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Emmaus Road, Luke 24

The couple on the road in the story which we’ve just heard were probably husband and wife, Cleopas and Mary; and they were followers of Jesus. Perhaps they were so distressed at the death of Jesus that they’d decided just to go home, because it was all over.

And then a stranger approached them. They must have thought this stranger might be a spy, and like the rest of Jesus’s followers they were probably in fear for their lives. But maybe they were beyond caring by now, and they just took the opportunity to pour their troubles out.

Perhaps they didn’t recognise Jesus at first, because they didn’t understand the story of how God was going to mend the world and its people through the death and suffering of himself in the person of his Son. And perhaps St. Luke is telling us in this story, that we can only recognise Jesus when we’ve learned to see him within the true story of just how God has mended the world.

That’s why we need to ask him, through our prayers, to explain the scriptures to us. That’s why we need to listen to his voice in scripture, maybe in the quiet of our own minds, or through the words or writings of someone else. And then, our hearts like the hearts of these two travellers, will burn within us as we approach the place where we too, will meet him face to face.

Cleopas and Mary must have shared meals with Jesus before he was killed, and his actions at supper were probably typical of the way in which he’d always broken bread with his friends.

And now, in the first meal of the new creation, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them.

It was as he did this, in his customary way, that their eyes were opened and they recognised him.

At the same time, they recognised that death had been defeated. God’s new creation, brimming with life and joy had burst in upon the world.

Jesus had gone through death and out the other side into a new world. His body was still physical but was somehow transformed.  It is a mystery which we shan’t understand until we share the same risen life; but a mystery, which by faith, we can live in now.

And like Cleopas and Mary, we too are invited to know Jesus in the breaking of bread. We too, are invited to meet him in this simple meal which quickly became the central action of his followers. Like them, we will discover him living with and in us, through this sharing of bread.

And we must never attempt to separate the meal from the scripture. Today’s gospel reading teaches us this. Sacrament and word are joined tightly together and Jesus is only truly known when it is so. This was the experience of our two travellers, and this has been the experience of the followers of Jesus down through the ages.

When we take scripture away, the sacrament becomes a piece of magic. When we take the sacrament away, scripture becomes an intellectual exercise with very little to do with real life. So, the word is made clear through the sacrament; and the sacrament is the fulfilment of the word. In order for there to be any sense we have to hold them together.

Jesus has lead God’s new people out of slavery and is inviting them to travel with him on the new journey to the Promised Land. The road to Emmaus is just the beginning. Hearing the voice of Jesus in scripture and knowing him in the breaking of bread is the way.

We’ve been welcomed to God’s new world, and it’s as we live within the story, that God feeds us with his very self as food for the journey home. Bread which has to be broken before it can be shared. Amen.

The appearance to Thomas

John 20: 19-31.

There’s something very lovable about Thomas.  Faith was never an easy thing for him, and he was a man who had to be sure.  In the passage we’ve just heard, he’s acted just as we would expect.  This is the same pessimistic disciple who, at the death of Lazarus, suggested that Jesus’s followers might just as well go and die with him when our Lord decided to go to Bethany.  This is the same disciple who complained at the Last Supper, that Jesus hadn’t made things anything like clear enough.  And this is the man who just happened to be the one who was somewhere else on the first Easter day.  He saw the others excited, and unable to contain their joy, and Thomas certainly wasn’t going to be taken in by all of that.

But Thomas is the first person in John’s gospel to look at Jesus and call him “God”.  A muddled disciple, determined not to be taken in and refusing to believe anything until he’s got solid evidence, is confronted by a smiling Jesus who’s just walked in, straight through a locked door.

Thomas was baffled of course, just as we are.  The whole point of the story is that the meeting is with the same Jesus who still carries the signs of death in his body.  His hands have got nail marks in them, and he has a large gaping wound in his side.

The story makes it very clear that this is no ghost; neither is it someone else pretending to be Jesus.  This is the body that the grave clothes couldn’t contain any longer.  It’s a real body, but it’s also different.  Jesus comes and goes as though he belongs both in our world and in a different world; one which intersects with ours at various points but doesn’t use the same geography.  The resurrection was the giving back of the life and the death of Jesus at the same time.  Jesus rose as the crucified one; that is to say, he died as a human being, and he was given back to us also as a crucified human being.  This is important because there is a tendency for us to read the gospel texts and imagine that Jesus may well have been human up until his death, but from the resurrection onwards, he reverted to being God, and eventually, like a helium balloon, couldn’t be held to the earth any longer and floated back to heaven where he belonged.

Well, this is not the case.  When Jesus died, it was a fully human being who died completely, and when Jesus was raised from the dead, it was a human being who was given back to us.  The risen and crucified Jesus was no less human after his resurrection than before it.  Transformed, changed, the first-born of God’s new creation, yes; but a transformation which contained his full humanity.  This says something very deep about the presence of God on earth.  It says that the divine life is permanently present as human.  It means that being religious or knowing Jesus can have nothing to do with escaping from being human and avoiding flesh and blood.

Thomas, saw and believed; and the words of Jesus must be taken as encouragement to those who come later.  People like us, who are blessed when, without having seen the risen Lord for ourselves, nevertheless believe in him. The resurrection isn’t an alien power breaking into God’s world.  It’s what happens when the creator himself comes to heal and restore his world and bring it to its appointed goal.  The deepest meaning of the resurrection concerns this new creation.  When Jesus emerged transformed from the tomb on Easter morning he emerged into the first day of God’s new week.  He was a sign that the whole of creation would shake off its corruption and decay.  He was a promise of a world to come in which death would be abolished; in which the living God would wipe away all tears, because, our personal hope for resurrection must be set within the larger hope for the renewal of all creation.  If we take away the bodily resurrection we are left with a private spirituality which leads to a disembodied life after death, and its denial of the goodness of creation.

It’s important for us to grasp this, and any sense that Jesus started a movement which is somehow opposed to, or can leave behind the world which God made in the first place, is excluded by John’s gospel from start to finish.

John isn’t saying that the early disciples were confronted with Jesus and tried to find a category for him.  The point he’s making is that they were looking for the Messiah, the son of God, and here at the end of his story he tells us that things have come full circle.  God’s Word of the first chapter of his book is proclaimed as this Messiah, and is none other than Jesus of Nazareth.

“The Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us, and we beheld his glory”

This is what Thomas saw and believed.  And we too can experience the same thing.

For, you see, there were two ways in which Jesus was present to the first disciples. There was his actual physical presence; they could touch him and he could eat fish.  But along with that, and as a part of it, there was a forgiving presence that called them out of themselves towards another whom they sometimes found difficult to recognise, and who gradually transformed their lives.  We know that after a time the appearances stopped, but they still received this transforming experience of a forgiving presence. Jesus had to go because he was a particular human being and it was his going that made possible the coming of the Holy Spirit. And so the two ways of experiencing Jesus which initially came together for the apostles do not come together for us.  But the Holy Spirit which Jesus breathed into the disciples on that first evening constantly makes present to us also, the crucified and risen Lord, and this presence always reproduces those changes of relationships which began as a result of his resurrection. It is the bursting into our lives of those important elements of the resurrection, the freely given forgiveness that is made constantly available to us by the Holy Spirit, which enables us also to become witnesses to the resurrection in our own lives too, as we are enabled to recast the ways in which we relate to God and to each other.

As we come to believe in Jesus those marvelous words of St John become true in our own experience: “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. “

And we are enabled to say with Thomas: “My Lord and my God”,

Amen.

Easter Sunday

When I worked as a hospital chaplain, I met a lot of people who were very unlikely to get better. And sometimes their relatives would ask me to say some prayers at the bedside.  In most cases this wasn’t because they had a strong faith, but was more likely to be a result of not knowing where to turn in their grief.

I guess that most people wouldn’t give a second thought about asking God for anything when things are going along quite nicely; but when the chips are down; well that’s a different matter.

I don’t have a problem with this and I fully understand the hope that as a last resort, God will intervene where medicine may fail. I think it’s sad, but I do understand it.

Now, a while ago I was called to a High Dependency Unit because staff had been asked by some relatives that a priest attend their loved one who was very close to death. The gentleman in question was an elderly man who’d suffered a big heart attack. He’d also told his relatives and his nurses that he wanted the church’s ministry, at the end of his life.

I checked the position out with the nursing staff before I met the family, and it was clear to me that the dying man’s wish would have been for me to say commendatory prayers for him.

The relatives had a very sketchy understanding as to what this involved and so I explained the nature of the prayers of commendation. They were aghast. That wasn’t what they wanted at all. There was to be no mention of the dreaded word “death.” Their relative was in a coma, but that didn’t matter. They didn’t want to hear that word, and what’s more, they didn’t want to be present when prayers were said.  I think they wanted magic, and perhaps I was the man with the wand.

I tried to explain that their grand-dad wasn’t afraid of death. I tried to explain that sometimes, real healing can come through death, but my words fell onto closed ears.

Now, this kind of situation is difficult for me to face, because I know that love is stronger than death; and I want other people to know this as well. This is the Christian message. It’s not all about singing hymns, and sprinkling holy water, it’s about love.

I want men and women to be set free from the fear of death, and to know that the God who created the Universe, and everything in it, including you and me, is a God of love who would never bring any of his creatures into being just to snuff their lives out after however many years.

I want men and women to know that Jesus is alive today and that he’s to be met through the lives of ordinary people, who like him will also pass right through death. Yes, some of them may appear to be holy do-gooders but I rather expect that most of them will be ordinary men and women; people who laugh and cry and eat and drink and yes, tell jokes as well; people who sometimes let the side down, but through whom we can also see Jesus at work. Beggars, if you like, showing other beggars where to get bread.

The resurrection of Jesus is a mystery of course; but it can explain many things. And one of them is that God’s love is stronger than death. Death has been shown up to be an imposter, and we know this because Jesus appeared to his friends who loved him.

Now, perhaps you feel that your faith would be a lot stronger if you too, could have a personal experience of the risen Christ. Well, if that is the case, then remember you’re much more likely to meet Christ when you’re in the company of other Christians.

It’s when we’re at our lowest; when we really don’t feel much like going to church at all, that we most need to be there. It’s when we’re in the company of others, doing what Jesus told us to do at the Last Supper, that we’re most likely to meet him. It’s when we recognise our broken-ness and our dependence on God and each other; it’s when we see in the broken bread and the poured out wine, the sign of God bleeding and dying for us in Jesus, that his presence is likely to be sensed and indeed felt.  It is a presence which transcends the Jesus of history and yet makes him present to us in the Christ of faith.

The resurrection appearances stopped some six weeks after Easter; they had to stop in order that Jesus could be made present to everybody. But Jesus isn’t just a figure from history who we can read about in the Bible.  He’s alive in a way which transcends flesh and blood, and he wants to relate to all who will respond to him. And you may believe this, first of all, because of the witness of the gospels. No other explanation can do justice to the facts.

And once you accept this, once you decide to take God at his word, despite all of your honest doubts; then you’ll meet Jesus, and words will never do justice to your experience. Your life will begin to be turned upside down, as you begin to see more clearly than ever before how the God of love is made present to us. How he reveals himself to us through a suffering servant who’ll take many forms to make his presence real. A presence which will always say to you: “Even though you die, you will live”. I went back to the High Dependency Unit later that day. The relatives had gone. I blessed Roy, and commended him to God.  He knows that now; may he rest in peace. Amen.

Good Friday

Mary appears a lot, both in St Luke’s gospel, and in the gospel of Mathew, but in St John’s gospel she’s only mentioned twice.  The first time is at the wedding in Cana where Jesus turned water into wine, and the second one is where she stands at the foot of the cross, watching her son die in agony.  At Cana, Mary felt sure that Jesus could save the day, and we can imagine how proud she must have felt as she approached her son, confident that he’d be able to help out.

But Jesus seems to have brushed his mother off. Do you remember how he told her it wasn’t his business that the wine had run out? It wasn’t his time, he said. The words he used were “My hour has not yet come.”

You see, Jesus knew he had to show his love for God by being absolutely obedient to him. And to love like this means being fully open to pain.

We all know from our own experience that pain and love always go together. When we love someone, then we’re bound to get hurt. One way or another, the pain of separation always comes. We know how much we love someone through the aching pain which we feel when they leave us, sometimes through circumstance and always eventually through death.  And Jesus was obedient to God’s command to be fully human through his love, even unto death.

And this loving obedience earned, for Jesus, the grace to conquer death and rise from the tomb; a grace which overflows from Jesus to us, so that we, too, can join him in his resurrection.

Now all of this is made possible for us, not because Jesus was the Son of God, but because he was also the son of Mary, a son, born of a woman, just like us. Unless Jesus had been fully human, as well as divine, then he wouldn’t have been able to have made us acceptable to God. It’s because Jesus shares our human nature, that he can save us. We become one with Christ through baptism, and feed that union through the Eucharist, and so we’re with him right there on the Cross. As we share his life, so we share his obedience, his death and his resurrection. This is why he came into the world. The suffering redemptive love of God is shown clearly on the Cross, It’s traditional to think that when Jesus, with his dying breath said “Behold your son” to Mary, his mother , he was telling her that the beloved disciple was now to be her son. Well, I’ve no doubt that John did look after Mary, but I think it also makes sense of the gospel to reflect on the possibility that those words were said to Mary, by Jesus, about himself.

At Cana, Jesus’s hour hadn’t come. He told his mother this. But on the Cross his hour had arrived. This is why he’d come into the world; to suffer and to die for men and women everywhere.

Now he can tell Mary that his hour has come. He looks at her, and invites her to see this truth with the words” Behold your son”. This is how he was to bring people to God. By giving his life away in love for them in loving obedience to the God who told him to do this, and who was fully present in him. It wasn’t by changing water into wine; it was by his death, not by his miracles.  And we can see that Mary had nothing to do with his miracles because they were acts of divine power. However, she had a great deal of involvement with his death, because his human life came from her flesh.

Today, as we stand with Mary at the foot of the Cross we can remember those words of acclamation which we sometimes say at Mass;

“Save us Saviour of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free.”

But we also need to remember some more words written by John, the disciple who was especially close to Jesus; the disciple who wrote;

“The Word was made flesh, he lived among us and we saw his glory”

And this glory which shines from the Cross through his humanity was taken from the flesh of a woman.

The Lord has touched our human experience and leads it now through the darkness to light; from death to life; to a life of which there is no end, and where the hopes of human beings are finally and completely fulfilled. To a happiness given to those who have sought above everything else that God’s will be done.

For these people, God’s work in Christ is completed and brought to perfection. May it please God that we be found amongst them.

Maunday Thursday

The washing of the feet.

Jesus said: “A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples.”

Perhaps one of the mistakes which we often make today, is our inability to distinguish between types of love.  Our language has only one word for love, whereas  Greek has four.  C. S. Lewis’s little book entitled “The four loves” is well worth reading, not least because of the distinctions which he makes between the different kinds of love. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line we seem to have lumped all love under the heading of what Lewis calls “Eros”.

So, when we talk about love in the Christian sense we need to move away from “Eros”, and start moving towards what Lewis calls “Agape” love.  And this is the kind of love which Jesus was talking about and demonstrating at the Last Supper.

Now, when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he was doing for them one of the most menial tasks of his time.  Foot-washing was only ever done by someone who occupied the lowest position in society.  But here was the Word made flesh laying aside his status and putting on our human nature in order to do the work of a slave.

Now, we need to be quite clear about something here.  It isn’t just that Jesus came from God and washed his followers’ feet.  The point is that he did it precisely because he came from God.  This is the nature of divinity.  The foot washing and the crucifixion to which it pointed, was the way in which Jesus showed just who God was and is. God is like this.  It’s his nature.  He doesn’t do it in order to win us over as it were; he does it because he can love us no other way.

And after he’d done this, Jesus said that he’d established a pattern which his disciples should follow. Now, in many churches on Maundy Thursday this little part of the Last Supper is re-enacted, but can you see the danger here for the person who plays the part of Jesus in the foot washing ceremony?  Usually you see, it’s the priest; and in a sense, unless we are very careful there is the danger that this role becomes one more sign of leadership.  And it really shouldn’t be like that at all.  In a strange kind of way this ceremony carries the possibility of enhancing the authority and status of the professional clergy.  And we need to get far beyond this.

In order for the ceremony to carry any validity for you it would have to be performed by someone who, in your experience, was prepared to carry out all of the menial tasks for which foot washing is just a symbol.  Unless the priest has also shown that he’s prepared to get up in the middle of the night in order to sit with a dying and frightened man.  Unless he has shown that despite his own wishes and concerns, he is prepared to jettison his own plans in order to be at someone else’s disposal.  Unless, without complaint, he is prepared to get stuck into all those dirty menial little tasks that we always hope someone else will do; then he has no right to wash anyone’s feet. 

Now, I know that sometimes I can put my hand up to all of these things, but I also know that there have been many occasions when I’ve failed.  I know there are Christian people in every congregation who have a much greater right than me to represent Jesus in this little ceremony.

And yet, this in itself can be cause for rejoicing because it reminds me of just how much I need to go back time and again for Jesus to wash my feet in order that I might wash yours.  And I rather imagine that it will be the same for most of you.

The clearest, simplest and yet hardest command of Jesus is “Love one another”.  And before anyone says there’s nothing new in that and points to the central position of love in, for instance, many parts of the Old Testament ,let me remind you of the last part of this love command.  Jesus said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.”  In other words: “Love one another in the same way  that I have loved you.”

And it’s when we look back at the whole life of Jesus that we see the pattern for our love.  The danger of washing someone else’s feet is that as you think of yourself as a slave, so you unlock the possibility of producing a sort of inverted pride in your own humility.

Agape love is about as far removed from this as it’s possible to be, because it’s all about the other person.  It overflows into service, not to show off, but because this is the natural thing for it to do.

This is to be our Christian badge, and if we are honest then we should cringe in shame before those in the watching world.  Is there any wonder that sometimes they are able to say in caricature of us: “See how these Christians love each other!”

And yet we mustn’t be downcast.  Yes, we need to go back time and again for Christ to wash our feet; but when we go to him with sorrow on our hearts he will, as the hymn says, welcome us, pardon us, and cleanse us.

In the strange purposes of God, love and betrayal, glory and denial go closely together.  Christ wants to wash your feet.  And he knows that they will get dirty again.  The greatest sin of which you are capable is the pride within you which stops you from going to him.  Remember this when, please God, normal worship is restored. Remember that as you hold out your hands, the broken body and poured out blood which you will receive are tokens of this. And yet also more than this, because they will give you the grace to love. They will give you Jesus himself. 

Amen.

Palm Sunday

It’s customary at Mass on Palm Sunday, to recall our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem by re-enacting the part played by the crowds who followed Jesus on the day when he began the last week of his life on Earth. However, for most of us, today will be the first time in our lives when we’ve been unable to begin Holy Week in this way. There’s little doubt that this will be very difficult, but it does give us an opportunity to think, perhaps in a fresh way, as to what it means to be part of a crowd. An experience which for us right now has been taken away, but whose loss might make us more aware of both its joys and its difficulties, when it’s given back to us again.

Being a part of a crowd can be very powerful, and often we just get carried along by the emotion, which somehow seems to grow by itself.

I expect it was like that as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. A few people started to sing his praises, and then in a kind of spontaneous gesture it just got bigger as he approached the City.

Once a crowd begins to move, it’s hard to hold it back. Once you get caught up in a demonstration it’s very difficult, as they say, not to “go with the crowd”

But crowds are very fickle, and how things changed! Just a few days later, Jesus was on trial for his life. Pontius Pilate wanted to release him, but the religious authorities, who felt so threatened by him, found it easy to stir up the crowd. Those who cheered him as he entered Jerusalem were the same people who, a few days later, shouted for his execution.

When we’re in a crowd we can leave all of our inhibitions behind, and we can express our true feelings. This can be good, but if we get addicted to this kind of emotional release, it can be dangerous.

As we think about the crowds surrounding Jesus both on Palm Sunday and later in the week, we do well to remember the part which they played in all of those events. The emotions which were such a strong part of the gatherings took many of them down paths which they wouldn’t have chosen by themselves.

As we enter Holy Week, can we recognise ourselves in the characters around Jesus? Are we fickle and easily manipulated? Are we hard-hearted towards the sufferings of others? Do we ever secretly relish the spectacle of violence, or mock those whose faith we don’t understand?

There’s a striking contrast between the obedient, trusting nature of Jesus and the petty, destructive behaviour of those around him. In the Passion of Jesus we see our own failures mirrored in those characters; but we also see the costly self-giving of God through Christ. And, you know, the moment we see the greatest difference between ourselves and God is the very moment when we begin to be brought back into relationship with him.

So this is a good time for us to stand back from the crowd and examine our own faith.

We need to be fully aware of just how much like everybody else we actually are. But we also need to be satisfied that despite all of our imperfections and failures we can still come to Jesus, with or without a crowd. We need to be able to speak with Him in the silence of our own hearts, and ask Him to transform us to be like Him; to give us the mind of Christ, so that we too might learn to trust God completely, and give ourselves generously, just as He did.

John 11 1-45 The Raising of Lazarus

The raising of Lazarus

When did you last say “If only” ? I guess it’s something we all say from time to time, usually when something hasn’t happened in the way which we would have liked. Or perhaps, more seriously, when we’re faced with real regrets and grief about something which has saddened us :

If only I’d left ten minutes earlier
If only he’d worked a bit harder for his exams.
If only I’d told her how much I really loved her.
If only she hadn’t stepped out in front of the car.

It’s very human to have regrets like this and to wish that we could somehow go back in time in order to do things, or arrange things, differently; in such a way that the present needn’t be so sad.

And all of this sadness and regret is expressed by Martha in our Gospel reading today. “If only you’d been here”, she said, “then you could have cured my brother”. “If only you hadn’t taken those extra two days to get here, then perhaps he wouldn’t have been dead, and you could have made him well again”

But this story about Lazarus is also about Jesus, and Jesus had a particular place in his heart for the sick and the poor. Bethany means literally, “the house of the poor”, and there is evidence that it was the kind of place where the poor and the sick were cared for; a kind of hospice village, if you like, and certainly a place for which Jesus had a special affection.

And so, perhaps we’re entitled to ask, if Bethany and Lazarus meant so much to Jesus, why did he wait? Why did he allow Martha and Mary to suffer so much grief?

But Jesus often surprises us and overturns our expectations. And this is just what he does here. He didn’t go to Bethany when the sisters asked him. But he didn’t fail to show his continuing care for those in need; especially for the poor, the sick and those for whom the world would really rather ignore.

When he answered Martha, Jesus invited her to stop looking at the past , to stop dreaming about what might have been, and instead , to look to the future. He told her that Lazarus would rise again.

In her reply Martha told Jesus that she knew this, but quite frankly it didn’t give her much comfort. And isn’t it easy to understand exactly where she’s coming from? If you’ve ever said to a grieving widow, that her husband will rise again, you’ll know that although this belief may be comforting, it does very little to stop the awful, aching pain of the separation which death brings.

But then Jesus said something amazing. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
He said he was the future for which she was waiting. The future, when people would rise from the dead, had burst into her present. God’s new creation had come forward from the end of time into the middle of time. Jesus was saying to Martha, that resurrection wasn’t just a teaching, a distant fact. It was a person who’d come bursting from God’s future into the mess and muddle of the world which we know. And that person was standing in front of her, inviting her to make a huge jump of trust and hope.

He was challenging her to say not “If only”, but “If Jesus”

If Jesus is The Messiah; if Jesus is the one in whom God is totally present; if Jesus is the resurrection and the life, what might be possible? And Martha gave her assent. She went to bring Mary, her sister, and as Jesus asked them where the body of Lazarus had been laid, he wept. The Word made flesh, wept at the grave side of his friend. The God who we worship, shared then, and continues to share today, human tears and human sorrows. This is somehow, at the very centre of what it means to be God. His power doesn’t separate him from the broken-ness and the sadness which have taken such a grip on his creation. No, his power is made present through taking the broken-ness upon himself in the person of Jesus his Son, in whom he is mysteriously present.

Jesus asked the sisters where they’d laid the body of their brother, and then he commanded Lazarus to come out of the tomb. Because Martha and Mary had taken the step of faith, however tentatively, from “If only” to “If Jesus” they saw the glory and the power of God working through Our Lord in a way which exceeded all that they had ever dreamed of. And Jesus made this possible for them through their grief.

And do you remember what they said in answer to the question of Jesus about the whereabouts of the grave? They made the simple reply “Come and see”. They invited Jesus to come with them to the place of their sorrow, and in that place, with his presence, all was made well.

You know, this simple request is very close to the heart of our Christian faith. We too, can say to Jesus “Come and see” as we lead him, in tears with us, to the place of our deepest grief and sorrow. And he will reply, “Come and see” as, in turn, he leads us through the sorrow to the place of resurrection glory, where he now lives in light and love.

The new day is dawning. It may be very dark where we live just now. The tears may be very bitter; but Jesus longs to take us to the place nearby, where light and joy and peace are waiting our arrival. He did this for Martha and Mary, two thousand years ago ; and he’ll do it for us too today, if we ask him.

Luke 21: 5-19

In today’s gospel reading, we heard Jesus predict the destruction of the beautiful Temple in Jerusalem, and he uses very vivid language  to describe it; earthquakes, wars and famines, persecutions, horrors, betrayals and violent death.

Many people think that throughout this whole passage, Jesus was talking about the end of the world. In their minds eye they’ve drawn a time line which joins the violence with the immediate end of the world. They expect no gap between them.

But that wasn’t the case at all. Jesus’s main point here, was the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem and  the difficulties which his followers would face in the time just before this. And we should notice that Jesus didn’t say just how long before.

So it’s a pity that many fundamental religious groups have used this passage to teach that particular catastrophes signal the immediate end of the world as we know it.

They’re wrong. And perhaps if they were a bit more consistent they’d pay a great deal more attention to some very clear teaching of Jesus that nobody will know the day or the hour

Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple which actually took place about 40 years after his death. He read the political circumstances accurately, and he could see that the Romans wouldn’t put up with the Jewish problem for much longer.

So he warned his followers that they would face much danger at that time. He also said that he wouldn’t, be there, bodily, to lead and encourage them.
They would face trials, beatings and death, but he emphasised that they had to be patient.

False teachers, natural disasters and frightening rumours would tempt them to panic and to suspect that the present age was rapidly ending.

But he said they must resist the temptation to draw that conclusion, because it isn’t for us to know when God’s new creation will be complete. When God’s dimension of reality and ours will be joined and His Kingdom will exist on earth, just as it is in heaven.
Jesus promised his disciples that they would be given what they needed to say during those times when they would be on trial for their lives because of their allegiance to him.

And as we read the accounts of the experiences of the first Christians, between the time of the resurrection and the fall of the Temple ,we can see quite clearly that  they were promises which were honoured. Many early Christians would testify that Jesus had indeed been with them and given them words to say.

But our gospel reading this morning has much to say to us as well. There’s a temptation for those of us who don’t face persecution, to become cynical. It’s easy for us to suppose because nothing much is happening, that the Kingdom of God is just a fancy dream. We might feel inclined to dismiss, as difficult to understand picture language, the kind of account which we’ve just heard. But once more we need to hold the tension of what it means to live as a Christian. We need to be aware that things can and often do, change dramatically and very quickly. And so, perhaps we should reflect on this passage and prepare ourselves.

Many Christians today face persecution every bit as severe as that which the early church endured.  Just think of what’s being experienced by our brothers and sisters who live in fundamental Islamic countries.  And those Christians need more than the support and prayers of those of us who live in more fortunate places; they also need to hear the voice of Jesus recorded in Holy Scripture. The voice which says the words of encouragement:
“ Don’t let anyone deceive you; be patient, stand firm and I will give you my wisdom”. The words which Jesus used to encourage his first followers are words which he still uses to encourage us today.

We’ll get more from this passage when we see it in its original setting. Jesus could see what was around the corner waiting to break out in AD 70, and he encouraged his followers to stand firm.

For ourselves, we may be called to live in less troubled times, but we may still see the destruction of cherished and beautiful symbols; just as the Jewish people saw the destruction of the Temple, with all its symbolism for them.

Many of us have lived through times when old values seem to be thrown away. We may well feel that the world has lost its sense of direction, and is breaking up in front of our very eyes.
We see churches being vandalized and destroyed. And we don’t need to look very far for examples.

We see whole generations of children growing up in what is supposed to be a Christian country, but without the slightest knowledge about God and Jesus Christ.
Children who’ve been taught that the biggest wrong is getting caught, we see family life disintegrating as young people pursue what they see as happiness through material gain.  And we may well be laughed at and mocked for continuing with our faith, when many people, even of our own generation , have given up on what they see as meaningless mumbo jumbo.

Our calling then is to hold on to Jesus himself and to continue to trust that through him, in his good time, the new world will be born through this pain.
God, in Christ has won the victory. Evil has been defeated even if sometimes it doesn’t seem that way. There will continue to be mopping up operations throughout time until that great day comes when God will finally draw the curtain on history.

Jesus told us to be sure of that, He didn’t tell us that we should spend our time looking out for particular circumstances and double guessing God’s time plan.
So, the verses that we’ve just heard, remain precious promises to be learned ahead of time and to be remembered and held in moments of need.

May God bless us all to this end, Amen.