WANT TO HEAR A STORY?

FAITH IN FOCUS: WANT TO HEAR A STORY?

 The Gospel passage today presents us with a complete turn around. It starts with two men walking along in complete misery. Everything they had hoped for over the past three years has gone up in smoke in the course of the last seven days. Yet by the end of the passage they are elated and are running into Jerusalem to tell the apostles

their good news. What happened to make things change so much? Someone listened to them. The world is full of people. And each person has their own story, their own set of events and circumstances that have shaped them into the person that they are. In fact, my story is my history. It’s what makes me “me”.

 If someone cant be bothered to listen to my story, especially when I feel the need to tell it, then they can’t be bothered to find out what makes me tick. But if they do bother to spend time getting to know my story, then they affirm and validate my experience and all that I am.

 That’s what Jesus did with the two disciple on the road to Emmaus. He met them “where they were at” and he made sense of their story in the light of the scriptures. When they had thought about their lives in the light of the scripture and had broken bread with him, all seemed different. 

Every single person in church on a Sunday morning has his or her story. They need to be allowed to tell it, to share it and to have people who will listen to it. If we are more than just a congregation, if we are the Body of Christ, then we have been given ears to listen and tongues to encourage. So as we gather to celebrate the eucharist each week we bring our own stories with us.

 We bring them so that God might shed light on them through the words of scripture as he did on the road to Emmaus. And as we listen to God’s word and share the body and blood of his Son the tangles tales of our complicated lives begin to take shape that makes more sense.

 For, at the heart of it all, we each a have a role in everyone else’s story. And after the event of that first Easter all our stories are intertwined with God’s.

 

HARD EVIDENCE

FAITH IN FOCUS: HARD EVIDENCE

Easter’s a time of faith. It’s a time for deepening our faith and a time for reflecting on it. It’s easy to have faith when we’re together in church. Like the early Christian community we feel the support of other people, we feel part of the family and even when we’re a bit low we can be carried along in faith by the words of the prayers, by the songs we sing and the music we hear.

When we renew our baptismal faith in the words of the Creed it’s easy to believe. In fact, believing in things, in facts and events is not hard at all. You either do or don’t believe that Christ was born for us and that he suffered for us and rose from the dead. The same goes for believing what we claim about one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church etc.

But as we see in today’s gospel with Thomas, it can sometimes be hard to believe when belief involves trusting in a person rather than just agreeing to facts. Thomas wanted some hard evidence before he would believe that Jesus really had appeared to his friends after the resurrection. He found it difficult to trust. We too have to learn to recognise Jesus, not as the disciples did physically, but through the sometimes dimmer light of faith.

We are called to the light of the resurrection, to learn to recognise Christ and follow him in that trusting faith whose shadow we glimpse both in desolation and consolation. Jesus himself tells us that we will be blessed if we can believe with this type of faith. And so we look for the light of the resurrection not only in its obvious religious haunts, not only in the robust expressions of confidence but also in the unexpected recesses of our lives.

 We can see it even in distress and disaster, in the faces of those who shine with its light, in the glimmers of new hope that so often flicker after seemingly overwhelming distress.

Faith is Easter’s gift; and it is also Easter’s quest. We never fully exhaust it and we always need to pray for it to persevere in us. Today, in the echo of last week’s tumultuous events surrounding the resurrection, Jesus approaches us more quietly and invites us to renew our faith and trust.

Doubt no longer, but believe.

FULLY ALIVE!

FAITH IN FOCUS: FULLY ALIVE!

We can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like for Christ’s followers. They were faced with the fact that although he had been crucified and had died, he was now alive!

The resurrection is a mind-boggling event. It means that the ultimate threat to humanity, death itself, no longer has power over us. That’s because the resurrection is not something that just happened to Jesus. It reaches us too. For we Christians are now alive with a life that goes beyond mere human existence. We are alive in God through Jesus Christ.

 To live resurrection life means that we can believe. Life ceases to be futile. We have the faith to recognise that all creation comes from God and is redeemed by Christ’s victory over death. We profess with our tongues and our lives that God is so concerned about us that he sent Jesus to show us how to live and how to usher in the kingdom of God.

 To be alive with the life of the risen Jesus means that we are able to trust. Life ceases to be hopeless. We know that God did not abandon Jesus in his hour of need and will not abandon us either. The resurrection give us a confident expectation that wherever we turn we will find God at our side.

 Whatever our problem, God promises to be with us until the end of time. Our life will not end in the grave.

 Sharing the risen life of Jesus means that we can care. Life ceases to be noxious. God cared about us to the point of giving his all. We too can learn to care about others with a superhuman strength that is made possible only by God’s grace. We can give our all, nothing held back, until it hurts.

 Believing, trusting, caring. This is how the resurrection changes us. We become more fully alive to ourselves and to God. Believing, trusting, caring: faith, hope and love.

 When we live these, then we are fully alive!

 

FAITH IN FOCUS: JOURNEY

Journey is a popular word. It once just meant going on a trip or a voyage. But now it’s used to sell everything. Even an afternoon at a theme park is marketed as “a journey of excitement and thrills” and a visit to your local cinema will entitle you to “a journey of discovery” as you settle into the latest special effects film.

 Today we start our “journey” of Holy Week that will take us through suffering and death to the glory that is resurrection. An opening prayer for today reminds us that “We joyfully acclaim Jesus our Messiah and King…may we reach one day the happiness of the new and everlasting Jerusalem by faithfully following him…”

The journey we make this week in the liturgy with Christ will only make sense if we are making the same journey in our daily lives. There’s always a trap with liturgy. We can be enticed into thinking that we’re celebrating only a past event, the death and resurrection that took place 2000 years ago. But in fact we are renewing the events of 2000 years ago, making them present in our own circumstances today. We are inviting Jesus to work the effects of his Passion, death and resurrection in our hearts and minds in the 21st century.

No matter what we pray during this week, no matter what we sing and say, it will be empty worship if we are not trying in our own lives to die to sin and rise to a new way of life that Jesus offers.

Our liturgy will be a thermometer of faith. It will be a mirror of our lives in Christ. And we can’t simply live double lives, acclaiming the Messiah inside church but jeering with the crowd when we get outside again. Our liturgy has to reflect the sincerity of our Christian lives because liturgy and life are inextricably linked. You can’t have one without the other.

 So as Holy Week starts we pledge ourselves once more to respond to the promptings of God’s grace, to die to sin, to seek to alleviate suffering, to offer hope and new life to those who languish in the shadows. And as we make our ritual entrance into Jerusalem today, let’s not lose sight of the fact that our lives are really a journey to a new, different and everlasting Jerusalem that requires a constant refocusing of our sights.

It would be a pity to miss the point. That would be a wasted journey.

 

HERE’S TO LIFE!

FAITH IN FOCUS: HERE’S TO LIFE!

 If heaven’s so good, then why did Jesus bring Lazarus back from the dead? This is a question that is often asked. Was Lazarus disappointed at being reunited with his two sisters so soon after dying? It must have been tempting to throw this in their face whenever an argument broke out!

Another question arises from St John’s gospel story. Why was Jesus so distressed at the death of his friend? Surely the answer is simple: the gift of life is such a great thing that even faith in the afterlife cannot wipe away the tears we feel when a loved one dies. And even more, it shows how much we really value the life we live on this earth.

By raising Lazarus form the dead Jesus was letting the glory of his Father be seen by those who witnessed the miracle. He was letting them know that the Father had sent him. But he was also making a very positive statement about the value of human existence. There can be no greater gift than that of enjoying life.

We experience life at its most complete when we know that we have been given it by God for a purpose.  No one else has been made like us. God creates each one of us in a unique fashion so that we might reflect something of God’s nature by the way we life. We have been given different gifts and talents, different personalities, different reasons for being loved by others and loving in return. To believe in Christ is to have the chance of fullness of life, getting every last ounce out of it, benefiting from all its opportunities.

 “Life” is the last of the three themes of Lent this year: water, light and life. The Church makes use of this gospel passage to remind us that our baptism in Christ afford us the opportunity to live the same life as everyone else, but to see beyond the passing things of this world, to have our heart set on a life that will dwarf even this one.

Christians don’t just exist. They thirst for the water that only God can give; they search for the light that God sheds on their journey through this world; and they live life to the utmost in all its glorious shapes and forms. And if this life is so good, then just think what the next one will be like!