Tonight we keep the third of three great post-Pentecost feasts: the Holy Trinity, Corpus Christi and now the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
We love hearing stories, telling stories, and a good story always has a message to deliver. We’ve been living through a story from Advent and Christmas to the coming of the Holy Spirit after Jesus’s death and resurrection. It’s the story of Jesus Christ, of God with us.
Here it is told briefly and beautifully by a Scottish writer. “I believe…God indeed wept, a child, on the breast of a woman. He spoke to the doctors of the law in the temple, to a few faithful bewildered fishermen, to tax-men and soldiers and cripples and prostitutes, to Pilate, even to those who came to glut themselves on his death-pangs. With a consummatum est he died. I believe too that he came up out of the grave the way a cornstalk soars into wind and sun from a ruined cell. After a time he returned with his five wounds back into his kingdom. I believe that a desert and a seashore and a lake heard for a few years the sweet thrilling music of the Incarnate Word…No writer of genius, Dante or Shakespeare or Tolstoy, could have imagined the recorded utterances of Christ… [And] the most awesome and marvellous proof for me is the way he chose to go on nourishing his people after his ascension, in the form of bread. So the brutish life of man is continually possessed, broken, transfigured by the majesty of God” (George Mackay Brown, The Tarn and the Rosary in Simple Fire, Selected Short Stories, p. 222).
There, piecemeal, is the story, from Christmas to Corpus Christi. It’s the story recalled, step by step, in the Liturgical Year; the story told by the Holy Spirit in the Gospels; the story we pray through in the Rosary. The story that keeps us from drowning. And in today’s feast the inner meaning of it is delivered. The meaning is love. The love of God, the Father, made visible in Christ Jesus. The love of God, the Father, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. The embrace of us by the Father who clasps us to himself with his two strong arms, his two kind hands, his Son and the Holy Spirit. And closer still the heart of Jesus, broken on the Cross, to wash us with its water and transfuse us with its blood.
There was a 20th c. Jewish rabbi who settled in New York, Abraham Heschel. He loved the Hebrew Bible, what we call the Old Testament. And when he tried to distil the message of the Bible, he would say, “God in search of man.” That is it. And what begins in the Old Testament goes further still in the New. Ezekiel already knew that the Lord God went in search of his sheep, the sheep of Israel. He calls them out of the mist and darkness of exile, to bring them back to good land. “I shall look for the lost, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded, strengthen the weak, watch over the healthy.” “You are there with your crook and staff”, says the Psalmist. But, by becoming incarnate, one of us, Jesus goes further still. In a sense he becomes a sheep himself, the Lamb of God. By his Cross and Descent to the underworld, he goes into the thicket of human suffering, into the mist and darkness, to find the lost one. He draws Adam out by the hand. The Fathers of the Church compared the 99 sheep left behind to the angels, and the one lost sheep to all humanity. The Lord is born of a woman and sets off in search. He finds it and takes it on to his shoulders, that is, he carries us all in himself. St Paul says we are reconciled to God by the shepherd’s death, but still more we are saved by his life, by his resurrection from the dead.
“God in search of man.” How less angry and bitter, how less desperate for pleasure, how less insistent on self we would be, if only we recognised this love. In the 14th c., the Lord showed himself to Blessed Julian of Norwich in the midst of an illness, 16 times. “And from the time that it was shown, I desired oftentimes to know what was our lord’s meaning And fifteen years after and more, I was answered in spiritual understanding, saying thus: “What wouldest thou know thy lord’s meaning in this thing [the whole revelation]? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who showed it to thee? Love. What showed he to thee? Love. Wherefore showed he it to thee? For love. Hold thee therein, thou shalt know more of the same. But thou shalt never know therein other without end.” Thus was I taught that love is our lord’s meaning.” In the 17th c., the Lord raised up St Margaret Mary Alacoque to remind Christians of the love in his heart. In the 20th c. he raised up St Faustina Kowalska to show the depth of the merciful love within him. These are prophets to heed.
In the phrase of the Collect, let’s take time today before we sleep “to recall the wonders of his love” – the great things and the small things, the love he shows to all and the detailed, exquisite love he shows to each of us. “The Lord is my shepherd.”
The Rabbi I mentioned above once said, “Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.” And the greatest wonder is his love.
May that be the grace of today’s feast.