Remembering the One

Homily at St John Lloyd, for Good Friday 2013

At certain times of year, we remember those who died so that we may be free.

In November, we remember the many who died on the fields of Flanders, and the nearer shores of Normandy, and the few who flew in the Battle of Britain – each giving their life to keep our nation free from an oppressive enemy.

Today, we remember the One who died so that we may inherit eternal life.

Jesus dares to challenge us to forgive others, so that all may live in a realm where all is forgiven. He was not ashamed to forgive those who condemned him to death.

Jesus dares to ask us to check our anger, so that we do no harm even to those who deserve it. If we should feel that someone deserves to die for their actions, Jesus has already accepted their death penalty.

Jesus dares to lay down his life because, in God’s plan, a sacrifice is needed so that we, imperfect, human beings could be restored to friendship with God. This is the meaning of the animal sacrifices which were part of the Jewish Law, but which have been fulfilled more perfectly by the Lamb of God.

It is most pleasing to God that you have come to worship today. God invites you not only to honour the death of the Lamb of God as your Saviour, but to come to know Jesus as a living friend – a relationship which grows first through your personal prayer, but would be enriched by the spiritual gifts of the Word of God and the Bread of Life which we offer in this church, and in every church, each Sunday. If there is a hunger in your heart to know God better, to test whether God’s love is real, perhaps this year is the year to take a step of faith, to risk a conversation with a Christian friend, or see if Sunday service has something to offer you.

At every Mass, Sunday by Sunday, weekday by weekday, we remember the sacrifice made by Jesus. We are not bidden to understand how this sacrifice works. We are asked to trust in the message of Jesus, that what He did was indeed required so that we might not spend eternity in the realm apart from God, but enter eternal happiness as God’s adopted children.

If we look deep enough into our souls, we see behind the mask each one of us wears, to the frightened child who asks: am I valued? Am I loved? Am I worth anything?

God’s answer is Jesus. Jesus who blessed the little children. Jesus who offered forgiveness to those disabled, rejected by society, or who considered themselves beyond redemption. Jesus who stretched out his arms on the Cross because He loves us, and included our sin in the price he was willing to pay.

In November, we lay a wreath of poppies, to proclaim our gratitude for those who defended our nation.

Today, we pay homage to a cross of wood, on which our Saviour was executed as the punishment for all the wrongdoing the human race would ever commit.

Venerate this cross with joy, for this is your liberation, this is your healing, this is your victory over your own brokenness – this is your share in a great act of thanksgiving to the God who is Love.

A Night to Remember

Homily at St John Lloyd, for Maundy Thursday, 2013

Jesus knew that his time had come to depart from this world. Another way of translating the Bible into English says that Jesus “showed the full extent of his love”; yet another, that he loved his disciples “to the very end”.

There are times in life when we have to say “Goodbye”.

When we recognise that an ending is approaching, we pay more attention, and some of the rules which otherwise apply can be set aside. Friends spending a day together might hug at the end, though they would not dream of cuddling otherwise. A fond farewell can be a precious memory which lasts a lifetime; an awkward farewell can sour the memory of a good relationship.

A time of parting is a moment when it becomes appropriate to let down our guard, to express love in a deeper way then we do in our ongoing relationships. I have always cherished the memory of a day after my final exams as an undergraduate, when I took a walk in the park with a close friend and we found ourselves holding hands. She was never my girlfriend, but because it was a parting, there was something beautiful, appropriate, and unforgettable about this moment of closeness before we went our separate ways.

Jesus is about to leave his chosen Disciples, and chooses to leave them with something to remember. Three of the Gospel writers explain how Jesus took the familiar passover ritual but gave it an unexpected twist – henceforth the unleavened bread would be his own Body, and the cup of wine, his Blood. Tonight, St John focuses on the humble action of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet in the same way that a household slave would have done. We might hear echoes of this in current political commentary about whether NHS nurses are keen to provide basic washing, feeding and toileting for less able patients. In one action, Jesus teaches us something about humility and something about service.

I wonder what the lesson might be for you?

In your life, is there someone who needs you, but whom you have been avoiding, for fear of what they might ask?

In your life, is there someone whose presence you take for granted, but who might really appreciate an affectionate word or gesture?

In your life, are there duties of care which have become routine or burdensome, which need to be approached with a renewed decision to make present the love of God?

I know that sometimes churches use this Maundy Thursday service as an opportunity to invite all the parishioners to take part in some symbolic action of mutual service. I’m not going to do that here and now, because the “director’s instructions” in the Missal ask us to use this special time in the year to re-enact what Jesus did at the Last Supper – washing the feet of the men he had chosen to be his leading disciples. Part of the power of the symbol is that it is a man serving men – one woman tending to another’s body would not be such an unusual sight.

Liturgy is normally about taking part, but this one action is different. For most of us, we will be spectators, not participants. This is deliberate – because you are invited to watch and remember. Watch, and try to understand what message Jesus is giving us. Watch this action as if it were a visit to your best friend, dying of cancer, or the last glimpse of your sister on the day before emigrating to Australia. Watch this action as if it were the last request of a condemned man who is to be executed in the morning – for this is exactly what it is.

Remember, says Jesus. Remember to be humble. Remember to serve one another’s needs. And remember that tonight I am to give my very body to be broken for the sins of the world. FIRST understand – then go out from this place and imitate this in your life.

Everyday Treachery

Homily at St John Lloyd, for Tuesday of Holy Week

“One of you is going to betray me.”

Jesus, at table with those he loved, in the company of the Twelve He had personally chosen, makes a shocking statement. And yet it echoes the experience of the Christian Church and of Christian Families throughout the ages.

Just as Jesus chooses human beings, with all their imperfections, weaknesses and vulnerability to temptation, so the Church from age to age, and every human family, is composed of fallible human beings. And among those beautiful, precious, beloved people are those whom we know are more likely to let us down. The one with a drink problem. The one who gambles. The one who cannot bear to be thought lacking, so makes countless promises which cannot be kept.

In the Church, we have experienced treachery in the form of priests abusing their power over children and vulnerable adults; through the mis-handling of money; through the understandable slowness of leaders to address the wrongdoing of their underlings.

In many families there is a child who will walk away from the family home with the impetuosity of youth, only to return like the prodigal son when there are no other options left.

Sometimes betrayal comes as a bolt from the blue, but often enough, we see it coming. We are all too aware of the weaknesses of those we love. We hope for the best but expect trouble… yet because we are people who love, we still dare to hope. Love is always patient, always endures, and bears no record of wrong.

Simon Peter cannot follow Jesus into betrayal there and then, but Jesus says he will follow later. Each one of us follows Jesus down the bridlepath of betrayal when we dare to love someone whose vulnerability is clear. Each one of us follows Jesus on the royal road of forgiveness when we welcome back those who have betrayed us, with the embrace of love.

True forgiveness means we offer our friendship and affection willingly and freely to a contrite traitor – not once, but seventy times seven. As for trust, this takes longer to restore, as Simon Peter would discover in a difficult conversation with the Risen Christ.

To which of your loved ones, today, can you say in your heart: “One of you is going to betray me?” Choose to love without limit – choose to love as Christ did – and in your life also, you will live the Christian life of treachery and forgiveness – in your life also, God will be glorified!