Personal Pentecost

The Gospel today (from John 20 verses 19-23) takes place on the evening of Easter Sunday. Mary Magdalene, who is the first apostle to see the Lord tells them about her encounter with Jesus. Now these disciples also see him.

By saying it happens on “that day” perhaps the author also wants us to remember the understanding that the Hebrew scriptures had of ‘the day of the Lord’ – for example, Isaiah 52 verse 6 that says, “My people shall know my name; on that day they shall know it is I who speak.”

John tells us that it is the disciples who are gathered – not just the Eleven – or the 12 apostles minus Judas. Jesus then greets this larger group of disciples who have gathered with what had become the standard greeting within rabbinic Hebrew – shalom alekem – “Peace be to you.” Here, the words of Jesus are not just a wish – but a statement of fact.

Jesus then shows the disciples his hands and side and it is at this moment that they can begin to move from disbelief to belief and they are ‘overjoyed’ at seeing the master. Showing his body to them connects his earthly body to the risen Jesus and fulfils the promise that Jesus had made during the last Supper that their pain and sorrow will turn to joy (see John 16, verses 20 to 22).

After their recognition of him not simply as the risen Jesus, but also as their Lord, Jesus can now greet them again with shalom alekem – “Peace be with you.” Only now can they actually receive his gift of peace. And only now, after receiving that gift of peace, can they hear and receive the commission of the Lord: ‘As the father has sent me, so I’m sending you.’

All of these disciples, through their faith in the risen Lord, and with the gift of his peace, are now able to be sent, that is to become apostles of the risen Lord, just as Jesus had been sent by the father.

How on earth are the disciples to do such an extraordinary thing? Only with this precious gift from heaven – the gift that comes through the breath of Jesus – the gift of the holy Spirit. The Spirit is precisely that which empowers this fragile community to continue the work of Jesus. This is the only time that this word ‘to breathe’ is used in the New Testament, and it clearly evokes God breathing the breath of life into the first human in Genesis 2.

The Spirit-empowered mission of these disciples is to forgive sin – which in the Gospel of John is all about belief, not morality. To sin is to be blind to the revelation of God in the person of Jesus. So the commission that the disciples and the church receives in this Pentecost moment is to continue to make the love of God in Jesus known in the world. By doing this we are true to what Jesus said about the action of the Paraclete back in John 16 – “to prove the world wrong about sin – because they do not believe in me.”

The gift of the Spirit comes so that we can continue what God sent Jesus to do.

Ascension – Absence and doubt

The first question that emerges on this feast of the Ascension is why sometimes it is better for a person to leave. For parents, that day when a child leaves home to go to university or on their first big European back-packing working-holiday, the absence can be heart-wrenching. Yet we all know that there is a need to let a young person find themselves and their own identity.

In the case of Jesus, his departure is very different. He needs to be physically absent so that he can be present in even more wonderful ways – present not only in the word of God and in the sacramental life of the church, but also in the call to friendship and discipleship. The conclusion to Matthew’s gospel is fantastic. He carefully places the action back in Galilee, where it all began, and high on the side of a mountain (of course). The eleven disciples (with the absence of Judas) make their way and when they see Jesus, some fall down in worship – although some hesitated (distazo in the Greek, which could also mean ‘doubted’). Even though some hesitate – perhaps because as good Jewish lads they are still not entirely sure that worship of anyone other then the one and only true God, the LORD, is appropriate. But it is clear from Matthew, that he invites his readers to join those who worshipped. Even so, Jesus draws near to all of them – even those who distazo’d. 

It is then that Jesus offers to them his final commission, reminding them that “all authority on heaven and earth belongs to Jesus” so “Therefore, Go!” Go into all the world, not only to baptise (initiate into the sacramental life of the church) and teach (which the church has also very faithfully fulfilled) but primarily to “make disciples.” This call, which the church has sometimes resisted and often fails to fulfil today remains the heart of the great commission. But we are not alone in this. Jesus promises, as Emmanuel, God-with-us to be with us always, and that we will also have the gift of the Holy Spirit to provide all that we need.

View other resources: http://www.frrick.com/messages/eaa-28-may-2017/

Easter 6 – The odd power of God

As we move towards the great feast of Pentecost, the readings begin to focus on the expectancy and hope of receiving the holy Spirit. We have the first of four passages in the Gospel of John regarding the coming and promised Paraclete. As Jesus tells the still-misunderstanding disciples about what to expect, he makes a series of compelling promises about life in the kingdom, including the promises that we will do even greater things than he has done, and that any prayers that we make that are truly done according to the will of God will be answered.

But to make sense of all of these gifts, we do need to look at what the power and authority of God is really like. One way is to look at different kinds of powerful people, to see which one is most like our images of God and which is most like God in reality.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am.
Easter, Sunday 6, Year A.

Easter 5 – Living Stones

One of the interesting things about the season of Easter – and to a lesser extent, Advent and Lent – the ordinary pattern of our Sunday readings is changed. For example, in Year A, when we read from the Gospel of Matthew, our Sunday readings are taken (more-or-less) sequentially from Matthew’s gospel, and the first reading, drawn from the Hebrew Scriptures, bounces off the Gospel – either providing another example of a healing, or an allusion or incident that the Gospel somehow fulfills. But during Easter, the first readings are taken from Acts of the Apostles, the second reading is a semi-continuous reading of I Peter, and the Gospels are seemingly more random – chosen to highlight particular Easter themes.

Today, on this fifth Sunday, the second reading from the first letter of St Peter provides a powerful reflection on what being living stones is all about. Perhaps because Simon was renamed as Rocky – aka Peter – he had a great reason to spend time reflecting on what being a rock is all about. This dense passage brings together many scriptures from across the bible to provide the basis for the christian life and the call to worship God as a ‘chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation’ that has been set apart to sing the praises of God.

Easter 4 – An invitation to life

Whenever you read a gospel passage, one of the first things to keep in mind is that the division of the text into chapters and verses is historically recent – and sometimes is not the best. So in reading any given passage, we need to always begin with the section before our passage to get a better sense of what may have been happening to provoke the events in the section that we are considering. So in this case, when we are reading chapter 10 of John’s gospel, we need to see what has been happening in chapter 9 – which was the sign of the healing of the man born blind. The healing in turn had provoked questions in the man himself, who moved through various stages of disbelief through belief and ultimately worship (John 9:38). The question that is lingering in the air is – “who is this man Jesus?”

Jesus begins to address this by using the allegory of the good shepherd, the sheepfold and the gate. The shepherd is already a common image in the Hebrew scriptures, finding its height in the figure of the first (and only?) truly good king a millennium before – King David. Other key moments are the Psalm we read today – Psalm 23, as well as the great prophetic challenge of Ezekiel 34.

More significantly, Jesus is making an invitation to all of us today – an invitation to believe in the awesome promise of Christianity – that Jesus does not want us to live a half life, or to reduce the gift of life that he is offering to us to mere morality or religion. He warns us that there will be thieves who will try to steal and kill and destroy. What we sometimes forget is that those thieves are our own expectations, regrets and disappointments with our family and friends.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am. (8 mins)
Sunday 4, Easter, Year A. John 10:1-10.

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.