EASTER 3, 2013

Long ago, when I was at school and before “health” and “safety” were put into the same sentence, it was in, I think, a physics lesson and we were each given a globule of mercury in a glass dish. The object was to try and catch the mercury with a finger and, of course, none of us could. The risen Lord Jesus has much of the same qualities, completely ignoring the Aristotelian unities of time and space, so making the narrative difficult for our conditioned minds and, indeed, for the gospel writers themselves. They, however, had the great advantage of trying to describe something that either they themselves, or their informants, knew about at first hand. You could not catch the risen Lord, he catches you, as he did and has done for the last 2,000+ years. So in our gospel we have the epilogue to St.John’s gospel, a complete account of the commissioning of Peter and the role of the beloved disciple John, while in the first reading we heard of the conversion of St. Paul.

Most of us here this morning have been caught by the risen Lord or we wouldn’t be here at all, so let us look in a little more detail, first to the two men in conversation by the Sea of Galilee and then Paul. The dialogue begins after the exciting catch of fish after a wasted night, and then comes one of the only jokes in the scriptures, which tells us a lot about the sort of person Peter was. Heaving away in the boat he was naked, John exclaims, “here is the Lord” and the impetuous Peter then puts on clothes in order to jump into the sea!  After all, what do you do if you answer the door earlyish one morning wearing next to nothing and discover the lady archdeacon on the doorstep? So, no doubt with a smile, Jesus invites them to breakfast and then comes the quizzing of Peter. Three times is he asked “Do you love me?” a parallel with the three times Peter had denied his Lord. We know, the other disciples probably didn’t, that Peter had already had a very significant meeting with Jesus but we never talk or write about what goes on in “the box”, so this was a chance for Peter to be commissioned, prior to his formal ordination by the fiery tongues of the Spirit at Pentecost. In these questions, formalised though they may be, the essence of the priestly ministry is revealed. First “Do you love me?”. A requisite one would have thought but the response to the “Yes” is to do something ordinary and unspectacular, “Feed my lambs”. Lambs, to be kept alive need feeding, human lambs too need feeding both in the literal sense - and there are more than enough of them about who have no food - and in the sense of being given food for the soul and mind, they need teaching and the question is asked twice more, “tend my sheep, feed my sheep.”

Then comes the foretelling of how Peter was to die. Not nice and a message none of us would like to receive. John, on the other hand, who was, after all, the only male disciple at the foot of the cross, seems to have the more senior role. Peter was to be the leader, impetuous and brave, John, very like our late and much missed brother Timothy, the quiet man of prayer in the background upholding the whole enterprise and caring for our Blessed Lady.

Yet the work of the mercurial Risen Lord was not yet done, nor will it ever be until the consummation of all things. So now we go on the way to Damascus. With Paul we have a big bang for a big man. Totally clear in his vocation to serve the Lord, he sees the activities of this Galilean and his followers a great threat to the faith of  his fathers, yet he only held the coats of the zealots stoning Stephen but now with the encouragement of the establishment he hot foots it to Syria where there is a rebel outpost. On the way something happens, the risen Lord, in power and triumph, explodes inside him leaving him blind and so here is this scourge of Christians being led by the hand into the very heart of the opposition in the house of Ananias and it is hard to see which of Saul or Ananias is the most embarrassed. The message is received by Paul, his sight returns and he starts a menial placement learning about what it is to be a Christian.

Not only as elusive as a globule of mercury, more powerful than the eruption of a volcano is the Risen Lord and it is in his power that we live, move and have our being. Peter and Saul, soon to be Paul, had one sort of lesson to learn, John another for had he not once been called one of the sons of thunder but now his calling, his vocation, is to just be there supporting the work of the early church, it may well be crafting his gospel, the fruit of his pondering on so much darkness and light and so bequeathing to us all a particular and so important portrait of his Master. Early in his gospel he wrote in the voice of Jesus, “If you love me, keep my commandments”. Now we know a bit more about his commandments, Paul had a lot to learn before he could write I Corinthians XIII.

Some of you are now on the very threshold of ordination, you have been selected by the church, had a time here that is never altogether easy and facing a future where there is not a lot of certainty. One thing, however, is certain, the steadfastness of God’s love. This is not just pious rhubarb to help people get over the difficult bits - and of course we shall sometimes be aware more of the divine absence than the divine presence - but the end of Peter and Paul is not likely to be ours and there will be times when God seems a very long way away and his back firmly turned towards our affairs; when that happens just remember the cry of agony from the Cross, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”. Never forget that in those moments of solitude, misery and, indeed fear, we are in the best of all company. As St. Francis wrote “And Christ the Lord the way hath trod”.  I end with a considerable crumb of exemplary comfort. Some years ago I was with a group of students from the then NOC visiting a small Hindu temple in Ashton under Lyne, at the end, the little old Indian gentleman who had showed us round, said this: “I understand that some of you are training to be ministers and some of you already are and I have a prayer for you. May you be worthy of the people God lends you”. May his prayer be answered in and by us all. Amen

            Aidan Mayoss CR