Easter Unveiled

Homily to members of Sion Community and LiveStream Viewers on Easter Sunday.

Today is the present when the future begins. Look at the signs of hope!

We have an empty tomb and a folded linen cloth – but wait! In today’s Gospel, of Jesus himself there is no sign.

Next Sunday, we’ll read how Jesus appeared to the group of apostles and showed himself to doubting Thomas. But for Easter Sunday, we’re left in doubt and confusion – just like the disciples on the first Easter morning. And perhaps that’s more appropriate for us. Unlike the apostles, we haven’t seen the risen Jesus. Like them, we experience a mixture of faith and doubt.

We doubt because we have intellectual questions about God – if he loves us, why is the world in such a mess?

We doubt because we have mixed feelings about God – does he really love me personally when my life is such a mess?

We doubt because we’ve heard the rumours, but we can’t see the Lord of life with our own eyes.

Yet we’re here on Easter Sunday morning because deep down, we believe. And we see the signs today of the hope we hold for tomorrow.

Scripture says there was another cloth, the one which had covered the face of Christ, rolled up and put to one side. How much we look forward to the day when we can take the cloths covering our faces, roll them up, and put them away for good! That detail might also remind us that Moses had to cover his face to hide the reflected glory of God – but now Jesus has shown us God’s glory, not only by rising from the dead but by the way he died, embracing all of faults and sins. It’s only when we understand the spiritual consequences of this that we see the cross truly is the place where a hero gave his life to save the human race. In another letter, St Paul wrote that we too would have unveiled faces to reflect the glory of Christ – in today’s letter, we are reminded that in the future we will share in Christ’s resurrection. For this we wait in expectant hope!

Faith and doubt go together. It’s because we’re surrounded by doubt, that each Easter, we’re invited to renew our baptismal promises. This isn’t meant to be a mere ritual we perform because it’s Easter Sunday. In this computer age it’s all too easy to click “Yes” to the terms and conditions, without thinking through what we’re doing. But what we do today needs thought. It’s meant to be a personal and deliberate choice to live our lives God’s way – your promise to me, to one another, and to God.

Promises matter. American Football Coach Bill McCartney, founder of a Christian men’s network called the Promise Keepers, once told a story about how he prepared his team for a crucial match. Each player was asked to reflect on what they were going to do. Then each player had to come, personally, and tell the coach what he intended to do on game day. At the big match, the team played better than anyone expected.* Each player kept his promise.

In a few moments, you’ll be asked to make three promises.

“I renounce Satan.” This is more than repenting of sin. To “renounce” is to say: I want nothing to do with this! I am not only sorry that I gave in to sin when I was tempted; I don’t want that sin to have any lasting hold on me. I will do everything in my power never to fall into sin again!

Don’t believe the lie that you are unforgiveable or that God doesn’t care about you. Our Father in heaven simply wants us to be set free. Will I be a victim or walk in freedom? Will I let the Enemy bully me into not being the best version of myself? Just declaring that we renounce Satan helps us overcome that fear.

Coach McCartney would ask what you’re going to do this year, to break any ongoing temptation and kick Satan out of your life!

“I believe in God.” To believe is more than a mental exercise of holding an idea in your head. To “believe” is literally “to put your faith in”. Like the Apostles, because we receive Holy Communion, we can declare: “We have eaten and drunk with him after his resurrection from the dead.” With the Apostles, we share in the Great Commission: he ordered us to proclaim that God has appointed Jesus to judge everyone, alive or dead. All who believe in Jesus will have their sins forgiven.

How often will we put our trust in Christ’s command to eat his flesh as the Bread of Life, or make an act of Spiritual Communion on days then this is not physically possible?

How often will we tell other people that Jesus will forgive anyone who turns to him, but will also pass sentence on anyone who dies without asking forgiveness?

Coach McCartney would ask what you’re going to do this year, because you put your trust in Jesus, the Saviour of the world!

“I believe in the Catholic Church.” To put your faith in the Church needs a personal commitment to making the community where you worship the very best that it can be, taking part and using your gifts fully.

One more question, though not one the liturgy asks us today. “Do you believe in yourself?” The crowd is watching you. Your coach believes in you, and wants to give you confidence you can play to win. Our Christian life is a team effort. If you are on the Lord’s team, you are already on the winning side. Alone you can do nothing, but together we are unstoppable.

Perhaps you already know what you will do to live out your baptismal promises in the next 12 months. If so, I encourage you to write something in the chat!  … Today is the present where the future begins. We are not alone – Christ is risen from the dead, Alleluia!

I Believe in the Catholic Church – the one I’m not walking away from!

Homily at St John Lloyd, for Easter, 2013

Mhairi Spence, Team GB Pentathlete

Do you remember Mhairi Spence? She was one of the Team GB pentathletes at the London 2012 Olympics. Like many of the British competitors, she was tipped for a gold medal – indeed, the last possible gold of the games, because the Pentathlon finished just before the Closing Ceremony. So on August 12 last year, Mhairi Spence stepped out. By lunchtime, following the fencing and swimming rounds, she was in ninth place and feeling confident – next came the show-jumping, which was her strongest event.

Then it all went horribly wrong.

In the Pentathlon, horses are assigned to competitors at random, and the one assigned to Miss Spence was not having a good day. Horse and rider simply didn’t click with each other, and soon Spence held the dismal tally of four downed fences and 104 penalty points. Things went from bad to worse in the final combined running-and-shooting event. Golden hope Spence finished at 21st place, a forgotten footnote of British Olympic history.

Imagine being an Olympic failure in those months when the UK was basking in Olympic Glory. Each television report and newspaper article reminded Spence that she was not one of the Team GB medalists. So she ran away – to Australia, where she could be a nobody. Asked what she did for a living, she said she worked as a hairdresser, or for the post office. And for a while, she was able to leave her broken dreams behind.

Easter Day begins for each one of us in the same low place as Mhairi Spence. Hope shattered in one cruel moment, followed by an aftermath of despair. The Apostles, excepting only the one beloved by Jesus, ran away from the foot of the Cross. On Sunday morning, two disciples from Emmaus would begin a forlorn walk towards their home, with nothing but their reminiscences for company.

But in the coldest of winters, we might yet see signs of spring.

Spence found herself on a sailing trip with other tourists, when one said to her: “Did you hear the rumour? They said there was an Olympic Athelete on the island we’ve just sailed from!” A few weeks later, in a conversation with a temporary room-mate, she was forced to admit her true identity. The room-mate “couldn’t get over it, … sharing a room with someone who had competed in London!” Where we see brokenness, others see something of great value. And this can also be true of the way we view our own church.

At this Easter Mass, we will be invited soon to renew our baptismal promises. As promises go, they don’t really sound like promises. I am going to ask you if you believe in God the Father, in Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit and in the Catholic Church. Surely “believing” something is something to do with ideas we hold in our heads?

Year of Faith Logo – Welsh & English

This year, the worldwide church is keeping a Year of Faith. And the word “faith” is the key. We are not just declaring that we believe in certain things as an intellectual exercise. We are declaring that we put our faith in God-the-Father, in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit and in the Catholic Church. And that requires action.

If we put our faith in God, we must keep all Ten Commandments, including the one about keeping each sabbath as a Holy Day. If we put our faith in Jesus, we will obey his command to “do this in memory of me”, by participating in Mass. If we put our faith in the Holy Spirit, we will keep asking the Spirit to live within us, to nudge us to be God’s hands, feet and voice in the world around us.

By declaring we “believe” in the Catholic Church, we are also promising to continue placing our faith in our church. This is a very dangerous thing to do – because our church is composed entirely of fallible human beings! They say you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family – and a parish is the family we share under the One Father, who is God.

Sooner or later in church communities, things go wrong. People have arguments. A word or action causes offence. And sometimes we don’t deal with that in the mature way God asks of us. It’s not uncommon for those who feel offended by something at church to move to another parish, or stop coming altogether. Let’s recognize this danger, and renew our commitment to this parish because it is God’s parish, not because of individual personalities or style.

When we renew our promise, today, to put our faith in the Catholic Church, we are pledging to make our parish the best that it can be. We are pledging that if something upsets us, we won’t walk away, but we will deal with the issue. Within a Christian community, if we disagree with another person – even a member of the clergy or parish group leader – we ought to be able to have a civil conversation. Often enough it will clear up a simple misunderstanding; sometimes we can agree to differ about the way a decision could have gone.

Sometimes a priest, deacon, or lay leader will have been having a bad day and will be only too happy to apologise as soon as attention is drawn to the hurt which has been caused. When her horse had a bad day, Mhairi Spence could only regret its behaviour. But when we have a disagreement, we have the power not only to regret, but also to reconcile. It is part of the commitment we renew today, to believe that within this community, we can reconcile with one another. A parish where people walk away is no advert for the Gospel. A parish where people love each other enough to work through their problems is a sign of hope for the world.

Mhairi Spence did run away, to the ends of the earth – but it was there that she realised that she’d made the wrong decision. Running away would neither make her happy, nor quench the desire for Olympic gold which still blazed in her heart. So she came back. Running away is never the answer – in life, in sport, or in God’s church. But Jesus came to remind us that when we run, the Good Shepherd runs after us, and the Forgiving Father opens wide his arms awaiting our return. Whenever this happens in the life of a church, the dying and rising of Christ is lived out all over again.

Jesus Christ, whose death on Friday brought fear and despair to us all, is risen and lives beyond the reach of death for ever. He invites us to become not a parish of brokenness, but a community of reconciliation.

Just last week, Mhairi Spence was competing in the Pentathlon World Cup in Rio de Janiero. She’s not yet back in the medals, but she is in the competition.

In a few moments, we’ll renew the vows of our baptism, promising to live as members of the Catholic Church – committing ourselves to this parish and to making it work in the best way possible. This is also a competition – it is one we have to re-enter each Easter, and the Lord has rich prizes for all who run the race to its conclusion. Are you in?