23 March 2012

‘Receive all who need human love and fellowship’

Nicodemus helps with the burial of Christ

Patrick Comerford

Friday 23 March 2012,

8.30 a.m., The Eucharist

Jeremiah 26: 8-11; Psalm 34: 15-22; John 7: 1-2, 10, 25-30.

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Our Old Testament and Gospel readings have been chosen in the Church of Ireland Daily Lectionary this morning because they offer parallels between the plots against Jeremiah and against Jesus, leading eventually to arrest, condemnation and death.

It is interesting how, despite the efforts of the authorities at this stage of the Gospel story, we are told “no one had laid hands on him.”

In many ways, your challenge as priests is going to be to help people to lay hands on Jesus.

You will want to teach them to lay hands on the Gospel, so that the Word of God becomes theirs. You will want them to hold the Gospels so tightly in their hands that, in the words of that well-loved collect, they learn “to read mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the Gospels, and make them their own.

Inwardly digest?

Gospel-greedy people?

Gobbling up Scripture?

It is a wonderful image.

And you will want to administer the sacrament to them, not as an arcane ritual that the holy huddle remain behind after “mangled Matins,” but as the bread of life and our spiritual drink … for the whole people of God, so that we truly realise that we being many are one body, for we all share in the one bread.

Time and again you have realised in the past, and time and again, I hope, you will realise that Christ has “laid hands” on you, has grabbed hold of, has made you a prisoner for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

And when you go to parishes as curates, it matters not whether your parish is your first, second or third choice today.

What matters is whether Christ has grabbed hold of you, and you are grabbing hold of Christ. We are here not to serve ourselves but to serve the Kingdom of God and those who are being called into that Kingdom.

Perhaps you might like to keep in mind that prayer of Thomas Ken (1637-1711), Bishop of Bath and Wells, inscribed on the door of Saint Stephen’s Wallbrook in London:

O God, make the door of this house wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship; narrow enough to shut out all envy pride and strife, Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling block to children nor straying feet, but rugged and strong enough to turn back the tempter's power. God make the door of this house the gateway to thine eternal kingdom. Amen.

At our Community Eucharist on Wednesday evening, [the Revd] Colin [McConaghie] was talking about the conversation in the dark between Christ and Nicodemus (John 3: 14-21).

There are two other references to Nicodemus in this Gospel. One comes later in the chapter we have been reading from this morning – it’s the Gospel reading for tomorrow morning (John 7: 40-52).

From someone who is questioning first of all, and is so afraid that he comes to talk to Christ in the dark, Nicodemus moves on in this chapter to becoming someone brave enough to speak up against the plot to arrest Jesus.

And then, in Chapter 19, Nicodemus comes to anoint the body of Christ after he has been taken down from the Cross.

So, perhaps you can identify with that development of the faith and discipleship of Nicodemus – from fear and questioning, to bravery and speaking up, to acting and wanting to hold for himself the Body of Christ. Do you recognise in that your own journey?

Sometimes, when I have taken hold of the Holy Communion, both presiding and as a recipient, I find myself kissing my hands afterwards. To hold the Body of Christ, as Nicodemus does, is, paradoxically, both an awesome and a liberating experience, not just tinged but filled with love.

Has Christ taken hold of you?

Be in awe of him.

Have you taken hold of Christ?

Be freed.

Do not worry this afternoon about which rectors or parishes did not place you on their list. If you have Christ at the top of your list, and know that Christ has you at the top of his list – for it is he who calls you – then all is going to be well.

Love the call, love the journey, love God’s people, love Christ, and know that Christ loves you. And then, in the words of Julian of Norwich, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This reflection was shared at the early morning Eucharist in the institute chapel on 23 March 2012.

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