Posts Tagged ‘Last Supper’

A relationship that endures

May 13, 2017

Easter 5 – 2017

John 14:1-14

Marian Free

In the name of God in whom and with whom we abide both now and for eternity. Amen.

Some images stay with you forever don’t they? One that comes back to me from time to time is that of the actor Kris Marshall curled up in a baby’s cot sound asleep. Now Kris must be about six-foot tall so it is hard to believe that his character fit in the cot, let alone fell asleep, but it was a convincing enough image. The scene I am referring to comes from a British sitcom, My Family about the family of Ben Harper a dentist who is married to Susan who is a control freak who can’t cook. They have three children: dopey Nick (played by Kris Marshal), shallow Janey and clever Michael. Nick has no sense of direction and no career path. Janey is at University but is more interested in boys than study and Michael, who is much younger, is at school and is the intellectual of the family.

In the programme that I am recalling, Nick has moved out of home and Susan and Ben have been fighting over who will use his room and for what. Before they come to any agreement (which was unlikely anyway) Janey announces that she is pregnant.

From Susan’s point of view it is quite clear that now there is no question – Nick’s room must be turned into a nursery. Nick is devastated by the news. The room that he has decorated to his bizarre taste represents more than just a physical space. It’s black painted walls, black furniture and bedding are all a part of his identity. As long as the bedroom remained his bedroom there was a place for him to come home to. Irrationally, he feels that a part of his life is being taken away from him. All the warmth, security and sense of belonging that he associates with that room will disappear if it is redecorated and given over to someone else. Despite his protests, Susan is unmoved. The black paint is stripped, the black furniture removed and the black bedclothes are sent away. Susan spends the day happily painting and Ben spends the day struggling to assemble the flat pack cot.

The next morning, when Susan comes in to admire her handiwork and to complete the redecoration there, curled up in the cot, is Nick – making one final claim on his space and his place in the family. I suspect that it is because he seems so vulnerable that the image has stayed in my mind for so long.

For those who are lucky enough to have a room of their own, it can take on a special significance – it can be a place to escape to, a place in which to express oneself without fear of criticism or a place in which, surrounded by things a person loves, a place of safety.

It is no wonder that John 14 is such a popular reading and that it is the reading chosen more often than not for a funeral. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places” or as it was once translated “in my Father’s house there are many rooms.” For those of us who have had happy homes, this image appeals to our comfortable memories and provides assurance for the future and for those for whom home has never been a happy place, it is an image that holds the promise of a home that is warm, safe and secure.

The first century was vastly different from the modern world. Most families lived in one or two room homes. A room of one’s own was a luxury that only the very rich could afford. Jesus’ followers would never have known what it was to have a space that was one’s very own so it is striking that Jesus should use this image to describe the heavenly realm as a house.

Chapter 14 begins what we call Jesus’ farewell speech. In the previous chapter John describes Jesus’ last supper with the disciples. Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet, announced that one of the assembled few will betray him and Judas has gone out into the night. No doubt the disciples were already feeling a little confused and uncertain when Jesus announced not only that he was going away, but also that the disciples would not be able to go where he was going. Their relationship with Jesus has provided a sense of security and a feeling of belonging. Now this has been placed at risk. Jesus is going somewhere and they will not be able to follow.

It is little wonder that Jesus seeks to reassure the disciples that they still have a place with him: “I go to prepare a place for you,” he says. Their sense of belonging and their feelings of warmth and security are dependent, not on bricks and mortar, but on the relationship that they have with Jesus, a relationship that will not be broken or changed by his going away.

One of the dominant themes of John’s gospel is that of dwelling or remaining or abiding. The Greek word μενω (remain, dwell, abide) occurs 40 times. Jesus abides in the Father and the Father abides in the Son. Jesus says to his disciples: “abide in me as I abide in you”. In this gospel dwelling or abiding doesn’t refer to a physical space, but rather to a relationship that is so intimate and so intense that it can only be described as mutual indwelling. It is a relationship that is so close and so personal that Jesus can claim that to see him is to see God. The relationship is so intense that one cannot be separated or distinguished from the other. This is the relationship that Jesus offers to the disciples – they are to be one with him as he is one with God. They need not fear his going away because what unites them transcends time and space and knows no separation either now or in the future.

It is easy to imagine, like Nick, that our security is dependent on a particular space or a particular group of people. Jesus challenges us to see beyond the purely material to the spiritual and to find there a sense of wholeness, meaning and well-being that is not reliant on the things of this world and which endures for all eternity.

 

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God doesn’t not lose faith with us

April 8, 2017

Lent 6 – Palm Sunday, 2017

Matthew 26:14-27:66

Marian Free

In the name of God, who overlooks our faults and who restores us again and again so that we can take our part in the story. Amen.

In the latest issue of Liturgy News David Kirchhoffer reflects on the nature of sainthood. He reminds us that sainthood is not a matter of one-size fits all and that there is no simple definition that incorporates the diversity among those whom his tradition elevates to the status of saint or martyr[1]. “They all have stories, “ he comments, “their own all-too-human stories. Among the saints there are emperors and paupers, young and old, ascetics and hedonists, masters and slaves, colonizers and colonized, reformers and conservatives, and certainly more than one who, by today’s standards, probably experienced some sort of psychological disorder.” David’s point is that rather than being “shown up” by the saints, we actually find ourselves in very good company. The people who are deemed to be most holy by the church are as human and as flawed as the rest of us. Rather than making us feel inadequate and unworthy, the lives of the saints remind us that they are not so very different from us and that our faltering efforts to be holy and faithful are in fact good enough.

If we are in any doubt as to God’s ability to overlook our deficiencies, we need look no further than this morning’s gospel, which among other things is a tale of the whole world’s being at cross purposes with God. It is not only the chief priests and elders and the Roman authorities who try to destroy Jesus and his mission. It is those in Jesus’ immediate circle – his disciples and friends – who hand him over to the authorities, misunderstand their role, sleep when Jesus most needs their support, desert him, deny him and leave him alone to face trial and death.

Of course, not all of the characters in this account are numbered among the saints, but twelve of the those in the drama are Jesus’ most intimate friends, those with whom he has shared the highs and lows of his mission, those whom he has authorized to preach and teach and heal and those whom he has prepared to continue on his work after he has gone. These are the men with whom Jesus has chosen to spend what may be his last night on earth, those with whom he will share the most significant evening on the Jewish calendar. Without exception each of the twelve will let Jesus down before the night is out and yet Jesus refuses to condemn them or to exclude even Judas from the company.

Judas, who, even before the preparations for the dinner had begun, had received thirty pieces of silver to hand Jesus over to the authorities. Judas who, when Jesus announces at the meal that one of the disciples will hand him over, reveals what it is that sets him apart from the other disciples[2]. Whereas the eleven address Jesus as “Lord”, Judas addresses Jesus only as“Rabbi” (teacher). Jesus knows that it is Judas who will hand him over to the authorities and yet when he says: “Take eat, this is my body”, he places the bread in Judas’ hands. When he says: “This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for the forgiveness of sins,” Judas is not excluded from the covenant or from the promise of forgiveness.

Jesus knows that despite Peter’s protestations to the contrary, Peter will deny him – not once but three times. Even so Peter too is given the bread and the wine – Jesus’ body and Jesus’ blood. Of the eleven who remain with Jesus after the meal, not one will find the strength to stay awake with Jesus even though Jesus has shared with them that he is “grieved unto death”. Still, on this, his last night on earth, Jesus will share with them his very self and he will do so lovingly, not reproachfully, with grace and not with disappointment. Jesus knows their limitations. Before it comes to pass he knows how each will respond to the events of the night but he does not abandon them as they will abandon him.

Of these twelve, men who made promises that they failed to keep, all but Judas are included among the saints. Far from being ideals of holiness, courage and piety they are revealed as men who have feet of clay, who put their own safety before their loyalty to Jesus and who flee at the first sign of danger. They have said that they would die with Jesus but they cannot even stay awake, let alone accompany him on the journey to the cross.

Betrayal, abandonment and even opposition are the tools that God uses to turn arrest, false accusations, torture and death into something extraordinary and marvelous – Jesus’ resurrection, the defeat of death. Even though by human standards the disciples have failed not only as disciples but also as friends, they are not censured, punished or rejected. After the resurrection, it is as if God had not even noticed their cowardice, their desire for self-preservation and their failure to keep their word. Instead of condemning them for their lack of loyalty and their abandonment of Jesus, God not only restores and elevates them and gives to them the task of taking up what Jesus has been forced to leave off – preaching the good news of the kingdom.

As God overlooked the flaws and inadequacies of the disciples so too God will overlook our weaknesses, our lack of self-confidence and our tentative efforts to serve.

Though we lose faith in God, God will never lose faith in us, but will raise us up time and time again so that we too will have our place in God’s on-going story.

 

[1] Liturgy News is a publication of the Roman Catholic of Brisbane.

[2] I am indebted to Judith Jones whose commentary on the gospel was challenging and insightful. http://www.workingpreacher.or


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