Recognizing the Risen Christ

Who does not love the gospels we read this week, with their stories of meeting the Risen Christ? How one’s whole being thrills with Mary Magdalene as she hears the Lord calling her by name or with those weary disciples, their hearts burning within them as the scriptures are explained to them on the road to Emmaus, and then that amazing moment of recognition as Jesus breaks bread with them. We shall see the Risen Christ on the sea-shore, put our hands into the mark of the nails, be questioned by him, be commissioned by him. We shall know him, yet not know him; recognize him yet still perhaps doubt. In a word, we shall be plunged into the mystery of the Resurrection — and it will all be new, strange, unsettling and the most profound joy we have ever known.

For most, the way in which we are celebrating Easter this year is without precedent. We have been discovering anew the power and holiness of the domestic church — making a chapel of our living room, an altar of our table and a lectern or pulpit of our tablet or smartphone. For some, live-streamed worship has taken the place of gathering physically with the parish community; for others, there has been a more conscious and regular participation in the ancient prayer of the Church known as the Liturgy of the Hours or Divine Office. Whichever it is, the intention is the same: to meet the Risen Christ, to adore him, to love him, to serve him. That is why, no matter how engaged we are with worship, we cannot neglect him in our brothers and sisters, many of whom are suffering terribly at this time.

For a cloistered nun like me, that poses a special challenge but it is one I suspect my older or less able readers may share. Yes, we can pray; but can we do anything practical to help those in need? For many of us the answer will be a disappointing ‘no’. We haven’t the money or resources, physical or otherwise, to help others directly. Happily, that also means we can’t pat ourselves on the back that we have done something good and worthwhile. We actually have to live our faith. The post-resurrection appearances of Jesus have an ambiguity that draws us in. We don’t see him healing or preaching. He just is; but he is in a way that is intensely alive and life-giving. I have a hunch that we who call ourselves his disciples are meant to be the same. We may not do very much, but through our prayer and our readiness to respond to the Lord, we are inviting the Risen Christ into the heart of a sick and suffering world which he alone can heal and give new life to. It is a humbler role than we might like, perhaps, but it is the one that will prove most fruitful.

We may not always recognize the Risen Christ as we would wish, but I’m confident he will always recognize us; and that is what matters. Cleopas and his companion walked seven long miles in Jesus’ company, but only recognized him when he himself chose to disclose himself to them. Let us be try to be ready for that moment in our own lives.

Audio version


St Patrick and Slavery

As an Englishwoman, I have to be careful what I say about St Patrick. No matter that he was a Romano-British missionary, kidnapped as a young man and sold into slavery in Ireland, from which he eventually escaped, only to return later as a priest and preacher; the Irish claim him as their own. It is another case of the captive taking the captor captive. So, two thoughts this morning, if I can dignify them as such.

How many people celebrating St Patrick today with ‘the wearing of the green’ and other forms of jollification will give a thought to the real St Patrick, the man who burned with zeal for the souls of those who enslaved him? How many will read his Testament, or think of the long hours of prayer, the endless journeys, the ready acceptance of his position as eternal outsider in Irish society, refusing gifts from local kings and chieftains and thereby placing himself outside the usual network of kinship and patronage? How many will think what it was like to confront power armed with nothing more than a conviction of truth and a desire to share the blessings of the gospel?

Not only have we tended to lose sight of the real St Patrick in the celebration of all that has become associated with his name — love of country, pride in national culture, a sense of belonging — we have also tended to gloss over those six years he spent as a slave. He was allegedly 16 when he was torn away from all that was familiar. We can only speculate what effect slavery had on him at that age, but we do not have to speculate about the effect slavery has on millions of people in the world today. The shocking truth is that even here in Britain there are men and women who are enslaved. Slavery is not a problem afar off; it is close at hand; we just do not give it its proper name.

Why are we so mealy-mouthed when it comes to slavery? Why do we prefer to close our eyes to the degradation it imposes? We may not think of the illegal immigrant we employ at less than the going-rate as a slave, but he/she is not a truly free person any more than the one who works as a gang-labourer in British fields or as a bonded worker in a far-away factory. Even if we are not ourselves involved in such dealings, we are complicit if we enjoy the fruits of slave labour; and that’s a thought should give us pause.

In 1102 the Church in England formally condemned the slave-trade after centuries of  individual opposition to it, but it was not until 1706 that Sir John Holt, the Lord Chief Justice, ruled that a slave setting foot on England became free; not until 1807 that the slave trade was abolished throughout the British Empire; and not until 1834 that slavery itself was abolished (though territories controlled by the East India Company and Ceylon had to wait until 1843). It is a sad history, but maybe one of the best ways of celebrating St Patrick today would be to consider some of the things that gave his life shape and purpose. Prayer and service of others naturally top the list, especially during Lent, but I think we should also give serious consideration to the subject of slavery and doing what we can to eliminate it wherever it exists. That beats ‘the wearing of the green’ any day, for freedom is everyone’s birthright.