Our Father: Forgive Us Our Trespasses, As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us

Homily at St Dyfrig’s for Good Friday, 2012

Father: Forgive Us Our Trespasses, As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us.

This Holy Week, I invite you to journey with me through the words of the Lord’s Prayer.

Freely-offered forgiveness is the hallmark of our faith.

The world’s great religions have different ideas about justice. In the East, they will tell you that karma will ensure that each person will ultimately get what they deserve, though it might take more than one lifetime. Islamic law emphasises due punishment for sins against the will of God. But Jesus taught us: “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.” And he leaves us no room to doubt that he meant exactly what he said, for in St Luke’s Gospel he even cries from the Cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus does not wait for an apology, but assumes his enemies have attacked him through ignorance, not ill-will. Earlier, alone among the evangelists, Luke tells us that when the servant’s ear was cut off at the moment of Christ’s arrest, the Lord healed the servant there and then.

In St John’s account of the arrest and crucifixion of Christ, which we have just heard, we are not shown those acts of forgiveness; instead, we see the generous spirit of Our Lord which motivates both forgiveness of enemies and love for his friends. When he is arrested, Christ says: “You have me – let my friends go.” Nailed to the Cross, he entrusts his Blessed Mother and his Beloved Disciple to one another. We in our turn are called to be Christlike, and John includes one small detail which speaks volumes – the presence of four soldiers, who cast lots.

Jesus’s outer clothes are shared out equally, but there is one item left over: his seamless undergarment. The soldiers recognise that selfishness will not lead to a useful outcome: what point is there in winning a sleeve or a corner, one quarter of a woven garment? Each soldier has the sense to realise: “If I claim my fair share, I will damage things for everyone.” So each soldier renounces his claim to a quarter. By agreeing to cast lots, one will win; three will gain nothing in a material sense – but all four will be at peace.

Jesus does more than renounce a claim to what is his; he takes on the punishment which is ours. Isaiah today offers us the image of a suffering servant doing just this. The letter to the Hebrews paints a picture of Jesus offering up prayer and entreaties on our behalf. Jesus, the wounded servant of God, does not want us to suffer the consequences of our own folly and faithlessness.

We do well to remember that there is one thing, just one, which severely limits the power of the Cross to take away our sin. In parables and by his actions on the Cross, Jesus teaches us again and again that we must choose one of two ways: the path of demanding our rights, or the way of forgiveness. The power to choose the way of forgiveness rests with us. St James, in his letter, puts it most clearly: “Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful, but mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Our merciful Saviour, we are told, was praying all the time for sinners. Let us not be closed to his grace, but be willing to forgive as he forgave. This requires, at the very least, praying for our opponents and calling God’s blessings on those who have harmed or obstructed us in life. When our opponents express true sorrow, we must go further and extend the hand of friendship in return for sincere repentance. It takes two to reconcile, but only one to stand ready to forgive. As the soldiers renounced their claim to a quarter-share, so we are called to renounce our claim to justice, and obey the Lord’s commandment to love: Love which keeps no record of wrong, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

In a moment, we will celebrate the power of the Cross to forgive our sins by coming and honouring the very wood which reminds us of the Saviour’s tree. We cannot fully honour the Cross unless we love as Jesus loved, by making real the prayer he taught us: Forgive Us Our Trespasses, As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us.

Freely-offered forgiveness is the hallmark of our faith.

Our Father: Our Daily Bread, Thy Will Be Done

Homily at St Dyfrig’s for Holy Thursday, 2012

Our Father, Who Art in Heaven – Our Daily Bread, Thy Will Be Done!

This Holy Week, I invite you to journey with me through the words of the Lord’s Prayer. At the end of this Mass of the Lord’s Supper we will have a time of ‘watching’ in the side chapel, reminding us how Our Lord Jesus struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane to pray “Thy Will be done!” on a night when God’s will would demand the offering of his very life.

What is God’s will? When asked to declare which commandment was the greatest, Our Lord Jesus declared two to be inseperable: to love God with all our heart, and our neighbour as ourself.

We have many ways to show our love for God. We pray. We use His Holy Name respectfully. We place holy images in our homes. We keep the Lord’s Day. But to love God without love for one another is sterile religiosity; if we perform rituals without cultivating care for others, we have not taken the fullness of God’s commandment on board.

To love neighbour without loving God makes us mere humanitarians. The world has many humanitarians, but we are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

At the Last Supper, Our Lord taught us the depth of both commandments. The love of neighbour, by washing feet. Love of God, by commanding a new way for his followers to worship: “Do this in memory of me.”

“Was ever a command so obeyed?” The monk and church scholar Dom Gregory Dix has commented that Christians have “done this”  for any and every conceivable circumstance: “for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat…on the beach at Dunkirk… by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows … In [the] twentieth century [Blessed] Charles de Foucauld in his hermitage in the Sahara ‘did this’ with the same rite as [St] Cuthbert twelve centuries before in his hermitage on Lindisfarne in the Northern seas… and best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei – the holy common people of God” – he means that our taking part in the Lord’s Supper helps make us ordinary, everyday saints.

“How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me?” The psalm, from hundreds of years before the life of Christ, points us forward to the act of worship which He would teach us. “The cup of salvation I will raise! I will call on the Lord’s name!”  The very best and most pleasing act of worship which we can offer to God is to be present at Mass, to give the prayers our full attention, and to receive Holy Communion – first dealing with any sin on our soul through confession. It doesn’t matter if our singing is excellent or ropey, if the priest is erudite or a mumbler – it’s what the Mass is that matters, and we are invited!

“Do this in memory of me” – but how often?

We are given a hint in the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.” In the years after Christianity became a liberated religion of the Roman Empire, it became possible to celebrate the Eucharist daily, and this became the new practice, instead of offering Mass only on Sundays and the anniversaries of martyrs. It is not to be celebrated many times a day – the law of the church restricts both priests and people to communion no more than twice a day, or three times in special circumstances – because our holiness is not determined only by our taking part in this one rite of the Church. But “daily bread” is perhaps the measured dose for those who have the freedom to do so and who seek to be holy.

What Jesus offers Peter is also a measured dose. Jesus is not to be washed by Peter, nor is he going to wash Peter’s body all over. Jesus washes Peter’s feet, just his feet. Enough to make the point that Christ is present as a servant, but no more. In the same way, Our Lord is neither absent nor manifest in our lives. He is just barely present, stretching our faith to testing point, to strengthen us.

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus took bread and said: “Do this.” Let us not betray him, but be faithful to this request. Let us renew our determination to “Do this” each Sunday, or Saturday night. For those of us able to gather to do so, let us “do this” on weekdays, too. And to our Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, who tonight will renew your commitment to this ministry, I say this: Renew your resolve to “take this” to those who cannot come to this altar. Do this as an act of love for the Lord, and of love for his people, whose infirmity prevents them from obeying a command which is most dear to them.

Lord Jesus, host of this holy supper, give us this day our daily bread! Thy will be done! And what is thy will? “Do this in memory of me.”

I look forward to the resurrection of the dead

Homily at St Dyfrig’s for 5th Sunday of Lent, 2012 (using Year A readings for the 3rd Scrutiny)

Gospel: The Raising of Lazarus

The crowds are concerned for the well-being of one man. It seems that he has died. Normal activity has been suspended and the shocked people are in mourning. And then… wonderful news comes! Although he seems to have been dead for too long, he has in fact been restored to life!

Yes, the story of Bolton footballer Fabrice Muamba has caught the headlines this week. In the midst of a world driven by commerical pressures and media agendas, we can salute a story of respect. Although football points and media revenue were at stake, the players of a football match agreed to stop playing when one of their number collapsed. Concern for their colleague, as his life hung in the balance, was more important.

It’s good to hear a story of respect in an age when the Government is disrespecting matters as fundamental as marriage, or the special nature of Sunday as a day when trading is restricted.

Today we are given the story of the Raising of Lazarus. He is the most prominent of three persons, apparently dead, restored to life by Jesus as the Gospel unfolds. The Acts of the Apostles present both Peter and Paul receiving God’s power to raise from the dead, with more stories of miracles. We do not reject these as merely stories added to the lives of religious leaders to demonstrate their holiness – we embrace them because they are fundamental to our Christian faith. We believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and that we shall enjoy everlasting life with him. When we say the Creed, we confess: I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

As followers of Jesus we are not protected from human tragedies in this earthly life. The news in recent days has included two coach crashes, in Switzerland and on the M5, and the terrible shootings in Tolouse, as well as the increasing toll of British personnel who have put themeslves “in harm’s way” in Afganistan. I myself received news of the death of Eddie Murphy, one of my classmates at seminary, who was involved in a car accident in Ireland.

Listen – and this is important – JESUS NEVER PROMISED THAT THINGS LIKE THIS WOULDN’T HAPPEN.

 There’s a part deep within each of us that says, with Mary and Martha -“Where were you Lord? You could have stopped this! We know you have the power to do so!”

Although it is painful to acknowledge, accidents happens.

Although it is painful to acknowledge, it is natural that children will, sooner or later, have to bury their parents.

To our eyes it seems a waste when a young life is cut short or a priest only ordained for 5 years is killed in a tragic accident. But in God’s eyes, these same lives continue into eternity.

Lazarus was not raised from the dead in order to live out an unending life on Earth. No, he was raised to demonstrate that God has power over life and death, so that we may trust that God will deliver the final resurrection of all who have ever lived.

Martha expressed regret that Jesus had not come in time to heal Lazarus, but stops short of saying “It’s all your fault.” She does not fall into to the trap which snares many of us, tempting us to say to God: “You could have stopped my loved one from dying, but you didn’t.” It is easy to blame God for allowing nature to take its course. We need to learn to forgive God for not meeting our expectations before we can love God in the way we are called to do. There is nothing wrong with God – but there is something wrong with our expectations!

Martha says to Jesus, in effect, “I wanted it to be different, but you can still make it OK.” This takes us to the heart of our faith. When Jesus died on the cross, he did what was needed to make it all OK. How exactly this works is a deep mystery – even C. S. Lewis, struggling for words to describe it, could only call it “Deeper Magic from before the dawn of time” – but the whole New Testament carries the message that the death of Jesus on the Cross IS what makes everything OK, and this death deserves our respect.

So Jesus says to us, as he did to Martha: “I am the resurrection. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

If we take this invitation to heart then we will know that our security is in being baptised and staying close to Jesus, keeping his commandments, being nourished by the Church’s sacraments.

That Fabrice Muamba has returned to life is a good news story which will run for a few weeks on the sports pages, and then disappear into history.

I speak now to the three men of our parish preparing for baptism in the Easter Season: as the day of your baptism draws near, you are preparing to receive a new life which will never end. With your baptism, you will be joined to Jesus Christ and placed under his protection. If you remain faithful to his commands to put God first and love your neighbour with selfless joy, then you share in the promise of Jesus that you shall never die. True, the body you currently have will one day fail, but your innermost being will be kept safe by God and restored to physical life on that day when Christ comes again.

The football players showed true respect for Muamba when they abandoned their match. This coming Holy Week is given to the Christian community as a time when we show respect for Jesus Christ by stepping out of our daily routine. The yellow sheets in your newsletter list many things taking place. This year, why not try something new?

If you have never been to the Office of Readings or to the Stations of the Cross, come! if you have never brought your children to a special event, come to the Tuesday penitential for children or the Friday morning stations. Read the schedule with prayer, and choose to honour the death of Christ with a sacrifice of time. Remember why we are doing this, and to whom we are giving respect.

The last word today must be Martha’s: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.”

Due to the change of clocks, not all the Elect for baptism were present for Mass, so this homily was given out again at the Mass for the Presentation of the Lord’s Prayer on Tuesday of Holy Week.

Our Father: Thy Kingdom Come

Homily at St Dyfrig’s for Palm Sunday, 2012 (Liturgical Year B using the Gospel of John at the beginning)

Our Father, Who Art in Heaven – Hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom Come!

This Holy Week, I invite you to journey with me through the words of the Lord’s Prayer.

A survey published this week shows that only half of primary school age children in Britain now know the words of this prayer, dear to us as the prayer which our Saviour himself taught us.

Such surveys are good for getting news headlines – but less good at telling us how many people really grasp the meaning of this beautiful prayer, and what it means to pray it with devotion. If we do not pray the words with gratitude, and cultivate a humble attitude, it remains a mere platitude.

Thy Kingdom Come! Jesus, we recognise you as King! We welcome you! We acclaim you! Hosanna! We will live with you in charge and ourselves as your obedient subjects!

This is the message implicit in the cry of the crowd on Palm Sunday. Waving branches, using the word Hosanna, following Jesus in his procession – all these elements pointed to Jesus as the one accepted as leader. And let’s face it, it’s good to have a leader. Someone to take the hard decisions, so we don’t have to. Someone to take the flak, so we don’t have to. Someone to enjoy the perks, such as they are, which go with the seat of power…

Leadership isn’t easy. This week we have seen the Prime Minister having to explain his “kitchen suppers” with party supporters. We don’t particularly want our taxes to go to fund political parties, but we get uncomfortable when leaders – of any political party – seem too close to major donors. What is a leader to do?

This time last year, we saw the people of Libya, hesitatantly at first, shouting slogans against Colonel Gaddafi, and in support of the Opposition. Many Libyans made the difficult decision to put themselves in harm’s way by taking up arms for regime change. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the use of violence in that conflict, we recognise that change would not happen merely because of the support of the many, but also required the actions of a few.

Just in the last week, the news has been of a coup in Mali – a country where no national leader has ended a term of office without being ousted by violence or illness –  and of Burma, where after 20 years of house arrest, a reluctant Government is permitting Aung San Suu Kyi to run for Parliament. These events remind us that even in the 21st century, in some nations, to aspire to leadership is to put your liberty, or your life, on the line.

The King or Queen who ascends the throne of England is anointed with Holy Chrism* as a sign that they share in the Kingship of Christ. On this day when we remember Christ as King, let us pray for our politicians who continue that kingly role of leadership, whether or not they themselves profess Christian faith, and pray for those who must decide whether to commit their nation to war, whether to commit troops to prevent ethnic cleansing – or even whether to advise motorists to stock up on petrol. These decisions are not easy – and our politicians deserve our prayer as well as our criticism.

Today, Our Lord Jesus steps on to the political stage. His decision to requisition a donkey and ride it among the crowds was a gesture which the people would have understood: the King of the line of David would enter Jerusalem on a donkey. Until now, Jesus has resisted being pushed forward as King. Now he knows it is God’s time, and so he steps into the public gaze not only as Rabbi and Healer, but as the one who allows the crowds to cry: “Hosanna! Be our King!”

Our earthly leaders take decisions most of us would rather not have to make. Our heavenly King makes a decision that no-one else had the power to make: to lay down his own life as the price for the sin of the human race. Others have followed his example in laying down their lives for their friends – St Maximilian Kolbe for a Jewish concentration camp inmate, St Gianna Molla for her unborn child – but only One could ever pay the price for our sin.

Today we acclaim our King. If we would truly call Him King – if we would truly pray “Thy Kingdom Come!” – this must reshape our attitude to life. Do we keep his commandments? Do we love our neighbour? Have we kept a good Lent and worked on those sins which we know still trip us up from time to time? And have we in our hearts true gratitude for what Christ Our King did, paying the debts that we could never afford by our own poor riches?

The sign that we understand the power of his sacrifice is our gratitude. The sign that we have taken him as our King is that we cultivate a humble attitude. Without these things, we can memorise and say the Lord’s Prayer, but it remains a mere platitude. So let us, this Holy Week, meditate on the Lord’s Prayer; let us turn to the Saviour, and to the Father whose love He revealed to us, and with our lives, with our actions, with our devotion to Christ and yes, even with our words, declare: Thy Kingdom Come! Thy Kingdom Come! Thy Kingdom Come!

I am referring to the symbolism of the act using what the Anglican Communion calls Chrism, and am not intending to claim an equivalence between Catholic and Anglican episcopal orders and the consequent sacramental status of consecrated oil.