The Second Sunday after Epiphany
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The Collect and Readings can be found here:
Sing along/listen to:
John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God’.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We have been here before.
Countless times in Christian history, we have been here before.
At the beginning of the third century, an illness similar to influenza ripped across the Roman Empire. The Bishop of Alexandria, Saint Dionysius wrote of the situation:
‘now, indeed, everything is tears and everyone is mourning, and wailings resound through the city because of the multitude of the dead and dying’.
The Black Death ravaged the world in the fourteenth century, killing an estimated two million people. The Church’s response was deemed insufficient, one historian says that the clergy had abandoned
‘their responsibilities, to have run away in fear or in search of gain, to have put their own skins first and the souls of their parishioners a bad second’.
A damning assessment.
Things had improved a little when the Plague hit Europe in the sixteenth century. The Church’s response, led by Saint Charles Borromeo, the Bishop of Milan was praiseworthy. Love of neighbour was shown through his relief works, the feeding of the poor and needy, the care of the sick and orphans.
The commandment to love God was fulfilled in another way. Perhaps most importantly, in the expression of worship, the words from the opening antiphon today: ‘may all the earth give you worship and praise’.
He ensued social distancing was carried out, he created jobs for those who had lost theirs. But ultimately he fulfilled his calling as a priest, and as a Bishop, ensuring that the worship of God was faithfully offered: his primary concern was the for the salvation of souls. Charles would always ensure that the Mass was celebrated, he even had altars set up on the street corners for those ill, so that the faithful could ‘come and see’, words from the gospel.
Charles deployed the clergy to the doorsteps of the people, to hear confessions, they would sit on the step, and the penitent would kneel behind the safety of the door.
Charles ensured that the faithful were never without. Prayer books were delivered to each parishioner, so they could pray at home, readings from the saints were provided and other resources to ensure that the people could access the grace of God. Such was the effort of Saint Charles Borromeo that people even during times of pandemic, were still able to ‘know the riches of your grace’, God’s grace, in the words of the collect
We, in this place, have done nearly all of those things. We have provided prayerbooks to the faithful, we have provided scripture reading plans, we have provided readings from the Saints to inspire us, we have been diligent in collecting food for the hungry.
These things we have tried to do faithfully to care for people. But most of all, we have offered the sacrifice of the Mass. People have been able, to ‘come and see’ the ‘Lamb of God’. We are called to ‘behold’ as Saint John the Baptist reminds us today. We are called to adore, as Saint John the Evangelist does in his vision of heaven: to adore the Lamb who sits upon the throne, we are called to behold this Lamb, this Messiah – the one who save us from our sins. We are above all else, as Christian people, to be united in our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to the who gives life and life eternal.
For some, this will mean that they unite their prayers with ours from home, making a spiritual communion. This will mean for others, that they physically behold the Lamb in this eucharist. But the Mass will be offered, the Lamb will be beheld. The clergy of the fourteenth century ran away. They made mistakes. And whilst I have made mistakes throughout this pandemic, you have my pledge that I will do all I can to ensure that you continue to be spiritually fed. The Mass will be celebrated to give God what is his due. The Mass will be celebrated to strengthen you, the faithful, the Mass will be celebrated to instruct you in the Christian life.
In contrast to times gone by, in contrast to pandemics of times past, the diseased and dying are not left on the streets, but people are left, it seems more than ever in our life time, in hopelessness, in pain and in misery, people are in despair. We must be different as Christians.
Saint Dionysius speaks again:
‘though they see the race of men constantly diminishing and wasting away, and though their destruction is increasing and advancing, they do not tremble’.
The Christians did not tremble. Why? Because they knew, and we know that the Lamb upon the throne has experienced unimaginable suffering, the Lamb upon the throne has experienced incomparable pain, the Lamb upon the throne, Jesus Christ has died. He has died so that we might live. And his death opens for us the way to new life, eternal life, eternal healing, eternal peace.
We are called not to tremble, but to trust, to trust that he has ‘conquered’ as our second reading puts it. He has conquered. Let us, like Samuel before the ark of God, say ‘here I am Lord’. In this world of sadness and suffering, in this time of pestilence and pain, let us be witnesses to the Lamb of God, strengthened and fortified by this holy sacrament, for it is he who is our salvation, our life and our resurrection, by him we are saved and set free. Amen.
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