The two portions of scripture appointed for today make a daunting prospect for any preacher for they both provide large scale generalised statements about the requirements for a Christian. Holding everything in common, and making sure that we go through the right door who is Jesus Christ, all well and good for generalised waffle, but what is offered to us is really a challenge. I shall not be dilating on the benefits of common ownership or the evils of property for there is always a chance, even here of being mistaken in my motives, especially with an election on our door step!
So, do we think of the door as a challenge and once we have gritted our teeth and gone through, whether in Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination, or as a result of an evangelical altar call that all will be well? That one decision is very overrated if we think it is the end rather than the beginning, for we are all very wayward sheep and can be wrecked by our lack of possessions or by a plenitude of them, as well as a host of other reasons. The Lord’s Prayer says it all “Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive…”
Yet there are people who succeed, not in a worldly sense but in growth of holiness, a life of striving but of laughter as well as tears. So I recommend reading the biographies of people you admire. For none was it an easy ride, so Augustine in his Confessions; Michael Ramsey and his long and many conversations with his brilliant and articulate elder brother who did not believe. Ramsey had gone through the gate of studying towards ordination, but his brother was eloquent and passionate, and Michael liked and admired him, and it was difficult to be convinced that he was wrong.
Edward Talbot, father of our brother and long-time Superior, Keble, who was the first Warden of Keble College at a very tender age relinquishing a comfortable post in his own college, Christ Church and suddenly running and building a brand new college with the considerable help from his beautiful and aristocratic wife, and who went on to be vicar of Leeds and then bishop of Rochester and then the founding bishop of Southwark, travelling around his diocese on a tram, and regularly seen waiting patiently among the postmen in St. Alban’s Holborn to make his confession to Father Stanton, he went on to become a beloved bishop of Winchester. But the Keble times had been hard.
The Risen Life manifests itself in no specific ways after the Resurrection of Jesus, but is nevertheless recognisable by the consequences rather than its content, and I don’t believe it can be experienced without desire, a longing, – that search for the Vision of God so well described by Kenneth Kirk; it is the aim of the Ignatian disciplines; it demands fidelity in the face of failure, or sickness,; for the forces of evil are mobilised and won’t let go. It is a resurrection experience not a nice reward for an outwardly holy life.
The total negativity of the 10 commandments has blighted much possible spiritual progress, the negative pressure all those “thou shalt nots” concentrate on the action, not on the reason for the action and that is the button that needs to be pressed, and so produce a religion that can be defined by conduct or behaviour,
The message of Christ as the Door is helpful, provided that we remember that while he is certainly not a revolving door, nevertheless if we go out we will always be welcomed back! The “door” and the comfortingly wayward sheep are serious helps; predestination whether up or down is not part of God’s plan, no shepherd would leave a lamb to die, but if the sheep has a mind of his, or her, own…..
Many others too have found their way to the door which looks very attractive in its many disguises and they have duly turned the handle and gone outside only to find that the outside is full of unfulfilled desires, broken promises and all the detritus of human existence; but getting back is difficult because the door which looked so attractive from the inside is so hard to find from the outside because unless we really want to pass through it accompanied by uncertainty and guilt, we cannot find it.
Most of us don’t appreciate that one of the functions of a guardian angel is to point us towards the door but never to open it. The rich young spendthrift discovers that all he can do is to go home and make, as we say, a clean breast to his father, and so he approaches home scared to death at the treatment he would be bound to get, perhaps the door would be closed and he would be sent away? But no, as he comes in sight of him his father is running to meet him and they embrace. So does the Lord elucidate the idea of the door again. We have to find the door, gather ourselves together and turn the handle and then follows the embrace and the party.
This is not magic but hard work, discipline when we have over-valued freedom, on our own terms, of course, and so saying and meaning “Not my will but thine” again and again, Easter is indeed a triumph, but always at a cost.
Aidan Mayoss CR