The candle of peace

Our Peace Candle has started its now annual way around our 3 Churches homes. Please sign the list in your church if you wish to be part of its journey. Here is a message from Fr Rob Esdaile to help our thoughts…

God is love – the fundamental Gospel message. Jesus refused to hate his enemies, to retaliate or to seek their destruction. For 300 years nearly all Christians took these two truths for granted, until Constantine lifted the Church out of persecution and set it on the road to power. And then the cross gradually took on the shape of a weapon in many people’s eyes.

Today the Church is no longer needed by secular power as a prop. That frees us to articulate a different vision; no longer as guardians of a ‘Just War’ but as prophets of a ‘Just Peace’. That requires, firstly, our own conversion of heart. Next it means reaching beyond the rhetoric of conflict to try to hear the real hopes and fears of our opponents and to identify what we have in common. Then initiatives to promote dialogue must follow, with measures which can ‘de-escalate’ tensions and resolve disputes, learning both from recent conflict resolution processes and from our own Christian tradition of peacemaking. And through all of this must run an effort to articulate a vision of the sort of people we want to be and the sort of world we wish to create: how can we make it easier to live together in harmony?

The vision is a radical one, a new style of politics, as Pope Francis has said. The transformation won’t be easy, but it’s the only path which offers hope to our divided world. There are many others who are already committed to this new way, in organisations such as the international Catholic Peace Movement, Pax Christi, groups which have already developed training and techniques for those who dare to believe that another way is possible. But our greatest resource is the message and example of Jesus, calling us to love our enemies and to walk the way of peace together. In that sign we have our victory.

Fr Matthew

Behold…

In today’s Gospel we watch St John the Baptist as he points Jesus out to the people. He declares “Look, there is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world”.

We are, of course, very familiar with these words, or ones very similar, as they have entered the Mass itself, before Holy Communion. We say them first as the priest breaks the host, and then we hear them again as he invites us to come forward to receive Jesus. It is believed that the words have been part of the Mass since at least the year 700.

So it is clear that this proclamation by St John touches something very deep in our understanding of and love for Our Lord. All the more strange then, that scholars have been discussing for many many years what exactly they mean. The problem is that lambs are mentioned in many different contexts in the Old Testament. One scholar outlined no fewer than eight different possible references elsewhere in the Scriptures to lambs that may have a bearing on these famous words. To which one – or ones – is St John drawing our attention by using them to describe Jesus?

As is often the case, perhaps we should look not to scholars but to the arts to help us. Take music – the words of the Mass have inspired many of the greatest composers. The way they set the “Lamb of God” or “Agnus Dei” often reaches the heights of beauty. Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, Verdi’s Requiem, Palestrina’s Masses and many others offer us an alternative way into these mysterious words.

Painters also have created masterpieces on this theme. Van Eyck’s great alterpiece in Ghent is centered on the Lamb of God. The Spanish painter Zurbaran created an unforgettable image of the slain Lamb. (Just search “Ghent altarpiece Lamb of God” or “Zurbaran Lamb of God” to take a look.) Words such as these can touch us in a way that goes deeper than human words… So do not let them slip past in a kind of “Iammagod” way, Say or sing them with faith and let them linger in your heart.

“Look, there is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world”.

Fr Matthew

Jesus revealed

This year Christmas falling on a Sunday affects the other feasts of the season. As the Epiphany is now celebrated on a Sunday, which is now two weeks away from Christmas, it replaces the Baptism of the Lord, which is transferred to Monday. So these two feasts when we remember how Our Lord was shown forth to the world, first through the (gentile) Wise Men at Bethlehem and thirty years later at the River Jordan, fall together. In fact in former centuries they were celebrated as one feast, one celebration of the revealing of Jesus.

Here is poet Malcolm Guite’s sonnet reflection on the Baptism, which he nicely calls “Epiphany on the Jordan”

Beginning here we glimpse the Three-in-one;
The river runs, the clouds are torn apart,
The Father speaks, the Spirit and the Son
Reveal to us the single loving heart
That beats behind the being of all things
And calls and keeps and kindles us to light.
The dove descends, the spirit soars and sings
‘You are belovèd, you are my delight!’

In that quick light and life, as water spills
And streams around the Man like quickening rain,
The voice that made the universe reveals
The God in Man who makes it new again.
He calls us too, to step into that river
To die and rise and live and love forever.

Fr Matthew