Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Complete Joy

A Homily for Holy Communion on Thursday, 10th of May, 2012, 9 a.m. for the Sisters of the Love of God Fairacres Priory, Oxford John 15:9-11 Complete Joy + Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, alleluia. Perhaps you have been to Ireland? I went in 1986, and loved it. It was the year my maternal grandmother died, and I went to stay with one of her brothers, in their birthplace in Co. Leitrim, “the smallest, poorest, and wettest” county in Ireland. One of the places we visited was a little cafĂ© in Mohill, whose proprietor was a Christian of the kind who liked to adorn his place of work with the kind of cutesy posters you often used to see on the bedroom walls of evangelical students at the time – kittens, and ducklings, appearing appealingly alongside an improving text from the Bible, or some Christian classic. One time, I quoted one of them, in my amateurish way, in an essay for Rowan Williams, “faith isn’t faith until it’s the only thing you’re hanging onto”; when he marked it, he wrote in the margin, in his small, neat, but authoritative, hand, “I think you’ll find it’s St John of the Cross”. Another I recall said simply “the surest sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit, is joy”. How are we to discover this joy, especially in times of adversity, when joy seems the furthest thing from our hearts? One of the things I have learnt lately is how to arrange a funeral. I’ve taken scores, maybe hundreds, of funeral services, but never had to arrange one before. At one stage there were five different diaries to reconcile – and that was even before asking the family. One of the hardest things was informing old friends of my parents that my father had died. My mother’s oldest friend is a greyhound trainer. It was no easy thing for her to make preparations to leave behind a hundred – literally - baying hounds and be with my mother by teatime. But she did it. Nor was she the only friend who did so. And, amidst the tears and grief, there was, as there has always been, much laughter and joy. The laughter and joy had, of course, over six decades, always been there; they were and are the heart of their friendship, but they stood out with clarity and poignancy in new and unexpected circumstances. Jesus says in today’s Gospel “that my own joy may be in you, and your joy be complete”. I have wondered, does it really take a death for us to discover this completeness? Of course, not. The joy of friendship is always there. But sometimes when we are at our saddest and most alone, we experience it afresh, and with a new intensity. My imagination took a sideways step to the Jacob Epstein sculpture of Jesus in the tomb, in the Tate Modern Gallery, in London. It is entitled “Consummatum Est”. Those, in Latin, are the words of Jesus on the cross in John’s Gospel that we normally hear in English, rather more blandly, as “it is finished”. But a consummation is not an ending. “That my own joy may be in you, and your joy be complete”. In the love of friends, we glimpse the love of God; the transfiguring mystery of eternity breaks into mundane time. “Consummatum est”; it is not an ending: it is the beginning. Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, alleluia. Amen. Richard Haggis Littlemore, Oxford May 2012

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