Monday, 19 March 2012

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Mass opened once more with the Lenten Prose sung in English. The second verse sung by our cantor, Johnny, particularly stuck in my mind as we processed to the altar:

O thou Chief Cornerstone, Right Hand of the Father, Way of Salvation, Gate of life celestial; cleanse thou our sinful souls from all defilement.

Fr Colin was principal celebrant and preacher. In his sermon he told us of his Christian journey beginning as a evangelical and having to learn Bible verses. The first he remembers learning was in the gospel reading today. In many ways Jesus was giving a summary of the Faith. Later Fr Colin reminded us that as Christians we start our Christian journey in rest! Just as Genesis places the creation of mankind on the sixth day, the day before the first sabbath, and thus our first full day was a sabbath rest with the Lord who had made heaven and earth, so Christ died for us on the day before sabbath (sixth day) and thus redemption begins on a day of rest with our Lord (who rested in the tomb). St Paul tells us, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God..."

We are looking forward very much to joining with the Abbey for Mass from Palm Sunday through to Easter Day, and Father Abbot has graciously invited the clergy to concelebrate. The singers, sacristans and preachers prepare for a busy week and the rest of us look forward to deepening our faith in the mystery of our Lord's passion, death and resurrection.

Some further thoughts on the gospel reading (my sermon given at the university mass in Plymouth) ...

The world is very good at negativity: the media promotes bad things, that happen in the world, much more easily and readily than anything good. Sometimes you almost feel they are grudging in reporting something good happening, and really relish being able to dish the dirt whenever possible. Weakness, perversity and vice are portrayed in the film industry almost always much better than the portrayal of virtue and fidelity.
And the world is very good at portraying Christianity negatively: that it is all about sin, and being judgemental, about telling others what to do, imposing things on others ...etc. This is the kind of thing that has been said all over the media this last week in the wake of the Archbishops' pastoral letter to Catholics:  that we are always telling people they are sinners, that we are being judgemental of other people, that we are always telling people what they cannot do, that we are always imposing our faith on others.
And we listen to so much of this that even those of us who should know better start to think it is true. If we do believe these caricatures of our faith then we are starting to say that what God is about is  trying to catch us out,  constantly trying to condemn us,  always ready to say “well I knew you were no good really – you are going to get what you deserve”.
You see when we start to put it like that we realise what rubbish these people are talking.
In today's Gospel reading we hear the essentials of the Good News from Jesus Christ Himself. And Jesus addresses us with three golden words:  life, light and truth. These are three golden words we need to etch deep in our minds – this is what Jesus, this is what God is about: life, light and truth.
     ...God loved the world so much that he gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may  not be lost but may have eternal life.
This is what our faith is about: that we may not be lost but may have eternal life. Everything in the Church is ordered to this end: that we may not be lost but may have eternal life. Even in the Church's Canon Law it says that “the salvation of souls, which in the Church must always be the supreme law.” That is what the Church is about – not condemnation but salvation. Condemnation comes not from Christ, not from God, but from the individual:  Jesus says, “whoever refuses to believe is condemned already because he has refused to believe in the name of God's only Son.” God does not accuse, God saves. The name, “Jesus”, means “God saves.” And Jesus is the supreme and fullest revelation of God that human beings can receive. There is no greater revelation of God than the person of Jesus Christ, who is named “God saves”. What can be clearer than that?
We do not judge others. We do not condemn. We strive to save. We strive to bring salvation to all.
How do we do that? We can't do it. We cannot save, only God can save. So we strive to help people open their eyes and their ears to God:  who is Life, Light and Truth – the three golden words in this gospel passage.
But someone will say, “Why are you always going on about sin?” We are not always going on about sin, but we do not run away from sin. The reason for that is that sin is the opposite of Life. Sin is death, the death of the soul. We need to deal with sin because sin is killing us. And the Father has sent His Son that we may not die but live eternally. So sin has to be dealt with. If we didn't deal with sin, it would be like a hospital not dealing with disease – nobody says that a hospital is always going on about disease and sickness; it has to, that's what it is for!
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent for the Israelites healing, so Christ was lifted up on the cross. We must face our enemy. We must see what the truth is. We must look at the cross and see where sin leads. Sin crucified Jesus. The sinless One became the victim of sin.
But like the snake that was lifted up by Moses in the desert became the means of their healing from snake venom, so the cross has become the means of our healing, our salvation from sin and death, through faith in Christ.

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)