St Stephen Lewisham

25th March 2007

Lent 5

Signs and Wonders

Much of Jesus’s teaching took the form of ‘parables’. To explain some heavenly truth, He sometimes told a story –last week’s one was about the youngster who wasted his inheritance but was welcomed home by his father, to the disgust of his older brother. Sometimes He took a common human experience – a woman finding a lost coin, a shepherd his lost sheep; or a net full of a mixture of fish and rubbish; or seed sown in the ground.

And then again, Jesus sometimes performed a miracle to reinforce the lesson he was teaching. St John in his gospel calls these miracles signs – meaning that we must follow them up if we want to understand the lesson He wants to teach us. Like those signs at the railway station which say ‘Platform 1 for London; Platform 2 for Dartford’: if it’s London you want to get to, you should follow the sign the Platform No. 1 – and not go to any platform or get on any old train, at random.

So these three teaching-methods, Parables, Stories and Miracles, have this in common: they need ‘unpacking’ and their meaning applied to our everyday lives. If we just look on them as ‘a good story’, or ‘a word-picture’, or a ‘remarkable event’ (which is what the word ‘miracle’ means) then we shall misunderstand their purpose – . like someone seeing a sign which says ‘Danger! Slow down!’ and thinking ‘what a pretty design!’ or ‘what a lovely colour that sign is!’ and not doing what it tells him to.

In the same way, these two Great Sacraments, Baptism and Holy Communion, which shall perform this morning, might be called ‘On-going Signs’. They aren’t just ‘something Jesus once said, or did, many years ago for the benefit of His hearers in the Eastern Mediterranean’. Today, as then, they are miracles and signs which he tells his followers to ‘go on doing’ until the end of time. ‘Make disciples of all nations and baptize them’ and ‘Do this in remembrance of me’. We must obey them in Lewisham 2007 as His Disciples did in Palestine in 30AD.

Baptism and Holy Communion are miracles – events where the Supernatural invades the world of the Natural. Don’t listen to anyone who says that miracles don’t happen nowadays! They are happen daily – both in this very building and throughout the world when the Mass is celebrated or Baptism administered.

When someone is baptized, or receives the Sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood, a miracle takes place no less real than those performed by Jesus during his earthly ministry. But there are two differences between then and now.

Firstly, Jesus usually acted by Himself when performing of the gospel miracles he did so ‘openly’ – in order to be seen by everyone present; secondly, most of them were ‘one-off’ miracles, seldom if ever to be repeated. But today’s miracles of Baptism and Holy Communion work differently.

Today’s miracles are also open in the sense that anybody may benefit from them, but at the same time they are hidden from the eyes of the unbelieving. To recognize them today we need to have to have our eyes wide open.

Secondly He invites us to take part in them with Him. Holy Baptism is a Sacrament which anyone laity or clergy can administer, and should do so in an emergency – all nurses used to be trained how to baptise people, especially new-born children if they seem likely to die and no priest or deacon is available. It needs a Priest to celebrate the Mass but you’ve no doubt noticed me taking the Blessed Sacrament and putting it into the aumbry every Sunday both to enable housebound people to make their Communion at home, and, if no priest is available people in Church can still receive communion.

But what do these two miracles do? Well, Baptism makes us a Member of Christ, the Child of God, and an Inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven; Holy Communion incorporates or embodies us within the Body of Christ, the Church on Earth, and, by tearing back the veil which lies between us and God, unites us in one single Act of Worship with the Church in Heaven, Angels, Archangels and the Faithful Departed who are no less a part of that Mystical Body.

Two miracles, two sacraments – ‘generally necessary to salvation’ as the Catechism says.

So now let you and me as the Church of God in this place, without any more delay Baptise these two children into our fellowship, and incorporate ourselves into the Body of Christ through Holy Communion, by playing our allotted parts in these two miracles – which will now take place before our very eyes!

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