesus into misusing his power: in the wilderness, the devil tempts him, “go on, you can do it”. On his cross, he is goaded:” if you are who you say you are, come down from the cross”. Paradoxically, Jesus shows his true power, and the true nature of Christian power, by refusing to go along with those who have power games of their own to play. Jesus shows his power in acts of love and service, and invites us to do likewise.

In the Gospel: Jesus is in a boat on the lake with his friends: suddenly it all begins to go wrong. One of those sudden gales blows up, and they all risk perishing. “Save us Lord, we are drowning” they cry. So Jesus gives them a practical lesson about power. We all like to be in control, but the disciples were out of control, they had, as people say today, “lost it”. To rely on their own power to get out of this mess would have been futile, so Jesus demonstrates that power comes from God, and that he, God in man, is able to exercise that self same power for the good of all. He rebukes the wind and the waves, and all becomes calm once more. “Who is this?” they ask. He is the one who calls them to abandon false delusions of power, false notions of their ability to control events, and to come back to faith, faith in God, faith in the one he has sent. Power comes from God, and that same power which stilled the raging of the sea, has the capacity to bring calm and order into our disordered lives.

And we who bear his name are called to use the power that God shares with us to the same ends: to bring peace where there is conflict, to bring justice to the oppressed, to co-operate in the ongoing work of making the creation a faithful reflection of the very splendour of God himself. God never misuses the power that is his by right, and he expects that the power he has shared with us should be given back to him in loving service.

In our hearts we know this to be true, yet we still seek to use power the earthly way. How foolish we are!

Fr. Edward Bryant

The Mustard Seed

2nd Sunday after Trinity

Mark 4,26-34

In England the NCC Mass booklet has Christ’s words that his kingdom is like a mustard seed, the least of the shrubs that becomes a tree and a home for many varieties of birds. We do not understand this image in the sense of Ernst Schumacher writing in 1973 that “Small is beautiful” of itself. He was writing about the abuse of resources in the world of politics and economics. But we remember Jesus is speaking about the crucial concept of “the Kingdom of God”.

Reading the parables we put ourselves in the situation of the first disciples, listening to the Lord explaining how his mission inevitably starts in a small and vulnerable way before it can grow. Jesus regularly used parables in his teaching; sometimes they are obscure riddles or proverbs but other times his analogies are clear and challenging taken from the natural world and daily life. The parable of the mustard seed is one of these, teaching the disciples that their mission inevitably starts in a small way and is vulnerable but growth is driven by God. Jesus uses parables as his teaching method introducing them with the formula, “the kingdom of heaven is like”; so that there is a deliberate emphasis that the first duty is to focus on the Godly way of thinking and living rather than the political.

Phillip Medhurst, FAL, via Wikimedia Commons

We must remember that the parables were collected by the evangelists to help the post Pentecost Church facing a new situation. Growth had already taken place in the years after Pentecost and in some cases was spreading like wildfire, but with new obstacles in the way. The tiny seed of Christian life started to grow and become the safe resting place for a great diversity of people of many languages and cultures. It was the Kingdom of God, the house with many rooms for all followers and the parables begin to be applied in new ways. This is exactly how St. Ambrose [397AD] uses the mustard seed image to say that the Holy Spirit is the seed in the soul which is a great power in the Christian world moving mountains. St John Chrysostom [407] also when he preaches about the mustard seed, says that although such a simple herb, which becomes a place for shelter and protection, mustard seeds are most potent when crushed as also the potency of Our Lord himself who became most strong when he too was crushed at the time of his passion but like the mustard seed releases the potency and his redeeming power.

Now we are in another age, beginning the season of Pentecost 2021. A time when Christian Churches face great antagonism amounting to a “Christo-phobia”. This may be one of the greatest crisis and challenges yet for Kingdom of Christ. Even the minds of the faith-community itself having lived for centuries in a more or less religious world, now inhabit anti religion and have already been infiltrated by a secular spirituality of individuality that is at odds with the transcendent spirituality of Christ. The Kingdom that Jesus spoke about was not a perfect paradise, a golden utopia above the clouds. The Kingdom of Heaven is made up of those who are working to mould the present life on the perfect model of Jesus Christ rather than personal happiness. To counter this we must plant again the seed of a deeper self-understanding of the Kingdom in which the image of the powerful mustard seed may again encourage us. We will have to become smaller too and more focused, yet determined to restore the meaning of the Kingdom while remembering a few weak fishermen once began to change the world by sowing the seeds divine power which must be sown again in the souls of humankind and nourished by the Holy Spirit begins to counteract the failures of our mission in the world.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

The Hard Sayings of Jesus

Trinity 1 or Corpus Christi

Mark 3,20-35

In English, the word ‘hard’ has several different meanings. It can mean ‘hard’ as opposed to ‘soft’: like “taking a hard (or firm) line about something”; but we also often use ‘hard’ about the things that we find difficult to accept or understand, or those we find ‘hard to do ’:like ‘loving our enemies’.

This confusion matters, especially when we consider the so-called ‘Hard Sayings’ of Jesus.

James Tissot, Public domain

Jesus used many ‘hard’ sayings to teach people the Truth, both about themselves, and about Himself. In today’s Gospel, for instance, He said, “let any man blaspheme against the Holy Spirit and he will never have forgiveness”. That’s as hard or firm a saying as anyone ever made about anything!

Those who want to believe Jesus was always “mild-and-gentle” with His audiences and never wanted to upset them, face a big difficulty here. All three Evangelists, Mark, Matthew and Luke agree that He did say it (or its Aramaic equivalent). St John tells us that many followers abandoned Him at this stage of His ministry because of His “intolerable language”. (John 6;60) Jesus was no crowd-pleaser!

Those who cling to the “mild-and-gentle” view of Jesus just ignore His ‘hard sayings’; but faithful Christians, simply can’t afford to ‘pick and choose what our Saviour says about our salvation, much as we might prefer the soft things to the hard ones!

Before accusing others of committing any sin, especially the ‘unforgivable’ one, it’s wise to begin by asking whether we ourselves understand what “Sinning against the Holy Spirit” actually means.

Pvasiliadis, Public domain.

That’s not too difficult. Jesus described the Holy Spirit as ‘The Spirit of Truth’; so blasphemy against the Holy Spirit consists in our refusing to recognize Evil as being Evil, or by calling it ‘Good’ when we really know that, in God’s eyes, it is wrong.

This often happens when someone knows they’ve done wrong, but when accused they accuse their critics of being prejudiced or judgemental, or simply old-fashioned, as if‘ choosing right means ‘doing what’s fashionable, rather like we choosing what clothes to buy and wear. The 1911 pop song ‘Everybody’s Doin’ it Now’, is as morally misleading today as it ever was.

Of course, there are both good and bad prejudices, like there are good and bad judgements; but being fashionable, acceptable or popular doesn’t prove that they are morally right.

To confuse the word ‘hard’ (the opposite of ‘soft’) with ‘hard’ (difficult to understand, or to perform) is like weighing groceries on a pair of faulty scales. Although the two scale-pans appear to balance, in fact they don’t and using faulty scales or false weights when weighing our Moral judgements, in-justice will inevitably be the outcome!

But equally, tearing-up the Rulebook and trying to make a new one, is just as mistaken.

The only cure for moral degeneracy is to open the eyes of the wilfully blind, and thus enable them to see that it’s not a reformed morality that’s needed, but re-formed men and women – who have been trans-formed by God’s Grace; and always using the set of Moral Scales and Weights which have already been provided for us, both by the hard, as well as the not-so-hard sayings of Jesus Christ! “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD: but a just weight is his delight.” (Proverbs 11:1)

Fr. Francis Gardom

Is Trinity True?

Trinity Sunday

John 3,1-17

Is it true? Will you find the Trinity mentioned in the Bible, or more specifically, the New Testament? Let me save you the bother of rushing to your Concordance; the word Trinity does not occur in the Bible. However, do not despair. After all, anyone who takes the Bible simply at face value is in a lot of trouble – Holy Scripture deserves more than that of us. The letter kills, the Spirit gives life. If you want to understand the real message of the Bible, you’ve got to be prepared to dig beneath the surface and ask yourself what is the essential message contained in the verses. It can, of course, be threatening. But if we can work that through, and prayerfully bring our brains to bear on the Scriptures, it can be a liberating and enriching experience, far more enriching than mere surface readings of the Scriptures can ever give.

Instead of bewailing the fact that Our Lord and, later, St Paul did not give us a nice tidy explanation of the Trinity, you start asking yourself whether the Trinity is to be found in the New Testament, you begin to find it all over the place. You find it at the accounts of Our Lord’s baptism, you find it at the end of St Matthew’s Gospel, where the Risen Lord tells His followers to go and make disciples, and baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. 

Andrei Rublev, Public domain

The Christian Church didn’t invent the Trinity, nor did God the Father about two thousand years ago say to Himself “I’m feeling lonely I will turn myself into a Trinity.” God has always been Trinity right from the start of time: what has changed is that He has graciously allowed us to understand more of His nature as time has gone on. Non-Christians have falsely claimed that Christians worship three Gods. That old Trinitarian hymn which I used to sing as a boy, and which always used to remind me of a lubricating oil of the same name, three in one and one in three, makes a statement which on the surface is either nonsense or else simply incomprehensible.

To explain the Trinity is beyond human wit, so preachers often turn to analogies: the Trinity is like a shamrock perhaps. I prefer the suggestion that it is like looking at the same scene from different angles – one reality, but different ways of perceiving it, and from the different angles you get different views, glimpses of new riches which would otherwise be obscured. But in the end, all analogies break down, and we have to return to the original. So great is our God that He wants us to know Him and love Him as He reveals Himself in these different ways, as the Sovereign Lord of all; as Jesus, the one who saves us from the eternal darkness of separation from God; and as Spirit, the enlivener, or if you prefer, the life giver, the new life giver, the Spirit of Jesus living within us to continue the work of transformation, of making us more Jesus like, but still God in each of these different ways.

The doctrine of the Trinity is the corrective to any false notions that we can put God in a box and keep Him there, because although there is no new truth, although God does not change, neither does His nature, there is yet more to learn of what He is, and it reminds us that at the heart of God there is communion, fellowship, relationship. Maybe you can be a Christian on your own, without ever darkening a church doorstep – God knows, but our life here on earth is meant in some way to reflect the life of God Himself – creating, saving, enlivening others, and doing so in concert with others. Mystery the Trinity certainly is, but great and wonderful truth it is too, and we should be eternally grateful that God has graciously chosen to open the door of heaven in this way to enable us to worship Him, to fall on our knees and join with the cherubim and seraphim in their cry of “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

Fr Edward Bryant

Spirit guided Church

Pentecost Sunday

John 20,19-23

The Christian faith is based on the truths Jesus taught and transmitted through the ages by successions of believers called the Church. In order for these truths to be authentically of God rather than of man, they need to be the same truth as handed down by the Son of God. Jesus was wary of man-made religion. For example he quotes Isaiah, “people honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men”. [Mark 7;6] St. Paul emphasizes the same warning to Greek converts at Thessalonica telling them to avoid human concoctions, “Brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught”. [2 Thessalonians 2;15] The passing on of these truths embodied in the sacred apostolic tradition is the prime duty of the Church and everyone within it. For this Jesus promises the protection and assurance of the Holy Spirit. This is so important that the best teachers say the goal of each individual Christian is “the acquisition of the Holy Spirit”, reinforcing the words of Our Lord “when the Spirit of truth has come, He will guide you into all truth”. [John 16;13]

Condé Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately within the membership of the Church the Holy Spirit is the least understood member of the Holy Trinity, and the crucial function the Spirit provides in protecting the sacred tradition is missing. Then people lose their way, turning to ideas lifted from the present chaotic age. Rejection of the Church today is sometimes because of the pettiness and frailties of so many of its leaders; it is not the institutional church, but the truth of Jesus Christ that is the object of our faith. The Church is only its true self when it lives by the Holy Spirit and is the temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells.

On Pentecost Sunday Christians rediscover again why the acquisition of the Holy Spirit is so important.

The whole season covering five months is a time of Christian self reflection and understanding, ending on All Saints Day when we see the saints as the true expressions of being a Church empowered by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit who with the Son proceeds from the Father, overshadows the birth of and baptism of Jesus, overshadows the Blessed Virgin and St John the Baptist, overshadows too every individual in Christ’s Church. In the book of Acts, the very last words of Jesus to his Apostles were “you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit”. This promise was dramatically manifested at the time of the Jewish feast of Pentecost which celebrates the first harvest of the liberated Hebrews in the Promised Land. The Church looked forward to a greater spiritual harvest of souls in God’s Kingdom.

Unable to see how this could be done the frightened Apostles are overwhelmed by a strengthening wind and fire descending on them individually and with the result that they are changed into co-workers in the harvesting of souls. The first Christian Pentecost is followed other Pentecost events. Acts 8;17 describes the conversion of Samaritans and Acts 10;47 of Gentiles who likewise receive baptism and the laying on of hands by which they too receive the Holy Spirit. This pattern still continues because the apostolic Church takes seriously the promises of Jesus speaking about the Spirit, those believing in him would receive to assist and preserve the continuation of his truth. ”He who believes in me,… out of his heart will flow rivers of living water”. [John 7;38-39]. The English hymn writer Charles Wesley expresses this relationship of the individual with God the Son and God the Holy Spirit:

Heavenly Adam the life divine,
change my nature into thine,
move and spread throughout my soul
activate and fill the whole.

Holy Spirit no more delay
come and in this temple stay.
Spring of life thyself impart
rise eternal in my heart.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

It’s only words

Sixth Sunday of Easter – “My Words are Spirit and Life”

John 15,9-17

An Englishman’s word is his bond. That’s a noble sentiment. But, there are words, and there are words. I detect a widespread cynicism about politicians, certainly at national level, because the perception is that their deeds don’t match up to their words. To make matters worse, words can mean different things to different people, and words certainly can change their meaning over time. You may know the saying that England and America are two nations divided by the same language. We are now no longer allowed to talk about mankind, but rather about humankind, which to my ear is ugly, even if it saves us from the error of, apparently, excluding half the human race. You can still get caught out, though.

Some years ago I found myself in an Old People’s Home talking to an old lady; she pointed to the lady next to her and said “We’ve got aids”. I did a double take, and was then somewhat relieved to see that she meant that they were both wearing hearing aids.

Duccio di Buoninsegna [Public domain]

Now you may be asking yourself what all this has got to do with today’s Gospel. Because Churches often seem to love sheer wordiness (“They think that by their many words they will be heard” (Matthew 6.7)), we can become deaf to the one word that matters, which is Jesus the Word of God. Jesus the Word speaks words to us, words of challenge, words of love, words of reassurance, words of life, and we who bear His name are expected to hear and respond.

Let us take just this word, “commandment“, out of the Gospel as Jesus “Keep my commandments”. People think even The Ten Commandments are a bit old hat now. Besides Jesus got rid of all that, and simply asked us to love one another. If only it were that simple. We human beings do like to wriggle out of our obligations. The anguished complaint of the child when he has been asked to do something “Do I have to?” is the authentic voice of humanity. It’s all right if what we’ve been asked to do fits in with our own wishes and our own convenience, but if not, then all too often we will begin to find reasons for not doing as we have been asked, and then try to make a virtue out of our willfulness by saying we are asserting our independence or something similar. But Jesus lays it firmly on the line to His disciples “this is my commandment” – it is a commandment that He is giving them. We often get nearer to the truth of Jesus’ words by asking ourselves what He didn’t say. So here, for example, He didn’t say “I know you’ve got a lot on your minds, I know there are differences of personality among you, but I would be grateful if you could do your best to be nice to each other”. He didn’t say that or anything like that, but believe me, lots of Christians seem to think that’s what He said, and they act accordingly. No, Jesus said “This is my commandment”, and if we in any sense accept that He has something of value to say, let alone if we accept Him as Lord and God, we must heed His words, we must not try to water them down, and we must believe that He meant what He said, even if as a consequence we’ve got to change the way we live.

But the point is, Jesus tells His disciples that if they will accept the challenge to lead this (His) kind of life, then they will not merely deserve to be His friends, they really will be, and what greater privilege could there be than that?  But even here there is a warning, for if we apply again our little test of asking here not so much what Jesus did not say, but what He left unsaid, we will realise that to fail to lead lives of Jesus-like love means that we have said that we do not want to be His friends, because we are denying the Holy Spirit access to our lives to enable the love of Jesus to burn brightly there.

So here is the challenge: commandment. No one can force you and me to follow His commandment, but whenever you and I are tempted to the opposite, to disobedience, to hatred, or almost as bad, willful indifference, to turning away from Jesus, then let us just reflect, let us take to heart that measureless love which showed itself on Calvary, let us ask ourselves whether we are truly prepared to take Jesus’ commandment as just that, let us reflect whether we truly want to be Jesus’ friends or His enemies, and surely to such questions there can only be one response. I mentioned at the start the cynicism about politicians who appear not to keep their word. Can the same criticism be leveled at us as Christians, that we do not keep the word, the word of Jesus our Lord?

Fr. Edward Bryant

Partaking in the Divine

Fifth Sunday of Easter – The True Vine

John 15,1-8

Anonymous [Public domain]

The New Testament was written to strengthen the first converts, who not only faced great times of persecution but also philosophical attacks from Jew, Greek and Roman critics. The apostolic community needed to hand on coherent teaching but also to develop the strongest possible affinity of this teaching with Jesus himself. The fourth gospel ponders the meaning of this affinity or “Communion with Christ” especially in the seven “I AM” sayings; “I am the Way”, or “I am the Good shepherd,” “I am the bread of life,” etc, but especially I am the true vine, you are the branches.

Any serious gardener will immediately connect with this very powerful image of the vine and vinedresser. I read this passage each year, while preparing for Easter, often at the same time finishing tending my own fruit trees, removing diseased, dead and unwanted branches, and looking for fruit buds in the hope of a future crop. Each tree like all nature is subject to life generating and life threatening forces and need attention. My trees are also old friends. I have grafted and nurtured them from single stems and now I look up to them on the steps of a ladder. If our Lord’s teaching is powerful to me it was likewise powerful at the time to those familiar with the symbol of Israel as God’s vine. “I will sing of my vineyard” says Isaiah [Isa 5;1] in the vinedresser’s harvest song to the beloved, “planted with the choicest vines waiting to bring forth grapes.” Jesus takes this image to a deeper level by saying he was the “true vine” and his followers were his fruit bearing branches.

This image of interdependence is simple. The life-giving sap must flow from root to branch to bear fruit. Yet critics rarely understand that the Christian life is meaningless, bearing little of worth without this communion between Christ the vine and his people the branches. It is the goal of Christianity. Of all the “I am” sayings this gets to the spiritual root! It dramatically highlights the huge misunderstanding that exists in the anti religious culture surrounding us. Our faith is rejected as collection mere ideas, no longer relevant because humanity can solve almost everything itself. Humanity has become the measure of everything in the pursuit of material needs, and that it has the ability, although perhaps not the will, to dig itself out of any problems on the planet. Humanity is the highest good and if religion has any place at all it is in terms of satisfying human welfare or human rights and justice. Today Homo sapiens, is its own centre of gravity, in which the life of Jesus has ceased to flow.

The New Testament records and reflects upon the words of Jesus while he travelled through Galilee and Judea. His concern was to resolve the tragedy of human frailty caught between constructive and destructive forces that surround us, whether in the vineyard or human heart. These forces cause instability in human behaviour and the deficit cannot be solved by religious dogma or secular laws alone, but by giving energy to the will, realigning the mind and body with the “energies” of God. None of this can happen in a soul-less context.

The true vine feeds the soul driving the will to restore harmony and balance within each person, offering a way to free the individual from brokenness by the intermingling of divine energy with the human mind, body and soul. The great Christian Fathers call this theosis. The need hasn’t changed in over two thousand years. Most likely in the present world of isolation it is more urgent than ever.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

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