Third Sunday of Easter

Luke 24:35-48

I am always struck by the ways in which the Risen Christ reassures his disciples. By the tomb he asks Mary why she is weeping and then calls her by by name. On the road to Emmaus he walks alongside his disciples and asks them why they are downcast. At Tiberias he invites them to breakfast when they have had a disappointing night trying to catch fish. In the Upper Room he comes among his disciples wishing them peace and urging them not to be afraid. These are all things that seem human and natural.

The Risen Christ also does something that will feed their spirits: ‘he then opened their minds to understand the scriptures’. There is so much to ponder here. As on the road to Emmaus, I imagine the disciples’ hearts burning within them. There is nothing more precious than suddenly understanding something with your head, heart and soul.

Understanding the Scriptures is something which I consider to be my life’s work in the monastery. The rhythm of the Liturgy of the Hours means that there are short passages that I almost know by heart. At Mass we have the Sunday and Weekday cycles and at Office of Readings we hear whole books of Scripture. Little by little my heart and mind are being opened.

How can you open yourself to the Scriptures this week?

Saturday, Second Week of Easter

John 6:16-21

In just 5 verses the writer of the Fourth Gospel has given us a window into a whole theological world. The story of Jesus walking on the water comes just after he had fed the 5,000. For the hearers of this Gospel the resonances with the Exodus story may well have been clear. Just as God fed the Israelites in the long years in the desert, so too Jesus feeds the people. Assured of God’s providence, in the dark of night, the Israelites were led to freedom as the waters of the Red Sea parted and they reached dry land. God is master of the waters. As night is falling, Jesus is master of the strong wind and rough sea and is able to walk on the waters to his disciples. The people of Israel were left in no doubt that God has acted. The disciples, however, are afraid and need reassurance: ‘It is I. Do not be afraid.

In my youth I attended a charismatic prayer group and loved this simple song:

Here comes Jesus, see Him walking on the water,
He’ll lift you up and He’ll help you to stand;
Oh, here comes Jesus,
He’s the Master of the waves that roll.
Here comes Jesus, let him take your hand.

Both the Gospel text and this simple song invite us to recognize Jesus when he comes to us.

Picture yourself in the boat. How do you respond to Jesus when he says: ‘It is I. Do not be afraid.’

Friday, Second Week of Easter

John 6:1-15

In his book. Eating Together: Becoming One, Tom O’Loughlin examines the many ways in which meals feature in the Gospels. He lays alongside the Scriptural story our human experience of gathering and sharing food. He suggests that there is a particular grammar at work in meals. When we invite people for a meal the understanding is that everyone will eat. In the event of there not being enough food it would be usual for the host and or family to hold back. We know this grammar, it doesn’t have to be taught.

John’s Gospel begins with a celebratory meal for a wedding at Cana. The unthinkable happens and the wine runs out. Jesus intervenes. The grammar of meals is intact. The Gospel also ends with a meal, this time on the shores of Lake Tiberias. Jesus, the host, has already provided bread and fish and to this he adds fish which the disciples have caught. The grammar of meals is certainly intact.

Today’s Gospel text is a meal on the grandest of scales. Miraculously those five loaves and two fish feed a multitude. There can be no doubt, the grammar of meals is intact. In John’s schema this miracle shows Christ’s glory and is the prelude to the lengthy Bread of Life discourse. For us the story is heavy with meaning. We hear the Eucharistic resonance as Jesus takes, gives thanks and shares.

How can you be open to the Eucharist resonances in the meals you share?

Thursday, Second Week of Easter

John 3:31-36

Today we move from the story of Nicodemus meeting Jesus by night to the scene of John the Baptist in the Judean countryside. Nicodemus is set before us as a figure who seeks clarity in his confusion. John the Baptist is a figure of absolute certainty. I can sometimes be unnerved by John the Baptist’s certainty. Nicodemus has had formal training in the understanding of Torah. John the Baptist’s background is much less certain. Both men have had their consciences stirred by Jesus. The Gospel text today echoes the themes of Nicodemus’ conversation with Jesus.

‘He who comes from above is above all others: he who is born of earth is earthly himself and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven bears witness to the things he has seen and heard, even if his testimony is not accepted; though all who do accept his testimony are attesting the truthfulness of God, since he whom God has sent speaks God’s own words: God gives him the Spirit without reserve.’

When you hear this read there is a sharp contrast between what is ‘earthly’ and what is ‘heavenly’. We are used to this contrast and perhaps accept it quite readily in the context of the Liturgy. In our day to day lives the distinction is much less clear. The point that is being made is that Jesus is ‘from above’ and if we want to identify closely with the Messiah, we too must be ‘born from above’. While the choice to be ‘born from above’ was made for us at Baptism, it is our daily choices that open up for us eternal life in the here and now:

‘Anyone who believes in the Son has eternal life, but anyone who refuses to believe in the Son will never see life: and the anger of God stays on him.’

These are strong words.

How can you choose eternal life today?

Wednesday, Second Week of Easter

John 3:16-21

‘The Son of Man must be lifted up
as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost
but may have eternal life.’

We’ve met this text already in the Fourth Week of Lent. The second half of the quotation is probably one of the most well known in Scripture and its meaning is clear. The first half of the quote however is rather obscure. It refers to a story recorded in Numbers where the people were being bitten by snakes, Moses fashions a bronze serpent, holds it up and whoever looks upon it lives. Whatever we might think of the likelihood of this happening, the point the evangelist is making is about healing and our need of it. Jesus is presented as the one who brings healing through suffering and glory. The Jesus of this gospel is in control, goes resolutely to his death and then is ‘lifted up’ on the cross. His weakest physical moment is the moment of his triumph.

From our vantage point of Eastertide we might hear this text a little differently. The tone of our liturgy, the décor in our churches and signs of spring in our gardens can all shed a ray of light and hope on these words. During Lent we’ve been shown the cost of discipleship and now in Eastertide we are invited to live this with Joy. We will never be able to side step suffering, but in the light of Easter we know it can be transformed.

Where have you seen this transformation in your own life?

Tuesday, Second Week of Easter

Acts 4:32-37
John 3:7-15

The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul; no one claimed for his own use anything that he had, as everything they owned was held in common.

This is a touchstone text for anyone who wants to explore living in community. Living in a way which expresses unity is something which we can all aspire to. There are of course many ways to do this. No one way perfectly embodies this text.

This vision of the early church is something which inspired St Benedict in the Sixth Century. Chapter 34 of his Rule is entitled ‘Distribution of Goods According to Need’. He quotes Acts 4 and makes the very important qualifier:

Whoever needs less should thank God and not be distressed, whoever needs more should feel humble because of his weakness, not self important because of the kindness shown him.’

Benedict understands human weakness and knows that ‘one size fits all’ will not work in monastic living. I take heart from this. Accepting where you fall on this spectrum is an important part of the inner journey in monastic life.

How does Luke’s vision inspire you today?

Solemnity of the Annunciation

Isaiah 7:10-14,8:10
Luke 1:26-38

‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High.’

Do you ever stop and wonder how different our faith might be if Jesus had just appeared on earth, fully grown and ready to start his mission? We would lose a great deal in terms of our understanding of the mystery of the Incarnation. There would be no need for Mary or Joseph or visits from angels.

When Luke tells the story of the Incarnation he paints a scene for us with a few sentences and over the centuries artists have supplied the things that the text doesn’t tell us. Whether it is a stylised icon depiction of Mary poised and assured or a contemporary scene of Mary in her kitchen, the artist captures this defining moment in salvation history.

Mary’s ‘yes’ is our ‘yes’ too. Our whole faith journey, begun at baptism, is an invitation to say ‘yes’ to God. Every small ‘yes’ has the potential to prepare us for a big ‘Yes’. All we can do is try to be open and ready to do what is asked.

How can you say ‘yes’ to God today?

Second Sunday of Easter

John 20:19-31

There’s nothing worse than being with a group of people who are talking about an experience that you haven’t had. There’s only so far that you can go in trying to understand what they are saying and feeling. It’s easy for me to understand how Thomas might be feeling when the disciples say that Jesus has risen and that they have seen him. I feel I have a lot in common with Thomas. I am more at home with things that are enfleshed and concrete than theories and abstractions. It has always struck me that when Jesus says to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’ this is as much a challenge as it is a comfort. Thomas now has the choice to live in the light of the resurrected Christ or to walk away and find a different path.

I love these lines from Godhead Here in Hiding and they always come to mind when I hear today’s Gospel.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But I plainly call thee Lord and God as he:
This faith each day deeper be my holding of,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

Whether we need concrete assurance or are happy to take things on trust, the invitation is the same: live in the light of the resurrection.

Let’s pray that as Eastertide unfolds we can find ways to ‘harder hope and dearer love.’

Easter Saturday

Mark 16:9-15

There’s shift in tone in today’s Gospel text. After the intimacy of Mary’s encounter at the tomb with Jesus and then the breakfast on the seashore, today’s Gospel shifts our focus. It reads as a recap of themes we’ve heard during the week: refusal of the disciples to believe, the journey of the two disciples and Jesus making himself known ‘at table.’ The first hearers of this Gospel will have been challenged by the theme of disbelief in these verses. Faith in the resurrection wasn’t as solid as we might imagine. Those first hearers had their commitment tested.

‘And he said to them, ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation.’

This last verse of today’s text echoes the beginning of Mark’s Gospel; ‘Repent and believe the Good News.’ Things have come full circle. To believe in the Good News means to believe in the resurrection. Implicit in this believe is a call evangelise in word and deed. We are to be Christ’s resurrected life for the world.

How can you live the resurrection today?

Easter Friday

John 21:1-14

Just after my A levels I was able to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Our visit to the Sea of Tiberias stands out for me as a time of grace. In what was a fairly packed itinerary, there was suddenly time to sit and watch the water. It was a relief after the noise and heat of Jerusalem.

When the disciples decide to go fishing they are going back to the thing that they know best. They’ll either catch something or they won’t. I imagine that there was a certain relief in knowing this. But this turns out to be no ordinary fishing trip. First of all, the disciples take fishing advice from a stranger and then he cooks for them.

With his invitation of breakfast Jesus has made another space for intimacy with his closest followers. I like to imagine that they linger over this breakfast and perhaps watch as the morning light catches the water. There is such healing in doing something normal with friends.

Picture yourself in this scene. What do you notice? How do you feel?