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