theunfamiliarname

Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

Homily for Easter 2011

In Uncategorized on April 24, 2011 at 10:08 pm

There’s a certain school of thought that says
“life is like banging your head against a brick wall”.
In that it’s good when you stop.

Such people might tell you that however hard life seems here and now, in heaven everything will be better.
So that’s alright then.

And while that’s true,
it’s a little inadequate, here and now.

You could look at Holy Week from this perspective:
having been through the agonies of the garden
and Good Friday, the harrowing silence of Holy Saturday,
here we are on Easter Day,
and we’ve made it through all the bad stuff.

Pass the Easter eggs and we’ll celebrate
that Lent’s over for another year.

Which is fine, except that it rather begs the question,
“so what was the point?”

Easter is not just
the absence of the pain of Good Friday, or an end to Lent.
Sure, the central metaphor and reality of this day
is the empty tomb, but it is not emptiness that defines us.
Easter is the central, the first and greatest, day of our faith.
The day and the experience most full of meaning
for those of us who call ourselves Christians.
This is the day, the experience,
that turned the frightened and generally unreliable characters
of the gospels, those followers and disciples of Jesus,
into women and men who passionately lived and died
to spread “Good News”.

Matthew’s Gospel tells the story with drama and power:
an angel in an earthquake rolling back the tombstone,
the very earth shaking – as it did at Jesus’ death –
for the power of what was being proclaimed:
“He is not here”.

Not where you come looking for him, lifeless, confined.

Not where death, despair and darkness reign.

The tomb is empty.
Devoid of power, as of this moment, here and now:
“death has no power over him now”.
There is no body, no corpse.
The power that seemed so emphatic and unassailable
on Calvary is lost without a victim.
The hatred, the humiliation,
the unholy alliances forged to silence the truth…
these ultimately have no power.

“He is not here”.

Perhaps you’ve sat with someone dying
and known that they’ve gone.
You could say at that moment, “they are not here”.

And yet that’s not the message of Easter,
not merely some sort of release after suffering,
but something that transformed broken women and men
into victorious, powerful, holy, joyful,
willing-to-take-on-the-world apostles, …and martyrs.

Filled with the Spirit, filled with Good News, filled.

For our faith is not about absence.
The tomb is empty.  But we are not.
The world is full of the power of God,
proclaimed in the Risen Christ.
The angel speaks those words, “He is not here”.
And yet in barely a moment, he is.

Our faith is not ultimately about an absence.
An empty tomb, after all, might simply lack for a body.
As the two Marys discover,
the Easter message is about a presence.
About life, a life fully and perpetually
restored, reshaped, redeemed, beyond our imagination.

And this is what we enter into in our baptism.
The death and resurrection of our Lord.

Life – this life – a life that will not be silenced with our
last breath, but that begins a song of praise to God
that need never end.
A life – full, free from victimhood,
from the fear and power of death itself,
whatever our life should bring us,
we live because Christ lives.

We share in the Resurrection reality, here, in this flesh and blood, and in a life beyond mere mortality.

Poet George Herbert says:
Rise, heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without delayes,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more just.

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Homily for Lent 5A (Passion Sunday)

In Uncategorized on April 10, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Last week we had Psalm 23 set down.
“Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me…”

Well, we’re in death valley today.
Literally, in the passage from Ezekiel.
The valley of dry bones,
remnants of some long-lost defeat in battle perhaps.
And there is the question,
“mortal can these bones live”.
To which the prophet’s only response is non-committal,
“O Lord God, you know”.

Then we are at the tomb of Lazarus.
There, we are told, the axel on which the story turns,
“Jesus began to weep”
or more simply, “Jesus wept”.
The single shortest verse in the Bible.
Perhaps, apart from another moment of revelation,
“I am”,
among the shortest sentences it is possible to construct.

The shortest verse, but perhaps telling us as much
about the nature of God
as it is possible for us to comprehend.

Jesus wept.  There is simply nothing else you can do.

Jesus wept and we must too.
Grief is part of being fully human.
Death appals us, an affront to every breath we take.

We try to euphemise our way about it,
“passing away” or as in Jesus’ day “falling asleep”,
but death will not be sidelined.
We don’t like to dwell on our own mortality,
in fact we insulate ourselves from it.
But death and grief will not be denied.
In fact, great damage can be caused
to ourselves and others if we try to ignore it.

But we are reminded this Passion Sunday
– and “passion” means, literally, “suffering” –
we are reminded that the pain of separation
is what Christ comes to destroy,
sin and that last great fearful enemy, death.
Which is not to say we will not die.

Clearly, as sure as we are born, our bodies will decay.
Lazarus is given back his breath,
his heart beats once again,
but whether the next year or in many long years’ time,
Lazarus was buried again,
and there would be no similar resuscitation.

We – you and I –
will pass through the valley of the shadow of death,
the valley of dry bones, deep grief,
when we wonder if life – a life worth living –
can ever be restored.
But we do not settle in that valley,
under that shadow.
We do not grieve as those who have no hope.
In the mystery of the Cross,
in compassion – literally “suffering with” –
Christ shows us that ultimately
“death shall have no dominion”
as poet Dylan Thomas powerfully puts it.
Grief is bourne of love.  Loss is bourne of care.
Suffering of attachment and identification.  “Compassion”.

Christianity is not a faith that seeks to disengage,
to become aloof and divest oneself of “passion”,
in its usual sense.

We are called to follow and conform our lives towards God.
The God we see in Jesus.
A God who is not disinterested, aloof or dispassionate,
quite the opposite:  Jesus wept.

This is where we see God-with-us:
the God who loves, the God who is love.
The God who in Christ Jesus dares
to enter with us into the shadow of death, human grief,
because he is the source of the love which casts that shadow.

Who in Christ Jesus dares to embrace shame,
pain and death itself
in order that he might proclaim the absolute power,
the enduring, undefeatable power of the love that is God.
Jesus wept, because Jesus loves.

In this Passiontide, these days
leading up to Good Friday and the Easter mystery,
may we be reminded that,
to continue with Dylan Thomas:
“Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.”

St Paul writes,
Love bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
For now we see in a mirror, dimly,
but then we will see face to face.
Now I know only in part;
then I will know fully,
even as I have been fully known.

And now faith, hope, and love abide,
these three;
and the greatest of these is love.”

Homily for Lent 4A

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2011 at 10:18 pm

There was a snake and a rabbit, both blind from birth.
Meeting one day, they thought they might help each other
with a sense of identity, by feeling and describing the other.
The snake began, winding himself around the rabbit.
After a few moments, he announced,
“You’ve got very soft, fuzzy fur, long ears,
big rear feet, and a little fuzzy tail.
I think you must be a bunny rabbit!”

The rabbit was much relieved to find his identity,
and proceeded to return the favour to the snake.
After feeling about the snake’s body, he said,
“Well, you’re scaly, you’re slimy, with beady little eyes,
you squirm and slither all the time,
and you’ve got a forked tongue.
I think you must either be a politician or a lawyer…”

Blindness and sight.    Light and darkness.
These are the images of today’s readings,
and of John’s Gospel in particular.

It can be very telling, very tempting,
to see the world in those terms, darkness and light,
and many Christians, many of us, probably do that.
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”

A question close to parents’ hearts,
when we are faced with disability, disappointment
or the kind of dark distress
a family endures when children choose badly.
Who is to blame?

And while we’re asking, just where is God in all that?

Jesus’ answer is that blame is not the answer,
and to the question, one way or another,
the answer is “God is there”.

Inviting us to choose light and sight, but there,
ultimately, as this lenten season will show us,
in every anguish, in every blame and pain, that we are in.
The Cross proclaims that only-ever-answer,
the easiest, and the hardest to hang on to:
“God is there”.
Inviting us to choose light and sight,
but there, even in deepest darkness,
God is at work.

It’s an intriguing gospel narrative that John gives us
after this opening theological gambit.

A man born blind.
Jesus using mud in his healing,
a pointer back to Genesis,
a symbolic completing or recreation of this son of Adam.

And then there are the Pharisees.

The Pharisees:
shorthand, like the expression “the Jews” in John’s Gospel,
for those who just don’t get it, who hold they think the truth,
and end up opposing God’s will and work and Word
in Jesus Christ.

They want to know what this man thinks he’s doing,
allowing himself to be healed on the Sabbath.
What he thinks of the one who has healed him, where he is.
“I don’t know” he says.
They bring in his parents, and ask
“what do you know about all this?”
“We know that this is our son, and that he was blind,”
they say, “no more”.

Again with the questions to the blind man
and a kind of slapstick Jewish humour is developing
with nobody knowing or wanting to say
what is not allowed to be said –
the kind of humour that deals with authority
by answering its questions accurately
but in the most unhelpful way.
And so he’s driven out:
For telling his truth, his experience, speaking of his healing.

And if you hadn’t already had this feeling
with John’s Gospel
it’s here you may just get the message,
this is not simply a character in the gospel narrative,
an historical encounter retold,
this is the story of John’s community.

They have been driven out of the synagogues,
they, some of them,
have not been supported by their parents and families,
they are a community struggling to forge a new identity.
This story, this character, is about them.

Perhaps it’s also about us.
How do we react to hearing that it was only
outside the sphere of the recognised religious people
that this man could say, “Lord, I believe.”?

Knowing we are on both sides of the story,
people healed and those suspicious of healing,
both Pharisees and blind men as the story would have it,
whom do we exclude,
and how do we feel as those excluded?

Where do we allow people to say “Lord, I believe”.
Where and when would we dare make such a profession?
It’s as true an analogy for our time as it was for those
struggling with being cast out of the synagogues
and the communities that they knew.

If you read John’s Gospel
with that kind of alienation in your mind,
you can see a lot of pointers to a community
that was reforming itself out of and against the
other communities people had clearly been forced to leave.

John’s Gospel has a lot to say about believing
and rather not belonging.
And maybe that’s where we meet that Church.
Because believing and not belonging to a church
is the story of many in our community.

Those who know a little of what has happened to them,
but wait for that personal encounter with Christ.

Those among us, who see things in black and white.
Who, like the Pharisees,
see some things so clearly that we might as well be blind.

Some who ask those things we’ve heard
in our gospel reading: “What do you say about him?”
“What did he do to you?  How did he open your eyes?”

And what is our response?
Many of us, I suspect, are still at the “I don’t know” stage.

Lent gives us an opportunity to, together and alone,
deepen, grow, develop our faith.
To think on our own encounter with the Christ.
To find ourselves in these familiar stories.
To find our eyes opened.

Let us in the silence listen for the voice of God.