Not Fit for Service

2. Sunday after Trinity

Luke 9;51-62

Not Fit for Service” is an English phrase meaning, useless until corrected. We use it to describe a badly-built bridge, a faulty electrical cable, or a leaking roof; or those in this week’s reading from St Luke, those whose response to Jesus life-giving call to “Follow Me” was, “Yes, but not just-yet”. [Luke 9; 61] “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family” says the last of the three enthusiasts. “Yes…But……”. Let’s call them “The Y.Bs”, for short.

Let’s think about what makes someone a Y.B. type and unfit to serve Him in the Kingdom of God, unless of course, they had a complete change of heart.

It usually happens very gradually. People don’t just wake up one morning and find that they have stopped believing that God exists. Y.Bs just don’t realise what is happening to them. It’s often the result of experiences which slowly but surely undermine the foundations on which their assurance has been built. There was once a time when everything seemed ‘plain sailing’ to them, their career or business, maybe family, even perhaps their whole future life. But then, something disrupts their confidence; or probably several small things. Failing an exam; a close friend or relative dies; or a job lost; they start feeling ill; wake up feeling tired; forgetting appointments.

In Christian Terms it’s called ‘the Bump’ and it happens to people in many walks of life. None of this is the same thing as “having doubts” about the Faith. Most people are confronted during this life by some adverse experiences which shake our faith in God’s Plan for our future. The Apostles all suffered such doubts. If we never experienced any doubts, there’d be no need for Faith.

carulmare, CC BY 2.0 [Wikimedia Commons]

Faith doesn’t consist solely of what we profess in Church. Of course, that’s an important element of it but not the only one. The faith which St Paul taught his Converts in Corinth, meant trusting in God, that He “will never allow us to be “tested above what we are able to withstand” when he wrote, [1 Corinthians 10; 13], “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; and will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way to escape so that you can endure it.” Faith is like a well-built structure surviving earthquakes, especially when regularly inspected for faults, and continuously maintained.

Very often that way to escape that St. Paul speaks of, involves putting our trust in someone else, like a surgeon, or a fireman or a lifeguard whose judgment and support we can rely upon rather than our own. Whenever we are facing such a trials whether it’s a surgical operation, or being rescued from a fire, or drowning, or being confronted by an unexpected bereavement which has ‘knocked us sideways’ the chances are that even if they don’t know the answer, they are more likely to know someone else who does.

The Incarnate Jesus in His earthly life asked his friends and disciples in the garden of Gethsemane to support Him before his arrest. They failed of course in one unforgettable case by going to sleep; or they did nothing, did the wrong thing by getting into a fight, did it too late (or ran away).

The three people eager to be converts and followers of Jesus in the Gospel, who professed (in no uncertain terms) their determination to follow Jesus and His Way of Salvation, immediately started ‘drawing back’, by laying down certain pre-conditions for Him to agree to, before they were willing to commit themselves to the final step of actually following Him, thus avoiding the demands of total commitment.

Jesus response to these three Y.Bs is equally direct: in that case he says they were ‘useless to the Kingdom of God’. No doubt all three of them were deeply shocked and offended. They’d made their commitment; but it was valueless just as the seven Churches of Asia Minor were lukewarm in Revelation chapter 2+3 and resounded like an empty barrel; in the ears of Jesus Christ, The King and Saviour of the World!

The passage is significant as it comes just as Jesus prepares to send out 70 disciples on a mission that would have turned into a disaster if a proportion of those 70 had been “lukewarm Y.Bs”. It was a lesson too, the fledgling church of the Acts of the Apostles to whom Luke would be writing in his second book.

Fr. Francis Gardom

Reflection on Corpus Christi

1. Sunday after Trinity – or Corpus Christi

Luke 8;28-39

Frequently I hear people exclaim, “It’s all a mystery to me”. Why cannot our age handle mystery? As if we believe that if something doesn’t work when we press a button or turn on a switch, it’s not worth knowing about. But wiser heads have always known that there’s more to life than what we see around us. And who better to put the point than William Shakespeare – in his play Hamlet “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Although written in the sixteenth century those words, that human knowledge is limited, could almost be a judgement on our own age. Although there is no necessary opposition or contradiction between the things of the Spirit and the world of science and technology, the simple minded seem to live lives bounded by the Internet and the Cell phone. Yet, for those with the eyes to see, there is a great world of mystery around us, starting with the mystery of Creation itself. Of course much that is of the profoundest significance in our faith is mystery.

It is mystery that God in his goodness should send his divine Son Jesus to earth to share our life, when he certainly knew what the outcome would be – the busy world had no time for man on earth – it is mystery that the same Jesus, true God and true man, comes to us in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, but assuredly he does, and though we may not be able to find the words that would satisfy the paid up sceptics of our day, we Christians know it to be true. In the same way, just as, if we have been loved, we know that to be true as well, even though the world may mock us.

(C) Magne V. Kristiansen – www.adfontes.no

Here at the altar Our Lord comes to us in bread and wine, to make us complete again, and to show the extent of his love for us. Over the centuries, bishops, theologians, teachers, have all sought to find the words that will explain and describe what actually happens in the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, yet ultimately it all breaks down. There is a time for putting words aside, and accepting that they are imperfect pointers towards the truth. This truth put so simply yet so profoundly by the English poet John Betjeman (1906-1984), at the end of his much loved poem Christmas. Describing people going to midnight mass, the final stanza reads as follows:

“No love that in a family dwells
No carolling in frosty air
Nor all the shaking steeple bells
Can with this single truth compare
that God was man in Palestine, and
lives today in bread and wine”.

Words cannot be a substitute for the loving act of communion and our participation in the living Lord. In the Feast of Corpus Christi, which comes near the start of the Pentecost season, we rejoice that Jesus gives us the means to dwell in him and he to dwell in us. Do not ask how the bread and wine of the Eucharist becomes his Body and Blood: too much ink has been spilled on that question already. Rather, simply, with me, say that we know it to be true, and we know it to be the truth because it is a promise made by Jesus. When you hear well meaning people say “It is only symbolically true” or “A Jew could never have said something like that, and meant it” then, in love, you need to say that his promised word is good enough for me.

The English Queen Elizabeth the First wrote a little poem about the Eucharist. I believe that it is a powerful affirmation of the reality of the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and that they are words that we can, that we must, make our own:

“He took the bread and broke it
His was the word that spoke it.
And what that word doth make it.
That I receive and take it”.

Fr. Edward Bryant

Make known the “unknown” God

Trinity Sunday

John 16;12-15

“The Forgotten Trinity” is a British Council of Churches report in 1989 declaring that the British Christians were Unitarians with no idea of the importance of God’s unique self revelation as Holy Trinity. At about the same time, Cardinal Ratzinger had more bluntly described European churchgoers as Pagan. Tragically the situation now is even more desperate, as the dwindling Christian Western world seems to have been so deeply penetrated by the secular mind that they accept any mixture of man-made religion and consequently become impotent in dealing with the paganism that surrounds them.

This predicament is rather like St. Paul’s encounter with the statue of an unknown God in Athens and the pagan philosophers. [Acts 17; 23] These people loved debates with one another hoping to find fulfilment and intellectual satisfaction. Their discussions were a fruitless waste of time, debating manufactured theories that never progressed to anyone’s benefit. St. Paul like all the Apostles of the New Testament constantly begins his dialogue by asserting that God was no longer “unknown” because the face of the divine mystery had been uniquely revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus has revealed God as “My Father,” no longer a remote product of the mind, but a relationship of the heart and soul, born of his divine love. “In him we too can live and move and have our being” [verse 28] declares Paul. God is now accessible and penetrated by those whose lives were recreated by the Holy Spirit. There is no part of the Christian faith more fundamental than the loving Trinity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit who combine together to restore meaning and purpose to everything. Yet there is no part of Christianity more neglected and more misunderstood and attacked.

LyXX at ru.wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Nordic Catholics together with faithful Roman Catholics, Holy Orthodox and others who believing in baptism in the name of the Trinity, “putting on Christ, by receiving the Holy Spirit” [Galatians 3; 27], will remain committed to upholding the Faith that was handed to us from Jesus and his Apostles and most importantly clarified by the Fathers of the Great Ecumenical Councils. This creedal faith remains true, that God had been revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and without this the Church becomes just one of many man-made religions and Jesus no saviour at all, but just one of many religious prophets. This is why the purpose of our faith is, in the words of St Seraphim is, “to acquire the Holy Spirit,” because as St. Irenaeus (175 AD) said “Unless man had been joined to God, he could not have been a partaker in incorruptibility.” This is salvation, “God had become a man in Jesus Christ so mankind could be raised into the divinity.”

This teaching has the authority of the “Apostolic Church” from the beginning and its unique claims must remain our foundation. From earliest times, the more the faith spread, the more it threatened secular power and intellectual pride and was forced to stand up against attempts to make radical changes especially in understanding the person of Jesus. The battle today still rages. BBC radio begins each morning with – A Prayer for Today – but it is never in a Christian form. To avoid offense to listeners they use vague diverse jargon made by “man’s devising” the prayers are addressed to an unknown politically correct unknown Creator God or the God of all, as if we are still with St. Paul in Athens. The desire to be diverse ends up in an empty and meaningless place and must be continually an offense to the Father of Our Saviour!

How good to begin the season of Pentecost, meditating on being and praying as the Church of the Triune God and praying to remain steadfast. Let us at this time remember the words of St Hilary: “May I hold fast to the words I professed in my baptism. May I worship you Father of us all, together with your Son of God, may I be counted worthy to acquire the Holy Spirit who proceeds from you”. This is the faith based on the Saviour Jesus who said “Holy Father, all that I have is yours and all that is yours is mine”. May God the Holy Trinity be blessed unto the ages.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

The Feast of Pentecost

Pentecost Sunday

John 20;19-23

The picture presented in the description of the first Pentecost in The Acts of the Apostles (2;1-11) is quite frightening, wind, fire and strange utterances. It is a basic principle of Bible study to try to identify the links between other passages in the Bible and the one I am reading. It seems that we are intended in this account to see a sort of mirror image of the Creation of the world, of the events described in the Book of Genesis, where through the elemental forces of the universe, God brought the world into being. And if we read a bit further in Genesis we will find there an account of how once upon a time all the world spoke a single language, and how men began to usurp God’s position and so God scattered them to the four corners of the world where they all learned different languages.

Thus St. Luke, the author of Acts, wants us to understand that the wheel has turned full circle, that now, because of the ministry of the Lord Jesus and his triumph over death, which is the mark of a fallen world, Creation is now being renewed, at the first Pentecost, bringing a fresh start for the whole world, and once again mankind is being reunited by the common language of the Gospel. The truth that Luke wants us to grasp is that the Gospel is now good news for all the peoples of the world, the Gospel is the means whereby the whole of Creation can come back into unity with God the Father, and the way in which this is going to be brought to reality is by the working of the Holy Spirit.

Saint Louis Cathedral, Missouri [1914], Pete Unseth, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Holy Spirit has been much neglected over the centuries, and we are much indebted to those in recent times who have almost forced the church to rediscover the Spirit. The account in Acts of the first Pentecost shows the apostles going through an earthshaking experience, but it doesn’t have to be like that.

The fourth Gospel gives us an alternative picture of the gift of the Spirit, where in the twentieth chapter the risen Lord comes to his friends with words of peace, and commissions them to a ministry of reconciliation and forgiveness in the power of the Spirit. So don’t think that if you haven’t had some sort of experience like the one in Acts you haven’t got the Spirit: if you have made a mature commitment to the Christian life, then the Spirit is already at work within you. If, indeed, as Paul teaches in the First Letter to the Corinthians, if you can from your heart say that Jesus is Lord, that is the Spirit working in you. The problem for many Christians is not that they haven’t got the Spirit, but that they don’t allow Him to do his full work of re-creation in them, to make them more like Jesus. When we see how much of the world still appears to be in the grip of darkness, that is a warning to us that we must all give the Spirit full reign in us to enable us to carry on Jesus’ work so that the new creation ushered in at the first Pentecost may become a reality.

Fr. Edward Bryant

I Dreamt Of Heaven

Ascensiontide

John 17;20-26

I dreamt last night that I was in heaven, and do you know, it was just like my local parish church! Well, there are many views of what heaven is going to be like. What of the wealthy woman, who went to heaven and, as befitted her social standing, was given a conducted tour by a high ranking angel. She knew the verse “in my father’s house are many mansions”, and when they came to one that was particularly grand, she naturally assumed it was intended for her. The angel quickly put her straight: it belongs to your former gardener, he said. “Quite unsuitable,” she exclaimed, “for someone of his social position. He was perfectly happy with the little cottage we gave him. He must be quite out of his depth.” In the grounds of the mansion she espied a poky little house. “Now that would suit him much better” she exclaimed. “Who is it for?” “Oh, that’s for you” replied her guide. “But it is so small, so inferior! I couldn’t possibly live in it!” the wealthy woman said. The angel admitted ruefully that it was sadly lacking, but added “You have to appreciate that the builder has to make do with the materials he is given.”

The truth of the matter is that, like it or not, heaven is not going to be a continuation of life here on earth. Heaven is not going to be like your home town on a Saturday morning, only without the illegal parking and the traffic jams. No, as the song puts it, there are going to be some changes made, and possibly, just possibly, we might end up in the shack in the corner with the leaky roof, and others who in our judgment are far less deserving may be getting the fancy mansion with all modern conveniences.

The 17th Chapter of St John’s Gospel, the great priestly prayer of Jesus, begins with these words, “he lifted his eyes heavenwards and shares the deepest promptings of his heart with his heavenly Father.” We should pay close attention to what he says, with our eyes fixed firmly on heaven and our eternal destiny, but our feet firmly on the ground, for he speaks of the things of heaven, of how it is to be in God’s perfect kingdom.

Christ the Vine (16th c.), Tilemahos Efthimiadis, from Athens, Greece, CC BY-SA 2.0

Jesus prays for three things – unity … glory … love. The human heart longs for all these things, for they speak of fulfillment, of how things are meant to be, of the perfect life of God’s kingdom. Sadly, the reality of life, and our own selfishness and sinfulness so often seem to make them unattainable.

Yet today, and every day, Jesus offers to pour oil on the wounds that separate us from life of heaven, he offers us the chance to start living the life of heaven now. In prayer, in sacrament, through his word, we can receive once more his Holy Spirit who will enable us to cry out: “Abba, Father”. To do this, is to unite our prayer with that of Jesus, is to join our aspirations with his, and to set our feet firmly on the heavenly path. To be truly open to the Spirit will mean that we will know more and more of the life eternal in all its unity and glory and love.

The key is prayer, especially in this key moment. In the Gospels we see Our Lord’s life is undergirded by prayer, yet how often we neglect it. Prayer is not an optional extra for the Christian: we perish if we cease from prayer, as the old hymn puts it. Pray unceasingly, pray in joy, pray in sorrow, pray even when the devil whispers in your ear “There is no God”, and pray above all that the Holy Spirit will come anew into your life to unite you with Jesus.

Fr. Edward Bryant

Encountering Evil

Sixth Sunday of Easter

John 14;23-29

This Reflection is based on a book entitled Encountering Evil dealing with the often-asked question “Why does the All-Powerful God allow there to be so much evil in the world?” The present Russo-Ukrainian war, with all its reported atrocities and suffering, has brought this question to the surface of many people’s minds.

Although this Reflection doesn’t provide an easy answer to this question, and the Lord’s Prayer asks God that we may be “delivered from evil”, turning a blind eye to something which is Evil isn’t the only – or even the best way to encounter evil. At the centre the word ‘encountering’ is the idea of ‘to counter’, suggesting not only our disapproval of evil, but our duty to resist it in God’s Name.

The God-Incarnate Jesus, experienced pain, physical and mental, the moment He was conceived. When Mary and Joseph were teaching Jesus to walk, He often fell over, and they picked Him up off the stone floor in Nazareth, He was shocked, sobbing, and hurt. Being God Incarnate didn’t spare Him pain and suffering, as we know!

Herod ordered His assassination, thus turning God the Son into a child refugee in a largely Anti-Semitic Egypt. At Nazareth He was dragged away by the Synagogue Officials to be thrown over a local precipice. In Jerusalem, Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin sought to kill Him. They illegally arrested Him in Gethsemane Gardens, and then subjected Him to what amounted to a ‘Show Trial’. Jesus clearly saw that their plan would involve Him in suffering and death. The next day both came to pass.

In John’s Gospel we hear many paradoxes which Jesus used to help His hearers understand the Truth, especially the Truth about His (and our) relationship with God the Father.

Alvesgaspar [2011], Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A paradox uses two separate ideas which often conflict with each other, to explain the truth. In our reading Jesus talked about ‘giving us His Peace’; “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. [John 14;27] His Peace isn’t what the Secular mind thinks it means, but the Peace of God, which passes all understanding. To the Secular Mind, the word ‘Peace’ means the absence of strife, care, sorrow, disappointment, sickness, and all the other things people seek to avoid in their earthly lives. But the Peace that Jesus offers His faithful servants is something very different: He offers us, in this world at least, anxiety, trouble, strife, uncertainty, betrayal, failure, in fact those very things by which His Father reconciled the World to Himself!

This warns us that if we follow Jesus Christ, in this World, we can’t expect our life to be always a comfortable ‘Bed of Roses’. Roses have thorns, as Jesus Himself knew well from His own experience. What He intends our role to be in fighting evil, hasn’t yet fully revealed to us. Revealing everything to everyone at the same time is seldom God’s way of making His Will known!

Although during our earthly life God gives us some faint foretastes of the joys we can expect when we reach our destiny where His Son “has gone to prepare a place for us” much of His Plan remains a hidden secret, yet most beautifully expressed by the English hymn writer John Mason Neale [1818-1866]:

The cross that Jesus carried, He carried as your due:
The crown that Jesus weareth, He weareth it for you.

The faith by which you see Him, the hope in which you yearn,
The love that through all troubles, to Him alone will turn.

The trials that beset you, The sorrows you endure,
The manifold temptations That death alone can cure.

What are they but His jewels, of right celestial worth?
What are they but the ladder, set up to heaven on earth?

Fr. Francis Gardom

What’s Happened To the New Commandment?

Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 13;31-35

We have followed the events of the Passion, the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus for many weeks, but on this 5th week of Easter we go back to the Passover Supper, the washing of the disciple’s feet and the departure at night of Judas from the fellowship to betray his master. The dark time approaches and the time is right for Jesus to give the new commandment in his farewell discourse. This is the crucial precept for all who follow in his steps.

With the mind of St. John we recall the beginning of his gospel, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us – we beheld his glory”. [John 1;14] The glory and divinity of God’s Word made flesh was only known through the perspective of the cross. There the Son of Man dies as a human, but reveals the glory of the Christ and Son of God. It is with hindsight that the evangelist tells us about the Passover meal, when Jesus identifies himself as the sacrificed “lamb of God” as he was first recognised by the prophet at the baptism. [John 1;29]

Simon Ushakov (1685), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

At this Passover, Jesus predicts his night of betrayal by Judas who embodies “anti-love” breaking the sacred bonds of friendship. This episode, dark as it is, begins the process by which the light of both Father and Son will shine. [John 13;31] None of this makes sense at the time to the disciples, until they also have gone through times of trial, doubt and despair. Only then will divine glory, the meaning of Scripture be possible. The washing of disciple’s feet becomes the prelude to the unique bond of love that Jesus will demonstrate by his death and require from all who follow him. The washing will underline all that is about to take place and the passionate words of the High Priestly Prayer in Chapter 17 in which Jesus prays that the union between God the Father and the Son will grow in “those you have given me”.

In all of this St. John writing after years of reflection is proclaiming a pivotal moment for the central theme of his Gospel, that the full divinity of Jesus is revealed as he lays down his life for his friends and his enemies too. At the supper he tenderly addresses his disciples and all who will also follow him, “little children, a new commandment I give to you, love each other as I have loved you, by this all will know you are my disciples”. [John 13;35] This is the new commandment and charge to the Apostolic Church, which after the Ascension and Coming of the Holy Spirit is to become Christ’s physical presence in the world. The charge applies to us all and now we are required to restate and reinterpret its unique meaning through the perspective of the cross and resurrection in our age.

Tragically, this crucial commandment is today frequently forgotten within the Church when it thinks in secular institutional terms, with buildings staffed by corporate officials organised to encourage good works, or even worse when it becomes a servant of the political world. Having experienced this failure in Germany, Bonhoeffer was adamant that the Christian Church “founded solely on Jesus Christ and his new commandment, making it absolutely different to all other communities.” The Church, as the body of Christ is to be “Holy” and can only be so if made up with those who have embraced the untranslatable word “agape” Christ’s uses to when speaking of his own love at the heart of his new commandment and manifested even upon the cross.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

I’ve Made Up My Mind, Don’t Convince Me With the Facts!

Fourth Sunday of Easter

John 10;22-30

How often when we ask a question have we already made up our minds what the answer is going to be? In this Gospel reading, the Jews who asked Jesus to say plainly if he was indeed the Messiah had already worked out in their own minds what the answer to that question was. They had firm ideas about who the Messiah would be, conventional ideas about an earthly king who would throw out the foreign oppressors and restore the kingdom of David. There are two problems with this. First, no earthly kingdom is an adequate reflection of God’s kingdom – even the imagined golden age of the first King David was marked by immorality and all the other blemishes that inevitably accomplish all human endeavors, and second it reveals an attitude of mind which confidently expects God to fit in with our preconceptions, our ideas about what is right and what is wrong. The Jews were convinced in their own minds that this outsider, this man who wasn’t even a proper Rabbi, couldn’t possibly be the Messiah.

There are also dangers for us! If we believe that we are above such ideas, and all we have to do is accept Jesus as the Christ, and that concludes the matter. But the sheep of Jesus are to hear and follow and their actions must speak louder than words. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” [2 Cor 5,17], writes St Paul, and if we are honest with ourselves before God, can we really claim that we have discarded the old nature and put on the new? Because if, in honesty we cannot make that claim for ourselves, in what sense then have we the right to claim that we have recognised Jesus, both who and what he truly is as our shepherd?

When it comes to the crunch, when there is conflict between the standards of Christ and the way of the world, what happens? Every human life is marked with failure and sinfulness: the big question is, what do we do about it? Do we just shrug our shoulders, say we are doing our best and then carry on as before, or do we accept the challenge to turn decisively away from the old life and toward the new and eternal life of Christ?

Mosaic in mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, 5th century.
Petar Milošević, CC BY-SA 4.0

Jesus tells us that his sheep “hear him and they follow him”. Both are required of the Christian. A readiness to hear the words of the Lord, and words which we know deep down are words that are not simply going to tell us what a splendid job we are making of our lives, but which are going to challenge us to new ways of living, is the start, but only the start. How foolish, how dangerous to our immortal souls, to hear the words of eternal life, and then ignore them. We are called to hear, and then to respond, by following in the steps of the master, and not, like foolish sheep, to think that we know best and that we can therefore go our own way with impunity.

Some of course will scorn the whole idea of Jesus speaking to us, let alone having to obey the voice of a mere man who, the world confidently believes (and hopes?), has been dead for two thousand years, but if we will only stop rushing around, we will then find that Jesus the living Lord speaks to us in a hundred and one different ways, in the circumstances of our lives, in the stillness of our hearts, and much more besides, and that his words are true for our lives. That demands of us a readiness to accept that he really is Messiah, he really is Lord. Mere words are unlikely to convince you of that, and that is why, even in Eastertide, we still need the cross in front of our eyes, the reminder of what man’s rejection of Jesus led him to. Can we look at Jesus on the Cross, and still deny his claim on our lives?

Fr. Edward Bryant

Do You Love Me?

Third Sunday of Easter – Resurrection Appearances

John 21;1-19

Some think that the 4th Gospel originally ended with the climax of the resurrection appearances in Jerusalem and the words, “the world cannot contain the books that should be written about all the things Jesus did.” [John 20;25] Yet there is a final chapter 21 which seems to stand alone as a mystical appendix, added by John “the beloved disciple”, at a later date. This is the passage we reflect upon after Easter.

The setting is the Sea of Tiberias in Galilee where the disciples were first called from their boats. [Luke 5] Why did these disciples now return to their nets as if the resurrection encounters made little difference? Galilee was the scene of their initial meeting with the Lord, the feeding of the multitude with bread and two small fishes. This lakeside meeting with the “risen Christ” has familiar echoes with those earlier days. Was the charcoal fire especially important too because it recalled the fire in Jerusalem where Peter had warmed himself as he denied the Lord and where his leadership had collapsed? This scene involves the same seven key disciples who now seem to have been so uncertain that they returned home to their former familiar life, still seem unable to make a catch by themselves or see their future.

Raphael, Christ’s Charge to Peter [Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

If chapter 21, was really added at a later date by the “beloved disciple” then the passage must have special importance. St John is the Church’s theologian, the first who recognises Jesus and closest to grasping the mystery of “godly love” within the fellowship of followers. The dialogue that John records after the lakeside breakfast brings to mind the transformation of Isaiah’s calling, for like Peter, the prophet thought he was unworthy and “a man of unclean lips” but whose lips were purified by the Angel with charcoal to enable him to become the mouthpiece of God’s Word. Simon Peter is the flawed leader who needs to take into himself that the resurrection is not just a trampling down of evil and death, but a power to transform his own being and to fulfil his mission. He was aware that he was no Rock but still a sinful man of “unclean lips.” [Luke 5;8].

Peter’s transformation begins with the memorable dialogue witnessed by John and the three crucial questions Jesus puts to Simon Peter. “Do you love me” (that Christ like love). Yes I love you as a friend and brother. “Feed my sheep”. “Do you love me with that costly love?” “Yes Lord, I love you as a brother”. Peter must be transformed from a disciple and friend into an apostle and “be carried where he does not wish to go”. No longer just convinced by the resurrection but changed by it. Only then will Peter become the Rock of the future Apostolic Church.

Pascha means “crossing over” to the other shore, leaving Galilee and the old life, as the Hebrews had left Egyptian slavery. This was to be Simon Peter’s crossing to become the rock, able fearlessly to speak as Christ’s apostle and to be the foundation of the Church Catholic. John the “beloved disciple” sees this clearly and wrote as the Elder Apostle about that powerful love that the Lord brought into the world that went far beyond friendship. Surely he wrote having lived long enough to see the life of the Church being built upon transforming love that Jesus Christ had asked of Peter being acted out by more and more converts. St John still writes for you and me.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

Holy Ground

Second Sunday of Easter – Divine Mercy

John 20;19-31

That story of the Risen Lord appearing to the disciples is remarkable for a number of reasons, but to highlight just one point, and perhaps one that is not immediately obvious, strictly speaking Christianity has no holy places.

Those encounters between Jesus and his friends are assumed to have taken place in the Upper Room, the same place where the Last Supper had been celebrated only a few days earlier. What memories, what associations that place must have held for them all, not just in the turbulence of recent days, but also, going forward – betrayal of the Lord by Judas, one of the brotherhood on the negative side, but on the positive side, scenes of great emotion – breaking of bread and sharing of a cup, washing of feet, unparalleled teaching from the Master, and now resurrection appearances.

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Appearance Behind Locked Doors [Wikimedia Commons]

What a holy place that must have been! And yet there is not the slightest evidence that it became a place of pilgrimage in the years and centuries that followed, that the hundreds and thousands of converts to the new faith regularly resorted there for spiritual inspiration, that the souvenir sellers’ stalls blocking the streets as they sought to sell mementoes to all and sundry.

Contrast that with, say, Islam, which expects its followers, or at least the men, to go on pilgrimage to Mecca and the other holy places, or indeed how Jews from all over the world used to come to Jerusalem for the festivals of the Jewish year. Now of course in practice certain places have acquired for Christians a special significance, and it is natural that, for example, the route that Jesus took on his way to the Cross should have a deep place in Christian hearts. Even at the local level, that there are particular church buildings held in great esteem by the community, as places that are somehow the repository of community and personal memories. Being an unashamed traditionalist I’m glad for that, but we still have to hold on to that essential truth, that the incarnation, God becoming man in the person of Jesus, has made the whole world holy, the world, and not this place or that, is the holy place for Christians. That means that not just my local church, or your local church or Westminster Abbey, or indeed St Peter’s in Rome, are more holy, but the factory floor, the supermarket, the hospital, the classroom, the high rise block, the pub and the club are holy ground as well.

This concept of the Holy ground being everywhere has the profoundest implications for us as Christians as we seek, however imperfectly, to continue the Lord’s work of building the Kingdom. And especially as in the beautiful Springtime of 2022 we mourn for the battered people and cities of Ukraine and weep over the images of devastation that we see, we must never lose sight of this great truth – there too is holy ground. We live on holy ground. Not only can we meet the Risen Lord anywhere, we must also be prepared to live his risen life anywhere – the holy people of God must make others aware too that, wherever they are, they are standing on holy ground, made such by the birth and dying and rising again of the Son of God.

Fr. Edward Bryant

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