Monday, 27 April 2015

Easter 4b-The Shepherd Image that Comforts and Challenges - Us the Church

“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10  

Easter 4B: The Shepherd Image that Comforts and Challenges - Us the Church.

The early Christians tried to make sense of the "why" of Jesus' life, his terrible death, and his glorious resurrection, by using many images (see 1st image below from 2nd century catacombs) to describe the one whose love was so great that he laid down his life for them. The image of the "good shepherd" became a favourite. The sentimentality of this image (image 4), is dispelled by a close reading of the context of this gospel passage (John 10:11-18). The setting is not a rural hillside, but the temple during the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple (Hanukkah). The religious leaders question Jesus' authority to do miracles and teach. Jesus describes shepherds who act like hired hands and thieves and robbers who quickly abandon their sheep (after all it's just a job) possibly alluding to the religious authorities. What strikes me, is the close relationship between the shepherd who knows the sheep and is known by the sheep. The flock respond to the sound of his voice and not to the voices of strangers. The "good shepherd" will die for the sheep (image 2), which helps us, like the early Christians, to understand who Jesus is, and how he loves and knows us.

In this gospel analogy, we are the sheep. Some object to the image saying; 'we modern people are not like dumb animals'. Apart from some impressive technical advances, we humans don't seem to be all that bright. We think we can solve problems by war, hoarding and consuming more goods and food than is healthy. We seem fixated on social climbing, status, prestige and developing a culture of competition that creates a society of winners and losers. We are always slipping into our wolf shadow side, hiding in the dark of rationalisation. However, our shadow side is part of who we are. We are our shadow wolves at our own throats. But, the focus of the gospel text is not on us the sheep but on the shepherd. This is an examples where the New Testament says of Jesus what the Old Testament would say only of God. Jesus proclaims; "I AM the good shepherd." His care was so deep that he was prepared to lay down his life, his whole self for us his sheep. God accepts our dark wolfish side because he loves the whole of us. God even uses our shadow or sinful self to liberate us from our suffering that we bring on ourselves. There is no holiness without suffering and God through the risen Christ takes our weakness and turns it into a holy strength. Indeed we can affirm: “My God /Jesus is shepherding me; I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1) He wisely meets all our needs not our desires.

So the gospel proclaims that Jesus the "good shepherd" has a deep, total, personal commitment to us. Henri Nouwen says; "we are not loved by God because we are precious, but we are precious because we are loved by God?" As we become more in touch with ourselves, we come to experience his gift of Easter peace of mind and heart. Jean Vanier in his book, Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John, when reflecting on this passage says: “To become a good shepherd is to come out of the shell of selfishness in order to be attentive to those for whom we are responsible so as to reveal to them their fundamental beauty and value and help them to grow and become fully alive.” Archbishop Oscar Romero, (Champion Shepherd of the poor and prophet for peace and justice in El Salvador) was fatally shot on March 24, 1980, while celebrating the Eucharist. He had just read from John's Gospel (12:23-26): "Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains only a grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit". He commented; “A church that doesn't provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn't unsettle, a word of God that doesn't get under anyone's skin, a word of God that doesn't touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed - what gospel is that?” We are called to lay down our lives for each other, to know each other, to grow into unity with each other. In the Middle Ages, the Franciscans and other spiritual movements warned that the church was obscuring the gospel with its pomp and power, so becoming more the church of Constantine than of the apostles. St. Bernard wrote to Pope Eugenius III saying: "All this, as well as the claims to prestige and riches, goes back to Constantine, not to Peter." My prayer this day is that all of us, who are nourished by the Good Shepherd at the Eucharist, may hear again God's call to be "good shepherds" like Christ (image 3) willing to give our lives for those given into our care.

Fourth Sunday of Easter B - Br Andrew

Andre-Rublev's Saviour
   Homily preached by Br. Andrew at Blaxland on Sunday 26th April 2015:

Fourth Sunday of Easter B


"Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture says the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:1 NIV)

Jesus begins by identifying himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. Straight away we can determine that there are bad shepherds who don't lay down their Iives’  for the flock in their charge; their names are mentioned in our first reading, they were Annas, the  High Priest Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the rest of the high priest's family. They knew no one's name nor even whether there were any other converts waiting anywhere for guidance.

Politics and history aside, Spiritually the Jewish church had been entrusted into the care of the  tribe of Levi and the House of Aaron since the time of Moses until the Messiah should come. Here now, clerics hired  by God were allowing the Flock of Israel to be fed to the wolves of Rome for the sake of Mammon, and for political security, had put aside any pretenses of looking or acting like shepherds. When the master himself returned they had him crucified and the small flock scattered. Note, Jesus says that he laid down his life and he took it up again.

 Daemons and men can do whatever they will to work out their wickedness but God's will over rides everything. This was a special love between the Father and son that Jesus could willingly lay down his life because it was his to give for us.
Having given and received his life Jesus returned to his disciples where he told them to stay in Jerusalem until power from on high should come upon them. And that Power will be the Holy Spirit whose coming we celebrate at Pentecost.

Our first reading is a prime example of how true disciples of Christ, shepherds in their own right behave with compassion toward those in their care. I find Peters words hilarious "If we are being held to account today for an act of kindness to a cripple" How many of us have been in trouble with church authorities for an act kindness?

For Peter and John it proved to be a prime opportunity to witness to the Sanhedrin and to try once again to Drill truth into concrete skulls it is in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit that this man walks. You rejected Him, you crucified him and he rose from the dead and it is through His Name that is the only way under heaven by which you can be saved. Did they care at all or just at another type of sheep rustling?

I am here in this Parish because of hireling’s clerics who even breed their own wolves to keep all the sacrilege and injustice in the family, so to speak. Many of us might say that the church of today, hasn’t moved far away, in principles from the Jewish church that money and power and status, fear and prejudice all serve to caste out the weakest sheep and the weakest shepherds.    Where is the light?
The light lives in the love of Jesus, and when we feel this love we see the light that the darkness cannot extinguish. In his Epistle John speaks of this love.   Love with a capital L is that Christ laid down his life for us and that we ought to do likewise. How scary is this, I wanted light and love not self-sacrifice.

John speaks here not of the ultimate self-sacrifice of Maximilian Kolbe but of the loving-kindness and concern for Christians and non-Christians alike. Fulfilling one another's needs and discovering that the Love of Christ makes all things possible!
John continues by reminding us to exercise our Christian conscience, whenever in doubt, and to remember the two great commandments.

It sounds a little simplistic and perhaps unreal when we overlay the Gospel and Epistles over the events of today's world but we need to remember that the Scriptures were given to us in a vacuum excluding the reality of the times, they are intended to be spiritual guidance to be adapted to every Era. Scripture is not complex but does have context, a little exploration of the world beyond the Scriptures helps us to find our own context.
Come to Bible Study.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Easter 3B: See me! Touch me! Witness to me!

“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10

Easter 3B: See me! Touch me! Witness to me!

 Fantastic! Outstanding! Incredible! Thanks to blockbuster movies, and ad campaigns, we have come to expect that if life isn't “sensational,” something must be wrong. If we are not careful, we can apply those expectations to our spiritual journey and fail to see the hand of God in the ordinary events of life. Even more tragic, we might fail to recognise God's loving care for us in the midst of trials. Let’s face it, life typically isn't fantastic. Usually, life is ordinary and sometimes painful. But that is when we do the most learning and growing. That is when we have the greatest opportunity to encounter the risen Jesus, if we have eyes to see. In Luke's gospel (24:35-48) we encounter two disciples who had been on their way to Emmaus. They were leaving Jerusalem, their hopes shattered after Jesus' death. Then they meet the risen Lord. They do not recognise him at first, but they did after he opened the Scriptures for them and broke bread with them. After their encounter they returned to the community in Jerusalem with the news of what had happened. While they were still speaking to the community, Jesus stands in their midst. The community in Jerusalem may be together, but they are not a true community. They are fragmented by fear, with shattered hopes and now possibly in danger. We possibly can identify with the pain of the two despondent disciples on the road to Emmaus and the fear-filled disciples in Jerusalem. We, too, are pilgrims on a journey through life. We, too, can despair of life’s circumstances from time to time and lose heart when our expectations come to a tragic end. But remember, every trial is an opportunity to discover what God wants us to see. Luke tells us they returned to the community to share their 'good news' that they had me the risen Christ. Despite the witness of those who had seen the risen Lord, the disciples in Jerusalem find it hard to believe. What helps them is that Jesus comes and says, "Peace be with you" encouraging them not to be afraid. Then he invites them to touch him. Still more, he asks for food and eats in their presence. The resurrected Christ is very physically present, very much as he was when they travelled and ate together. Jesus reminds them that he is the same, yet there is something very different about him. The one they knew is with them, he has proven that by establishing his physical presence.

Yet, the disciples need more in order to accept his new presence with them. What he did for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus he does again for the disciples in Jerusalem. He "opened their minds to understand the scriptures' (a desperate need in the church today) so they can understand him in the context of the fulfillment of the promises God made to their ancestors. Can they understand what God can do for us in bringing new life after death? Jesus doesn't choose just certain Scriptures as proof texts. He tells them, "everything written about me in the law of Moses, and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled." After opening their minds to understand the Scriptures, Jesus says to them and us; "You are witnesses of these things." Having the Scriptures opened is not a Bible class, or a historical look-back. Once the disciples and we experience the risen Christ, we are reminded we must "witness" to all we have heard and seen. In the New Testament "witness" means "martyr." That's what is asked of us by the risen Christ. We must give (live) our lives as witnesses to him. Each one of us must show concretely our belief in the resurrection.

Jerusalem may be the location of today's passage, but it is just the starting point. The Holy Spirit, would drive those newly anointed out of the upper room to be witnesses to the whole world. Many of those first "witnesses" shed their blood because of their faith. The experience of martyrdom for the faith continues to this day in many places in the world. When we gather for Eucharist as like-minded people, we could be tempted to stay safe and cosy. However, we are to be witnesses to Christ, bearers of the risen Lord to the world. We share the Eucharistic meal together, the same meal Jesus gave the disciples on the road to Emmaus. The Scriptures are opened for us and we break bread together. It's a good reminder that our Eucharist isn't a meal just for our needs. It is also a nourishment for us all disciples who have a long road ahead. As we travel that road we will have to be "witnesses" of our faith, even if it costs everything. Being Christian in the world asks a lot from us. We need help and we get it from our God who opens our minds "to understand the Scriptures" and feeds us with the body and blood of our risen Christ at the Eucharist.

Third Sunday of Easter-B-Br Simeon

Andre-Rublev's Saviour
  Homily preached by Br. Simeon at Maroubra on Sunday 19th April 2015:  

Gospel:  Luke 24: 36-48

The two disciples told the eleven and their companions what had happened on the road to Emmaus, and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you . . . These are the words that I spoke to you while I was still with you -- that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.

It’s not enough that the tomb is empty. It’s not enough to proclaim, “Christ is risen!” It’s not enough to believe in the resurrection. At some point we have to move from the event of the resurrection to experiencing the resurrection. Experiencing resurrected life begins with recognising the risen Christ among us. That is the gift of Easter and it is also the difficulty and challenge described in today’s gospel.
Today’s Gospel is the conclusion of Luke’s account of Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance to his disciples. The two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus have returned to Jerusalem to confirm the women’s story of the resurrection. While they are excitingly telling their story, Jesus appears.

Luke goes to great lengths in his Easter accounts to make clear that the resurrection was not the fantasy of crazy zealots nor is the resurrection story a plot concocted by the disciples who somehow managed to spirit the body of Jesus away (according to Luke’s account, the disciples themselves had not gone near the tomb themselves or even expected any kind of “resurrection”).  In the details he presents here, Luke is countering the arguments forwarded to explain away the resurrection myth.  There can be no mistake:  The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a reality, a reality in which all of the Scriptures find their ultimate fulfilment.

For Luke, the power of Jesus’ resurrection is realised in the way it “opens” one’s heart and mind to understanding the deeper meaning of God’s Word and to fully embracing the Spirit of God.  In our faith and trust in the Risen Christ, we become “witnesses” of the mercy and forgiveness of God.

In the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, God reveals in a specific moment of
history, in a specific location on earth, the limitless and eternal love the Father has for
his people.

God continues to make the miracle of the empty tomb present to us in the caring, compassion and love we receive and give -- the love we have witnessed in the suffering of Christ, a love that is victorious even over death.

In today’s Gospel, the Risen Jesus challenges his disciples -- and us -- to recall what he taught and what they had witnessed.  The Easter miracle is God’s assurance that love and forgiveness, even in the most difficult situations, are never offered in vain; in learning to cope without losing hope, in learning from the painful realities of life and in accepting the lessons learned in God’s Spirit of humility and patience, we become capable of growth, re-creation, transformation -- and resurrection.

Just as the Risen Christ asks the Eleven for “something to eat,” he asks the same of us today in the cries and pleas of the poor and needy among us.  In imitating his humble compassion we, in turn, discover meaning and purpose that “feed” our own hunger for meaning, for fulfilment, for God in our lives.

Easter faith opens our eyes and hearts to realise God’ hand in every moment of time, transforms our attitudes to realise the need for God’s compassion and forgiveness in every human encounter, lifts up our spirits to hope even in the face of life’s most painful and traumatic moments.


Monday, 13 April 2015

Second Sunday in Easter B-Love and Mercy in the Mess.

“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10

Second Sunday of Easter Year B: Love and Mercy in the Mess. 

As we approach the winter season 'down under', public health announcements on TV have asked that we wash our hands often to prevent us from getting winter colds and flu. Many catholic churches now have communion ministers use anti-bacterial liquid before distributing communion. Wouldn’t it be great if we could clean up the rest of our lives as easily? Why does life, relationships and sickness have to be so messy? I have watched many loved ones die in hospital with tubes and all sorts of medical devices and indignities brought on by a long illness. Maybe the messiness of our lives is not quite that bad right now, though it may have been at one time or another. Maybe our lives just have the usual daily stuff of: stress, rush, half-completed tasks, an overly-busy schedule, impatience and a short temper. We may have a difficult relationship with a adult child, a former friend or spouse. We wish we could break habits that we have struggled with for a long time or find the right medication for depression. How often have we wished that life could be as easy as using an anti-bacterial liquid that we could spray over our life and have the mess all cleaned up?
Our Jesus of suffering and the cross, gives us an image of the real non-anti-bacterial world. The real world of true love for Jesus was the mess of: blood, wounds, sweat, whip marks, crushed and pierced hands and feet. His story that we entered during Holy Week and was difficult to listen to because of the ugly mess portrayed by our human selfishness. On one level we are comforted by the reality that God has entered our human condition. Jesus was no stranger to pain, anxiety, failure and loneliness. He knew the betrayal of friends and the pain of shattered dreams. He bore visible and invisible wounds for us. Now that Jesus is resurrected, I for one do not want him to forget the pain and the messiness of our human condition. I don’t want an anti-bacterial, clean and sterilised cleaned-up Christ, as some paintings depict him after the resurrection. They make him look as if a divine, cosmetic surgeon has worked on him and gotten rid of the unsightly wounds of messy suffering. I do not want a Christ so far removed from this world’s experience, and the pain we cannot seen to do anything about. It is comforting to know that he is no stranger to the world's pain and that his wounds are a constant reminder and bond between him and us.
The wounds that Jesus showed to his disciples and especially Saint Thomas, remind us that he remembers what we go through and that he is with us when we have to carry our own crosses. St Thomas is invited by Jesus to touch his wounds. But in reality Jesus does the reverse. He reaches out to touch and heal our wounds and so give meaning to our pain. It is one thing to have been hurt and suffered pain - we all go through that. It is an incredible gift for us to have someone like Jesus who has lived and listened to our story to join us so as to assure us that no pain need be wasted, meaningless and without the possibility of giving new life to us. Pain, alienation and life’s failures can raise a lot of doubts in our minds; doubts about ourselves and about God. I am glad that St Thomas was there for us. He has gotten a bad reputation, but he voices what we sometimes are hesitant to say, “Where is Christ in all of my mess?” In today’s post-resurrection account (John 20:19-31)Jesus invites Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Today we invite the wounded Jesus to touch our wounds, the visible ones and those we keep covered up and keep hidden even from those who know us well.
Today the Acts (4:32-35) reading tells us, “with great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all.” We know where that “great power” came from because, at the beginning of Acts, the risen Jesus instructs his disciples to wait for the gift of the Spirit. “John baptised with water, but within a few days you will all be baptised with the Holy Spirit” (1:5). Then, as Jesus promised, on Pentecost, the Spirit came upon the assembled disciples (2:1ff). The Spirit gave those first Christians the power to witness. But the gift of the Spirit is not a gift like an extra hand or arm to help us out a bit. No, the Spirit came upon the disciples who had been wounded by their betrayals of Christ and then healed by him when he appeared to them after the resurrection. Certainly the memory of their failures remained, those wounds were still “visible” to them. What then gave them their ability to witness to the risen Christ Jesus? They had betrayed the Lord and his mission, but the risen Christ had shared with them his Spirit, and their scars and wounds were made new. Who would not want to proclaim the wonder of new creation healing, breathed upon us by the risen Christ? What love and mercy are in the mess!


Andre-Rublev's Saviour

Homily preached by Br. Simeon at Blaxland on Sunday 12th April 2015:


Gospel: John 20:19-31

"Unless I see - I will not believe"

May I speak in the Name of the One God, +Father, +Son and +Holy Spirit. Amen

God’s story is our story. We have been blessed with the Bible, God’s story of his interaction with his beloved creation. The stories we read in the gospels are our story. In Holy Week we tried to step into God’s story as we looked at the stories of some of the lesser characters in Mark’s gospel. Now we have come to the Easter season and we walk in the most astonishing and delightful part of the story of God’s dealings with his people. So let us again seek to step into this story.

There must be something confronting about facing a friend scarred with the marks of crucifixion. Such a confrontation would be only a fraction of what these disciples are facing. And even more so when Jesus appears to them in person, alive and very much real!
The Risen Lord Jesus revealed the glory of his resurrection to his disciples gradually and over a period of time. Even after the apostles saw the empty tomb and heard the reports of Jesus' appearance to the women, they were still weak in faith and fearful of being arrested by the Jewish authorities. When Jesus appeared to them he offered proofs of his resurrection by showing them the wounds of his passion, his pierced hands and side. He calmed their fears and brought them peace, the peace which reconciles sinners and makes us friends of God.
Jesus did something which only love and trust can do. He commissioned his weak and timid apostles to bring the good news of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. This sending out of the disciples is parallel to the sending out of Jesus by his heavenly Father. Jesus fulfilled his mission through his perfect love and obedience to the will of his Father. He called his first disciples and he now calls each one of us to do the same. Just as he gave his first disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit, so he breathes on each of us the same Holy Spirit who equips us with new life, power, joy, and courage to live each day as followers of the Risen Lord.
The last apostle to meet the resurrected Lord was the first to go with him to Jerusalem at Passover time. The apostle Thomas was a natural pessimist. When Jesus proposed that they visit Lazarus after receiving news of his illness, Thomas said to the disciples: "Let us also go, that we may die with him" (John 11:16). While Thomas deeply loved the Lord, he lacked the courage to stand with Jesus in his passion and crucifixion.
After Jesus' death, Thomas made the mistake of withdrawing from the other apostles. He sought loneliness rather than fellowship in his time of trial and adversity. He doubted the women who saw the resurrected Jesus and he doubted his own fellow apostles.
When Thomas finally had the courage to re-join the other apostles, Jesus made his presence known to him and reassured him that he had indeed overcome death and risen again. When Thomas recognised his Master, he believed and exclaimed that Jesus was truly Lord and truly God! Through the gift of faith we, too, proclaim that Jesus is our personal Lord and our God. He died and rose that we, too, might have new life in him. The Lord offers each of us new life in his Holy Spirit that we may know him personally and walk in this new way of life through the power of his resurrection.
As we prepare to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, a question I leave with you to ponder in your hearts as you prepare to come and 'eat his flesh', and 'drink his blood', do you believe in the good news of the Gospel and in the power of the Holy Spirit to bring you new life, hope, and joy, today, and throughout your life's journey?


Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Easter 2015 - Br. Luke

Andre-Rublev's Saviour

Homily preached by Br. Luke at Blaxland on  Easter Sunday 5th April 2015: 

The Easter Sermon of St John Chrysostom,
Bishop of Constantinople: ca. A.D. 400

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival! Is there anyone who is a grateful servant? Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting? Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward; If any have come after the third hour, let him with gratitude join in the Feast! And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss. And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let him not hesitate; but let him come too. And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that toiled from the first. To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows. He accepts the works as He greets the endeavour. The deed He honours and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord! First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day! You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden! Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Saviour has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said, "You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with. It was in an uproar because it is mocked. It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed. It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated. It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive. Hell took a body, and discovered God. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see. O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Easter Message 2015 - Br. Luke

Kneeling Friar (C) EFO 2003

Easter 2015

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It seems to me that today, it has become quite popular to explain away some of the central tenets of our faith that defy an easy explanation. I’m told that now some biblical scholars are even saying that Judas was not a real person, but a “literary figure” placed into the passion narrative by the gospel writers to make a theological statement.
There is, I guess, now just a very small step left to take and say that Jesus did not exist and he did not really rise from the dead, if he was placed on the cross at all. In an earlier time these ideas would have been decried as heresy, and those spreading them be subject to all sorts of prohibitions. And before anyone get any ideas, no I’m most certainly not advocating a return to the inquisition.

Each time we celebrate the Eucharist we say in similar words to these, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will return. Christianity is after all the only faith which claims its founder returned from the dead. But why is Jesus rising so important to the faith?
St Paul writing to the Corinthians said:

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. NRSV

Around 400 AD St John Chrysostom preached an Easter homily. The homily has survived and is often used at Easter in Orthodox churches. It is an inspiring statement of our faith.

In part St John says:

“Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness! Let no one grieve at their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that they have
fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the
grave. Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Saviour has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it.”

Both the saints are pointing us to the consequences of Jesus’ resurrection. It’s not just that he was raised, but his resurrection had a profound impact on all of creation.
Orthodox icons called the “Harrowing of Hell”, show Jesus defeating death and rescuing Adam and Eve, and others from hell. It’s a rich theological image, one which highlights the resurrection as an integral, albeit mysterious, part of the faith.
When talking about Jesus entering Hell in his Easter homily, St John also said:
“Hell took a body, and discovered God. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see. O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?”

I have long believed that our faith, at its core, is a mystery. We should rejoice in this mystery. We should resist any attempt to be frightened by what we fail to grasp, what we do not understand or what we can’t explain. To dismiss, marginalise, explain away, or otherwise ignore gospel passages which are difficult, or make us uncomfortable will render our faith futile and as St Paul cautions, we will have lived it in vain.
But we who describe ourselves as Christians know that we are not living in vain. So in these difficult times, be strong. Simply proclaim the mystery of our faith. And then celebrate and take joy and strength from Christ’s life, his resurrection and proclaim in your lives his message of love, compassion and forgiveness.
I pray you and your families have a holy and blessed Easter.

Br Luke efo
Brother Shepherd
Winmalee, Easter Day 2015

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

EASTER 1B: Folding Up the Past! Walking Out On Death!

“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10

When someone dies, what do we do after the funeral? After the initial shock and sadness, the funeral and wake; What do we do? We eventually get around to giving away the dead persons clothes and decide which of their possessions we will keep or share with family and friends. Time goes by, and all the first time special days without them endured. Some will keep a picture of the deceased in a favourite room, but we do our best to move on with our lives and tend to the living. We don’t expect to see our dead again on this side of the grave. What an incredible gospel hope we hold in our hearts that those whom we have loved and who have died are alive in Christ and will share again in Resurrection life of Christ. What an even harder thing to imagine/believe that this to will and can happen to and for us.

In today's gospel (John 20:1-9) Mary Magdalen gives witness to a typical response to death and grieving. She was still close to the tragic events of 'Good Friday'. So, she goes to his tomb, “while it was still dark.” It was still too soon to pick up the pieces and carry on with life. Mary just wanted to be close to the Jesus she loved and the tomb was the last place she saw him and so she wants to be there. Then she will get on with what is left of her life. Her life she imagines will be different and difficult, because Jesus, now the centre of her life, had totally changed her. When Mary arrives at the tomb and sees it empty, she concludes, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb and we don’t know where they put him.” Later Mary meets Jesus, thinks he is the gardener only to discover he is the Risen Lord when he calls her name. She is then commissioned by Jesus to be the evangelist of the resurrection. Her new life mission, is to witness to the resurrection of the one whom she loved in the flesh. St Peter arrives with St John and goes into the empty tomb. He notes the remnants of death, but he "... failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must first rise from the dead." Jesus had to rise from the dead, otherwise we would be only having a memorial of the death of a great man. His rising from the dead makes all the difference for us believers. “Prove it!” our objectors challenge. How can we! We only have an empty tomb. But, what we do have is a heart transformed by the Risen One!

However, when St John the “one whom Jesus loved” arrives and looks into the tomb, he sees the remnants of death "the linen cloths lying on the ground ... the cloth that had been over his head ... rolled up in a place by itself" and, “he saw and he believed”. We are also those “whom Jesus loved” and we are gifted with faith-sight. In John’s gospel to receive sight is to see with the eyes of faith. We have an empty tomb and still we believe he has risen. Like the beloved disciple we “see and believe.” What stirred the disciple to believe? Did it have something to do with the neatly folded burial cloths? After all, who would steal a body and before leaving, fold the cloths? Well, it is an odd detail, but not one that would stir one to believe in the impossible. If those cloths were proof enough why didn’t they help St Peter and Mary Magdalen “see and believe?” The emphasis on the burial cloths left behind, is John’s way of saying, Jesus has left death behind and has been resurrected to new life. The beloved disciple got the message, "he saw and he believed." From his love for Jesus the disciple’s faith blossomed and as a result we, who have not yet seen, are strengthened in our faith. The beloved disciple helps us believe that we too are beloved by Jesus. Through his gospel account he wants us and our communities of faith to be witnesses to our resurrection belief and hope.

Jesus rising from the dead was not just a miracle of resuscitation. Lazarus was resuscitated, and would die again. Jesus rose from the dead, never to die again. His resurrection has brought about a whole new age. Now anything is possible, everything is different. This is seen in St Peter’s conversation with the gentile Cornelius in our first reading (Acts 10:34a, 37-43). In Jewish eyes the Gentiles were pagans and losers before God. St Peter had a vision that God wanted to save the Gentiles. Cornelius through a dream and a voice was directed to seek out the message of salvation (10:1-8). God has acted in a mighty way on behalf of the human family and included all in Jesus’ salvific action. As St Peter says, “... EVERYONE who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins in his name.” ALLELUIA!

Good Friday: Watching and Waiting at The Cross

“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10

 The Passion story, as solemn as it is, is still the Gospel, still good news for us, in any season or time of the year. This day we read John’s (18: 1-19:42) long Passion narrative. John records that while Jesus is the one captured, tried and crucified, it is the major players in the story who fall apart. Meanwhile, those who lack power, the minor players in the drama, are the faithful ones. They are the ones who keep company with Jesus at the foot of the cross.

This Good Friday we reflect on the seeming powerlessness of ones who keep vigil. There was nothing any of Jesus’ faithful followers could do. But they do not leave this dying and tortured man. They stay by him till the end. For those of us who want to be a success, find solutions for difficult situations, the ones standing at the cross are wasting their time in a lost cause. To those who measure their lives by achievement and successful waiting is frustrating? The cause is lost, they can’t save him. We are reminded at the cross, that ultimately we can’t save ourselves from the real “challenge” to our life that is sin and death. The One who can save us is there in defeat, united to all the world’s innocent victims. The watchers at the foot of the cross must have been a comfort to Jesus. Rather than bear the stares of the indifferent or hateful onlookers, he could look upon those near him. He is aware of them and as the dying often do, he expresses concern for the ones he is leaving behind. I believe these watchers were God-sent for him?

So we honor today those who keep vigil with the dying; spouses and families of those dying of cancer; night nurses who just sit with a dying patient; hospice visitors to the homes of terminally sick people; family, friends and strangers outside execution chambers; clergy and church volunteers who bring the sacraments to the sick; parents of dying children; third world parents who watch their little ones waste away from malnutrition and inadequate health care. Each of these watchers who keep vigil are God-sent. God stood at the foot of the cross that day in those faithful ones. When one comes into the room to sit with a dying person, God enters too reach out, to hold the hand of the afflicted; to sooth their brow; to offer a sip of water; to adjusts a pillow; to call the nurse when the needed; or to give spiritual comfort or communion. In the face of death because of Christ's death we face death with hope and not fear.

The ancient brutal form of capital punishment has become the central symbol of our faith, and paradoxically, a symbol of hope. Now, the cross, or crucifix, takes different shapes and forms in Christian religious art. I possess a number of crosses of different shapes and sizes. But, I frequently feel a small cross in my pocket on my rosary; sometimes it gives me strength to just hold that little cross. Many of us probably have crosses in our homes, or cars of different shapes and sizes. Some of us deal with chronic illnesses or pain. Some are dealing with disappointment and rejection. Many of us are dealing with grief from different kinds of losses. Many people suffer emotionally from anxiety, stress, worry, depression or have financial concerns. Some of us are un-or under-employed. For some, aging is a difficult and painful experience. For some, there is the pain of relationships failing and others have been seriously harmed by addictions of some kind. We all know the pain and vulnerability in being human. These issues might not be as violent or bloody as Christ's crucifixion, but they are nonetheless share in the mystery of his cross. Good Friday calls us to take on Jesus' approach to the cross. Whenever and however the cross (pain or suffering) enters our lives, we who are united to Christ are to embrace it, and carry it. Sometimes we will need to be humble enough to ask for help in carrying our crosses and when we see other people struggling with their, we should try to help them. At the cross pain is given meaning, despair is vanquished by hope and love makes the burden bearable. In the letter to the Hebrews we read; "Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding the shame." (12:2) May our faith give us this faith-vision as we wait in joyful hope for the future coming of our brother and saviour Jesus the Christ

Holy Thursday: Practice Makes Perfect!

“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10

 In all the great hero stories, it becomes clear who are the good and bad characters. So, the hero must do battle with the villains. Throughout John's gospel Jesus has been doing battle against evil and death. It has been a struggle; not the fake movie kind, but a life and death struggle against very real and powerful opponents. He has confronted sin and death in the surrounding world and in the resistance to his message by the religious leaders. Death's powers have come close to him, in the Lazarus story. We watched Jesus weep at his friend's tomb as he confronted death's power to inflict pain and loss. In today's gospel John (13:1-15) says that Jesus, "was fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power...." Then Jesus got up from the table with all that power available to him, and surprised his disciples as he continues to surprise us today. Jesus rises to wash his disciples' feet. This is not the way power is used in our world: nations dominate nations; one ethnic group purges its another; one religion proclaims its dominance over another; some parents by word and example, teach their children to succeed at any cost; businesses take over weaker ones. It does seem that when some nations, organisations, (religions and individuals) come to power, other groups suffer the consequences. Having power is not necessarily a bad thing and Jesus' life and today's gospel are examples of ways to use power to the benefit and for the good of others. His use of power is also an example to us.

As a musician I try to "practice" daily to maintain my flexibility and skill. Notice I have used the word "practice." It takes the perfectionist pressure off what I do, as I don't have to do it perfectly. What a relief for a type 'A' over achiever. I can be patient and tolerant when I let things slip or I don't feel a session went as well as I had hoped. I can say, "I am just a beginner with this piece of music and I will get it right eventually. Someday it will be easier and better, but right now I'll just "practice". Jesus asks his disciples to make 'foot washing' (humble service) their daily practice, because it will help them to deal with the worlds destructive approach to the use of power. As the three synoptic gospels had an account of the institution of the Eucharist, John does not have to repeat it. Instead, he narrates to his community and to us, THE WASHING OF THE FEET and in doing so, links it to the Eucharist. From now on, disciples cannot think of the Eucharist without Jesus' example and instruction about the service of others. Jesus tells his disciples, " should wash each another's feet. I have given you an example, so that you may copy what I have done to you."

The "practice" of foot washing reminds us that we are all recipients. In washing his disciples' feet, Jesus has acted as the lowly humble servant, giving his life in service for others. As Christians, we are who we are, because of Jesus' offering of himself. The foot washing reminds us that our baptism unites us to Jesus and his death. Our baptismal washing by water and words, is what puts us in touch with that life, "If I do not wash you, you can have nothing in common with me." So as Christ's disciples, we too are called to lay down our lives in humble service of others and to "practice" the life we have received. We learn our "practice" from him. And of course, as with any other "practice," we probably won't get it perfect, but we can keep at it. Each time we attend the Eucharist, we remember and receive THE ONE who helps us put into practice 'foot washing' - serving the needs of others. We try to act towards the world as Jesus acted towards us. Being his faithful witnesses we serve others, even to the point of giving our lives. So we ask ourselves, 'Is is my "practice" perfect yet?' The honest answer is - No! That is why we return time and time again to the table of the Eucharist so that with his life at work in us, we can keep practicing in our daily lives what we have learned from Jesus at the Eucharist. May the Holy Spirit lead us to 'take up the towel and basin'.