Speak Lord: Our abiding hope

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Through our Lord Jesus Christ, by faith we are judged righteous and at peace with God, since it is by faith and through Jesus that we have entered this state of grace in which we can boast about looking forward to God’s glory.

And this hope is not deceptive, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given us. We were still helpless when at his appointed moment Christ died for sinful men.

It is not easy to die even for a good man – though of course for someone really worthy, a man might be prepared to die – but what proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners.

Romans 5:1-2,5-8

On the third Sunday of Lent we remember again the gift we receive from Christ: from his Incarnation, his ministry, his Passion, his Death and his Resurrection, his rising again to life and continuing in his living with and for us.

This gift gives us hope, purpose, and dreiction for our Lenten journey, and for our greater life. We live not alone, but in communion, and we live by Christ.

A pilgrim pauses at the Holy Door at St John Lateran, Rome, during the Year of Mercy 20115-16. (c) 2016, Allen Morris

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Speak Lord: Healing Lord

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Let the wilderness and the dry-lands exult,
let the wasteland rejoice and bloom,
let it bring forth flowers like the jonquil,
let it rejoice and sing for joy.

The glory of Lebanon is bestowed on it,
the splendour of Carmel and Sharon;
they shall see the glory of the Lord,
the splendour of our God.

Strengthen all weary hands,
steady all trembling knees
and say to all faint hearts,
‘Courage! Do not be afraid.

‘Look, your God is coming,
vengeance is coming,
the retribution of God;
he is coming to save you.’

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
the ears of the deaf unsealed,
then the lame shall leap like a deer
and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy
for those the Lord has ransomed shall return.

They will come to Zion shouting for joy,
everlasting joy on their faces;
joy and gladness will go with them
and sorrow and lament be ended.

Isaiah 35:1-6,10

Approaching Christmas we may think we know exactly what we are preparing to celebrate. And the horizon of faith may be limited only to the celebration of the Incarnation and the birth of Jesus. (Only?!)

Advent – especially through its readings, reminds us of the newness that is still to come that we are not yet aware of, and that we learn afresh to long for as we listen to the readings.

Today, the 2nd Sunday of Advent the prophet Isaiah speaks of the most wondrous changes, reversals, healings and fulfilments. These are for us, and by God’s grace are to come about even by our cooperation with his grace.

  • Which image grabs you?
  • Which change do you most long for?
  • How will you pray or work for it in the coming hours and days?

Healing. Vatican Museum. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.

Jerusalem Wall

Yesterday, the 14th Sunday of the Year, the first reading came from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.

At a time when Jerusalem was sacked and its people deported, the prophet evoked Jerusalem as a place of health and restoration, of hopes and dreams not dashed or still-born, but fulfilled.

Rejoice, Jerusalem,
be glad for her, all you who love her!
Rejoice, rejoice for her,
all you who mourned her!

That you may be suckled, filled,
from her consoling breast,
that you may savour with delight
her glorious breasts.

For thus says the Lord:
Now towards her I send flowing
peace, like a river,
and like a stream in spate
the glory of the nations.

At her breast will her nurslings be carried
and fondled in her lap.
Like a son comforted by his mother
will I comfort you.
And by Jerusalem you will be comforted.

At the sight your heart will rejoice,
and your bones flourish like the grass.
To his servants the Lord will reveal his hand.

Isaiah 66:10-14

The current division of Jerusalem – Israeli/Palestinian – remains a contradiction of those hopes. The people of Jerusalem are separated from one another by the visible sign of the wall and checkpoints, but also by fear and suspicion and hate.

The current division of Jerusalem also reminds of the importance that those hopes still retain for us – that hate and fear be overcome, that we find together common purpose in love of God and love of neighbour and fulfilment of our own human potential in and through this love. As yesterday’s Gospel assured: ”The kingdom of God is very near to you.’

So near and yet still seeming so far.

The hateful divisions and continued atrocities that take place in and around Jerusalem need to serve as a check to our rejoicing, a damper on any celebration of God’s power and glory and  the promise it holds for us. But they also need to serve as encouragement for us to work for something better, for all God’s children.

In addition the political/religious/moral and economic divisions which we see out there may also represent the sort of divisions that may be in all of us. The reality of the exterior world may help us to acknowledge our inner predicaments too. Maybe there are parts of our lives we are happy to  be seen and known, and that there are parts we seek to keep in shadow, suppress and hide from God, others, ourselves; deny to God, others, ourselves.

Hope, and healing and reconciliation are called for here too.

Isaiah calls us to hope now, though he places the fulfilment of God’s promises in the future. But, now, he calls Jerusalem, and us, to rejoice on the strength of what will be.

What needs to change? What do we look forward to? What part might we play in the coming closer yet of God’s kingdom?.

  • What do you hide?
  • What do you fear
  • What do you hate in others and why?
  • What might they hate in you and why?

View over Palestinian community in the Kedron valley, Jerusalem towards the wall of separation and Israeli settlements.  (c) 2013, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Of newness, of hope

Jerusalem sunrise

The second reading on Sunday, the 5th Sunday of Easter, sets before us a vision of newness, a restoration that exceeds the quality of the first-made

I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth; the first heaven and the first earth had disappeared now, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the holy city, and the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, as beautiful as a bride all dressed for her husband. Then I heard a loud voice call from the throne, ‘You see this city? Here God lives among men. He will make his home among them; they shall be his people, and he will be their God; his name is God-with-them. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness. The world of the past has gone.’
Then the One sitting on the throne spoke: ‘Now I am making the whole of creation new.’

Apocalypse 21:1-5

  • What do you mourn for?
  • What saddens you?
  • What newness do you yearn for? For yourself? For others?
  • How will you participate with God’s work of new creation? How do you participate in this work?

Jerusalem sunrise. (c) 2013, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: To help us speak

Paul's Place

Today is the 4th Sunday of Easter, and the first reading comes from the Acts of the Apostles. It tells of the missionary work of Paul and Barnabas in what is modern-day Turkey.

Paul and Barnabas carried on from Perga till they reached Antioch in Pisidia. Here they went to synagogue on the Sabbath and took their seats.

When the meeting broke up many Jews and devout converts joined Paul and Barnabas, and in their talks with them Paul and Barnabas urged them to remain faithful to the grace God had given them.

The next sabbath almost the whole town assembled to hear the word of God. When they saw the crowds, the Jews, prompted by jealousy, used blasphemies and contradicted everything Paul said. Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly. ‘We had to proclaim the word of God to you first, but since you have rejected it, since you do not think yourselves worthy of eternal life, we must turn to the pagans. For this is what the Lord commanded us to do when he said:

I have made you a light for the nations,
so that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.’

It made the pagans very happy to hear this and they thanked the Lord for his message; all who were destined for eternal life became believers. Thus the word of the Lord spread through the whole countryside.

But the Jews worked upon some of the devout women of the upper classes and the leading men of the city and persuaded them to turn against Paul and Barnabas and expel them from their territory. So they shook the dust from their feet in defiance and went off to Iconium; but the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.

Acts 13:14,43-52

One of the ways in which the Bible, and the Church’s reading of it, helps us today is by preserving and re-telling stories of failure. The Old Testament and the New Testament are full of stories of people failing to understand, failing to follow through if they do seem to understand, confronting opposition and persecution. These negatives really ought  never to come as a surprise when we encounter them in our lives, ministry or mission today. They are par for the course. Indeed Martin Luther claimed ‘persecution’ as one of the marks of the Church, alongside ‘One’, ‘Holy’, ‘Catholic’ and ‘Apostolic’ – though perhaps that was special-pleading.

The bigger picture of the Bible’s story and stories is of God’s over-arching love and mercy that calls us on, and offers protection, encouragement, hope even in greatest darkness.

In today’s reading Paul and Barnabas respond to opposition with apparently immediate joy. We may be a little slower to admit joy into our hearts, but please God we will never keep at at bay for too long.

  • What challenges do you face?
  • What helps you?
  • What undermines you?

Window and place of proclamation of the word at Paul’s Place, an evangelical centre in Antalya, Turkey. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

 

Speak Lord: hope present, present hope

Saints Chora Church, Istanbul

The second reading at Mass this coming Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Easter, comes again from the book of Apocalypse.

I, John, saw a huge number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language; they were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands. One of the elders said, ‘These are the people who have been through the great persecution, and because they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb, they now stand in front of God’s throne and serve him day and night in his sanctuary; and the One who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. They will never hunger or thirst again; neither the sun nor scorching wind will ever plague them, because the Lamb who is at the throne will be their shepherd and will lead them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away all tears from their eyes.’
Apocalypse 7:9,14-17

The gathering of the faithful, faithful despite persecution and trial, embraced by care, symbolises the Church. The assurance of future bliss offers encouragement in our present trials and stresses.

  • For what do you hunger or thirst?
  • What brings tears to your eyes?
  • What present comfort or encouragement do you find in faith?

Saints of the Church, Chora Church, Istanbul. (c) 2002, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Hope and help

Hope Grasse

The Psalm sung on Sunday, the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, confessed the Lord to be our help. In doing so we professed our vulnerability, our need, our present contingence.

My lips will tell of your help.

In you, O Lord, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me, free me:
pay heed to me and save me.

My lips will tell of your help.

Be a rock where I can take refuge,
a mighty stronghold to save me;
for you are my rock, my stronghold.
Free me from the hand of the wicked.

My lips will tell of your help.

It is you, O Lord, who are my hope,
my trust, O Lord, since my youth.
On you I have leaned from my birth,
from my mother’s womb you have been my help.

My lips will tell of your help.

My lips will tell of your justice
and day by day of your help.
O God, you have taught me from my youth
and I proclaim your wonders still.

My lips will tell of your help.

Psalm 70:1-6,15,17

In just over a week’s time we begin the season of Lent a time when we face up to our temptations and weaknesses, even to challenge them, to seek to overcome them. In doing this we wish to demonstrate our freedom of them, either by our resilience and deliberate act, or – if we fail! – by turning to the Lord and his mercy, and his power, in a new awareness of the importance of his victory over sin and death.

But whether we succeed in keeping our Lenten penance and fasts, we seek to know more keenly and confess more readily that his is the glory, our salvation comes only through him.

  • Where are we bound? Imprisoned? Heading?

Carving, Grasse, France. (c) 2007, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Our strength, our hope.

Strength, St IsaacThe first reading for Mass today, the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time, comes from the prophet Jeremiah.

In the days of Josiah, the word of the Lord was addressed to me, saying:

‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
before you came to birth I consecrated you;
I have appointed you as prophet to the nations.

‘So now brace yourself for action.
Stand up and tell them
all I command you.
Do not be dismayed at their presence,
or in their presence I will make you dismayed.

‘I, for my part, today will make you
into a fortified city,
a pillar of iron,
and a wall of bronze
to confront all this land:
the kings of Judah, its princes,
its priests and the country people.
They will fight against you
but shall not overcome you,
for I am with you to deliver you –
it is the Lord who speaks.’

Jeremiah 1:4-5,17-19

The prophet receives the word of the Lord that reminds of Israel’s and thus the prophet’s vocation and calling, to be the chosen people, faithful to God, a witness to the nations.

The first reading prepares us for the Gospel in which Israel in Nazareth refuses its calling and rebels against its calling, and its God.

The first reading also prepares us to contemplate the vocation of God in the flesh, strong in his witness, and even in death triumphant in his faithful love.

  • When/how do you rely on the strength of the Lord?
  • For what do you hope in him?

Detail of Door of St Isaac’s Cathedral, St Petersburg. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Renovation

At Work.jpgThe Gospel reading yesterday, the second Sunday of Advent, spoke of healing and being made new. It spoke to the exile and alienation of the People of God, and of all people. It offered hope and wholeness.

In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the lands of Ituraea and Trachonitis, Lysanias tetrach of Abilene, during the pontificate of Annas and Caiaphas the word of God came to John son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. He went through the whole Jordan district proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the sayings of the prophet Isaiah:

‘A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled in,
every mountain and hill be laid low,
winding ways will be straightened
and rough roads made smooth.
And all mankind shall see the salvation of God.’

Luke 3:1-6

The Bible is, necessarily, a book that makes great use of metaphor.

In our day, talk of ‘Every valley being filled in, every mountain and hill  laid low, winding ways straightened, and rough roads made smooth.’ might have us wondering about the planning applications that would need to be made and the protests about safeguarding the environment. And quite right too.

However think of the objections we raise when we ourselves are called to reform and renewal. Often they are a misguided form of self-protection, not helping us but keeping us at a (sadly) safe distance from God’s healing and newness and mercy.

The metaphor of highway building is just that, a metaphor. The real change needed, offered, is in us that we might be helped to come closer to God’s presence, helped to be re-fashioned in the image of his Son. That this might happen to us as individuals and as Church.

How we hesitate, how we seeks to frustrate the plan. How we need a Year of Mercy.

  • What do you fear?
  • What do you hope for?
  • Where are God’s plans in all this?

Photo. Work site in Vancouver. (c) 2008, Allen Morris.

 

Speak Lord: Strengthen our hope

Slave, LouvreThe responsorial psalm that is set for tomorrow (though it may be replaced by one of the seasonal psalms – see p 950 of Lectionary I) speaks of freedom from bondage.

What marvels the Lord worked for us! Indeed we were glad.

When the Lord delivered Zion from bondage,
it seemed like a dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
on our lips there were songs.

The heathens themselves said: ‘What marvels
the Lord worked for them!’
What marvels the Lord worked for us!
Indeed we were glad.

Deliver us, O Lord, from our bondage
as streams in dry land.
Those who are sowing in tears
will sing when they reap.

They go out, they go out, full of tears,
carrying seed for the sowing:
they come back, they come back, full of song,
carrying their sheaves.

Psalm 125:1-6

Israel was enslaved at various stages in her history – in Egypt before she was fully a people, in Babylon, enduring persecution in years since. Israel serves as a type (and anticipation) of all people everywhere. Again and again we know oppression – and again and again we may be source of oppression for others.

The Lord offers us freedom and urges us to offer to be agents of freedom for others. The challenges to both of these things are of course enormous. Our own faults and the attitudes and actions of others militate against the promptings of grace.

Yet the psalm reminds of the goodness of freedom, and the joy. Advent encourages us to hope and try, despite everything.

Slaves by Michelangelo. Louvre, Paris. (c) 2011, Allen Morris