Friday, 13 October 2017

St Bartholomew, Brighton Trinity 18 (28A) 15th October 2017

The 22nd Chapter of St Matthew’s Gospel and the second verse: The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. God is the king, Jesus is the son and we and the cosmos are part of the preparing of the bride for that banquet. The whole of history is headed towards a wedding banquet where Jesus is Bridegroom and the Church is Bride.

All we’re about this morning at Mass is preparing for the end of all things when God will be everything to everyone at his wedding banquet. Blessed are those who are called to his supper!

Out of the puzzle of today’s Gospel we can distil such joy and hope!

Matthew 22 IS a puzzle. You need bible scholarship to make sense of it. Things like invited guests killing servants who bring their invitations, a man hauled unexpectedly from the streets expected to have a wedding garment! Fortunately we have four Gospels we can look at side by side, as well as knowledge of the circumstances in which St Matthew wrote his edition, especially the Jewish War with Rome that ended with Jerusalem’s destruction in 70AD. If you look at the parallel version in Luke Chapter 14 you see a more life-like parable of people making excuses after being invited to a great dinner. Matthew, writing primarily for Jews who’d rejected and put to death Christian evangelists, shades Our Lord’s original story with an allegory that presents Jerusalem’s loss as judging their rejection of Christ. That expansion explains the un-Jesus-like sound of today’s Gospel. As for the man without a wedding garment, it's a separate parable about the need to be ready for the Lord’s invitations Matthew’s  stitched onto the banquet parable. Also, whereas Luke’s banquet is given by a private person Matthew’s is given by a king for his son, the element I’m picking up on, and that’s an interpretation of Jesus’s original parable in the light of his death and resurrection.

Like St Matthew we read the teaching of Jesus Christ in the light of what followed. The Buddha gave his teaching - there are many Buddhas on sale down the Lanes - but, unlike the Buddha, Christ gave his life. When you leave the Lanes to enter St Bartholomew you see no Buddha but a great Cross above an immense altar. Here Sunday by Sunday, day by day we recall Christ’s parables whilst going on to plead the sacrificial gift revealed upon the Cross. Wagner built this Church as a great place to celebrate this greatest of gifts.

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. God is the king, Jesus is the son given on Calvary who, by the Holy Spirit, is gathering through history the scattered children of God to his banquet. History is about the purification of God’s children in anticipation of full union with the Blessed Trinity when we shall see God as he is and become like him. In the gift of the eucharist we eat and drink of Christ veiled in the sacrament to anticipate his unveiling when God will be all in all.

In his book Corpus Christi Anglican theologian Eric Mascall writes ‘there is only one Mass, offered by the great high priest, Jesus Christ, at the Last Supper, on Calvary and in heaven… ultimately we do not celebrate masses or attend mass; we celebrate mass and attend mass. For every earthly mass is simply the Church’s participation in the one heavenly Mass… the Eucharist makes accessible to us (human beings), at our different points of space and moments of time, the one extra-spatial and supra-temporal redemptive activity of Christ, ‘who ever lives to make intercession for us’.

As we sing in Bourne’s great hymn: Paschal Lamb, thine Offering finished once for all when thou wast slain, in its fullness undiminished shall for evermore remain, cleansing souls from every stain. Sacrifice is about love and not death, Christ’s once for all death is part of his perpetual love offering seen at Mass. As Thomas Aquinas says of the Mass: O sacred feast in which we partake of Christ, his sufferings are remembered, our minds are filled with his grace and we received a pledge of the glory that is to be ours.

If Brighton’s Buddha’s - though pointers to godly detachment - distract from the unique gift of God in Jesus Christ, her cinemas are more attractive - I speak as a regular customer. To make a more favourable comparison, those clips before the main film give us a preview of forthcoming attractions. What we’re about this morning like a cinema trailer, is a meal that’s a taster of the full thing, the heavenly banquet.

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world happy are those who are called to his supper - in this meal we see the sacrificial gift of Jesus opening heaven to us under the veil of bread and wine. We eat and drink expressing our hope and our joy, in anticipation of heaven which scripture and sacrament depict as a banquet.

The whole of history is headed towards this banquet at which Jesus is Bridegroom and the Church is Bride. And, yes, we will indeed need garments for this wedding, the garments of humility and confidence in God expressed in that beautiful and challenging prayer of the Eucharist: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Father Peter Nissen’s First Eucharist St Chad, Holt, Wrexham, Wales 1st October 2017

It’s good to be in Holt - well worth the four and a half hour journey from Sussex - to be part of a memorable week for you and Gresford on the occasion of my friend Fr Peter’s ordination. I’m grateful to him - and Fr Tudor especially - for the invitation to speak God’s Word into a robust pastoral scene that owes a lot to inspirational and hard working priests.

Which of the two did the will of his father? Jesus asks in the Gospel. They said, ‘The first.’
Matthew 21:31a

I know a priest who’s got by his desk a tablet inscribed ‘love is not about words spoken but deeds done’. He’s a Jesuit priest and the quotation is from Jesuit founder St Ignatius of Loyola who knew today’s Gospel.

Last time I was in Wales I did what they call an 8 day Ignatian retreat at St Beuno’s in which I followed under guidance the reflections of this Saint especially on creation, helped by the lovely scenery. I was led to see God’s glory shining from the Welsh fields and hedgerows and to make a fresh surrender to the one by whose loving word all that is, including you and I, has come into being.

Jesus knows love isn’t just words spoken but deeds done because he is true God as well as true Man. Our whole existence is a growth into that truth and integrity, into a state where our words are powerful and our deeds extraordinary through the gift of the Holy Spirit we invoke this morning with Father Peter, at this his first celebration of the Eucharist.

Today’s celebration opens a new phase in Peter’s life and ministry in fulfilment of the call he felt quite long ago at the age of 13 and right across the sea in Denmark. It returned to him after he responded to the call of the Holy Spirit and entered the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield in Yorkshire where I first met him. Since then it has been a joy to see Peter’s vocation develop through marriage to Bodil and now through ordination to the priesthood.

Like Peter I’m something of an apologist - one who speaks and writes in defence of Christianity - as well as something of a contemplative. In the time I’ve known him both of us have been involved in challenging the contemporary reshaping of the sacraments of marriage and ordination but Peter over that time has allowed himself to be reshaped by those God-given sacraments. He’s been married and ordained!

To be married is to lose yourself in a loving union with your spouse - all that I am I give to you, all that I have I share with you. To be ordained is to lose yourself in love towards God and people. Let today’s Saint, Therese of Lisieux, be heard briefly in what I share. She had a one-line summary for the purpose of Christian existence, especially that of priests, namely to love God and make him loved.

Marriage and ordination - you have certainly not just talked about these, Fr Peter, you have done the deeds! Thank God for Bodil, and thank God for this loving Christian community gathered to mark your inauguration as a priest.

As you have received not just words but deeds of love from your wife and your congregation so you are to be reminded by today’s Gospel to return to them deeds of love, to pray in a familiar Anglican prayer that as priest ministering in God’s temple…you may say and sing with your lips what you believe in your heart,  and show that faith forth in your life.

Which of the two did the will of his father? Jesus asks. They said, ‘The first.’
Loving Jesus and making him loved as priest or as a Christian is a response to what lies at the heart of the eucharist, namely the cross and resurrection of Jesus which are abiding realities that draw us all into life in its fullness here on earth and there in heaven.

We are each one of us loved by everlasting love. In the eucharist the priest is Jesus’ man setting forth in bread and wine that awesome truth. This is my body… this is my blood… I give myself in sacrifice to you and to my Father so that joining me, offering yourselves with me as a living sacrifice, we may love God and make him loved.

In the sacramental action of the eucharist Christ is present by the Holy Spirit in word and sacrament, in priest and people, to bring his cross and resurrection to bear upon us and upon the world as it in turn bears upon our hearts. As often as we celebrate this mystery - for want of a better word - the kingdom and will of God and the honouring of his name are advanced across the world as we bring its joys and sorrows to him on our hearts. To handle the bread and wine for the Lord and his people is an awesome privilege. As Peter kneels today for the first time as a consequence of words we have given him to speak for us under God may he be the more submitted to the Lord he professes before us!  May his words be inhabited by the Holy Spirit and, since there is no word of God without power, may those words flowing from truth and submission of life, overflow in extraordinary deeds of love and service through the gift of the same Spirit.

The Gospel today is for Peter but also for Bodil without whom Peter’s ministry would, in his own words, be beyond his daring. The Gospel is for each one of us who accompany this inspirational couple as we seek inspiration for ourselves to both love God and make him loved through practical obedience. God grant us ministering in God’s temple…to say and sing with our lips what we believe in our heart, and show that faith forth in our lives.

I would like to invite you to reflect with me in a brief silence upon those words before I close with the well known Prayer of St Ignatius, fitting for both today’s new celebrant and for each one of us as we offer the eucharist with him.

Take, Lord, and receive all that I am: my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire life.
Lord, take all I have and call my own. You have given these gifts to me - now I return them.
Take these gifts for all is yours. Dispose of them according to your will.
Because, Lord, all I need is your love and your grace. That is enough for me. Amen