Speak Lord: of your promises…

Street, ArlesThe First reading at Mass today, the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, speaks of the night that presaged freedom and the fulfilment of God’s promises to his people: the night that opened the way to the Promised Land.

That night had been foretold to our ancestors, so that, once they saw what kind of oaths they had put their trust in, they would joyfully take courage.

This was the expectation of your people, the saving of the virtuous and the ruin of their enemies;
for by the same act with which you took vengeance on our foes
you made us glorious by calling us to you.

The devout children of worthy men offered sacrifice in secret
and this divine pact they struck with one accord:
that the saints would share the same blessings and dangers alike;
and forthwith they had begun to chant the hymns of the fathers.

Wisdom 18:6-9

What ‘night’ does Wisdom allude to? Certainly the reference is to the night of the first Passover in Egypt (Ex 11.4-7), but also there is probably a reference back to the night time promises  with Abraham and Jacob (Gen 15.13-14; Gen 46.3-4). In the deepest darkness comes the sure promise of eternal light and life: God covenants with his people

The promises of the Old Testament lead the people forward – if they will hear them, and put their trust in them. But as the Second reading at Mass today from Hebrews makes clear, the people of the Old Testament, what ever their faithfulness, did not receive the ultimate gift that was to come only in Christ. They lived and died in faith, but awaiting the fulfilment in Christ. The Promised Land itself is but a stage on the way to the Kingdom.

Today, we too are called to live in faith – as the Gospel too, today, makes perfectly clear. We too are called on into the Kingdom that is so very near: already but for us not yet, not quite yet.

Yet already through faith in Christ we are incorporated into him. As Paul says we already share his death, and so share in his resurrection. Of ourselves we are called forward and called to seek after the kingdom, but in him, already and securely, we are part of that reality. In him we seek our true selves.

  • What in God’s promises draws you forward?
  • What in this present ‘land’ might hold you back from faithfully answering his call to move on and move forward?

A street in Arles. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: The Saving Blood, the Saving Love.

Blood of the Redeemer, Bellini

Yesterday’s first reading, on the feast of Corpus Christi, offered a type of the Eucharist, the desert ritual foreshadowing the Sacramental order celebrated in countless churches in a wide array of places across the world.

Moses went and told the people all the commands of the Lord and all the ordinances. In answer, all the people said with one voice, ‘We will observe all the commands that the Lord has decreed.’

Moses put all the commands of the Lord into writing, and early next morning he built an altar at the foot of the mountain, with twelve standing-stones for the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he directed certain young Israelites to offer holocausts and to immolate bullocks to the Lord as communion sacrifices. Half of the blood Moses took up and put into basins, the other half he cast on the altar.

And taking the Book of the Covenant he read it to the listening people, and they said, ‘We will observe all that the Lord has decreed; we will obey.’ Then Moses took the blood and cast it towards the people. This’ he said ‘is the blood of the Covenant that the Lord has made with you, containing all these rules.’

Exodus 24:3-8

In both cases a people comes together determined on responding faithfully and well to the commands of the law, commands which offer them life.

Israel’s covenant begins with the sacrifice of cattle and the sprinkling of the altar (representing God and his people) with the animals’ blood. Then the people hear again the Law and as they re-commit themselves to obedience the remainder of the blood is cast over them.

Mass is somewhat less ‘messy’! Also we begin with a reading of scripture and then move to the sacrifice, or so it seems. But more truly we too gather in the wake of a sacrifice, the sacrifice of Calvary. The blood has already been shed and offered to the Father for the salvation of the world. We are reminded of this by the fact we gather, normatively, on the 3rd day following that day on which that Precious Blood was shed: we gather on the 1st day of the week, the Day of Resurrection, the Lord’s Day.

The mystery of the Eucharist has begun long before our particular and local gathering. But the blood shed, we gather to be revived by its being shared with us. regrouped, renewed, by the word of God , and then to receive the blood of Christ, not sprinkled on us, but drunk by us, ingested, for our refreshment and enervation.

And in this ritual of word and Blood we recommit ourselves to the Lord whose commitment to us never wavers.

  • What aspect of your communion with the Lord most impresses you at the present time.

Blood of the Redeemer, Giovanni Bellini. National Gallery, London. 

Speak Lord: by whose blood we are saved

John Lateran holy door The second reading at the Mass of Corpus Christi this year focuses us on the sacrifice of Christ. The language of sacrifice has proven rather controversial in the Church, particularly as related to the Mass.

Sometimes this is because the way the Catholic church speaks has seen to imply the Mass is a second saving sacrifice. Yet the Church is clear, there is but one sacrifice by which we are saved and that is the sacrifice offered, once and for all at Calvary.

That redemptive sacrifice offered by Christ himself at Calvary (and beautifully anticipated at the Last Supper with the Institution of the Eucharist) is made present to us still in the mystery of the Eucharist. And, wonderfully, at Mass, that once-and-for-all sacrifice of Calvary is re-presented in the Sacrament of the Sacrifice. That Sacrifice truly is once-and-for-all, but it is not over and done with. The Christ who made offering of himself, continues to be present to the Church, and continues in his love, an outpouring of love for the Father, for us, and for the world.

The second reading on Sunday speaks of the unique power of Christ’s sacrifice.

Now Christ has come, as the high priest of all the blessings which were to come. He has passed through the greater, the more perfect tent, which is better than the one made by men’s hands because it is not of this created order; and he has entered the sanctuary once and for all, taking with him not the blood of goats and bull calves, but his own blood, having won an eternal redemption for us. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer are sprinkled on those who have incurred defilement and they restore the holiness of their outward lives; how much more effectively the blood of Christ, who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to God through the eternal Spirit, can purify our inner self from dead actions so that we do our service to the living God. He brings a new covenant, as the mediator, only so that the people who were called to an eternal inheritance may actually receive what was promised: his death took place to cancel the sins that infringed the earlier covenant. Hebrews 9:11-15

At the heart of sacrifice is not the destruction of life, a consecration to God only of something otherwise precious to humankind. At the heart of sacrifice is love. Love of God, love of neighbour, love of self: love which takes us beyond just ourselves, and transforms us.

That love overcomes our brokenness, it restores humankind and individual human persons to wholeness and holiness, and leads us ultimately to God.

To do all that takes more than the love that fallen human beings are capable of, unaided. It takes the love of God incarnate, offered for us by Jesus in so many ways, but in an ultimate way in the shedding of his blood at Calvary.

At Corpus Christi we celebrate that love, that sacrifice, and we recommit ourselves to seeking to cooperate with it, to God’s glory, for the sake of our neighbour, and for our own healing and growth.

The Holy Door at St John Lateran, Rome. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: call us to you, call us to sense

Judean Deserta

The first reading given for Mass on the feast of Corpus Christi relates a momentous moment in the wilderness experience of the people of Israel.

Moses went and told the people all the commands of the Lord and all the ordinances. In answer, all the people said with one voice, ‘We will observe all the commands that the Lord has decreed.’ Moses put all the commands of the Lord into writing, and early next morning he built an altar at the foot of the mountain, with twelve standing-stones for the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he directed certain young Israelites to offer holocausts and to immolate bullocks to the Lord as communion sacrifices. Half of the blood Moses took up and put into basins, the other half he cast on the altar. And taking the Book of the Covenant he read it to the listening people, and they said, ‘We will observe all that the Lord has decreed; we will obey.’ Then Moses took the blood and cast it towards the people. This’ he said ‘is the blood of the Covenant that the Lord has made with you, containing all these rules.’

Exodus 24:3-8

Following this event Moses ascends Mount Sinai and receives the tablets of stone confirming the commandments of the Law, and the instructions for the building of the tabernacle, the place of meeting between God and his people that will accompany Israel through its desert wanderings, and will be reproduced in the Temple to be built in Jerusalem.

However when he returns from the mountain he finds the people have turned from the Lord and begun to worship the golden calf.

Moses, in his anger and frustration, breaks the stones bearing the commandments, and the people suffer plague sent by the Lord for their unfaithfulness.

So soon so easily the covenant is broken by the people. And yet even in the people there is a longing for it to be restored, and it will be by one of them, Jesus, faithful son of Israel, God in Flesh, that the covenant between God and Man is irrevocably restored.

Still, of course, there remains the question of our faithfulness to it.

  • How do you experience the faithfulness of God, despite your sometime unfaithfulness.
  • Today how might you more fully respond to the Lord’s faithful, covenanted love, and share its fruits with others?

Photograph of Judaean Desert. (c) 2007, Allen Morris

Taste and See: At one with God

Patriarchs and ProphetsIf on Sunday you  heard the readings for the 5th Sunday of Lent in Year B, the first reading came from the Prophet Jeremiah.

If you were hearing the readings for Year A, because the scrutiny was being celebrated, or because they’d been chosen for pastoral reasons, the first reading you heard was from Ezekiel, and it appears at the end of this blog.

The reading from Jeremiah was the following:

See, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel (and the House of Judah), but not a covenant like the one I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant of mine, so I had to show them who was master. It is the Lord who speaks. No, this is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel when those days arrive – it is the Lord who speaks. Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. Then I will be their God and they shall be my people. There will be no further need for neighbour to try to teach neighbour, or brother to say to brother, ‘Learn to know the Lord!’ No, they will all know me, the least no less than the greatest – it is the Lord who speaks – since I will forgive their iniquity and never call their sin to mind.

Jeremiah 31:31-34

The first reading sums it all up. In the covenant God seeks us out and holds us close, and in that closeness and love all will be well for us and the whole world. Long ways to go yet, but its begun and it will happen.

The reading holds comfort and challenge. The comfort of the promise of God’s faithfulness. The challenge because that faithfulness is tested by ‘our’ unfaithfulness. The reading might  be memorised and used as a prayer, a meditation for use after receiving communion: a meditation on what I have received and what I am to live. As we come to the end of Lent it might be used in an examination of conscience to prepare for confession: where, how have I broken covenant.

The language and the concepts of the passage are not necessarily everyday language and concepts. ‘Covenant’ is not necessarily what we speak about over the cornflakes.

The story is told of a reader charged with proclaiming God’s word and reading this passage. Only they got the word wrong: ‘I will make them a new convenience… not a convenience like their fathers had which they broke, but a new and everlasting convenience…’

Now, a new and everlasting convenience might be very useful. But a new and everlasting covenant is even more important.

Covenant? The promise that love between us and God is forever.

The new and everlasting covenant is achieved in Jesus Christ. It is the form of the covenant than which nothing greater can be imagined – sealed in the Blood of the Lamb. A covenant that achieves atonement for the sins of the world.

At-one-ment: God’s gift, our privilege and our vocation.

Photograph of frescoes of prophets and patriarchs, and held safe in their arms and laps, others of the faithful of God. Desert monastery, Egypt. (c) 2004, Allen Morris.

– – –

The Lord says this: I am now going to open your graves; I mean to raise you from your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel. And you will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, my people. And I shall put my spirit in you, and you will live, and I shall resettle you on your own soil; and you will know that I, the Lord, have said and done this – it is the Lord who speaks.

Ezekiel 37:12-14

Speak Lord: the gift of newness

slaveOn the 5th Sunday of Lent in Year B, the readings focus on renewal, newness achieved in the fulfilment of the purpose of the ‘old’, the seed germinating and producing its promised harvest.

As we enter the last stage of Lent, looking to the Lord, mindful of our incapacities and his readiness to make good for us, there is great hope and encouragement here.

The sequence of readings for Year A culminate in the great story of the raising of Lazarus – a powerful iteration of the theme. This sequence is available for use in any Year of the 3-year Lectionary cycle, and is required to be used when the 3rd scrutiny is celebrated. (The first reading of the sequence appears at the end of this post.)

See, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel (and the House of Judah), but not a covenant like the one I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant of mine, so I had to show them who was master. It is the Lord who speaks. No, this is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel when those days arrive – it is the Lord who speaks. Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. Then I will be their God and they shall be my people. There will be no further need for neighbour to try to teach neighbour, or brother to say to brother, ‘Learn to know the Lord!’ No, they will all know me, the least no less than the greatest – it is the Lord who speaks – since I will forgive their iniquity and never call their sin to mind.

Jeremiah 31:31-34

The love and the trust of the Lord is betrayed again and again. And again and again he shows love and trust by extending his mercy and forgiveness and inviting us back to wholeness and communion.

  • Where is your communion with the Lord weakest?
  • And with your brothers and sisters, your neighbours most fragile?
  • Pray for healing and wholeness as you continue, by the Lord’s grace, to travel to Easter glory, Easter joy.

Photograph of carving of slave/prisoner by Michelangelo, Louvres, Paris. (c) 2011, Allen Morris.

– – –

The Lord says this: I am now going to open your graves; I mean to raise you from your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel. And you will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, my people. And I shall put my spirit in you, and you will live, and I shall resettle you on your own soil; and you will know that I, the Lord, have said and done this – it is the Lord who speaks.

Ezekiel 37:12-14

Taste and See: The mercy of the Lord

 

Confessional, Lisieux

It is to be hoped that on Sunday we were not surprised by the response we sang to the psalm.

On the first Sunday of Lent what can we trust in, if not the faithfulness and love of God for those who keep the covenant?

Your ways, Lord, are faithfulness and love for those who keep your covenant.

Lord, make me know your ways.
Lord, teach me your paths.
Make me walk in your truth, and teach me:
for you are God my saviour.

Your ways, Lord, are faithfulness and love for those who keep your covenant.

Remember your mercy, Lord,
and the love you have shown from of old.
In your love remember me.
because of your goodness, O Lord.

Your ways, Lord, are faithfulness and love for those who keep your covenant.

The Lord is good and upright.
He shows the path to those who stray,
He guides the humble in the right path,
He teaches his way to the poor.

Your ways, Lord, are faithfulness and love for those who keep your covenant.

Psalm 24:4-6,7-9

What is remarkable is that God is faithfulness and love even for those who do not keep his covenant. As St Paul says, we may be unfaithful but God is always faithful.

It is in his great love that he calls us back to life, again and again. And in his great love that he offers us forgiveness and healing.

Photograph of the confessional where Therese of Lisieux celebrated the mercy of God, in the Cathedral of St Pierre, Lisieux. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

For a guide to the celebration of the sacrament of Confession click here.

Speak Lord: Of Covenant and Love

NoahThe first reading at Mass on Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent, reminds us of the covenant between God and all humankind – those who have survived the Great Flood.

God spoke to Noah and his sons, ‘See, I establish my Covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; also with every living creature to be found with you, birds, cattle and every wild beast with you: everything that came out of the ark, everything that lives on the earth. I establish my Covenant with you: no thing of flesh shall be swept away again by the waters of the flood. There shall be no flood to destroy the earth again.’

God said, ‘Here is the sign of the Covenant I make between myself and you and every living creature with you for all generations: I set my bow in the clouds and it shall be a sign of the Covenant between me and the earth. When I gather the clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, I will recall the Covenant between myself and you and every living creature of every kind. And so the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all things of flesh.’

Genesis 9:8-15

The Scriptures speak of other covenants too. That made with Abraham, and that with Moses, for example. In the New Testament a new covenant is established, made in the blood of Christ.

Each in their different way speaks of God’s love for his people. – but of them all those with Noah and that made in Jesus Christ are the most universal, directly available to all humankind.

In the recent re-translation of the words of Jesus quoted in the Eucharistic Prayer there can seem to be a restriction placed on the offer of universal salvation won for us by Jesus.

Take this, all of you, and drink from it,
for this is the Chalice of my Blood,
the Blood of the new and eternal Covenant,
which will be poured out for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in memory of me.

The ‘and for many’ implies some are saved and some are not, and that this is Christ’s will.

It surely is his will that we be saved by his love. But not all seem willing to receive such salvation and live by his love: there is is failure of engagement on their part, not by Christ.

As we continue our journey into Lent, and remember the love of God, let us pray for the humility to know our faults, and to accept the sure hope offered us by the Lord.

Photograph of carving at South Door, York Minster. (c) 2007, Allen Morris.