Sermon by Fr. Joshua Bell SSC, Sunday 16th May
Readings: Acts 1:15-17,20-26; 1 John 4:11-16; John 17:11-19
On Friday the church celebrated St Matthias’s Day.
If the apostles were a cricket team, he’s the twelfth man – he’s only really heard about here.
But he is a faithful follower of Jesus, throughout his earthly ministry, and so he is shortlisted as one of the people to replace Judas.
In the Gospel Jesus prays for the Apostles, that they may be “consecrated in the truth.” This prayer is offered, Jesus later goes on to say, not only for the Apostles, but also for all who will believe on their account – that’s you and me.
To consecrate something literally means to make it holy. The word of God is the truth which makes us holy.
But for Christians, consecration is the setting apart of something holy for a particular reason.
Bishops are consecrated in order to begin their ministry. An altar in a church will be consecrated – set apart for use in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It’s this setting apart that makes it an altar, and not simply a table or a surface to lean on.
And of course, in the Mass the consecration is the point at which the ordinary stuffs we bring to that altar – bread, wine, water – are set apart, they are made holy. They’re no longer mere foodstuffs, but the vessels for the body and blood of Christ himself.
So if we who are Christians are consecrated in the truth, what does that mean?
Over the years various groups have tried to work this out. My brother Joe lives near a large number of Amish settlements. They are extreme Protestants who have set themselves almost entirely apart from the rest of the world around them, to form a Christian community in isolation from what they see as the heathen world outside.
But Jesus’s prayer isn’t that his followers are removed from the world. We aren’t to go through life with the shutters down, not looking at the outside world – or even looking out at it and shaking our head at it.
That wasn’t the life that Jesus lived, and it wasn’t the life that the early church lived. One of St. Paul’s letters talked about how to respond if a non-Christian host invited you to a dinner party – St. Paul’s correspondents were worried because the standard practice was that meat sold in the market was usually offered to an idol first. The fact that this question arose shows us that Christians have never been ones to keep to their own – and St. Paul doesn’t tell them to avoid the dinner party either, but merely to keep their consciences pure.
This is what Jesus means when he prays – not that the disciples are removed from the world but that they are protected from the evil one.
What does that mean for us? Well, I think that have the freedom to enjoy the good things in life – and there are many of them! G. K. Chesterton, the Catholic author of the last century, used to say that in Catholicism, “the pipe, the pint, and the Cross all come together,” and while Public Health England might not agree about the first of those three things, we are free to enjoy the good things that God has given us – art, music – not just sacred music but all sorts!
To be consecrated in the truth means having the life of God within us, as St. John writes in the second reading. God has loved us so much! – and we should love one another, too – for if we do, God will live in us.
To love one another means having a two-way relationship with the world around us. We absorb what is good from it – but we give back to it, too. We often talk about leaving the world a better place than we found it – perhaps we can try to leave the world a little more Christlike, too – by sharing God’s love, and his truth, with others, by helping those in need, by challenging what is evil in our world: in short, by bringing the light of Christ – the light of the world – to those places which are in darkness.
That is what it means to be a witness to the resurrection of Jesus. That is what St. Matthias was.
I began by talking about St. Matthias as the twelfth man of the Apostles – the substitute about whom not much is heard. But perhaps I judged him unfairly – because the Holy Spirit judged him as worthy of joining that glorious company. He was a faithful follower throughout Jesus’s ministry, he was a witness to the Resurrection, and he shed the light of Christ throughout the world.
Let us, through our prayers, our words, and our deeds, do the same.