Taste and See: Has something happened? Has it?

St Paul Rome

The second reading at Mass on Sunday was taken from St Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.

For anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here.

It is all God’s work.

It was God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the work of handing on this reconciliation. In other words, God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not holding men’s faults against them, and he has entrusted to us the news that they are reconciled.

So we are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were appealing through us, and the appeal that we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled to God. For our sake God made the sinless one into sin, so that in him we might become the goodness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Sometimes the words of scripture are so familiar that we miss just how radical they are. Paul says ‘we are a new creation‘!

We may well not look it!!

But either Paul is mis-speaking, or we are not seeing something.

As Lent comes to an end, and as we approach the annual renewal of our baptismal promises, marking that moment, in baptism, when we became a new creation, we do well to pause and take stock.

  • Where do I resist newness and growth – even good newness and healthy growth?
  • Why?
  • What ‘earthly’ features linger?
  • Why?
  • Where are there signs of newness and growth?
  • What has encouraged and enabled them?

Pray to God for his continuing work on us, in us, and – even – through us: that his Kingdom may come and we may indeed be his new creation, truly faithful, fruitful, beloved children in Christ.

Detail from Principal Door to Basilica of St Paul outside the Walls, Rome. (c) 2016, Allen Morris

Taste and See: Flash of recognition – new in the old

Church of BeatitudesOn Sunday’s feast – the Solemnity of All Saints – the Gospel proclaimed was the familiar text of the Beatitudes.

Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the hill. There he sat down and was joined by his disciples. Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them:
‘How happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy the gentle:  they shall have the earth for their heritage.
Happy those who mourn: they shall be comforted.
Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right: they shall be satisfied.
Happy the merciful: they shall have mercy shown them.
Happy the pure in heart: they shall see God.
Happy the peacemakers: they shall be called sons of God.
Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right:
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.’

Matthew 5:1-12

In a world where new is often seen as better, or at least is ‘sold’ as such, there is something profoundly counter cultural about the preponderance of repetition in Christian worship and prayer.

And yet, for those with ears that listen, the experience of repetition, new encounters with the familiar, proves again and again that this old words have so much more to disclose to us. In our new hearing, that often enough seems like a first hearing, we encounter the profound truths of the living word.

  • What newly strikes you in the text today? Or struck you on Sunday?
  • Which beatitude most characterises your life as a disciple?
  • Which present you with most challenge?

Bring your reflections to God in prayer.

Interior of the Church of the Beatitudes, Galilee. Photograph (c) 2012, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: reborn by baptism

Font Toledo

The second reading for Mass on Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent, reminded us of the mystery of baptism. Prefigured in the old covenant with Noah, it is now fulfilled in the sacrament that makes us one with Christ, in the unity of his Body, the Church.

Christ himself, innocent though he was, had died once for sins, died for the guilty, to lead us to God. In the body he was put to death, in the spirit he was raised to life, and, in the spirit, he went to preach to the spirits in prison. Now it was long ago, when Noah was still building that ark which saved only a small group of eight people ‘by water’, and when God was still waiting patiently, that these spirits refused to believe.

That water is a type of the baptism which saves you now, and which is not the washing off of physical dirt but a pledge made to God from a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has entered heaven and is at God’s right hand, now that he has made the angels and Dominations and Powers his subjects.

1 Peter 3:18-22

The simplicity of the Rite of Baptism, washing in water, anointing with oil, lighting a candle and dressing in white, both hides and reveals the new life we receive, the new Creation we become part of.

  • For what renewal of life are you workig and praying in Lent this year?

Photograph is a font and baptistery in Toledo, Spain. (c) 2003, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: The New Day

 

Meadows, Oxford

The Gospel  for the 2nd Sunday of the Year, in Year B, comes from the Gospel of John, (rather than ‘the Gospel of the Year’ – namely, Mark’s Gospel).

John stood with two of his disciples, Jesus passed, and John stared hard at him and said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God.’ Hearing this, the two disciples followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, ‘What do you want?’ They answered, ‘Rabbi,’ – which means Teacher –’where do you live?’ ‘Come and see’ he replied; so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him the rest of that day. It was about the tenth hour.

One of these two who became followers of Jesus after hearing what John had said was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. Early next morning, Andrew met his brother and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ – which means the Christ – and he took Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked hard at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John; you are to be called Cephas’ – meaning Rock.

John 1:35-42

The narrative is tightly and sparely told. Beyond the essentials of the story there is use of titles to describe Jesus which function as short-hand (or teasers?) for his meaning. There is care to name some of the persons featured in the narratives, and to explain the meaning of Rabbi.

There is one detail which seems redundant, but some have suggested is a key to the symbolic meaning of the passage – and John is keen on on his symbols.

‘It was about the tenth hour’. ‘About 4pm’ says the note in one edition of the Bible.

Other commentators see this as suggesting that the visit to where Jesus lived began at sundown, and on a Friday. (‘In my beginning is my end…’) They arrive as shabbat begins, and the rest of the day that they spend with Jesus is the full length of the shabbat.

They arrive, in other words, on the last day of the week, the 7th day, the day of rest. They arise to leave on what Jews call the first day of the week, and Christians have variously called the Lord’s Day, the eighth day (interesting concept when the week ordinarily has eight days!), or more prosaically, Sunday. In their encounter with him, which allows Andrew to know the Jesus, the Lamb of God as the anointed one of God, the Saviour, they enter into the new creation won by the Paschal Death and Rising, and shared more usually through the sacrament of Baptism.

  • Where is newness and creativity experienced in your life today?
  • Who might you point towards Jesus today?

Photograph of Christchurch, Oxford, in the early morning (according to the Latin way of counting time!). (C) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: of resurrection and the new creation

Holy Sepulchre4

The second reading at Mass tomorrow, the feast of Christ the King, comes from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. One of the most wide-ranging and interesting of the letters of the New Testament, that first letter to the Corinthians contains this following extraordinarily confident statement of the meaning and implication of Christ’s resurrection.

This is no one ‘thing’, a one-off event, happening to one man. This is life changing for all, the dawn of a new creation, in which the old creation finds the most extraordinary renewal.

Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep. Death came through one man and in the same way the resurrection of the dead has come through one man. Just as all men die in Adam, so all men will be brought to life in Christ; but all of them in their proper order: Christ as the first-fruits and then, after the coming of Christ, those who belong to him.

After that will come the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, having done away with every sovereignty, authority and power. For he must be king until he has put all his enemies under his feet and the last of the enemies to be destroyed is death, for everything is to be put under his feet. And when everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will be subject in his turn to the One who subjected all things to him, so that God may be all in all.

1 Corinthians 15:20-26,28

And we are part of this event. First by the offer of this newness to all creation. Second by the decision to respond to the offer which is sealed in Baptism, and deepened in Confirmation, and constantly nourished in Eucharist. Third, by God’s grace and our striving, to do what we can to live this new life even in this old world: waiting, working – even in fits and starts – for its completion and fulfilment when the kingdom is achieved on earth as in heaven, and all is one and all is God’s.

  • What step to newness could you take today?
  • What step are you tempted you say is too far, too hard, too much?

Photograph of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. (c) 2012, Allen Morris.  Please pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and for the Westminster pilgrims presently on pilgrimage there.

Taste and See: To live as children of the light…

 

Assisi spirit

The Second reading for last Sunday’s Mass, the 33rd Sunday of the Year, continues to offer food for the formation of the Christian spirit, and the nourishment of the Christian life.

You will not be expecting us to write anything to you, brothers, about ‘times and seasons’, since you know very well that the Day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night. It is when people are saying, ‘How quiet and peaceful it is’ that the worst suddenly happens, as suddenly as labour pains come on a pregnant woman; and there will be no way for anybody to evade it.

But it is not as if you live in the dark, my brothers, for that Day to overtake you like a thief. No, you are all sons of light and sons of the day: we do not belong to the night or to darkness, so we should not go on sleeping, as everyone else does, but stay wide awake and sober.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-6

The shocking news of the killings in Jerusalem yesterday, and the shocking news that preceded it from so many other places in the world of suffering and hatred and cruelty is surely a great darkness. It can so easily overwhelm us and make us too into children of the night and darkness, lashing out at the ‘enemy’ and failing to recognise in them the features of a brother or sister, a child of God.

But by our calling, and by our baptism, we are children of the light, children of the new day, and of the new creation. Reborn with Christ on the first day, that is also the eighth day, filled with newness and hope, we are to be ministers of his peace to others.

How challenging is that given our own weaknesses and prejudices, and the challenges that the darkness sets before us again and again.

  • Today is given us for life. What darkness in you do you ask the Lord to drive away with his gentle but powerful light?
  • What darkness in your home or place of work do you need to carry his light to, for the sake of others?

Photograph of fresco representing the Holy Spirit, Basilica of St Francis, Assisi. (c) 2014, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Of the new life you gift to us

 

Lateran basilica interior

The readings of yesterday’s feast, the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, had much to say of washing, renewal, purification, re-generation. That work of God to make us new is our confidence as we do our best to live life well, by his grace and strength. Our efforts are sustained in a particular way by the grace received in Holy Baptism.

The waters of a river give joy to God’s city, the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is for us a refuge and strength,
a helper close at hand, in time of distress,
so we shall not fear though the earth should rock,
though the mountains fall into the depths of the sea.

The waters of a river give joy to God’s city, the holy place where the Most High dwells.

The waters of a river give joy to God’s city,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within, it cannot be shaken;
God will help it at the dawning of the day.

The waters of a river give joy to God’s city, the holy place where the Most High dwells.

The Lord of hosts is with us:
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
Come, consider the works of the Lord,
the redoubtable deeds he has done on the earth.

The waters of a river give joy to God’s city, the holy place where the Most High dwells.

Psalm 45:2-3,5-6,8-9

In the baptistery of St John Lateran there is a famous and ancient text written high above the font.

Lateran basilica detail

Composed in the 430s in Latin couplets by Pope Sixtus III in the 430s, in English translation it reads:

Here is born in Spirit-soaked fertility
a brood destined for another City,
begotten by God’s blowing
and borne upon this torrent
by the Church their virgin mother.
Reborn in these depths they reach for
heaven’s realm,
the born-but-once unknown by felicity.
This spring is life that floods the world,
the wounds of Christ its awesome source,
Sinner sink beneath this sacred surf
that swallows age and spits out youth.
Sinner here scour away down to innocence,
for they know no enmity who are by
one font, one Spirit, one faith made one.
Sinner, shudder not at sin’s kind and number,
for those born here are holy.

Translation by Aidan Kavanagh, OSB in The Shape of Baptism: The Rite of Christian Initiation, p49f).

  • From what do you still need to be set free? Bring that needs to the Lord in prayer?
  • For what has he given you the new life of baptism? How will you live that today?

Photographs of the baptistery of the Lateran Basilica  (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Of newness and life

Lateran baptistry

The psalm for  Sunday’s feast, the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica returns us to the theme of water, especially to the purifying waters of baptism.

The waters of a river give joy to God’s city, the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is for us a refuge and strength,
a helper close at hand, in time of distress,
so we shall not fear though the earth should rock,
though the mountains fall into the depths of the sea.

The waters of a river give joy to God’s city, the holy place where the Most High dwells.

The waters of a river give joy to God’s city,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within, it cannot be shaken;
God will help it at the dawning of the day.

The waters of a river give joy to God’s city, the holy place where the Most High dwells.

The Lord of hosts is with us:
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
Come, consider the works of the Lord,
the redoubtable deeds he has done on the earth.

The waters of a river give joy to God’s city, the holy place where the Most High dwells.

Psalm 45:2-3,5-6,8-9

The fundamental identity of Christians, baptised by Christ (through the agency of the baptising minister) and baptised into Christ, is Christ. Apart from each other we are members of his body, but together we are his body, the Church.

In this month of November we remember, of course, that the we who are Church are not only the ‘we’ who read this blog, or form a particular congregation. Far too small a ‘we’ are those groups to claim to be Christ’s Body. The ‘we’ that is his body is the community that extends across the ages, and includes the communion of saints. The Church, in heaven and on earth, of all ages, we in our present particularities, we are privileged to be members of that far greater whole.

The psalm encourages us to great confidence.

  • For what do you need courage today?

Pray to the Lord that you may be mindful of his love and strength and protection as you proceed through this new day.

One of the most notable features of the Lateran complex in Rome is its baptistry. Built at the same time as the original basilica in the time of Constantine, it was refashioned as an octagonal -shaped brick building in the 430s and stood pretty much unchanged since then, apart from a few chapels added to its exterior : a remarkable survival.

Why octagonal? A sign of the Resurrection – which took place on the first day of a new week. 7 + 1= 8. The 8th Day – the first day of the new Creation.

Beyond their symbolising the number ‘8’, the plain exterior walls of the building give little  hint of the beauty and the power of the mysteries enacted therein. The interior decoration is something else though. Look out for more pictures over the coming days.

Photograph (c) 2014, Allen Morris.