A Quiet Sunday

For many, the sixth Sunday of Easter is less important than the fact that this is the first May Bank Holiday week-end and the weather is glorious. It would be silly, as well as churlish, not to rejoice in both. The extra leisure that the Bank Holiday gives, the sunshine, and the richness of the Eastertide liturgy transform the quietness of Sunday into something more, something immensely attractive and creative.

We have the gospel of John 15.9-17 to electrify us with its promise of friendship with Christ IF we do as he commands, and a whole day in which to live in his presence, rejoicing that the world contains so much beauty. Here in the monastery that means the regular round of prayer and reading is maintained, out of sight of everyone except God and ourselves; the monastic dinner is rather better, and the monastery dog indulged a little more, than on other days of the week; and there is a total ban on anything that might lead to arguments and disputes — no ‘fraternal corrections’ of any kind! This is not absence or emptiness or constraint; it is trying to live as we are meant to live every day of the week. As today’s reading from the Rule reminds us, our lives are lengthened so that we may amend our evil ways. (RB Prol. 33-38) Our ways may not seem very evil to us, but we all fall short of the glory of God and have something more to learn until our very last breath. Today is a day of boundless possibility. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

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Time and Eternity: the Easter Octave and the Eighth Day

The Easter Octave is a good time to think about time and eternity. In everyday conversation we use the words loosely, casually even, without regard to the more precise meanings given them by theologians and philosophers.

On Sunday we celebrated in a more intense form than usual the Resurrection of Christ. That is something we do every Sunday, but on Easter Day and throughout these days of the octave we go on celebrating that event as something that occurs uniquely today. Our ‘day’ therefore stretches over eight days, allowing us to assimilate different aspects of it. The Resurrection gospels read this week add to our understanding. They are like the many facets of a polished jewel, each one revealing different depths of colour and meaning.

But what of the eighth day? Is that the same as the octave day? The short answer is ‘no’. In Christian tradition, the eighth day is a sign of the new creation ushered in by the Resurrection. Sunday, as well as being the first day of the week, is also spiritually the eighth day. The early Christian writers made great play with this, seeing the eighth day as a symbol of perfection and fulfilment, the point where time intersected with eternity. Justin Martyr (c.154) described it thus: ‘the first day after the Sabbath [Saturday], remaining the first of all days, is called, however, the eighth, according to the number of all the days of the cycle, and [yet] remains the first.’

So where does that leave us during this Easter octave? We have, in effect, eight days of eighth days. We are living eternity now. And if that were not enough, the Easter season culminates in Pentecost, the great feast of the Church, ‘when the promise is fulfilled; all is made new.’ No wonder that we sing ‘alleluia’ over and over again.

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Making Sunday Special

An old rabbi used to say that if he came across any particularly delightful fruit, he would save it for the sabbath. It was a reminder to him of the joy and blessing that the sabbath is. For Christians Sunday can all too easily become a day like any other with a little bit of church on top. I exaggerate, but I’m sure you know what I mean. Perhaps if this morning you are preparing to go into overdrive, with a million things to do, you could pause for a moment and ask yourself just how many are really necessary, you might have time to taste and see how good Sunday can be. Rest isn’t the same as idleness, any more than peace is the mere absence of war or joy the absence of sorrow. Sunday is a day for allowing the Lord more scope than we usually do, letting him show us the true value of what we are and do and rejoicing in his presence and action in our lives. We each have to find our own way of making Sunday special.

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Something about Sunday

While many of our fellow citizens are taking the opportunity to have an extra long lie-in this Sunday, we Christian folk are busy in our churches and chapels, proclaiming the Word of God, celebrating his Sacraments and trying to be, at least for a few hours, what we long to be at all times: an icon of Christ, praying continuously to the Father, and radiating his love and compassion to all whom we meet. One of the great things about being a nun, of course, is that in the monastery it is Sunday every day, in a sense. Whatever we are doing, the focus is (or should be) always on Christ. It is when we take our gaze off him that things begin to go awry.

The words of the first reading at Mass, (Malachi 1.14 to 2.2, 8 to 10), are very sobering. They remind us that, whether we have been entrusted with the ministerial priesthood or not, as sharers in the priesthood of all believers we have a duty to live lives of transparent integrity. Perhaps this Sunday we could spend a few moments considering how we do that during the rest of the week. So often when we fail it is not for lack of goodwill but for lack of forethought.

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Preparing for Sunday

Trinity Sunday is our patronal feast, so there will be special preparations in the monastery today: mainly, I suspect, additional polishing in the oratory and some baking in the kitchen! Life, as we often remind ourselves, is not all liturgy and loveliness, but we need our highs as well as our lows and Sunday is the great feast of every week. It is our sabbath, and everything about it should have a sabbath quality of joy and blessedness. That doesn’t happen without preparation. So, if you would enjoy your Sunday and make of it a true sabbath, you need to do a little preparation today, especially since rest is an essential part of sabbath blessedness.

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The Problem of the Week-End

A chance remark by a friend made me think about what we mean by a week-end. In monasteries week-ends tend to be busy. There are often visitors, both individuals and groups, and Sunday, of course, is liturgically the high-spot of the week, a day we try to mark with special joy. By Monday we can be feeling a little limp, but that is when the working week begins again so we must move into another gear. Yet I still look forward to the week-end. Despite the busyness, there is a sense of winding-down, of a different quality to the days. I am not sure what it consists in but it is not a figment of my imagination. Time is a human construct, so maybe it is at base a philosophical problem. That’s too much like hard work. Just enjoy your week-end.

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