What does thy kingdom come mean?

Have you ever wondered what we mean when we pray “Thy kingdom come”?  In the Gospel today we heard Jesus tell his disciples to proclaim “The kingdom of God is very near”, and it makes us ask the same question – we talk about the kingdom but what does it actually all mean?

 

Let’s remind ourselves first what we mean by God. God is the invisible power that is present everywhere, from deep within the earth itself right out to the furthest reaches of the universe. So God is the power of life in each one of us. Breathe in and out and wonder at the life within you! Nothing would exist and nothing would be alive if God were not in some way within it.

 

This is surely what Jesus means when he says that the kingdom of God is very near. Too many people think of God as a faraway force – an immense power yes – but very distant from us. Jesus wants us to realise that although God IS a very powerful distant force, quite impossible for us to understand, quite impossible for us to see, yet God is also very very close to us, and through him, through Jesus, we can understand what God is like and how much he loves us. “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son… has made him known. (John 1:18)

 

But if the kingdom of God just means the presence of God, and that presence is very near, why do we need to pray “Thy kingdom come”? I think the answer is that God does not force his presence on us, instead God has given us a part to play in making his presence known. We do that in a number of ways taught us by Jesus. First of all, we make his presence known every time we show love and kindness to other people. The Bible tells us that “God is love and those who live in love, live in God and God lives in them” (John 4:16)

 

But secondly Jesus has given us a very special way of bringing God even closer to us than we could ever imagine. He took some bread and wine and said “This is my Body. This is my Blood” and in another place he says “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”  (John 6:54) This is why the Mass is so wonderful, for not only are we taught within Mass about how important it is to show God’s presence to others by acts of love and kindness, but we are also given his focussed presence through Holy Communion to help and support us in doing the good things he wants us to do.

 

Can I explain that word “focussed” by telling you about a rather naughty thing I used to do when I was a child?  On a nice sunny day, I would get a magnifying glass, and a bit of newspaper, and I would hold the glass above the paper so that the sunlight was pinpointed on it. Then, quite quickly, the paper would catch light and I would have a tiny fire.  That is what focussed means. I focussed the sunlight on the paper and it made it so hot it set it on fire.  Light, sunlight, is like God. Indeed we are told “God is light”. (1 John 1:5) Sunlight is everywhere even when it is cloudy, as it often seems to be in England, but sunlight, like the presence of God can be focussed. When we focus God’s presence in this way, then God’s power can be shown.

 

This is what happens when the priest, on our behalf, does what Jesus told us to do, and focusses God’s presence for us in and through the bread and wine. But then it is up to us to use that focussed presence to bring his presence into the world by acts of love and kindness. His presence in and through Holy Communion is not a magic spell to put everything right for us ; but it a power that we can use, if we want to.

 

So when we pray “Thy kingdom come”, we are asking God to help us to make his presence real in our lives and in those around us. It is a bit like electricity present in our house. It is no good to us unless we plug in and switch on. We plug in to the power and presence of God every time we come to Mass and receive Communion. We switch on every time we use that power and presence that we have been given to help others in some way, and when we do that we are doing our bit to bring the Kingdom of God nearer. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, every day, in us, Lord God.

 

 

 

 

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Why bread not cake for Communion?

I shall be asking the First Communion children this Sunday why Jesus chose to be especially present to us in bread. After all, he could have told us that he would be specially present when we ate our favourite food – cake – chocolate etc!  But instead, he chose dull ordinary bread – even duller, because it is unleavened bread with no yeast to puff it up and make it tastier.

I think we can see three answers in our readings this Sunday. The First Reading (Deut 8:2-16) reminds us that dull ordinary bread is the one thing that keeps you alive when everything else fails – as in the desert. Poor people today largely live on cheap bread, or its equivalent. So Jesus chooses, what we English speakers sometimes call “the staff of life”, precisely to remind us that he is God the life-giver, available to support us when all else fails. All of us face times when we will be in the desert, when our lives will feel empty, and everything will be a big struggle. Getting into the habit of receiving Communion regularly is a preparation for those moments of challenge when we will really need God to support us and take us through.

The Second Reading (1 Cor 10:16-17) reminds us that Jesus choose bread because it is something we can all share. Nowadays, we sometimes miss that point, as we are all too busy eating our own food, especially our own favourite food, and thus forget that food is something that we share together. Indeed, sharing food with our family and our friends and with those in need, is one of the great things about being alive. In our rich culture, we learn it now most often when we share cake, for example on our birthday, when we have the great joy of blowing out our candles and cutting the cake so that we can hand it out and share it with everyone who is celebrating with us.

That is surely what St Paul is getting at with his image of the loaf. “The fact that there is only one loaf means that though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all have a share in the one loaf.” It is always a bit sad when we hear people talk of making their Communion, as if it were something they did alone, as if it were something just for them. In fact, it is called Communion precisely because it is not only Communion with God but Communion with one another. We all need to remember that we come to Mass as much for each other as for ourselves. When we miss Mass we are letting down everyone else who is at Mass. They miss us, and if enough people decide to do something else, then the absence of all these people becomes something we can all feel.

The third reason why Jesus chooses to be especially present for us in bread is best explained by reminding ourselves that Holy Communion is sometimes called the Medicine of Immortality. This is a term we first hear used by St Ignatius of Antioch who was writing in the early 2nd Century. I am reminded daily of the significance of this concept, since I have to take various pills to stay alive and healthy – pills to keep my blood pressure down and my thyroid level up etc etc. Taking these pills is very boring, and remembering to take them especially when other more exciting things happen in my life, can be very difficult. Yet if I fail to take them, then I know that gradually my physical body will fail.

It is surely the same with Holy Communion. It is not always very exciting to be at Mass, especially when there is something more exciting to do. And when we miss Mass we do not notice that we are any the worse off – after all think of all the people in the world who seem to survive without ever receiving Communion? But nonetheless it is the medicine of immortality, and whether we notice it or not, in the long run, received regularly and prayerfully, it draws us closer and closer to God – it prepares us for immortal life when we will be one with God for ever.

Thus Jesus says in the Gospel today (John 6:51-58) “I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.” Those who do not meet Jesus in this wonderful way are missing out on a great gift from God. The Church teaches that such people may get to God after death in ways we do not know, for our God is a God of love and mercy for all men and women. But it is sad that this one wonderful way towards God is not something they share in. We need to remember what a great gift Holy Communion is, and to treasure it.

Celebrating God’s presence

The Baptism of Jesus that we celebrate today (Gospel of Matthew 3:13-17) is, in one sense, the complete opposite of our Baptism. When we are baptised we are linked with God in a special way that hopefully we then live out in our lives. When Jesus is baptised, we see God linking himself to us, and that is why the Church celebrates it at the end of the Christmas season, because it is part of the same wonderful message.

God becomes a human being as a baby, yes, but God in Jesus also chooses to identify himself with us as adults, with all those people who went out to be baptised by John. These were ordinary people, admitting that they were imperfect, and that they needed God’s love and forgiveness. In his Baptism, Jesus chooses to be one with them and thus with us. He does not stand over them telling them what to do, but he stands alongside them, as he does us, showing how much he loves us and understands us, even when we go wrong.

So we hear in our 1st Reading (Isaiah 42:1-7) “He does not cry out or shout aloud… Faithfully he brings true justice.”  That is why God the Father says “This is my Son, the Beloved”

This is a message that Pope Francis has been stressing again and again since he was elected. The Church of Jesus Christ is meant to be like Jesus. We are called as the Church to stand alongside people. By “we” the Pope means not only you and me, but himself and all the Cardinals and Bishops and Priests of the Church as well. He writes “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy … from clinging to its own security.”  (Evangelii Gaudium 49) This surely is a challenge to all of us in the year ahead. What can we do to serve those around us?

It’s a hard challenge isn’t it, but this is what it means to live out our Baptism, and that is why we come to Mass regularly, to be reminded of the sacrificial love of Christ – “This is my Body.. given for you… my Blood .. shed for you.” – and to be close to his special presence in this Body and Blood present for us in the Bread and Wine blessed and consecrated by the Priest. This presence is, of course, for all who come, not just those who receive Holy Communion, and it is present also in every Catholic Church at all times in the Blessed Sacrament kept in the Tabernacle as a permanent focus for our prayer.

In most Catholic Churches this Presence of the Body of Christ in the Tabernacle, always there to comfort, strengthen and empower us, and signified by the lamp shining permanently beside it, is in the centre of the Church directly behind the main altar. This helps all those who come into church at any time to see it as the main focus of their prayer. It is linked thereby to the figure of Jesus on the cross which is also there in the centre of every Catholic Church. The comfort and strength of his Presence linked to the compassion and challenge of his Death – there to inspire us to love and serve others as he did.

 (The following refers specifically to St Peter’s Eynsham. www.stpeterseynsham.org.uk )

This is why I am wondering whether we ought to make this happen at St Peter’s. For the last 8 years since I have been your priest, we have been trying hard to make sure our buildings are up to standard – new roofs on church and house, repair of gutters and downpipes, redecoration and now new heating, and we have had to raise a lot of money to pay for all that, which perhaps explains why I have never raised this before. After all, the Tabernacle is not far away in the side chapel, if slightly off centre, there for each one of us, and I was reluctant to spend a lot of money that we hadn’t got. But recently it struck me again, whilst praying, how good it would be to have the Blessed Sacrament right in front of us all the time as in most Churches. It also struck me that we have always had a beautiful tabernacle sitting in a cupboard, so that putting it there would not cost very much. That tabernacle is now at the back of church for you all to see. It would not therefore cost very much to install it, and we would move the lamp as well.  A pillar of wood or stone would be built onto which to would be bolted. The other tabernacle would then be a fitting place to keep the Holy Oils and as a Place of Repose on Holy Thursday for the Watch.

Well that’s my proposal. There is the space right in front of you, made clear by the Priest and Deacon moving to the side, and I would value your comments before I make a definite decision one way or the other.