Homilies on the Kerygma,
St Mary’s Cathedral, 3rd Sunday of Lent, 7 March 2021.
We come to the 4th of the homilies on the kerygma.
God loves us (1) and he shows that his love is stronger than sin (2) through the birth, death and the resurrection of his Son (3). The introversion of sin is undone by the generosity of Christ, and thanks to him a whole new realm – call it grace, eternal life, the Kingdom, what you will – opens up for us. To echo today’s Gospel, the Temple of his Body is built.
But now the question is, how do we enter it? How do we get inside? If I’ve received an inheritance, before I take possession of it, I will need to produce proof of identity and sign some documents. If there’s money paid into my account, I will need my bank card to access it. The process of responding to God is not automatic. He respects our freedom. Otherwise everyone would be a believer. Something in us has to engage with God. We have to say “Amen”.
So, today let’s explore this a little, this Amen.
I think the experience of human love can help us. If someone somehow shows that they love us, this calls for a response. It may pass us by completely. We may just be plain unresponsive, cold-hearted perhaps. Or we’re already pledged elsewhere – number unavailable, ex-directory. But imagine we are free to accept. Then we respond. Something inspires us to respond. And so with the Lord. In many and various ways, but most of all in his Son, God has shown that he loves us (cf. Heb 1:1-2). St Paul tells the Galatians that Christ crucified has been “publicly portrayed” before their eyes (Gal 3:1); it was a showing of God’s love. Jesus appeared in the garden to Mary Magdalen and spoke her name. That was a showing of his love. St Paul expected the Galatians to respond with faith, and Mary “turned” to Jesus (Jn 20:16) and tried to embrace him: a physical and emotional conversion.
“Repent and believe” says Jesus at the beginning of the Gospel (Mk 1:15). “What shall we do?” ask the people in Jerusalem at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:37). “Repent and be baptised”, answers St Peter (Acts 2:38). Let’s concentrate here on believing and repenting, faith and conversion. Here’s the response. Here’s the Temple gate.
Back to the experience of human love; it’s the best analogy. Let’s say, we meet the person who will be our partner for life. We see something sound and good and beautiful in them; we sense that they are meant for us, will be good for us, will be life for us. And they love us too. So, a faith is awoken in us. We believe in those we love. And our life starts to change. We don’t feel lost and purposeless any more. We stop chasing after this and that, alternative attractions. We want to live in a way that will be worthy of that person, that will honour them. We want to be with them, in tune with them somehow. This is a conversion, surely. It’s the work of love in the heart. Our whole outlook, the way we think and judge and behave, our choices and decisions, alter. There’s a before and an after. We are taken by surprise, “surprised by joy” like Wordsworth and his daffodils, by “the right human face” like Edwin Muir and his wife to be. The analogy surely holds. In the experience of any real love, there’s an Amen, a “yes”, a “so be it”: faith and conversion.
And so with the Lord. By the gift of faith, our eyes are opened to the divine light and the ear of our heart to his voice. We sense a presence, we glimpse a face, there are eyes upon us. And we hear a voice (not audibly, but with the acoustics of the heart). The God of our faith is a God who speaks: in Scripture, the Gospels, the Christian message, the teaching of the Church, as well as daily events. There is Someone there and we trust him, his commitment to us, his truthfulness, his reliability, his plan for our good. And we give our Amen, our Yes, our Credo, “I believe”.
And as in love, so with the Lord. Along with believing goes a change. There’s a transition from an old style of life to a new one. There may be difficult breaks to make; St Augustine is famous in that regard. St Paul was good at lists of behaviours incompatible with the new believing self (cf. Gal 5:19-21; Col 3:5-9); St Peter does it too (1 Pet 4:3). We may have to disentangle ourselves from things our culture thinks are fine, but God not; from addictions, from angers and fears, from forms of negativity or just plain old self-centredness. We renounce Satan “and all his empty promises.” But it’s all for a positive purpose. The “no’s” are for a “yes”. It’s all a response to a better offer. It’s a freeing of the heart for a larger love. The Holy Spirit is unclenching our arthritic hands so they can open to the treasure. Amen. Amen.
“Repent and believe”. And so the gate of the Temple, Christ’s new world, swings open and we can enter in. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9). We turn to him who has turned to us. Sin is forgiven, grace is given and heaven becomes our horizon. Baptism seals it all: we are born anew as children of God, made members of Christ and one another, and a temple ourselves of the Holy Spirit. The Sacraments of Initiation celebrate the wedding. And as in human love, it’s the mysterious force of love that brings this about, so in the Great Love it is not so much us who believe and convert and give our “Amen”; it’s the doing of the Holy Spirit in us.
It’s all a Trinitarian thing. God the Father loves us, the Son of God restores us and the Holy Spirit connects us. We are wanted and healed and held.