33rd SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME.
15TH NOVEMBER 2015.
Tony van Vuuren
It is near the end of the liturgical year and the Scripture readings traditionally describe the end times. It may seem like such time is nearer than we would like it to be for us today, especially if we look at the signs around us. Certainly there are many among us who could relate to what the book of Daniel reports will happen: “it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress.” (Old missal)
A glance at the newspaper or TV news is about all many of us can absorb. It seems that we all live in the middle of; or on the edge of psychological “war zones” because of the violence that happens around us. To wake up yesterday morning to the news of the cowardly terrorist attacks in Paris just seems to be the last straw, but we all know that there will be more to come elsewhere in the world. Closer to home, in our own families and work places, there are many other challenges that add to this internal distress. How do we process all of these things? Do we dismiss them? Do we obsess over them?
While our readings are indeed full of gloom and doom, and perhaps our lives too, the gloom and doom need not overwhelm us. Take some comfort from a line in today’s psalm which reads,” You will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence.” Our hope in the Lord can still shine through whatever difficulties befall us. We must have the confidence in our faith to ask the Lord to show us “the path to life” and “the fullness of joy in God’s presence”. Be among those who choose to say “my heart is glad and my soul rejoices, my body, too, abides in confidence”. I think we can beat this constant daily stream of gloom and doom by placing our trust in God and professing our faith!
I attended my first Catholic service here at St Michael’s many years ago before we were married and it happened to be the Good Friday service, which as you all know involves a lot of kneeling and standing and sitting. I stood out like a sore thumb, not really knowing what to do at any time. I obviously tried to follow Maeve’s example but my timing was out! The rest as they say is history.
I relate this anecdote because I want us to notice the postures we adopt during mass. When we stand and when we sit, when we kneel to, because these postures, this body language gives out a profession of faith. It says something of what we believe important.
When we stand ready to hear the Gospel proclaimed, we do so because it is not the word of the priest or deacon that we’re about to hear, but the word of Jesus our Saviour speaking to us directly. When we sit to listen to the homily we adopt a posture that says, now talk to me – make me think, give me food for thought to go away with; but don’t take too long doing it!
Standing and sitting have long symbolised the differing responses to what goes on when we publicly worship God. To stand in the presence of the Lord is not so we can stand eyeball to eyeball with him. We stand as a sign of unity with each other, as we stand together before God. When we kneel, especially during the consecration, we adopt a posture long used to show humility, adoration and submission to the one we acknowledge is the highest power.
Throughout the Sacred Scriptures standing, sitting and kneeling have not just been casual postures, done because those doing them couldn’t think of what else to do. The postures of standing and kneeling have something to say to us, they can draw us into a remembrance of why we’re here, what we receive and have to take away.
In the first reading, from the prophet Daniel, the writer spoke of the Archangel Michael standing up to mount guard over God’s people (Dan 12).
He writes about when a time of great distress would come, the people belonging to the Lord would be spared disaster because the archangel would stand on guard, ready to defend them. Had the writer told us the archangel would be sitting about to guard us from disaster we might not feel comfortable.
Guards on duty need to stand if they are to be ready to spring into action. To hear of the archangel Michael standing on guard to defend those who belong to the Lord is to be told of God’s care and protection – a care to cling to when the trials and terrors of life come visiting. To hear of such divine care may inspire us to stand up – stand up for our faith, firm in knowing the Lord cares deeply what happens to us.
In the Gospel this Sunday Jesus is actually sitting whilst saying what he does; not that the reading told us, but if you read back a few verses you discover that Jesus has just sat down on the Mount of Olives (Mk 13:3).
From there he can see across the Kidron valley to a view of the Temple in Jerusalem. He has just visited the Temple and now sitting on the Mount of Olives geographically opposite the Temple Jesus is confronting all that it represents. He sits because his work is almost complete. All that remains is for the curtain in the Temple, the one which marked out the Holy of Holies, to be torn in two at the moment of his death; symbolising our access to God through Jesus’ sacrifice.
By sitting Jesus is teaching his disciples to look beyond what seems permanent and to remember what is of lasting value: “heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not. The Son of Man will gather his elect.”
Jesus wants us to know that at the end of our lives, God is going to ask us to give an account of what we did with our lives; but God’s judgement isn’t something we should be afraid of. That’s why Jesus says today that nobody knows when the world will end; because that’s not what is important. It doesn’t matter when the world will end, or when our lives will end. What’s important is what are we doing with our lives right now? How are we living right now?
Are any of us in a position to answer that question in the way St Francis of Assisi did when asked what he would do if he knew that the end of time was tomorrow? He simply said he would be hoeing in his garden!
As you sit listening to me allow me to ask: what in your life seems permanent, what gives you security in these distressed times? Our jobs may be taken away from us; our health may fail at any time; but not our access to God.
By His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus opened for us a new way to God through his flesh. To receive his body is to receive a pledge of what is eternal and in whom we can trust. Whatever may be going on for each one of us right now, dare to believe in the sign of communion given at this and at every Mass.
Whether we stand or kneel to receive the blessed host, don’t treat it lightly. Receive the body of Christ acknowledging this is how God gives us a pledge of his faithful love. A pledge that His words will not fade away; a love without end; and a love inviting us to go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.