Brief Encounters

A friend of mine once wrote a series of plays based on memorable stories from the Bible. He called it ‘Brief Encounters.’ In these brief encounters he helped both actor and audience to see that these stories though centuries old, have an enduring quality to them.

These brief encounters came to mind because in these days of Easter, Jesus’ resurrection appearances are often brief encounters.They are mysterious and intriguing with an enduring quality that makes us stop and think time and again.

This evening is one example when Jesus meets some of the disciples through a brief encounter on the road to Emmaus. It’s a passage I know well, I chose it as the Gospel for when I began my ministry as a parish priest.

It spoke to me then and still does about how we might make Christ known.

How we should come along alongside people and listen, just as Jesus did.
How we should share our stories and talk to help make sense of this life, just as Jesus did.
Of how we meet Jesus the breaking of bread and of how ‘hearts’ are ‘burning within us’ when we meet Jesus along the way.

I could talk about any one of these this evening but instead I want to spend this time reflecting on some other words from the reading, ‘their eyes were kept from recognising him.’

I’ve always been puzzled by the mystery that surrounds the resurrection appearances. For in these brief encounters it’s clear that Jesus has changed.He is unrecognizable to people who knew him well. But then something happens, a word, an action and they know. Why though all this mystery?
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Goodbye and Hello with my Dad as guide

Alleluia Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

It will come as no surprise to you that these words have taken on fresh significance for me this year. Words that proclaim Christ’s victory over death.

Faced as I have been with the death of my Dad I’ve been left asking fresh questions about the resurrection. About what it means for me and what difference it makes as I say goodbye to someone who has helped shape the person I am today.

That saying goodbye has taken place over the last months of his life. Sometimes that goodbye was spoken of and at other times it was observed.

Though he was still Dad bit by bit, day by day we said goodbye; to conversations once had about all sorts of things, to his laughter and smile, to his mobility and appetite for both food and life.

It wasn’t easy journey but it never is, as so many of you know having walked alongside loved ones as they’ve come to their final days.

It is the hardest thing in life to say goodbye to those whom we love most something Mary, Jesus’ mother knew as she stood at the foot of the cross to say goodbye to her son.

We can only imagine her anguish and pain though we know something of it through goodbyes we have had to say.

Yet even if you’ve not said goodbye to a loved one recently, we all know there are times in our life when we say goodbye.

Perhaps to a relationship, to a child leaving home, to a job, to a school, to not being as young as we were, to hair in my case. Goodbye is part of life.

Yet what the story of my life has taught me thus far is that though there are goodbyes, the God in whom I believe in is one who offers us hellos too.
Indeed on this day we celebrate and give thanks for the God who reveals through the resurrection of Jesus Christ that goodbye is not the last word we shall say. For goodbye leads to hello.

And God’s hellos sometimes arrive in surprising ways. Scrapbooks for example, something that my Mum is a great compiler of. Through them I have remembered afresh the story of our life with Dad. They have been a hello amidst the goodbyes. Helping us rediscover the man who led such a rich and full life.

There are hellos amidst goodbyes in the Easter Story too. Mary Magdalene, and Mary head to the tomb of Jesus, it was part of their saying goodbye. Perhaps they chatted on the way, they remembered the good times their tears were tempered by laughter.

They arrive to ‘see the stone rolled back.’ The angel serves as God’s hello ‘He has been raised; he is not here.’ What were they to make of it ‘terror and amazement’ seizes them and they are ‘afraid.’

‘He is not here.’ My Dad has died. His body is still here, yet I believe, I know that ‘he is not here.’

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Into the wilderness

“My castaway this week…”

Even if you’re not a fellow radio 4 addict, I guess many of you recognised that as the opening of Desert Island Discs. First broadcast in 1942, it’s basically a clever way of finding out about someone’s life.

The premise is that the interviewee is cast away alone on an island with only 7 pieces of music, a couple of books and a luxury for company.

If there’s time at the end, the interviewer asks, “How do you think you would cope on the island?” Some discuss practical skills, but the more perceptive guests wonder about the solitude.

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The tree of the knowledge of good and evil

“There was a young man of Hong Kong

who thought limericks far too long…”

Some of you are smiling…either you’re humouring me, or you just did something very clever. You recognised that was a limerick – a silly sort of poem – then recognised it was only part of a limerick – and saw that the humour was in it being a parody of a limerick. Brilliant!

We do it all the time – we use type of language, length of lines, how it’s arranged on a page, to recognise what kind of literature we’re reading…and so how to respond. I guess you’re not wondering who the man from Hong Kong was, why he thought limericks too long, whether this should affect your view of limericks…you just enjoyed the joke – or didn’t.

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Choral Evensong Sermon

What made them wise?

Perhaps they were men of learning.   Professors of their day who devoted themselves to learning.

Perhaps they were mystics.    People who spent a lot of time in silence, thinking and praying.

Perhaps they were wise because they didn’t have their heads solely buried in books, or lived with their eyes closed and who lived Isaiah’s words from our first reading and lifted up their eyes and looked around.

It was just as well for when they looked around they learned of the star.   Whatever the answer to what made them wise, these days of Christmas draw to a close with their story.

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Sermon – The Baptism of Christ

It was summer.   A few mates who had worked together were going on holiday to Cornwall.   They were travelling in an old Ford Escort.   The journey didn’t last long for almost as soon as they joined the M6 the car was involved in an accident.   Thankfully they all survived, a little shaken, a memory they would not forget.   It was a near death experience.

This morning we heard of another near death experience in our Gospel, the baptism of Christ.   The scene is set.   Jesus steps into the river and John pushes him under the water.   If he’d stayed there, his lungs would have filled with water and he would have died.   Yet John pulled him out and his ministry began.

Our own Zach Higgins had a similar near death experience off the East Coast when he was baptised in the North Sea last year.   Then we did plunge him (his father said I had a look of glee on my face) under the water, we pulled him out a little breathless by the whole experience.

Being baptised should be dangerous.   It is a near death experience.

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‘In the fullness of time…’ a sermon for Christmas 1

Today’s reading contains the earliest version of the Christmas story – from Paul’s letter to the Galatians – almost certainly written before any of the gospels.

“When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman’.

Compared to John’s poetry, or Luke’s story telling, it’s a bit tame. It wouldn’t make much of a nativity play – in fact it’s easy to miss altogether.

“When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman’.

Actually, ‘God sent his Son, born of a woman’, sums up incarnation pretty well …but it’s the phrase, ‘in the fullness of time’ that’s stuck with me.

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Christmas Morning – Has anyone seen the baby Jesus?

With 4 different Christmas plays in rehearsal– and performance dates looming, that question often rang around school in the run up to Christmas. Each class had their own angels, shepherds, aliens (it’s amazing who gets into the Christmas story these days), but we shared the baby Jesus – a doll from the reception classroom.

Well we could hardly use a real baby…but it was rather ironic that the star of the show was so completely passive that he was frequently mislaid.

If we’re not careful though, it’s not only in school nativities that we reduce God incarnate to a passive object…very precious…but an object never-the-less.

Think of crib sets – often delicate as well as beautiful – unwrapped lovingly, set out on a shelf out of reach of small hands – admired, then wrapped up again just as lovingly and put away for another year.

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