Epiphany 3

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. To let the oppressed got free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (St. James’ Bible includes another line from Isaiah, “He has sent me to heal the broken hearted”.)  

Some years ago, when Dr. Mary Berry came to teach us about the chant, she told us that it was very probable that Jesus could have sung these words on this occasion: some scrolls included musical notation. It was then that she speculated, “Was he a bass, a tenor or a baritone?” Like the question, “What size sandals did Jesus take?” What is known as the scandal of particularity: the exact measurement of the Incarnation. In these words, whether said or sung, Jesus announced the opening of his public ministry. If you look at it, it could also be a description of Jesus himself. He was poor, taken captive, blindfolded, oppressed and broken hearted. We have here the same suggestion as in St. Matthew’s Gospel, “As much as you have done it to the least of my brethren, you have done it to me,” (Matt. 25:40) and on the road to Damascus , Jesus accused Paul of persecuting him when he rounded up his followers.

So we have the claim that what was done, not only to his disciples but to anyone at all, was in fact done to him. Any person suffering the agonies of humanity was Jesus himself going through that agony. It is a claim which means Jesus is not only present in the Church and in the liturgical celebrations of the paschal mystery but in the trauma and tenor of men and women everywhere. It is a mistake, then, to place the tragedies of our world now, today, outside the gracious power of the Gospel and Jesus himself. Timothy Radcliffe writes, “It is not enough to see the places of human suffering and to be a tourist of the world’s crucifixion. These are the places in which theology is to be done.” (Sing a New Song).

The dying and rising of Jesus then is not here or there, it is everywhere. There is no such place as a God-less world - a world outside the working of the Grace of God. The liturgical celebrations of Holy Week which we offer every spring time are meant to point away from the boundaries of the Sanctuary to the dying and living of humanity that aches for transformation and meaning. The power of God’s transforming grace is present both here in the church and in all places of human degradation and despair – in Steven’s work of victim support and Philip’s in the hospitals – as well as the Community’s exploration of the lonely and the lost in the Methodist Mission in Huddersfield .

It is a great joy to us that more and more folk are experiencing the “Stations of Salvation” here in our church but we must not forget the salvation of those who pour through the other stations – bus and train stations in Leeds, Bradford and Mirfield. By our prayer and small actions we can be a sign of hope and meaning in the darkness of the 21st Century. As we remember today the pain of the Holocaust victims, it is good to know that in the Jewish tradition, wherever one person shows compassion and love towards someone in distress – the Shekinah – the Glory of God hovers over that place.

My own experience of something of all of this came to me early one Easter Day. I was celebrating Mass in the hermitage of Julian of Norwich. Among the small group there was a woman who did not receive communion. Afterwards, the parish priest told me that he was fairly sure that this woman was a prostitute from King’s Street. For me this was a strange and unexpected experience of Easter morning – the presence of the sight-blinding risen Lord and the degrading misery of King’s Street – all in one place – the place where Julian lived out her life.

So Jesus, standing in the synagogue that Sabbath Day announced to the world a shattering event – the presence of the saving grace and beauty of God in the sacramental life of the church - and in the appalling agony of our world.

I would like to end with the words of a Jewish philosopher, “Every moment is a small door through which the Messiah may come.”

            Simon Holden CR