Category Archives: St Michael's Homily's

Destiny

32nd SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
Cycle A
12th November 2017
Matthew 25:1-13
Rev Tony van Vuuren

The readings this Sunday touch on some central Christian beliefs, which in the past were a source of division between the different Christian traditions, and which are still interpreted differently by the various churches: beliefs about our life after death, about Jesus’ Second Coming, about Purgatory, about God’s Judgement.

Today’s parable points to a moment, not just at the end time, but now. It calls us to seize the moment and direct our lives guided by the wisdom God gives us in Christ. We do not yet see Christ coming. What we experience is the preoccupying routine of our daily lives.

From the standpoint of Christian faith our life here and now is imperfect and incomplete. It’s the life to come, when we’re with God, when we encounter God’s love fully, which is permanent and complete. As he got near the end of his preaching ministry Christ encouraged people to see their present lives in the light of their eternal destiny, their future life with God.

The Christians Saint Paul is writing to in the second reading have started to worry that the people who die before Christ’s Second Coming – most people, presumably – will somehow be at a disadvantage compared to the people who happened to be alive at the time of the Second Coming. Paul’s answer is to tell them that they’re worrying about nothing. The particular moment that we die doesn’t make any difference to our final destiny, but it is partly this worry, voiced by the Christians in Thessalonica that led to the development of our belief in Purgatory.

As we know, some of the more evangelical Churches reject the idea of Purgatory because there’s no direct or obvious reference to it in the Bible.

But like so many of the Church’s beliefs that developed very early in its history, the belief in Purgatory was the answer the Christian community came up with when they reflected on their knowledge and experience of God, in this instance his love and care and mercy and his desire that every person should gain salvation.

From our Christian point of view our death is the moment when we leave behind all the shadows and inadequacies of earthly life and move into the light and fullness of life with God.

The person we reach out to in our prayers, the person we often experience in a dim, partial, fleeting way during our present life will now be known directly and clearly in the next life.

And according to what we believe about life after death, that involves two things. One is that we get a much clearer sense of God’s holiness and love and mercy, and the happiness that goes along with that. There’s the knowledge that we’re saved – that we’re heading towards God.

And the other thing is that we get a much clearer sense of our own lack of holiness and love. We don’t only see God face-to-face, we see ourselves much more truthfully as well – all our self-centredness, our clinging to wrong goals, our pride and childishness.

Of course there’s an element of pain and upset – the pain of contrasting our imperfections with God’s perfection, our lack of love with God’s perfect love. And it’s that state, after we’ve died, that we refer to when we talk about Purgatory.

It’s not some place where we spend millions of years being tortured – the usual picture conjured up by a certain tradition of preaching, taking Jesus’ own apocalyptic images too literally. Purgatory is more the experience of seeing God’s goodness and love alongside our own faults and inadequacies, and being purified of those elements, so that we’re fit to be with him forever.

Jesus’ parable about the sensible bridesmaids and the foolish bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom to arrive also gives us another image of the Second Coming, the end of time, and the Judgement that goes along with it. The possibility of having the door closed on us.

But it’s not too late. The parable’s locked door hasn’t happened yet. We are reminded that God is available to us now with the gift of Wisdom, to show us what we must still do to keep a good supply of oil. Being at this Mass we acknowledge our need and dependence on God.

We yearn and search for Wisdom — it is given to us in these scriptures and in the Eucharist available to us.

The only thing that can stop us from enjoying that future is by deliberately turning away from it – preferring to assert ourselves and choosing to alienate ourselves from God.

That’s why Jesus’ parables about the end of time always have a hint of a threat. There’s going to be a judgement and our time here and now is a sort of probation, a time of testing. The final choice that we make about our eternal destiny will be a summing up of all the free actions and decisions that we’ve made during our life, not an arbitrary punishment by a capricious God.

Reflecting on what the readings today tell us about death, about judgement and our future life with God; they can open up the way to greater truth about the purpose of our lives on earth and our relationship with God.

They open up the way to greater truth about the purpose of our lives on earth and our relationship with God. Many people only give superficial thought to these subjects and obviously find them difficult to accept or believe in.

But when we spend some time reflecting on them, and praying to God about them, we will hopefully begin to see that they can’t be dismissed so easily.

A final point! We may feel that the wise bridesmaids were rather selfish in refusing to share their oil with the foolish ones in such a critical situation.

We can also say in the context of today’s parable that our preparedness to meet the Lord is something that is ultimately only our responsibility. No one can say “Yes” to Christ on our behalf!

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What’s love got to do, got to do with it?

30th Sunday Ordinary Time Year A 2017 (29 Oct)
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

In the words of Tina Turner: What’s love got to do, got to do with it?
To which the answer, taken from today’s Gospel, is: Everything!!

We are created in the image of God who is love. Our hope, our joy, our happiness and our peace in this life are to be found and are centred in this one truth; that we are created in the image of love that we may love and know that we are loved.

When the Pharisee (who, like all Pharisees, was an expert in “the law and the prophets”) asks Jesus to identify the greatest among the 613 commandments of the Old Testament, Jesus summarises the entire law in his simple and profound reply:
We must love God with all our heart, mind and soul and we must love each other as we love ourselves.

Essentially, Jesus’ reply is quite orthodox. There’s nothing radical in the two commandments he quotes. The commandment to love God comes from the Book of Deuteronomy (Deut 6:5) and the command to love our neighbour comes from The Book of Leviticus (Lev 19:18). What is radical is that Jesus is saying emphatically that we can’t separate loving God from loving our neighbour.

The Pharisees professed great love for God in their obedience to the law but they demonstrated scarce love for the people; they were arrogant, aloof and critical.

Jesus is not throwing out the 613 commandments. He is simply saying that all the other commandments hang on the Greatest Commandment: love God and love your neighbour.

The love for God and neighbour are intently linked. Religious and political extremists of any persuasion who harm their neighbour in the name of God are about as far from God and the truth as can be imagined. They are testimony to the presence and reality of evil in the world.

This love that Jesus talks about is not some fleeting, fickle, self-indulgent emotion. It’s a courageous lifestyle that puts God first, others second, and self third.

First, he said, we must love God; starting with the heart.
When we desire what God desires, we love with our heart.
When we cherish and actively try to understand God’s love for us and the world, we love with our mind.

When we joyfully live our lives following those desires and that understanding, we love with our soul; with our whole being.

This is an intimate relationship with God; a relationship that constantly influences and directs our actions, our desires and our thoughts.
We can’t grow and sustain that relationship if we relegate it to an hour of worship on a Sunday. Our relationship with God, like all relationships, is fulfilling and rewarding in proportion to our commitment to it.

Opening our heart and mind to an intimate relationship with God can be as challenging as it is in human relationships. We find it difficult exposing and admitting our vulnerabilities and weaknesses, our deepest fears and desires; even to ourselves. Perhaps that’s why some find the Sacrament of Reconciliation daunting.

Trust is the core of our relationships with God and with each other.

In our human relationships Jesus says we must love our neighbour as we love our self.

So this would imply that if we are not able to love ourselves, we are not able to love our neighbour; and this obviously would seriously undermine our relationship with God.

In terms of self-love, Jesus is not for a moment referring to self-centred, conceited vanity that excludes love of anyone other than self.

The self-love Jesus is talking about is seeing ourselves, warts and all, as God’s beloved.

We love ourselves because we are loved; we are created in the image of God who is love. Nothing else is relevant.

This self-love is not dependent on our physical size, fat or thin; our intellect, bright or dim; age, old or young; physical condition, healthy or infirm; physical features, attractive or plain, athletic or disabled; our wealth, affluent or destitute; sexual orientation, gay or straight; our careers, success or failure; our popularity, liked or disliked.

Warts and all, we are God’s precious creation. We are loved as we are.
When we embrace that understanding of God’s love for us, we learn to love ourselves.
Through our numerous human differences we glimpse the vastness and diversity of God’s creation that is so much more than just me and my world.

Some years ago a young man in our parish asked me why he had not been born perfect like everyone else in his family. He’d been born with a physical disability. He was kind and gentle, humble and funny, intelligent and caring. It wasn’t difficult to see the image of God in his less than perfect body.

When we focus on what we don’t love about ourselves, wanting to be someone else, when we can’t find the love of God in ourselves, we become deaf and blind to the needs of others. If fact we share the same space as those who are blinded by the perception of their own brilliance.

The way we treat our neighbour then could be a reflection of our self-love.
It’s often easier to express our love for our neighbour who is far away; those caught up in political persecuted or abject poverty or those suffering from the consequences of natural disasters.

But the real test is with those closest to us; our families, friends, colleagues, parishioners; the waiter, shop assistant and hungry beggar. Do they see us as being kind and gentle, generous and compassionate, patient and considerate? Do they see the joy of our certainty of God’s love for us in our eyes and in our words; and in our actions?

The more love we carry in our hearts for God and our neighbour, the better we reflect the image of God that we each carry within us.

What Are Our Fruits?

27th Sunday Ordinary Time.
Cycle A.
8th October 2017.
Mt 21: 33-43. Is 5: 1-7

The basic purpose of Isaiah’s song and Matthew’s account of Jesus’ parable being linked today is to make us think and to search our own conscience. What are our fruits, as believers? Are we in the situation where God has done his part, but sometimes we’re only producing sour grapes, or even worse, turning on our neighbour?
The symbol of the vine and vineyards was an image that Jesus liked to use in different ways in his preaching. Our relationship with God is compared to the way a carefully-tended plant yields good fruit. The hymn: “I am the fruitful vine, and you my branches are,” illustrates this.

The important thing about the vineyard in this particular parable – as in the song by Isaiah in the first reading – is that unfortunately it’s a vineyard that doesn’t produce any fruit, or doesn’t produce the right kind of fruit.
We have images of a vine that produces sour grapes, and vineyard workers who refuse to carry out the owners wishes and turn against him, which are conjured up for us as symbols of those who close themselves off from God’s grace and fail to bear spiritual fruit; despite all the care and the cultivation by the gardener – obviously a symbol for God’s care and concern for his people.

There’s a saying that is sometimes used as a way of emphasising God’s compassion and kindliness: “God takes us as we are”.

It’s true, but it’s only half the truth. God does take us as we are, but if we respond he doesn’t leave us as we are. Contact with God; a relationship with God; changes us. We become a different person: our attitudes, and our behaviour changes. In the more figurative and symbolic language of the Bible – we produce fruit.
I am sure there are some of us here present, myself included, who at some time had no interest or involvement with formal religion, but through some intervention or influence have become more entrenched in our faith—-however frail that might be.

When a gardener puts a lot of care into his plants they ripen and mature. When we play our part in our relationship with God, and respond to the influence of his grace, we also develop in a certain direction and mature as Christians. There’s a move towards greater integrity or cohesion in our own character, and there’s a move towards greater understanding and gentleness regarding the frailties and weaknesses of other people.

If we look at the passage from Isaiah we can see that the kind of fruits God particularly expects us to manifest are justice and integrity. In fact Isaiah describes those qualities not so much as expectations by God, but as the natural outcome of being faithful to God, in the Covenant. What is true on the level of our individual personal relationship with God should also be true for our community that sincerely worships God and recognises him as the source of our moral principles: just relationships, free from exploitation and domination; just some of the fruits which will grow naturally in our community, as a result of our genuine contact with God.
Inevitably, however, in both the first reading and the gospel, there’s also a more negative implication raised by Isaiah and by Jesus: they criticise their fellow-believers for not responding in the way that they should to God’s involvement with them.

Particularly in the Gospel there’s a tone of warning and threat in Jesus’ language, typical of the style of preaching employed by the Old Testament prophets, claiming that since the community are not producing the fruit that comes from knowing and loving God, God’s Kingdom will be taken from them, and given to other people, who will be receptive to the values of the Kingdom, and will produce the right fruits.
Matthew’s idea in including it in his gospel wasn’t just to disparage the chief priests and the elders. Matthew was addressing his own community – the Christian community – and his aim in this passage was to get the new followers of Christ to ask themselves whether they were producing the fruit they were supposed to.

Jesus’ warning here is also aimed at us: if we don’t produce wholesome fruit, God’s Kingdom will be taken away from us, and given to people who – even if they don’t have an explicit belief in God – are actually doing God’s will by the way they live and the values they put into practice. I am sure we all know someone of that ilk?
Again, it’s not that God has a spiteful streak, or takes pleasure in removing something from us which can only be for our benefit. What this final remark of Jesus implies, really, is that God doesn’t force himself onto people who aren’t interested in him. Nobody can be coerced into having a more profound faith, or growing in holiness, or becoming a more compassionate and loving person.

The rule of God’s Kingdom can only be active in our lives if there’s the effort to actually welcome it and co-operate with it. Christ knew that there were men and women who were doing that, even though they hardly carried out any of the formal religious rules and ceremonies of the time that the religious leaders thought were so important.
I return to the question I posed when I started speaking: What are our fruits as believers?

Most of us can think of ways that in our own specific circumstances we could be become more rooted in the qualities and attitudes that make up the Kingdom – even just becoming more conscious of our need to cultivate the fruits of justice, love and peace; rather than just stagnating. Waking us up to that need, rather than threatening us with the loss of God’s friendship, is the real purpose of the language Jesus and Isaiah use in their parables in today’s readings.

We are challenged to ask Jesus to be with us as the cornerstone of all that we build and cultivate.

A Rock-Like Faith

21st SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME.
CYCLE A.
27th August 2017.
Mat: 16: 13-20
Deacon Tony Van Vuuren

It comes over pretty clearly from the picture that Saint Matthew gives of Peter that Jesus chose him as the leader of the disciples not because of any great leadership skills that he showed or because he was a particularly charismatic personality, but because he had faith: the insight to discern Jesus’ identity as the Saviour.

Of course Peter’s insight into Jesus’ identity didn’t come from nowhere. He’d had plenty of time to get to know Jesus and to witness the way he went about his mission.

His faith had grown since his first meeting with Jesus; but we know that he was challenged along the way and reflecting on that made me realize that to overcome the personal challenges that I and my family have to face at the moment we, as a family, have to maintain a rock-like faith in Christ. We have to be rooted in God.                                                                                                                                                                        We We are all faced with challenges one way or another; and one of the biggest challenges to our faith is suffering. The question arises, “Why must I endure suffering?” Or, “What did she do to deserve so much pain?” It’s complicated. Among people who pray a lot there is a feeling that we should have a pass on suffering — after all, we pray and should receive some benefits — shouldn’t we? But it gets more complicated. Why do the innocent suffer, especially the very young, and the evil ones seem to prosper?

C S Lewis is quoted in yesterday’s Argus: “The problem is not why some pious, humble, believing people suffer, but why do some not?”

From the very beginning the question of suffering has been a stumbling block for believers. I don’t presume to have an answer. Except, I do not believe God deliberately afflicts us with pain. Nor do I believe that God tests our faith to see how strong it is. I reject the explanation that many give, as an attempt to comfort those in pain: “God never gives us more than we can bear.” Nor do I believe, as some people say, “God is testing your faith.”

I don’t believe any of that because I believe in Jesus Christ and his gospel which reveals a God who loves us, even before we know that love, or do anything to return it.
We certainly don’t have to earn God’s love — Jesus says we already have it. If anything, God is there with us in our suffering. In Jesus Christ, God joins us in all we go through; we are not alone in our most difficult times. That doesn’t answer many of our questions about suffering, nor why each of us seems to have our own unique type of suffering. By putting our faith in God’s love we learn to live with the mystery.

Christ says to us through the Gospels; “If anyone wants to be my disciple you must take up your cross and follow me.”
We often call our helplessness and suffering our cross. True, because our suffering unites us with Christ’s. But the cross that Jesus speaks of is one he invites us to take up. We can accept it or reject it, because it is voluntary. But it means accepting that suffering is a part of our lives. Accepting our cross means that, at some point, we have to make peace with the unalterable fact that frustration, disappointment, pain, misfortune, illness, unfairness, sadness, and death are a part of our lives and they must ultimately be accepted without bitterness.

Pope Francis is quoted as saying that  the Gospels remind us that faith in God and in his word doesn’t open up a path where everything is easy and calm; it doesn’t take away life’s storms. Faith gives us the security of Jesus’ presence to help us through the difficult times. Faith is not an escape from life’s problems and challenges; but it sustains us along the journey and gives our life meaning.

When we answer the 2nd question put to the disciples as Peter did, we respond to Jesus’ invitation. We also, apart from accepting suffering, also choose to sacrifice time, energy and resources through service to our community and for those in need.  In a world that measures a person’s worth by appearance, place of origin, income and possessions, we have to choose to be with the poor, and speak up for the outsider, even at the cost of being rejected and ridiculed — our cross. In a world that rewards gold medals to the strongest and victorious, we can choose to give a hand to the weak, infirm, elderly and the homeless out of personal time and resources — our cross.

In a world that chooses violence and force as a solution to problems, or to get one’s way, we can choose nonviolence, dialogue, love of enemies and we can attempt to listen to another’s point of view – even when others call us naive — our cross. We make daily choices to take up the cross and follow Jesus.

As I was saying at the start, Jesus didn’t choose Peter as the leader of the disciples because he had any of the skills or abilities that people look for today. He chose him because – despite all his failings, which the gospels don’t try to cover up – Peter’s faith was deep and sincere. In spite of his various weaknesses, he became rooted in God as a result of his encounter with Christ, in a way that he wasn’t before he met Christ. So can we!

Perhaps at a time when people seem to find it so difficult to decide what they believe in and what they hope for – when they’re always postponing any final decision about fundamental values and what they want as the driving force in their lives – the example of Peter’s faith is something that hopefully we, as believers, can identify with and imitate in our own efforts to recognise Christ for who he is and to become rooted in the God who sent him to us.

How can we identify with this kind of life; the life of a disciple?  Might I suggest; It requires what Jesus congratulated Peter for, and what Jesus built up in Peter, a “rock-like faith.”

The Transfiguration

Year A 2017
6 August
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

Today’s feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord celebrates an extraordinary event in the life of Jesus and in the lives of the three disciples who witnessed it. For Jesus, the transfiguration was an affirmation of his Father’s love and a foretaste of his glory.
For Peter, James and John, the transfiguration was a vivid revelation, a preview, of Jesus’s full identity; fully human and fully divine. While the three of them knew and loved Jesus, the carpenter from Galilee, in the transfiguration they got a glimpse of his divinity; Jesus, the Son of God, Jesus the Messiah, the completion of the Law (represented by Moses) and the prophets (represented by Elijah).

Jesus in the mystery of the Holy Trinity; the voice of the Father, the transfigured Son and the Holy Spirit brilliantly animated in the clouds and the light as bright as the sun.

An awesome experience beyond description; impossible to describe adequately. How can one describe an encounter with God? The three of them must have been frightened out of their wits and shaken right out of their sandals.

The transfiguration took place about a week after Jesus had spoken to his disciples for the first time about his pending suffering, death and resurrection. And you’ll recall that to Peter the whole idea of Jesus dying was unthinkable and he’d protested strongly; and Jesus had rebuked him sternly rejecting the temptation that Peter presented to him to walk away from the cross “Get behind me Satin.” This rebuke must have come as a real shock to Peter and bruised his ego and his relationship with Jesus.

The transfiguration, coming just days after this misunderstanding, was surely a turning point in Peter’s understanding of Jesus; Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.

In today’s Second Reading Peter recalls his experience of the transfiguration to remind the early Christians that he stands as a personal witness to Jesus’s majesty and divinity.

In the law in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 19:15) three witnesses are required to attest to the truth. The truth of the transfiguration was witnessed by Peter, James and John.

All of us believe in an intellectual way that God is with us. But sometimes we wish for a mountain-top experience to make that intellectual belief a tangible reality in our lives. Often God’s presence is not obvious to us in the cruel, corrupt world in which we live and in the everyday challenges of our lives.

We might wish that we could have an experience like the transfiguration. Wish that God would appear to us in a way that could not be mistaken for anything else; preferably an encounter that we would share with other witnesses who could vouch for this truth.

Perhaps then we’d find it easier to love God and love our neighbour; easier to be faithful disciples.

Well it didn’t work that way for Peter, James, and John. This experience on the mountain didn’t take away the ambition of James and John to be singled out for special treatment. They wanted a distinctive place kept for them in God’s kingdom (Matthew 20:20). The transfiguration didn’t take away their selfish pride and hunger for recognition. Or their doubt. They deserted Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and left him to die.

We know about Peter.

Even the transfiguration didn’t heal his doubt. He cowered in fear when Jesus was arrested and then publicly professed that he didn’t know the man.

Even the sight of the resurrected Jesus was not a fool proof experience for some of Jesus’ followers. Matthew tells us in chapter 28 that after the crucifixion “The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.”

As much as we might wish for a dramatic display of God’s power and presence we’re not likely to receive one. We build our faith on the testimony of those who witnessed the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and on the witness and evidence of God’s presence in our lives and the lives of the many saints who have gone before us; the Presence of Jesus among us and within us.

Most of us have had an experience of the presence of God.

An experience that we can’t adequately describe or explain but one which has left us with no doubt that we have encountered something beautiful that’s out of this world.

Perhaps in prayer or meditation we’ve been overcome with a sense of joy and peace.

Or perhaps the sudden recognition of the majesty of creation in a sunrise or sunset or star lit night that leaves us speechless.

Perhaps an exquisite piece of music or art that takes our breath away.

Perhaps a look or gesture of love from a child or someone we’ve touched with our kindness and compassion.

Perhaps the overwhelming awareness of God’s forgiveness in the words of absolute in the sacrament of reconciliation.

Or perhaps just the sheer happiness of being alive and knowing that we are God’s beloved; an unexpected feeling of certainty that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Often these experiences happen when we least expect them.

But we’re come here specifically to encounter our Lord.

Are we not blessed indeed to have the Presence of Christ available to us in the Eucharist in the Mass? Let us never undervalue the magnitude and magnificence of this great Sacrament of the altar. This is the same Jesus that Peter, John and James encountered in the Transfiguration.

It’s not necessary to climb a mountain to experience the presence of God.

All we have to do is be attentive so that we don’t miss the time and place when God wants to enter more deeply into our lives.

eeply into our lives.

CALL TO WITNESS

THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD
CYCLE A
28th MAY 2017
Acts 1:1-11
Math 28:16-20
Rev Tony van Vuuren

We can’t read the Bible as if it’s a collection of news reports: it’s a different kind of knowledge which is being communicated. Jesus’ Ascension, which we commemorate today, is one of the many events in the Bible where – behind the images and the metaphors – we do find the truth about the work and the activity that God has carried out for our sake and for our salvation.

Whatever the image, we run the risk of looking on the Feast of the Ascension with our eyes raised to the sky. This is exactly the opposite of what we should do. It is a feast that invites us to look to earth, to people among whom we are called to witness to and make present the work of our Lord.

The readings today are a poetic way of saying that Jesus is no longer on earth in a fleshly, physical and material way. The words of scripture mean that Christ’s ascension and withdrawal brings about a new mode by which Christ can be present to us, intimate, yet universal and ‘interceding for us at the right hand of the Father.’He is actually with us more strongly, more powerfully, than when he walked the roads and streets of Palestine.

He is with us in his gift to us of the Holy Spirit. Always inside us as an invitation that fully respects our freedom, never overpowers us; but also never goes away. He acts on us in all the down-to-earth ways that the Spirit influences us. So we don’t have to go looking for him on the clouds or in the sky. We find him in our reading, hearing and understanding of the scriptures, which speak of him. We find him in our celebration of the sacraments. Each of the seven sacraments is a sign of his presence and action upon us here and now.

This is especially true of the Eucharist, which is specifically the sign and presence of his now glorified and spiritualized body. We find him in our practical love for our neighbour, and especially for our caring for fellow human beings who are disadvantaged in any way, and those who are sad, sorrowing, afraid or despairing.

But if Jesus is no longer visible in the old familiar ways, how will people come to know of his presence? The answer is that he is present through us. On this Feast of the Ascension we are reminded in Matthew’s Gospel of the great commission he gave us; his followers; before he went home to God. This is to go and tell everyone everywhere the good news that Jesus is alive and is our Saviour – making disciples of all nations.

The end of Jesus’ ministry on earth is the beginning of our ministry, as the community of believers, the Church. He says to his followers in every century ‘You are my witnesses’, and that in order to witness to my Father ‘you will be clothed with the power from on high’, the power of the Holy Spirit.

That then is our task: to be witnesses. There are two aspects to the role of witness 1) to actually experience the subject in question and 2) to tell others about it. Obviously one comes before the other. One can’t give witness to something that you have not experienced. Some of us here might feel that our experience of God has been inadequate up to now and therefore we don’t think that we have anything to communicate to others.

We shouldn’t underestimate ourselves. If we are sitting in Church today it is surely because most of us already have some experience of God. It is surely because we already hope and trust in him and because we know that it is in celebrating his Eucharist that we can come closest to him. Most of us came to this mass quite freely and must therefore have a good reason to want to spend time with him in service and prayer. If that’s not experience of God, then what is?

It is this that the people in the world around us want to know about. They thirst for meaning and purpose; all too often they find themselves filling up the empty holes in their lives with material possessions, and all kinds of inappropriate things.

They want to hear from us. Or maybe, they don’t want to hear from us but want to observe people who do find their lives fulfilling and who have direction and moral purpose. They want to look at us from afar and only later, when they become convinced that what we are doing is right, come to know us better. In ascending to heaven, Jesus has not left us. He has merely disappeared from our sight. This is similar to the Eucharist. So long as the host is outside us, we see it and we adore it.

When we receive the host we no longer see it. It has disappeared from sight, but it has disappeared so that Jesus can be within us, and be present to us in a new way, and an even more powerful way than when he walked our earth in the flesh. So, like the first disciples, we are not sad that Jesus has disappeared from sight but happy, happy because he is still with us through the Spirit.

So did it happen exactly as the Acts reading describes it? Jesus being lifted to heaven on a cloud? Why not? Nothing is impossible with God. In the end though, the imagery matters less than the lessons of the Ascension: Jesus is with the Father. Jesus is always present to us through the Spirit. The two men in white robes assure us that Jesus will return. Meanwhile we have to stop staring up at the sky and get busy being the witnesses Jesus has asked us to be!

Jesus loves me this I know

Good Friday
Les Ruhrmund

Crucifixion was a familiar method of execution used by the Romans at the time of Jesus and was an excruciatingly painful procedure resulting in a slow and agonising death. It was for this very reason that it was used as a deterrent to would be traitors and criminals. We’re told by historians that many of the soldiers who were tasked to carry out crucifixions were traumatised by the experience and would fortify themselves with wine beforehand.

Jesus says to us from the cross this afternoon: You have tortured me and put me through this most terrible suffering, yet I love you. There is nothing you can do in this world that would change my love for you. The Father says to us: Do you believe now how much I love you? My beloved son has died so that you may live with me in God’s kingdom.

Prior to the crucifixion of Jesus, there was no access to the kingdom. Human creation was completely cut off from God. None of the great people of scripture who proceeded Jesus were in the kingdom; not Abraham nor Isaac, nor Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah, nor any of the other great prophets; not even John the Baptist had access to the Father’s kingdom. The Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus opened the gateway to the Father and saved all humankind from eternal darkness. This is the greatest story ever told.

In John’s Passion we hear a variety of questions asked by different people who participated in the Passion of Jesus and I’d like to reflect simply on three of them:

“Who are you looking for? “Jesus asks twice.

“Aren’t you another of that man’s disciples?” is the question that is twice put to Peter.

“So you are a king, then? “asks Pontius Pilate.

So who are we looking for?

Our answer is surely the same as the soldiers: Jesus of Nazareth. If that was not true, we wouldn’t be here this afternoon. In our own ways, for many different reasons we’re all looking for Jesus in our lives. His love sustains, nourishes, comforts and carries us as we struggle with our own crosses to our own Calvary and redemption. Few of us will get through this life without pain and suffering; be it emotional, physical or spiritual. Jesus didn’t come to eliminate pain and suffering; his crucifixion is proof enough of that. But Jesus has been there; he understands our fear and dread in the face of pain and death. We need Jesus in our lives. While the soldiers were looking to take Jesus into custody, we place ourselves in the custody of Jesus.

The second question is to Peter. Although he had sworn vehemently at supper the night before that he would never desert Jesus, when challenged, three times he insisted that he didn’t even know the man.  We can empathise with Peter given a stark choice of perhaps life and death but do we deny Jesus nevertheless though the stakes are not nearly as high?  In our homes, families, work places and recreation do we compromise our relationship with Jesus by saying and doing things that hurt others?  Are we the voice of Jesus, the voice of peace, in a grossly cruel and violent world?

We live in a world that is extensively connected through social media. We are able to communicate instantly with a great many people at the push of a button. Would it be obvious to anyone reading what we post on social media and our smart phones that we are another of that man’s disciples?

The third question is posed by Pilate.

Is Jesus king? Do we really believe that? King of our hearts, king of our lives?

Jesus says his kingdom is not of this world. Those who will be welcomed into his kingdom will be recognised by how they fed the hungry and the thirsty, welcomed strangers, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited prisoners. Hunger may not necessarily be a shortage of food. It may be a hunger for love, acceptance, tolerance, kindness and understanding.  In the same way we don’t necessarily have to visit a jail to visit prisoners. Many are prisoners of loneliness, depression, addictions and abuse. They all cry out for the healing touch of Jesus that we as disciples can bring them.

We are challenged to show true allegiance to our king through our actions. Not ambition, greed and status, not pious words and conspicuous devotions, but quiet revolutionary work of making the world a better place in which to live; better because we have made it better.

Each of us stands alone before Jesus on the cross. We stare at his broken body that cries out in love for us. We know we are not worthy of his great sacrifice but we also know that he loves us in our imperfection.

He has chosen to travel the same journey all over again, in, through and with each one of us. No wonder we call this solemn feast “Good Friday”. What greater goodness could we know than that the cross of Jesus reveals that God is our companion at every step of life’s journey? A compassionate God who grieves with us when we despair and is a companion to us in our darkest days. He is the hope with which we look for the light of resurrection in all our lives.