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“All night long on my bed I looked for the one my heart loves; I looked for him but did not find him. I will get up now and go about the city, through its streets and squares; I will search for the one my heart loves. So I looked for him but did not find him. The watchmen found me as they made their rounds in the city. “Have you seen the one my heart loves?” Scarcely had I passed them when I found the one my heart loves. I held him and would not let him go till I had brought him to my mother’s house.”

(Song of Songs 3, 1-4.)

The Song of Songs is one of the most neglected books in the Hebrew Scriptures. The brief book is collection of physical love poems. It wasn’t until I connected the above passage with the sinner Mary Magdalen that I was able to see the Resurrection as a love story in a profoundly new way.

Mary Magdalen,  imitates the love of God by the way in which she achingly searches for Jesus. “I held him and would not let him go,” says the Song of Songs.

This is how we may understand God’s yearning for humanity. “Have you seen the one my heart loves?”

The Holy Scriptures repeat that question over and over again. “Adam where are you,” asks the Lord God after the man and woman have eaten of the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. The story applies to all of us. It speaks  a reality common to us all. God continually searches for us one way or another.

We can dismiss the Old Testament as irrelevant, but without it we will not fathom the purposes of God. The Old Testament is a romance in which God and Israel dance, and promise, and separate and reconcile.  Four Gospels could be said to do the same in a much deeper way.

The Scriptures portray the love story between the Creator and his people. It’s the story in which God uses all possible means to endue us with his life.

We’re no longer held by our past mistakes and sins, but stand at the threshold of a life where God makes all things new. The resurrection of Jesus exemplifies this truth in time, history and eternity.

One fact stands out above all the rest in the accounts given by the four evangelists. The resurrection is a giving back of Jesus to his loved ones by God.

The Crucified Risen Lord is given back to Peter, who denied him, to the disciples, who all forsook him and fled, and to the women who loyally followed him his ministry to Calvary and the tomb. This brings us to the Holy Spirit and Pentecost. What the Holy Spirit gives us is the whole life and death of the Risen Lord.

The only Jesus we can know and love is the Jesus of the New Testament and who comes to us in the Eucharist.

Although the creeds make a number of assertions about Jesus, Christian faith isn’t just about historical facts, no matter how feasible or seemingly accurate. Christian faith as a living religious experience is a response to the Real Jesus who God raised from the dead. He isn’t just a figure from the past like Julius Caesar, but a living person who I meet daily in the Gospels and Epistles, in the Eucharist.  Jesus transcends the parcels in which we worship and proclaim him as Lord. God is bigger than anything we can say or imagine.

I remember my old school chaplain telling us boys at our confirmation classes that faith is caught and not taught. It’s contagion, and there’s no antidote. We may go through periods when faith seems dead, and then around the corner, at the next bend of the road that is our life, we realize that Jesus has been there all along. Dear old St Paul knew all about that, which was why that he was determined to know Christ and him crucified.

We cannot explain or intellectualize about the Risen Christ because it is an event outside our earthbound understanding. The Apostle Paul expressed it most vividly in his letter to the Roman Christians.

“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies, through His Spirit who indwells you.” (Romans 8:11)

That for me is one of the most wonderful verses in Holy Scripture. It links our own frail existence with the life of God.  The New Testament that relates the story of Jesus links our lesser stories with His greater story.

May favourite resurrection appearance of Jesus is related in the last chapter of St John’s Gospel . “but when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.” (John 21:4)

“It is the Lord,” says the Disciple whom Jesus loved.  That wonderful moment of recognition is truly sunrise. The Old Testament Prophet Malachi expresses this in a beautiful way.

“But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in his wings.” ( Malachi 4:2)

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I have on my desk, next to this computer, a photo of the sixty men with whom I spent two years living in community. Those two years were for me the most important in my preparation as a pastor. I’m not saying that priests who trained in a seminary are any better than those who were studied at diocesan courses. There are advantages and disadvantages either way.  There is however one valuable lesson you learn by living in community. That is to become vulnerable. For a pastor (and a Christian) this is vital.

We live in a competitive society. The workplace, the sports arena, the educational field and the political scene are all areas where competition reigns supreme. The survival of the fittest is the order of the day. Alas the churches all too often fall into this category. But whereas competition is vital in many areas of life, it is disastrous for the People of God.

Those two years living in a semi-monastic community was an experience that directed the course of my future ministry. I don’t say there were no dangers. It wasn’t all plain sailing.  Personal problems and failings come to light prior to ordination. You are under discipline and the worship of God is more important than personal preferences.

You learn to make allowances for others and act accordingly. You’re going to like some men better than the others, but you have to make a definite effort to maintain peace with those with whom you disagree. There’s no room for rivalry or one-up-man-ship.

Life revolved around the chapel and the worship of God by the entire community. I recall vividly the glorious sound of sixty men chanting the plainsong of the psalms, the Eucharistic Liturgy and the hymns. Vulnerability is bound up with forgetfulness of the ego-centred self with all it’s competitive negativity and responding with love to our fellow believers in the worship of Almighty God.  This should be the key note of woship.

In the Acts of the Apostles we read – “And day by day continuing in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.”

Gladness and sincerity of heart; and for that we must be vulnerable to each other. In the end it’s a question about Jesus – Do we really love Jesus?

True Faith is not evoked by rational, reasoned or philosophical arguments. Still less is it evoked by scientific discourse in favour of a Creator. This, alas, can work both ways and lea to atheism.  True faith comes to us as if from above and way beyond our human limitations and horizons.

It is a gift we stumble upon lying in wait for us as we blindly thrash about in the undergrowth of daily living. That undergrowth is frequently very dense and we get knotted up in it.  What is amazing, even miraculous, is that the tangled mess provides the very conditions that God can use to his advantage for  our liberation.

Looking back on my own life it is as if God has set a trap buried amidst the overgrown weeds and muddled mess. At times through our own strength and resources we have brief spells when we rise above it. Momentarily we are able to pick our way through the sprawling vegetation only to plunge into the morass again. There mong it all we fall into the trap that God has planned with which to catch us. God’s trap, of course is love…Amazing Grace.

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch; like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

 

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fears relieved;

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed!

 

The Lord hath promised good to me,

His word my hope secures;

He will my shield and portion be

As long as life endures.

 

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,

Bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we first begun.

 

The Hymn was  written by the English poet and clergyman John Newton (1725–1807). Newton wrote the words from personal experience. He grew up without any particular religious conviction, but his life’s path was formed by a variety of twists and coincidences that were often put into motion by his rebellious nature. . He was pressed into service in the Royal Navy, and after leaving the service, he became involved in the Atlantic slave trade.  In 1748, a violent storm battered his vessel off the coast of County Donegal, Ireland, so severely that he called out to God for mercy, a moment that marked his spiritual conversion. He continued his slave trading career until 1754 or 1755, when he ended his seafaring altogether and began studying Christian theology.

Psalm 139 says it all and I commend it to you each day of this retreat.

Psalm 139King James Version (KJV)

 

139 O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.

2 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.

3 Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.

4 For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.

5 Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.

7 Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?

8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.

9 If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;

10 Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.

11 If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.

12 Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.

13 For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.

14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.

15 My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.

16 Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.

17 How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!

18 If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:

24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

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Church of Dominus Flevit overlooking Jerusalem.

Easter: remembering an event in the Church of the Resurrection:

One of the most holy places on this earth is the Chapel of the Resurrection in the Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem.

At the rear of the building is the tomb where the Body of Jesus was laid by the disciples. The church is opened at day break and if you go there in the early morning you can pray there alone. It’s a very confined space, just enough room for two people to kneel. I was there on one occasion when an elderly peasant lady dressed all in black came in with a huge wicker carrier and knelt beside me.

There was barely enough room for both of us to pray comfortably. I must confess to being vaguely irritated that she couldn’t have left her giant carrier bag outside. But then she opened it and emptied the contents all over the slab of rock where the body of Jesus had lain.

I gazed with amazement and wonder at the myriads of tiny pink and white blossoms that scattered everywhere. The scent of the flowers was exotic. Then with her two hands moving from side to side she spread the petals over the length and breadth of the rock’s surface. Tears of joy were running down her face. I wept myself at such a display of faith and love. She seemed entirely unconscious of my presence. She was intent on one thing alone. Yes Resurrection, that small bent peasant lady knew what it was all about. I was mightily humbled.

I thought of the Widow’s offering recorded in Mark’s Gospel, and of all those women who had followed Jesus during his ministry and finally attended him at his burial.

“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

It was a moment of pure grace when the Lord reached out and touched my heart as I witnessed the old peasant woman’s devotion.

What actually happened to our Lord’s body in the Tomb is shrouded in the impenetrable mystery of the Father’s love. No one saw the event. The Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus all merge together at Pentecost. I’ve always been reluctant to speak of Easter in isolation from all that has gone before and followed after.

The wonderful effect on the disciples was forgiveness and the restoration of the broken bond between Jesus and his chosen apostles. They were new men with the message of the Gospel for mankind.

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Sunrise over Lake Galilee. 

What is interesting about Nazareth and the Galilee is the fact that it was an international corridor.  –  Galilee, or region of the Gentiles. Nazareth because of its location is a frontier post between north and the south. One cannot go into the Galilee without realizing that there is a very different atmosphere from Jerusalem even to-day.

By beginning his ministry in Galilee Jesus was performed a symbolic act that comes out in all is parables. In the New Testament we seem to have emerged from a dark, fierce Eastern world into a clear light that is almost European.

In the time of our Lord Galilee was crossed by the great military roadsfrom the north and the ancient caravan routes from the east.

It would have been a common sight to see Merchants with their retinue travelling along the busy roads of Galilee as well as imperial messengers  going to an from from the Port of Caesarea.

This busy international corridor is where Jesus first taught and called his first disciples. Jesus’ parables are full of local colour and the background of the area.

Merchants, tax gatherers, fisherman. rich young men, prodigals returning home, travellers of all descriptions.

On the road that runs over a hill from Nazareth to the Lake of Galilee we detect the first promise of Christianity, of our faith.

The Lake as Jesus must have known it was one of the busiest and most cosmopolitan districts in Palestine. Greek, Latin and Aramaic were spoken in the towns. When our Lord walked the highways of Galilee, he must have encountered a vast variety of characters that people his parables. The shadow of our world falls across the pages of the Gospels. Jesus walking the roads of Galilee is walking the modern world with its money changers and lenders,  We call them banks now, its market places – we call them supermarkets these days.

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There is a tide in the affairs of men.                         

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

On such a full sea are we now afloat,

And we must take the current when it serves,

Or lose our ventures.

 (Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224)

It’s good to have a “Poetical Vision of the World … of reality.”

It isn’t an idea with which we are unfamiliar. We may not be able to compose a poem.

Who of us has not been moved by a sunset or a rainbow? Sunrise is for me the most evocative time of day.

Poetry and religion are so close as to dovetail into each other.

Poems often relate to our own past and interpret that past.

Poems often take us back in time. Childhood: school days.

 

MY heart leaps up when I behold            

  A rainbow in the sky:   

So was it when my life began,   

  So is it now I am a man,              

So be it when I shall grow old             

    Or let me die!               

The child is father of the man:   

And I could wish my days to be 

Bound each to each by natural piety.

 

The fields and towns, streets and paths of our childhood are with us until our last day on earth. Mexico Towans where I grew up, the beach and sea, are woven into the fabric of my existence. Us Cornish go back a long way. The very cells of our bodies remember our past ancestory.

Our childhood when our lives began is not abandoned, cast away like an old garment. We grow into the childhood we once experienced. It is the perennial eternal heart of our adult lives.   Furthermore it is our childhood, when all things were new,  that we recover and possess as we grow old and face death. This childhood is what we fully recover, possess and celebrate in heaven. Death is the only moment of truth for this transition to take place.

The mystery of our entire existence is bound up with the contemplation of our end. When we are young we don’t think about our own personal death but as we mature we become more sensitive to this eventuality. I find in poetry a way of coming to terms with my end.

samson.jpgSamson is an interesting  character in the Old Testament. (Judges, chapters 13-16.) We can learn much about ourselves through it. Real drama;  it has many implications for us.  The conclusion lies far beyond the Old Testament narrative.

Samson’s story is a powerful saga about a man who was NOT the brave leader commonly supposed by the average person. The book of Judges presents him as a man who was given to whoring and sexual exploits.  The Bible is littered with characters that are seriously flawed.   King Saul, King David and his son Solomon were far from perfect. Samson could be said to head the list.

“Samson the hero,” is what every Jewish child the first time he or she hears about him. Over the years that is how he has been portrayed in works of art, theatre and film. Saint Saens composed an impressive opera about him, the music of which captures the pathos of his lonely existence. Grand Opera is a wonderful media for portraying loss and tragedy. All the best operas end with a death. Think of Madame Butterfly in the opera by Puccini.

Verdi’s opera based on Shakespeare’s Othello adds considerably to the tragedy of the story. Othello you will remember kills Desdemona, his lover, out of rumour and misplaced jealousy.

Samson was a man whose calling was a never ending struggle to accommodate his life  to the powerful destiny thrust upon him. That is true of all Christians.  We are all flawed. How otherwise can we understand others?

Samson couldn’t grasp the tragic role into which he had been cast. He’s a very fragmented individual. He was born a stranger to his parents. Despite being the strongman of popular myth, he constantly yearned to win the affections of his father and mother and love in general. The whole of his existence was the quest for love that he was never to know.

There are few other Bible stories with so much passion, action, fireworks and raw emotion. The battle with the lion, the three hundred burning foxes, the women he bedded and the one woman that he loved, are intensely dramatic. His betrayal by the women in his life, from his mother to Delilah, and in the end his murderous suicide, when he brought the house down on himself and three thousand Philistines, are not calculated to give comfort or hope. The lesson of Samson’s story is what the Spirit communicate to us through it.

Beyond the untamed wildness, impulsiveness, the chaos and the din, we sense a life story that is at bottom the tortured journey of a single, lonely and turbulent soul who never found anywhere a true home in the world. His very body was a harsh place of exile.  This discovery, call it recognition, which like all tragic stories,  slips silently into the day to day existence of each of us, into our most private moments, and our buried secrets.  There’s a little bit of Samson in every one of us, hopefully without such drastic results.

Now the conclusion – Only the Lord Jesus can give us the love for which we have been created and only He can heal our conflicts and lead us into the present reality of his Kingdom.  Jesus is as much for Now as any future life that might exist beyond the grave.

I don’t say that Jesus solves all our problems. But he does help us live with them