Saturday, November 27, 2021

The first Sunday in Advent, 28 November 2021

  My Friends,

 “The night is far spent”


There are degrees of darkness. There is the literal darkness of the night in the twilight of the year. There is the metaphorical darkness of civilisations and cultures in their decay and disarray. There is the social and economic darkness of communities and families in their distress and dismay. There is the darkness of institutions when they betray their foundational and governing principles. There is the darkness of souls in psychological confusion - distraught, anxious, angry and fearful. The “far spent night” is the hour of deepest darkness.


In one way or another, these darknesses are all forms of spiritual darkness. They all belong to the darkness of sin and doubt, the darkness of death and dying, the darkness of despair. The darkness of despair is the deepest darkness, the darkness of the “far spent night” of the soul, the darkness of darkness itself, as it were. Why? Because it is the darkness of denial. Despair is the denial of desire. It signals the rejection of the possibilities of light, of faith; the rejection of the possibilities of hope, of what is looked for; and the rejection of the possibilities of love, of what is embraced in the knowing delight of what is good and true, of what is holy and beautiful.


Advent begins in the quiet darkness of the year, to be sure. But Advent looks to the coming of the light. It is the season of revelation - our knowing in faith what God reveals to us. It is the season of hope - our looking to God in holy expectation. It is the season of love - our embrace of God’s love coming towards us.


It belongs to the spiritual nature of Advent to name the darkness; the darkness within and without. To do so is to be alive to the possibilities of grace and salvation. It means to know ourselves, not simply in the darkness, but through the darkness in the greater light of God.


To name the darkness is to name our need. That is part of the awakening. We look beyond ourselves, beyond the darkness which we so often find within ourselves. We look to God. Advent is the strong reminder of the necessity of our looking to God. But it is our looking to God in his coming towards us. Ultimately, we can only truly name the darkness in his light. He is the light which defines the darkness. The darkness does not define the light.


Advent reminds us of God’s coming to us. It reminds us of the light that is greater than the darkness. Advent is simply the coming of God towards us. There is his coming “then” at “the fullness of time”, “when” all things were ready. There is his coming “now” in the grace-ordered forms of our lives, in Word and Sacrament and in the forms of grace which flow out into our lives in acts of kindness and service and sacrifice. There is his coming “at the end of time”, for each of us individually “at the hour of our death” and for all of us collectively.

These comings - these Advents of God - are themselves judgment and salvation.  The darknesses are judgment. But to know the darkness is also to know salvation. The salvation is the light which encompasses and gathers the darkness into itself. There is at once a deepening of the darkness and an intensification of the light.


Advent reminds us of the light of salvation. It is about our being found in God’s knowing love for us. It signals that coming of God towards us so that we might begin again in faith, in hope and in love. There is simply our looking towards the one who comes.


In the great gospel for this day, Christ comes to Jerusalem. He enters the city triumphantly. It is a royal procession. The King has come to his own city. All is light and grace and glory, it seems. “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest”, the multitudes that went before, and that followed cry, both those who went before, them, and those that followed, us. But is it not that “he came unto his own and his own received him not”, as we shall hear again at Christmas? “Who is this?”, the whole city was moved to say with wonder and in perplexity. We know the story. The King - God’s own Word and Son - will be rejected. All that is light and life ends in darkness and death, it seems; the darkness of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, the darkness of the cross and the grave.


And yet, this will be the real triumph, the entry of the King into the things of his own. He will reign from the tree. Through the darkness of our sin and death, through the darkness of our rejection and denial of him, through the darkness of the “far spent night”, the darkness of our despair named in him -“my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” – will come the greater light of salvation.


Advent not only reminds us of his coming but deepens our understanding of its meaning. It intends that we might come to know more fully and more truly the one who has come to us. His coming names our darkness in the greater light of his love. Advent is our wake-up call. It means to look again towards him who comes knowing our darkness, the darkness of our refusal and rejection of him.


He wants us to know the darkness of the “far spent night” in light of his grace, the grace of his coming towards us.  He has embraced our darkness in his love. He has made a path of light for us through the darkness, even the darkness of the “far spent night”. He comes that we might know and receive him even through the darkness of our refusals to receive him. He comes “unto his own” in the greater power of his light and grace, making a way to him even through the patterns of our sin-twisted lives. His coming calls us to repentance; this is the royal way of Advent.


“The night is far spent”, to be sure, but “the day is at hand; let us therefore cast of the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light”. The light of Christ awaits us.

Father Ed Bakker                                                                                           

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Sunday next before Advent

My Friends 

“Come and see”


Scripture sounds the notes of an ending and a beginning on this day, the Sunday Next before Advent.  This day both concludes the course of the Son’s life in us – “the Lord our Righteousness” - and returns us to the beginning of the course he runs for us – “Behold the Lamb of God”.   The righteousness of Christ, the right ordering of our loves and our lives, is what we have sought in the long course of the Trinity season.  But the course he runs for us is the way of the cross, the way of sacrifice.  It is the way that we travel with him in the pageant of faith from Advent to Trinity. 


Such times of transition signal occasions of renewal - a renewal of love, a re-awakening of the soul’s desire for holy things, a divine stirring up of our wills.  We come to the Advent of Christ. Advent is the season of God’s revelation, the motion of God’s Word and Son towards us for the sake of our knowing.  Our text sounds the measure of the season and beyond the season strikes the note of our soul’s salvation.  “Come and see”.  


In St. John’s Gospel, this is Jesus’ first statement.  It comes in response to the disciples’ answer to his very first gospel utterance, a question which he puts to them and to us, “What seek ye?” (What do we want?).  They answer with a question that has a twofold significance: “Rabbi (which means Teacher), where are you staying?”  Here is no question of idle curiosity, but one which is deep and profound.  It speaks about the yearning of our hearts and the desiring of our minds.  It speaks about the awakened desire of the soul for God.  But how is the question twofold?  By its address as well as its request. 


"Rabbi – Teacher”.  They identify Jesus as a Teacher, one who can instruct them, teach them, enlighten them with an understanding which they seek but do not have.  They seek to know.  To know what?  Is it information?  Do they seek to know a host of busy details about a myriad of busy things?  “God is in the details”, it is commonly said.  To be sure, but he is not the details.  God cannot be reduced to a data sheet of statistics or to the memory bank of a computer.  “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” T.S.  Eliot asks, the knowledge of God lost not found in the details, in the rush and crush of busy and disordered lives. 


For in such things there is no satisfaction; no true seeking where there is no desiring for a true finding .  No.  They seek more than information.  And so must we.  They seek the understanding upon which all our inquirings and all our doings depend.  They seek the reason and cause of all things, the knowledge of what is, what remains, and what ever shall be.  And so must we. 


They seek an understanding of God’s will and purpose.  They seek his abiding Word in the midst of the changing world.  Why?  Because nothing else is worth living for and they would live with the knowledge of that truth.  And so they ask, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  They would remain with him who would enlighten their minds to their heart’s desire.  They seek the Messiah, the promised anointed one of God, yet Christ will be more than the Messiah  they seek.  For God’s revelation of himself does not so much mean  the lowering of God to us, as the raising of us to God, hence “Come and see”.  He has come to us in order that we might come to him. 


But our seeking is not itself our seeing.  Jesus’s question seeks to draw out their proper intention, their true desire and what is truly to be desired.  They seek for what they do not have.  They seek for what is beyond them.  Such a seeking manifests an openness to God’s Word, to the possibilities of divine illumination.  As such it belongs to Revelation, to what comes from God to man, what we could in no wise invent.  Revelation, not our seeking, is the premiss of our seeing.  “In thy light, shall we see light”.  We cannot attain to God simply by our seeking.  Our seeking cannot make him in the image of our seeking.


No doubt our lives are lives of seeking, of the desiring to know, to have and to enjoy.  But according to our own lights, according to the light of our own experiences, we are but darkness.  To know that and not to yield to it, but instead to seek for the light which shines in the darkness, is to be open to God’s Revelation. 


“Show us the light of thy countenance and we shall be whole”, the Psalmist cries and behold, “Jesus turned and saw them”.  Our illumination depends upon God’s Revelation, his turning towards us, his seeing us in the light of his divine knowing.  His motion towards us manifests his divine light and makes us partakers of his eternity, now in the illumination by grace and then in the vision of glory.


We are light only in the light of Christ. We are bidden to “come and see” because that light who is Christ comes to us in the darkness of our uncertainties and fears.  It is no mere lightning bolt which comes and goes in a flash; it is more like the beacon of a lighthouse constant and secure, at once a warning and a guide.  Our faith shall deepen to understanding if we attend to his revelation and let the Teacher teach us about the truth of himself and the truth of ourselves in the light of his grace.  He comes to teach us.  And so let us indeed cry out, “Rabbi-Teacher”, but even more, let us “come and see”, this Advent and evermore.


Come and see”

 RevdFr Ed Bakker

Sunday, November 14, 2021

The Twenty Fourth Sunday after Trinity

My Friends 

Daughter, be of good comfort, thy faith hath made thee whole.” (Matthew 9.22) 

Stories about the miracles of Jesus often form the substance of the Gospel lessons, especially for the Sundays after Epiphany and the Sundays after Trinity, and we have often had occasion to speak about the meaning of them in a general way. They are the signs that in Jesus Christ the Kingdom of God has come in power. With these miracles, or signs, Jesus shows himself as the promised Messiah, who, according to ancient prophecy, makes the deaf to hear, and the blind to see, and the lame to walk, and so on.  They are signs that Jesus is the Son of God. 

Thus the point of these miraculous deeds lies not just in the deeds themselves, but in what they signify about the mission of God in Christ.  They are symbolic acts. Jesus feeds the multitude in the wilderness, and the point is not just that a crowd of hungry people are fed; the point is to show that Jesus is himself the bread of life, the Word of God, who has come to nourish hungry souls.  The feeding is a sign of that; that is the point of it, as he himself explains.  Jesus changes water into wine, and the point is not just to relieve an embarrassed host; but to show that Jesus is Lord of the marriage feast, the spiritual union between God and his people.  Jesus gives sight to the blind man, and shows, symbolically, that he is the truth of God, bringing light to our dark minds.  The miracles are significant acts, symbolic acts.  The point is never just the deed itself, but what it reveals about the meaning of God’s coming and the nature of his kingdom. 

I think the healing miracles are, for many people, especially difficult. As in today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus heals the sick and resuscitates the dead.  To some, these deeds suggest that if we were really faithful Christians, we would never be sick, and never have to face the pains of death. Our faith should save us from all such tribulations.  God should produce a miracle, It seems that solid faith, like early rising, should be a sure recipe to make us “healthy, wealthy, and wise.”  From this standpoint, it appears that sickness and disease must be the signs of lack of faith, the consequences of our sins.  And, of course, there is some truth in that; our spiritual condition has a great deal to do with our health, and we do sometimes physically suffer the obvious consequences of our sins. But there is no simple correlation.  Remember the story in St. John’s Gospel, when Jesus and his disciples met a blind man. The disciples asked, “Who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?  Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” (John 9.2-3) 

Our faith does not insure our health, and certainly not promise an earthly immortality; and such is not the meaning of Jesus’ miracles.  The point is, rather, that in Christ, the Word of God, there is power to overcome — not to evade, but to overcome — these tribulations, to look beyond them, and set our hearts upon the eternal good.  The Psalmist says, “It is good for me that I have been in trouble.” (Psalm 119.71) And so it is: worldly tribulation is the testing-ground of faith.  Jesus’ miracles are the signs that he is Lord of these tribulations, and that in him is power to meet the worst of them with wholeness of spirit, “that the works of God should be made manifest in us.”  A familiar hymn expresses it this way: 

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,  
His grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;  
The flame shall not hurt thee; his only design  
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.” 
It is in and through the suffering and the tribulation that our faith will make us whole. 

Suffering is therefore the occasion and opportunity of great good.  That is not to say that we should seek tribulations.  There are stories in the early history of the Church of children running away from home in hopes of meeting martyrdom.  Commendable zeal, no doubt; but the Church had to put a stop to that. Suffering need not be courted. In one form or another, it comes to all of us sufficiently. We dare not seek it for ourselves.  Which of us is so sure that his faith is ready to withstand the terrible temptation to despair which must belong to long and painful illness?  And who is sure that he can face the trial of death with perfect resignation?  We have some sense of our fragility, and therefore pray, “Lead us not into temptation”; that is to say, “Don’t put us to the test.” 

We dare not seek trials for ourselves, and we must not seek them for another.  Charity and compassion require that we relieve suffering where we can, and we must thank God for the means, the scientific means, and every other means of doing that.  But we must never delude ourselves that we are building a utopia of perfect comfort, or that we are achieving an earthly immortality.  What a horrible thing it would be if we could achieve it!  In one form or another, the test does come, and we must pray, above all, that our faith fail not. 

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus heals the sick woman, and raises the ruler’s daughter.  He does not thereby do away with the tribulations of sickness and of dying.  Rather, these deeds of his are signs that he is Lord of all such trials, that in him there is a wholeness which lies beyond these things, a wholeness which we, in faith, may share. 

Faith reaches out to touch his garment’s hem, and he replies: 

“Daughter, be of good comfort, thy faith hath made thee whole

Fr Ed Bakker

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

All Souls

My Friends 

As we celebrate the Commemoration of All Souls, let’s reflect upon the Church’s teaching on Purgatory:

The Church Suffering:  Purgatory is an often misunderstood doctrine of our Church.  What is Purgatory?  Is it the place we have to go to be punished for our sins?  Is it God’s way of getting us back for the wrong we’ve done?  Is it the result of God’s anger?  None of these questions really answer the question of Purgatory.  Purgatory is nothing other than the burning and purifying love of our God in our lives!

When someone dies in God’s grace they are most likely not 100% converted and perfect in every way.  Even the greatest of saints most often would have some imperfection left in their lives.  Purgatory is nothing other than that final purification of all remaining attachment to sin in our lives.  By analogy, imagine that you had a cup of 100% pure water, pure H2O.  This cup will represent Heaven.  Now imagine that you want to add to that cup of water but all you have is water that is 99% pure.  This will represent the holy person who dies with just some slight attachments to sin.  If you add that water to your cup then the cup will now have at least some impurities in the water as it mixes together.  The problem is that Heaven (the original cup of 100% H2O) cannot contain any impurities.  Heaven, in this case, cannot have even the slightest attachment to sin in it.  Therefore, if this new water (the 99% pure water) is to be added to the cup it must first be purified even of that last 1% of impurities (attachments to sin).  This is ideally done while we are on Earth.  This is the process of getting holy.  But if we die with any attachment, then we simply say that the process of entering into the final and full vision of God in Heaven will purify us of any remaining attachment to sin.  All may already be forgiven, but we may not have detached from those things forgiven.  Purgatory is the process, after death, of burning out the last of our attachments so that we can enter Heaven 100% freed of everything to do with sin.  If, for example, we still have a bad habit of being rude, or sarcastic, even those tendencies and habits must be purged.  

How does this happen?  We do not know.  We only know it does.  But we also know it’s the result of God’s infinite love that frees us of these attachments.  Is it painful?  Most likely.  But it’s painful in the sense that letting go of any disordered attachment is painful.  It’s hard to break a bad habit.  It’s even painful in the process.  But the end result of true freedom is worth any pain we may have experienced.  So, yes, Purgatory is painful.  But it’s a sort of sweet pain that we need and it produces the end result of a person 100% in union with God.

Now since we are talking about the Communion of Saints, we also want to make sure to understand that those going through this final purification are still in communion with God, with those members of the Church on Earth, and with those in Heaven.  For example, we are called to pray for those in Purgatory.  Our prayers are effective.  God uses those prayers, which are acts of our love, as instruments of His grace of purification.  He allows us and invites us to participate in their final purification by our prayers and sacrifices.  This forges a bond of union with them.  And no doubt the saints in Heaven especially offer prayers for those in this final purification as they await full communion with them in Heaven.  It’s a glorious thought and a joy to see how God has orchestrated this entire process for the ultimate purpose of the holy communion to which we are called!

Lord, I pray for those souls going through their final purification in Purgatory.  Please pour forth Your mercy upon them so that they may be freed of all attachment to sin and, thus, be prepared to see You face to 

Fr Ed Bakker

Sunday, October 31, 2021

All Saints - 1 November 21

My Friends 

Today we honour those holy men and women who have gone before us in faith and have done so in a glorious way.  As we honour these great champions of faith, let’s reflect upon who they are and what role they continue to play in the life of  the Church.

The Church Triumphant:  Those who have gone before us and now share in the glories of Heaven, in the Beatific Vision, are not gone.  Sure, we do not see them and we cannot necessarily hear them speak to us in the physical way they did while on Earth.  But they are not gone at all.  St. Thérèse of Lisieux said it best when she said, “I want to spend my Heaven doing good on Earth.”  

The saints in Heaven are in full union with God and make up the Communion of Saints in Heaven, the Church Triumphant!  What’s important to note, however, is that even though they are enjoying their eternal reward, they are still very much concerned about us. 

The saints in Heaven are entrusted with the important task of intercession.  Sure, God already knows all our needs and He could ask us to go directly to Him in our prayers.  But the truth is that God wants to use the intercession, and therefore, the mediation of the saints in our lives.  He uses them to bring our prayers to Him and, in return, to bring His grace to us.  They become powerful intercessors for us and participators in God’s divine action in the world.  

Why is this the case?  Again, why doesn’t God just choose to deal with us directly rather than go through intermediaries?  Because God wants all of us to share in His good work and to participate in His divine plan.  It would be like a dad who buys a nice necklace for his wife.  He shows it to his young children and they are excited about this gift.  The mom comes in and the dad asks the children to bring the gift to her.  Now the gift is from her husband but she will most likely thank her children first for their participation in giving this gift to her.  The father wanted the children to be part of this giving and the mother wanted to make the children a part of her receiving and gratitude.  So it is with God!  God wants the saints to share in the distribution of His manifold gifts.  And this act fills His heart with joy!

The saints also give us a model of holiness.  The charity they lived on Earth lives on.  The witness of their love and sacrifice was not just a one time act in history.  Rather, charity is living and continues to have an effect for the good.  Therefore, the charity and witness of the saints lives on and affects our lives.  This charity in their lives creates a bond with us, a communion.  It enables us to love them, admire them and want to follow their example.  It is this, coupled with their continuing intercession, that establishes a powerful bond of love and union with us.

Lord, as the saints in Heaven adore You for eternity, I beg for their intercession.  Saints of God, please come to my aide.  Pray for me and bring to me the grace I need to live a holy life in imitation of your own lives.  All saints of God, pray for us.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Fr Ed Bakker