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3 November 2013
posted by Canon Dakin on 05-11-2013

We are aware of the tragedies which recently struck the people trying to cross the sea from Africa to Italy.. They help us to appreciate the tenacity of St Paul  who twice made a journey round the Eastern Mediterranean and, in doing so,  was shipwrecked three times. it was on his second journey that he arrived at Thessalonica in the northern part of Greece. 

Thessalonica was a busy commercial centre being a port and also a stop-over on a main Roman road. Its inhabitants were cosmopolitan. Paul was attracted because a strong Jewish community had a synagogue there.  Actually the converts he made were mainly among the Gentiles. The Jews were fierce in their opposition and ran him out of town. So later he sent Timothy to discover how his converts were getting on. Timothy brought back some questions for him and the letter he sent, his first letter to the Thessalonians is our earliest Christian document.  He followed that up with a second letter which we began to read this morning. The questions put by the Thessalonians were mainly about the second coming of Christ - when would it be and how would it affect us? In essence Paul’s reply is that only God knows but that, in a way, Christ has already come - he has come into our hearts. In baptism, sacramentally, we passed through his tomb and rose from the font sharing his resurrection life.     St Paul then goes on to say that as we mature we have to  re-live in ourselves the drama of his life, of his passion and resurrection.  Paul teaches that we may accept to share his suffering and that through our acceptance our suffering shares the redemptive power of his cross.

I spoke about the mystery of human suffering a couple of weeks ago. This vision of St Paul takes us a little further into the mystery of our existence. It takes us further also into the mystery of the Mass. If I were to ask you what is the climax of the Mass I wonder how many would say - the consecration, the Elevation of the Host and the chalice - that is the most dramatic moment.  For a thousand years there was no elevation of the sacred host. For fifteen hundred years there was no elevation of the chalice. The words of consecration were simply a paragraph in the Eucharistic prayer with no accompanying action whatever. It was clear then that the climax of the Mass was Holy Communion, Our Lord presenting himself to us under the appearance of bread and wine - signifying our being strengthened by his presence. But look more deeply. The separate consecration, This is my Body, This is my Blood, brings to mind his death, makes Calvary present.  Are we being strengthened then for battle, are we being strengthened to share his suffering? Let us remember that he was the suffering servant, a man who died for others. Our suffering therefore is not to be counted principally in aching limbs but in the sacrifices we make for the good of others.    

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