Sermon for Evensong & Benediction Sunday 14 October 2018
‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ (Matt 11.28 – 30)
A priest friend once told me how he had visited a convent of sisters during Holy Week to retrieve the Sacrament. As happened every year, it was to be refreshed after Holy Saturday. He opened the tabernacle, where the sisters kept a small lunette containing the consecrated host for eucharistic adoration. Only to find there was no Host. The Sacrament was nowhere to be found. In it’s place had been inserted a piece of bright white card.
Bemused, and a little concerned that he and the sisters had been genuflecting to cardboard for the past year, he asked one of the sisters about the circle of bright white card. ‘Oh yes’, she said, ‘the host was quite dull and difficult to see’.…
In a few moments we will look on Christ in the Sacrament, even if he is difficult to see. Benediction, contrary to what the sisters may have thought, isn’t just about looking on Jesus so that we might see him.
As we look on him, his gaze lands upon us, as much as our gaze lands on him. As we look on the Sacrament, he sees the whole of us, warts and all, and invites us to take up the real selves he’s calling us to be, our lives lived more fully and completely with him.
Christ in the Sacrament reveals to us the dullness of our response to his call in our lives, and holds before us the brightness of life we might live, if only we would allow ourselves to be transformed by that gaze.
This happens each and every time we gaze on the Sacrament, until that day we see him face to face. We may never achieve the brightness of response in this life, we may never be as bright in response as the sister’s choice of cardboard, but we know our dullness will diminish the more we open ourselves to his presence which transforms the least of our efforts, the more time we spend simply resting before the presence of Christ in the Sacrament, during Benediction and in the tabernacle.
The more time we spend before the Sacrament, the more clearly we hear the words of Jesus from our gospel reading tonight: ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’ As we encounter the presence of Christ, we find our rest in him. ‘Sweet Sacrament of rest, ark from the ocean’s roar’ as the hymn puts it.
Jesus promises us ‘rest in our souls’, but the rest he gives us isn’t a cosy afternoon nap, or a long leisurely lie-in. Christ’s rest brings yokes and burdens of its own, easy and light though they may be.
‘Sweet Sacrament of rest, ark from the ocean’s roar’.
In our first reading, the ark of the covenant brings not rest, but transformation. The priests carry the ark of the covenant around the walls of Jericho. And the walls of Jericho come tumbling down.
So too in Benediction. As we are confronted by Christ’s presence, all the walls we build for ourselves, all the barriers we put up between ourselves and Christ are torn down. As we gaze on Christ, and he on us, God does exactly what he did in Jericho. He begins to tear down the walls of sin that divide us from him and from each other.
Whenever we find ourselves in Christ’s presence, we should be prepared for the discomfort as well as the peace that his presence can bring. We shouldn’t be surprised that our inner walls and defences begin to fall.
This process can feel alarming, like a burden or a yoke, but we know that at it’s end is the true rest which life in Christ brings. If we want to experience that rest sooner rather than later, we have to go through the transformation of our walls and the destruction of our barriers even now, as the gentle gaze of Jesus transforms our lives, preparing us for eternity when we will see him face to face.
When we come into his presence, in Benediction and eucharistic adoration, Jesus begins to tear down our walls, he reveals where we’ve yet to embrace the life to which he’s calling us. He transforms our lives.
This transformation doesn’t just happen in Benediction, nor even just in the Mass, but whenever and wherever we encounter Christ. And we encounter him just as much in the faces of the poor and the marginalised, those he calls us to serve, those whose lives he calls us to transform. As we serve them, we encounter Christ. In them, he gazes on us, just as much as he does in the Sacrament, he reveals our failings, tears down our walls, and transforms our lives.
If we want to experience the rest promised in our Gospel, we need to take him at his word, and come to him. All of us that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, are called to come to him and he will give us rest. Come to him in the Sacrament. Come to him in the poor and marginalised. he calls us to serve. Come to him and be transformed, to transform the lives of others, and enjoy our rest.