20 Oct Sermon for the Solemn Profession of Br. Adrian
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
When a member of this community makes his or hers first vows they are given by the Abbot a solemnly professed brother or sister who accompanies them. For the past three years Br. Adrian and I journeyed together (which is a more polite way of saying that he had to put up with me and my ramblings). We met every two weeks and, in what seems to appear to be an ever recurring event, as if our past was our future, we booked our session either during a quiet day, during a community meeting, a study day or simply double booked ourselves (despite having our diaries with us…).
As I said, as if our past was our future. We often think of time and space as linear. We think of it as having an origin and an end goal. We are ourselves suspended between this beginning and this end, between our origin in the past and our destination in the future. The present is: what is stuck in the middle; neither beginning nor end. By embracing our origin and end goal and everything in between, we transcend the given realities of the present and give it its meaning. It is what gives us an impetus, a direction and a moving forward. In other words, knowing where you are coming from and where you want to go is needed in order to travel.
In Jesus Christ, God, the Alpha and Omega who was before all time, entered himself into our plane of time. Out of love, by going to the end that has no end, breaking the gates of death, he has redeemed the world. This act of kenotic Love expresses and encompass all the fullness of grace, and as such, it necessarily puts itself “before” each of us, it presents itself as a model. What has been done by God through Christ’s action, if it is to become the meaning of existence, is what is to be done; what has taken place is what is to take place; the past is what must come about in an ever-new way. Our Christian discipleship is always engaged in action and as such has always as its standard God’s action in Christ. Our past becoming in our future.
In today’s Gospel the man kneeling at Jesus feet knows where he is coming from: he observed the commandments. He knows where his goal is: eternal life. We shouldn’t presuppose that Jesus is critical or despising of him which is why Mark tells us that: “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” He loved him not because he saw in him a prowess but because he saw in him a sign of willingness and conviction to put into practice the commandments of the Law. This effort, under the guidance, stimulation and sometime constraint of the Law, is a good start. But Jesus is inviting this man to go a step further, a step he invites us all, in the expression of our individual vocation. He invites him to sell everything and follow him. He doesn’t invite him to do a bit more, make more effort, he invites him to enter in the realm not of obedience to the Law, but of complete abandonment to God.
In our Christian discipleship, we are call to follow Christ whatever expression it takes, we are invited to look towards God’s action in Christ and make room for it to be embodied and therefore to become reality in every situation with which we are confronted and that constitutes our future. We are invited to free ourselves from possessions that imprison us in a linear and static present in order to make room for the ever living love of God, immanent and transcendent, to transform us and dwell in us. God’s redeeming acts are not fixed in time as a Law would be. They are both our past and our future; both our roots and our invitation onward. “I am the vine and you are the branches” says Christ. We are wrapped up in a space time where past, present and future are all interwoven into one reality.
We are asked to see, experience, and treat the reality that come to meet us as it has become through Christ’s actions. To see ourselves as Christ sees us, to see our neighbour as Christ sees them. “The Lord came to me and said “before I formed you in the womb I knew you” tells Jeremiah. The Hebrew word for “knew” in this context is to know in a personal level, at a relational level. It is not only seeing ourselves as Christ sees us but seeing ourselves as Christ knows us. One has to see beyond the veil of appearances, of who we wish we were, of who we would like to become. One has to allow God’s grace to give us the ability to engage with who we truly are in order to engage with who are neighbours truly are.
Br. Adrian has shown, over the past six years, an acute and deep compassion and care for each member of this community as well of his family. This care and compassion extends to the creation, to the Church and the world. He can be quite lively in debates and very firm on what he believes. In lots of way he could well be the prophet Jeremiah. By his profession, witnessed by all here present, he is allowing God to continue the work began in him in this particular way of life and relationship with God and others; promising to prefer nothing to the love of Christ. This profession is the outward expression of what he and we believe God calls him to, it is a crystallisation of his yes to the “follow me”. And therefore in itself it is neither beginning nor end: Adrian has been following Christ all his life, there is nothing new. It isn’t the end either, as it is an ever repeating act of abandonment to God, an ever repeated Yes that is renewed day in, day out. And yet, all the same, it encompasses both a beginning and an end, an alpha and an omega, the beginning of a fresh encounter with the living one and a chipping away of the “old” Adrian; the end of the old I and an inching towards the true I.
Towards the end of the profession, Br. Adrian will receive from the Abbot a ring. The beauty of a ring is the absence of beginning or end; or looking at it in another light, every point along the ring is a beginning and an end at the same time. It is an invitation to engage with his vows day in, day out; to deepen his commitment. It is a constant reminder to allow time and space to be continually folded on itself where in the dynamic present moment, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end is invited to dwell in and transform him.
We may have stopped our bi-monthly meeting dear brother, but you will now have a life time of ramblings.