Sunday, 19 June 2016

Week 12 Sunday (Year C)

Readings: Zechariah 12:10-11, 13:1; Psalm 62; Galatians 3:26-29; Luke 9:18-24

The readings are short and yet manage to embrace the Great Story, from Abraham to Armageddon. The mourning mentioned in the first reading, following the death of the good king Josiah, takes place at Hadad-Rimmon, in the Plain of Megiddo, or Armageddon. By belonging to Christ, Paul says, you are children of Abraham, heirs of the promise made to him.

Those who believe in the God of Israel find the meaning of their lives, therefore, within this Great Story. This is because the question of Jesus which is first framed in the third person - who do people say I am? - is then made in the second person - who do you say I am? And it has always been understood that that question is put, not just to the apostles and first disciples of Jesus, but to everyone. What is your position on Jesus of Nazareth? Who is he? What is the meaning of his teaching? What is the meaning of his death? And what are the implications of your answers?

It seems at first as if this Great Story is marked chiefly by mourning and loss. They will mourn for the one whom they have pierced as people mourn for a first-born child. The Son of Man is destined to suffer, be rejected, and put to death. The one who saves his life will lose it and the one who loses his life for my sake will find it. There is a lot of loss and mourning in life, it is true, but these are not the last words about this human experience. A spirit of kindness and prayer is abroad along with the mourning of Hadad-Rimmon: a fountain is opened in the heart of Jerusalem, to purify. The Son of Man will be raised on the third day: a mysterious promise whose meaning is clear only after that great and unexpected event.

How do we know that the last words about this human experience are joy and peace rather than mourning and loss? Well, this is our faith and our hope. These are the channels by which we know this. All who have 'clothed themselves in Christ', and have associated themselves with the Only Son, have come into possession of this knowledge. Jesus spoke 'to all of them', so all of them, all of us, are the direct targets of his question and of his teaching: 'if anyone wishes to come after me'. We enter into possession of this knowledge and begin to live this way of life through being baptised - specifically, through repentance for our sins, baptism, and the gift of faith.

Jesus is not only the pioneer of our faith, he is also our companion on the way. He has not only gone ahead of us but is with us each day (since he asks us to take up our cross 'daily'). Belonging to Christ then makes us children of Abraham, Paul says. Abraham's faith led him to give up, at God's command, what was most precious. Christ's teaching is simply the same: be prepared to give up what is most precious, be prepared to lose your life for his sake and then you will find your true life. If you do this, then you are following along behind him and he is guiding your steps. Such an adventure, such freedom in letting things go, is only possible because we already see the fruit that such self denial can bear (if only we could persevere in it). In any case we are sustained in this journey because we believe in a God who can even raise the dead (restore sinners to grace, heal the sick, cast out demons).

The life of the place to which this following of Christ leads us is characterised by kindness and prayer (translated also as 'grace and petition'). We see this kindness and prayer already in the way Jesus deals with his apostles and disciples: the air he breathes is a divine air, always kind, always within prayer (his union with the Father). Today's psalm fills out the portrait of life in the kingdom of Christ, this life of kindness and of prayer: 'my lips will speak your praise, I will bless you all my life, in your name I will lift up my hands, you have been my help, your right hand holds me fast'.

We know from the experience of Christ that the seed sown in kindness and prayer bears much fruit. Our faith is only 'kept' by sowing it in all the ways and days of our lives. This is the new creation, born not without blood, and growing ever stronger in the hearts of those who continue to gaze on the One we have pierced.

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