The Repair Shop

Second Sunday in Lent

Mark 1,14-15

To the surprise of the BBC managers, a popular TV programme this winter in the UK has been “The Repair Shop”. The skills of the restorers and pleasure of the customers who bring in their precious items for restoration have set me thinking as Lent approaches.

The TV programme consists of a group of exceptionally skilled craftsmen and women who receive broken down but much loved heirlooms brought in by families. Each item has an important story behind it. The skills of the repair shop team are used to strip down, clean and replace broken parts, returning these items to their original working state and bringing overwhelming joy to everyone involved. For example, one family of several generations, came with a totally curled up and worn out leather wallet. This had belonged to a grandfather who as a pilot, in World War II had been shot down over the Baltic. Clinging on to some debris, the pilot had used his wallet as a paddle and was finally rescued by Russians and returned finally to his family. Now it was his grandchildren who were returning to the Repair Shop to receive back the precious wallet beautifully restored and brought back to life and which had not only saved their grandfather but also spoke to them of their own unique existence. They all expressed the hope that this would continue to be an inspiration for another seventy years.

Repair or restore have much in common with the word repent

According to St. Mark, Jesus began his work coming to the river Jordan, the scene of John the Baptist calling the crowds to repent and prepare for the “Christos” who would be the great “hope and restorer” of the people.

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Later it was Nicodemus who would come as if to Jesus’ repair shop asking what was needed to become a member of God’s kingdom. He was told by Jesus, “you must be born again by water and spirit”. This did not mean returning to the womb but rather to be cleaned up, to be made whole, restored, and put back in working order based on the original design the creator had intended. Very much like the preaching of John the Baptist and Christian Baptism.

Restoring objects is one thing but people today do not want to be told they are in any kind of need for restoration of their own condition. Christians, as we have often said, can too easily become a “Comfortable Club” enjoying meeting together, but without too many consequences and with little concern for the decline in faith that exists in our society. Nor for the reasons behind the great deal of complaining, social breakdown, instability and dissatisfaction with life as it is. Time and time again we are told that our religion is meant to be reassuring and comforting and this does not mean willingness to have our lives turned upside down. “It is far easier to be an admirer of Christ rather than a follower”.

In Lent the question we should ask of ourselves:

Is not Christianity about the struggle to be cleaned up, repaired by repentance and born again by making a decisive break with the rust and corrosion that has set in? The real Christian sees that there is need for regular restoration. To leave behind the familiar bleak landscape of the ordinary world with all its delusions and turn to the radically restored world Jesus called “the kingdom” and to which all are committed by their baptism.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

Extra-Ordinary Struggle

First Sunday of Lent

Mark 1,12-13

St. Mark tells us that immediately following his baptism, Jesus was “driven by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days tempted by Satan”. [Mark 1,12-13] This most important event receives only a brief mention, possibly because the first hearers were well aware of the struggle for they too were involved in the evil of persecution surrounding them. Later when Luke and Matthew report at greater length the forty days it becomes clear that the battle for the human soul is at the heart of Christian life, and requires a full frontal acknowledgement that the soul is the battleground in which the enemy is raw evil. We are warned that this is happening when we experience “temptation”. No surprise then that the Lord’s Prayer, is a daily focus on this battle, “Lead us not into temptation – deliver us from evil”. To grasp this we need to put behind us the trivialising by our culture regarding temptation as “sugar and spice and all things nice”, sex, drinking smoking and obesity, all bodily excesses.

Christ’s Temptation, Monreale – Sibeaster [Public Domain]

The forty days in the wilderness was no health farm! Our Lord was preparing to trample down the enemy who must never be underestimated, who had power to seduce, distort, delude and destroy. This is an awesome power that we should fear. In his early life, Joseph Ratzinger, called this “the dissolving of the soul” and that is what Jesus confronted and we also prepare to face each Lent.

Maybe the greatest temptation for us today is to close our eyes to the consequences of the struggle against raw evil. Our western world already displays symptoms of cynicism, depression, that certainly could result from the illness of the soul. This has been described by writers like Oliver Bullough who tells of the effects of atheistic totalitarianism crushing the souls of Russians where suicide and alcohol, broken families and fear were destroying a whole nation. [His book called: The Last Man in Russia: The Struggle to Save a Dying Nation, 2013]

Jesus nowhere teaches us that we shall find God in success or silk clothing but through the cross and that is a difficult way to contemplate. The Old Testament record of the Prophets and the New Testament examples of the Apostles or even the history of the saints all bear witness to the “struggle” to overcome evil. Our Christian forefathers were used to this way of contemplating Christian life calling it “ascesis” and they were familiar with ascetical training, a word that has gone out of fashion but needs to make a comeback. The French lay theologian Olivier Clement said that ascesis was “to awake from sleepwalking through daily life” and this is a good thought approaching Lent.

Mental health is refreshed by sleep when the brain is pruned from non- essentials and the body too may rest and fast from needless nourishment. But the soul also needs pruning Jesus says, to bear fruit. “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. [John 15,1–2]

In the heat of the Corona pandemic of 2020–2021 we must remember that health of body and health of mind however important they are not the full story! More destructive than Covid 19 is the virus that can destroy the soul. As St Paul teaches, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age,… Therefore take up the whole armour of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day… [Ephesians 6,12–13]

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

Extra-Ordinary People

Sunday Before Lent

Mark 1,40-45

In January, our reflections examined God’s ‘Warfare Strategy’ against the Dark Powers of Evil, and we found the Epiphany was like ‘unwrapping’ God’s Christmas Gift of His Incarnate Son to the world. That Strategy needed at first to be kept Secret–to be revealed only bit-by-bit, and only to those who, like Mary had first willingly given their personal answer, Amen-Yes, to God’s invitation to become His fellow-worker in putting His Plan into practice. Next we see the wide range of God’s choice of other fellow-workers: men and women; a carpenter; some fishermen; a tax collector; young and elderly; locals, and others from far away.

Then, compare their Amen-Yes of the first disciples with that of people today, when told that God not only created them, but has also created a unique and critical part for them to learn and take part in His Redemption Drama.

People today often say, “I’m sure God would never choose me to do His work – I’m not skilled, or learned, or clever, or holy enough” or worse still, by playing what they mistakenly imagine is their ’Trump Card’: “I’m just too ordinary for that.” In God’s sight there are no ‘ordinary’ people. We are all uniquely designed by God, and of inestimable value to Him in “working his purpose out”. Anyway, God isn’t looking for ordinary people, but extra-ordinary ones, who will say their Amen-Yes to His call, just as Mary and her colleagues did. Any idea that we are ‘just ordinary’ is a big fat self-deception; it’s also an insult to our Creator! If God took all that trouble to form us in our mother’s womb, and even more trouble to ‘manifest’ Himself to us, through His Son, our Saviour and Redeemer, who are we to think ourselves as ‘ordinary’? Our everyday speech and attitudes prove we don’t think anything of the sort; and worse still, we imagine God approves of such false-humility!

Florian Prischl, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Let us remember that God seldom expects us to work single-handed for Him. Once we say Amen to His Call, we soon discover that He has called others to work alongside us on His Strategy. That is the biggest problem many followers of Christ have always faced. Finding that God expects us to work alongside others, some of whom we’d never have chosen ourselves, given half the chance!

Lent is a good time to overcome our preference for worshipping and working only with people we know and like, and thereby ceasing to be ‘Soldiers of Christ’ fighting a common enemy. Christians can too easily become, without realising it, a “Comfortable Club” for those who enjoy meeting together on Sunday mornings. As soldiers of Christ battles are never won that way! The Church of Christ isn’t ‘ours’ anyway – it belongs to, and was created by, God, not with the intention of becoming a comfortable club.

God needs his Church-on-Earth to be like a mixture between a Hospital, a School, and a Regiment, where we meet Him, together with other ‘Amen-Persons’, of His choice not ours, and to be made whole or ‘Holy’ and in which to learn, with God’s help, how to un-wrap His Hidden-but-Open Gift-Secrets and make them our own. But most importantly to learn how to re-wrap these God given gifts in a way that will make those we share them with, and go on to want to un-wrap their own gifts for themselves and to discover what really is inside all that wrapping!

Fr. Francis Gardom

A Man in a Hurry

Christ Preaching in Galilee

Mark 1,29-39

Familiarity with these verses, and those immediately preceding, can mask the sheer impact of Jesus’ visit to Capernaum at the start of his ministry. Here is power at work – not power as the world understands it, for worldly power often becomes an exercise in control – but the power of liberation, liberation from the shackles, often unseen by others, that imprison and can ultimately destroy. The shackles of illness, guilt for past failings, of lives broken by the pressures of everyday living. And time is limited, to preach the good news that a new age is dawning, where in the words of that much loved hymn by Charles Wesley [our] chains fell off, [our] heart was free, and to demonstrate in acts of healing God’s love at work in the lives of ordinary people. Jesus comes to the people of Capernaum two thousand years ago, and to us and our world today as the answer to the deepest human needs, the need to be valued and loved, the need to be accepted – warts and all – in the words of Oliver Cromwell.

Jesus in the Synagogue of Capernaum [Unknown author, Public domain]

How did the little local community of Capernaum react to the presence of Jesus, this remarkable man in their midst? How would you feel, to witness His power to heal and make whole? Here is love incarnate in action. Here is a new Creation coming into being before our eyes. Here is hope, hope for ourselves, our loved ones, our world, as we see God at work among his people. You can be sure that there were scenes of great celebration in Capernaum that night; for through the ages Jewish people have shown that they know how to party! But this is only part of the story. Many of us find our refuge from the pressures of daily living in yet more activity – the Health Club beckons (!) – but that is not Jesus’ way.

After a day of preaching and healing, He must find time to recover, both physically and spiritually. So, Mark tells us that in the morning, while it was still very dark, He got up and went out to a deserted place, and there He prayed.

El Greco [Public domain]

After the previous day’s exertions, Jesus seeks to draw on God’s strength and power through prayer, and thus remain grounded in God’s will. As we might say, He needs quality time with His heavenly Father. And for Him, that means being quiet, means being open to God. We all lead busy lives, lives where, by the grace of God, in our own way we too can show God’s message of love and healing to those whom we meet; but if Our Lord needed quality God time, then surely you and I do as well.

But in a way all too familiar to us, Jesus’ quality time is soon interrupted, and Peter and his companions search frantically for the elusive healer. The Greek word used here has the sense of being pursued, almost hunted down. When Peter finally tracks Jesus down to tell Him of his instant fame, he assumes he is the bringer of good news, but Jesus’ reply is unexpected. Whereas most people would return to the place of their success, Jesus declares that He and His disciples are to set off immediately in the opposite direction. Why? Not out of obstinacy, nor false modesty, but because Jesus, totally attuned to his Father’s will, knows that He must go forward, not back, that there is a whole world needing to hear the good news, needing to be made whole. Jesus is not a performer of magic tricks, He is the Messiah. And time is short – Jesus is a man in a hurry. He is not in the business of instant satisfaction, but of converting, of healing broken lives, of making new life out of old, of helping people to build their house of faith on rock, not on sand.

There are many lessons here for us. We too are prone to be diverted, we too need to be attuned to God’s will for our lives, we too need to remain resolutely focused. Yes, it can be hard to resist responding to every need that comes our way, especially when this can give us the immediate reward of being wanted and appreciated. Yet this may be a delusion, and we need to walk closely with God, to ensure that we are not being led astray.

A life in which we balance activity and prayer, words and silence, will set us free to serve God more faithfully, and to mirror more faithfully the life and ministry of our blessed Lord who never sought the adulation of men and women but rather gave Himself to further the work of the Kingdom. As we might say, like Jesus, we need to keep our eyes on the big picture, and the big picture is the Kingdom – in the midst of the ordinary, the humdrum, the stress, the downright boring even, we are called not to please ourselves and others, but to commit ourselves to the service of God’s kingdom, for one of the greatest snares in the Christian life is when we tell ourselves, or others tell us, how well we are doing. A story is told of a preacher who, standing at the church door after the Service, was told by admiring worshippers that he had preached an excellent sermon. And his reply? “Yes, the devil told me that as I came down from the pulpit!”

Fr. Edward Bryant

A Reflection for Candlemas

Luke 2,22-38

Forty days before this feast that we commonly call in England by the name Candlemas, the child Jesus, the divine Word – who was and is God – who was born a man in a humble basement of a dwelling in the village of Bethlehem on the south side of Jerusalem. Entering the world he had made but without ceremony, to become one of us. He put off his heavenly glory. He set aside his all knowingness and all powerfulness for the weakness and dependence of human babyhood with the many limitations that are all too familiar to us!! The purpose of this incarnation was that we might become rich.

Francis Helminski, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Important in this “setting aside the heavenly glory” was manifested in the first public event, of the holy child is the entry to the Temple at Jerusalem. The Temple is the chief meeting place of the people of Israel with their God. Here the light and sacred presence of the Son of God would be revealed to Simeon the priest and Anna the prophetess who would both receive and welcome him. They were the first two religious figures of the Jewish nation, who having devoted themselves to a life of waiting expectantly and in anticipation for the “promised Messiah to come, recognised in the small child the sign of heaven. Simeon’s words to Mary the Blessed mother are a true prophetic sign of how by dying and rising again, the Christ child would one day rebuild the Temple made with stones and mortar into a living temple, as the Church, the body of Christ that this time would be made from people’s lives. This new temple would be the place that would become his home through the Holy Spirit.. We who are the people baptised in his name and who have received the same Holy Spirit are the living stones of the temple of the Lord.

[Candlemas is one of the key days in the Christian calendar at many levels for it not only looks back to Bethlehem but forward to the Cross of Golgatha;, a meeting of the old and new temple, but also it points forward to Pentecost.] At Pentecost the promise was fulfilled and sealed that was being manifested at the feast of the purification of the mother Mary whose body had been the temple and dwelling place of God through the Holy Spirit. The Church would quickly see in these events, a coming together in our own self understanding of the body of Christ, and bearers of his life in the world and so by the grace of God, we are, limbs, organs and members one of another.

Fr. Peter Moss † 2017

The Calling of the First Disciples

Mark 1,14-20

Duccio di Buoninsegna [Public domain]

St. Mark’s gospel is the most urgent and this is apparent from the beginning when Jesus called his disciples to follow him and become “fishers of men”. They were already followers of the Baptist and so the Lord immediately challenged them to proclaim the Gospel of God, the Good News. This begs the question, what is this Gospel?

It is about Jesus Christ, who is the truth of God, or as in words of St. John, “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten Son from the Father.” [John 1,14]

Because Jesus Christ born of the Virgin Mary, thus having a human nature, yet also the Eternal Word full of grace and truth, he alone can bring about the reconciliation of the fallen human race. His coming into our world was proclaimed by John the Baptist, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” He came as reconciler because of that original sin of disobedience which had separated willful mankind who had gone its own way and lost God’s friendship. [Genesis 3,1–24] This is the narrative of the Old Testament. Again and again God raised up prophets to proclaim his law and offering a covenant of reconciliation to his people which is repeatedly ignored. Thus in the fullness of time God sent his only Son to be the Saviour. [John 3,16] This is the Gospel. Jesus Christ is a man like us in all things but without sin who would entangle the mess.

Jesus soon gathered disciples, they were not professionals but young men of the land who at first believed with enthusiasm, but finally with the Holy Spirit, slowly began to understand. His challenge to his followers was to turn their lives around and follow him. As he healed the sick, drove out demons, changed water into wine and other supernatural acts that attest to his divinity. He supported the down trodden, the sick, the poor, and challenged the status quo. The disciples thought he would overthrow the Roman occupation to establish Jewish rule, but instead he promised to transform the world order. The price of His own obedience to God the Father required that he willingly went to the cross, suffered and died the death of a criminal, as foretold by Scripture, and on the third day, he rose from the dead, leaving behind an empty tomb.

Why did he die? To pay by his obedience the price for our disobedience, and reconcile us to Almighty God his heavenly Father, to break the power of death, and end the grip of Satan over humankind, to open the gate to eternal life, and to empower people with the grace of the Spirit of Pentecost, to transform society through faith in the way of life, hope and love.. Yes, a revolutionary message, to an undeserving people. For there is nothing we can do to deserve or earn this salvation. It is received not by our own merit, but through faith and trust in Jesus Christ, who alone can forgive sin, and this Gospel is our only hope.

Importantly, the promise of forgiveness and abundant life is received by faith, through a personal decision to accept the call and lay aside our selfishness and submit to God’s authority in the manner of the first disciples and this Gospel is still entrusted to his followers, to proclaim to all nations, until the Lord comes again.

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Alleluia.

Fr. Nathan Williams

The “Open Secret”

John 1,35-42

An ‘Open Secret’ sounds like a contradiction. But we saw, last month, how Secrecy is essential to God’s Plan for saving His World – because it needs unfolding to us bit by bit, to make it viable.

For Act One of God’s Incarnation Strategy, He chose Mary to play the Lead Part by becoming the Mother of His Incarnate Son. This called for her wholehearted “Amen. Yes certainly” to His invitation. 

We next considered those misgivings which so often follow hard on the heels of commitments to God: like how would Mary’s family, friends, and fiancé  react to what the Angel had told her – that she’d become pregnant, but that her Child would have no human Father? 

Now let’s look at Act Two: God’s ‘Epiphany-Strategy’. The word ‘Epiphany’ means revealing or unwrapping, and involves, say, a gift, or a rolled-up map being gradually unrolled or unwrapped to see what’s concealed inside. ‘Wrapping-and-Revealing’ is something which God often does – and, by watching closely how God works, we shall start learning to use that strategy ourselves.

In Act Two, God chose His ‘Supporting Cast’ for Mary – people like Joseph her fiancé, Anne and Joachim her parents, Zacharias and Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, Simeon and Anna in Jerusalem. Then He invited the Magi to take part, and, over the ensuing years, He chose people like John the Baptist, Andrew and Peter, James and John – allocating to each their appointed task (or tasks). 

Those He chose were all different: some were men, some women; some were learned, others uneducated. One was a carpenter, another a tax-collector, yet others were fishermen. Some, like Simeon and Anna, were elderly, others, like Mary, were teenagers. 

Domenico Ghirlandaio (Public domain)

What they all had in common was what might be called the ‘Amen Factor’, of saying, ‘Amen, Yes’ to God’s call. Some, like Mary, said ‘Amen’ immediately; others needed time to think about it: the Magi faced a long journey, both physically and spiritually; for some it took a miracle by Jesus to get them to the ‘tipping-point’ of saying ‘Amen’; St Joseph needed the visit of an angel to reassure him!

God chooses those whom He knows to be the right ones for the task in hand. So it’s no use thinking to ourselves “God will never choose me – because I’m not clever, talented or ‘holy’ enough to be used by Him in His service”. 

Given those “Amens” on our part, there’s no limit to what He can enable us to achieve for Him;  nor – by the way – is there any ‘Safe Space’ for us (other than Hell!) to put ourselves beyond His reach! 

God seldom expects people to work for Him on their own. Once we’ve said our “Amen” to God, we discover others who’ve been called by God to work with us. 

He shares His Secrets with us not as our private property, but to enable us to share them with others, so between us we can do His Will on earth in ways, and to an extent, that on our own, we couldn’t. 

So Epiphany is an opportunity to throw away that wrapping which we find so attractive, and start learning about the Secrets of God, which lie hidden, until He reveals them to us, and then expects us to share with anyone who shows the slightest interest in ‘dis-covering’ them for themselves.

Fr. Francis Gardom

Recognition of the Beloved

Mark 1,7-11

After 6th January the Church year is now called “Ordinary Time” which is a pity, because we have lost, what was formerly the Epiphany Season, providing the worshipper with a number of weeks to contemplate step by step the revealing of Jesus to the world. This is a crucial preparation for the next journey through Lent to the passion and death of the Son of God and Son of man.

During this season we use the word “Manifesting” rather than the Greek word “Theophany” to reflect on this revealing. In a sense everything Jesus did on earth is a revealing of the mystery of his divine life at work. St Paul explains this to the Ephesians, “indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ” [Eph 3;2]. Some of the Gospel manifestations are especially important for faithful reflection before Lent and these are beautifully expressed in the Epiphany hymn of Charles Wordsworth 1807-1892, a bishop in Scotland. “Manifested by a star by the sages from afar… manifest at Jordan’s stream, prophet priest and king supreme… manifest in power divine changing water into wine”. This most important time before Lent takes us step by step beyond the ordinary and by God’s grace to understand the divine life at work.

Unknown author, CC BY-SA 4.0 (Wikimedia Commons)

After Pentecost, the apostles understood why the Baptism of Jesus by John was the beginning of the events that were to reveal the meaning of the Lord’s coming. It was a new age; God speaks no more through the voice of Prophets but directly through his “beloved Son”. The new age of the Triune God was confirmed at the river bank by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit and the voice of God the Father. This earliest Gospel itself reflects the mind of the apostolic age that was itself totally overshadowed by and dependent upon the same Holy Spirit of Pentecost. Thus it is a bold starting narrative by St Mark, no birth stories or genealogies, but the voice of the last prophet, recognising that Jesus was the Christos and crying in the wilderness, “prepare the way of the Lord”. The urgent simplicity of this beginning conceals other important signs for reflection. For example, in the baptism, Jesus himself consents to another act of submission, just as his parents had done in the temple for him as a child. He, who has no need of John’s baptism, will identify with humanity. He descends into the water just as he descended from heaven and would finally descend to the place of death.

Here was no earthly Caesar with a raised sword and legions at his disposal, no Monarch with courtiers but a Saviour. As with other events in his human life, Jesus reveals the same life and death struggle that makes him so uniquely and utterly different to any other religious leader for his life on earth is a battle against the culture of death over which he must triumph. It is the beginning of the recognition by the first disciples that everything had shed light on God’s plan for those who had eyes to see. The Epiphany season is a time to turn on the light in our souls, to read and mark in Holy Scripture the account of God’s loving purposes, to see the contrast between the dark world of our disobedience and the light that comes to us through our redeemer the Holy Child of Bethlehem who goes on to reveal his divinity even through suffering and death.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

A Meditation for Epiphany

Matthew 2,1-12

The story of the Epiphany is much more than a legend or a religious fairy-tale. We are often told that Luke is a careful historian, but this reading makes it clear that Matthew is as well. He locates this incident in a specific time and place: in Bethlehem, in the reign of Herod the King. What we have heard is a story rooted in reality, not just a fable. Of course there are problems: we find it hard to accept the idea of a star leading the way, and then standing still, as Matthew says, but the basic idea of a new star appearing and being interpreted as a sign that a great ruler had been born is perfectly plausible within the thinking of the time. And it was a great act of faith for these men – not actually stated in the account as being three – to leave their own country, their homes and families in search of this new king.

The star was no magic light, infallibly showing the way — the Magi had to ask the way, they had to consult others as to where they could expect the new king to be born. And Herod is certainly no cartoon character. He really was an evil and ruthless king – he had one of his wives and two of his sons murdered. And for all the beauty of paintings of the adoration of the Magi, the harsh reality is that Mary had to give birth in a stable because there was no room elsewhere. The stable was not some sanitised ideal, but a desperate last resort. Even the traditional interpretation of the three gifts contains a realistic warning: the myrrh points to the child’s future death and burial. The shadow of the Cross prevents us from romanticising too much.

Giovanni di Paolo, CC0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

If this story really were a piece of escapist writing, it would end with the scene of the Magi doing homage to the Christ child. In the films, that’s where the credits would start to roll. But Scripture gives us a very telling, realistic ending to the story: “they returned to their own country by a different way,” as most translations put it. They leave the scene – the Magi return to their homes, but they return to their everyday lives changed by their encounter with Jesus. And this is very significant. Let’s be honest. Religion can easily turn into a form of escapism, a fix to get us through the day, the week, the year, and pie in the sky when you die. But that is not what the Christian faith is about. The Epiphany is no magical legend about beautiful babies, sweet-smelling stables and visiting kings, to be forgotten until next Christmas.

Just as the Magi spotted the star, and understood its significance, so we too are called to read the signs of our times, to be alert to God speaking to us in our lives. We are called to have the courage to act on our convictions, to leave our old familiar securities and embark on the journey of discovering or rediscovering God. We are challenged to recognise the presence of God in the particular circumstances of our lives. The Magi saw beyond the baby in the stable and recognised the very presence of God, the Word made flesh. And so they adored. We too are called to recognise the presence of the Lord in this world, his world —not the next, but here and now, in the people and events of our lives, and, I would suggest, particularly those we find difficult. And once we do that, we are asked, like the Magi, not to keep this to ourselves but to ‘return home’, to let others know that this world really is charged with the glory and the presence of God, if only we would open our eyes to see it.

Christianity is not a way of escaping the harshness of this life. God does not want to help us escape. He comes to be one of us, to be one with us, to ask us to join Him in participating in His work of creation and His work of redemption. That is the mystery of the incarnation. He asks us to help make His presence and glory manifest, evident, in our world.

Fr. Edward Bryant

Let Earth and Heaven Combine

Luke 22,1ff

The Christmas day reflection on this site spoke of the strange mixture of earth and heaven that overshadows Christ’s birth. That mixture continues through the whole of lifetime of Jesus. Think about the image of the child of Bethlehem in swaddling clothes looking like an “Egyptian mummified body”, which of course is true – for as “He came into the world and the world received him not”, the birth foretells the death, Jesus continually reveals the mystery of the divine life that came into the world through both his life and his dying.

That same mixture is present in this week’s Gospel reading, when the Holy family fulfil the requirements of Hebrew law and take their firstborn son to the Temple in Jerusalem, consecrating him who is Son of God in heaven but as an ordinary Jewish boy, to God the Father in his life on earth. This same mixture comes again at the beginning of Christ’s adult life when He submits himself to the Baptism of John in the river Jordan. St. Paul reflects on this submission present in the life of Jesus the one who is a mixture of heaven and earth. “When the fullness of time had come God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law”, [Gal.4,4] In this we are going beyond asking, is it all true that God became a man, but why it needed to happen?

To answer this, St. Paul takes us way back to Adam, who first revealed that fatal human flaw, “disobedience to divine order”, and how the coming of Jesus Christ, makes it possible to escape this yoke. This must be the reason that St. Luke in his third chapter will trace the ancestry of Jesus all the way back to Adam. [Luke 3,23-38] Of course Luke was a travel companion of St. Paul, and no doubt frequently they contemplated this connection between Jesus and Adam. “In Adam all die but in Christ all shall be made alive” is the way Paul explains the legacy of Adam and why he believes Jesus to be the New Adam, the Contra Adam who overturns that terrible legacy of fear, disobedience, violence and death that weave their way like a stain through human history. “As through one man’s disobedience many became sinners, so also by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous”. [Rom 5,19] So Christ submits to things human including the Hebrew law.

Guido of Siena [Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

In the simple passage of the trip by the Holy family to the Temple we have the same mixture of heaven and earth theme that foreshadows the season ahead. Each Sunday will be a step by step constant reflection on the person and work of Jesus as it is revealed in the gospel narratives. Each step will be a manifestation of the mixture of the earthly and heavenly. Indeed this is the single theme that will play out Sunday by Sunday until Ascension Day, summed up in Charles Wesley’s hymn “Let earth and Heaven combine, angels and men agree, to praise in songs divine the incarnate Deity”:

Let earth and Heaven combine,
Angels and men agree,
To praise in songs divine
The incarnate Deity,
Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made man.
Unsearchable the love
That hath the Savior brought;
The grace is far above
Of men or angels’ thought:
Suffice for us that God, we know,
Our God, is manifest below.

He laid His glory by,
He wrapped Him in our clay;
Unmarked by human eye,
The latent Godhead lay;
Infant of days He here became,
And bore the mild Immanuel’s name.
He deigns in flesh to appear,
Widest extremes to join;
To bring our vileness near,
And make us all divine:
And we the life of God shall know,
For God is manifest below.

See in that infant’s face
The depths of deity,
And labor while ye gaze
To sound the mystery
In vain; ye angels gaze no more,
But fall, and silently adore.
Made perfect first in love,
And sanctified by grace,
We shall from earth remove,
And see His glorious face:
His love shall then be fully showed,
And man shall all be lost in God.

In our personal preparation, approaching the events of the Lord’s trial and final days and his submission to the cross, the Christian must cast off the secular mind of Adam, which for the most part looks upon religious faith as providing for our personal emotional needs. Remembering the work of Jesus is not a therapy for mental needs, but bringing order to the intrinsic disorder that abounds in human life. The work of the Contra Adam is therefore about letting the divine will of heaven into our own earthly world, through obedience and submission.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

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