Saturday, 5 April 2008

This Sundays Sermon and the Cameldolese Monastery.

The hermitages.

St Sebastian's Altar.

This image of the trinity was supressed by the Vatican in the 1820's, but is very common in Polish Churches.

This break in the walls of the Carmel leads to the gatehouse. The cars belong to workmen repairing paths in the square.

This is the gatehouse hallway.

From the gatehouse to the Basilica. Why such a big Church for 16 hermits? Guilt! Wealthy but naughty men died and left money for it's foundation.

Inside the Basilica.

The Altar. The monks stalls are behind. The figure of the risen Christ is very common on Polish altars in Eastertide.

Since I have drawn heavily on my visit to the Cameldolese Monastery for the initial imagery for this Sundays sermon, I have combined that with some pictures as well. I hope that you enjoy them both. If you feel that you are sufficently holy enough to skip the sermon, the first paragraph will also suffice as an introduction to the Monastery as well.

‘Were not our hearts burning within us as we heard Him talking to us?’

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Journeying and hospitality are two key themes to St Luke’s Gospel. In fact; I think that they are two key themes to our own lives. I have just been to a Cameldolese Monastery in Poland, some miles out of Krakow in the woods. One takes a tram to the end of the tram lines and then takes a bus far up into the country before disembarking at the stop near on old shrine to Our Lady. At this, one walks up a steep dusty track into the hills. Some way up, two huge green domes become visible, then you encounter a high, deep, whitewashed wall with a crucifixion scene attaches to it, in another shrine. Beyond this is the Carmel, the compound wherein the Monks will spend the rest of their lives. The Abbot, when commissioning new monks, will say at the end of the ceremony ‘are you ready to leave the world, trusting only in the mercies of God, never more to leave this place?’ Happy the man who can say yes to this. Walking up the hill further, the wall breaks and there is a long walkway in between two high walls, with gates at each end. At the end of the walkway is a gatehouse which you enter if, like me, you are blessed with access to such places and at the other side of that is a large courtyard, at the end of which is a Basilica Church so huge, so white and so splendid that it is almost impossible to take in. Beyond this, where no one may ever go, are the small huts, the hermitages where each man lives a solitary life, eating together only five times a year and saying most of their prayers in solitude. To join is an heroic journey, you go easily enough, into the Church where there are no pews for only the monks will pray there, and wait, maybe for months, for the Abbot to show you to a cell, where you will make your own coffin, surrounded by the skulls of the cells previous inhabitants. It is a grim life with little to look forward to except death. It is a journey which takes you to new life and a meaning of hospitality quite alien to us in North Manchester. However, even these monks will show you what hospitality they can. Food will be left if you stay a while. A blanket will be laid for you if you stay a night for hospitality is at the very heart of the Christian mission, even on the hill at the end of the world where the Cameldolese Fathers live.

We have journeyed as well this year and we have journeyed with hospitality at every turn. We have seen Jesus feast with His friends, we have seen Him have His feet washed with ludicrously expensive ointment in a house of sin, we have watched Him journey into Jerusalem on a donkey, with the people shouting Hosanna to the greatest meal of all, the last Passover and the first Mass. We have traveled with Him up the mountain of Calvary, to the hill at the end of time, where the world fell still as blood and water flowed from his side and we have heard him promising hospitality to the penitent thief and commending his beloved disciples to each other’s care. We have gone with the blessed women, chosen to be the ones to see the Lord first and we have seen this stone rolled back for all time and have felt our sins washed clean. We have been given a commandment to journey to Christ and to look after our fellow people.

And what have we done? We are running away! Emmaus was not a day trip! We cannot really imagine this scene unless we understand how highly charged it was. This was not a stroll in the park as two disciples discuss spiritual matters. Their leader had been arrested, tortured, and publicly executed as a subversive. These two disciples are getting out of town hoping that they can avoid the fate of their master. As Jesus joined them He began to converse with them, asking of the events they talked about. In asking, He allowed them to tell their deepest hurts, angers and frustrations.

They poured out their hearts to Him as they were counting on this Jesus to redeem Israel. They had placed all their hope in Him and when He had died their hopes died with Him. They spoke of the resurrection being told of by the women, but it seemed futile for they did not see Him. They could not return to Synagogue for they had been cast out, ‘cursed be the Nazarenes’, said the Jewish leaders, for they have brought shame on us. They were running away and their Lord, our Lord, the only God in the history of the world who lays down his life for his followers and then goes and gets them when they are scared, the only God whose heart was ever bleeding, the only wounded healer, He follows them and explains, again, gently, what had happened. And this is the key to our Faith….they offered Him hospitality on the journey. Their eyes are fully opened after they show hospitality to a stranger, who turns out to be the Christ. Saying their confession of faith was not sufficient for them to see Him. They ask him to stay with them, but he refuses, as he always had done, for there was always too much work to be done to settle down and be comfortable, too much to do to waste a minute. Here, just momentarily, He does something quite beautiful, for the night before he died, he took the bread and wine before becoming the paschal lamb, and blessed it, saying that he would not eat with them again until the kingdom of God had come and here it is. The kingdom of God has come and it has come to two scared men running to Emmaus, once again, Jesus goes to them, once again, their eyes are opened. They are forgiven and sent back on their way, which is, of course, His way, the way of peace. Just as at the end of confession when the Priest says ‘go in peace, and tell the world of the wonders of God, for he has made you whole’, here God forgives and sends them on their journey, with the commandment to show His love in their actions and in the saving power of the Eucharist. Would not their hearts be burning? Their lives prior to this moment were like a smouldering fire that gives no light, just smoke to cloud things up. But once they came into the presence of the Risen Lord their hearts were ablaze! A burning fire gives light for all to see, and they saw, understood and believed! All because of the Risen Lord! Jesus’ victory became their restoring hope. It became the anchor of their lives and it is the anchor of yours as well. We are on a journey to the Kingdom of God. We have a duty to offer hospitality and to look for Christ on the road. How do you recognise the Christ when you see Him? How do other people recognise Him in us?

We are not called in this passage to comfortable places. We are called to be a servant people, to be like our God and our risen saviour to live simply, to walk humbly and to love unreservedly and maybe if we do, our hearts will also burn within us, as we encounter him on the way.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.