“He ascended into Heaven”

Seventh Sunday of Easter

John 17,11B-19

‘Christ really rose from the dead, and took again His body, with flesh, bones and all that belongs to the perfection of Man’s nature, and in them He entered Heaven until he returns to judge all men at the last day.’

Some Christians find the Ascension of God the Son is the hardest aspect to grasp about the Incarnation. That maybe because we have already had experiences (however slight) of Birth, Passion Death and Resurrection but not of Ascension. We all experienced birth – though we can’t remember it. We know that death awaits us all; and Scripture (by analogy) likens Resurrection to us, “waking up from sleep”, [Psalm 17:15] “I will see your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.” But we don’t have any experience to compare with the Ascension. Thinking about aircraft or spaceships is no help!

Anonymous, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Let’s view the Ascension through God’s eyes. Since Jesus, God Incarnate, experienced it and shares our Human nature, we can reasonably ask “Why was His Ascension necessary?”

Jesus said to His Apostles, “The Truth is that it is for your own good that I am going; because unless I go, the [Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I do go I will send Him to you” [John 16:7]. His words indicated that the “Incarnational Phase” of God’s Atonement-Plan had developed into, but not been superseded by, what we might call its ‘Sacramental’ Phase. Although Jesus did not cease to be Human – ‘His Manhood pleads where now it lives on Heaven’s eternal throne’; but His bodily appearances had now ended, with one or two exceptions.

After His Ascension, serious questions faced the Church. For example: “Can Gentiles become Christians, and must they accept the Jewish Law; how does Jesus want His Church to be governed – from the top-down or the bottom-up?” Such questions could no longer be avoided by saying, “Let’s wait till the next time Jesus appears amongst us to give us the answer”. The Ascension signified that it was now the responsibility of His Followers to lead His Church into all truth under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, They must learn to stand on their own feet.

But there is a third, and compelling reason, why the Ascension was necessary. Instead of Christ appearing bodily in a succession of places and different times, the Church itself was to become “The Body of Christ on Earth”. So instead of being present in His earthly body (which could only be in one place at a time) Jesus could, and would, be present as the Host at every Eucharist, anywhere and everywhere, regardless of where or when it was celebrated, and Christians could “feed on Him in their hearts by faith with thanksgiving” wherever and whenever two or three of us gather together in His Name. How could they have been better persuaded of this than by the Ascension? The fact that His promise of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled within ten days was an indication that the Ascension, far from being the end of His Incarnation, was the start of an entirely New Chapter, and led them to understand what He meant by saying both “It is for your own good that I am going”, and “I am with you always, even to the end of time”.

Fr. Francis Gardom

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. 

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.

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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, via Wikimedia Commons]

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

And there shall be one fold and one shepherd

Fourth Sunday of Easter – Good Shepherd

John 10,11-18

When I was a child, on a Summer Sunday evening, my parents would take me for a walk along the seafront at Hastings in East Sussex. It was just like a miniature Speakers’ Corner. There was the Catholic Truth Society, there was the Protestant Truth Society, there were various other people seeking to persuade us that they were right and everybody else was wrong. If you were to go along the seafront at Hastings on a Sunday evening in summer now, you would not see the soapboxes out, you would rather, I suspect, go in fear of your life from the drunks and the drug addicts.

Nowadays most people seem to live in an age of moral and spiritual indifferentism – I can do what I like provided it feels right, provided it doesn’t hurt anyone else, or at least not too much, so if I choose to get drunk out of my mind, what is it to do with you? I can believe what I like, because, as we all know, there are many paths to God, and it’s common sense that one way is as good as another – we’ll only know who was right and who was wrong when we get to heaven, as I heard someone say recently, which rather begs a lot of questions, I would have thought. I rather like the rejoinder someone made when he was told that all truth is relative – “But is that statement relative as well?”

The Good Shepherd (By Ted, Flickr.com)

All Christians must long for and pray for the day when all those who claim the name of Christian will indeed be gathered into one fold with the one shepherd, Jesus Christ the Lord, but as the church too is swept along on a tide of relativism, far from Christian Unity coming closer, it seems ever more remote.

It was the former Bishop of London, Graham Leonard, who observed that the real divide in the Christian Church is between those who think it is a revealed religion and those who think they are free to change things as they go along. By revealed religion, he means as someone else put it “God spoke once, and the word was Jesus.” There is abroad in the church today far too much of the attitude that says in effect “I” – or “we” – “know better than Jesus”. Jesus was wrong, he was misguided, when he did this, when he taught that, and so on, he was a creature of his time, the implication being that he also had all the shortcomings and prejudices of the time, which I would have thought, simple creature that I am, rather undermined the age old belief in His divinity.

That is the tragedy of so many churches in the Western World today. Much as we all want Christian unity, much as we must detest bickering between Christians, much as we must seek to be menders of fences, I am ever reminded of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah suffered cruelly at the hands of his contemporaries for telling them truth that they did not wish to hear, and he had this to say – you will find it in the eighth chapter of Jeremiah, and it repays careful study, thought and prayer – “From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practise deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace” they say when there is no peace.”

Our lives must be an earnest seeking after the truth that Christ alone reveals, and a dedication to living that truth: the Church that conforms to the spirit of the age will always be weak: the one that stands up for the truth of Christ will reap her reward. Only in truth can we find the unity we long for in the one fold with the one shepherd.

Fr. Edward Bryant

“You Are Witnesses to This”

Third Sunday of Easter

Luke 24,36-48

Witnesses play a critical role in every Trial before a Court of Law; but today, it’s difficult to persuade people to be witnesses.

People who have witnessed an accident or a crime often find it hard to remember all the details; moreover, giving evidence in public may be very challenging, especially if a witness is subject to cross-examination by professional lawyers – whose job is to portray the accused in the best possible light; worse still, supporters of the accused may intimidate witnesses – even before the trial starts.

The Trial of Jesus was a ‘put-up job’, from start to finish. Everyone involved in this shocking miscarriage of justice, like Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin, Pontius Pilate and others, had good reason to conceal their respective wrongdoings – which meant silencing every witness to His Resurrection (whether by lies, bribes, threats; or death!).

So, however joyful His disciples were at Jesus’ Resurrection, many of them would have realized, on further thought, that our Lord’s commission to them to be His witnesses would amount to signing their own Death-Warrant – as many of them discovered over the next few years!

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Appearance While the Apostles are at Table (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Yes, we are right to rejoice with them that “The Lord is indeed risen”; but we surely do them an injustice if we underestimate their fear of the probable consequences that publicly witnessing to it would have – both for themselves and their families.

Most of us have lived among people who believe, as we do, that the Truth must first be learnt from parents, teachers and others and then borne witness to in our daily lives. But today the whole concept of Truth is threatened – and our freedom to witness to the Truth can no longer be taken for granted.

How has this come about? Well, ‘Truth is the first casualty of war’, and God is waging an ongoing War against the powers of Evil and Darkness – as did those first Christians (and we ourselves today!). In one respect they had a simpler, but not easier task than we have. Many of them believed that the Second Coming of Christ to Earth (the Parousia) would happen very soon – probably during their own life-time. Of course you and I can’t be sure that the Parousia won’t happen in our lifetime; but predicting the future leads mankind away from the Truth, as often as towards it.

But Persecution isn’t the only, or the greatest threat to our witnessing to the Truth today: rather it’s the popular propaganda which leads people to believe in doing whatever their feelings suggest to them, regardless of whether it be true or false. Such belief makes them feel safe, important, and intellectually and morally superior to anyone who doesn’t profess to share such feelings.

As a result, human learning, reason and common-sense – which have been so carefully and painfully built-up over the past 4,000 years – are being systematically eroded by it. It’s not easy to see which way we should turn to protect the Truth; but our present semi-blindness doesn’t mean that in God’s Mind there isn’t a Plan for us to follow in the Way He wants to lead us.

Following God’s lead often involves suffering. If God Incarnate suffered His Passion to ‘reconcile the World to Himself’, why suppose that being His Witnesses will be a pain-free experience for us?

Fr. Francis Gardom

The Key is “Divine Mercy”

Divine Mercy Sunday

John 20,19-31

Preaching in England about the joy of Christ’s resurrection was never easy. It was made difficult because some in the pews really believed in reincarnation or had home spun ideas that bore resemblance to TV’s Startrek. Readers of Sunday newspapers would be aware that some bishops were saying that the resurrection was symbolism and myth.

The New Testament writers make their position perfectly plain that the triumph of Jesus after his terrible death was not a magical illusion, not an hallucination or a cobbled together myth, but a reality that had been witnessed and touched by ordinary folk. The eyewitnesses themselves had all the normal human reactions, they were surprised, frightened without knowing what to do next, but in great numbers they were prepared to stand up and be counted as true believers in these events which became the foundation of a new age of religious life. From the birth of Jesus to his resurrection, these men and women had seen the key to “Divine Mercy,” great gifts signifying the loving kindness of God. Pope St John Paul II had taken these words “Divine Mercy” from St Augustine’s Easter sermon, giving a name for this special Sunday, “think of God’s great mercy! We may give bread and charity to the hungry, but God gives us unworthy servants the gift of his salvation.” [Augustine Sermon 116]

The gift of the resurrection is the key to the culture of death, that tragic human curse, and now the tools are given to deal with it.

The Myrrh Bearers (Unanimous, Public Domain)

This is theme spelled out by St John in this gospel written after years of reflection. Christ’s victory was like the Jewish Passover, a turning point that gave birth to the Apostolic Church. St John tells us about the first meeting on a Sunday between the Risen Lord and the frightened Apostles in a room behind doors. It was a crucial meeting for the Church that St Paul also knew and passed on to the Corinthians. “Jesus rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once.” [1 Corinthians 15,5]. The meeting had key elements that were similar to other appearances such as the Emmaus group for it all took place on the first day of the week, at a meal; Jesus gave the group his peace, showed them his wounds and gave them his authority. St Matthew had noted that many were doubters, but St John adds to the narrative the response of St Thomas who was not so much a cynical doubter (perhaps like those today who doubt the covid vaccines) but one who was still open to belief and wanted that physical contact with the wounded body of his Lord by which he would go on throughout his life to affirm Christ’s divinity. Without the cross there could be no resurrection. Meaning there some doubts that are a good prelude to deep faith. The whole episode underpins apostolic witness to the real death and the real wounds that precede the peace that overcomes fear and doubt. Finally the apostles are given divine authority to develop the gifts of sacramental communion and reconciliation to nourish their converts, even those like St Thomas.

The meeting between Jesus and his followers is in a sense a commentary and key to the remarkable claim made in the first letter of John the Elder. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life, the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us…..that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ”. [1 John 1-3]

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

Christ is Risen!

Surgun100, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Psalmist in his prophecy about Easter Day (Ps 118:24) says: «This is the day the Lord has made.» Even if every day «is made to rejoice in» (Ps 90:14), the day of the resurrection is all the more so. It is the «Lord’s day», as St. John the Evangelist tells us, opening up a new future for mankind (Apoc 1:10).

St. Ignatius, the Church Father, develops the same theme of the centrality of Easter Day in his letter to the Magnesians, stating that «on the Lord’s day our life sprang up through Christ and we received faith and hope» (IX:1). Paradoxically, time itself is redeemed by an event in history giving life a new foundation.

So that, within the framework of the Genesis account of creation, the resurrection now takes the place of the Hebrew Sabbath. The Lord’s day is at the same time the first day and the eight day. God gave rest to all things and made the beginning of another world. St. Barnabas, another Church Father, assents and concludes: «Therefore we celebrate with gladness the eight day in which Jesus rose from the dead» (XV: 8f). From the earliest times the Christian Church has on the first day of the week celebrated the Eucharist as a life giving sign of Christ’s resurrection (Acts 20:7).

Thus Easter Sunday is still set aside as the Sunday of all Sundays. It is the most celebratory day of the year for on that day God fulfilled his promises through his Son Jesus Christ, our Saviour.

Happy Easter – in spite of the pandemic!

+Roald Nikolai

Betrayal

Palm Sunday

John 12,12-16

Former British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson famously remarked, “A week is a long time in politics”. You could certainly apply that saying to the events of the first Holy Week. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the Sunday, with the crowds wild with excitement and waving palm branches, would in just a few short days turn to cries of hatred – “Crucify him”.

Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The crowds who had greeted Jesus with their loud hosannas on the Sunday had gone over to the enemy. Even the disciples abandoned him. And that is the question for all of us this week. Will we too abandon him? Before you start thinking “I would never do a thing like that,” remember that that is precisely what Peter said to Jesus. When doubters deny the authenticity of the Gospel narratives, it is worth remembering that a compelling argument for their veracity is precisely that they are not sanitised, that the early Church was so confident in the story it had to tell, that it did not have to massage the truth and suppress uncomfortable facts.

But what about us? We are fortunate indeed if, like Peter, our denials of Jesus Christ are only threefold. Denial of Jesus comes under many guises. There is of course the most obvious – you have nothing to do with the church, and your life openly mocks the teaching of Jesus (and that, of course, is the default position in the western world today). Presumably we are all innocent of that.

But there are other betrayals as well; there is the betrayal that says, “Yes, I’ll come to church (perhaps only at Christmas!), yes I’ll stick to Christian values.” In past times I was a governor of a Church School, and I found it so frustrating, when conducting job interviews, to be told “I support Christian values”. It sounds good, but it is meaningless. Does it mean being nice to people (you will look in vain for the word “nice” in the New Testament), or perhaps helping old folk across the road? Authentic Christian values begin and end at the Cross. Again, you may plead “not guilty” to this charge, but does your way of life tell another tale? Does your life show that you only do things in Jesus’ way when it doesn’t inconvenience you? Do you pick those parts of the Gospel message which fit in with your life style, rather than the other way round, of fitting your life style to the Gospel? Are you assiduous in the externals of the faith – regular attendance at church and church activities, but the heart has gone, so that your faith is just an empty shell?

In that first Holy Week, Jesus’ closest friends (“I no longer call you servants, but friends”, John 15.15) abandon him. To our shame, time after time we have acted like the disciples; to our shame, time after time we have said to Our Lord, with Peter, “I will never disown you” when in truth our faith has faded, to become mere routine, just one more activity in a crowded life, instead of the very source of our life and all that we do, for, make no mistake, bolt-on, optional pick and mix Christianity is betrayal also. Fortunately, the Cross tells us that we can always come back, we will always find plenteous redemption in the blood that has been shed, as the old hymn puts it, but none of that takes away our responsibility to amend our lives, to discover again, maybe for the first time even, what it means to be faithful, to be obedient, often at great personal cost. That way, and only that way, can we pray, “forbid it Lord that this should happen to us”.

Fr. Edward Bryant

Admirers or Followers

Fifth Sunday in Lent

John 12,20-33

We have reached the days before Easter with its serious concern for the great challenge to faith. The whole purpose of God’s Son becoming man, was to open a new life that would be capable of liberating the human soul. Jesus was Saviour, because he offered a solution to escape the self which becomes overly attached to this world at any expense with all the corruption that frequently ensues. But, this only comes at a price! Every soul must be willing to be re-made in the image and likeness of Christ. This is the lesson Jesus must show his disciples as they all prepare for the climax of his time with them, and so he says, ”He who loves his life must lose it, but he who turns his back on the ways of this world, will keep it for eternity.”

Christ Pantocrator, Hagia Sofia (Dianelos Georgoudis, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

This is the setting for our lesson from St John’s gospel. The opportunity arises with a brief encounter with some Greeks who were great “admirers” of the Abrahamic religion and had come to Jerusalem to observe the Jewish Passover. No doubt they had seen the crowds carrying palms and singing hosannas, or had heard about the raising of Lazarus and were fascinated to meet the Rabbi from Galilee for some enlightenment. These men however will never do anything more than hold discussions and have pious ideas. They are reminiscent of the Greek Stoic philosophers who mockingly debated with Saint Paul in Athens [Acts 17], but finally departed saying, “we will talk with you about all this another time” [verse 32]. These are the intellectuals and admirers who always manage to keep their distance from any real involvement that might rock their security. Saint Paul like Our Lord had many debates and constant dealings with these people but they never get anywhere because the message of Christ requires change, renewal and sacrifice that open a door to another way. Many of the Pauline letters come back to this lesson. In the short letter to Colossians the central point concerns these early Gnostics who “cheat with empty deceit using the traditions of men and not Christ” [Col 2,8].

It is surely not a coincidence that the fourth Gospel recalls, the Greek gentiles at the time Jesus begins his final time of trial. This meeting foreshadows the climax of his Passion and Death but also it reveals that basic flaw in humanity. Those crowds of admirers who flock to him chatting about his wise words and impressive deeds, who hope he will bring about political change to their world until things start to get difficult. Then those admirers will keep their distance until the situation becomes clearer or they will just fade away. Jesus must prepare his disciples to see through this and become his “followers” for He is the Way. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies there will be no harvest”[John 12,24].

The lesson we all must learn is that discipleship goes beyond admiration, loyalty, emotion and enthusiasm to become a follower. “Take up your cross and follow” says Jesus bluntly pointing to the agony of renunciation that takes the soul to another level which Saint Cyril of Alexandria called, “the first fruit of a new humanity overcoming the forces of corruption”[Commentary against Gnostics].

Soren Kirkegaard ponders this more deeply in his Spiritual writings seeing the great distinction between admirers who are like most of us, keeping a distance, avoiding danger and playing safe, and followers who are ready to turn themselves around accepting the discipline of Christ. Judas may have been an admirer and possibly the well meaning Nicodemus too, who came to Jesus at night, and there is nothing wrong in that, but if it goes no further it soon meets other loyalties and conflicts as Judas discovered. The other disciples will soon go deeper with heart and soul that will die to self esteem and the world. The choice comes to us all, more now because our world has banished religion to the fringes of life. Our world governments have given themselves divine correctness increasing the battle between right and wrong, good and evil and because the flames are in the open, it will be increasingly difficult to hide our style of discipleship.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

St John’s Treasure-Store

Fourth Sunday in Lent

John 3,14-21

People, myself included, have wondered how St John, writing about 30 years after the other Gospels, managed to remember verbatim the various ‘Discourses’ which Jesus had with individuals – like Nicodemus; with the Samaritan woman; Pontius Pilate; as well as three whole chapters 15-17 on Maundy Thursday with His Disciples at, and after, the Last Supper) – of which no record appears in Matthew, Mark or Luke.

It looks as though John had a “Treasure-Store” of information, which the other Evangelists did not possess – or if they did, chose not to use, no doubt for sound reasons.

Here is a possible explanation. It’s not the only one, and may well be faulty; but for me it carries with it the “Ring-of-Truth“.

We know from John himself that on Good Friday at Calvary, Jesus commissioned both John, and His own Mother Mary each to be responsible for the other’s wellbeing, and as a result John “made a place for her into his own home” [19:27], in Jerusalem and, after John’s release from Patmos, in Ephesus. They would, no doubt, have shared their knowledge of Jesus, and His teachings, from childhood to His Ascension, and refreshed each other’s memory, becoming jointly that self-same Treasure-store. If so, we have the testimony of the same two people who were closest to Jesus during His Incarnation.

With that in mind, let’s look at four ‘gems’ from His teaching:

Nectarius Kulyuksin, Public domain

  1. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him [John 3,17]. We are living at a time when Blame is what many people attribute to others. How very different from God – who will go to any lengths, even by dying for us in order that we may be freed from the weight of blame which we carry on our shoulders.
  2. People [love] ‘darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil’ [John 3,19]. Habitual blamers prefer the dark because it enables them to maintain a comfortable sense of their own righteousness. Reality comes when light begins to shine and reveals their true motive – which is to obscure their own blameworthiness.
  3. Those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God. Christ is ‘The Light of the World’: which alone can bring Mankind to the Truth: namely that those whose deeds have been ‘done in God’ need have no fear of being condemned by Him’. We ‘should show forth the praises of Him Who has called [us] out of darkness into His marvellous light’– as St Peter wrote [1 Peter 2,9].
  4. Why should we do this? Because ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’, as St John said in today’s reading. That is the sum-total of God’s Plan for dealing with the Problem of Evil!

Fr. Francis Gardom

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