I won’t cry for yesterday….

Since the feast of Pentecost (15 May this year), the church is in ‘ordinary time’: this means that we are not marking any particular season of the church’s year, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter or (in the Church of England) the season between All Saints’ Day and Advent when we think about the communion of saints.

Ordinary time is, in some ways, the default setting for our public worship, the background against which our seasonal worship stands out. Although there are important feasts during ordinary time, like Trinity Sunday and All Saints’ Day, ordinary time is when the church is not celebrating any particular facet of our faith: hangings and vestments are green and there are no seasonal variations on the words or actions of our liturgy.

But ‘ordinary time’ may be a misleading name for this time of year. For a Christian, there is never anything ordinary about following Jesus. Jesus warned people thinking about becoming his followers that, if they did, it would transform their whole lives. Following Jesus means being led into a new sort of life.

The extra-ordinariness of being a disciple of Jesus is not a requirement he puts on his followers (although a willingness to have him as Lord of our whole lives is certainly necessary), it is a gift: specifically, the Gift of the Holy Spirit. He enables Christians to do extraordinary things and to live an extraordinary life: the life of Jesus living in us through his Spirit.

‘Ordinary’ Christianity is anything but: it is a life of continuing Jesus’ mission, enabled by the Holy Spirit to live as adopted daughters and sons of God. We are called to take part in the life of God the Holy Trinity.

Fr Mike Healey (priest-in-charge)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

And on the seventh day….

Some people seem to think that holidays and time off are frivolous or even unnecessary but the bible teaches us that ‘taking time off’ is one of the most important things we do. In the book of Genesis, when God created humanity on the sixth day, the next thing he did was to consecrate the following day as a day of rest, so humans’ first task was to take a day off.

Jesus famously argued with his opponents about the day of rest. Some people take from what Jesus said the idea that he was just abolishing the day of rest but it is not that simple: he was teaching that hungry people may be fed and people may be healed on the day of rest, that people may be rescued and set free from oppression and thirst and water on the day of rest (dropsy was thought to involve too much water in the body, in contrast with the bent-over woman who would have been thought of as dried out) and that, even on the day of rest, God is at work. And, of course, at the same time, Jesus was teaching that he is God himself.

The meaning of the day of rest is, at its simplest, that we should not keep trying every day to make things happen – especially not to make others work – and should instead be able to trust in God. Jesus took his most famous day of rest in the tomb after he had finished what he became human to do and we Christians should take our lead from him. We do not need to try to make things happen because God has accomplished all things, when he stopped work on the first Friday after finishing the creation and when  he stopped work on Good Friday after finishing the new creation. We can trust in his work and, far from working every day God sends, we can rest in his finished work and celebrate and join in with what God is doing. Take it easy.

Fr Mike Healey (priest-in-charge)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What a difference a day makes….

Tomorrow is Christmas Day, the beginning of the forty-day season of Christmas, during which the church celebrates the birth of Jesus to his chosen people, his epiphany (showing) to the other nations of the world (represented by the magi), his baptism at which God revealed himself as the Holy Trinity, his first miracle (turning water into wine) and his presentation as a forty-day-old baby at the Jerusalem temple. This may seem like something of a grab-bag of unrelated events in the life of Jesus but it is in fact a single, unified festival period celebrating the incarnation of God the Son.

It is the second longest festival in the church’s calendar because the incarnation (God becoming human in the person of Jesus) is the second most amazing and important thing that ever happened. The first, of course, is that same human God laying down his life for his friends and taking it up again, which we will be celebrating at Easter (and every Sunday). You may not believe that any of that is true — if it were not true, it would be an awful waste of time to concern yourself with it — but you cannot deny that, if it is true, it is of supreme importance. Perhaps you are one of those people who thinks that Jesus is God, that he did become human in order to die and rise again for us sinners, but somehow it does not make very much difference in your life. I hope and pray that it will. Happy Christmas.

Fr Mike Healey (priest-in-charge)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

And another thing…. (Part Four)

One of the main meanings of the mass is that it is a proclamation of the death of Jesus. We celebrate the mass in memory of God’s self-sacrifice on the cross for our sake: the words Jesus used when instituting the mass at the last supper imply his sacrificial death, with the pouring out of his blood for his followers and the giving of his body.

This is one of the most central teachings of Christianity: that Jesus, God the Son, gave his life for his people — that is, for anyone and everyone who puts their trust in him. This blood sacrifice, the giving of his body, is evoked physically in the eating of the bread which he declares to be his body and the drinking of the wine which he declares to be his blood.

So one of the things we do when we celebrate the mass is to remember and celebrate — like we do on Good Friday — Jesus dying on the cross for us. Have you put your trust in him? Do you put your trust in him? Come and celebrate his saving death with us.

Fr Mike Healey (priest-in-charge)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

And another thing…. (Part Three)

Another of the many meanings of the mass is that it is to strengthen and gladden us, our meat and drink, as it were, while we are in this life, without the fulness of God’s presence. It is our ration — some scholars believe that the clause in the Lord’s prayer, ‘Give us today our daily bread,’ refers to the consecrated bread we eat at mass. More importantly, Christians have always seen parallels between the elements we consume at mass and the manna God gave to his people while they were spending forty years in the wilderness.

Jesus himself suggested this parallel when he compared himself — the true Bread of heaven — favourably with the manna. ‘The bread of heaven’ would have been understood by Jesus’ opponents as a metaphor meaning the word of God, supremely manifest (as far as they were concerned) in the Hebrew scriptures, which we Christians receive as the old testament. When he instituted the mass at the last supper, Jesus gave the term new meaning by telling his disciples that the bread he blessed for them was his body.

So one of the things we do when we celebrate the mass is to re-enact, as we do in the church’s season of Lent, the forty years in the wilderness, expressing in prayer and praise and worship our joyful dependence upon Jesus and our security in his ongoing provision for us: the bread we eat is like the manna in the wilderness, a gift from God, to be eaten as soon as we receive it and not saved up, because we know he will never fail to give us what we need when we turn to him. We are learning to be God’s people on our pilgrimage through this life. Will you join us?

Fr Mike Healey (priest-in-charge)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

And another thing…. (Part Two)

One of the meanings of the mass (whatever you call it) is that it is a physical encounter with God: Jesus — God the Son — who became human to save us, gave us the mass so that we could have not just his Spirit but his body and blood.

This is such an amazing claim that its significance is often missed: God — the ground of all being and the reason we can use our reason and not simply discount it as the unintended product of mindless chance — becomes a creature — a physical inhabitant of the universe which depends on God for its existence at every level. It is, as one of the Mirfield fathers put it, like grammar becoming marmalade.

But this is exactly what Jesus claimed he is: the Creator become a creature. He calls us not only to know him and follow him but to actually meet him and spend time with him — and to eat and drink him. And he makes it possible for us to do this physically through the mass. This is why some Christians spend time with the bread we eat and wine we drink, enjoying the physical presence of Jesus and praising, worshipping and praying to and through him.

So when we celebrate the mass, one of the things we are doing is enjoying the physical presence of the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ. Just as during the church season of Christmas, when we sing that ‘he came down to earth from heaven who is God and Lord of all,’ so in the mass we marvel at his Incarnation and praise and glorify his body and blood. Have you thought seriously about taking part in the mass? Perhaps you should.

Fr Mike Healey (priest-in-charge)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

And another thing…. (Part One)

On the occasion of Corpus Christi, I wrote about the centrality of the mass (breaking bread, the eucharist, holy communion, the liturgy, the Lord’s supper, the sacrament) to the Christian life. Of course, one of the implications of this centrality is that the Christian life is not a solitary undertaking but one lived together. But one of the most fascinating things about the mass (whatever you call it) is the many meanings it carries.

One of the meanings of the mass is that it is a foretaste — a prophetic enactment — of the wedding feast we will share when we are united with God in the fulness of his kingdom. The wedding feast was an image used by the prophets who lived before Jesus was born to speak about God’s future kingdom and Jesus, while claiming he had already come as Bridegroom to inaugurate the kingdom, taught about the future fulfilment of God’s judgement and rule using the same image of a wedding feast.

When Jesus instituted the mass at the last supper, he spoke about this future fulfilment in connection with the wine that we drink. When he taught his disciples how to pray, some scholars think he made a connection between the coming kingdom of God and the bread that we eat.

So when we celebrate the mass, one of the things we are doing is looking forward — like we do during the church season of Advent — to the coming of God’s judgement and rule and praying for Jesus to come in glory. Will you join us in praying for the fulness of God’s kingdom to come?

Fr Mike Healey (priest-in-charge)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Don’t you forget about me….

Today is The Day of Thanksgiving for the Institution of Holy Communion, more commonly known as Corpus Christi (‘The Body of Christ’). It is a special festival at which we celebrate Jesus’ gift of the mass to his followers (Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-23).

Christians have lots of different ideas about what happens at the mass and celebrate it in lots of different ways; different parts of the church even call it by different names: breaking bread, communion, the eucharist, the liturgy, the Lord’s supper, the sacrament. (I like calling it the mass because that name comes from the final words said by the priest in a Latin version of the service, Ite, missa est, [‘Go, you are dismissed,’] and reminds us that, having celebrated the mass together, we are always then sent out to share the good news of the Jesus whose body and blood we have shared: it is a commissioning service for missionaries at which every participant is being prepared for mission.)

But, whatever different ideas Christians have about the mass and what it means, we celebrate it because Jesus commanded his followers to and they passed that instruction on to us. We celebrate it because fundamentally, as with all his commands, Jesus commanded us to do this for our salvation, that we might become closer to him, get to know him and love him more, by doing it.

Fr Mike Healey (priest-in-charge)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

When the music fades….

We are just over half way through Lent, a season for preparing ourselves for the most important Christian festival of the year, Easter. There are many traditions about how to keep Lent (the preface the Church of England provides for this first part of Lent mentions fasting, prayer, acts of service and studying the bible) but the point of each and every one of them is to get our priorities straight and to regain or improve our focus on Jesus.

Some people try to follow Jesus’ teachings without putting Jesus himself first in their lives. This is impossible because his teachings urge us to put him first in our lives. All four gospels agree: Jesus does not point away from himself, to a God he claims to know; he points to himself, to a God he claims to be.

Imagine a religious leader (a vicar, say) giving a talk and saying to people, ‘I will sit and judge the nations of the earth,’ or, ‘If you believe in me, you will never die.‘ Ridiculous. And so are the teachings of Jesus, unless he is exactly who he claims to be: God Almighty.

Fr Mike Healey (priest-in-charge)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

He came down to Earth from Heaven, who is God and Lord of all….

Tomorrow is Christmas Day, the first of forty days celebrating one of the most important teachings of Christianity: that Jesus is, as he claimed before his crucifixion, God. At tonight’s midnight mass, we will have as our reading from the gospels the beautiful ‘prologue’ from John, one of his closest friends, which attempts to express this amazing truth:

That God, the Source of all being, the Reason that the universe is ‘incomprehensibly comprehensible,’ as Einstein nearly put it, was and is the itinerant teacher, healer and exorcist who was executed for being the rightful king of the Jews in implicit opposition to the authority of Rome.

It is an amazing claim, so amazing that many people simply refuse to consider whether it is true. But God spent centuries preparing his chosen people for this amazing event: our new testament reading for tonight’s midnight mass is from the beginning of the letter to the Hebrews, a portion of an argument using verses from the Jewish scriptures (what we Christians have as the old testament) to establish that the Messiah, the promised king who was to come and rule according to God’s will, was never going to be a mere human being but was always, in God’s eternal plan, going to be God himself.

I suspect that everyone, or at least the overwhelming majority of people, reading this knows the story of Jesus’ birth, if only from nativity plays and Christmas carols: angels announcing that Jesus is the Messiah and the Lord, foreign dignitaries paying him tribute, even the somewhat questionable interpretation of Isaiah that insists there was an ox and a donkey present.

But the real question is not how well you know the story: it is, Have you really considered whether or not it is true? Have you considered, without close-minded prejudice, what the bible actually says about Jesus and who he is? The question, as Betjeman hauntingly repeated in his poem ‘Christmas’, remains: And is it true? For if it is, it is the most important truth there is. If Jesus is God himself, what he said and did (and does and says) must be of supreme importance for each and every one of us. Merry Christmas!

Fr Mike Healey (priest-in-charge)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment