Easter Sermon 2014
Picture the last supper. You are Jesus. Around the table are the motley crew of people who have attached themselves to you. Maybe you don’t like some of them. Maybe they’re not all that keen on you, but something makes them stick. You know that some of them plot behind your back. You know that some of them jostle for the place of deputy. Some of them have mammies and possibly daddies who are not above trying to get favours for their little darlings. They say one thing to your face, and something else behind your back. Some of them do the dirty on you. And all of them dissolve into thin air when the going gets tough. There is something of Satan in them all.
This, girls and boys, is us. In a few minutes time we will kneel at the altar and share in the holy mysteries. Next to you will be someone in one or more of those categories—and so are you.
Get over it. Getting over it is resurrection.
Forgiveness is resurrection. Put the past behind you. Don’t forget, but rather learn from whatever happened. If we do not forgive, we hurt ourselves more than we hurt the person we think has offended us.
Imagination is resurrection. Think how things could be better. Think what might increase the amount of delight in the world and work for it. Work, that is, from where we are, not from where we would like to be, or where we used to be. This means beginning by taking stock of reality.
Breaking down barriers is resurrection. We spend our lives building our own tombs, constructing them from the inside.
- We’re careful about how we seem to our friends – Facebook is designed for life in the tombs.
- We’re careful not to think too much or too deeply about anything, especially about ourselves and who we are.
- We’re careful not to say too much or to show our thoughts.
- We kid ourselves that we’re making ourselves safe as we build our tomb stone by stone. Stones of possessions, attitudes, notions, postures, bank balances, club memberships, prejudices. Then when we put the last stone in place, we reach that moment when we feel completely safe. Smug. We cut out the last ray of light from the outside, and we sit in the artificial light of the windowless room. There we stay, physically alive and spiritually dead.
- We shut ourselves off from life and from the Divine. We inclose ourselves in our own fat. We are so careful about controlling our lives that we exclude everything and everybody.
Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. Two different sorts of life: one risk free but spiritually dead, the other vulnerable and risky but alive. Like standing on the top of Everest and shouting ‘I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive!’ This is the real me living life to the full.
Resurrection is about breaking down barriers. The chick smashes its way through the shell. Nobody can see the light if you hide it. Nobody can see it unless you smash the pot it’s in. As we demolish barriers, we will feel vulnerable. When we are most vulnerable we are most in touch with, and completely safe in, the Divine. Some of you think I talk too much about death. That pleases me, for the main job of the priest is to prepare people for death. It’s good to get to the end of life feeling that it’s been one hell of a ride.
And that’s perhaps the best way of looking at resurrection: making life one hell of a ride. A very happy Easter to you all.
In the last 15 years we’ve moved six times, chucking out each time. But then we accumulate more, and it’s not from parents for they were dead 20 years ago. Before we die we’ll likely as not be in a two up, two down, and we’re chucking out now.
I can’t speak for her indoors—wouldn’t dare, though I know she finds it painful (‘books are my friends’), but I think it liberating to see the back of stuff I don’t need any more. There’s nothing like a bonfire.
Take my books. Over the years I’ve collected a vast number. Lots of them signified a club I thought I wanted to belong to: organ building, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit (how stupid is that?), a bit of philosophy, theology, medicine of course, embryology. Organ and piano music too. When I was a teenager and wanted to be a cathedral organist I stocked up on all sorts of music. I look through the library and think ‘I’ve never touched that in the last 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years; I’m not likely to in the next 20 if I live that long (family history not encouraging there), so out it goes.
And it has. I’m very grateful for the ‘ministry’ of Sue Ryder, theological colleges and musical friends. I’ve kept stuff that interested me when I was a child (zoology), music that I could well get round to playing, and books that speak of beauty and that I might find useful (some theology). But that’s all.
The question is: why did I want to belong to those clubs? Why do we want to join sports clubs or golf clubs (I’m not old enough to play golf) or drinking clubs or backslapping clubs where we stitch up local business to our own advantage? Is it because we feel we have no identity unless we are part of a mob? The story we read on Palm Sunday says a good deal about the mob.
Maybe it’s because we become infected by a demon. Back in the fourth century AD Evagrios the Solitary wrote that the demons that fight us in the front line are those entrusted with the appetites of gluttony, those that suggest avaricious thoughts, and those (worst of all) that incite us to seek the esteem of men. I think it’s the last one that makes us want to join clubs: the craving for recognition by those whose recognition is not worth having. He knew a thing or two did Evagrios the Solitary.
Out goes the rubbish. Maybe I’ll end up sanyassi.
The project is administered by the Vincentian Fathers and hosts a variety of youth groups and activities for children and teens. I’ll be working alongside staff of the school teaching English in the morning then running, jumping and playing with the children in the afternoons. Funds raised will be used to cover costs of room and board with any extra used to provide materials for the community centre.
Click here if you’d like to support with a donation.
There is a tide in the affairs of men that results in dreams of foreboding and inadequacy. I’m back at school. I have the life experience I have now, but I’m full of anxiety about having to repeat A levels. Especially Physics. Or I’m back at medical school aged 63, required to sit final exams again and knowing that I never grasped biochemistry in the first place so there’s no chance now. Pharmacology too.
The psyche takes a long time to catch up with the rational mind, so dreams like this are to be expected as the brain rids itself of stuff that’s past its sell-by date. Bewilderment. Wilderness. I wondered at first if this was my psychopathology. And then I discovered Smirnoff. Well, actually, I started to tell a friend, but before I’d got to the end of the first sentence, he interrupted and finished it for me. He was having them too, and had been for ages. And then another and another friend tell me much the same. It’s good to know I’m not psychotic. *
Whatever else these dreams may be, they’re not irrelevant. All our lives are governed by attitudes and ways of thinking that develop when we’re in our prime. Decades later circumstances have changed, and so it’s often inappropriate to let those same attitudes govern how we think or respond. With a bit of luck, I can give them up for lent. At first I was disturbed by the dreams, but now I look forward each night to the next instalment of the soap opera.
There’s a scene in Shadowlands, the film of Joy Gresham’s romance with C S Lewis, where Lewis meets one of his former pupils, now a teacher. In the course of a brief conversation, the former pupil quoted his father: ‘we read to know we’re not alone.’ We talk and listen to know we’re not alone, too. It’s reassuring and affirming to hear ‘that’s just how I see it too’. Knowing that you’re not alone gives you courage to stick to your guns.
Do you think men talk enough about inner stuff?
* Neurotics build castles in the air, psychotics live in them, psychiatrists collect the rent.
People from three C of I dioceses met today at the Emmaus Centre in Swords, County Dublin, to discuss sexuality. I’m not sure why. Simply exchanging views perhaps. The dioceses involved were Connor (north-east Ulster including much of Belfast), Kilmore, Elphin & Ardagh (north central Ireland including Cavan and Sligo) and this diocese (the ‘sunny’ south east). There was a wide spread of opinion, since it’s a fairly reliable rule of thumb that in the C of I south is liberal and north conservative. Here are some thoughts.
- Some people don’t believe in evolution, one giving as justification the ‘fact’ we don’t have tails. He was serious. Does he know that at a certain stage of embryonic development, we do have tails?
- Some think the Bible to have been ‘written by God’.
- Some take the first creation story literally: ‘Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve’ – yes someone actually said that, but are silent about whether Adam was one rib short after surgery.
- One person was ignorant of the facts of biology and was determined to remain so. I enjoyed, though, discussing with a farmer the ways that cows and bulls play with each other’s genitals.
- Many felt that of St Paul’s list of sins in 1 Corinthians 6, one—homosexuality (a dubious translation but the one that was used)—should be taken seriously, while others could be glossed over. This is probably just as well since the list includes greed, and there were plenty posh cars in the car park and fat people in the room. As for others on Paul’s list, for robbers think bankers and for slanderers think gossiping after services. And as for church members resorting to law to settle disputes, which Paul hammers, you wouldn’t believe what goes on if I told you.
The conference took place on the day gay marriage became legal in England and Wales. The Bishop of Buckingham, a courageous man, is reported as having said that several English bishops are in civil partnerships, but have not admitted it publicly. So much for honesty there.
Members of the Church of Ireland have a choice. They could continue as now, some of them convinced that they alone know the mind of God, and spitting venom at people who disagree with them. Or they could accept that there will never be agreement, that what consenting adults do with their bodies to express loving and faithful commitment is no business of anyone but those involved, and deal instead with stuff that really matters: economic evil, exploitation, greed, avarice, and spiritual wickedness in high places.
A day wasted, and at my age I can’t afford any more of them.
Once upon a time a humble and hard-working professor lived in Rathgar, south Dublin. He worked at the College of Knowledge on Stephen’s Green in town. He was cycling home. Pedestrian crossing lights on Camden Street turned red as he approached. There was nobody waiting to cross, so he did what any self-respecting cyclist would do: he powered on.
Just then, a car pulled out of a side street and turned in front of him. The passenger admonished him with a digital gesture. Again, he did what any what any self-respecting cyclist would do: when he judged the car to be far enough in front to give its occupants a good view of him in the rear-view mirror—all of him, the teeth, the whole personality—he gave them the finger. Swivel. The car screeched to a halt and two trolls leapt out and yanked the professor and his velocipede* to a stop.
We’re Gardai and you’ve gone through red lights. This was said in what might be described as a rural accent.
Now, the car was a bit of a jalopy. No sign of its being provided by the State to law enforcement officers. The two men were tall, lean, mean, early 30s, Ireland’s finest, but nothing to indicate that they’d been brainwashed by a Templemore formation. So when they said they were Gardai the professor thought, ‘huh, a likely story’ and said …
Please show me your warrant card.
All hell broke loose. You’re on a charge, said they.
For not stopping at red lights. The professor had dissed ‘Gardai’ too, but let’s pass on that.
Please show me your warrant cards, the professor repeated.
What’s your name? they retorted.
My name is ‘Daidí na Nollag’ (the professor gave his proper name, of course, but for reasons of anonymity this can’t be revealed).
Where are you from?
Now, the professor was getting cross. He thought it none of anyone’s business where he was from, and it was obvious from his accent that he was not a native of the ‘pluralist’ republic whose constitution begins ‘In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity’. He’d had enough over the years of snide remarks about English people taking jobs that an Irish person could have had, so he answered a question that had not been asked: I live in Rathgar, said he.
They repeated their question. He repeated his response. They were livid, jumping up and down like trolls that live under bridges. They took the professor’s name and address and did the equivalent of stomping off in high dudgeon in their car in the direction of Harcourt Street Garda station. No warrant card was ever produced, so whether or not they were what they said they were the professor will never know.
The professor heard no more, and they all lived happily ever after.
* As Rambling Rector was writing this piece, he asked SWMBO to clarify the meaning of this word, and she replied: ‘a dinosaur I think’.
Nigel and I were discussing spooky events. He was telling me that people he once knew popped into his mind for no apparent reason, and shortly afterwards he heard that they’d died. I was remarking on how often I’d felt compelled to contact people who came into my mind, only to find that they were having a really tough time. This was particularly so for family members.
Normal electrical activity in the brain influences the environment to the extent that if you put electrodes on someone’s head, you can pick up brain waves more than 5 mm away. So, if someone is experiencing extreme emotions, could it be possible for the intense electrical brain activity to affect the physical environment? Does this account for poltergeist activity?
I’ve never knowingly encountered poltergeist activity, even though I’m convinced things move after I’ve put them down, but I’ve listened to several people who witnessed such phenomena and whose word or sanity I have no reason to doubt.
Imagine two particles (electrons, say) from same source. Now let them be separated by a large distance. If the ‘spin’ of one of them is changed, the ‘spin’ of the other changes—even though the particles are so far apart that any information passing from one to the other would need to travel faster than the speed of light. You might say it would have to travel infinitely fast.
Quantum physics demands phenomena like this that operate external to time (e-ternal, ec-stasis), or at least ignore time as they ignore distance. Niels Bohr, one of the developers of quantum theory, is reputed to have said ‘anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it’.
Can anyone understand what’s going on?
If all humans came from one, or a few, ancestors, then we share particles from the same source. The notion that what affects one affects all is then by no means unlikely. Every one of us carries around material from the primeval soup: nucleic acids, elements, electrons, quarks or whatever. The notion that what affects one affects all is then by no means unlikely. Perhaps this is why dogs know when you’re upset.
Think twice about swatting a fly: it might be intimately connected to you in ways that you can’t imagine.
Albert Einstein played the violin, and his cousin Alfred (a respected musician and musicologist) accompanied him on the piano. After one session, Alfred chided his cousin, saying ‘the trouble with you, Albert, is that you have no sense of time’. A good story, but piffle.