Sunday 27 December 2009: CR Chapel (former Refectory).
St John: Exod 33:7-11. I John 1. St John 21: 19b-25.
(St John 21:21)
When Peter saw John, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him ?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what it that to you? Follow me.”
In the Bible it is assumed that a personal relationship with God is possible but not many people seem to have had the close relationship which Moses had, according to the lesson from Exodus which we heard at Mattins. “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exod 33:11).
Of course, our Lord did. In the gospels we read how he sometimes withdrew from his active ministry of teaching and healing to pray. Sometimes he spent whole nights in prayer. He knew that the Father heard him always (John 11:45) and he wanted to share this relationship with his disciples. He taught, encouraged and told them to pray. Whatever he heard from the Father he shared with them (John 15:15). In the reading we have heard from his first letter, St John speaks of the wonder of this: “This life was revealed and we have seen it and testify to it and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us, so that you may have fellowship with us and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
Today, all who have been baptised have been received into that fellowship, which is the Church. We have been received into the congregation of Christ’s flock - made members of his Body - and we have undertaken to be his followers until our life’s end.
The purpose of the devil is to spoil this relationship. Like St Peter we are tempted to take our eyes off Jesus. “Lord, what about this man? What about this woman? What about my next holiday? What about this or that we are worried about?” Jesus says to us: “What is that to you? Follow me.”
So what does following Him mean in the context of Christmas? I suggest that it means loving Him. Loving Him means giving ourselves to Him as He gives Himself to us. For the Incarnation is not just something which happened 2000 years ago. There is an eternal side to it – it is still happening today. It happens at this service. The Word was made flesh. The Word is made flesh. That is the good news of the gospel – what God has done and is still doing.
Evelyn Underhill writes: ‘The primary declaration of Christianity is not “This do” but “This happened”, indeed is happening still, since the path of the Incarnation remains open and Christ lives and acts in His Body - the Church - and gives himself in its sacraments’ (Mursell p 424). He gives Himself to you and to me, that we may give ourselves to Him and the religious life is one way of doing it.
It has to be a way of life, by which the Word is made flesh in you and me. We do it every time we come to Mass. “Here we offer and present unto Thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies to be …a living sacrifice…”
Following Jesus means praying and Jesus had to learn to pray; so do we. We are still learning. I am, anyway. No doubt our Lady taught him. When we ask her to teach us, she does: “Behold the servants of the Lord, be it unto us according to your Word.” Not many of us (and not very often) do we have the experience our late brother David Downton sometimes had, which he described as “getting through to God.” Most of us, most of the time, walk by faith and not by sight. Yet we want to love Him. We want to do His will. The desire and longing is the important thing.
Then the Word is made flesh. He accepts us – unites us with Himself and with one another. He gives himself to us to live and love and work to the glory of God and for the salvation of the world. Thanks be to God.
Timothy Stanton CR