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

Hope of New Creation 4 – Building for the kingdom at Pentecost

4 New CreationOne of the things that strikes me about the celebration of Pentecost, are its Jewish roots. When the disciples met in the upper room on that day, they almost certainly would have reflected upon the passages of Exodus 19 and 20 which detail the events around the arrival of the Hebrew nation at Mount Sinai, seven weeks after they had experienced the great liberation from the slavery of Egypt. We read there:

Exodus 19:16-18
16 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire.

From this passage we can see that one of the ways that the people knew that God was present on the mountain, and that they were in fact going out to meet him, was the presence of fire. If you want to experience God, then be prepared to be burnt! Which is odd, given that our culture has tended to think of fire for the other destination – hell. Indeed, when you do a Google image search for ‘hell’ the screen will be a wash of red flames. Yet if we took the time to ponder this, we know that it is when out hearts grow colder that we turn inward and away from God. So perhaps Hell should rather be imagined not as a place of fire, but as a place of cold and ice.

Maybe the flames of God’s love, and the flames of heaven, are always going to be hotter and brighter than anything else that the counterfeit can produce – because God’s fire is about purification and truth. Which leads us to ponder more about the end of the story and what the New Creation will be like and how we might imagine the resurrection of our bodies, and what impact this all has on our present experience of following God today.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am (13 mins)
Pentecost Sunday, Year C.

View the Presentation Slides. Reflection video: All Creation Worships You (iWorship)

Hope of New Creation 3 – Heaven and Paradise

On this feast of the Ascension, we ponder the event of Jesus ascending into heaven as told in the Lukan literature – the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. The other synoptic Gospels do not record the event at all, and John only hints at it by telling Mary of Magdala that he has not yet ascended, and in Paul he again speaks of Jesus ascending to the right hand of the Father, but without any details. No doubt, when we were children, we were very clear as to where heaven was located. If you ask any child to point to where heaven is, they instinctively point upwards. But as clever and sophisticated adults who have moved past the simplicity and naïvety of childhood, we are able to provide a much more nuanced answer. If we are asked to point to where heaven is located, we at least shrug our shoulders before pointing to the sky. This is probably not helped by the images that may come to mind when we think about a man rocketing upwards from earth up through the clouds.

Which leads us to ponder a little more clearly what it is that we understand heaven to be. We begin to realise that it is not a geographic reality, but a dimensional reality within our experience of time and space. For heaven is simply that place where the will and purpose of the Lord is always done – and everything unfolds as God intends and desires for it to happen. Here on earth our reality is much more mixed – sometimes we might manage to do the will of God, but so often it is simply our own will that is fulfilled, no matter how much we dress it up in religious finery.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am (15 mins)
Ascension Sunday, Year C.

Watch reflection video: Dan Stevers, Ascension.
Look at the Slides. Read the background notes.

  • Since this was Mother’s Day, we also watched an intro video (Floodgate Productions) and reflection video (Igniter Media) before the final blessing.

Hope of New Creation 2 – Purgatory and Hell

HNC2Moving into the second week of this series, we need to look at the question of what happens in the moment of death and the personal judgement that each person receives before God. What are the possible options regarding our judgement, what are the possible destinations, and how long does the process of purification take place? What about hell – if it exists, what is the criteria for a person to go there and what is it like?

Today is an extended reflection on the Encyclical letter of Pope Benedict XVI from 2007, On Christian Hope (Spe Salvi). Copies of the relevant section were made available, as were the whole text. You can also find a notes document that includes all of the relevant scriptures, sections from the Catechism, other church teaching and links to writings from the Fathers of the Church.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 7.30am (20 mins)
E6C Sunday 6, Easter, Year C.

Video Reflection: Dan Stevers, Evermore

Notes: PowerPoint Slides
Spe Salvi – commentary and extract (2 pages)
Spe Salvi – full text
Hell and Purgatory in scripture and church teaching


Hope of New Creation 1 – A new heaven and a new earth

above-the-cloudWith Revelation 21 being the second reading for the next two weeks moving into Ascension and Pentecost, it seemed like the appropriate time to begin a new teaching series on the Hope of New Creation. So over the next four weeks, we will explore the nature of Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, Paradise, Resurrection and the Last Things. As usual, copies of the screen presentations will also be made available in addition to the audio of the talks.

The first step is to set the scene. The vision that is clearly presented in Revelation 21:1-5 is not of naked souls escaping from the earth to be with God in some far-away heaven, but of the heavenly city (and the church) descending (some might say crashing) to the earth. If you think about it, this vision is necessary for death to finally be defeated. If after death our bodies are left to rot away in graves, then redemption is only offering a new description of death – not the defeat of death. It is only if we believe in the resurrection of our bodies that Easter offers us a true and lasting hope.

Recorded at St Paul’s, AP, 9.30am (19 mins)
Easter 5, Year C.

Shepherd as radical disciple

The image of the shepherd as a symbol for God’s leadership and pastoral care of his people occurs at various places across the Hebrew scriptures, most famously in the Shepherd Psalm, number 23. It has also taken a significant hold on the Christian imagination. Some of the most popular pictures of Jesus are those that depict him as a shepherd, leading a flock of sheep, or bringing the lost sheep home on his shoulders.

This picture of Jesus has influenced the church’s images of its leaders, so that in many traditions the ordained minister is called the “pastor,” and ministerial care of the community is called “pastoral care.” Behind both of these understandings of ministerial vocation is the sense that the minister is called to lead in the image of Jesus’ leadership, to be the shepherd as Jesus is shepherd.

Jesus’ shepherd-discourse takes place during the feast of Hanukkah, or the feast of the Dedication, which commemorated the victory of Judas Maccabeus some two hundred years earlier.

Every time the Jewish people celebrated Hanukkah, they certainly thought about God and liberation. They also thanked God for having the Temple back again. But they also thought about kings, and how they became kings.

Here we see Jesus, walking in the Temple during this festival, talking about the good shepherd, the real shepherd, the king who would come and show all the others up as a bunch of thieves and brigands. Never let it be thought that Jesus’ message was anything other than controversial—and dangerous. Never forget that this famous ‘good shepherd’ chapter of John 10, ends with people trying to stone Jesus to death.

Jesus’ ‘sheep’ are therefore those who hear and receive his message of a different kingdom. His life has climaxed in the revelation of God being at work in and through him. While many have accepted his redefinition of kingship many others do not, because they are determined to follow a vision of the ‘age to come’ which will be attained through the establishment of a worldly kingdom.

Jesus promises that he will give us eternal life – but we should not be too quick to translate this phrase ‘eternal life’ into something that is less Jewish, and more Platonic, suggesting simply an endless state of disembodied post-mortem bliss. In the first-century Jewish world, the phrase meant primarily ‘the life of the age to come’, that new age where heaven and earth have crashed together, in which wrongs would be righted, sins forgiven and God would be all in all. That is precisely what Jesus was claiming to offer. And he was claiming that, despite the pressure among his contemporaries to seek a Maccabean-style solution to their present plight, that God had ensured that some at least would follow him and find thereby the narrow way that would lead to life. In this, as in all things, Jesus and the Father were always one.

Grace and peace.

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Fourth Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday); John 10:27-30

Radio reflection also available. Video reflection: Dan Stevers, Shepherd

Mercy and Mission

The gospel that we have today is taken from the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John. It is another resurrection appearance, but this time, it is not in Jerusalem, but up in the Sea of Galilee. Seven of the disciples, led by the apostle Peter, decide to go fishing. While seven are described, only three are named: Peter the denier; Thomas the doubter, and Nathaniel the skeptic. When Peter says he is going fishing, it could be simply because he needs time out for himself, to get away from all the crazy events that have been happening in Jerusalem. So they get into the boat, cast their nets, and spend all night in the effort, but catch nothing. As dawn breaks, they see this stranger on the shore. He calls out to them: ‘my friends, have you caught anything?’ When they answer, ‘no’, he invites them to put out their nets on the other side of the boat, and you will find something. So they drop their nets, and sure enough, they catch this extraordinary number of fish – which they later count as 153 large fish – so many that all seven of them can barely haul the net back into the boat.

That’s enough for the beloved disciple, the disciple that Jesus loves – and he tells Peter, “It is the Lord” – and with these words, Peter, who has stripped himself for the work, wraps himself in a cloak and jumps into the water to swim across the remaining hundred metres or so to the shore. There he finds Jesus, standing next to a charcoal fire, cooking some fish. It is very likely that the fire would have immediately evoked that night before Jesus died, when Peter had been warming himself next to a charcoal fire, besides which Peter had denied that he even knew Jesus on three separate occasions.

Jesus then invites the disciples to bring their fish to add to the already abundant supplies of bread and fish cooking for breakfast. After the meal, Jesus takes Simon Peter aside and asks him a most personal and no doubt painful question: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these others do?” Simon answers, ‘Yes Lord, you know I love you.’ Three times the question is placed before Peter, and three times he answers and receives a commission from the Lord to care for the sheep and lambs of the Lord. Peter needs to know that even in that darkest of nights, when he claimed so much bravado, but acted with such timidity and fear – even that act of denying Jesus is not beyond the mercy of the Lord. Three times Peter hears the work of redemption being spoken into his life. Three times he receives mercy that is transformed into mission. This gospel helps us during these Easter days to know that there is no sin, no shame – that is beyond the mercy of the Lord. All that we need to know is that the Lord will continue to call us to follow him – and his love and mercy will always be enough for us.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am. (8 mins)
Third Sunday in Easter, Year C. John 21:1-19

Journey Radio program also available.(text above)
Video Reflection: Igniter Media, Consuming Fire

My Lord and My God

Nail-Scarred HandsAlthough each of the Gospels is carefully crafted, the Gospel of John provides an extra layer of rich reflection which reveal the degree to which the beloved disciple as author has pondered deeply his own experience of the life and sayings of Jesus in the light of the experience of the early church and the vast richness of the Hebrew scriptures. The passage that we have today from the original ending of the Gospel very clearly points to this extraordinary richness.

The author – which tradition has unanimously called John – wants us to know that in this resurrection appearance – on the first day of the week – brings to a climax the whole of his gospel account and launches the whole merciful mission of the church throughout history. The doubting and questioning of Thomas provides the framework for the highest declaration of faith that you find in any of the Gospels and places on the lips of Thomas the imperial declaration, but now declared in worship before the wounded healer – ‘my Lord and my God.’ John clearly wants every reader to go on the same journey of faith and discovery, to ponder carefully and deeply the seven signs that he gave us in the first half of his gospel account in the light of the eighth and greatest sign – the empty tomb and the new creation Lord who returns as a bringer of peace and breather of new creation and new life and new possibilities.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am (12mins)
Sunday of Divine Mercy; Second Sunday in Easter, Year C. John 20:19-31

Easter Multimedia

I have been asked to provide links to the various video clirisenps that were played at St Paul’s during the Holy Week and Easter liturgies. So here goes:

Palm Sunday

Dan Stevers, Son of Man:

Holy Thursday

No videos were used

Good Friday, 10am Stations of the Cross

  1. Prelude – Dan Stevers, Scars:
  2. After Station 7 – Igniter Media, Sounds of the Cross (Part 1):
  3. After Station 12 – Dan Stevers, Voices of the Cross (Good Friday):
  4. Conclusion – Centerline New Media, Forgive (Good Friday):

Good Friday, Reconciliation after Stations

  1. Dan Stevers, King of Kings:
  2. Fr Rob Galea: No Greater Love
  3. Igniter Media: Sunday’s Comin:
  4. Centerline New Media, By His Wounds:

Good Friday, 3pm Veneration of the Cross

  1. Dan Stevers, BC:
  2. Dan Stevers, YHWH (free):
  3. Shift Media, On the Cross:
  4. Centerline New Media, By His Wounds:
  5. RightNow Media, Grace Carries:

Good Friday, Reconciliation after the Passion

  1. Journey Box Media, Always Will:
  2. Dan Stevers, King of Kings:
  3. Fr Rob Galea: No Greater Love
  4. Igniter Media: Sunday’s Comin:

Easter Vigil

  1. Creation Story (edited): Genesis Creation:
  2. Transition: Steelehouse Media, His Finest Hour:
  3. After the Homily: Igniter Media, He’s Still Risen:

Easter Sunday, 7:30am

  1. Before Mass: Floodgate Productions, Begin Again:
  2. After the Homily: Floodgate Productions, This is Easter
  3. Communion: Igniter Media, Because He lives:

Easter Sunday, 9.30am

  1. Before Mass: Floodgate Productions, Begin Again:
  2. After the Homily: Journey Box Media, The Risen Way:

Easter Sunday – Belief and Amazement

empty-tombSt Luke in the first of his Easter stories (Luke 24:1-12) provides us with a story of two contrasting reactions to the discovery of the empty tomb. The women, who unlike the apostles, stayed with Jesus through his ordeal on the cross, and began their preparations for his burial on the afternoon of Good Friday, now return at dawn on the third day to continue the ritual of properly embalming the body. Unlike the practices of other cultures, the Jewish burial custom was in two stages: the first, which the women were doing, was to wrap the body, usually in expensive clothes packed with spices, in order to facilitate the decomposition of the body – and to cover the smell for any who were foolish enough to come near. After the body had decomposed, then the bones were collected and transferred to the final resting place – an ossuary which would then be laid to rest in its final place. It was a very efficient way to use space and limited resources. So they would know where the body was buried and were simply returning to complete their duty and devotion to the one they loved. They had no anticipation that the tomb would be empty…

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Recorded at St Paul’s, Easter Sunday 9.30am (8 mins)