Sunday, 13 May 2018

The City in a Mirror: Homily for the Sunday of the Man Born Blind, at the LIturgy of St John Chrysostom, Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, London, 13th May 2018




Cast your mind back to the Sunday of Zacchaeus earlier in the year. We all remember the story (Luke 19.1-10); but try to recall the icon of the feast. It showed Zacchaeus up in the sycamore, but with his arms outstretched on the branches for support. The Lord was addressing him from below. The irony was vivid. Here was an image of the Crucifixion in a mirror. It is not the disciple in the tree, but the Lord. He addresses forgiveness and a new life to the disciple not from the ground but from the Cross. The Lord on the Cross does not require the Tree to support Him: He holds it as His tool to support the world while He wins its redemption. He is not raised up on the Cross so much as He raises the world up to gaze on Him as He prepares by death to bring about Resurrection. Christ sees not just one sinner struggling with himself on the boughs; for, by nailing Himself to the Cross-beam of the Tree of life, He struggles with death itself, and in His sight throughout He holds before Him all sinners that would turn their hearts from the decay of sin to God, to living for eternity even here.

The account of St Peter in his chains (Acts 12.1-11) and the miracle for the Man Born Blind (John 9.1-38) are more of the Bible’s stories with mirrors. What has happened to whom, and who is really meant by the stories? Let us go through what we have just heard.
  • The angel shines light into Peter’s cell and tells him, “Get up quickly,” as the chains fall from his wrists. Instantly, Peter is back at that moment when he ran with St John to the Lord’s tomb (John 20.4) and sees where the bright angel has shone light on the abandoned grave-clothes. He sees now, as he saw then. So we know this story is about Peter’s own resurrection from fear, from living with an outlook towards death. “Get up quickly, Peter: Be arisen with the Lord.”
  • The angel tells him, “Fasten your belt and put on your sandals … Wrap your cloak.” To Peter it is a dream; and yet he will be recalling the Lord’s words to him and the other apostles – “Do not take anything for your journey” (Luke 9.3). No more clothes and supplies: no cloak, no sandals (Luke 22.35). Peter is being sent out with different instructions. Peter’s fresh approach is confirmed: Indeed the Kingdom is come now; and nature, creation and humanity make their journey in a new Light.
  • Then the angel says, “Follow me.” Peter begins to wake and is astounded. He is right by the sea of Galilee now, with his brother Andrew and their nets (Matthew 4.18). The first time he heard these words it was, “Leave your nets and follow me, and I will make you fishermen of people.” Then as the years go by, the tone becomes more grave: “If you want to follow me, you must deny yourself, and take up your cross and follow me. What have you won if you gain the world and lose your soul?” (Mark 8.34-36) Such a cross is the loss of captivity and gaining freedom; it is the city’s cold iron gate that opens up and leads within, our liberation beyond destruction into the city of the Kingdom of heaven - not Herod’s old Jerusalem, but the City of God set on a hill that cannot hide its light.

With all these thoughts and words, Peter realised that the Angel liberating him from an earthly imprisonment was none other than Christ Himself, taking him out of darkness into God’s marvellous light (I Peter 2.9), as he himself put it, seeking out what is unclear in this darker realm, and transferring it into the Kingdom of His Son (Colossians 1.13). Here we can see what and who it truly is – our life and resurrection, and our hope. The mystery deepens in the gospel, not to obscure, but to draw us in.
  • The neighbours say to the Man Born Blind that now can see, “Is this not this the man who used to sit and beg?” And he replies, “I am the man.” Now, where have we heard this before? Recall when Jesus says, “I am the Bread of life come down from heaven.” Those who would not follow Him grumbled, “Is this not the man Who is Jesus, son of Joseph, Whose mother and father we know. How can He say this?” We have the same reversal as Zacchaeus in his tree, and Christ signalling the Cross that is to come. Here the Man Born Blind whose heart has been turned into that of a follower, stands in for Jesus. “Look at him,” Jesus says, “and you will see Me. Reject him, how he sees by faith now and not just sight (cf. II Corinthians 5.7), and you reject Me. Dismiss the truth he is telling you, and you will turn truth on its head when it comes to Me.”
  • "It is he,” say the neighbours. We are thrust forward into the hours before the Passion now. Jesus is betrayed and He asks the Temple guards, “Who are you seeking?” They call for Jesus of Nazareth and He replies, “I am He.” We look back and forth between the Man Born Blind and Jesus. What are we being told? The Man Born Blind keeps saying, “I am He.” And we realise all those times we have heard this before. Jesus says to us, “Yes – you are getting it. Keeping joining the pieces together. See Who I am in the pattern of your own humanity, and then you can see who you are in the pattern of my divinity: I am he. I am the Bread of Life and unless you eat Me, you shall have no life within you. I am the Door of the Sheep and, unless by way of Me, no one gets in. I am the Vine and if you branches get yourselves cut off, you are branches of Me no more. I am the way, the truth and the life; unless you come My way, you will not find the path to the Father. I am the resurrection and the life, and you will not find the life you are to live unless you trust and believe Me. I am the light of the world, and you will be walking about in darkness until you follow the light I shine.”
  • And then finally, says the man now seeing, “I am the man.” Christ says, “Look at this – listen! Have ears to hear and eyes to see. This is what is coming: in the pattern of your humanity, I am the pattern for your life in God.” (cf. Galatians 2.20) In the miracle the Man Born Blind says, “I am the man.” So, when the high priest asks  Jesus if He is the Son of the Blessed, He replies, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power” (Mark 14.62). And when He comes out spitefully crowned with thorns and mockingly robed in purple, Pilate says it too: “Behold the man. Ecce homo.” “Are you a king?” he demands. “Just as you say,” says the Lord, “I am.”

The Lord that the Man Born Blind sees before him, he sees in himself. The eyes that are opened see not just a miracle for one person, but the future for humanity entire. Christ asks him, “What do you see; what do you believe? Do you believe in the Son of Man who will be held up to ridicule by Pilate? Do you see the heavens opened, when even the high priest cannot? Do you see the Son of Man – a human being - sitting at the right hand of power and coming with heaven for you, another human being? Do you see that?” The Man Born Blind says, “What? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus says, “You have seen Him already.” The face of the Man Born Blind is confused, as his eyes search for what on earth Jesus can mean. So Jesus plays back the recording of what the Blind Man said himself: “I am He.” The sight is fully revealed, and it is fully revealing. The Man looks at himself, recalls his words, and sees the pattern of heaven cut out in the shape of a human being. “Lord, I believe,” he says. “I trust You. I understand. I see.”

We, who look upon the holy icons and touch as far as Heaven when it kisses us back, understand that we see as we are seen, that the Mother of God and the saints look out upon us from the Kingdom and draw us close within. We see Christ on His Cross at Calvary imagining us into the future Kingdom. We see the Great Angel taking us from captivity into the heart of the freeing mystery of God’s own life. We see ourselves like Zacchaeus representing for a moment the life of the Cross that will save us. We see ourselves as Peter who will be “got up quickly” from the prospect of death to new life in the City of God. And we must see ourselves like the Man Born Blind, who recognised who Christ is, reflected in the pattern of his own humanity, and it dawned on him what he was now remade to be, on the pattern of Christ’s divine life itself. We do not live merely as pilgrims from this life to a better world. How great our joy, however hard our struggle, God sees us realising the pattern He designed for humanity, living and dying and living again such that it mirrors how “the Kingdom has come in the midst of you” (Luke 17.21) and a whole world’s citizenship is that of Heaven. (Philippians 3.20)

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Mother of The Church: Sermon at Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Willesden, Ecumenical Marian Pilgrimage, 5th May, 2018

In a few weeks’ time we shall be keeping for the first time the feast of Mary Mother of the Church. The history behind this new commemoration is significant for those desiring the Church’s unity.

Following Pope Pius XII’s definition of the Assumption as a teaching of the Church necessary for salvation - because it emphasised the sanctity of physical life in the hope of resurrection, in the light of Nazi and Stalinist evils - there was a powerful movement for a further declaration on the role that Mary plays in our redemption. When St John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council, numerous bishops promoted the dogmatic definition of Mary as Co-Redeemer and Mediatrix of All Graces. Now, it is true that without Mary’s assent, Christ our Redeemer could never have been born to her, and thus go on to effect our salvation on the Cross. And it is also true that none of us receives the fruits of that sacrifice without co-operating with the grace of God and, as St Paul puts it, working out our own salvation with fear and trembling. So, in that sense, we are all co-redeemers, co-operators with the grace of redemption, bringing about the power of Christ to save us by turning to his love and mercy in repentance, and by seeking the gift of faith to grow ever closer to Him in love and holiness.

And Mary has been called Mediatrix for two reasons. First, not because she is the gate-keeper, but because she is the Gate, who willingly opened for Him to come to us and we to Him. Secondly she is called Mediatrix, because Christ is the sole mediator of our salvation - he alone died and rose again for our sake - and all Mary’s graces come from Him. Thus Mary is mediator of all graces not because she makes or supplies them, but because she is the foremost to pray for them - just as she prayed her Son to give the new wine of the Kingdom at the wedding at Cana in Galilee, and just as she stood at the foot of the Cross to the very end, praying silently before her Son as He worked for the forgiveness and restoration of the whole of humanity. Christ the sole mediator of our salvation; Mary the foremost in the mediation of interceding for us.

Devotion to Our Lady as Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix has deep roots in the Scriptures, in the Fathers, in our spirituality in the western Catholic Church and in our liturgy. For instance, in our Mass every day, we offer the gifts bestowed by God as oblations to the Father in Christ’s communion with the Blessed Virgin and the apostles, martyrs and saints. There is even an optional feast of Our Lady under these titles on May 31st. But to insist on this one particular way of looking at our approach to God - or rather His approach to us – as a teaching of the Church necessary for salvation?

Yet at the Second Vatican Council, the urge to proclaim it gained momentum. But so did a richer way of describing the mystery of the Church as not only the Body of Christ, but also as the faithful People of God established by communion in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Our Lady’s significance came to be understood as the foremost intercessor among the faithful, as the prime example of those who have been redeemed by Christ, as the one who is full of grace from the Spirit of God so that we in turn thanks to her prayers may receive grace upon grace. Therefore, it was decided that there would be no separate declaration about Mary’s role in our salvation at the Council. Instead she is placed within the dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, as its crowning section about the Church’s meaning for and about all humanity.

But how to describe her? A declaration of Mary as Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix seemed out of context. The terms were mentioned, but it was clear that the thinking behind them was alien to Protestants, who were respected observers at the Council, and for whom they would cause more questions than explain if used as the main titles, as some had hoped. The Council’s advisers dug into the Church’s tradition and asked, “What about Mary as Type of the Church - she who is typical of the Church and everyone in it?” This too is mentioned, but it was felt to be too technical to be the declared title. Nowadays we might have suggested “Icon of the Church”, but this was not as imaginable in those days as it is today.

Eventually, thoughts turned to the words of Christ to His Mother from the Cross, “Behold your Son”, and to St John, “Behold your mother”. The experts and bishops asked, “What, if we were to describe Mary as Mother - of the Church as one Body of Christ in the household of faith?” The notion won assent, but there were new objections.

[Catholic critics pointed out that the Church already had the Virgin as Patron: Our Lady of Victory. But this description dates from the moment in 1571 when the naval power of the Muslim Ottoman Empire, which had overthrown the Greek Orthodox Eastern Roman Empire, was defeated at Lepanto. The victory prevented the invasion of Italy, the Islamic capture of Rome, and the extension of Islam further into Europe and the Atlantic. Pope Pius V attributed the prevention of western Christendom from suffering the same calamity as the East to the intercession of Our Lady and the Rosary. We still keep the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, or of Our Lady of Victory, for this reason in October 5th. But it did not fit what the Fathers of Vatican II were trying to express concerning the life of the Church as heaven on Earth, and how Mary serves in God’s scheme of all humanity’s salvation. Moreover, it was couched in terms of past history and strife between religions, states and individual persons. Could there not be a more positive account of the Church? Besides, Our Lady as Patron, whether of Victory or the Rosary, is a masculine term. The Council was seeking after a Matron instead: the Mother for our Mother the Church.

Greater anxiety arose from an even more unexpected quarter]: the Eastern Catholics and the Orthodox observers at the Council. They said, “If you speak of Mary as Mother of the Church, you exalt her above the Church, as though she is outside it, as though it came out of her as if she gave birth to it, which is not true. Yet she is not above the Church, as she watches, prays and hopes for it. She is an essential part of it within it. She is nothing if she is not a disciple too - if she is not the first of those to hear the Word, if she is not first among those to be redeemed, if she is not the first to be united with God in Christ.” Furthermore, they explained, numerous times every day in the East in the services, Mary is referred to as Mother of God. The title is crucial is crucial and must stand pre-eminent. It became common currency at the Council of Ephesus in the third century, when it became essential to make it crystal clear that Mary’s human Son was none other than God Himself taking flesh. For if God does not become human, how can His salvation work inside of our human nature; and how can we become one with Him as He said we are to be? So, to the East, Mary’s being Mother refers primarily not to us, but to her Son’s work in our flesh for our sake. For a moment, then, it seemed that the Catholic Church’s relations with Orthodoxy might stand or fall on using this one phrase: Mother of the Church. If Catholics enshrined it at a Council, would it be teaching that the Orthodox and the Eastern Catholics could never express? Was it such a distorted of our shared faith as to be heresy?

Swiftly, however, the text was finalised to declare Mary as Mother of God "within the mystery of Christ and the Church". It shows that Mary is not interceding and standing as Mother above the Church, but within, praying and loving at its heart, for ever serving as a vessel for grace to flow to us from Christ - always the Mother that is the one who gave birth to Him who in turn bestowed her on us as our constant Mother at the foot of the cross that we daily take up in turn, never leaving our side as we follow Him, just as she never left Him.

If you look at the image of the Crucified, you will often see this mystery expressed by the Lord speaking to St John on the left and the Mother of God on the right, and thus founding the first household of faith within which she is Mother too. But Pope Francis has set the feast of her Motherhood in the Church not in Passiontide, but on the Monday in the old octave of Pentecost. If you look at Eastern Church icons, you may understand why. In icons of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the apostles, you will invariably see present the Mother of God, often holding forward the protective veil by which her intercession covers the people of God in their needs. You could also bear in mind the western mediƦval image of Our Lady of Mercy, in which the Virgin’s head-veil is capacious enough to extend around all the saints and faithful who shelter beneath it, turning to her for prayers for mercy from God - Who will freely grant then out of such pure exchanges of love for love. Look more closely at how each of these images is set out – Christ lifted on his Cross and the Virgin and St John at its foot either sides; the Mother to St John and the Apostles either side holding out a veil; Our Lady of Mercy extending her veil with her arms around God’s children - and you might see the form of The Dove, His wings outstretched to encompass all those whom He is making holy.

And this is why Pope Francis, I suspect, has chosen the day immediately following Pentecost: Not only because Mary was integral to the fellowship of the apostles when the Holy Spirit brought His power upon the infant Church, but because, overshadowing her from the moment of Christ’s incarnation at the message from archangel Gabriel rendering her full of grace, truly she is filled with Him. And, if she is Mother to the Church, Mother for the Church and Mother in the Church, it is only so because most truly it is from the Holy Spirit that her Motherhood to, for and within the Church has come.

The approaching feast of Our Lady Mother of the Church comes from an idea 50 years ago that unexpectedly caused ecumenical commotion. It drew on reflections by previous popes and even going back to St Ambrose, but always seeing the Mother within the Church, "co-operating with the birth and growth of divine life in the souls of the redeemed" as the first among their number, as Blessed Paul VI confirmed when he declared her Mother of the Church in his Credo of the People of God a few years after the Lumen Gentium in 1968. Thus, there was to be no proclamation of a dogma that could divide us further, but there was a steep learning curve that taught the Catholic Church to be precise about how it teaches about our redemption in Christ, what we mean by our faith in the sacrifice of the Eucharist, the mediation of Christ and the intense intercession of the Virgin for Christ’s people in union with her Son. But it also enabled a profound realisation that everything that we love about Mary - and turn to her for - comes from none other than Christ as the gift of the Holy Spirit – the Spirit Who would fill us as He filled her, Who leads us into all truth as she in turn leads us to do Whatever He tells us to, the Spirit Who is placed within every prophet of God, just as she is placed in the Household of Faith as its Mother. 


And when our unity in that Household comes, because it is the only one that Christ ever founded for us, it will be at the intercession of its Mother filled with same Holy Spirit Who alone was with Christ in the night of His agony, when He prayed, “Father, may they all be one as you and I are one.”

Mary, Our Lady of Mercy, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, pray that we may all be one as the Father and the Son are one, in the Holy Spirit – “that the world may believe.”

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Second Bethlehem: Homily for the Sunday of Thomas, Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, London, 15th April 2018


It used to be said that everyone could remember where they were when they heard that Senator Robert Kennedy had been shot. I vividly recall how it stunned my family at home near the sea in Lancashire, coming a mere five years after the killing of his brother, President John Kennedy. I was eight, and I remember how deep the adults’ grief was, that the chance of having back again their hope and optimism with a second, youthful and dynamic President Kennedy had been dashed all over again. It was all so affecting that I went to write it down: “Senator Robert Kennedy has been assassinated.”  At least, I intended to, but I gave up because I did not whether Senator began with an S or a C.

I wonder where St Thomas was when he heard the news of the Lord’s resurrection. We know that all the disciples apart from His Mother and St John had run away from His passion and death, Thomas among them. They will not have known that from His Cross the Lord founded a second Bethlehem, in which John - the last man standing, as it were - was told to take Mary into his own house and give her a home as her own son, and that Mary was told to be the Mother-of-God to this new household of faith as she had been at Nazareth. She who had taken refuge in a stable to give birth because there was no room at the inn, for a second time has no place until she is taken in by a new family to a new house. It is to this home of his that John outruns Peter from the Emptied Tomb, to bring news that the Lord is risen. And surely the first to hear must be his newly appointed Mother.

Thomas comes to this new stable for faith, this new Bethlehem, late. It is not so much that he disbelieves or doubts the others; he wants to believe not on other people’s account, but for himself. He wants to participate in what they have witnessed direct. So he who withheld belief is made to wait. He believes enough still to be with the other disciples, when there is no guarantee that the Risen Lord will ever come again. Yet on the eighth day the faithful and the waiting are all confirmed. Perhaps the room in which they have been gathering behind locked doors is in the home of John and the Mother of God – after all, no other house is the scene of events by this stage in the Gospel (John 20.19-31). If so, then it would be that, once again, the Mother of God makes a home for the coming of the Lord, Jesus Christ, in the flesh. The first time was in the Cave-Stable at Bethlehem; the second from out of the Cave-Tomb into the first household of the Church in Jerusalem.

This double impact of the coming of God-with-Us, at His birth and then His resurrection out of death, strikes every time we celebrate the Eucharist. Why is it - you may ask - that at the Divine Liturgy, after the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the consecration of the Gifts of Bread and Wine that makes them into the Body and Blood of Christ, we offer incense during the hymn that blesses the Mother of God? But we are not diverting attention to Mary away from Christ: we are concentrating all our attention on a new manifestation of the Incarnation of our Saviour in the Body and the Blood. “It is truly right to bless you, Mother of God,” we sing, because “you have given birth to God the Word”, and this God the Word is on the altar; and we offer praises and incense at His presence as once the angels sang and the Wise Men, like we still do, offered frankincense and myrrh in vessels of gold.  Throughout the season of Pascha in our Divine Liturgy, we sing a new song, that takes us with Mary from the stable-cave in the first Bethlehem to the grave from which the Lord has burst forth in the flesh that was crucified to a new birth. But the song goes even further, for, as the Mother of God and as mother to the whole household of faith, she rejoices at the prospect of the resurrection of us all. “The angel cried out,” we sing, “Rejoice! Your Son has risen from the tomb and raised the dead. Now let all people rejoice! Shine, shine, Jerusalem! – for the glory of the Lord” - the glory that once overshadowed Mary at the annunciation of Emmanuel-  “has risen upon you!” Thus the Mother of God takes delight in the Resurrection of her Son, because His presence in the fesh, the presence made known in the Breaking of the Bread which we worship at every Liturgy, is the Resurrection of John, of Peter, of Thomas, of all the other apostles and disciples from Mary Magdalene to every single one of you here today.

But now let us go even deeper into the mystery that Thomas touched and touched him back. Earlier in the Liturgy are two prayers that it is very easy to miss. These are the prayers after the Litanies said with the catechumens present, the prayers of the Small Litanies after their dismissal, before the Eucharistic Mystery can be revealed in the communion of the faithful. The first prayer describes a new attitude to being at the Altar. We have already been standing there to offer prayers; but now we stand there to bring the supplication of the great sacrifice for the sake of the people. It asks the Holy Spirit that the priests will be beyond reproach and pure, “without stumbling”. This strongly reminds us of psalm 120, which begins, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence comes my help; my help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.” From this inspiring vista, it continues: “Behold, He that watches over Israel … will not allow your feet to stumble.” St Paul echoes this thinking when he describes those who cannot understand that the Cross is the instrument of God’s glory and victory, rather than a comprehensive defeat at the hands of death. He calls them scandalised by the Cross. A scandal in Greek is not a notorious subject of gossip, but simply an obstacle that we trip over, a stumbling-block that brings us face down to the earth so that we cannot see up. Paul had had this very experience of being blind to Christ that reached its crisis point on the road to Damascus, when he was arrested by his vision of the risen Christ. So this one prayer not to stumble, in sin or in faith, takes us right up to the altar of the Cross – but preserves us from blindness to the glory of what is achieved there by Christ’s sacrifice and to the Shining of the New Jerusalem that we live in because of Christ’s presence, victorious over the grave.

The second prayer asks that we be permitted to stand uncondemned before the Altar, to grow in spiritual living, and to be worthy of the Kingdom. The contrast between stumbling, of tripping over the Cross and falling to our faces so that we cannot see up to God’s purpose and mercy, and then standing up with Christ in the resurrection does not mark some kind of dramatic difference, but the natural progression of the new creation led by the hand of grace. We are held up from stumbling; we are uncondemned because of the goodness and worthiness of Christ the spotless Lamb; we are made to be able to stand as Christ stood up in abundant new life after being laid low by defunct old death; and at last we are now led into the Kingdom.

Imagine that this is the journey of Thomas on that first eighth day after the Resurrection. From not seeing the Risen Lord for himself, he grasps what the Lord has said cannot be held onto because it must take us beyond this life to that of the Father. (He had said to Mary Magdalen, “Do not hold me, for I must ascend to the Father”: he did not say, “Do not grasp hold of what will take you to the Father following after me.” And so these centuries of “eighth days” later, we do the same. We remember exactly where we were when he heard the news of Christ’s resurrection, for we hear it every single Sunday we are in Church. Here we are about to place our hands in the wounds and side of the Lord, as he places his precious Body and Blood into the very depths of our souls. We who would touch and hold on to Christ, are touched and held by Him. Blessed John Henry Newman said, “I am a Catholic by virtue of my believing in a God, and if I asked why I believe in a God, I answer that it is because I believe in myself, for I feel it impossible to believe in my own existence …  without believing in the existence of Him, who lives as Personal, All-seeing, All-judging Being in my conscience.” (Apologia 198) Neither Thomas nor Mary believed in an idea or a theory, or an article of religion. They believed in a person. Was He risen from the dead or not; did they trust Him, or did they not? Everything about them, and everything about living their lives and the universe, proceeds from the one-word answer to those two questions. They believed in a person whose life, death and resurrection had entered into every corner of their very existence. Remember where you were, and where you stand, when you believed that Christ risen from the dead is not risen in a room in a house 2000 years ago, but the One who is the life rising in you, the person in your person, the sight in your sight, the conscience in your conscience, the being in your being. Therefore everything follows from this:

Christ is risen: Hristos voskres: Christos aneste.

Monday, 12 March 2018

When the Wood is Dry: Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent and the Veneration of the Cross, Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, London, 11th March 2018

All over the country, you see numerous large woods and forests. Not all of these are the ancient woodlands you would think they are. After the First World War, Britain had only 5% of its forest cover left. It had all been burned for fuel, or used for industry, trade and war. During the Second World War, replanting efforts took a an even greater hit, when the forest cover was cut by a third: wood was urgently needed for fuel, industry, paper, munitions, rifle butts, repairs and construction, and for any other effort needed to prevail over the Nazis of Germany. The replanting of land with trees had began in 1919 with the foundation of the Forestry Commission and, a century later, it is the country’s largest landholder. Forest cover now reaches 10% of the land, with ambitions for even more. It is worth pausing to thing that, while many of us, especially in towns and cities, look upon trees as part of our green lung, purifying the air and enhancing the environment and the enjoyment of the natural world, for much of the last 300 years, trees’ great purpose has been to be destroyed – cut down for fuel, for shipbuilding, construction, defences, and to forge and make the weapons of war.

This thought of the industrial death of the tree, rendered unforgettable in The Lord of the Rings, where Tolkien celebrates an uprising by the trees of the forest against Saruman, the wizard who has turned all his power for good to evil, burning the wood for forging ploughshares into swords, takes us back to the time a little before Our Lord was born, when there was an uprising against Roman rule in Galilee. The Romans defeated the rebels and crucified two thousands of them along the four-mile road between Sepphoris and Nazareth. The carpenters of both towns would have been forced to make the crosses, exposing great tracts of woodland to infertility, as the moisture was dried out of the earth. At least a generation of young men was lost, echoing the account in St Matthew’s gospel of the slaughter of the innocents of Bethlehem a few years later. The memory of the devastation of the population must have been vivid in the home and community in which Jesus grew up, and He was well aware of the use to which wood was put. I often think that this atrocity, when so many mothers’ sons were slain, lay behind His lament to the daughters of Jerusalem, after He is led away - found to be innocent but nonetheless condemned - from Pilate’s court, when He says,
Do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women…’ For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry? (Luke 23. 28-29, 31)
The Lord, of course, handled wood from trees every day of His youth. We usually think of Saint Joseph, His fatherly guardian as a carpenter. But in the Gospel, he is described as a tekton. The word is close to words we use to this day in English – e.g. architect, protect. It means someone who makes a roof; or puts a roof over your head. In other words, it is someone who constructs a building – a house, a store, a temple. Wood was Christ’s raw material, the everyday tool of the trade in which He was trained by Joseph. Nothing could be more solid and concrete in their practical, daily living: wood in life and death was literally a hard reality.

Here, then, are three contrasting purposes. First, the glory of the living and breathing green creation; secondly, the destruction for fuelling industry, economy and even the bellicose visitation of death; and third the construction of household, of the family home, of human community and of sacred space for the dwelling of the Spirit to bring “God with us” close. In Jesus’ life, memory, faith, vision, and destiny, all three purposes meet their converging point. A tree, that once lived, bore leaves and fruited seed, has the sap rising in it turned back to the earth, as it is called into a purpose it can only serve if it is dead. This is “what will happen when the tree is dry.” Then, two dead wooden beams assault with violence the living Person Who created them. They hold Him distorted into their shape, not His, a shape that has been given to them against their nature. They convey their own destruction to Him, and draw Him into their death. And yet, from this hell-invented parody of a tree, bringing back all that collective memory of the mass execution on the road outside the town where He had grown up, Jesus pulls to Him the wood of the trade He learned at the side of His adoring foster-father. Holding it by the nails in His hands, once more the carpenter builds a house. Again He creates the house for a holy family, like the first at Nazareth. Now He constructs the first new household of faith, as He says to St John, “Behold your mother” and, to the Theotokos, “Mother, behold your son.” For from that moment, the beloved disciple took the Mother of God to his own house and made it a home for them both. Before their eyes, they were seeing Christ’s work of redemption taking place in His Passion; and in three days from the household spiritually crafted from the wood of the Cross, St John would outrun St Peter to the Tomb to find it empty – and then run back to declare to the Lord’s Mother the first good news of His resurrection.

In our Liturgy today, we sing, “To Your Cross, O Master, we bow in veneration.” This is because our faith, the faith that comes directly to us from the first household of faith in Christ’s Passion that dawned on Mary and John at the foot of the Cross, is not in the power of an instrument of death, but in the means of shaping a new creation for our humanity. Thus we go on to sing, “and we glorify Your resurrection!” For, just as the beams of a disfigured tree imparted death onto the Creator, so the Creator, in the act of nailing together the first pieces of His new household of faith, gives back life to the hard and dried up wood. The great hymn of Venantius Fortunatus, from the sixth century, which will be sung from next weekend in the Latin Church until Good Friday, has it exactly:

Bend thy boughs, O Tree of Glory!
Thy relaxing sinews bend;
For a while the ancient rigour
That thy birth bestowed, suspend;
And the King of heavenly beauty
On thy bosom gently tend.
Faithful Cross! Above all other,
One and only noble Tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit they peer may be;
Sweetest Wood, and Sweetest Iron –
Sweetest Weight is hung on thee.
We, in our way in the Christian East, join them and add this:
By Your Cross, You destroyed death; You opened Paradise to the thief; You changed the lamentation of the myrrh-bearers to joy and You charged the apostles to proclaim that You are risen. (Troparion of Sunday, Tone 7)
When the Lord tells us, then, in today’s Gospel (Mark 8.34-9.1), “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”, bear in mind that He is remembering the terrible events that coloured the whole of His upbringing in the community of His home town, Nazareth, and the terrible cost that is risked when justice, goodness and faith in God and His Kingdom is prized above even life and family. He is also mindful that towards a Cross is the inevitable course that His own words and ministry will take Him. Yet when He says, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it,” and follows it by saying, “Whoever loses their life for Me, will save it,” He is not holding out for us the prospect of defeat and a dead-end sacrifice, but the inevitable consequence of crucifying our God endowed with the skills of a builder: we are being offered not only a new household for our faith and those who believe it, but the construction work of a Kingdom from God, now come with power. (Mark 9.1).

And so we sing, “The tree of the Cross … has quenched the flaming sward [that] no longer bars the gate to Eden. The sting of death banished, You, O my Saviour, have come out and called…. ‘Return again – to Paradise!’” (Kontakion of the Triodion, Tone 7).

With Jesus to His Passion and Cross, and with Mary Magdalen, Peter and John to His Resurrection, “Arise, let us be going!” (Mark 14.42; John 20.3-4)

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Lawrence Gray RIP: Address at the Funeral Service, St Wilfrid, Halton, Leeds, on 26th February 2018

Lawrence Gray has been my friend since 1984. “Lawrence” was what his wife, Maureen, called him when he had overstepped her mark. But he was unmistakably himself to us, always the person, the character, that he was: Laurie.

When I was first ordained in Leeds, it was Laurie and Maureen who took me under their wing, made sure I was never lonely as I started out, fed me, and gave me four years of laughter, joy, friendship - and a regard and understanding that I never deserved, but which held me up in good times and bad. I have never been worthy of the welcome I had into that family, and their encouragement then has lived with me to this day. Laurie had been a gifted footballer with a promising career ahead, which he gave up to marry Maureen and raise their large family. He is the hardest worker I ever met; and his dedication to the task in hand, and to what he felt mattered for people, inspired the same in others. He had no respect for those who didn’t measure up, and if you were out of favour, you were out until you proved yourself again. Then you were back in – just!

But he was patient of human nature, too, and understood you had to make your way by trial and error and there was no shame in it, just a determination to win through. And so, if you liked and respected him for who he was, he liked you back. The highest accolade was a torrent of mockery and humour at your expense. A mere “Thank you very much, that was lovely” to Maureen, for yet another huge and delicious meal of Yorkshires, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, swede, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower and beef, followed by the guilty pleasure of a Viennetta, was shot straight down with, “You soft-soaping Lancashire bxxxxr, Father.” Or, quoting Billy Connolly, “Another custard cream, Father?”

After work in the Leeds metal and engineering industry (I think it was electroplating and that it badly affected his health and eyesight), Laurie was a much loved conductor on the Leeds buses, always ready with a laugh on the No 2 from the Corn Exchange to Belle Isle and Middleton, I think it was. He would do anything for you; and, as was always the Leeds way, everyone was “love”. When the conductors were phased out, the company was keen to keep him on, and they tried to train him as a driver; but a mix of poor eyesight and not feeling confident it was right for him meant in the end that he took on the management of the uniform stores. When he retired, he gave me his stout leather driver-conductor’s lockable float-and-ticket machine bag, which I still use regularly.

It was at Church that the Laurie I knew was his truest self. He was hugely proud that his eldest son, Paul, was a chorister at Leeds Parish Church; and his own devout churchgoing was serious, devout, loyal, and unstinting. Our Church, St Wilfrid’s, Halton, was (and is) a lively and mixed “village” church in the midst of east Leeds, set on the rise of Selby Road, a “city set on a hill” serving the remains of the old hamlet near the great Temple Newsam House, the post-war owner-occupier houses, the interwar suburban houses and bungalows, the long terrace of Victorian town houses on the ridge, where Laurie and Maureen lived, as did I, and the Halton Moor council housing estate. This was “The Parish that Came Alive” under the visionary Ernie Southcott, an energetic laboratory for his take on the “Parish Communion Movement” of pastoral liturgy that placed the Eucharist at the heart of the life and activity of the parish’s people and their homes. But it was under the steady hand and more traditional approach of Canon Kenneth Stapleton that Laurie drank deep of the Faith, and raised his family in the heart and life of the Church. Laurie on Sunday was no different from any other day, except intense and focused at Church, where he served on the altar, when he was not a sidesman or warden. He used to tell me that it meant everything that there was Christ on the altar, then the priest, then him, then the people in a clear line of connection at communion “without a doubt” (as he would say), no one in Church more than three steps from heaven itself.

What a faith! It took him all through the week, though he never wore a religious heart on his sleeve: “I am not a Christian,” he would say. “One day, perhaps, I can hold myself up and say so, without it all being a facade.” He knew himself. He knew about the falling-outs and the arguments. No pretence, his humour and expressions were so gloriously ripe (though I do not ever remember him swearing - people didn’t much then anyway – at least, I don’t remember him swearing in front of me!). He didn’t suffer fools gladly and could tell you unmistakably why; and if he had been hurt, he could keep a grudge on principle for years. This was a man of complete personal rectitude and integrity, driven to overcome his own odds, yet wise and accepting of others who struggled. He gave himself with without reserve because of love for his family. And because he understood himself, he was compassionate about other people’s needs and shortcomings, the problems they found themselves in and the needs they had to be loved regardless - even if that sometimes meant the hurt of having to leave them be.

Sadly, in later years, changes in Church life and worship left him estranged, and that is a shame; but the belonging in which he had been formed did not leave him: they remained deep within his heart, still sustained through close family bonds, and by friends and neighbours too. These things do not go far away; and nor do we, in God who is understanding of us always.

At the very centre of his service at St Wilfrid’s, something he loved deeply, were young people. He was completely committed to the Scout movement, and took it as seriously as serving in Church. Teaching, leading, inspiring young lads was in his bones, and they loved him for it, because they could see he was giving them everything of himself. He could be stern and demanding, and how they would moan; but it only increased your assurance. You would not want to cross him - not because of his wrath, but because no one would want to disappoint him. He had your back, and young people had no better protector. The walks, the canoes, the camps in the Lakes, the fell-walking with Wainwright and the treks in the Dales: it was unforgettable. He had everything covered and he opened up new worlds and possibilities to anyone willing to go along with him, to learn and play their part too. I also think that up in the dales and fells he felt the awe and wonder giving their dimension to his soul: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help,” resonated with him. He didn’t say much about these things, but that spoke volumes.

The sheer determination that carried him through life was nowhere better seen than in his unstoppable drive to build a dedicated new scout and guides hut - Laurie was the relentless fund-raiser and the builder too. He charmed the rich, and won the confidence of those with much less that it would all happen and it was worth their unstinting contribution too. It was all on, and no one could fail to be involved. He even got me, of all people, to be the Group Scout Leader, so that he had all the official backing he needed to see it through. And he did.

These recollections are from long ago; but it has been so good to have been in touch all the years since, and continually find that the friendship was always the same, always such a laugh even when life took some hard turns, and always in the midst of the amazing Gray family. He drove them up the wall, and he loved doing it; but they gave us good as they got and loved him all the more back

There are many people with state honours who have not done a fraction of what Laurie did from his heart for young people. It is my deep belief that now he has the greatest honour of all: he knew his own shortcomings well, but now he possesses freedom from them – from everything that holds human beings back in this life from being all they could have been, and from the gift of his heart’s desire: the knowledge at last that he can call himself what his beloved mentor, Canon Stapleton, assured him he would be: a Christian.

Laurie, your journeys here included the No 2 bus to the Corn Exchange and the parish trips with the scouts to climb Ben Lomond. Everywhere you went in your imagination and wonder at creation is now your true homeland. Once you knew you were no more than three steps away from Christ on his altar. Now there are no more steps and He has you to His side. Well done, good and faithful Laurie: you got there, by God's grace. Now may you rest in peace.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Sermon at the Re-Dedication of the Fynes Clinton Chantry Chapel of the Holy Cross, Our Lady of Victory and St John, Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, 22nd February 2018




Every so often in the Holy Land, the archaeological survey uncovers an intriguing find that makes you think, “Of course, that makes sense.” Once I was taken to the museum at Hazor, where there were dozens of little metal and golden animals, each with a minute saddle on it. A remarkable scholar-priest of the Society of the Sacred Mission, Brother Gilbert Sinden, was our guide. He said, “These are golden calves.” He explained that the great story in Exodus (Exodus 32) of the Hebrews melting all their coin and jewellery down to fashion a great model beast, was not so as to worship it in place of the Lord their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, but so that they create a situation, a designated place where they could bring God down and make him sit, some throne where they could locate God and hold him to: hence the saddle. You will remember how Moses eventually comes back down from the mountain with the tablets of the Law and is so incensed that he drops the two stones and rushes to destroy the most profound misconception of God. For Moses has been in the ground of the Burning Bush, taken up into the mountain and brought into God’s sphere; he has encountered Him not face to face but face to mystery, face to intriguing, inscrutable but revealing mystery. It is not for us to bring God down to our size, to have Him in a position where we can corner Him, even on a throne. It is for us to be drawn out into Him. “There will come a time,” says the Lord in the Scriptures (John 4), “when people will not worship the Lord in this mountain,” and its wild expanse , “but in spirit and in truth.” (John 4.21-23.) So we have the beginnings of what we recognise as our own tradition. Not a golden representation of a divine being on which God is to be positioned and pinpointed, but a recreation of that desert and mountain top wilderness, the tent of meeting, where God comes to be present among His people - yet found in His ways, not at our behest.

We are told by C.S. Lewis that Aslan is a wild lion; and so, it is not we who create the conditions for His presence, but He who makes the conditions for ours. Thus in our churches, an altar is set within a house where no being or representation from another dimension is turned off and on - not even hints of the “magical supernatural” that we can grasp on to, but only the sacred patterns of acts and tangible things of this creation in among which our God slips in, and beyond, saying, “Behold the dwelling of God is among men and women!” Here we see not artefacts set up to be our objects of adoration, but Crosses, icons, pictures and images that are signs drawing us out from our own minds into the mind and mystery of the Spirit of God - whose presence, which they indicate and even convey, we have come into. Here we see no golden-calf containment of the whole Divine Existence, but a tabernacle, a tent-of-meeting-us for God on the move - across the desert, by the mountains, into cities and over time and space. Within is nothing more otherworldly than daily bread, to the world a token or memento, but from heaven’s perspective the means time and again (and never permanently locked down by us) that the Lord chooses for his point of entry into our midst, in among the patterns, rites and signs that He has set by grace through our nature in our creation.

Another archaeological wonder lies beneath St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Behind the wall that cuts across Peter’s grave beneath the shrine in the crypt is an old passage along one side of which is a stone row of seats, then a gap where the western end of the grave is cut in two by the wall, and then another stone row. I often wonder if that gap was left, not just to respect the grave, but to place the famous chair now lost to us, the chair on which Peter had once sat to inspire and teach the first church in Rome of the Christ he knew and loved, the chair which it took a generation for his successors to say they would sit on, the chair the idea of which we celebrate today, as the focus of our bond and dream of unity in the Catholic Faith, in but one Church inseparable from the successor of Peter. I wonder.

Yet another archaeological find last year was the foundation of a building with a large room in Nazareth, bearing hints of ancient Christian usage. Was it the synagogue in which Christ had said the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him; or was it the house of an apostle, or even of the Holy Family, where the first Christian disciples had still gathered for ages after, to hear again and again the stories that Jesus told, to honour the Divine Mother and St Joseph, and to praise Our Lord for His saving Cross and Resurrection? We will never know.

Yet here today we find ourselves in the midst of a captivating sacred geography of our own. There to the west is the Holy House of England’s Nazareth, and to its north east the chapel of St John. Within a few steps, then, we find ourselves at the same moment at the Incarnation and in its inevitable outcome at the foot of the Cross. The Mother of God, who speaks her consent to the archangel Gabriel, signals her consent to her Son and Lord, when He gives to her St John the Beloved as her own son too. Within a few steps, we move from the House of the Holy Family in Nazareth to the new Household of Faith that is the domestic church begun that first Good Friday in Jerusalem. From this house of St John, the young disciple who had remained with Mary at the Cross ran to see the emptied Tomb; and then he ran back with news of the resurrection of her Son (John 20.1-10). This sacred space of St John’s Chapel, whose renovation by the Catholic League (whose chapel it has always been) we give thanks for today, is thus fittingly the Chapel of the Holy Cross too - and a Chapel of our Lady of that Cross’s Victory, as well. We stand physically at this moment within the patterns God has set to enter into our lives and existence, to draw us into His presence and its purpose - our salvation. Here we are in among and between the moment of His Incarnation, His death on the Cross, His foundation of the Church to be the Body that brings the presence of His Body into the midst of the world, His resurrection, and the dwelling of God among men and women on earth, and thus the dwelling of men and women in the midst of God in heaven.

But there is one coordinate of the pattern of our sacred geography missing. Where is Peter, who ran with John to the tomb in all this. We hear the Lord’s commission to be the one to feed Christ’s lambs out of love for the Master. And we hear that Peter is to be the very rock on which the household of the Church is to be built. Where is he in this place of sacred interwoven times and patterns?
When Henry Joy Fynes Clinton, who was such an influential supporter of the restoration of the pilgrimage to this Holy House, founded the Catholic League, he set down an imperturbable principle: that the command of Christ “that they all be one” had to face the hard fact that there could be no unity between Christians and their churches that was not a unity of the church in its wholeness. There could be no unity to the exclusion of others, no reconciliation with Christ that allowed for a Church divided. There could be no Catholic unity that countenanced a Church without Peter. His idea was resisted and suspect, as it remains; but it would never go away. In the end, it became the basic purpose of the Anglican-RC dialogue to find how our divided churches could again be one - with integrity - and not without Peter to feed the lambs and to be the rock-foundation to all we say of the hope that lies within us, our hope in the Cross and resurrection of the incarnate Lord who is God among us.

We who have been drawn into the presence of God in this place on the feast of St. Peter’s Chair bear witness that we have been walked among by the Lord, who was incarnate at the house in Nazareth, who claimed His victory on the Cross, and who burst with news of resurrection into the house where Mary lived with John, giving new life and meaning on the brightest day to those who had stood by Him in the darkest hour. We walk thus in turn at this moment in many places in time and space - the place of the Annunciation to Mary is the place of Christ’s annunciation of Himself to us; the foot of the Cross is our place, too; and the Tomb emptied in expectation of ascension to heaven is our own natural habitat. And sustaining it all is the rock, the apostle Peter, who guides the Church in history to return constantly to the Lord, as the sheep that listen to His voice, the lambs to be fed and loved by Him into the kingdom.

On this day we stand in our place in the divine pattern - there is Mary; over there is John; and on Peter we are standing. But above all, it is the Lord who is present among us, for behold the dwelling of God is with us!

Sunday, 11 February 2018

We Sheep and Goats: Homily for the Sunday of the Last Judgement, at the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, London, Meatfare Sunday, 11 February 2018


The goats in today’s Gospel make you think immediately of how sharp the distinction is between being good and being bad. No grey areas; just right and wrong; and we can’t be the ones in the wrong! Thus we identify ourselves as the good sheep of the Good Shepherd, the Christlike lambs, and the others as the accursed scapegoats (Matthew 25.31-46).

Hearing Jesus’ list, most of us will be mentally checking off our attitudes and actions – “Was I so absorbed in myself that I was failing in compassion and generosity?” Others will congratulate themselves on being kind to the poor who deserve it, but tough on those who “have only themselves to blame”. I reckon, too, that there are whole swaths of Christians saying to themselves, “God is on our side, not the side of heretics and schismatics, or immoral people. First they must repent, and return. Then we will help them.” Most Christian Churches have people who think like this; let us avoid this easy and unspiritual trap.

Still others will realise that Christ is not reeling off a list of things to complete in order to be worthy of Him. Instead, he is talking about acts of humanity that, if they are genuinely godly, just come like second nature to us. He does not want us to collect good deeds like badges of virtue; and He certainly does not want us to do them as a favour to Him - regardless of the favour needed from us by the people before our very eyes. Many of us will feel guilty about our shortcomings and selfishness. But God wants us do all these things not out of shame or duty, but out of sheer love for being just naturally part of His Kingdom. So a change of heart is what today’s Gospel asks of us: “Yes” to repentance from heartless attitudes; “Yes” to compassion for sinners, because we are sinners ourselves no different; “Yes” to growth in honest goodness, so that virtue within - and generosity with the gifts God has given us – arise not from what we do, but from who we are becoming in the great scheme of God’s Kingdom, as it constantly draws up close to the people in the world. To become like that, would it not be magnificent? Well, it already is, and it is how we are being remade, even now, to be fitting for the purposes of the Kingdom, and bringing it closer.

So it is in the midst of the process of becoming - even now - what we are not yet, that we see what Jesus is really laying before us. It is the same as the question over Caesar’s currency in the Temple (Matthew 22.15-22), the wise and the unprepared virgins at the wedding (Matthew 25.1-13), and the sower’s wheat and tares (Matthew 13.1-23): the answer is not the obvious explanation, and He is making you think it through more profoundly, with just a little more self-awareness than is comfortable for us. The contrast between sheep and goats is not between them and us: but the irony of two similar things that are both true of us. Both lists are things we do and won’t do. We are sheep and goat alike. If we condemn the others, we condemn ourselves. If we count ourselves into the Kingdom, we have no ground to show people the door to the other way.

In the religion of the Hebrew Temple, sheep and goats were both sacrificial animals, so one is not pure and the other unclean. They are both offerings that avail for reconciling human beings to God. But the most famous Lamb and the most famous goat were not sacrifices for sin at all. The Paschal Lamb was a slain innocent, and his blood brought protection and blessing; but it was not a sacrifice for sin. Moreover, while the Scapegoat was chosen each year to take away the sins of the world, he was never slain or sacrificed. The High Priest, in the Name of the Lord Most High whose very presence he represented, would assume upon himself the sins of all the people - and then touch the Goat to transfer their sins onto it instead. The animal laden with sin thus became impure; it could not be offered as a sacrifice. It was sent into the wilderness. It was not banished and rejected: it was relied upon, to take the guilt far away, never to come back on us. Only then could a pure atonement sacrifice be offered. (Leviticus 16.10, 15)

In other words, the significance of the goats in Our Lord’s striking story and the symbolism of the sheep are inseparable. Christ, who will come to be the Judge of us all, looks on the whole of us, not just the presentable bits, or the side we would like Him to find. He wants to see the blemishes, the shortcomings, the deliberate wickedness that in the former dispensation no sacrifice could guarantee to take away - the side that our forebears cast onto the back of a goat to get rid of. In the new dispensation, St John the Baptist revealed that this unacceptable side of us would no longer be packed off, beyond redemption. From then on no Scapegoat, but only the Lamb of God Himself, would take away the sins of the world (John 1.29). Nothing about us need be lost, nothing of us would lie beyond redemption, everything could be turned round, the totality of us could become acceptable (Romans 12.1), and find forgiveness.

For it is in contrast with the shadows in us, the facets that are so starkly true of us, that the light at work in us is seen outshining all else, and bringing it out of darkness into His own marvellous light (I Peter 2.9). St John the Theologian told us of a light shining in the darkness that the darkness did not overwhelm. He said that that it was the light of our life - “The Light of all Humans” (John 1.4). Christ spoke of Himself as the Light of the World - not so much shining down on it, but illuminating what He intended human living to be from within (John 8.12) – like a city set on a hill, or a light shining from out under a bucket (Matthew 5.14-15), or bridesmaids lighting the path at night for the bridegroom on his way to meet his bride (Matthew 25.1-13). It is all hints, glints, gleams that Christ has seen the whole of us; and, from within, it is His Light that is overwhelming our darkness, it is His light that is becoming ever more the life of us, as we become in turn the lights of the world.

St Paul, talking today of fasting (I Corinthians 8.8-13; 9.1-2), says something intriguing: “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” I rather think that this is the point of our discussion of the sheep, which the Good Shepherd knows through and through (John 10.14), and the goats – all that we do, how we act, good and evil, shedding light or casting shadow, what we believe and how we think. For, as St Paul realises, it all comes down to the question he himself faced on the road to Damascus: “Who am I, what am I in relation to this One Person, Jesus Christ? Is He everything that is the Truth of all that I mean about God? Is He the Truth of everything of what it is to be human?” For we see just as we are seen, and we recognise just as we are recognised (I Corinthians 13.12). Or, as the old man of the country explained to the priest, who enquired why he came to Church when there was no service, for hours every day: “I looks at Him, and He looks at me.” I draw Him into me, to make my darkness into His light, so I will be drawn into Him. I can look nowhere else, nothing accounts for anything, unless it is Christ.

The Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey used to say, when people asked him what God, the Infinite, the Transcendent, the Almighty was like, “In Him there is no unChristlikeness at all.” Our point of union with God is the same. It is not about our being special lambs at the expense of rejected goats; for the Judgment is not about condemnation, but identifying where to shine the visible Image of the invisible God (Colossians 1.15 ff.), where to stitch the reconciling of all things, making peace by the blood of the Cross. “One you were alienated and did evil deeds,” says Paul, “but now you are presented holy and blameless, if you continue steadfast in faith.” (Colossians 1.21-22)

So the Judgement upon us is this: that God sees the whole person, good and bad. Nevertheless, our being sheep and goat alike, we look back not one way to the dark and another way to the light, but to none other than Christ. In the face of this Person, we see ourselves as we are seen. We see that the Light which is the very life of us insists that what is true of God is true of us too: “In you and me, there is to be no unChristlikeness at all.” Thus Divine Judgement is both true and awesome in its blessedness and its inescapable sentence upon us with the insistent demand that will never be lifted from: “You are the Light of the World!” (Matthew 5.14)