The Lord has risen from the grave! Alleluia!
Errm, OK. Now what?
The friends and followers of Jesus had been on an emotional rollercoaster. For many months they’d travelled with him on the road, listening to his teachings and marvelling at his miracles. They’d been plunged into darkest despair when he was crucified on Calvary; filled with unspeakable joy at the news of his rising; and now they were coming to terms with the bittersweet reality that although he had risen, his plan was not to remain with them as he had been before. He had left them with two gifts – the teaching he had given to the Apostles after his Resurrection, and the Holy Spirit, given to strengthen and comfort the believers on the Day of Pentecost. Armed only with these tools, the friends and followers of Jesus set out to do what the Master has asked of them.
We’ve just read there were four things that mattered to the first Christians. First, they wanted to hear the teaching which Jesus had given his apostles. Second, they built a strong community – our reading said ‘brotherhood’ but the Greek word behind it is not male; it is ‘koinonia’, which means a close-knit community. Third, they practiced the ‘breaking of bread’ – they celebrated Mass. Fourth, they were faithful to prayer.
How did they do this? The first Christians attended the daily Jewish prayers at the Jerusalem Temple, but they also met in their own homes to celebrate Mass. We know from historical sources that Sunday was an ordinary working day. Despite this, the Christians would remember the Lord’s rising by gathering in the morning to sing psalms and again in the evening to celebrate Eucharist. Later, these two parts were combined into a single service more like the Mass we celebrate today.
Because it was important to those first followers of Jesus to celebrate Eucharist on Sunday, it is important to us. This is why, as far as possible, we come to Mass on Sundays – we include Saturday evenings, because the Jews counted a day to begin from nightfall. This is why our Archbishop makes sure that Mass is provided in Welsh and in British Sign Language on the Lord’s day. This is why, in many parishes across South Wales, priests drive between churches to ensure that two or even three different towns can have their own Mass on Sunday. This is why, across Cardiff city, priests ensure that Masses are available on Sunday at many different hours between 8.30 in the morning and 6 o’clock in the evening. The priests and the deacons working with them do this because the first followers of Jesus knew it was a sign of our love and our faith to worship him on the Lord’s Day. In this way, we try to provide maximum flexibility so you can schedule other family committments around a Mass time that works for you.
But is Sunday Mass enough for us to do all four of the things which matter to the friends and followers of Jesus? We get a seven-minute sermon, but that’s not a lot of time to explore the teaching of the apostles. You might have a brief conversation in the car park, but is that enough to build the kind of strong community the first Christians had? Are we the kind of parish where everyone helps each other because we knew who is in genuine need? And as for prayer – there are many other forms of prayer besides Mass, so what else can deepen our inner life with God?
Today, therefore, I am launching something new for our parish which will begin in September: Thursday night is Parish Night!
We already have a short Mass at 7 o’clock on Thursday evenings. Each week, there will be something different immediately after that Mass, something that helps us do one or more of the things the first Christians knew were important.
On the first Thursday of each month, there will be an opportunity for deeper prayer. Each month will explore something different – ways of praying with the Bible, or with the rosary, or perhaps using art.
The second Thursday of each month will be parish business night. The key committees which share in the work of leading our parish will usually meet on this night – the Liturgy Planning Group, the Finance Committee, and the Group Leaders’ Forum. I also wish to re-establish a Parish Council and we will have elections later this summer for this. Although committees and councils may sound rather boring, they are crucial if our parish is to be a true community, not a dictatorship under one parish priest.
On the third Thursday of each month, there will be a different guest speaker who will allow us to think more deeply about our faith. I have already arranged for talks about the ancient Celtic saints in Wales, about the message of Divine Mercy – something the church celebrates in a special way this weekend – and for a vicar who is also a conjourer to give us his unique perspective on the Gospels.
When I first arrived here at St Philip Evans, I spoke about my hope to form a parish vision group which would look forward to the years 2020 and 2025, and work with me for long term planning. I am now ready to launch this. On the fourth Thursday of each month, from September until next July, I will be giving talks about the different things Our Lord asked his followers to do, so we build up a rounded idea of what a parish is called to be. I hope that those who wish to be part of the Vision Group will attend these talks, and then continue to meet on fourth Thursdays to work on turning the vision into reality.
Finally, if the month happens to have a fifth Thursday, this will be an opportunity for a social night. We will say more next month about how these could be organised.
So from September this year, there will be something special happening every week following Thursday evening Mass. I am sharing this with you now so we have time to prepare. Thursday nights will be a special time for us to come together in this parish to grow as a Christian community, in the same way as the first Christians in Jerusalem built up their community.
Finally, I know that many of you work in healthcare or in other jobs where you are regularly required to work on Sundays. This is also an opportunity for you! Let us make Sunday the day when we honour the Lord’s resurrection, even if we have to go to another Church for Mass. But let us make Thursday the evening when we build up our parish, grow as a close-knit community, listen to the teaching of the apostles, and gather at 7 p.m. for the breaking of bread. Thursday Night is Parish Night! Are you coming?