Taste and See: endurance and hope

 

Paul, St Paul os the Walls

The First Reading at Mass on Sunday, the 5th Sunday of Easter, came from the Acts of the Apostles and told of the completion of St Paul’s first missionary journey (together with Barnabas). It includes a lot of place names and is almost just the itinerary of their journey. But there is more…

Paul and Barnabas went back through Lystra and Iconium to Antioch. They put fresh heart into the disciples, encouraging them to persevere in the faith. ‘We all have to experience many hardships’ they said ‘before we enter the kingdom of God.’ In each of these churches they appointed elders, and with prayer and fasting they commended them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.

They passed through Pisidia and reached Pamphylia. Then after proclaiming the word at Perga they went down to Attalia and from there sailed for Antioch, where they had originally been commended to the grace of God for the work they had now completed.

On their arrival they assembled the church and gave an account of all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith to the pagans.

Acts 14:21-27

In itself the list of place names should  give contemporary Christians pause for thought, and pause for prayer. These are places in modern day Turkey, a country currently housing 2.7 million refugees from Syria.

What also should give pause for thought and prayer is the example Paul and Barnabas set for their support of the new Christian communities they have established, and the putting in place of elders: in these ways, and by their own example, resourcing the local Church to endure hardship and remain faithful.

  • Who do we resource and how?
  • What is the example we give?
  • To whom do we give account of what God has done with us?

St Paul, servant-slave, preaching the Gospel. Basilica of St Paul outside the Walls, Rome. (c) 2016, Allen Morris

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Speak Lord: Help us sing a new song

Music angels

Tomorrow, the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, we sing a song repeating the ancient encouragement to God’s gathered people to know the wonders of the Lord and to proclaim them to those who without our witness of  (might) lack eyes to see and ears to hear

Proclaim the wonders of the Lord among all the peoples.

O sing a new song to the Lord,
sing to the Lord all the earth.
O sing to the Lord, bless his name.

Proclaim the wonders of the Lord among all the peoples.

Proclaim his help day by day,
tell among the nations his glory
and his wonders among all the peoples.

Proclaim the wonders of the Lord among all the peoples.

Give the Lord, you families of peoples,
give the Lord glory and power;
give the Lord the glory of his name.

Proclaim the wonders of the Lord among all the peoples.

Worship the Lord in his temple.
O earth, tremble before him.
Proclaim to the nations: ‘God is king.’
He will judge the peoples in fairness.

Proclaim the wonders of the Lord among all the peoples.

Psalm 95:1-3,7-10

Our faith, our insight into the workings of God is (at least in part, and arguably in largest measure) given us not for our own benefit but for the benefit of all. A silent Israel, a silent Church, is barely tolerable: we have a work to do.

  • What are the wonders of the Lord?
  • Where is his help evident to you?
  • To whom did you last share the good news?
  • To whom will you next share the good news?

Music making Angels. Church of the Holy Name, Manchester. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Peace and trust

Emmaus, Arles

The Gospel reading on Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Easter, is the sequel to the reading of the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and their encounter with the risen Lord.

The disciples told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised him at the breaking of bread.

They were still talking about all this when he himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you!’ In a state of alarm and fright, they thought they were seeing a ghost. But he said, ‘Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet; yes, it is I indeed. Touch me and see for yourselves; a ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have.’ And as he said this he showed them his hands and feet. Their joy was so great that they still could not believe it, and they stood there dumbfounded; so he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ And they offered him a piece of grilled fish, which he took and ate before their eyes.

Then he told them, ‘This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms has to be fulfilled.’ He then opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘So you see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.

Luke 24:35-48

Two remarkable things about this account. The first is the eagerness of the disciples to share the good news with others – or at least among themselves, in this case. The second is how despite knowing him risen the disciples find themselves paralysed and incapable.

  • When did you last bear witness to the mystery of the Lord’s Resurrection?
  • What causes you to pause and stumble in your life as a Christian?

Bring the fruit of your reflection in prayer to the Lord

Image of Emmaus from St Trophime, Arles. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Sow the seed, serve the harvest

Coptic 1The gospel reading for the 5th Sunday of Lent, Year B, comes from the Gospel of John, and includes both affirmation of Jesus being Son of God, and anticipation of his death.

On this Sunday if the third scrutiny is being celebrated the gospel reading for Year A – the raising of Lazarus – must be used. It appears at the end of this post. The Year A cycle is an alternative which may be used this Sunday, even when the scrutiny is not celebrated, should there be reason to use it.

Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. These approached Philip, who came from Bethsaida in Galilee, and put this request to him, ‘Sir, we should like to see Jesus.’ Philip went to tell Andrew, and Andrew and Philip together went to tell Jesus. Jesus replied to them:

‘Now the hour has come
for the Son of Man to be glorified.
I tell you, most solemnly,
unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies,
it remains only a single grain;
but if it dies,
it yields a rich harvest.
Anyone who loves his life loses it;
anyone who hates his life in this world
will keep it for the eternal life.
If a man serves me, he must follow me,
wherever I am, my servant will be there too.
If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.
Now my soul is troubled.
What shall I say:
Father, save me from this hour?
But it was for this very reason that I have come to this hour.
Father, glorify your name!’

A voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ People standing by, who heard this, said it was a clap of thunder; others said, ‘It was an angel speaking to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not for my sake that this voice came, but for yours.

‘Now sentence is being passed on this world;
now the prince of this world is to be overthrown.
And when I am lifted up from the earth,
I shall draw all men to myself.’

By these words he indicated the kind of death he would die.

John 12:20-33

In the death of Jesus we are helped to new life. His dying bears much fruit, and the faithful – and the yet to be faithful – are part of that harvest. We have much to be grateful for.

At the beginning of the Gospel passage ‘some Greeks’ want to ‘see’ Jesus.

John is somewhat suspicious of just ‘sight, and ‘signs’. These externals can be entertainment, spectacle only. They do not necessarily lead us anywhere.

With Jesus there inevitably are signs and sights, but what is more important is the innerness of Jesus, and our developing, deepening relationship with him.

Sent by the Greeks, the disciples not only see but meet Jesus and are privileged with a disclosure of his inner life and it’s meaning, for him and for us. The passage also includes a further disclosure of Jesus’ relationship with his Father.

It may be odd, but John does not tell us whether the Greeks get to see Jesus, let alone to meet him. 2000 years on, it’s perhaps not so important. What is, is whether or not we meet and grow in relationship with him.

We are offered precious and intimate access to Jesus, both in this passage and still more in the liturgies and devotions of Holy Week. They are opportunities to walk, talk and rest with him. Let us resolve today to make the most of them.

And maybe to prepare, today, by finding time to pause and ponder more the scripture passage just read.

What in particular struck us? How? Why? Stay with the sentence, phrase, word: let it speak, let it quieten the world around you so you might hear more clearly what the Lord says to you in and through it?

At the end of your time of meditation consider what you have learnt. Consider your reaction to that, and let that help you prepare a prayer of  intercession and thanksgiving to the living and loving Lord.

Photograph of interior of Coptic Church, Egypt. (c) 2004, Allen Morris. Please pray for the Christian communities of Egypt. Much challenged by persecution and violence, may faith flourish in them for their good and the good of their nation.

– – –

There was a man named Lazarus who lived in the village of Bethany with the two sisters, Mary and Martha, and he was ill. It was the same Mary, the sister of the sick man Lazarus, who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair. The sisters sent this message to Jesus, ‘Lord, the man you love is ill.’ On receiving the message, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified.’
Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, yet when he heard that Lazarus was ill he stayed where he was for two more days before saying to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judaea.’ The disciples said, ‘Rabbi, it is not long since the Jews wanted to stone you; are you going back again?’ Jesus replied:

‘Are there not twelve hours in the day?
A man can walk in the daytime without stumbling
because he has the light of this world to see by;
but if he walks at night he stumbles,
because there is no light to guide him.’

He said that and then added, ‘Our friend Lazarus is resting, I am going to wake him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he is able to rest he is sure to get better.’ The phrase Jesus used referred to the death of Lazarus, but they thought that by ‘rest’ he meant ‘sleep’, so Jesus put it plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad I was not there because now you will believe. But let us go to him.’ Then Thomas – known as the Twin – said to the other disciples, ‘Let us go too, and die with him.’

On arriving, Jesus found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days already. Bethany is only about two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to sympathise with them over their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus had come she went to meet him. Mary remained sitting in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that, even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you.’ ‘Your brother’ said Jesus to her ‘will rise again.’ Martha said, ‘I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said:

‘I am the resurrection and the life.
If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live,
and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?’

‘Yes, Lord,’ she said ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.’
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in a low voice, ‘The Master is here and wants to see you.’ Hearing this, Mary got up quickly and went to him. Jesus had not yet come into the village; he was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were in the house sympathising with Mary saw her get up so quickly and go out, they followed her, thinking that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
Mary went to Jesus, and as soon as she saw him she threw herself at his feet, saying, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ At the sight of her tears, and those of the Jews who followed her, Jesus said in great distress, with a sigh that came straight from the heart, ‘Where have you put him?’ They said, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept; and the Jews said, ‘See how much he loved him!’ But there were some who remarked, ‘He opened the eyes of the blind man, could he not have prevented this man’s death?’

Still sighing, Jesus reached the tomb: it was a cave with a stone to close the opening. Jesus said, ‘Take the stone away.’ Martha said to him, ‘Lord, by now he will smell; this is the fourth day.’ Jesus replied, ‘Have I not told you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. Then Jesus lifted up his eyes and said:

‘Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer.
I knew indeed that you always hear me,
but I speak for the sake of all these who stand round me,
so that they may believe it was you who sent me.’

When he had said this, he cried in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, here! Come out!’ The dead man came out, his feet and hands bound with bands of stuff and a cloth round his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, let him go free.’
Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what he did believed in him.

John 11:1-45

Speak Lord: Bearing witness, bearing fruit.

The first reading at Mass on Sunday comes again from the Acts of the Apostles, the New Testament book that, during Easter, supplants the Old Testament reading at Sunday Mass.

Philip went to a Samaritan town and proclaimed the Christ to them. The people united in welcoming the message Philip preached, either because they had heard of the miracles he worked or because they saw them for themselves. There were, for example, unclean spirits that came shrieking out of many who were possessed, and several paralytics and cripples were cured. As a result there was great rejoicing in that town.

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, and they went down there, and prayed for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit, for as yet he had not come down on any of them: they had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Acts 8:5-8,14-17

The tension between Jews and Samaritans seems to have been a significant one. Thus the oppositions set up in the parable of the Good Samaritan between key figures from the Jewish religious establishment, and the Samaritan traveller (merchant?); and also the exceptional nature and therefore the frisson of the encounter between Jesus and the woman of Samaria, that was heard on the 3rd Sunday of Lent.

Jesus, in his person and in his teaching, becomes a place for reconciliation between Jew and Samaritan.

But as we surely know prejudice and suspicion have a way of lingering long after we have ‘learnt better’ When Philip goes to Samaria, he is surely going to a place that is looked upon suspiciously by many of his acquaintance, and that must have seemed – at least to them – unpromising territory for the flourishing of gospel life.

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Yet how inhospitable the ‘obvious’ place of Jerusalem, Judea and Galilee had proved. And how open to the gospel the people of Samaria show themselves to be.

  • Where is the gospel preached today and where is it not?
  • Where is it heard today and where is it not?
  • When do you find it easier to hear and respond to God’s word?

Pray for Pope Francis as he prepares for his visit to the Holy Land.

Where it exists may suspicion and fear between Christians, Jews and Muslims be replaced by a new and mutual trusting in the love and mercy of God.

Through his words and actions may Pope Francis inspire still more to commit themselves to love of neighbour, as well as love of God.

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Images:

  • A view from the summit of Mount Gerizim, down to modern day Nablus – the centre of biblical Samaria. (c) Allen Morris
  • A tapestry of the Holy Spirit, inspiring the Church. Photograph (c) Allen Morris