Sermons for Holy Week – Monday 10th April ‘Reconciliation’
It is not for nothing that the story of Cain and Abel is so close to the beginning of the Bible. Since the entry of humankind into the history of this tiny globe we have been fighting one another. War is the default position of us all. Divided communities, divided families, divided nations and a divided world. “Be reconciled to God’ urges Paul in 2 Corinthians and it will not surprise you to know that even Christians are known to go to fight – only we call it by other names like, being out of communion, division, excommunication, division and separation.
The irony is that reconciliation is the heart of the Christian faith. The cross is all about Christ bringing us home to the Father and bringing peace into our lives.
Here in the gospel just read we find two opposing attitudes. The first is that of naked ambition as the two brothers fight for supremacy. ‘We want you to do something for us’ they said to Jesus. I can imagine a half a smile on the face of Jesus as he hard this unsubtle request.
‘Oh, what is it?’
‘Well, really it is power and glory we want, the glory of sitting on your left and right and the power of ruling’.
James and John wanted a shortcut; a religious shortcut. Their message was: ‘Hey, Jesus, you know how we’ve been helping you out here in your ministry. Well, how about a little favour in return – give us whatever we ask for’.
Let’s all be honest. We can all identify with James and John in their ambition. ‘Wouldn’t it wonderful to sit in Glory one day and bask in the power and glory by sitting at the right and left hand of Almighty God in heaven. Everyone else will be using their heavenly binoculars to look at us from miles away and they’ll say: ‘Whoa! There’s Winrow! He’s at the right hand of God! I had no idea. I should have given him a little more respect when I had the chance. Now look at me: I am cleaning out the toilets in heaven.. for the rest of eternity’.
I joke, of course, but isn’t there a glimmer of truth in that story? I want Jesus to give me whatever I ask and, why not? After all, we are talking about Jesus who is supposed to love us.
And Jesus answers them in terms of service: service through bearing the cross of suffering and service through serving others.
During my time as Archbishop I dedicated the statues on the front of Westminster Abbey, representing 20th century martyrs for the faith. Among them are Maximilan Kolbe, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Janani Luwum and Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero. All of them died for their faith.
I find the story of Oscar Romero particularly relevant to our theme of reconciliation. We are told that there was nothing special about Oscar Romero. He was a faithful catholic priest, rather traditional and very conservative. When he was made bishop the clergy were jealous and surprise. But he began to make a name for himself as he protested against human rights abuse, the condition of the poor and above all at the outrageous behavior of those in power. He was made Archbishop of El Salvador and his outspoken views made waves internationally. Ordinary people were delighted and encouraged. He called for reconciliation between the various warring groups. He knew he was walking a fine line between safety and danger.
A day or so before his murder he spent sometime with a group of clergy, reflecting on the priesthood. That evening, Romero celebrated Mass at a small hospital a the Hospital de la Divina Providenzia. Romero finished his sermon, stepped away the lectern, and took a few steps to stand at the center of the altar.
As Romero finished speaking, a red automobile came to a stop on the street in front of the chapel. The gunman emerged from the vehicle, stepped to the door of the chapel, and fired one (possibly two) shots at Romero, probably using a silencer. Romero was struck in the heart, and the vehicle sped off.
That was the end of the earthly life of Oscar Romero but it was to be the end of the Junta’s rule in El Salvador. There was such an outcry at the callous death of a man who was so close to the poor and so far from the powerful and rich, that his death proved the downfall of the Government.
Romero often said, when he was alive, that there was nothing exceptional about himself. He was only a humble follower of Jesus Christ and that he was his job to serve the Lord. That was obviously false. He was an incredibly brave and noble man who was called to be a reconciler of others. But, in an equally true sense, he was right. We are all called to reconcile; through our lives, through our deeds and through every action. As the Lord says in the gospel reading: ‘Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first must be slave of all’.