Changed by black fire

blackfireThe scene that is described in the first reading, from Nehemiah 8 is certainly most extraordinary. Hearing that after almost a century since King Cyrus had allowed the people of God to return from Exile to the promised land, Ezra the priest and Nehemiah the civic official in the Persian court organise to return with the third wave of exiles to re-establish covenantal life in Jerusalem in the year 445 BCE. Nehemiah first sets out to rebuild the walls of the city, so that the people will feel protected and they might again have the sense of identity and purpose that walls provide. But Ezra knows that walls are never enough – you also need to have the purpose that the word of God provides. So he gathers the whole people – men and women and children old enough to understand – and proclaims the Word of God into their lives. He knows that the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures – the Torah – has the power to bring new life into a people who have lost everything. He has experienced the truth that in the Torah there are the black fire – the literal words of the scripture – written on white fire – the white space of the parchment and the white space of the lives of the people of God. So he proclaims the black fire (reading it in Hebrew, and offering a translation into Aramaic as well as commentary and instruction) in a powerful ceremony that lasted all morning – around six hours. The response of the people – shouting aloud “Amen, Amen”, raising their hands in worship, kneeling down and falling prostrate, weeping and crying out seems to be a different experience from our own. But perhaps we need to hear the black fire of the word of God and allow it to be written on the white fire of our own lives?

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Recorded at St Mary’s, Leppington 8am (11’11”)
Sunday 03, Year C

Timely weddings

kairos‘Nuptial imagery rings through the bible like peals of wedding bells’ (Bishop Tom Wright)

Today we have the fourth of the great epiphanies – when the true identity of Jesus is revealed. Although it may be tempting to imagine the scene of the wedding at Cana as a contrast between the stale water of Judaism and the good wine of Christianity, the Beloved Disciple has overlayed so many rich images in this simple story that we need to go deeper to find the meaning for us. One of the striking elements is the fact that it seems this was not going to be the moment when Jesus chose to reveal himself, but as the result of the persistence of his mother (who was the primary wedding guest – Jesus was the +1) the planned schedule that Jesus was following (the chronos) was interrupted and this wedding became a kairos moment, when he revealed himself and his glory as the first of seven (or eight?) signs.

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Recorded at NET training, Weyba Downs, Qld (11’09”)

Baptisms and pillows

ikeapillowGathering to celebrate the Eucharist on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the liturgy provides fantastic images to reflect upon. From the prophet Isaiah who reminds us that the Lord will not crush the bruised reed, to the Lord Jesus who after he comes up out of the water receives the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are also given an opportunity to reflect upon our own experience of Baptism, and perhaps the best way to do this is through an Ikea pillow…

Recorded at Zero Gravity youth camp, with 185 teenagers at Mount Tamborine. (14’24”)

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Many epiphanies

rublev-angelsWhen I caught up with some friends during the week to celebrate a mutual friend’s birthday, the conversation turned to the Feast of the Epiphany and the celebration of Christmas. Mainly this was because one of the guys was a deacon in the Coptic Orthodox church, and he was gently berating me and the other Catholics present for celebrating Christmas on the wrong date and for not keeping the fast before Christmas (as we hoed into barbequed chicken, beef and pork ribs); meanwhile the high Anglican was talking about his church and the tradition of celebrating the season of Epiphany, rather than a single Sunday. This started me thinking about the different meanings of epiphany (meaning manifestation or revelation) and the way that each Gospel in turn really does present a different aspect of the ‘epiphany’. Although we are most familiar with Matthew’s story of the magoi coming to visit the ‘new-born king’, Luke’s gospel tells a similar story with very different characters in the angelic vision to the shepherds; meanwhile, Mark’s gospel reserves the epiphany for the Baptism of Jesus and John has his at the first sign that occurs at the wedding feast in Cana. So, since we will celebrate the Feast of the Baptism next week, and will read from John 2 the following Sunday, in some ways the church still celebrates the season of Epiphany, even if we don’t name it as such.

What all this points to is that there are many ways that Jesus is revealed to us. If we spend too long examining the gospel account in Matthew and pondering on the nature of the stellar events, counting the magoi, determining the date that they arrived in Bethlehem, making names for them, or speculating why they brought such un-practical gifts, we will miss the true beauty of this season of Epiphanies.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (8’25”)
Solemnity of the Epiphany