Identity in the Merciful Messiah

Building and skyIn the program Grand Designs, host Kevin McCloud walks with people who are transforming often old buildings into new and beautiful designs. I had a little experience with this when I was in Nowra Parish and the old parish hall, which for many years was used by the school as classrooms, but had been laying abandoned for more than a decade. Because experts judged that the building’s fabric was essentially sound, it was better – and cheaper – to renovate the space for a new parish centre, rather than demolishing it and starting again. But once it had been gutted, many questions arose – such as how much space to allow for the various elements, like large meeting spaces, offices, catechist centre; do you keep the existing flooring / walls / ceiling, or do you add in a new ceiling to allow for air-conditioning and new lighting. The process is a little similar to what St Peter leads us through in the opening section of his first letter, which we will journey with during the season of Easter. Just as you need to examine the breadth, height and depth of a room to make sure it suits its purpose, so also in the Christian life we need to determine a similar reality.

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Recorded at St Mary’s, Leppington 8am (9’03’)
Second Sunday of Easter, Year A (Sunday of Divine Mercy)
1 Peter 1:3-9

New Life #StartingToday – Easter Sunday

running-sstock_106892996When Jesus makes his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the day that we call Palm Sunday, the crowds acclaimed him as the Messiah and welcomed him with great joy. But the first three gospels record him doing something very strange as his first act of coming into the city – he goes into the Temple and cleanses it (Matthew 21:12-15; Mark 11:11-16; Luke 19:41-48). But this action is only the first shocking thing that Jesus will do in regards to a Temple that was not only sacred, but also central to the religious, historical, political and economic identity of the Jewish people – and which had been since the time of King David who had first desired to build a temple in honour of the Lord and which his son Solomon had built almost 1000 years before. He tells the people “destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) The people respond with a question – it has taken forty-six years to build this temple – and you will raise it up in three days? The first temple (Solomon’s) was a wonder of the ancient world, and people travelled from near and far just to be able to say that they had seen it with their own eyes; but it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586BC. After the Persians defeated the Babylonian empire, they allowed the Jewish people to return from Exile and to slowly rebuild the city, its walls and the temple. But this second temple was not as large and nowhere near as grand or elegant as the Temple of Solomon, until the time of King Herod who embarked upon a grand rebuilding program that had turned the Jerusalem Temple into a new wonder of the world.

As grand and beautiful as the temple was – made of brick and stone and decorated in silver and gold – it was not this building that Jesus was referring to, but the temple of his body. In fact the temple would be destroyed only a generation after the time of Jesus, when the forces of the Roman Emperor Titus swept through in AD 70 to quell a rebellion that had begun four years earlier in what became known as the First Jewish War. Jesus wanted his disciples and the church to understand that the temple was only a sign of the presence of God – but it was the even more precious temples of flesh and bone that would be the stunning sign of the presence of God – his own body and then the body of each believer was meant to become a place where the very presence of God will dwell. The resurrection of Jesus is the first fruits of this, reminding us that the human experience is meant to be a place of transformation and new life.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10.30am (8’02”)
Easter Sunday – Mass of the Resurrection

I played an edited version of this video after the homily: Starting Today – what will you do?

The Friday that is truly Good

procession-crossRecently, I was asked an interesting question: Why is this particular Friday called good? We have Holy week, holy Thursday, holy Saturday… why not holy Friday? Why Good Friday?

I guess the first thing we might notice – as Christians – is that we are meant to be bearers and proclaimers of good news. And our central message is caught up in the events of that first Friday which we call good.

But what about it could be called good? We have just read the account of the passion from John’s magnificent gospel; wonderful though it is, with a very regal Christ, who in one sense almost reigns from the cross – nothing can take away from the horror of the death of Jesus. The sheer brutality, the bloody torture, the heart-breaking pain that Jesus experienced in his death.

We have journeyed with Jesus this week – from his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, to his betrayal, and last night to the last supper in the upper room, followed by the anguish and arrest of Jesus in the garden and the desertion of the disciples.

Today we have continued to walk with Jesus along the stations of the journey of his cross – the trial, the judgement, the scourging, the passion, and finally the death of Jesus – stripped and naked, raised up upon the cross.

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Holy Thursday – a place at the table

welcome-tableThe ministry of Jesus was characterised by the meals he ate. Sometimes he ate with the right kind of people — the Jewish leaders, the priests, the rich, the Pharisees; sometimes he ate with the decidedly wrong kind of people — tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners and commoners. His table was open to all. He loved eating, and sharing his life with the people he loved — and that was everyone — rich and poor, those who were important and those who were nobodies, those who went to the synagogue each week, and those who had no idea what the inside of the synagogue looked like. Jesus sat down at so many dining tables to eat and drink with sinners, so that they could eat and drink with God and be made whole.

So is it any wonder? When Jesus was being stalked by the secret police just hours before he knew that he would be arrested, tortured, given the death penalty and killed; even on the threshold of all that, he sat down at the dining table in the upper room to give us his body and his blood, his life and his love, broken in bread and poured out in wine. And he gave us the example of service when he washed the feet of his disciples.

Now God calls us to gather around this dining-table-turned-altar. And it’s our lives lived in common, with and for each other, that God desires be placed on this table under the signs of bread and wine. And it’s our hearts — our very selves­­­­ — ­that God longs for us to lift up at this altar. We give to God our hearts — baked into this bread. We give our lives — all the pain and promise, all our joy and grief wrung from them like this wine crushed from grapes. We put all that on this table, and God accepts it and makes it holy and gives it back to us as the body and the blood of Christ. The bread, the wine, ourselves, the world — ­all of this is changed here.

More than food is put on this table, and more than we who live now gather around it. The body of Christ is not only on this table; the body of Christ is also at this table. Ringing round us at this table are the members of this parish who have worshipped here at this altar over the past few decades and in churches around us over the past century and more and who have gone before us in death. And ringing round us at this table are the saints whose hearts are lifted up to God. And ringing round us at this table are the martyrs, ancient and recent, who gave their lives in perfect imitation of Jesus, their bones broken like bread and their blood spilled out like wine. (more…)

Became empty on a cross

cloudy_crossThe liturgy of Passion Sunday is dominated by the contrasts of the triumphant entry followed by the solemn proclamation of the Passion of our Lord. In between, the church each year provides us with two powerful texts to reflect upon – the first of the servant songs, followed by the Carmen Christi – the song of Christ – found in the letter of St Paul to the Philippians (2:6-11)

The powerful song or poem that Paul either wrote himself or he includes as an incredible testimony to the depth of the early Christian spirituality and understanding stands in stark contrast to the standard understanding of power and authority. Most people in the ancient world would have heard stories about two great heroes – Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) and the Emperor Augustus (65 BC – AD 14). Like the first fallen hero of the Bible, Adam, who grasped at equality with God rather than receiving it as a gift – the people of Israel and then the christian church across the centuries has continued to grasp and grab and cling and claim – rather than follow the example of the true God who only on the cross reveals his true divinity.

6 Who, though in God’s form, did not
Regard his equality with God
As something he ought to exploit.

7 Instead, he emptied himself,
And received the form of a slave,
Being born in the likeness of humans.

And then, having human appearance,
8 He humbled himself, and became
Obedient even to death,
Yes, even the death of the cross.

9 And so God has greatly exalted him,
And to him in his favour has given
The name which is over all names:

10 That now at the name of Jesus
Every knee under heaven shall bow—
On earth, too, and under the earth;

11 And every tongue shall confess
That Jesus, Messiah, is Lord,
To the glory of God, the father.

NT Wright (2004). Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon (p. 100). London: SPCK.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (5’52”)
Palm Sunday / Passion Sunday, Year A.

Lazarus / El’Azar – Unbound and unsmelly

stinketh03Death is something of a problem! The Gospel today, taken from John chapter 11, tackles the very real question of the significance of death full on. Jesus is good friends with this family of Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. So naturally, when Lazarus is sick, the sisters send Jesus a message to tell him the man he loves is ill. The first curious detail in this story is that at first, Jesus doesn’t move. He stays where he is for two more days. Perhaps so that he can pray and seek the will of the Father about whether this was now the time for him to make his final move and finally reveal his identity in this very public way, with all the risks that involved. Eventually Jesus makes his way to Bethany, to discover that his friend has died and has already been in the tomb for four days. Martha greets Jesus with a declaration that so many people have said over the years – ‘if only you’d been here!’ It’s a terrible thing to say – to have such regrets: ‘if only I left work earlier’; ‘if only she’d gone to the doctor sooner’; ‘if only the other party had been elected…’

Really it’s a kind of nostalgia, for a present that might have been, if only the past has just been a little bit different. But something like death is so final that we are prevented from allowing this nostalgia to take hold. Here we are told that when Jesus makes his way to the tomb and experiences the intense grief of the sisters and the crowd, he also bursts into tears. Love and grief is like this. This God will cry with the world’s crying. And still he will reach into the tomb of death and decay and speak life once more into the four-day dead Lazarus.

stinketh04Nothing captures the reality of that death like the reminder of Martha that her brother will now stink. But even though so much of what we do and so much of what we say continues to stink, it will never prevent Jesus from shouting his commandment of life into every situation we face. Like every thought that holds us captive, Jesus will speak life and freedom this week into any situation we face. And the things that we are so afraid of – like death – will no longer stink.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 6pm Vigil (10’16”)
Sunday 5, Season of Lent, Year A. John 11:1-45

The text above is from the Journey Radio program. Audio is available here.