Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page

Homily Palm Sunday Evensong C

In Uncategorized on March 29, 2010 at 8:47 am

“Let me sing for my beloved my love-song…”

That’s an interesting image with which to begin what is a rebuke,
the prophet Isaiah’s indictment of Israel and humanity’s failure
to be just, to be good, to be godly.

Love-songs, we imagine, are sweet, sentimental, safe.

But here we are this Palm Sunday,
this first evening of Holy Week,
and we are about to discover again
how very unsafe, painful and costly it is
to love completely and uncompromisingly.

The story of this week is the song of love without limits.
Let me remind you of Samuel Crossman’s great hymn
that some of us sang this morning:

My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take, frail flesh and die?

He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.

Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
And for His death they thirst and cry.

“Love to the loveless shown, That they might lovely be.”

God in Christ Jesus,
the God Scripture tells us is love,
God takes on the sum total of our failings and our fears this Holy Week.
Jesus embraces, bears in his own Body on the Cross,
all that is unlovely and oppressive,
taking our burden and our brokenness,
that we might be made whole,
and be set free,
and live in the love that cannot be crushed or silenced.

Love is never wasted.
It is never lost.
It is never defeated.

Death, wrote the poet Dylan Thomas, shall have no dominion.
Though lovers be lost, love shall not,
and death shall have no dominion.

Love conquers the most hellish hatred and suffering,
love it is that holds our Lord to the Wood of the Cross
more firmly than mere nails could ever do…
because God is love
and love cannot turn away, even from the unlovely.

Love it is that we discover every Holy Week and Easter,
or its possibility, that it might take root again in our lives.

I pray that you will allow yourself to enter fully into the love-song
of these days when we relive and re-member our redemption.

Love demands a response of us, and will not leave us alone.
Christ the Cornerstone will break in pieces all that is not of God,
for Love is all that will ultimately endure.
Love would know us this Holy Week,
and make us know and grow
in that Love that was at our beginning and will be our end.

James K. Baxter wrote a love-song
as he thought about all he had felt called to leave behind
to take hold fully of love:

My love came through the city
And they did not know him
With his beard and his eyes and his gentle hands
For he was a working man

My love stood on the lakeshore
And spoke to the people there
And the fish in the water forgot to swim
And the birds were quiet in the air.

‘Truth’ – he said, and – ‘Love’ – he said,
But his purest word was – ‘Mercy’ –
And the fishermen left their boats and came
To share his poverty.

My love was taken before the judge
And they nailed him on a tree
With his strong face and his long brown hair
And the whiteness of his body.

‘Truth’ – he said, and – ‘Love’ – he said,
But his purest word was – ‘Mercy’ –
And the blood ran down and the sun grew dark
For the lack of his company.

My love was only a working man
And now he is God on high;
I have left my books and my bed and my house,
To follow him till I die.

‘Truth’ – he said, and – ‘Love’ – he said,
But his purest word was – ‘Mercy’ –
Flowers and candles I bring to him
And no man is kinder than he.


Homily for Passion Sunday C

In Uncategorized on March 19, 2010 at 9:52 pm

In 1726 Abbe d’Allainval wrote a play called, in translation,
“The Embarrassment of Riches”.
The phrase has taken on a life of its own.
And to my mind seems an appropriate one
to encapsulate what our gospel circumstance might have felt like.
A pound of perfume.

Mary, sister of Lazarus, turns the action accorded honoured guests,
the footwashing which we will witness on Maundy Thursday,
into something beyond mere extravagance.

And Judas, understandably, notes the waste
in a world where there is poverty and need.

Judas asks the question that is probably on the minds of others there:
at what price beauty and symbol and generosity,
when real need is elsewhere?

Then that moment of discomfort that comes
when people ask those sorts of questions…

‘Til Jesus comes emphatically Mary’s defence, “Leave her alone!”
To the defence of this extravagance
in the face of acknowledged and real human need.
“You always have the poor with you.”

How can Jesus sanction Mary’s gift, the equivalent of a year’s wages?
What does it tell us that Jesus keeps company
with people so obviously wealthy?
Can the poor and the marginalised in our world find any sort of liberation
in this moment of private excess in the midst of so much suffering?
Yet it is an act of grace.  Of generosity.  Of intimacy.
This same Mary who before sat at Jesus’ feet while Martha served,
now turns this into an immensely intimate
and sensual moment of human beauty.

And Judas interrupts this moment of intimacy – as he will later
interrupt the intimacy of the Mount of Olives – with his betrayal.

This intimacy comes in the context
of future suffering and current violence planned against Jesus.
This is, like the Last Supper, the calm before the storm.
Next comes Palm Sunday and the frantic, passionate, demanding crowd.
This is a snapshot of human beauty before we see the ugliness
of the crowd which cries “hosanna” and “crucify” in quick succession.
This is, in the words of Isaiah, one of the “rivers in the desert”.

More than that,
Mary is anointing the Christ, the Messiah.

Before he enters as king, however mis-identified, on Palm Sunday,
John has us see that the true king, like all the Kings of Israel,
has been anointed prior to his coming into the Holy City of Jerusalem.
The title we ascribe to Jesus of Nazareth, “Christos”
– like the Hebrew word it translates, “Messiah” – means “anointed”.

What a radical image John is presenting us with,
a woman, not a man, not a priest, anointing the Christ.

Sit this alongside the consistent attestation
that it was women who first heard the good news of Easter morning,
and we are here reminded – as is Judas –
that the values of the Kingdom are not those of the world as it is.
Perhaps, too, we half-sense that the perfume Mary uses
had so recently been put aside for anointing the body of her brother, Lazarus.
In each incident the gospel writer refers to the other.
Mary, like us, may have a sense of foreboding
about what lies ahead for Jesus.

Whether she knows it or not,
Mary’s act is taken by Jesus as a foreshadowing of the cross.
He is being prepared for burial,
and we are reminded that this figure who sits at table
with both the respectable and those completely beyond the pale
is the same figure who dies a criminal’s death between two thieves.

And I think we can go still further.
The fragrance of Mary’s perfume fills the house,
bringing to mind the Temple filled with incense.
Paul speaking of the “fragrance of Christ” permeating the world.

Mary, like Martha, is an image of the church.
Martha serves and offers practical care,
Mary sits at the feet of the Lord, sharing in his intimacy,
living her own costly life of service,
finding in this the strength to endure the suffering that is to come.

We are called to be a people who worship,
who find intimacy with God.
Our service and care for the poor is vital,
but is impoverished and perhaps unsustainable
if we do not know the beauty of our being,
if we cannot enter into the graceful extravagance of our existence,
… so that we can withstand the pain of our own Good Fridays.
The pain of feeling separated from God.
The pain of grief and of silence.

Here, a depiction of the experience of regular prayer and worship,
so helps us endure those times when we cannot pray.

Mary is a woman open to God.
Mary is in this moment what God has called humankind to be,
what Israel was never able to embody, fidelity and openness to God.
She is, at this point in time, what Judas is unable to comprehend.
She embodies all that is impractical but beautiful,
all that speaks about human worth in terms other that dollars and cents.
The human worth that only values humanity in abstract terms is the figure
who knows with suspicious exactitude the precise value of Mary’s generosity.
Knows its value, but not its worth.

The figure who will put a price on his Lord
and betray him with another moment of intimacy, a kiss.
Judas may talk the talk,
but his intentions are neither beautiful nor marked by fidelity.
And ultimately, it is his selfishness and narrow vision
which will swallow up his charitable intent.

We are called to be a people of justice.
But we are called beyond all else to be the People of God.
To be caught up in the delight of worship and fellowship with God
for which we were created.
To embrace the passion of suffering and cost, born of love,
that we see in Our Lord’s living and dying.

As we travel this Passiontide road with Jesus,
may we be truly open to God.

Homily for Lent 4C

In Uncategorized on March 12, 2010 at 9:56 pm

The story of the prodigal son.
It’s one of those instantly recognisable parables Jesus used.
And parables are so powerful,
because they are not spelled out for us:
they do need us to connect up the dots.
Stories need us to invest ourselves in them.

Stories make us find our place within them.
So this one begs the question:  where are we?

It begs another question on this Mothering Sunday,  …where’s Mum?
It’s a family story without a female in sight.

Simply put, Mum’s not visible.
Which, while culturally and historically understandable,
is a bit of a failing for our image of God.

But all is not lost.
Dad in the story of the prodigal son holds a lot
of what we would expect to see in Mum.
Dad in this story gets us beyond gender stereotypes –
This is a figure who rushes forward, who embraces and kisses.
If male, then a male very much in touch with their feminine side!
“Dad” in this story is essentially God,
and I hope we let that realisation speak to us –
that fatherly and motherly love and care are both at their best
pointers towards the love that is our beginning and will be our end: God.

We speak of God as Father, but God’s care for us is motherly as well.
This has always been true, but let’s underline it this Mothering Sunday.
Our images of God, our words,
can only be metaphors, parables of what the divine is like.
We simply run out of language.
Let’s though return to the story of the prodigal son.
Where do we fit?

Not many of us are going to expect to be the father-God figure.
Some of us, though, may recognise the role.
Children grow up, and sometimes they turn towards self-destructive behaviour.
All our love and care cannot save them from this.
God knows we want it to.
And – reading between the lines –
we know that this is painful to and for parents – as for God.
We know that, some of us, only too well.

Today is Mothering Sunday,
and perhaps today we might pray for parents everywhere,
and for our mothers, be they living or dead,
holding that love and pain of parenthood close together as we do so.
Such risk is held in loving,
and a mother’s love is often our most selfless glimpse of what it is to love.

God the father-figure in the parable
knows about the pain of separation
and the loss of a child, in one way or another.
That love, that pain, is with our God, and in that is our hope and our healing.

Some of us may feel there is a little of the elder, faithful, indignant son about us.
And maybe we understand the cost of faithful service,
while another has been living only for themselves.
We feel rightly peeved, by all the standards of this world,
that we should have to celebrate another’s infidelity,
even if at its end.

Most of us, I think,
will find our lot with the main character,
the son who spends his life and his belongings in a stumbling after happiness:
the sex and drugs and rock’n’roll of his age.
Our tastes may be more urbane, be more discreet,
but most of us have looked for happiness and meaning
in places which weren’t good for us.

We are offered for our infidelity an honest hope, a road of return, a future.

The story of the prodigal son also offers us a good antidote
to much of what we might think Lent is about:

The wayward child rehearses in his head
his little speech about his sin and his unworthiness.

And the father figure – God –
simply embraces this returning child
and gets the party underway.

The prodigal doesn’t even get past the first sentence.
The embrace cuts through our bargaining or explaining
and we are restored.
As Jesus says to those he heals
– throw away your crutches –  get on with fully living.

The point of this parable, the point of this Lenten season,
is not penitence for its own sake,
some sort of self-flagellation cum self-definition session, no.
Lent is about finding the freedom to live as God’s liberated people –
and to look towards that most fully expressed at Easter.

Whoever we find ourselves as in this story,
it is ultimately speaks of a celebration we are called into.
Lent need not be morose.

Lent is the story of our returning to the love which waits for us,
which runs towards us and holds us.
Before we beat ourselves up, God would embrace us
and still the voices of accusation within our hearts and heads.

Know today that you are loved,
in the way a mother loves her newborn child:,
senselessly, abundantly, beautifully, you are loved.

These words of George Herbert, my birthday saint,
I recently saw provocatively set alongside William Blake’s image
“Satan in glory: thou wast perfect before iniquity was found in thee”…
and perhaps it points towards redemption we cannot imagine:

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.

A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:
Love said, you shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful: Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat.
So I did sit and eat.

George Herbert