Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Ash Wednesday St Bartholomew, Brighton 14.2.18

Remember, man, that dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return.  If Lent’s about deepening the inner life, about life in the Spirit, there’s paradox about the way it starts. The ashing rite is something physical done to our bodies. It's a reminder of bodily frailty and a call to distrust the flesh. In today’s Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer the priest thanks God who by bodily fasting dost overcome vice, dost raise the mind and dost bestow upon us virtue and heavenly reward. 

In these forty days many of us resolve to give up a bodily comfort - sweet things, alcohol or whatever - so our inner life can profit. The Lord who died and rose seeks in this season our own dying and rising, death of self-orientation and rise of Christian service to him and to others. Fasting is a business-like devotion. You know its challenge to self-interest hour by hour All the time it says to us what the Baptist said of the Lord: I must decrease. He must increase.

The increase or prospering of the spiritual life links a lot to what we do with our bodies. As Christians in a rich, materialistic culture we do well to seize opportunities the liturgy provides in Lent, Advent and on Friday’s to assert ourselves over and above material comforts.

By adopting a Lent discipline we further check self-orientation. Recommitment to forms of Christian service is the other side of the coin, a sign of Christ’s resurrection life flowing in and through us. ‘Extras’ we take on in Lent can be transformative of both others and ourselves.

In comments released last month coincident with the World Economic Forum in Davos Bishop Rowan Williams, writing as chair of Christian Aid, said provocatively: ‘We have stopped asking what wealth is for. Lacking a coherent picture of what a good human life looks like, we have filled the gap with quantified measures that tell us little or nothing about how far flesh-and-blood human beings are flourishing in all aspects of their experience. For Christians, in particular, this is a serious failure: we are in danger of not thinking about what is involved in our belief that we are made in God's image, made for creative engagement in the lives of others that will build them up as they build us up. Wealth is instrumental to this, never an end in itself.’

To engage in Christian service with others builds them up as they build us up. God is no man’s debtor as the joy of giving demonstrates. On Ash Wednesday we’re marked with the Cross and that Cross could be seen as ‘I’ crossed out. The outward ashing rite expresses and assists through this Mass the special time ahead deepening inner devotion and challenging self-interest by more prayer and work for others. Through such action we’re to be taken out of our comfort zone to be reshaped more fully into the image of Christ crucified and risen.

Remember, man, that dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return. That downbeat Genesis verse is matched by an upbeat one from Romans: if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 

A joyful, life-giving Lent lies ahead - let’s seize upon it!

Picture: Carracci’s Christ appearing to Saint Peter on the Appian Way

Saturday, 10 February 2018

St Bartholomew, Brighton Quinquagesima 11.2.18

God has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6b)

The radiance of Jesus lightens the mind, warms the heart and energises the will.

Just as dynamite contains within itself potential energy that can be released to give light, heat and a surge of momentum so it is with Jesus Our Lord.

On the cusp of Lent we’re aware of the forward movement in the church calendar, with personal resolutions and the stripping away in the Liturgy present since Septuagesima.

Christianity goes forward by radiant energy as we come again and again before Jesus in word and sacrament and in the hearts of his faithful to see our minds, hearts and wills irradiated.

As Fr. Bull, one of the great Mirfield Fathers put it, the glad tidings of Christianity are in what Jesus Christ did for men and in the abiding energy of that work.

We gather at Mass this morning to be caught up afresh into that energy which shines from today’s Gospel of the Transfiguration when Our Lord’s clothes became dazzling white.

As we prepare to best keep Lent here’s an invitation to seek fresh illumination from the truth that is in Jesus (Ephesians 4:21), fresh warming of our hearts by the Sacred Heart and fresh energising for active service from the working of his great power (Ephesians 1:19b).

All of this will flow from the radiance of Jesus, what the Apostle calls the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6b). As dynamite is ignited releasing potential energy into light, heat and momentum so our devotion can ignite a radiance from Jesus to light up our lives and through us light up a world so in need of that irradiation.

I want to suggest this ignition process has three dimensions – intellectual, devotional and practical and to encourage our preparation for Lent to be shaped accordingly.

First we seek irradiation - light - for the mind. We’re all students in church this morning.

I wonder when you last read a book about the Christian Faith.  Or even the Bible itself?

How can you hope to be a better witness unless you know your faith? If someone asked you why you thought Christianity was true would you be able to argue for the truth of the resurrection?

Our religion above all others is based on historical events we should be able to explain and defend. Have you looked at the trustworthiness of the New Testament resurrection accounts, all slightly different in their detail and so adding a ring of truth to things? How can we obtain the mind of Christ unless our minds are irradiated by the word of God?

The radiance of Jesus lightens the mind. It also warms the heart.

To gain the radiance of Jesus you need to be exposed to his radiant love. Christian friends, holy priests all of these help – but nothing can replace our individual business with God.

When did you last sit in church before the Blessed Sacrament? Has anyone ever commended to you the practice of quiet adoration in church of the reserved Sacrament? It’s a sort of extension of the sacred time of Holy Communion. ‘I look at Him and He looks at me’. That light that burns by the Tabernacle signals the radiance of Jesus. As we sit before the Lord present before us in the consecrated Bread there is not just a warming inside but a burning out of evil. I’ve heard it described as ‘spiritual radiotherapy’.

To welcome the radiance of Jesus into our hearts is a life-long struggle because of our fallen nature. We need a regular time of prayer, a discipline of self-examination and confession, a resolve to intercede for others, to give a proportion of our income to God’s work and so on. For all of us as St Bartholomew’s there’s the challenge to pray as best we can concerning the future of our parish.

The radiance of Jesus lightens the mind, warms the heart and then, lastly, it energises the will.

Where would our study and prayer be if it never led us into action, to be part of what Fr. Bull called the abiding energy of the once-for-all work of Jesus Christ?  We are here at Mass to gain that energy.
Just as the potential energy in an explosive is released to give light, heat and a surge of momentum so all Jesus attained through his life, death and resurrection is given to be celebrated and released so as to give power and direction to our lives.

It’s a good question to ask yourself as part of regular self-examination ‘how have I acted to transform my environment to be more as you, Lord, would want it in recent weeks? What have I done in my little way to change the world for good?

If the radiant energy of Jesus is in you, you should find yourself raiding the kingdom of fear with  love, encouraging those who are down, forgiving those who come against you harshly and providing for those in need from your own resources. This energy carries our lives forward to work for the kingdom of this world (to) become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ (Revelation 11:15).

For such energising of will, warming of heart and illumination of mind we lift our hearts to the Father in this Mass. May the Son of God catch us afresh into his radiance as we lift our heart to the Blessed Trinity to whom, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be glory now and for ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.