Sharing with open hands

KurelekThis year we have been reading from the Gospel of Mark. Last week we had the story of Jesus and the disciples crossing over the lake and coming to find a large crowd of people, which he set out to teach at some length. Rather than continuing the story from Mark, we interrupt the story and change to have an extended reading from the Gospel of John, so that we have his unique perspective. John’s gospel was written much later than the other gospels, probably late in the first century. You have this deeply reflective, theological and spiritual understanding of Jesus and the mysteries of the Church. One of the curiosities of John’s Gospel is that when you go to the Last Supper with John, there is no mention of Jesus blessing the bread; of Jesus taking the cup and telling the disciples that this is my blood. We can wonder – why aren’t what we call the Institution Narratives – the story of the institution of the Eucharist mentioned in John’s Gospel? It is because it is here, in this sixth chapter of St John. I invite you as we journey through this magnificent chapter over the next five weeks to take the time to prayerfully and slowly read through the chapter. Take the time to ponder these majestic words and allow them to sink deeply into our spirit.

Here in this Gospel, one of the things we must remember is that nothing ever happens by chance. Every word is carefully chosen to drive home this deep symbolic and rich meaning. The gospel begins with Jesus and his disciples going up a mountain. This should evoke every other mountain in the Scriptures – from Mount Sinai, Mount Horeb to Mount Tabor – all the other mountains in scripture that have that rich sense of those places that you go to be with God; where God will reveal his presence and his power and his majesty. Then it simply says that there Jesus sat down. We probably will miss the significance of this: in the ancient world a master would sit down and his disciples would also sit down at his feet in order that he could teach them. This was the symbol and gesture of teaching. So Jesus sat down to teach and instruct his disciples. It is why when we gather at the Eucharist we sit down to listen to the readings – to hear the word of God – and to allow the readings being proclaimed to nourish and enrich us. Hopefully this will also happen in the preaching of the priest as he tries to expound upon the words of God. John is reminding us that what is happening here in this scene is what happens every time that we gather to celebrate the Eucharist. First we sit down to allow the word of God to nourish us; to allow Jesus to teach us.

But then he says the Feast of Passover was drawing close. What happens at Passover? The Lamb of God is sacrificed. That lamb of God that allowed the people of God, the Hebrew slaves to escape the judgement of God upon the kingdom of Egypt. They remembered this every year as that time when God delivered them from slavery to freedom. This is the signal for John to remind us that we are moving from that time of teaching in the Mass into that time of sacrifice. Then Jesus looks and see this massive crowd of 5000 people approaching up the mountain. He says to the disciples ‘what are we going to do? How are we going to feed this huge crowd?’ Philip speaks the words that are on all their lips – even 200 Denarii or six-month’s wages – would not be enough to buy food to even give them a little bit to eat. Even that much money is not enough – and we don’t even have this much money. Then Andrew recognises at least something that is available. He says, well actually there is this little boy, this child has five loaves; he has a couple of fish. But what is that among so many? Perhaps that is what we sometimes think when we get to the offertory at Mass; when those few scraps of bread, that little jug of wine is brought forward as a sign and symbol of what our offering is; of what you as the people of God bring and what I as the representative of Jesus in this gathering receive on your behalf. Such fragile attempts – mere scraps – and yet we know and we trust that somehow in that the Lord will take it; the Lord will take our lives; the Lord will take what we can offer; he will take and he will receive. Jesus does this – he takes these small and fragile offerings of this young child and he gives thanks. That word, in Greek, is eucharisteo – it is why we call this gathering the Eucharist – because it is here that we give thanks; that we gather to give our return to the Lord – to bless him, to worship him and to offer our thanksgiving for all that he does through us and in us. So Jesus does this; he gives thanks to God – he prays the blessing of God to be upon this fragile offering which is our lives. Then he himself breaks and gives – a sign of those four central actions that are at the heart of every Mass. We take the offering of our lives, we give and bring up the gifts which are blessed in the Eucharistic Prayer; where they are broken at the Lamb of God, and then distributed to each of us so that we can feed.

Here, when Jesus feeds personally each of the people in this crowd – then everyone eats and is full. Everyone is satisfied at this feast. We have so many hungers – don’t we? We want pleasures, we want recognition; we want to be like everyone else; we want to have the thrill of money or of sex or of wealth or of whatever we want… But none of these things every truly satisfies. Even if we have our fill, even if we have the latest gadgets, even if we travel to the four corners of the world, we are never satisfied. But here in this place, when we are allowed to eat of the very life of God, when the Lord himself feeds us, then we can be satisfied; then our hearts and our longings and our desires can be filled and fulfilled in Christ. That is why he feeds us; that is why we gather to give thanks. That is why we bring those fragile offerings of our lives because the Lord always wants to work with us; he always wants to take what we can give and bless that, and multiple that and fulfil those deepest longings in our hearts and spirits.

The final curious detail that is given to us in the Gospel, is that Jesus instructs them to gather all the scraps and fragments together that are left over from the feast. It is the same thing that we do at the Eucharist – that we are very attentive even to the smallest fragment of this precious gift – because we want to gather it, we want to collect it so that others also can share in this gift. It is that sense of unity in being gathered. John tells us that there were twelve baskets full of scraps and fragments at the end of the feast – the twelve as that richly symbolic number representing the 12 tribes of Israel – that fullness of the whole people of God. All of us are called to be gathered in unity as his people; as different and diverse as we are we are called to come together in this place, for this Eucharist we are allowed to be one; we are allowed to be gathered into the great feast of the Lord. Today as we celebrate this Eucharist. As we allow the gifts of our lives to be brought up and to be offered; as I pray that great prayer of thanksgiving on your behalf when I ask the Spirit of God to come and fall upon these gifts to make them into the body and blood of Christ; as we break them and as we share them, know that the Lord himself is feeding our deepest desires and longings. He is bringing them all to be blessed and multiplied and in our turn we are invited to give thanks for this great gift of the Eucharist.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Columbkille’s, Vigil (10min)
Sunday 17, Year B. John 6:1-15

 

Apostles breaking down barriers

Jesus-Shepherd-TissotWe meet the disciples of Jesus today as they return from their missionary journeys where they went out in pairs to not only proclaim the message of salvation but they were also tasked to heal the sick and bring release to those bound with evil spirits. They return no longer as disciples – but they are now called for the first time ‘apostles’ – that is ones that are sent. Seeing how tired and stressed they are, Jesus invites them to go across the lake to a wilderness area (eremos topos) – the same phrase that is used to describe the wilderness that Jesus spent the forty days at the beginning of the Gospel. But when they cross the lake they find the even larger crowd has hurried even more than they did and are waiting for them when they step ashore. Jesus models the ministry of shepherd by having compassion on the crowd and he sets about to teach them at some length. (So a long homily is a sign of the preacher’s compassion on the crowds.)

Paul also offers us an insight into the ministry of the shepherd by describing the alienation that his audience used to live in – they were both spiritually and physically excluded from the life of the Jewish people by the commandments of Moses and the wall that surrounded the inner courts in the Jerusalem temple which bore an inscription which warned any Gentiles (in Greek) that if they entered into the inner courts they should prepare to die. Sorry about that.

What happens in the life and death of Jesus is the beginning of the incredible process of reconciliation – the tearing down of all barriers to allow both Jews and Gentiles to no longer be two separate streams, but now one newly recreated humanity able to live in the grace and peace of God.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Col’s, Saturday Vigil and Sunday morning (9mins)

Sunday 16, Year B

Anakephalaiosasthai – recapitulating all things in Christ

12croppedIt quickly becomes clear that Jesus never intended the new movement of the Lord that he established to begin and end with him. Once the disciples are able, he send them out as well. Not only to tell people about the name and work of Jesus – like so many others who were recipients of the mighty work of God must already have been doing – but also to act and speak with his power and authority which included casting out demons and healing the sick. We see here the future ministry of the church beginning to be experienced and lived by the first followers of Jesus.

When they later reflected upon this ministry, they began to realise that all the many things that they were living and experiencing had their meaning and purpose in the Anointed and Risen One – Jesus. This is the central theme in the ecstatic prayer that Paul uses to begin this new letter which we will journey with over the next seven weeks – the letter to the church in Ephesus. At the highpoint of this great prayer of blessing, Paul makes a utterly bold claim and declaration – that God planned to bring unity to all thing in and through Christ the head. The unusual word that he uses to make this point is only used here and again (with a very different meaning) in Romans 13:9 – it is the little word “anakephalaiosasthai” – and it can help to make sense of all of our lives.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Col’s, Vigil and Sunday morning (which included the baptism of three children and the full reception of an adult)

Sunday 15, Year B.

Grace, power and weakness

tektonAny truly compelling story always seems to have one common element: just as the protagonist or hero of the story is nearing their goal – whether it is true love, destined position or treasure – some major setback interrupts everything and this hurdle needs to be overcome before we can reach the conclusion, and everyone lives happily ever after as the credits roll. This is not just in Hollywood films but also it seems in many saints lives. For example, it was only after the death of (Mother) Teresa of Kolkata that her diaries revealed the extent of personal darkness that she experienced in prayer and her difficulties to continue to believe. The writings of St Therese of Lisieux show a similar depression and darkness in her final years. We can surmise that what St Paul reveals in today’s passage from 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 was a similar hurdle that he really didn’t want to dominate his life. Yet here was this skolops that Paul was experiencing in his flesh – usually translated as a thorn, but perhaps better translated as a stake – a military description of the sharpened stake of timber driven into the ground around your defences to impale an invading soldier. Paul didn’t need or want this skolops – so he prays to the Lord again and again and again to remove it. But the Lord doesn’t provide a simple solution or resolution. No Hollywood movie here. No instead the Lord addresses Paul and tells him that “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” This is the only saying of the risen Lord in the letters of Paul. We are on sacred ground here. It is not in our strength that God has room to move – but in our weakness. As Paul concludes this section: “when I am weak, then strong I am” – channelling Yoda he was.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Col’s (Vigil and 9am; 10-11 mins)
Sunday 14, Year B.
Ezekiel 2:2-5; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6