Contrition (The Angela Crossley Trilogy Book 2)

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Midnight in Peking

They have been entrusted with wealth - the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is the exercise of those gifts that will form the subject of the day of reckoning - Christ's return and final judgement. The last verse is a g raphic description of contemporary ideas of hell.

T he man is an out-and-out capitalist whose sole object in life is to maximise profit.

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Like some other subjects of Jesus' parables - T he Unjust Judge, The Dishonest Steward - he is a thoroughly unpleasant character and acknowledged as such. His employees were ri ghtly scared stiff of him. A talent was big money : the story concerns the world of big business.

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And big business expects handsome profits. Two of the servants respond to the challenge of the new responsibil ities laid upon them. They both double the capita l entrusted to them. T he th ird servant realised his di lemma : if he failed to return at least the capital he had been handed, he imagined he would get no mercy from his hard, harsh boss.

Better to play safe. So he buried the money and knew that at least when the reckoning took place, he could not be blamed for any loss. But he had misjudged his boss: even if the servant had wanted to insure himself against failure, he could still have placed the money on deposit and with such a large sum, considerable interest would have been obtained. So the third servant is condemned - and deservedly so - for breach of trust. What are we who two thousand years later, still find ourselves living in the time between the Ascension of Christ and his parousia to make of th is parable?

Well , no prizes for guessing why I chose it for today - the admission of our new scholars. We expect these clever boys and girls to use the riches God has given them for maximum profit. But the parable recognises that while we are all given variable amounts of talents, we all have a responsibility to use these gifts whether Exhibitioner o r Commoner. No pupil entering th is school can s imply neglect his or her talents: all in the world's eyes have been given considerable riches from wh ich they are to profit.

To leave it there is , of course, to trivialise the parable. Matthew was writing about the ultimate issues of life and death. He saw that the re was only one way that God 's will could be achieved and that was by risk. In this respect he may have been fa ithful to Jesus ' original intention in tell ing the parable.

Many scholars think it was directed against the inwardness of the Jewish establishment which Jesus challenged by his att itude to the law - for example in healing on the Sabbath and eating wi th the outcasts of Jewish society. As every parent knows our natural mstmct IS to play for safety, and the community of fa ith is no exception. But if we are to be faithful to Jesus we must risk our security in order to real ise the potential of which hitherto we never dared to dream. T his is true of any community - a games team, an orchestra, an A-level set, the school itself.

It is only by letting go that we become who it is we are to become - and that is a continuous process unti l we let go of life itself. Unlike you pupils who know the dates of your A-level and G. But we are left in no doubt that in the meantime there is only one way of li ving - that is to make each day a risk worth taking. We are not called to security and safety but to abandonment and adventure. There will inevitably be! In the cross Jesus takes care of both, sharing in ou r pain an ensuring forgiveness for o ur fa il ure. But as Matthew points out, and as any scho lar knows as he or she ventu res into the unknown - to play for safety is not a viable option if we are to live life as our creator intended.

Das Gras ist verdorret und die Blume abgefallen. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away. The sadness of bereavement and the brokenness of Christ on the Cross are set aga inst the stern and joyfu l hope of the resurrection.

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Death is seen not as an ending but as a necessary process in the realisation of w hat we are. T he passage with wh ich I started continues: 'but the Word of the Lord endureth for ever! Christians believe in the Word incarnate as Jesus, suffering and dy ing. Christians believe in the resurrection, in C hrist r ising and triumphant. It is in that fa ith that I stand here today. Were I not able to procla im that, then I would not be here.

But to take refuge in religio us phrases is not necessarily the response to those who have suffered thro ugh war. To my great-uncle who, f ifty yea rs after the Somme when I firs t knew hi m, still carried within him the shrapnel that had invalided him home.

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To my great-aunt, single because fa ithful over s ixty years to her fiance who d isappeared in the mud of Flande rs I could not glibly say that. For them, people such as they, the ir g lory was no t experienced. T he reality of war, however no ble the cause or honourable the sentiments w hich impelled its waging, stands against false piety. Fuelled by the poetry of Owen, Sassoon and Graves, there is a harsh question ing of values which cannot be escaped. The Great War has come in retrospect to epitomise the futility of wa r. T he poppies that we wea r can be seen over countless Belg ian graves of people li ke ourselves.

Today, we remember them and especially the O. We remember a lso the O. T he reasons for the Second War were perhaps more understandable than those fo r the first, but there were still too many victims. T he wars in Korea and Vietnam; the conflict in the Falklands and the Gulf War: these are all rem inders that armed violence is not a thing of the past as the traged ies of Northern Ireland , of Somalia and of the nati ons of Yugoslavia too clearly show.

Age shall not weary them , nor the years condemn.

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At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them', w rote Binyon. Remembrance, if it is to have any valid ity, is not about looki ng back but also about moving forward. If we indeed mean what we demonstrate by our presence here, we show ou r In our dealings with each other; in our renunciation of all forms of bullying, in our relationships with others and perhaps especially in our response to the provocation and violence being shown by a fe w local youths we w ill be peaceful.

This is not the pallid peace of passivity. It is not the stiff upper lip denying feeling. It is, rather, the properly proud peace that such as Gandhi offered in his march for justice. It is the uncompromising peace that such as Jesus of Nazareth encouraged in his disciples.

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It is, perhaps, a reflection of the peace that passeth understanding; but it is attainable, and it can be attained, firs t in o ur own lives; then in the life of our commun ity; then, springing from communities such as o urs, within o ur society. We will remember them: we will be remembered. Wir werden sie nie vergessen.

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From the Gospel according to St. Matthew, For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

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  • Baptism is not something which can j ust be taken for granted, any more than the eucharist can be taken for granted. Both sacraments are at face value odd. A baby splashed with a token drop of water ; the d istribution of a wafer and a sip of wine. These are held on the one hand to mark the passing from death to life, of rebirth in the family of the church: and on the other the sharing in the very body and blood of the Saviour. Outward and visible signs of inward and spi ritual truths, the catechism boldly proclaims. But even the faithful have their sceptical moments. Can so much really be claimed? And what about this helpless infant? How can today's ceremo ny in any way affect this chi ld incapable of understanding one jot of what goes on?

    I cannot but sympathise with th is line of questioning.

    Contrition (The Angela Crossley Trilogy Book 2) Contrition (The Angela Crossley Trilogy Book 2)
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