Tuesday 11 June 2024

How can Satan cast out Satan?

Saint Augustine and the Devil, by Michael Pacher

Reflection for Morning Worship with the Community of Brendan the Navigator on Tuesday 11th June 2024

Jesus is being mobbed like a rock star in today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel (Mark 3:20-35). He has been travelling around Galilee proclaiming the Good News and healing those who came to him, followed by crowds thronging to see this celebrity. Now he has returned to the fishing village of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. Even there the crowds still press in on him, so that he and his disciples don’t have time even to eat, we are told.

But not all in the crowds support Jesus. We hear of two groups of people who want him to cease his ministry – first his family, and second a party of scribes.

Back in Nazareth his family has heard how he is being mobbed. They fear that the authorities will seek to put him out of the way for being so outspoken. He must have ‘gone out of his mind’, they think – we must go to fetch him home and end this madness. But Jesus rejects their attempts. Pointing to his disciples he tells his family, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother’. From this I learn that each one of us has the freedom in Christ to follow what we discern to be God’s call to us, our vocation. Even if others including family and friends oppose it. If I am certain of my call, I must be prepared to reject the well-meaning intervention even of those whom I love and who love me.

What about the scribes, who had come down from Jerusalem to oppose him? They cannot deny he has been healing the sick, since so many people have seen it. In those days it was believed that illness was caused by evil spirits – by demons. So they start to spread rumours about the source of Jesus’s healing power: ‘He has Beelzebul’ – the chief demon – ‘and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons’.

Jesus understands very well what the scribes are about. He confronts them directly to their faces, dismissing their argument as a logical impossibility. ‘How can Satan cast out Satan?’, he asks. ‘If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand … If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come’. Look at it this way, he says, ‘No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man’. Jesus turns the tables on the scribes by pointing out, ‘I am stronger than Satan because I have cast out Satan’.

Jesus has refuted the scribes’ claim that he is possessed by ‘an unclean spirit’, not the Holy Spirit from God. Now he turns their words back on them. For the scribes to say that a spirit that comes from God is not good but evil is a blasphemy, an insult to God. It is the scribes whose spirits are unclean, not Jesus.  ‘Truly I tell you’, he says, ‘people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’.

Over the centuries many Christians have been confused by this unforgiveable blasphemy, ‘the sin against the Holy Spirit’. I understand it in this way. Our God-given conscience enables us to distinguish good from evil. People who cannot tell good from evil are conscience-blind. They are unable to recognise what is evil in themselves, so they cannot repent it. And without repentance they cannot be forgiven. Some Christians over the years have feared that they may be guilty of this unforgiveable sin, causing them great suffering. But they should take comfort, I suggest, that precisely because of their fear, they are not conscience blind, and can seek repentance and obtain forgiveness.

In this reading, Jesus has given us a tool we can use to discern whether someone we meet is motivated by a spirit of evil, as the scribes from Jerusalem were. Anyone whose conscience is so lacking that they cannot distinguish between good and evil must be motivated by a spirit of evil. When we recognise this, we must confront and overcome the evil as Jesus did, without violence. Such people will not be able to repent the evil they do, and so they cannot be forgiven - their sin can only be eternal.

Unless God intervenes, that is, because all things are possible with God - as St Paul, the persecutor of the Church, discovered on the road to Damascus.

 

Sunday 9 June 2024

Remembering St Columba


 Address given in St Mary's Nenagh and Killodiernan Church on Sunday 9th June 2024, the Feast of St Columba

I ring this bell to call us to remember St Columba, whose feast day it is today.

St Columba’s name in Irish is Colm Cille, which means Dove of the Church – Columba in Latin simply means a dove. He was born in 521 in Co. Donegal to an aristocratic, warrior family. He studied in Clonard monastery, Co. Meath, became a monk, and eventually was ordained a priest. In his early years he is said to have founded several monasteries including those at Kells, Derry and Swords.

But Columba was not always as peaceful as his name suggests. He got embroiled in a quarrel over a psalm book with St Finnian of Movilla. Columba borrowed the book and copied it secretly for his own use, but Finnian disputed his right to keep it. The High King adjudicated the case, coming to the famous judgement, ‘To every cow its calf, to every book its copy’. This set a precedent that is still remembered in copyright law. Columba would not accept the judgement, and the dispute eventually resulted in a pitched battle between the supporters of the two men in which 3,000 people are said to have died.

A Synod threatened to excommunicate St Columba for these deaths, but St Brendan of Birr spoke up for him, and he was allowed to go into exile. Columba went to Scotland as a missionary, pledged to convert as many heathen Picts as had been killed in the battle.

Columba sailed into exile in 563AD in a curragh with 12 companions.

No doubt he brought with him a precious copy of the Gospels and the psalms, perhaps also a bell like this one, as many early Irish saints did, to call his fellows to prayer and worship.

Landing on Iona, an island in the Inner Hebrides, Columba began his life’s work to convert the Picts to Christianity. He established a great monastery in Iona, one of the most important in the Celtic world, which he developed into a centre of learning and a school for missionaries.

He became deeply involved in Scottish politics, helping to broker peace between the warring Picts and Gaels. The aristocratic Irish warrior who caused so much slaughter became St Columba, the dove of peace.

Today’s 1st reading (Micah 4:1-5) is very apt for his feast day:

‘(The Lord) shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;

they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more;

but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.’

Columba’s monastery on Iona continued to flourish after his death in 597 AD.

It was renowned for its learning, and for its scriptorium which made beautiful, illustrated manuscripts, among them the Book of Kells. From Iona missionaries went not only around Scotland, but to England where St Aidan came from Iona to Lindisfarne where he converted the heathen Anglo-Saxon Northumbrians.

The Iona monastery was eventually abandoned in 849AD after being sacked several times by the Vikings. Its treasures and relics were dispersed around Scotland and Ireland, which may explain how Kells got its famous book.

But Columba’s monastery continued to live on in memory. Scottish kings continued to be buried in its ruins, including Macbeth, whom we remember from Shakespeare’s play. 

And in 1203 a Benedictine Abbey was built in its place, which continued to flourish until it was suppressed at the Reformation.

Yet that is not the end of the story!

In 1938 a Presbyterian Minister called George McLeod brought a party of unemployed men from Govan near Glasgow to rebuild Iona’s ruined Benedictine Abbey. In doing so he founded what is now known as the Iona Community.

In words taken from their website (iona.org.uk), the Iona Community today ‘is a dispersed Christian ecumenical community working for peace and social justice, rebuilding of community and the renewal of worship. We are an ecumenical community of men and women from different walks of life and different traditions in the Church, engaged together and with people of goodwill across the world, reflecting and praying for justice, peace and the integrity of creation’.

The Community run pilgrim and retreat centres on Iona and nearby Mull. They also run outreach programmes in Glasgow, and programmes for children. Their Wild Goose publishing house makes new, exciting liturgy and hymns available to Christians everywhere. The Iona Community continues to bless Christians in these islands by building on their inheritance from St Columba.

The history of Iona is one of continuing cycles of decay and rebirth. This brings Jesus’s words in today’s Gospel reading (John 12:20-26) into sharp focus: ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit’.

I have a personal dream - foolish, maybe; perhaps impractical; but it is bold.

What is there to stop us in the Church of Ireland, perhaps in this diocese, from emulating our brothers and sisters in the Iona Community? What is there to prevent us from bringing together and fostering a new dispersed, ecumenical community of Irish Christians to be a resource for the churches of all traditions in this island?

This new Community might draw on the experience of Iona to develop new and exciting resources for modern, joyful worship, designed to attract and inspire pilgrims, and the young at heart in all generations, from every tradition across Ireland.

This new Community might develop new ways to engage with the increasing numbers of people in our towns and cities, and our rural countryside, who have no contact with our Christian faith or any church.

This new Community might adopt one of our many beautiful, ancient buildings, whose stones, like Iona’s, speak of a long and living Christian tradition, as a focus of pilgrimage, prayer and retreat. St Brendan’s Cathedral at Clonfert comes to mind, as one of several possibilities. Clonfert cathedral is barely used by the Church of Ireland, which also owns the nearby ruined Bishop’s Palace. And next door is the Roman Catholic Emmanuel House of prayer and evangelisation.

Who knows what blessings might flow from a new Community like this?

I ring this bell to call us to remember St Columba.

Let us give thanks for St Columba’s arrival on Iona nearly 1,460 years ago, and for his work as missionary and peacemaker.

Let us give thanks in our own day for the 85 years of Christian witness and service of the Iona Community.

Let us give thanks for the inspiration we continue to receive from both St Columba and the Iona Community.

And let us pray in words attributed to St Colmba himself:

Kindle in our hearts, O God,
the flame of love that never ceases,
that it may burn in us,
giving light to others.
May we shine for ever in your temple,
set on fire with your eternal light,
even your Son Jesus Christ,
our saviour and redeemer. Amen.



Monday 13 May 2024

Reflecting on St Matthias

 

Today we are celebrating St Matthias, whose feast-day is May 14th.

As we heard in today’s reading from Acts 1:15-26, he was chosen by casting lots to replace Judas, who had betrayed Jesus as the twelfth apostle, and died a wretched death. The story prompts me to ask three questions.


1.       Why did Peter and the other disciples believe they needed a twelfth apostle to replace Judas?

There were twelve historic tribes of Israel. Each was supposed to descend from one of Jacob’s twelve sons, though by Jesus’s time all but two had been dispersed and lost in exile. Jesus himself chose twelve of his disciples to be apostles, perhaps to symbolise that all twelve tribes of Israel would be reunited in the Kingdom of God. The word apostle comes from Greek, and literally means ‘one who is sent off’ – in modern English we might translate it as emissary or ambassador. Jesus sent the twelve apostles off in pairs to proclaim his own message about the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. It must have seemed obvious to the disciples that Judas needed to be replaced.


2.       Why and how did they cast lots to choose Judas’s replacement?

Peter took the initiative to propose that Judas should be replaced as an apostle, and persuaded the 120 believers that they should choose someone who had been with Jesus from the first. Two people were nominated, Joseph also known as Justus, and Matthias. But they did not want to presume to tell God who should be chosen. So they prayed that God would show them who he preferred by casting lots. We do not know precisely how the casting of lots was done, but it must have involved an element of chance, much as we might toss a coin to decide the winner of a drawn election.

 

3.       What sort of person was Matthias?

This passage from Acts is the only mention of Matthias in the NT, so we know next to nothing about him, other than that he must have been a faithful disciple from the very start, from Jesus’s baptism by John right through to his resurrection. Though there is a doubtful ancient Greek tradition, that he planted the faith in Cappadocia in modern Turkey near the port of Issus, and on the shores of the Caspian Sea.

Despite his election as an apostle, Matthias does not appear to have played a prominent part in the life of the earliest church. Nevertheless, it is right to remember and admire him, both for his faithfulness, and for his readiness to accept a call to a ministry he did not seek. And, I think, we should also celebrate him as a kind of patron saint of all the countless other faithful Christians through the ages, of whom history has recorded little or nothing, mostly not even their names. Their faithfulness, their names, and their modest lives and examples are all known to God.

Greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven has nothing to do with great deeds or historical memory.

 

Sunday 12 May 2024

John's evil cosmos-world

Address given at St Mary's Nenagh and Killodiernan on Sunday 12th May 2024, the 7th after Easter, the Sunday after the Ascension.

I see trees of green, red roses too, I see them bloom for me and for you, and I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

I apologise for my singing! But I’m sure you all recognise the song – memorably sung by Louis Armstrong. And it’s true isn’t it - we all know what a truly wonderful world God has made for us to live in - a real Garden of Eden, if only we would learn to look after it and use it rightly.

St John uses the Greek word ‘kosmos’, meaning ‘world’, no less than 13 times in today’s reading from his Gospel (John 17:6-19). But this is not the beautiful material world which God made and saw was very good, as the 1st chapter of Genesis puts it. I shall call what John has in mind the kosmos-world, to distinguish it from God’s world. The kosmos-world is a dark shadow of God’s good world. It is a place of spiritual death, filled with souls cut off from God: a place where greedy people trample on each other to grab more for themselves; a place where violent people kill and torture other people; a place where cynical people despise what is good and true and beautiful. And we all know the reality of that kosmos-world too, don’t we!

For John the very opposite of the kosmos-world is eternal life, as Jesus tells us through John in the preceding verses, This is eternal life, (to) know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus prays to his Father for his disciples.

It is the night of the last supper, after he has washed the disciples’ feet. Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’s twelve closest friends and disciples, has left the room. He has gone to betray Jesus to the authorities. Jesus is speaking to the remaining disciples, in what is known as his ‘farewell discourse’. Afterwards, he will go out with them to the garden of Gethsemane, across the Kidron valley, where he will be arrested by soldiers and police led by Judas, as Peter recalls in our 1st reading (Acts 1:15-17, 21-26).

Jesus is praying for his disciples, but he is also teaching them, for he prays out loud in their hearing. His words are dense with meaning - perhaps because he knows this is his last opportunity to speak to them before he is arrested, tried and executed.

It would take a very long sermon to tease out all the nuances of his prayer. So I shall pick out just three points from Jesus’s teaching about the relationship between his disciples and John’s kosmos-world.

1.       Jesus’s disciples are in the kosmos-world, but they do not belong to it. God has given the disciples to Jesus, in the sense that God has made them able to respond to the word of God which Jesus has given them. They have been brought to know and believe the truth that Jesus is sent from God. That is what sets them apart from the kosmos-world, even while they remain in it.

2.       The kosmos-world has already shown it hates Jesus, and his disciples too, because they do not belong to it. Those mired in evil, in cynicism, violence and greed, cannot co-exist with those who live by God’s values. So Jesus calls on his Father to protect his disciples from evil, when he is no longer there to do so in the flesh.

3.       Jesus does not ask God to take his disciples out of the kosmos-world. Just as God sent Jesus into the kosmos-world, so Jesus sends his disciples into it. God sent Jesus to redeem the kosmos-world from within. Jesus sends his disciples to continue his redeeming work in the kosmos-world.

The kosmos-world is a metaphor for the evil we encounter all around us, day by day.

It’s hard to see evil for what it is in the abstract. It comes in so many disguises. I think it helps to focus on concrete examples. There are so many to choose from - but let’s focus today on the hatred people harbour in their hearts for others they see as different from themselves, as enemies.

Personal hatred wounds the soul of both the hater and the hated. It is often expressed anonymously on social media, as those of us who use it know only too well. Children are particularly vulnerable to online bullying, whether it is aimed at their body form or their gender identity or some other perceived weakness. Vulnerable adults can also be severely affected. It blights lives and in extreme cases leads to suicide.

We may think that we cannot be guilty of such hateful behaviour - but what about old fashioned gossip? How many of us can say that we have never been party to passing on rumours that damage other people?

Group hatred, hatred of others because they belong to a different race or religion, is even more damaging than personal hatred.

Such hatreds are evil. They have been with us since the dawn of the human species, a kind of original sin, to which we are all potentially vulnerable. They fracture communities. And in the extreme they have led perfectly ordinary people, not so very different to you or me, to attempt to exterminate whole populations as dangerous enemies.

The Nazis murdered 6 million Jews between 1941 and 1945, alongside innumerable Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals. My father as an army chaplain was taken to see one of the extermination camps after its liberation, and he made sure that as a teenager I saw the horrific movies taken at the time so that I would recognise evil when I saw it.

We do well to remember this Holocaust every year in January. But that has not been enough to stop other genocides in my lifetime, such as those in Ruanda and in Bosnia.

Understandably, surviving Jews sought to establish a safe homeland for themselves. But tragically 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes as refugees when the state of Israel was founded in 1948. They were never allowed to return to their homes. Palestinians remember it as the Nakba or catastrophe. It is the root of the violence we see in the middle east today. Palestinians hate Israelis, and Israelis hate Palestinians. One group hatred begets another, in a vicious circle of evil. We see the consequences today in the horror of Gaza, in Israel, the West Bank, and other countries still hosting refugees from the Nakba and subsequent wars.

Lest we think that we cannot be caught up in such events, let us reflect on the cycle of violence in the North of our island. The Good Friday Agreement was meant to break the cycle, and we have had peace there for many years. But the hatreds still fester. And let us not forget the continuing prejudice in our communities against Travellers.

So to sum up:

The wonderful world God has placed us in is good. We should rejoice in it and give thanks for it. But as Jesus’s disciples, we must always be on guard against the evil that spoils it.

As disciples we live amidst evil, but we do not belong to it, because God has given us to Jesus.

Jesus confronted evil and refused to collude with it, at the cost of his death on the cross.

Our task as disciples is to continue Jesus’s redeeming mission. God has set us apart to confront and defeat evil wherever it is found, and that includes evil hatreds, whatever that may cost us personally.

We can and we should take comfort that Jesus intercedes for us. He asks God to protect us from something much worse than suffering or death – that is, from being drawn into doing evil ourselves.

As Jesus’s friend and disciple Judas was.

 

Sunday 14 April 2024

He rose from the dead on the 3rd day

 

Peace be with you!

Address given at St Mary's Nenagh and Killodiernan Church on Sunday 14th April 2024, the 3rd of Easter

We believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the 3rd day.

We profess this faith every Sunday, whether we say the Apostles’ or the Nicene Creed. But why do we believe it?

Luke gives us one reason in today’s reading from his Gospel (Luke 24:36-48). It is the testimony of the disciples. While scholars tell us he was writing some 45-50 years after the events he describes, Luke clearly draws on earlier sources and traditions, derived from the first disciples.

The scene is the upper room in which the disciples shared the Last Supper with Jesus. It is the night of the first Easter Sunday, the 3rd day after Jesus’s crucifixion, death and burial. His disciples know that Jesus has been executed. They fear they will be too. Now they are gathered together, anxious, but mulling over the amazing reports that Jesus, has appeared alive to Simon, and to Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus.

Then, ‘Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you”.

Luke is at pains to report that this is no spirit or ghost, but Jesus in the flesh. “Look at my hands and my feet”, says Jesus, – the disciples would have seen the wounds of his crucifixion - “see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have”. And Jesus goes on to eat a piece of grilled fish in their presence.

It is all rather mysterious. Jesus appears suddenly out of nowhere, just as he does in the other accounts of people meeting him after the resurrection. But these accounts are a powerful testimony to the first disciples’ certainty, not just that Jesus rose from the dead, but that this was how it had to be. Luke reports the risen Jesus teaching them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day”.

Jesus the risen Messiah goes on, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things”.

Notice that Jesus does not want his disciples to remain in the upper room looking inward – instead they are to go out into the wide world to proclaim to everyone the call to repentance and forgiveness which was always at the centre of his teaching.

And this is just what Jesus’s disciples did, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles.

The rabble of disciples who deserted Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the bewildered, terrified disciples of that first Easter day, will be transformed by the Holy Spirit 50 days later at Pentecost into a body of believers, a church, a church which proclaims Jesus’s message of repentance and forgiveness, and continues his mission.

In today’s 1st reading (Acts 3:12-19), Peter has just healed a man lame from birth in the name of Jesus Christ, to the astonishment of the crowd of bystanders at the gate of the Temple. And he uses this as an opportunity to preach the good news of Jesus Christ.

‘Why do you wonder at this’, he says, ‘or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? … The faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you… Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.’

A rabble of disciples is transformed into a church. A tiny church at first, it grows rapidly. Despite persecution and internal bickering, over the centuries it extends and multiplies across the world to all peoples. It carries on Jesus’s mission and preaches his message of hope. This congregation and our parish today, 2000 years on, is one tiny part of it.

For me this transformation of Jesus’s disciples from a rabble into a church is another, perhaps stronger reason to believe in the reality of the resurrection.

St Paul had the insight to see that the Church is like the body of Christ, who is its head.

We Christians are the flesh and bones and sinews of Jesus Christ.

We meet him when we come together as a Christian congregation - not just in this Nenagh Union of parishes, but in every gathering of Christians, of every tradition, everywhere.

He calls us to go out into the world to proclaim his message of repentance and forgiveness.

He calls us to continue his saving, healing mission to all we encounter, wherever we find ourselves, and throughout the world.

Like the first disciples, we need to abandon our fears and answer Jesus’s call!

I shall finish in prayer with the Collect of the Word set for today.

Lord of life,
by submitting to death, you conquered the grave:
by being lifted upon the cross, you draw all peoples to you;
by being raised from the dead, you restore to humanity all that was lost through sin:
be with us in your risen power,
that in word and deed we may proclaim
the marvellous mystery of death and resurrection:
for all praise is yours, now and throughout eternity. Amen

Tuesday 9 April 2024

Reflecting on the Annunciation

 

Ecce Ancilla Domini (The Annunciation)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Reflection for Morning Worship with the Community of Brendan the Navigator, Monday 8 April 2024, the Feast of the Annunciation (transferred)

The reading from Luke (1:26-38) we have just heard is the one set for the Feast of the Annunciation.  At the Annunciation, the Virgin Mary is surprised by the angel Gabriel with a message from God, saying that she will conceive in her womb and bear a son, whom she will name Jesus.

I know I’m treading on somewhat dangerous ground here! I’m part of the 50% of the human race that is less qualified to say anything about pregnancy and childbirth than the other 50%. But I’ve been closely associated with two pregnancies and three births, so I know that pregnancy is a time of expectation, great expectation. So much so, that when we say a woman is ‘expecting’, it is a euphemism for her being pregnant – ‘a baby’ is simply understood.

Mary was probably quite a young girl - a teenager even – and unmarried, when the angel came to tell her that she will be pregnant by the action of the Holy Spirit. How shocked she must have been. But nevertheless, she says to the angel, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’. She willingly accepts the unimaginable privilege of forming her son Jesus in her body. Jesus, the Son of the Most High, the eternal Word of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, takes human flesh in and from Mary. Jesus will quite literally be formed in her. While she is ‘expecting’, Christ is forming in her.

Our vocation as Christian disciples is to be ‘expecting’ just as Mary was. You might say we are all called to be pregnant! Whether we are young or old, male or female, single or married, we are called to let Christ be formed in us, just as he was formed in the womb of Mary.

All pregnancies end in the fullness of time. In around 9 months Mary gave birth to Jesus. Which is why we celebrate the Annunciation now, around 9 months before we celebrate his birth at Christmas. But as disciples in whom Christ is being formed, our pregnancy will last a lifetime. Stretching the analogy, it is on our deathbed that we will be finally delivered of the Christ we have nurtured within us, as an example to others of a Christian life, well lived, in the hope of resurrection to eternal life.

So, on this Feast of the Annunciation, let each one of us accept the call to be disciples. Let us be ‘expecting’ as Christ takes form within us. And let us pray that the Christ-seed the Holy Spirit has planted in us will grow to full term, perfectly formed in every way.

I shall finish with St Paul’s prayer for Christ to dwell in us, from his letter to the Ephesians 3:14-21:

Loving Father,

from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name,

According to the riches of your glory

grant that we may be strengthened in our inner being

with power through your Spirit,

that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith,

as we are being rooted and grounded in love.

May we have the power to comprehend, with all the saints,

what is the breadth and length and height and depth,

and know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,

so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.

By your power at work within us

you accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,

to you be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations,

for ever and ever. Amen.

(adapted)

 

Wednesday 27 March 2024

Betrayal

The Last Supper, Simon Ushakov, 1685

Reflection given at Compline in Killodiernan, Wednesday in Holy Week, 27 March 2024

Betrayal is the theme of the Gospel reading we’ve just heard (John 13:21-32).

‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me’, says Jesus to his disciples. Few things hurt as much as to be betrayed by someone who is close to you, someone you love.

Jesus loved and trusted Judas. Jesus had chosen Judas to be one of his inner-circle of twelve closest disciples. Jesus had appointed him to be treasurer of the little group – he held the common purse. And Jesus and Judas are about to share food together in a very special Eucharistic way – what we now call the Last Supper.

Yet Jesus knows quite well Judas is going to betray him. He looks Judas in the eye and says to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do’. And Judas goes out, out into the night. When they meet again a few hours later, Judas has brought a detachment of soldiers and police to arrest Jesus in a garden just outside the city.

How it must have broken Jesus’s heart to be betrayed by the friend he loved!

But that is not the only betrayal Jesus suffers that night.

We know that his disciples cannot wait and watch for even 1 hour, as Jesus wrestles with his feelings in prayer. We know that the disciples run away when the soldiers come to arrest Jesus. And we know that Simon Peter, who is brave enough to follow Jesus and his captors back to the High Priest’s house, denies three times he even knew Jesus, before the cock crowed.

Lord, who is it?’ says the disciple Jesus loved, at the prompting of Simon Peter. Who will betray you? ‘It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish’, replies Jesus.

The truth surely is that Jesus gave each and every one of his disciples a piece of bread at his Last Supper. They will all betray him, each in their own way.

Would I have behaved any better than the disciples? I don’t think so. I would have sworn blind I did not know Jesus to avoid arrest myself. I’m not as brave as Peter - I would not even have followed to the High Priest’s house – I would have run away like the other disciples. I too would have fallen asleep as my friend and teacher wrestled in prayer. As I did, as I sat while somebody I loved lay dying.

How often has each one of us betrayed Jesus, just as the disciples did!

We may not have sold our Lord and Master for 30 pieces of silver, like Judas. But how often have we failed to respond when Jesus asks something of us? How often have we run away, like cowards, from doing what we know is right? How often have we denied our faith when others challenge us?

Yet Jesus knows our human frailty and loves us all despite it, just as he loved his disciples - just as he loved Judas. He will forgive the pain our betrayals cause him if we turn to him in penitence and faith.

I shall finish by asking you to pray with me the prayer of Richard, Bishop of Chichester in the 13th century:

Thanks be to Thee, Lord Jesus Christ
for all the benefits Thou hast given me,
for all the pains and insults
Thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer,
Friend, and Brother,
may I know Thee more clearly,
love Thee more dearly,
and follow Thee more nearly,
day by day. Amen.