Easter 7, 29 May 22
One of the epic films of the 1990s was Titanic, propelling Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio on to the big screen. DiCaprio, playing an honest and cheeky working class chap, falls in love with the pretentious, wealthy upper class Winslet. One moment that defines their relationship and perhaps the film is when they are on the bow of the ship feeling the breeze blowing on their faces, their hair flowing elegantly and wildly behind them, while the boat majestically sailing on (for now, at least!). Winslet climbs over the fence to get the full effect of the moment, which means DiCaprio has to hold her: “Step up on the railing,” he says, “Hold on, hold on. Keep your eyes closed. Do you trust me?” Winslet’s character replies, “I trust you.” And we know love has been cemented. Aww, isn’t it lovely?!
Trusting others isn’t always easy though but yes, I want us to think about the need for trust this morning. It is surely one of the things that the disciples have learnt in these forty something days of Eastertide, to trust the Lord. For when Jesus left them on Good Friday, having died on the Cross, they went to pieces: they ran away, most of them not even at the Cross, Peter denied ever having met Jesus and we discover them behind locked doors on Easter Sunday, afraid. Fear, be in no doubt, is a failure to trust. But on Thursday we celebrated the Ascension of the Lord, another departure from the disciples, and this time they don’t go to pieces for we find them, as we will discover next Sunday on the great feast of Pentecost, not in fear behind locked doors, but together, praying with Mary the Mother of the Lord (Acts 1:14). Now, with this action the apostles reveal that the encounters with the Risen Lord have helped them to trust.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews reflects on the Ascension of Jesus, which we celebrated on Thursday, saying: “Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the Heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession.” All that Jesus says about Himself is proved right by the His Ascension, all those who criticised Him, tried to stone Him and plotted His execution have definitely been found to have been full of empty promises and vacuous power. But not only this, for the priestly identity of Jesus, His humanity and His divinity, also gives us confidence, it is asserted, for He was tested in every way as we are yet without sin. We can, because of this, “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” (Hebrews 4:14-16). In these days between the Ascension of the Lord and next Sunday’s Feast of Pentecost we pray for the Holy Spirit. And our prayer is always confident prayer, not because we’re spoilt children who get whatever we ask for, but because we are to be children filled with the Spirit who will ensure we ask for what God longs to give us, and this will indeed fulfil all our desires. Hence Jesus says, “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it,” and then goes to speak of the Holy Spirit who will abide within us (St John 14:14-17).
I want at this stage to suggest three phrases to make our own in prayer to increase our trust in the Lord. (1) On Wednesday the Church celebrated St Bede, a great historian and saint of this nation. One prayer of His has long been a favourite of mine, “Christ is the bright morning star who when the night of this world is past brings to his saints the promise of the light of life and opens everlasting day.” We trust Jesus will shine brightly when He is ready: “when the night of this world is past.” It’s only when it’s night time that you see the light of the stars. (2) One beautiful line written by Dante centuries ago about God is: “In His will is our peace.” (3) As St Augustine of Hippo had prayed simply centuries before then: “Give what you command and command what you will.” These simple prayers of trust can be ours.
So, we know we can and we should trust Jesus. What will help nourish this within us?
First, trust will flow from humility. As the Psalmist puts it, “God remembers that we are dust … [our] days like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,” (Psalm 103:14-15). We cannot live this life in our own strength nor with an attitude that means we’re constantly telling ourselves, “I just need to do this and then do that and then help so-and-so.” We need to stop and realise our need of God. In our worship of God we adore the Lord and we realise that God is our life and our joy. Trying to live life without God will end in failure. There is the danger too that we take God for granted: “Oh, I know He is with me,” people say. Well, then, why are you rushing around not worshipping Him, not praising Him? A realisation of the limits of our abilities moves us to trust the Lord, because it’s futile to do anything else.
Second, we learn to trust when we’re trying to sort out the problem of our sinfulness. All sin in fact is a failure to trust in God because to sin is to separate ourselves from Him and not to live our life according to His way. In the last book of the Bible, the Apocalypse of St John, we hear recorded the vision received by St John the disciple of the Lord, now much in his old age. There’s a lovely passage where he sees one of the elders on his journey to Heaven along with a great throng worshipping God. The elder says to John, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” St John replies that he, the elder, should be the one who knows really. The elder replies, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” (7:13-14). (Incidentally it’s why priests say Mass with a white alb, the full length garment.) But in this context the elder could have said something like, “These are the holiest people … the ones who are best at saying their prayers … who built most churches” etc etc. But that’s not the answer, these are the ones who have stayed faithful when it was difficult and who have received the gift of cleansing from the Lord, washing their robes, it’s a metaphor for spiritual purification. Holiness is uniting ourselves to this cleansing, as the hymn puts it, “come for a cleansing from Calvary’s tide, there’s power in the blood.” Trusting in the Lord means we know we need forgiveness from His Cross and we are to be utterly convinced that we need it.
Third, trust flows too from our love for the Lord. We learn this in the vows of marriage. Traditionally the bride promises to obey, the groom to love. In truth, these are two sides of the same coin. If you love someone and you know that person loves you, then, of course, you will obey them, because you know they have your wellbeing in their heart. Similarly if you obey someone freely and gladly and if you know you have someone who will obey you freely and gladly then there is nothing else to do but to love them lest that commitment made to love is abused or becomes a cause for sin. This reciprocity of love and obedience is there too in the relationship that we, members of Christ’s Body the Church, are to have for Him, our Head. He loves us and we obey Him, knowing that whatever He orders will be for our good.
Fourthly, we discover how much we trust ourselves and how much we are trusted in difficult situations. My Dad gave me some lessons to learn how to drive. I took the test when I was 17 while he was out at work and I passed. As soon as I got home I took Dad’s car out and obviously it was the first time I’d driven by myself, perfectly legally as I was insured. When Dad got home from work he said we’d have to work up to my going out by myself and I admitted proudly I’d already done it. He was clearly a bit unnerved by the thought of me driving his car by myself. I think eventually he grew to trust me though! But it’s in the difficult situations when the element of trust is revealed: when something goes wrong, when something is new. The great line from Psalm 23 teaches us this: “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil.” It’s only because of the darkness of the valley, the vulnerability and the problems that we know we are trusting.
Coming to Mass is a great act of trust too. It may just look like we’ve come and really we could just all stay at home and be by ourselves creating a false sense of peace and security. But we trust the Lord when He says, “where two or three are gathered together in my name I am there among them,” (St Matthew 18:20) and we trust Him when He says, “This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me,” (St Luke 22:19). If we just looked at outward appearances, bread and wine, our senses would tell us one thing. But we trust, we believe the Lord is here. As Thomas Aquinas wrote: “Faith our outward sense befriending makes the inward vision clear.” Elsewhere St Thomas Aquinas refers to St Thomas the Apostle, “Doubting Thomas,” and addresses the Blessed Sacrament, saying, “I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see, But I plainly call thee Lord and God as He: this faith each day deeper be my holding of, Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.”
May we be better at trusting, my friend, and more trustworthy. As we pray earnestly for the coming of the Holy Spirit, let us be confident that God will give us all that is needful. He will keep His promises. He will deliver. He is present at this Mass. He hears our prayer. May our humility, our requests for forgiveness, our sufferings and our love lead us to trust God who is our hope and strength. Amen.