The Rev. Dr. Mark Barwick
At the heart of Christian prayer is the Holy Eucharist. It rightfully holds a central place in the gathering of Christians, as it declares our identity more than any pre-set prayer or creedal statement ever will. It is not just something that we do; it is who we are. We are Eucharist. We are bread that has been taken, blessed, broken and then given for the life of the world. And the more deeply that we live into this awareness, we become participants in what God is doing to renew the earth and to restore creation to its original beauty.
[Brussels, Belgium] It has been a week for killings. I don’t imagine that the Brussels killers made any connection to Holy Week as they unleashed their terror, but many Christians will not have missed the irony. This is a week of killings, a week of conspiracy, murder and fear, a week to mourn the violent death of our friend and brother, Jesus the Nazarene. He was innocent of any wrongdoing. He did nothing deserving of death. But none of that matters when dark forces come together to accomplish their hateful task. The innocent die: like a young woman seeing off her relatives at the airport, a university student going on holiday or a worker taking the Metro to the office. Innocence doesn’t count when the executioner is doing his job.
When I slow my pace long enough to take notice of the world around me . . . it is about paying attention and learning to live contemplatively. For some this may seem the domain of gaunt-looking saints and starry-eyed hermits. In fact, it belongs to anyone who sets out on the inward journey of seeing the world differently. It is about opening our eyes to the wonder that is present in and through all of creation. I suspect this is why Jesus said that God reigns only among children. Until we learn to see the world with the simplicity and honesty of a small child, we cannot know the fullness of God’s presence in and among us.
Thomas Wolfe wrote a novel entitled You Can’t Go Home Again, which tells the story of a man who returns after many years to his hometown and becomes sorely disillusioned by what he finds. What he had once experienced as a place of innocence had given way to something altogether hostile, ravaged by the passing of time and the inevitability of change. The man concludes: ‘You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood... back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and fame... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.’
The camp has been called ‘the Jungle,’ an apt name considering the conditions that exist there. Thousands of refugees have gathered in the Jungle, just outside of Calais, each with a story of hardship and horror. They are trying to reach the UK by crossing the Channel. Some try to stow away in lorries headed for the Eurotunnel, others in people’s cars or even find a way to hide on the trains. Their desperation mirrors the disturbing images we have seen of migrants crossing the Mediterranean in rickety vessels. Here, too, in the Jungle some have died for their efforts, though their numbers are not to be compared to the thousands that have died at sea.
Nearly every classical religious tradition begins with an affirmation of the sacredness of creation. This is not surprising. Ancient peoples were captivated by the beauty, grandeur and complexity of the natural world. They told stories of how the world began and how humans came to inhabit it. Our own biblical tradition affirms that the world that God has created is good: ‘God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good.’
Silence is difficult to bear – and God seems to be good at it. In fact, it appears that silence is God’s preferred language. Before anything else existed, before God spoke anything into being, there was silence. Before the first sounds of cleansing fire, the whisper of wind in the trees, the murmur of water or the groan of rocks shifting with time, there was only silence. There was only God.
It goes without saying that the Cross is pretty important to Christians. It is the chief symbol of Christian faith. It occupies a central place in our houses of worship. You may display a cross in your home. We hang crosses around our necks. Christians make the sign of the cross when they pray or make some other act of devotion. There is no question of the importance of the Cross to those who call themselves Christian. This has been since the very beginnings of the Christian movement. In fact, the Cross is one of the major themes of the New Testament. The Gospels themselves are largely passion narratives, focused on the crucifixion and on Jesus’ last days leading up to it.
‘God made from one blood all the nations that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any of us. For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of our own poets have said: We are his offspring.’ Witness of St Paul in Athens, Acts 17, 26-28
The imagery of sheep and shepherds would not have been lost on those who first heard these words of Jesus. Not only was it a common figure of speech in the Hebrew scriptures - there were also a lot of sheep around. The way that sheep and shepherds relate to one another is indeed an appropriate comparison to make with the relationship that Christ has with his people. There is, in fact, a close bond that is shared between sheep and their human caretakers. You may know that in many parts of the world, where sheep are an important part…