THE GLORIFIED LORD
To the shout of triumph God has gone up. The Lord has gone up at the sound of the horn.
Praise God, praise him with psalms; praise our king, praise him with psalms, for God is king of all the earth.
Psalm 47. 5 - 7.
READINGS FOR THE DAY:
Acts 1.1 - 11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1.17 - 23; Matthew 28.16 - 20.
To-day is that wonderful day when Our Lord returned to His Father after having wrought our salvation. As we sing in the Ascension Day preface: “To-day the Lord Jesus, the king of glory, the conqueror of sin and death, ascended to heaven while the angels sang his praises.”
In this week’s readings Our Lord has been comforting His disciples by assuring them He must return to His Father in order to be with them for ever. “I will be with you always, to the end of time” (Matt. 28. 20). Thus He will continue to live within us through the Spirit. It is this Spirit that we spoke of yesterday which will enable us to know Christ and His teaching and which will lead us into all truth.
However on Ascension Day as “He is exalted on high” we realise that Christ also has another function. As He is both God and man, He is therefore the mediator between us and His Father as His manhood continually pleads for us. As the author of Hebrews expressed it, “He has entered heaven ... to appear now before God on our behalf.” He is “a priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek” and “He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” As His priesthood is now perpetual, “He is able to save completely those who approach God through him, since he is always alive to plead on their behalf.” Thus through our eternal High-priest, we can boldly approach the heavenly throne “in sincerity of heart and the full assurance of faith” (Heb. 5. 6, 8 - 9, 7. 25, 9. 24, 10.11). If you want to read more about Christ in his function as the eternal priesthood, read Hebrews.
It is in the same “sincerity of heart” that we can also approach the altar day by day. Christ’s manhood unites perpetually with the Eucharist with his heavenly oblation. “The offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” was made at Calvary. That can never be repeated, “Christ, having offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, took his seat at God’s right hand (Heb. 10. 12). Here by God’s “right hand” Christ offers this “one perfect and sufficient sacrifice” as His heavenly oblation, just as the priest at the altar offers up the one pure sacrifice of Calvary as a commemoration, of which the offering of the bread and wine symbolise the sacrifice “of ourselves, souls and bodies”.
The Caroline divine, Jeremy Taylor when commenting on the uniting of the priest’s offering the commemorative sacrifice with Christ’s role as the intercessor and mediator in heaven where as the High Priest He is still offering “the same one perfect sacrifice”, declared:
For whatsoever Christ did at the institution, the same he commanded the Church to do in remembrance and repeated rites; and himself also does the same thing in Heaven for us, making perpetual intercession for his Church, the body of his redeemed ones, by representing to his Father his death and Sacrifice. There he sits, a High Priest continually, and offers still the same one perfect sacrifice; that is, still represents it as having been once finished and consummate, in order to perpetual and never failing events. And this also his ministers do on earth; they offer up the same sacrifice to God, the sacrifice of the cross, by prayers, and a commemorating rite and representment, according to His Holy institution.
Thus every time we approach the altar we are conscious that heaven and earth are one. As we receive the Lord’s Body and Blood we know that we are united with His perpetual sacrifice in heaven where He continually is pleading for us, just as He is continually feeding us while we are still on our earthly pilgrimage.
As we receive Him on this Ascension Day we honour Him as our king and priest who rules over all “seated on his holy throne” (Ps. 47. 9). He is indeed the Sovereign, “the great King over all the earth”. Before Him we and all creation must bow down and give Him worthy homage as the ruler of all. As we read in to-day’s New Testament lesson, God “enthroned Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all government and authority, all power and dominion, and any title of sovereignty that commands allegiance” (Ep. 1. 20 - 1). In giving His Son this honour the Father has “put all things in subjection beneath His feet, and gave him as head over all things to the church” (Ep.1. 22).
On this wonderful feast day, let us as His subjects give our king all that is due unto Him. May our praises and thanks ring out and fill the whole earth, uniting with the choir of heaven as they sing for ever of His glory. Let us heed St. Gregory Nazianzen’s advice: “If he ascend up into Heaven ascend with him. Be one of those angels who escort him, or one of those who receive him. Bid the gates be lifted up, or be made higher, exalted after his Passion.”
O glorified and ascended Lord, I praise and thank you for your glorious ascension and for preparing a place for all your faithful followers. Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.
THE SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
`I have glorified you on earth by finishing the work which you gave me to do; and now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory which I had with you before the world began.’
John 17. 4 - 5.
READINGS FOR THE DAY:
Cycle A: Acts 1. 12 - 14; Psalm 27. 1, 3, 7 - 8; I Peter 4.13 -16; John 17. 1 -11.
Cycle B: Acts 1. 15 – 17, 20 – 26; Psalm 103. 1, 11 – 12, 19 – 20; I John 4. 11 – 16; John 17. 11 - 19.
Cycle C: Acts 7. 55 – 60; Psalm 97. 1, 6, 9; Revelations 22. 12 – 14, 16 – 17, 20; John 17. 20 - 6.
Today’s Gospel readings come from what we know as the High Priestly prayer offered by Jesus to His Father during his last meal. In it we see the perfect obedience of the Son to the Father in fulfilling His will. In order to fulfil that will the Son had to leave His home, but now all that has almost been accomplished and it is time for the Son to return. What was the fulfilling of that will? - to proclaim the Lord as sovereign over all the earth, to reveal the Father to all through the Son, and to teach that the Father’s will must be obeyed. This early Syriac liturgy illustrates this relationship between the Father and Son:
Jesus Christ, radiant centre of glory,
image of our God, the invisible Father,
revealer of his eternal designs,
Prince of peace;
Father of the world to come.
In accomplishing all of these things the Son glorified the Father because by Himself He could not do anything. Thus the Father through His Son has redeemed the world as the Father and Son are one. “Man’s redeeming work has been done” and as “the Alpha and the Omega” it is really a matter of the Son assuming once again that glory He has had since before the world began, but which He had temporally laid aside.
Apart from grasping the unison of the Father and Son, in which the Son glorifies the Father, and the Father the Son, the other important teaching for us is the availability of eternal life, the life that the Father wishes for us, through the Son. “I have come that they may have life, and may have it in all its fullness” (Jn. 10. 10). To share in this eternal life with the Father and Son all that is necessary for us is to know the Father, “the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn. 17. 3). Thus all the teachings of Jesus are consummated in knowing the Father through His Son. When Jesus told His disciples that He was going home to His Father Philip quipped, “Lord, show us the Father” (Jn. 14. 8). How discouraging this was for Jesus, is illustrated in His answer, “Have I been all this time with you, Philip, and still you do not know me? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14. 7 - 9).
Eternal life we know begins with baptism; it is not something for which we hanker some time in the future. Yet we can only have this eternal, this abundant life, through our relationship with the “true God”. We all surely know we can only have a lively and living relationship with someone after we make an effort to know a person. It is never achieved when we make our first acquaintance. The more effort we make to know what a person is really like the easier it is to build on that first acquaintance until we can honestly say we have established a relationship of some worth.
Thus for us who desire more than anything else to live in the now with Him who gives life to the full, we have to spend time, and more time in getting to know more about Him. It means reading and meditating on the Scriptures each day; there is always something afresh to see each time we ponder on them. That is one of the joys of life - these new discoveries and enlightenments, as I have been finding in writing this series of meditations. And we can never separate our readings from prayer. Our meditations, if meaningfully undertaken, invariably begin with, and end in prayer. We seek the Spirit of all knowledge to unveil to us new understandings of and encounters with Christ. Perhaps we may find helpful St. Francis’ paraphrase of the petition “Hallowed be Thy name” in the Lord’s Prayer: “May your knowledge shine in us, that we may know the breadth of your benefits, the length of your promises, the height of your majesty, and the depth of your judgments.”
From the First Petrine Epistle for Cycle A and the Johannine one for Cycle B we learn how important it is for us to glorify the “true God” in our daily lives. Just as the Son glorified the Father in His earthly work, so must He be glorified through us in what we are and do, and in any suffering we endure. The whole world should be unceasingly glorifying the Father. His glory will be manifest when we humbly bow to God’s will in our lives, and when we no longer are always seeking to glorify ourselves in doing our will. The more we learn to say “yes” to God, and “no” to ourselves, the more His glory will shine forth in His world. Let us learn well the example of the Son of God to His Father. In doing so we shall love God and know that He lives within us.
Heavenly Father, as the Son glorified you, teach me to follow that example so that I can show your glory in my life. Amen.
MONDAY AFTER THE SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
`I have told you all this so that in me you may find peace. In the world you will have suffering. But take heart! I have conquered the world.’
John 16. 33.
READINGS FOR THE DAY:
Acts 19. 1 - 8; Psalm 68. 2 - 7; John 16. 29 - 33.
Before His Passion not only does our Lord promise His disciples that He will be always with them, even though He must leave them, but He also assures them that nothing which they will face in life will be too difficult for them, nor any suffering too great because He has “conquered the world”. Through Him they will always have victory over all kinds of corruption, even the darkest deeds of men. Jesus gives them this wonderful encouragement because He realised just as He had been plotted against, reviled and hated for doing the Father’s will, so will His disciples be when they preach in His name.
The disciples in due course discovered how true this was once they began preaching in Jesus’ name. During these great Fifty Days we have read many times of their physical sufferings through their preaching, healing and baptising. Yet they continue to move from province to province, town to town fearless in doing the Lord’s work. They “are joyful, they exalt before God with gladness and rejoicing” (Ps. 68. 3) whenever they suffer any kind of physical punishment and persecution.
In the assurance that Christ has conquered the world, the disciples toiled unceasingly, and consequently the number of Christians increased daily. In today’s lesson we have another example of this when Paul at Ephesus baptised “about a dozen men in all” with the Holy Spirit (one of the rare times he baptised). Previously these men had known only the baptism of repentance through John. Now the receiving of the Holy Spirit makes them new men, and was manifested in their speaking in tongues.
Jesus, in conquering the world, is also “our refuge, and our stronghold, a timely help in trouble” (Ps. 46. 1). We too can be assured that this world’s “mightiest powers have done their worst” to Christ who has overcome them all, and therefore there is nothing worse left for us ever to face. As Christ has conquered the worst in this world, we can also in His name. We can triumph over, and absorb every bit of suffering, hatred, spite, ambition and rejection which comes our way. We can also cope with all the problems and tensions of work, at home and personal relationships through our Lord. He always gives us the means if we but seek them.
Yet before we can accept unquestionably that Jesus has “conquered the world”, we must be able to say, “We believe that you have come from God”, and “that you know everything” (Jn. 16. 30). As we prepare this week to celebrate Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the gathered disciples and the Lord’s Mother, let us pray that we too shall be blessed with many, many gifts of the Spirit, especially that of faith. Our Lord Himself stressed how important faith is in acknowledging Him as Lord of this world, and accepting His teaching. We know many times when everything seems against us, it is hard not to be dejected and discouraged, and the fact that Jesus has been there, does not seem to comfort us at all. So we need to pray fervently that we shall receive faith, faith sufficient to say, “Lord I do believe” as Thomas expressed it; and through that to accept that in every situation we face, Christ is indeed there. There is absolutely nothing which He cannot share with us in our times of grief, agony and uncertainty. However sometimes our Lord does not appear to make Himself known in this sharing, and that is why we need faith, this most precious gift. It is only our faith which will enable us to accept that Jesus has conquered this world, and therefore there is nothing to fear or worry about. He is with us. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans assures us of this when he declared, “What can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or hardship? Can persecution, hunger, nakedness, danger or sword? ... Throughout it all, overwhelming victory is ours through Him who loved us. ... For I am convinced there is nothing ... in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8. 35 - 9).
Let us pray to have the faith that Paul recommended.
Heavenly Father, let me have the gift of faith so that I may believe that our Lord has conquered all this world’s darkest deeds. Amen.
TUESDAY AFTER THE SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
THE THIRD MISSIONARY JOURNEY
`All I want is to finish the race, and complete the task which the Lord Jesus assigned to me, that of bearing my testimony to the gospel of God’s grace.’
Acts 20. 24.
READINGS FOR THE DAY:
Acts 20. 17 - 27; Psalm 68.10 - 11, 20 - 1; John 17.1 -11.
During what we call Paul’s third missionary journey the Holy Spirit made known to him that it would be no easy time as “in city after city ... imprisonment and hardships” awaited him (Acts 20. 23). What the Spirit is prophesying to Paul, is what we heard Jesus tell His disciples in yesterday’s Gospel, that they would indeed face many sufferings in His name. It was also made clear to Paul that once he departed from the Asian Christian communities, there would be “savage wolves” which would enter and try to devour those he was to leave behind. Indeed some of these “wolves” would come from within and scatter Christians!
Hence there is a sense of urgency in Paul’s work now in order to complete the task that the Lord Jesus had given him. That task had been to proclaim the crucified and risen Jesus, and to disclose wherever he preached, “the whole purpose of God”. As we learn from to-day’s gospel we know that purpose was to teach the meaning of eternal life, and to proclaim God’s sovereignty over this world.
Sunday’s reading for the Gospel was the same as today’s in which we discovered that eternal life comes from acknowledging the Father and His Son Jesus Christ as true God. This is what Paul taught “in public and in ... homes” to both Jew and Gentile unceasingly throughout Asia Minor.
Paul in preaching on eternal life could teach about it so fervently through his own dramatic experience on the road to Damascus. Thus he expounded how it begins with “repentance before God and faith in our Lord Jesus”. And to continue experiencing that eternal life involves repeated repentance and faith. To-day as we continue our preparation for Pentecost let us continue to pray to be given the gift of truth so that we can recognize the many ways we fail God, our neighbour and ourselves. Each day we commit sins of omission as well as those of commission. As sin separates us from God and from one another, we should be able to see the sheer necessity of repentance in our daily lives if we wish to stay within the kingdom of heaven. Therefore “every single sin which we remember must be repented of by an act of repentance that must particularly touch that sin.” We can never believe that “one act of sorrow can abolish many foul acts of sin;” if we do “we deceive ourselves.” Our daily examination guided by the Holy Spirit, will help us to be aware of those besetting sins. Once we recognise that we do have besetting sins, the next step is to overcome them through the living Spirit. We can never overcome them if we try to do so by our own efforts. It is only through Christ’s living presence that we can make progress. If we are not making any progress at all, it is a signal telling us that we are not seeking divine help. Jeremy Taylor stressed this importance of “speedily” repentance if we desire to attain a more Christ-centred life:
... it being impossible to live innocently, it is necessary that a way of God’s own finding out should be relied upon ... And though I sin, yet I repent speedily, and when I sin again I repent again, and my spiritual state is like my natural, day and night succeed each other by a never-failing revolution. I sin indeed in some instances, but I do my duty in many; and every man has his infirmities; no man can say: ‘My soul is pure from sin,’ but I hope that because I repent still as I sin, my sins are but as a single actions; and since I resist them what I can, I hope they will be reckoned to me but as sins of infirmity, without which no man is or can be in this state of perfection.
We also need faith which I touched on yesterday. This faith is in Christ who we believe has given us this eternal life. This faith should not be a mere flicker but a burning fire within us. It is also meant to be a lively faith. What else should it be when we have been assured that Christ has triumphed over death, and now lives in glory with His Father where He prepares to welcome us? Through Christ is life, an abundant life and a new life! This is what is meant by eternal life now. It is there for every person to enjoy, and the gateway is what Paul preached all through that hazardous third missionary journey, repentance and faith.
Gracious God, may your Spirit fill me with truth, so that I may see my sins as you see them, and then give me sufficient grace to repent of them, and then overcome them. Amen.
The babe leaped in my womb for joy
Luke 1. 44.
READINGS FOR THE DAY:
Zephaniah 3. 14 – 18; Psalm Isa. 12. 2 – 6; Luke 1. 39 – 56.
What a beautiful feast this is. We picture Mary, not long after her conception of the blessed One, setting out across country to visit her aged cousin, Elizabeth, who had conceived in her old age. The Caroline Divine, Jeremy Taylor, depicted this joyful meeting so picturesquely.
Let us now notice how light and airy was the coming of the Virgin, as she made haste over the mountains; her very little burden which she bear hindered her not but that she might make haste enough; and as her spirit was full of cheerfulness and alacrity, so even her body was made airy and full of life. … For as the Virgin climbed mountains easily, so there is no difficulty in our life so great, but it may be managed by those assistances we receive from the holiest Jesus, when we carry him about us.
… What collision of joys was at this blessed meeting; two mothers of two great princes, the one the greatest that was born of woman, and the other his Lord. When these who were made mothers by two miracles came together, they met with joy and mysteriousness. The mother of our Lord went to visit the mother of his servant, and the Holy Ghost made the meeting festival. Never, but in heaven, was there more joy and ecstasy. For these women were not only hallowed, but made pregnant and big with religion, meeting together to compare and unite their joys and their eucharist.
Joy is certainly brimming over as Elizabeth’s revelation is made to Mary. Now six months pregnant, the former’s child responded immediately to Mary’s visit, which made Elizabeth exclaim, “Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should visit me?” (Lk. 1. 43). Elizabeth’s babe, John the Baptist, recognised immediately the One who was the Messiah. Elizabeth’s other words to Mary are later picked up in this Lucan Gospel, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk. 1. 42) when a certain woman in a crowd, pronounced “Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps that you have sucked” (Lk. 11. 27). What is more revealing is the reply of Jesus, “Rather, blessed are they who have heard the word of God and keep it” (Lk. 11. 28). This is why Mary is known as the first disciple of the Lord. When God spoke to her through the Archangel Gabriel, she accepted and acted on it. When Mary responded to Elizabeth’s greetings, it is not to praise her or ask how she is keeping, but to praise God in what the Church knows as the Magnificat. Raymond Brown suggested that her song as recorded by Luke was already a hymn in the early Church and he had adapted it for an appropriate hymn for Mary to proclaim at such a joyful time. Based on Hannah’s song of praise after the birth of Samuel in the Old Testament it is supplemented by verses from the psalms and Luke has added the appropriate verse to put it in context – “ For he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaid: for behold all generations will call me blessed” (1. 48). It champions social justice. The poor will always be nearer to God than the rich and mighty. Again it is only in Luke’s Gospel that there is a juxtaposing of the poor and the rich, where the latter are expected to care for the former and not ignore or maltreat them as in the parable of Dives and Lazarus (Lk. 16. 19 – 31). It is even more pointed in the account of the rich ruler who came to Jesus to seek advice on how to have eternal life. What was necessary was to keep the commandments and give to the poor. The former he had no problem with but the latter was a mighty stumbling block. He could not part with his riches, even though Jesus clearly told him the options. In eternal matters he presumably lost out, while the poor were welcomed into Abraham’s bosom (Lk. 18. 18 – 24). Mary has always been a symbol for the oppressed and the poor, and it is interesting in her appearance over the centuries it has always been to the lowly and the poor such as the Mexican Juan Diego in the sixteenth century. The poor are always with us even in this twenty-first century. Luke’s message is just as demanding for Christians now as it was in the first century as also seen in the Beatitudes. Read Luke’s version beside the Magnificat and see how similar they are. Those of us who say the Daily Offices know the Evening Canticle off by heart, and sometimes it does not register just how stinging and demanding the words of the Magnificat are. Pray God we do not end up like Dives or the rich ruler but are compassionate and caring for the underprivileged in our midst. This way we follow Mary’s example of hearing the word of the Lord and keeping it.
Gracious God, help me not to neglect the needs of all those in my midst, and to heed your words. Amen.
WEDNESDAY AFTER THE SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
All along I showed you that it is our duty to help the weak in this way, by hard work, and that we should keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, who himself said, `It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
Acts 20. 35.
READINGS FOR THE DAY:
Acts 20. 28 - 38; Psalm 68. 29 - 30, 33 - 6; John 17.11 - 19.
“It is more blessed to give than to receive” is one of the better known quotation from the bible. I think we all know we feel richer in the spirit of the Lord when we give generously to others than when we receive. These were Paul’s parting words to Christians at Miletus. He urged them to be sensitive to the needs of their brothers and sisters, and wherever help was needed for fellow Christians to give it, and to give it most generously.
Ever since His experience on the road to Damascus Paul was tireless in his own giving, giving without ever counting the cost of toil in his ministry to the various Christian communities he helped to establish. Never was his giving more prominent than it was when he said his sad farewells on the Milesian waterfront to the local Christians. Sad for Paul because he knew that many of these Christians would be like lambs amongst wolves which would ravage so much of his teaching, and also sad for the faithful as Paul informed them they would never see him again.
St. Paul’s giving unstintingly was modelled on Christ. As Christ gave so did he and so should we in return for His gifts. It is precisely because God gave first, that we can in fact give anything at all.
In the Matthean Gospel we are told because we receive freely, we must give accordingly (Matt. 10. 8). In many ways it is much easier to give to another person than to receive a gift. We have all met those people who always want to pay the bill after a meal, and somehow I feel that has very little to do with the kind of giving Jesus and Paul were teaching and exemplifying in their lives.
To be blessed in giving, means that giving must cost the giver something. That is why our Lord commended the poor widow for her giving of two tiny coins to the temple’s treasury rather than the gifts of the rich people. Her giving cost her all, while the rich gave only in a token way (Lk. 21. 2). It is so easy to give our leftovers to a poor family, but is that real giving? Would we have used them for ourselves? What we have to learn as Christians is to share some of our possessions which mean something to us; something we don’t really want to part with. When we do we shall discover how much blessedness there is in giving. This is the kind of giving God gives. The Incarnation is surely God sharing and giving of His cream. When we reflect on Christ’s birth we are struck, almost dumb-founded, that God the Almighty would “condescend to be born as children are born; [and] to become a Child.” The Omnipotent One “who thunders in heaven,” should cry in a cradle.” The One “who is so great and so high, should become so little as a child, and so low as a manger.” And the omniscient One should “not ... abhor the Virgin’s womb, not ... abhor the beasts’ manger, [and] not ... disdain to be fed with butter and honey.”
The nativity is but the beginning of God’s giving. This week we have been reflecting upon our Lord having accomplished all that His Father desired. To fulfil the will of His Father also included the bitter cup in the garden, and the horrible degrading spectacle at Golgotha where the broken body of Christ is sneered at by onlookers. Yes, this is the cost of God’s giving. But it did not stop at Golgotha. It continues and continues and will continue until the end of the world. Yet before Golgotha, He gave the gift of Himself, a living gift in the Bread which He broke and the Cup which He blessed. And now at Pentecost He gives us His abiding presence through the Spirit. How abundantly we have received from our God, and at great cost to Him. In giving Himself to us, He has shown us what is meant by giving.
For us to give abundantly, it first means that we have to receive. We have to receive the gifts of the Spirit in order to give to others. This in turn teaches us another truth about giving. It means not only giving of our possessions, but giving of our Christian virtues. We all meet situations every day where we need to give patience rather impatience; humility rather than arrogance; compassion rather than contempt; listening rather than talking; acceptance rather than judgment and above all love instead of hate. When we learn to give truly of the virtues of the kingdom of heaven we enter another level of giving. It is that kind of giving that makes us what Christ calls us in today’s gospel, “strangers in this world”. Spiritual giving is a very rare thing, but so many people need to receive it. When I was living in Oxford I regularly visited a retired priest suffering from Parkinson disease in a nursing home just outside Salisbury. One day he remarked to me, “What I miss mostly is receiving spiritual gifts from my visitors.” He needed them, and so we all do.
This Pentecost let us pray earnestly that we share our spiritual gifts with others, and never to be afraid of, or feel awkward about doing this. If we live in the Spirit, then it is as natural to want to feed the soul as it is to feed the physical hunger of a person.
Gracious God, may the Spirit fill me with many gifts, and then let me in turn give the fruits of these to all I meet. Amen.
THURSDAY AFTER THE SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
‘I in them and you in me, may they be perfectly one. Then the world will know that you sent me, and that you loved them as you loved me.’
John 17. 23.
READINGS FOR THE DAY:
Acts 22. 30, 23. 6 -11; Psalm 16.1 - 2, 5, 7 - 11; John 17. 20 - 6.
Our blessed Lord had repeatedly stressed the unity between Himself as Son and His Father - they are one in all things. It is this unity which He earnestly desired for His disciples, and prayed that all members may be one. Indeed Jesus’ teaching on unity is essential for Christians if the world is going to know that the Son has been sent by the Father into this world to reveal Him and His teaching so that He may be glorified amongst all believers.
How it must break the sacred heart of Jesus to see how much disunity there is amongst the churches, and horror, oh, horror, that Christians kill one another in the name of their religion! Did our Saviour die on the cross so degradingly to redeem all mankind, and to give them abundant life to have man stoop to so much bigotry, hatred, squabbling over doctrines and denying fellow Christians His life in the Blessed Sacrament? Where there is love, there is God. If we truly possess Love, then we yearn with all our hearts, minds and souls for all to be at one in Him. Therefore it is essential that as we approach this celebration of Pentecost that we pray for the gift of love, and that Love may always abide in us.
The English mystic, Walter Hilton, described this so well when he insisted that this “gift of divine love makes perfect peace between God and a soul, and unites all blessed creatures wholly in God.” This is the bond of divine love which unites Jesus to us, and us to Him that enables us “to love one another in Him.” I am convinced that if we strove to possess this love then all disunity amongst Christians would disappear, and we all would be truly one in the breaking of the bread.
When I pray for the healing of Christ’s Body every day, I so often think how would we like our own bodies to be broken over, over and over again for the same thing? Why is it we seem to want to perpetuate this brokenness of Christ’s body? When we are baptised by water and in the name of the Trinity, we are made “members of Christ” and also “inheritors of the kingdom of heaven”. We are not made an Anglican or Roman Catholic or any other denomination but a Christian, Christ’s faithful son or daughter until our lives end. Surely we do not believe that on Judgment Day we shall be judged on doctrine but whether we indeed have loved in its fullest sense. It will be Love who will bring us to heaven, and it will be His love dwelling within us who will guide us there.
Thank God there are many Christians to-day who are firmly committed to work towards the healing of Christ’s broken body. By that I mean they pray earnestly each day for it, and live it out in their communications and worshipping with fellow Christians. This is a genuine attempt by Christians who see themselves firstly as Christians and not as a Roman Catholic or Methodist or Lutheran. They give far more than the cosmetic approach that many of the main churches do. I have often thought how pathetic the Church’s intent for unity is, even during the so called week of Christian unity, mostly held in January in the northern hemisphere. Can a choir exchanging churches do all that much towards achieving the unity that Christ demands? Having lived in Australia for much of my life, I always thought that its keeping the Novena for Christian unity at this time of the year was more in tune with the daily readings at Mass with their emphasis on Christ’s plea for unity and what St. Paul meant by being one in Christ.
Nevertheless after saying all this, I do know, and thank God for it, there have been great advances made in ecumenical dialogue since Vatican Two. But from the bottom of my heart I believe if we truly want Christ’s Body to be one as it is meant to be, then it would happen. How awful it is to see Catholics - Roman and Anglican - having to communicate at different parts of a church! At this present moment in time when we think of unity it means more the pain we experience of not being able to receive the Sacrament at the same altar. O blessed will be that day when we can receive the Body and Blood of Christ beside one another as Christ would want. When will we humbly confess our sin and sorrow for disunity and perpetuating this brokenness of Christ’s body? When are we going to seek healing through Christ’s power to remove all our so called divisions? After all it is Christ who is the head of the Church, and we should remember He shared the Bread with Judas before he went out into the darkened night to betray Him. When are we going to take our Lord’s words seriously that “they all be one”? Or the Pauline tradition, “We are to maintain the truth in a spirit of love; so we shall fully grow up into Christ. He is the head, and on Him the whole body depends. Bonded and held together by every constituent joint, the whole flame grows through the proper functioning of each part, and build itself up in love” (Eph. 4. 15 - 16).
Indeed the readings for Pentecost stress the unity of all in Christ’s body through the Spirit. St. Paul again reminds us that although we shall all receive different gifts at Pentecost, nevertheless they all come from the one and the same Spirit. These individual gifts are like the “limbs and organs” which “make up one body”, the body of Christ. Into this body we are brought by the Spirit to be baptised, irrespective of race or class, and though this body has many organs it is still one body. By virtue of our baptism we are all made one in Christ, not many who are divided and argue over this body (I Cor.14).
Thus in our preparations for Pentecost let us remember that it is Jesus’ earnest will that we are united. There is only one faith and one shepherd who calls us to love one another as He loves us and knows us by name. He is calling us committed Christians to work for this to happen. If we ardently seek His gift of love, it will open and enlighten us to know truth. That truth is that, God incarnate gives His life daily to us at the Eucharist at which He implores us to be one as He and His Father are one. He is the Good Shepherd who asked Peter to feed my lambs, not his or anyone else’s but mine.
Heavenly Father, fill me with an ardent yearning to work towards your will that all Christians may be one in your Son. Amen.
FRIDAY AFTER THE SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
THE TRIALS OF PAUL
‘But Paul appealed to be remanded in custody for his imperial majesty’s decision, and I [i.e. Festus] ordered him to be detained until I could send him to the emperor.’
Acts 25. 21.
READINGS FOR THE DAY:
Acts 25.13 - 21; Psalm 103.1 - 2, 11 - 12, 19 - 20; John 21. 15 - 19.
Paul had returned to Jerusalem. On the advice of James, who was aware of the local Jewish animosity towards Paul, advised him to take the four Jewish Christians who were living under a vow and himself into the temple for a week to undergo the ritual of purification in order to show that he was still quite prepared to observe the Law of Moses. This, James hoped would appease the Jews. However it did not appease all of them, and Jews from Asia, after seeing Paul in the temple brought the city to a tumult over his teaching. Thus began that long period of trials as well as many tribulations for Paul before he eventually reached Rome for the emperor to hear his case.
In today’s reading we find Paul in Caesarea where he had been sent by the Roman authorities in order to escape the Jewish plot to lynch him. After his initial trial before Felix, the Roman Governor, the case of the Jewish religious authorities against Paul had been dismissed. However he remained in open prison for two years until a new governor, Festus, arrived who wanted to court favour with the Jews. Thus he proposed to send Paul back to Jerusalem for trial. Upon hearing this Paul by using his rights as a Roman citizen appealed to be heard by Caesar.
While Felix was in Caesarea, King Agrippa and his wife arrived in this capital. They were intrigued about Paul’s presence, and enquired whether they could converse with him. So once again Paul poured out his account of “the heavenly vision”. So enthusiastic is he for all to know the joy which comes from believing in Christ, he blurts out to Agrippa, “I wish to God that not only you, but all those who are listening to me to-day, might become what I am - apart from these chains” (Acts 26. 29). Indeed we can almost hear Paul, despite his chains, giving thanks to His God for all His blessings as expressed today’s psalm:
Bless the Lord, my soul;
with all my being I bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, my soul,
and forget none of his benefits.
He pardons all my wrong doing
and heals all my ills.
He rescues me from death’s pit
and crowns me with love and compassion (Ps.103. 1 - 4).
In today’s gospel we hear for the second time during the Fifty Days the account of Jesus by the sea of Tiberius asking Peter whether he indeed loves Him above everything else. From the very bottom of his heart Peter tells his Lord that indeed he loves Him, and adds a caveat “You know everything; you know I love you” (Jn. 21. 17). What Peter said could easily have been said by Paul. Paul who had persecuted Jesus, his Lord, over and over again, many more times than the denials by Peter, had therefore been forgiven much. Consequently he laboured more than any other disciple, even Peter, to preach the redeeming love of Christ. That labour had brought him imprisonment, scourging, stoning, beatings, shipwreck, and all kinds of dangers from travelling while preaching. He also had endured sleeplessness, hunger, thirst, cold and exposure. But the hardest to endure was the unfaithfulness of Christians to their Lord and their jealousy and hatred towards one another (II Cor. 5. 16ff, 6. passim, 11. 23ff, I Cor. 2. 3 - 4). Yet all these he gladly suffered for Christ whose love shone through Paul’s ministry.
Just as our Lord challenged Peter and Paul with the question, “Do your love me?”, so He is also challenging us with exactly the same question. Yet to love God is not something we can do in our own strength; it is the gift of the Spirit for which we must be constantly asking. We shall know we possess divine love through the quality of our living because this love “slays mightily anger and envy, and all passions of wrath and melancholy in it and brings into the soul the virtues of patience and mildness, peaceableness and amity to his neighbour.” By possessing such love we no longer “strive and fight and plead for earthly goods” as we are content with what we have. We desire “no more of all the riches on earth than a scanty bodily sustenance for to sustain bodily life.”
Pentecost is the feast of Love. Let us not lose sight of that as we draw very near to our keeping of it.
Love for ever dwells in Heaven,
Hope entereth not there.
To despairing man Love’s given,
Hope dwelleth not with despair.
Love reigneth high, and reigneth low,
and reigneth everywhere.
Good and gracious God, fill me with love divine until it consumes my whole being, and sets me on fire to preach, toil and suffer as Paul and Peter did. Amen.
SATURDAY AFTER THE SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
THE VIGIL OF PENTECOST
It is the same disciple who vouches for what has been written here. He it is who wrote it, and we know that his testimony is true.
John 21. 24.
READINGS FOR THE DAY:
Acts 28. 16 – 20, 30 - 31; Psalm 11. 4 - 5, 7; John 21. 20 - 25.
As the great Fifty Days draw to a close we come to the end of our readings from Acts and the Johannine Gospel. As I have intimated, I always get a tremendous thrill from reading these together. This gospel is for me the most wonderful piece of literature ever written, as it unfolds `the great Mystery’. The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us as the will and work of the Father was accomplished through His Son. It is full of that mystic union with the Father, of life in the Spirit, of discipleship and of continual judgment. It is also reflects a Christian community taught by the Paraclete living out Jesus’ teaching as shared by the Beloved Disciple before it was written down by the evangelist. Acts, written at least twenty years after the events described in it, is an account of those first Christians trying to live out the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection. Both writings witnessed that what our Lord taught was true. He indeed is “the way, the life and the truth”. Both show clearly that only Jesus could give eternal life, and that was God’s purpose for becoming man. In Christ, the Father was also revealed so that all who believed would know Him too. Both reveal that although God offers eternal life to all, there are many who shun truth and light because they prefer their own darkness, and therefore will never taste eternal delights. Christ came to dismantle darkness so that all may be bathed in His glorious light. Both exclaim that baptism is a passport to freedom as it gives liberation from the tyranny of sin, the world and flesh.
Acts finishes with Paul in Rome, the pulse of the Roman world, to await his appeal to Caesar, and for the evangelist the Good News had reached “the ends of the earth”. Paul was allowed private lodgings with a police escort. In such a free environment he was able to expound “from dawn to dusk” the meaning of the Scriptures to the many visitors he had. As Paul, unhindered in Rome, explained the Scriptures with its fulfilling in Christ I am reminded of another great Father of the early church, St. Ambrose who lived not far away in Milan in the fourth century and who also spent his days expounding the Scriptures. One day a rather arrogant, polished rhetorician came to listen to him. That listening changed his life, and the course of much Western theology! In 387 Augustine was baptised during the Easter Vigil Liturgy.
The last chapter of John’s Gospel has that wonderful releasing for Peter as we saw yesterday, and today it has the account of Peter’s martyrdom. Those two spearheads in the early church, Peter and Paul, tradition tells us died under the great persecution of Nero c. A. D. 64. Their martyrdom we commemorate on the 29th June each year. However, the Gospel does not end with Peter’s martyrdom. It continues with a few more but powerful verses. The first of these the redactor assures us that everything which has been disclosed “is true”; and the other is the acknowledgement that what has been recorded is but a portion of everything that Jesus did, so numerous were these that one would run out of books to contain them all, thus unfolding how abundantly generous the God who became incarnate to bring us salvation is. What a wonderful way to end these Fifty Days to ponder on how many yet more marvellous things we shall discover in our heavenly home.
And now to the vigil of the Pentecost; our thoughts must turn to this great feast and proper preparation for it. Pentecost, the old Jewish festival of giving the first-fruits of the harvest to God, is now superseded by Christ being the first-fruit “of His creation” (Jam. 1. 18). Our Lord is the first-fruit of life, and through that is our hope. Just as Jesus the unblemished lamb offered His life to God and the Jews offered to God their first-fruits of the earth, so must we offer our first-fruits. It may also be helpful for us to recall that when the Jews made their gifts they also recited a thanksgiving of how the Lord had been merciful and kind to them in delivering them from their bondage in Egypt and bringing them to “a land with wheat and barley, vines, fig trees, and pomegrantes, a land with olive oil and honey” (Deut. 8. 8). As we bring our first-fruits, that is, the best of what we have and are to the altar, let us also do it in thanksgiving for the bondage from which Christ has delivered us, and for the promised land to which He had brought us, a land indeed “flowing with olive oil and honey”. Oh, how many are the gifts He gives us through the Spirit! All this week we have prayed about receiving these gifts, notably those of faith, truth, understanding and love. Apart from these there are those other virtues which Paul enumerated for us: “joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5. 22). How different are these from the behaviour of those not living in the spirit of Christ. Paul tells us that these people manifest “fornication, indecency, and debauchery; idolatry and sorcery, quarrels, a contentious temper, envy, fits of rage, selfish ambitions, dissensions, party intrigues, and jealousies; drinking bouts, orgies and the like” (Gal. 5. 19 - 20). When we see them juxtaposed it hits home, doesn’t it, just how different is the living in the spirit of Christ as against those of the world. That is why our Lord warned us that the world would never understand His coming or His teaching. Let us pray that we may always understand that we must show forth the fruits of the Spirit in our lives.
In our preparation for the feast of gifts we cannot overlook that other testimony which the Johannine Gospel unfolds. “He will bear witness to me” (Jn. 15. 26). The Spirit of Truth will testify to the whole world “of Christ, that He is God, that He is man, that He is Christ, the Saviour of the world; that He came to save sinners, ... [and] that He is a complete and universal Saviour.” It is only through the Spirit of Truth that everything will be revealed to us: our purpose for living, our sins, and potential through restoration and cleansing.
So let us also pray that the Spirit of Truth this Pentecost will purify, freshen and quicken us.
One final but vital thought for this Vigil - we must always be conscious that without the Holy Spirit there is no vitality to life in this world, and even God’s actions are unrelated to us. This pulsating life of the Spirit is illustrated in this extract from an address given by the Metropolitan Ignatias of Latakia:
Without the Holy Spirit God is far away.
Christ stays in the past,
the Gospel is simply an organization,
authority a matter of propaganda,
the liturgy is no more than an evolution,
Christian loving a slave morality.
But in the Holy Spirit
the cosmos is resurrected and grows
with the birth pangs of the Kingdom,
the Risen Christ is there,
the Gospel is the power of life,
the Church shows forth the life of the Trinity,
authority is a liberating science,
mission is a Pentecost,
the liturgy is both renewal and anticipation,
human action is deified.
Holy Spirit, descend upon me this Pentecost and pour out your gifts to transform me in a life of service to Christ and others. Amen.