Sunday, October 25, 2015

30th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Sermon preached at the Church of All Saints, New Eltham
on Sunday, Octeober 25th, 2015

Image result for blind bartimaeus

'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God; have mercy on me, a sinner'


Seven weeks ago I was in Jericho, leading a party of pilgrims in a retreat in the Holy Land.  We thought of blind Bartimaeus as we drove through the streets of the city – one of the oldest continually inhabited in the world – and saw the sycamore tree which tradition says marks the place where, in Luke’s gospel, Zaccheus had climbed in order to see Jesus.  Bartimaeus and Zaccheus are similar in that they wanted to see: Bartimaeus wanted his sight back and Zaccheus wanted to see Jesus. 

The stories are layered with symbolic meaning and one needs to listen to them with the heart to realise what the writer is saying.  The story of Bartemaeus is recorded by all three synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – but in different ways.  Yet all have this in common: the cure of one who is blind.  But this blindness isn’t just a physical impediment; it is also, at a deeper level, a matter of inner blindness, a theme which we find St. John using.   All the gospel writers, in recounting these stories of the healing of the blind, are inviting us to consider that each of us has an inner eye which needs opening.  As S. Paul wrote in his Letter to Christians in the city of Ephesus:  

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. (Eph.1:17-20)

THE HEALING OF OUR INNER BLINDNESS

That – powerful – prayer is one we should take to heart for, as many have realised, each of us is the blind beggar who can cry out to the Lord to have our sight restored.  Have you ever done that?   Have you ever asked Jesus to open the eye of your heart to see the riches of His love for you?  If not, why not?  Just listen to what Jesus says to Bartimaeus when he hears that cry ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ (Mk.10:47).  He says: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’

What do you want me to do for you….?

That’s the question that Jesus is saying to each of us. 

And remember Bartimaeus’ answer: Let me see! 

THE JESUS PRAYER


There is another prayer which has been influenced by the cry of Bartimaeus, one known as the ‘Jesus Prayer’, remarkable in its utter simplicity: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’  This prayer, which emerged in the earliest days of Christianity, is also known as the Prayer of the Heart for it is a prayer which is to be repeated over and over again until it descends from the lips to the centre of our being.  It’s a prayer that accompanies our breathing: the phrases ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God’ are uttered as we breathe in and out – ‘have mercy on me, a sinner’.  Those words place us in the right relationship with our Lord and can profoundly move the heart to a deeper expression of faith, hope and love. 

It’s come to be called a prayer of ‘Christian Mindfullness’ but predates by centuries all forms of that practice.  Emerging from early eastern Christianity, it is a prayer which many understand to be the way in which they can fulfil what S. Paul urged us: to unceasing prayer. (I Thess.5:17)   Beginning as a vocal prayer on the lips, and often aided by the use of a Prayer Rope, those who practice it discover that it begins to descend into the heart where – in time – it then lives and so opens the eye of the heart to the Lord.  It is the prayer of Loving Regard; the Prayer of the Compassionate Heart.  The Contemplative Prayer. 

It became known in the West through ‘The Way of the Pilgrim’, a book I first came across in the 1960’s.  As the title suggests, it is the story of an unnamed Russian pilgrim who searched though many years for the answer to that profound question – how can I pray unceasingly?  Eventually he meets a staretz – a holy man – who introduces him to the practice of the Jesus Prayer which he begins to recite constantly and, over time, finds that it changes everything about his life.  Both these prayers, that for the opening of the eye of the heart and the Prayer of the Heart, have as their theme the desire to open the centre of our being to Jesus that we might be changed, transformed – converted – into the person God is making us to be. 

But there’s another aspect of this ‘seeing with the heart’ I want to consider.  For the goal of all our prayer, of the whole of our life, is to be united in the love of God. ‘Sir, we would see Jesus’ (Jn.12:21)

THE DEPARTED

Next week you will be celebrating your Patronal Festival, the Feast of All Saints; the day which commemorates all those who have attained the beatific vision in Heaven.  And then we shall remember all those Souls who have passed from this life and who await that glorious vision.  Traditionally, the month of November is dedicated to the Holy Souls with Masses said for them each day. 

Now we don’t often talk about the departed: most of us have lost loved ones and it can be a painful matter for some to have to consider death.  But, at the heart of our Faith lies this simple desire – that the soul, the essence of who we are, might one day, with all the Saints, be re-united with its Maker in the joy and wonder of heaven.  Traditionally the church has affirmed that before that glorious fulfilment there is a time of preparation.  Yet God’s time is not like ours – as the psalmist said:

To your eyes a thousand years
are like yesterday, come and gone, no more than a watch in the night. (Ps.90:4)

Christianity teaches that, when we die, we will be rewarded in accordance with our faith and our works, for ‘at the end of our days, we shall be judged by our loving.’ It may be that we need time to prepare for the final vision of God – time to be freed from the effects of our sins – and that is why we pray for the departed and offer Masses on their behalf.  Yet because we have free will we have to accept that some may not want to be united in Divine Love – in God – and may choose what we call Hell.  But, for us, heaven is to be at one in love with the Trinity and with Mary and all the Saints.  That is what Jesus opened for us by His Passion and Death and what he longs to share with us. Scripture speaks of this state in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father's house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise: "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him."  (1 Cor.2:9 cf. Is.64:4)

But these are all images – metaphors – which try to express the inexpressible.  As Peter Abelard wrote in the 12th cent. and which is particularly sung during All Saintstide:

O what their joy and their glory must be,
those endless Sabbaths the bless├Ęd ones see;
crown for the valiant, to weary ones rest:
God shall be All, and in all ever blest.
and his kingdom will have no end.

So, at our death, we may pass immediately to a life with the saints in heaven or spend time in purgatory being prepared for that life.  Or we may find ourselves in Hell, separated from God, if we have not sought to live in love.  Which is why we need to have the eye of our heart opened to see how Jesus is inviting us to respond for God desires no one to spend time in that place. 

Finally, there is the Last Judgment – that moment we affirm when, in the Creed, we proclaim that Christ
will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
The Second Coming of Christ and the final Judgment at the end of Days when, as Matthew records Jesus as saying: the damned ‘will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’ (25:46)

CONCLUSION        

Not everyone can see what we have seen nor heard the voice of the Lord nor responded with all their hearts.  Have you left instructions for your own funeral?  It is both a kind thing to do and a means of making sure that you are accorded the proper Rites of the Church.

As we ponder that encounter between Bartimaeus and Jesus may we be strengthened in our desire to see Jesus.  And may the souls of the departed, through the love and mercy of God, be brought to the glories of heaven.  

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