Homily on being placed with the saints

We must never forget, that the heart of our faith as Christians is that we meet God in and through Jesus. As he said “To have seen me, is to have seen the Father”. (John 14:9) This means that we can feel God the Father’s love and compassion for us in a very real way, as we hear Jesus speaking words of comfort and wise advice, and as we see him dying for us on the cross. But our danger is that this gives us such comfort that we fail to see the challenge in much of what Jesus says; and we fail to realise that the God whom he teaches us to call “Father”, is also the God who is, as we heard in the reading from Hebrews (12:18-24) “Nothing known to the senses”  – an immense and powerful force way beyond our understanding.

We need to remember all this as we hear Jesus’ parable today. He appears to be simply giving wise advice on how to be polite and modest at dinner parties, but actually, like all of Jesus’ teaching, this is more about our relationship with God. Yes, there are places where Jesus teaches us that when we are with God, it is he who will sit us down and serve us; but in this teaching that is certainly not the case. Instead, he is warning us not to take God’s welcoming love for granted, as if we could walk into heaven and say “Hello God”, and walk right up and sit down beside him as if we were the most important person in the room. Now I’m sure that you can see how wrong that attitude to God  is, yet we do meet people who do take God for granted like that, don’t we? And perhaps we sometimes can be a bit like that too. It’s one thing to know that God loves us and always hears our prayers, and quite another to take that closeness for granted, and forget who we are talking to.

Two things follow from this. The first is that we must be careful when we pray, not to spend all our time speaking to God, and never giving God time to speak to us. Of course there are times when we’ll want to pour out our story to God, especially when something upsetting or distressing has happened to us, or when we’re in pain or great sadness. God will always listen. But we also need to develop what our 1st Reading calls “An attentive ear”… maybe we should call it “A listening ear” .

This must apply to the whole of our life and not just to our times of prayer. Sadly, when we get busy with our life, or our work, or our problems, it is easy to forget to be sensitive to what God may be saying to us in and through everything that we experience, not just so-called religious things.  The reason why we are encouraged to have “times” of prayer each day, as I mentioned last week, is to help us to make all of our life more responsive to God’s presence, rather than limiting God to only one area of our lives. If we think it’s all right to rattle off a few prayers, and then forget about God and his will for us the rest of the time, then we have missed the point, haven’t we?

This leads on to the second thing I want to say, and that is the importance of developing an attitude of humility in all that we do. Now true humility is not getting agonised about our sins or our failings, instead it’s much more about having a sense of humour about ourselves – not taking ourselves too seriously. I love the story of the new Head Teacher of a very posh school for clever girls, who introduced the radical idea, that these clever girls should be taught the value of failure. She pointed out that instead of agonising about failure and getting steamed up about trying to get perfect results, the best way forward in life is to see our failures not as things to beat ourselves up about, but as some of our best learning experiences. That, you see, is true humility.

The kingdom of God, that we pray for every day when we say the Our Father, is a place where everyone has an equal place and is equally valued. Life with God is not about scrabbling to reach the top of the tree, but about realising that everyone is equally precious to God even, and perhaps especially, if they think of themselves as a failure. That is what the reading from Hebrews says, doesn’t it? “What you have come to is… the whole Church in which everyone is a ‘first-born son’ and a citizen of heaven…. You have come to God himself… and been placed with spirits of the saints who have been made perfect.”

 Notice that! Not, you have to make yourself perfect to be a saint; but you have been “placed” with the saints, and even they, the holiest of all people, have not made themselves perfect, but have been made perfect….. by God.  That is the kingdom we belong to, and it should affect every aspect of our lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Homily on power to heal

This Homily on the power to heal is another story that appears in my book and maybe helps us to think about the stories of healing in today’s readings (1 Kings 17:17-24 & Luke 7:11-17).

One of the shocks to my system in my early life as an Anglican clergyman was definitely a message from God! I was called to the hospital to visit a lady called Dorothy who had had a stroke.  She was in a bad way, paralysed down one side and unable to walk, she conveyed to me how frightened she was and how at night dark shapes where coming towards her from the bottom end of the bed. Now as a young modern Christian, I did not believe that prayer could affect the physical body. Prayer was a spiritual thing working through the mind. I was a dualist (as it is called) without realising it!  Anyway I felt strongly that prayer might well deal with those dark things coming for her, for this was clearly just in her mind. Prayers were said. In the Catholic manner these were accompanied by the laying on of hands and the anointing with oil. The next morning the shock came. I was right – the dark things had vanished and she had had a good night’s sleep, but something else had happened as well. She could walk! Never again did I make that mistake. The spiritual and the physical are intermingled in us humans and that is one of the reasons why prayer can be so powerful.

The problem of course is that prayer only appears to get answered occasionally. What most people forget is that if prayer is talking with God then we need to listen and not just talk. There is no point in asking for things just because we want them. What is far more important in life is to find out more clearly what God wants, and it is only within the discovery of this that we can sometimes get what we are asking for. It is therefore terribly important to always have in the back of our minds when we pray the words from the Our Father – Thy will be done. Praying like this can lead to surprising results because what God wills can be very different from what we want. True prayer is really trying to tune in to the immense power that God is, and if we get close enough then God’s power can pour through us like the release of a great weight of water when a dam bursts. This is surely because God has chosen to give us the freedom to act independently of him – this is what free will means. The power is there, like the radio waves that are all round us, but it is up to us, because we have free will, to decide whether to tune in or not.

On another occasion I was called to a lady in hospital because the doctors had said she only had a few days of life left. She was more or less dead. I prayed that God’s will should be done assuming that this would be a quick and easy death. Instead, she got better and went home and was given another year of life. One never knows what will happened when one prays.

In both cases I suppose I just found the right through which God’s healing power could work. Later I began to discover that a bit more sensitivity and a little less pride that I knew best tended to produce better results. But giving healing to people is always a hit or miss procedure. Sometimes you just tune in to God right and amazing things can happen, at other times, the prayer gives the person great spiritual comfort but not the physical healing they hoped for. Now I simply pray with and for people knowing that in one way or another even the smallest act of prayer and love helps.

 

 

Finding God in the storms of life

I expect that all of you, like me, love the seaside. For me it is just the sight of that immense amount of water wooshing or crashing again and again onto the beach.  We must seek God in all things, but for me it is most easy to feel God’s presence when I hear that gentle sound -the swish swish of the waves. I am lucky to live near some large trees, and so I can hear then swishing too as soon as the wind gets going even a little bit. But when the wind turns into a storm or even a tempest then both the sea and those trees begin to roar, and the sound then can be more than a little frightening.

 Our first reading (Job 38:1.8-11) however reminds us that although we may feel God close in the gentler sounds of the natural world, he also speaks and is present in the midst of a storm or a tempest. Then we are reminded that God is a power beyond our imagining, far more powerful than any storm however terrifying that may be. So Job hears God say to the sea from the midst of the tempest, when the sea is roaring uncontrollably  “Come thus far, and no farther: here your proud waves shall break.”

 In our Psalm too (Ps 106:23-32) we hear more about the sea, with similar words He stilled the storm to a whisper: all the waves of the sea were hushed.”, which, of course, points us forward to today’s Gospel. (Mark 4:35-41)

 But let’s look at our 2nd Reading first, where Paul reminds us, as he so often does, that we meet God most of all in and through our fellow human beings, most of all in that one human being Jesus, who brings God close to us in a unique way. So Paul says “The love of Christ overwhelms us”. Yes, overwhelms us. It ought to. We should never get so used to looking at Jesus on the cross, that we forget what an amazing thing that love is.

The power to love like that is something given by God that all of us have within us. It leads people to do something for others that goes beyond just being kind. Think of firefighters or lifeboat crew risking their lives to save others. There we see humanity at its best, and need to thank God that such love, such service of others, exists. It’s something that should lead us to pray every time we hear or see a fire engine or an ambulance pass by. Think too of the many young parents caring for their children when they are sick or frightened in the middle of the night. There too we see powerful love at work, and there too we should recognise the presence of God.

 I always think that the most important part of the story of Jesus in the storm is not when he wakes up and the storm dies down, but the picture of him asleep. I think it is the only time that Jesus is described as being asleep, and it is worth picturing this in our minds. Think of the times you have found yourself in a storm, even in your own house. The wind roars around, the trees sound as if they are falling down, and if you are by the sea, the sound and sight of immense waves roaring and crashing on the beach can be quite terrifying. This is what is happening all around Jesus, and what is more, he is not in a house but in a relatively small fishing boat!  Most of us know what it is like to be woken in the night by such a storm, and to find it impossible to go back to sleep. Most of us know too, the times when the worries and anxieties of life have been like a storm waking us in the middle of the night, and leaving us shaken and frightened.

 Think of all this, and then think of Jesus, asleep through it all. His sleep reminds us that God is with us however frightened we are made to feel by the storms of this world, whether they are caused by the forces of nature, or happen inside our heads.  Jesus knows all the Psalms by heart, as well as The Book of Job; but he doesn’t just know these writings as words, he lives then out in his life, in that utter unity with God the Father into which he is calling each one of us. It is not an accident that in one place (1 Cor 15:12-20) St Paul describes Christian death as “falling asleep in Christ” – as a time of undisturbed sleep.  Think of those times when you sleep well and wake refreshed, and you get some idea of what it means to be one with God.

So whatever storms we face in life, we are reminded today that God is always with us. It can be hard to feel this, especially in the middle of the night when we cannot sleep; but just because we cannot feel God’s presence does not mean he isn’t there. The disciples had Jesus right with them in the boat, but his presence did not stop them feeling frightened. In one sense we are thus reminded that feeling frightened is OK. It doesn’t mean we lack faith. It means that we know how much we need God, and that, in the end, is all we do need. In the end there is only God.

 

 

 

Homily on Godly Wisdom and Knowledge

Life for us humans is more than just living isn’t it? It is thinking &planning & imagining. It is measuring & calculating how our world works as in maths & science. It is communicating with each other & understanding each other, using speech and words, & it’s expressing ourselves in music & dance & art. All this and more makes us human, and all of this happens because God the Holy Spirit, the Life giver, is within us whether we accept his presence or not.

 

But when we Christians talk about the Holy Spirit giving us knowledge and wisdom, which is what I am going to talk about today, we mean much more than knowledge and wisdom as the world describes it, however special to us that may be. We see this in our 2nd Reading today (1 John 2:1-5) where St John makes very clear that “knowing” God is more than just knowing about God. There are, after all, many people who say they know about God, or know about the Church or the Bible. Yes, they may know lots of facts, they may even appear on the TV telling us what they know, but actually although they may know about God, they may not really know God at all. Getting to know someone is a long process isn’t it? We may start with some facts about them; but knowing another human being, and even more knowing God, is a much deeper process than that.

 

It’s also a fact that much of our communication, our transmission of knowledge, is non-verbal. Look up non-verbal communication and you will see a whole list of ways in which we do it. True knowledge therefore means a sensitivity to others that comes from caring about them at a deep level – what we Christians would call “keeping God’s commandments”.  Jesus illustrates this kind of knowledge all the time. He sees into people’s hearts and knows what they are like inside, (See John 6:64. 8:19 & 16:19) and we too are called to be like that. It is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to us. The disciples meet the risen Lord on the beach, and “None of (them) dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. “ (John 21:12)

 

The world sometimes calls this ability “being psychic”. Some of you may recall moments in your life when you have sensed what is going to happen, or what you should do; sensed, maybe without realising it consciously, that God was talking to you in this way.  I’m a great believer in acting on what the world calls “our instincts”. So if I sense that I should do or say something, I will do it, and quite often (though not always!) my instinct can be right. This, we must remember, is a gift of the Holy Spirit, it enhances our natural abilities, and we should ask God to help us to be more like that, and thus possess true knowledge.

 

Equally “wisdom” for the Christian does not mean worldly wisdom. The disciples knew their Bible; not as well as Jesus, of course, but they were devout Jews, and they knew their ancient stories – about God, and the great prophecies from God given through their ancestors like Jeremiah and Isaiah. Yet, like many Jews of their day, they failed to understand at a deeper level what the Bible was pointing to. Their wisdom was superficial. They failed to understand that God’s Messiah, God’s Christ, would be someone who was prepared to suffer and die, and only then to show his glory. Thus we hear in our Gospel, the risen Jesus “opening their minds to understand the scriptures.” (Luke 26:45) And later they are given the power by the Holy Spirit not just to understand them in this new way, but to explain this to other people.

 

But the gift of wisdom doesn’t just mean being able to understand how God speaks through the Bible. St Paul makes clear how easily we can revert to thinking about our knowledge and wisdom in a worldly way. He makes this very clear when he writes to the Christians in Corinth who think themselves very wise. He points out that true Christian wisdom may appear as foolishness to the world. In a long passage at the beginning of his 1st Letter to them, (1 Cor 1:18-31) he goes on about this at some length. Let me give you just a bit of what he says to remind you For .. the cross is folly to those who are perishing (He means those who think only in worldly ways) but…. it is written,       “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.”

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. …………For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

This should remind all of us that sometimes it is the simplest thing about our faith, shared with someone else,  that can help them more than any number of clever words. Those of you who do not think of yourselves as very clever, can sometimes be more effective in communicating the Gospel than those of us who are academic. The Holy Spirit can give this true wisdom often more effectively to those who “know” less in worldly terms. So never underestimate what God can do in you. Say what you feel, and your words can sometimes convey the wisdom of God in ways that might astonish you.

St Paul puts it like this:- “Consider your call….. not many of you were wise according to worldly standards …….. but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong,  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” 

So yes the Holy Spirit can give a true and deeper wisdom and knowledge to every Christian, not just the so-called clever……… provided we allow God to work in us in this way!

Praying in pain and suffering and death

 Last night I reminded us all how easy it is to think that prayer is all about what we say to God, when actually prayer is most of all not talking but listening. As I often remind people, Jesus calls us his friends, and if I had a friend and I always talked about myself and never listened to what they wanted to tell me, they wouldn’t want to stay friends with me very long!

There are all sorts of ways of listening to God. Every time we realise how beautiful the world is, or how wonderful our loved ones are, we are listening to God ; and every time we realise there is something we can do to help someone, we are listening to God. However, it becomes much more difficult to listen to God when things start going wrong for us. I remember vividly how my prayer fell to pieces when my mother died. She was only 61 and I was devastated, and every time I tried to pray, the tears welled up and I just felt immense pain and sadness.  Of course weeping, if there is a good reason for it, is prayer;  but just by itself it can blot out everything else that I might want to share with God, or that God might want to say to me.

 

At the time then, all I could do was read the Bible, especially the Psalms, and read or follow the set prayers of the Church as at Mass. These had the power to hold me close to God when everything else seemed to be falling apart, and if one sheds tears at Mass, most people understand, for it is after all an appropriate place to weep.

 

In the end, I can look back now on this, and other moments of pain or confusion or sadness, and realise that even though I did not feel God close to me, he was in fact closer than I could ever know. I now know that God was at work when I could only sigh and weep, as St Paul says in the 8th Chapter of his Letter to the Romans, my favourite passage from the Bible . He writes “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”  (v.26)

 

Many great teachers on prayer say how important it is for us to realise this. St John of the Cross from 16thC Spain is best remembered for his teaching on what he called “the dark night of the soul”. He reminds his readers first that there are many good and lovely things to be gained from the easy side of prayer, provided they do not become an end in themselves. But he spends more time on what happens to people as they progress in prayer; for it is then that periods of darkness arrive, periods – often long periods – when the Christian loses the sense of the presence of God. He writes “The soul makes greater progress when it least thinks so, yea most frequently when it imagines that it is losing. The soul makes the greater progress when it travels in the dark, not knowing the way.”

 

Another writer on prayer, Augustine Baker, speaks of prayer in extreme old age. He recommends his readers to be prepared to find the purifying hand of God in the sordid illness of old age, in mental disturbance…. in simply finding oneself a nuisance… and so on. (See The Wound of Knowledge : Rowan Williams)

 

Finally, of course, there is that moment when we die. The moment when everything good that we have done, and all the links we have with our loved ones, appears to be dissolving into dust, into nothingness. The greatest of saints have found a final battle to fight here. My own patron, St Martin of Tours, saw the powers of evil as he died and, like the soldier he had first been, challenged them with his last breath, crying out, “You will find nothing of yours in me, you living death. I go to the arms of Abraham.” (From the Letters of Sulpicius Severus)

 

St Martin knew, as I hope we all know, that although death is, as St Paul calls it, “the last enemy” (1Cor 15:26) , there is one power who can defeat death for us, the power of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. And how do we know that Jesus has defeated death? Because he has been there. He has died on the cross willingly for us, and in doing so he has entered into death and defeated it.

 

That is why when we look at the cross, as we will do in a moment, we know that we are not just looking at a real and very sad event from the past. No we look not at a past event, but at an action by God which is eternal, which exists in every moment in time, an action which defeats death and brings us to eternal life. So we must look at the cross today, and see beneath the outward form the inner reality.

 

This is well expressed in a hymn that most of you probably know only too well – the hymn “Abide with me”. Sadly it is sung so often at funerals that the power of its words, taken from that great passage of St Paul from which I have already quoted, (1 Cor 15) often escapes us.  Look at the cross today and remember these words:-

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

 

 

Do not conform to wordly ways

When I meet a couple for the first time who want to get married at St Peter’s one of the questions I ask early on is “How did you meet one another?”; not least because this gets them talking about themselves and their relationship in a natural way. What still surprises me is how often one or other of them will say that they didn’t like their partner at first, or didn’t notice them, and then they will look at one another and say “And then something happened….. and here we are now!!”   Yes, it’s always worth remembering that we are not always stuck with our first impressions, that things can happen that can radically change our mind, and that we always ought to be alert for these moments, because it might well be a moment when God speaks, and we must listen.

Abraham in our 1st Reading (Genesis 22:1-18) was convinced that the only way he could show God how much he loved him was to kill his only son Isaac. It wasn’t that unusual to do such a thing in those days; but here we see a man on the lookout for a new way, so that when the opportunity came to sacrifice a sheep in place of his son, he knew that it was a message from God, and his son was saved.

The Old Testament is full of stories of the people learning that the one true God is quite different from the gods of the other people around them. This dramatic story of Abraham and Isaac is just one amongst many that show a people gradually discovering that God is a God of love not of anger. Yes, in the process of learning, they often describe God as angry or fierce and expect him to be like that, but gradually the God we know in Jesus Christ is emerging, is revealing himself, if only they would listen. The great prophets, like Jeremiah (See Jeremiah 7:13-27) were therefore constantly telling the people to listen but so often they didn’t, and it is much the same today.

It is of course in Jesus that this final and complete revealing of God as love takes place; and so God tells the disciples on the mountain at the Transfiguration with Jesus, when they are busy with their own plans “This is my Son, my beloved. Listen to him.” (Mark 9:2-10) You might think that our 2nd reading (Romans 8:31-34) is on a different theme. Yes, St Paul has got there , as he writes of a God who loves us so much that he comes to us as Jesus and suffers in our place. But what we need to remember is that this Paul is the same man, then called Saul, who attacked and imprisoned the first Christians, accusing them of blasphemy. He believed as a Pharisee that God expected us to be perfect and unless we managed this there was no hope for us. He too was to have a moment on the road to Damascus when his mind on these matters was transformed by God, and he had to listen to what God was saying. He writes in his letter to the Romans (12:2) of how important it is to be transformed daily by God. “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Just like Abraham, who was influenced by his world to start with, even to the point of thinking God wanted human sacrifice; so we too can easily be influenced by the world we live in today and be, as St Paul says, “conformed” to its values, rather than following what God wants for us. The world will say we are the stuck in the mud conformists, but actually it is they who follow the latest trend, and we Christians who approach life in a radically different way, or at least we try to.

Our Gospel sees the disciples struggling to understand what God is revealing to them as Jesus is transfigured and so we must not expect our struggles not to be conformed to the world but to follow God to be any easier than theirs. They are told by God to listen to Jesus, but we know that, as the story continues, they are amazed that Jesus is heading for Jerusalem. (See Mark 10:32-45) Even when he explains that he is going to his death, James and John, who had been with him for the Transfiguration, still fail to hear what he has said, and simply ask for seats in glory. They have to be told that they do not know what they are asking for, because they clearly had no idea that it was suffering rather than glory that lay ahead of them.

I was struck this week, as the days are getting lighter and Spring is upon us, how beautiful the world is that God has created. It is so easy to spend our time asking God for things that we think we want, rather than recognising the things he has already given us, and along with all that beauty, the challenges he puts before us to live our life for him and not for ourselves. Listening to what God wants for us is not easy, and allowing God to change our way of thinking and acting is a lifetime’s process, an adventure in which we will never quite know what is going to happen next. All we can do is to try every day to listen to him.

 

 

Death and Transformation

Frances writes on this Sunday’s readings : Each of our Lenten readings speaks of death in one form or another. Last week’s readings reminded us of the extraordinary love of God for his creation and now we are being led further into the mystery of God himself as we are led out beyond our temporal mortality.

I think we have the reading from Genesis (22:1-2.9-13.15-18) as part of our ‘wake-up call’. We are all guilty of investing so much of our time, money and hopes and attention in the things of this world that we cannot really see beyond them, indeed, frequently get stuck with them. It may be our love for our children, our pride in our jobs and our own achievements, or our clinging to possessions or something else; but lovely as all these things are, they can blind us to the truth that these are only temporary gifts from the Creator whose purpose for us is so much greater.

When Abraham was tested by God and was willing to sacrifice his only son and heir, Isaac, something similar was going on. Abraham, we must remember, lived in a time when there was no concept of ‘eternal life’ with and in God. In consequence people invested all their hopes for the future in their offspring, especially male children. Abraham, you will recall, had been childless for many years until persuaded by his wife to take a concubine and produce a child; and it was only very late in life that Sarah produced the beloved son Isaac, literally the pride and joy of his father’s heart, his posterity, upon whom any possibility of an Abrahamic line hung. Imagine therefore the horror of being asked to destroy the child on which so much depended.

Now in the Near East of the time it was not unusual for great rulers to sacrifice sons at great events. We hear precisely of this action by the ruler of Jericho in the First Book of the Kings. I suspect therefore that our story is actually a ‘myth’, a very ancient tale about the shift from human to animal sacrifice; and deeply embedded within it is this story of Abraham’s interior debate as to what is most important, his attachment to his only son, or his relationship with God, from whom he has all he derives. It is only when Abraham gets his priorities right that he can appreciate the real grace and goodness of God and is apparently ‘reprieved’ by the finding of the ram, the alternative sacrifice, sent by God. Only when we are staring death in the face can we truly get our priorities straight.

Our Gospel, (Mark 9:2-10) is about another moment of death and transformation, here the Transfiguration, literally metamorphosis in Greek. In this, Christ appears, significantly again on a mountain, and is shown to the disciples in all his heavenly glory. He appears alongside Moses and Elijah, signifying the Mosaic law and the prophets, and thus he is encompassing everything that Judaism stood for but much more. It is a moment of crisis, just as Abraham experienced, a moment of decision; whether to continue with the old ways of understanding God given in the Old Testament, or whether to go on the dramatic and radical journey with and in Jesus to become his new creation; heirs with him of God himself, sharers in the divine nature. For many Jews this would be a scandal, an outrage. For the disciples it was a moment of transition, decision to adopt that decisive shift which would transfigure their entire being. It was a moment of death and led to new life. As the Gospels present it, affirmation came to the disciples in the divine voice; “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.” It is significant that this moment of the revelation of the true identity of Jesus to his chosen followers was so powerful and earth shattering that Jesus told them not to reveal it to the rest until after his resurrection from the dead. Jesus was insistent that belief in him should come through an encounter with the fully human Christ and not in any sense be compelled by knowledge of his identity given only to the chosen few and then only as an aid to their belief.

When we consider how the twelve actually behaved at our Lord’s passion perhaps we begin to appreciate the sense of this injunction. Indeed, it would be his post mortem appearances that convinced the disciples of his identity and enabled them finally to make that great transition. Death, and the giving of a wholly new and far richer life after physical death, is the thing that really will make the difference for all of us. Just like the disciples, we too, cling onto the familiar, onto this material life, and find it very difficult to place all our hope in eternal life.

Surely the final word in all this must go to St Paul (Romans 8:31-34). So much of this extraordinary letter is focussed on the problem which faced Christians then and continues to drag us down now. It is the problem of our own sins, those we willingly commit and those we simply fall into despite our best intentions. We agonise and tie ourselves into knots over questions of our unworthiness of eternal life; of whether God could possibly forgive us and of our inability to embark on a path of lasting change. Paul provides the answer to all our angst: we can’t and we don’t have to. It is God in Christ who has won salvation and eternal life for each of us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. “He not only died for us – he rose from the dead, and there at God’s right hand he stands and pleads for us.” What we have to learn to accept is that Christ Jesus has already won paradise for us. Our Lent is therefore about a literal dying to the past with all its hang-ups and a taking on of the new life we are already guaranteed in Christ. We must allow our selves to be transfigured as he was.