Someone asked me recently why the Methodist Church was divided into Chinese and Iban Churches and wondered whether it was because of prejudice. I smiled and explained that the division was due not to prejudice, but to necessity. Ritual and ceremony, I told him, play only a small part in Methodist worship, which is composed mostly of Scripture, hymns, sermons and prayers. They have a communion service, but it is not usually very frequent, nor is it central to their worship, as it is with us Catholics, and because of this heavy reliance on the written and spoken word, it is very difficult for people, who do not share a common language, to worship together. Thus, they need to have separate Churches for the various language groups, but as far as I know, I said, they still cooperate and work together as closely as they can.
Later, thinking further about that, I began to realise how extraordinary our Catholic liturgy is, in the way the Mass draws us all together. At Sunday Mass, here in Sarawak, we have people from many different language groups and, even though there may be no one common language among us, we still know what is going on and can take part fully in our act of worship, because the Mass itself is a language and a language, which, in many ways, is deeper and more encompassing than any spoken language. Thus, the rituals and ceremonies of the Mass unite us even though language and other things may divide us and in so doing it also shows us what Christ is doing in the world, in our history and in our hearts – he is reconciling us to himself and to each other: he is making us One.
When we think of sin and reconciliation, we often do so in terms of personal failings and so miss that reconciliation is far wider than just the divisions between myself and God. The first eleven chapters of Genesis are a description of the brokenness of the whole of mankind and the divisions which exist among us; these stories are concerned not about what happened in the past, but what we are now – we are a broken and divided people, a people scarred by sin. We were made to become one with one another and with God, but instead we find ourselves divided from each other, treating each other as rivals and enemies, instead of friends in the making. This is the broader picture of what sin is and does – it damages and divides all mankind: all communities, all families and indeed all persons in the depths of their hearts. In drawing us into one community at Mass, Christ shows us that he is drawing us into a much deeper togetherness, a healed oneness, the reconciliation which he began on the cross. The Mass shows us Christ healing a divided mankind.
The Mass also shows us how he is doing this. Forgiveness can only be done by the one, who has been hurt, but forgiveness is also a power that can only come from God – a power, which looks at the person, who sinned, with the eyes of love and sees that he/she is more than what they did. This is how God looks at us, but only God can see us in this way and so only God can forgive. Christ, God-made-man, forgave his killers as he hung on the cross – calling out to his Father, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, now he makes that same prayer in and with all of us, who are becoming one with him. We see this acted out in the Mass. Christ comes among us – really and truly present in the Eucharist – but he comes seeking a place to live on the earth – a person to live with. Our going up to the altar to receive him in communion is our acceptance of this invitation and by doing so, we become the place where Christ walks the earth, the place where he lives and where, with us, he continues his work of forgiving sin and reconciling the world to himself.
This vision of the Eucharist is beautifully described in a hymn called “The summons” that I came across a while ago:
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?
Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?
Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?
Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around,
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?
Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In Your company I’ll go where Your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.
Last week, I was chatting online with a lad who used to be in the Hostel for Street Children where I worked for a while in India. His name is Anji and he is the one whose wedding I attended last year in India. He told me that three months previously, another ex-hostel boy became very sick and collapsed, vomiting over a litre of blood. The doctor diagnosed TB and so my friend took him to the TB hospital, but they would not accept him because he was also diagnosed as HIV+. So, he took him back to his own small house, as his own family did not want anything to do with him. He told me that he did not have the money for the treatment and food the sick lad needed, so he and his new wife, Chaity, prayed about it, asking the Lord what they should do. They decided that they would pawn the gold jewellery Chaitu had received on her wedding day and in addition he borrowed from friends. The amount needed is quite considerable, because the sick lad will need rest and high protein food, as well as medication, for about ten months to a year. He has rented a room near his own for the lad, because his own house is quite small and his wife is pregnant, but he and his Chaitu are quietly determined that they will look after the lad until he is better.
I feel quite humbled and hope to try to help them get back Chaitu’s jewellery. Both are Hindus.