Two on the road

The story of two disciples walking along the 60-stadia road from Jerusalem to Emmaus is rightly considered one of the greatest examples of resurrection life and discipleship-in-community ever written. One of the problems with this text is just how rich it is. There is so much material here that followers of Jesus are able to join Cleopas (the only named disciple) along the road many times in careful reflection and meditation without ever depleting the rich well of connections and spirituality. Today we will pause to consider five different aspects of this wonderfully rich resurrection scene.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (13 mins)
Easter, Sunday 3, Year A. Luke 24:13-31

I invited three different people to share their experiences of Alpha during term 1 and invited people to join the next session of Alpha which begins this week.

Easter 2 – Breath and life

On the second Sunday of Easter (or the eighth day of Easter), the church always offers before us John 20 for our Gospel reflection, commemorating both the first appearance of Jesus to the church on Easter Sunday, and then his second appearance eight days later, on the second Sunday. To appreciate the full beauty of this Gospel, we need to first look at in parallel to the first half of John 20 – the first scene of the resurrection. We will focus on the part of the Gospel that the church will again offer to us for our reflection at the end of the Easter Season, on the Sunday of Pentecost. In John’s Gospel, there is no need to wait for fifty days before the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to the church. No, the Holy Spirit is the gift that Jesus breathes upon the group of disciples who are gathered (not just the 11 Apostles) on the day of the Resurrection.

Recorded at St Paul’s (15mins) 6pm, 8am & 10am available.
Easter Sunday 2, Year A. John 20:19-31.

Resurrection Is (Easter Sunday)

One of the limitations of celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus is that for so many people in the church, they still operate with a tri-part understanding of creation, even though they know that this is not the case in the physical universe or according to the laws of science and nature. So we still think that the world is divided into heaven above, the earth here and the underworld below, and then dutifully assign the various characters into their realms which are rarely breached. So we allow God to be safely locked away in the heavens where he can go about his business without disturbing us too greatly. But a fundamental problem with this understanding, which has allowed the church to function as an elevator – is that it is so deeply unbiblical. It is not just the role of the holy ones, or the designated ministers to ascend into the heavenly places to receive lots of information and experiences which are then imparted upon the uninitiated (and in this worldview that is most people). The whole power of the incarnation is undone and the effects of the redemption that Jesus won for us are belittled. Thankfully this is not the witness of scripture.

Even if we insist on relegating God to the heavens and we insist on situating the heavens to being up in the sky, one of the lovely insights that Diana Butler Bass shares (in Grounded) is that the sky in fact begins under our feet and is as close as the air that we breathe – which is pretty close indeed!

Recorded at St Paul’s, 9am
Easter Sunday, Year A.

 

A Resurrection Worldview (Easter Vigil)

This year our parish celebrated the Easter Vigil early on Easter Sunday morning (beginning at 5am) as a Dawn Mass, rather than early in the evening on Holy Saturday night as has been the custom. In part this was because I never liked the fact that during the Easter Vigil celebrated at that time, you would speak of Jesus dying yesterday afternoon – which made little catechetical sense of speaking about the resurrection happening on the third day. In addition, all of the Gospel accounts that speak of the discovery of the empty tomb say that the women, and then one or more disciples go to the tomb just before dawn, while it was still dark. So a year ago I began to investigate the timing of the sunrise in Wollongong in mid-April and spent several mornings in the church pacing through the Easter Vigil Mass to calculate the best time for the liturgy to begin, so that all of the first two parts of the Mass – the Lucernarium and the Liturgy of the Word – would take place in darkness, but there would be the first hint of light and then sunrise to accompany the third and fourth parts of the liturgy. Although those wonderful red-bits in the liturgical books indicate that the whole liturgy should take place at night, this seems to be more of a directive against those parishes that begin the liturgy too early and light a fire and then the candle when neither is needed as a counterpoint to the daylight or twilight that surrounds the participants. As we celebrated the liturgy this year, the prayer in the sung Exsultet that “this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star” could finally be fulfilled! It was also good to make the connection with the dawn services that will be celebrated around the country next week for Anzac Day.

The altar cross is obliterated by the rising sun.

The Gospel from Matthew began with “After the Sabbath, and towards dawns on the first day of the week” and this was precisely the time that it was being proclaimed in our church. By the time that the Liturgy of Baptism was being celebrated, the light surrounding the church was more pronounced, the bird calls were louder, and the sun rose as we began the Eucharistic Prayer (see picture on left). When I asked the congregation at the end of Mass if it was worth getting up early again next year, there was a resounding ‘yes!’

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul’s, Easter Day (5am)
View Presentation Slides (Resurrection Is)

 

The Gospel of Good Friday

Although we read the Passion story last Sunday during the Mass of Palm Sunday, that Gospel is always taken from one of the three Synoptic Gospel accounts, depending on the liturgical year. But on Good Friday, there can only be one Gospel that will be our guide and companion – the Gospel that shapes the whole of the sacred days of Easter – the Gospel of John. When you read or listen to the passion story in this Gospel, the experience is so different from what we had only days earlier with Matthew’s gospel. In John, there is no agony in the garden; there are no anguished cries; Jesus carries his cross himself, without any need for a passerby to be recruited. Jesus knows that his hour has come and he accepts and embraces it as a regal king. Jesus is always in control of these events and reigns as a king on the cross. He takes the vinegar to drink in answer to his cry that could equally be interpreted as a declaration for his love for humanity: “I am thirsty.” And his final words are a resounding declaration that anything that separated us from the love of God has now been abolished because death is now defeated and the holy spirit is now released into the world – “It is finished!” Even the events after his death should perhaps be more carefully understood. When the soldier comes to kill him so that his body can be removed before the solemn Jewish festival (which is far from the usual practice of allowing the naked bodies of the victims of crucifixion to remain on the cross for as long as it takes to suffer this excruciating and agonising death and then for their bodies to slowly begin to decompose and be eaten by rats and birds of prey) – they discover that Jesus is already dead, but to make sure a lance is pierced into his side. John describes how blood and water flow forth from the wound which mothers would recognise as an image of Jesus giving birth to a new family of redeemed children through the events of the cross.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 3pm Good Friday
John 18 – 19.

Passover Slave (Holy Thursday)

We begin these sacred days of Easter with this encounter on the eve of Passover – as we remember the meal that Jesus celebrated with his disciples. The Gospel of John – which is our primary companion over these days – does not provide details about the elements of the meal itself – the bread and the wine. In the liturgy tonight, that role is given to the second reading from I Corinthians 11, which parallels similar accounts in the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke. It is clear that although this community gathers to celebrate the Passover, what happens is a radical transformation of the meal into something that is no longer mainly historical, recalling the sacred events of the Exodus from Egypt, into something that is oriented towards the future. One of the ways that this transformation happens is when Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his clothes and begins to act in a most humiliating way as he washes the feet of his friends – something that is normally the activity of only the most despised of slaves.

Re-recorded at St Paul’s (original recording failed)
Holy Thursday evening, Mass of the Lord’s Supper 2017

The Gaze of the Crucified One

This week we were confronted by those horrifying images that came out of Syria of the chemical weapon attack on innocent civilians. This rightly appalled us and provoked a response. Yet, these horrors at one level are nothing new. We see this across human history, and especially in this part of the world. This basic disregard for a common humanity was certainly prevalent within the Roman Empire in the first century AD, especially if you were a slave or a rebel who had stepped outside of the appropriate public discourse. Crucifixion is probably the most heinous thing that any of us could ever imagine – and yet in the Gospel that we have just experienced, Jesus remains almost completely silent in the face of such horror. Our invitation as we move into Holy Week, is to look at the cross of Jesus. To be aware of the horror of the cross – but also to place ourselves in that silence before the Lord who launched a revolution on that cross. As we stare into the face of the perfect love that we find there on the cross, let us also allow Jesus to behold us. Let him truly gaze into us – and not just the good bits, the parts that we are rightly proud of. Let Jesus gaze also into all those areas of hurt, and disfunction, and addiction, and sin, and shame. Let the love of the crucified one gaze into that relationship that left such a deep wound in us; into that grievance that we cannot forgive; into that memory from the past that brings us such shame; into that hatred, and judgement, and racism, and greed that is slowly eating away at our soul. Let his gaze be enough for us as he invites us into the silence of his redemptive pain.

Recorded at St Paul’s, Palm Sunday / Passion Sunday (5 – 7 mins). All three Masses available.

Revolution 5 – The Revolution Continues

The early Christian message is not well summarised by saying that Jesus died so that we can go to heaven. That way of looking at the gospel and mission both shrinks and distorts what the Bible actually teaches. It ignores Jesus’s claim to be launching God’s kingdom “on earth as in heaven” and to be bringing that work to its climax precisely on the cross. It ignores the New Testament’s emphasis on the true human vocation, to be “image-bearers,” reflecting God’s glory into the world and the praises of creation back to God. Christian mission means implementing the victory that Jesus won on the cross. Everything else follows from this.

The “powers” gained their power because idolatrous humans sinned; when God deals with sins on the cross, he takes back from the powers their usurped authority. Sin matters, and forgiveness of sins matters, but they matter because sin, flowing from idolatry, corrupts, distorts, and disables the image-bearing vocation, which is much more than simply “getting ready for heaven.”

To say yes to Jesus’s resurrection is, by that very thought and deed, to say yes to the new world of forgiveness that was won on the cross, the world that was then launched into heaven-and-earth reality on Easter morning.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (12 mins)
Sunday 5, Lent, Year A. John 11 – the raising of Lazarus.