Friday, 6 September 2013

Don't Start The Fasting Yet, and In Memoriam, Maureen Cullen

A Homily for Holy Communion on Friday 6th of September, 2013, 9 a.m.

for the Sisters of the Love of God Fairacres Priory, Oxford

Luke 5:33-end Then they said to him, ‘John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink.’Jesus said to them, ‘You cannot make wedding-guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.’ He also told them a parable: ‘No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, “The old is good.” ’

Don’t Start The Fasting Yet!

+ May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.

After twenty years in the pulpit, so to speak, it’s only to be expected that occasionally, as when I looked at the Gospel reading last night, you think “blast, I’ve done this one already”. And you have to try to listen afresh to what the passage is saying, because even the tiniest gobbets from the Gospels can produce many meanings. So “you cannot make the wedding guests fast whilst the bridegroom is still with them” caught my ear this time. It seems to me in keeping with many of Jesus’s sayings about living in the moment – “the time is coming, and now is”, and all that. But there’s more to this way of putting it – he seems to be telling us to rejoice in the moment, not just live in it, when the happy times are with us, to relish them, for there will be time enough to be sad. In my experience, Christian people are very good at smiling, and not so good at joy, and I’m sure I’m one of them. The default setting is Good Friday, not Easter, and sometimes we don’t even notice that the bridegroom is still with us.

I hope it’s not too radically liberal to suggest that Jesus wasn’t only talking about himself as the present bridegroom. I hope we can apply this teaching to the people in our lives who bring joy, and life more abundant. If so, I had a poignant reminder of this lately, when I had an unexpected telephone call from a friend in New York. Maureen was an unlikely friend, someone I’d never met in person, although we chatted almost daily on the internet, and a few times she telephoned. She had been an editor for Raymond E Brown, the New Testament scholar, and she told me she’s in the acknowledgments page of his wonderful book “The Birth of the Messiah” – there and then, whilst she was on the telephone, I checked “I thought, let’s see if this tricksy New Yorker speaks with forked tongue”, but no, there she was and it was quite true; she and loved New York, and we had a shared heritage in Ireland, so there was a great deal in common. This telephone call was to be her last, as within a fortnight the cancer we had all believed to be in remission, killed her. She made a number of those telephone calls, and to none of us did she say she was dying, as she must surely have known. When she said, of the friends of who introduced us “I’m getting to that wedding somehow”, I think she already knew it would not be in person, nor in this world. Of course, it meant the news of her death was the greater shock, but it meant something else. Why tell us something that could only make us sad, many of us living thousands of miles away and without the means to visit? Why make our last memory an unhappy one? Why start the fasting, while the bridegroom is still with us? And so the last memory is a happy one of cheerful conversation, and I think there was profound grace in what she did. She had bad news, but she kept it to herself, and in doing so, transformed it into the Good News of a joyful friend, living that life more abundant, graciously, to the very end. God give us hearts open to joy, and let us not begin the fasting while the bridegroom is still with us. Amen,

”Fenian Moll”, rest in peace.
Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford September 2013

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