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.
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.
When Jesus knew that it was his time to go up to Jerusalem to face the passion and death – why did he choose the festival of Passover? Surely if his actions were going to bring about the ultimate covering over of sins, he would choose the great festival of expiation – the Day of Atonement? What does it mean to be atoned? And what was Jesus doing historically in offering his life in this way on the cross?
Recorded at St Paul’s (6pm & 8am)
Sunday 4, Lent, Year A (Laetare Sunday); John 9.
Paul is often accused of being dry and clinical in his writing – but sometimes he can open us to the most beautiful and stunning statements about the love and mercy of our God. The second reading today – from Romans 5 – provides us with such a statement. He tells us:
But this is how God demonstrates
his own love for us:
the Messiah died for us
while we were still sinners. Romans 5:8
We can look at a number of different scenarios to help unpack what this might mean for us. Each one involves two people walking along a muddy path beside a swollen river during weather like we are having right now. We will then journey with two other people – this time the two disciples who were walking away from Jerusalem towards the village of Emmaus which we find in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24. These two people share with us many insights about the hopes and dreams of ordinary Jewish people in the mid-first century, and how Jesus who joins them along their journey addresses these questions about the significance of the cross and his whole life.
The hope of Israel was not for rescue from the world,
but a rescue plan where redeemed humanity
would once more play the role for which they were designed.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (13 mins)
Sunday 3, Season of Lent, Year A.
Romans 5:1-8; John 4:5-42.
When Jesus told the disciples that he was going to suffer and die, or as he does in today’s Gospel, tell them not to speak of the transfiguration vision until after he had been raised from the dead – what was the story that they had in their heads when they would later tell the story of the death of Jesus. Our biblical knowledge is often poor, and it is not usually helped by some of the imagery that Christians have produced over the centuries, especially during the medieval period. Some of that imagery suggests that Jesus does not die out of love, but because God so hated the world that Jesus is killed as a human sacrifice. This is so far from the authentic scriptural witness that we need to journey into the story more deeply to see how to make sense of this, and to discover what Paul meant when he said that Jesus died “in accordance with the scriptures.”
Recorded at Saint Paul’s, 8am (14 mins)
Sunday 2, Lent, Year A. Genesis 12:1-4; Matthew 17:1-9
As we enter into this new season of Lent, the Church offers us very evocative readings to guide our journey. But it seems that there is an even more fundamental truth that lies at the heart of the Christian faith – which is the question of “Why did Jesus die on the cross?” Although the early church tackled many fundamental questions in the first few centuries, such as the nature of the person of Jesus, grace and salvation, as well as looking at questions about Mary and the Holy Trinity, the question as to why Jesus died on the cross, and exactly how this was done “in accordance with the scriptures” as St Paul asserts in 1 Corinthians 15, and which Jesus himself tells the two disciples that join him on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 – the church did not really begin to address this question until it was in the midst of the Protestant reformation. This has also led to strange results which continue to haunt the church today. This series will attempt to look more closely at the scriptures as well as what Jesus himself says about the cross in order to find the ongoing significance and place of the cross for our own lives, and why the church continues to say that by early evening on the first Good Friday, a revolution had begun.
Recorded at Saint Paul’s, 8am (16 mins)
Sunday 1, Lent, Year A.
Each year we are invited to be part of this mad emotional journey on this day that begins with such joy, wonder and jubilation as we join the crowds in their shouts of Hosanna and glory, lining the roadway from the Parish Centre across the carpark into the church, with palms and greenery aplenty, joyful shouts and singing to accompany the procession into the church – only to be greeted by the first song of the suffering servant in the first reading, the Carmen Christi in the second reading, and then the profoundly sorrow-filled reading of the passion.
A brief reflection for Passion Sunday (2 mins)
Passion Gospel, Luke 23
Reflection video: Dan Stevers, Son of Man
We conclude this series today with the beautiful gospel of “the woman caught in the very act of committing adultery” from John 8. The Gospel is intriguing on so many levels not least because of the manuscript uncertainty concerning its placement in this location in John’s gospel – many early manuscripts do not include it all, others place it somewhere else, others in the gospel of Luke (which seems closer in language and style). It can be removed from John and not interrupt the flow of the narrative, yet including it here provides the background for the increased tension between Jesus and the Jewish officials, and a great counterpoint to the end of chapter 8 where the officials are again picking up stones – this time to throw at Jesus.
Even though I am no expert in such matters (that is my story, and I am sticking with it) – it would seem that if she was caught in the ‘very act’ of committing adultery, then her accomplice in this act should also be standing there naked alongside her – this seems to be the suggestion for the phrase that the woman was positioned ‘in full view of everybody’ in the square that day. The absence of her partner suggests that the crowd has another partner in view, which very quickly becomes Jesus as the questions are directed at him. This gospel is also the only place where it is recorded that Jesus wrote anything – so of course there has been tremendous speculation about what exactly it was that he was scribbling in the sand.
When he pronounced any kind of judgement it was against the collected crowd, inviting any who were without sin to be the first to cast the stone. Beginning with those who had the greatest opportunity to both sin and reflect upon their sin – the oldest are the first to lay down their stones and make their exit from the scene – until only two are left: in the words of St Augustine, misera et misericordia: the miserable and mercy. And there is no judgement that he passes upon her as he looks up into her still scared and frightened face: neither do I condemn you, go and do not sin again.
Learning to receive the mercy of the Lord is perhaps one of the most difficult things that we will ever do. Learning to allow that declaration that there is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) is beyond most of us. It just seems to be impossibly good news. So how can we lay down our stones and not exact revenge on others when we do not allow the mercy of the Lord to be received in our own souls?
Recorded at St Paul’s, 7.30am (12min)
Lent, Sunday 5, Year C. John 8:1-11; Phil 3:8-15
Video Reflection: Dan Stevers – Identity (based on the writings of Rob Bell – of course!)
Communion Reflection: Margaret Rizza, “O Lord, Listen to my Prayer” from the album Complete Chants (Kevin Mayhew, Ltd) or at 7.30am Margaret Rizza, “Calm me Lord” – from the same album.
“A man had two sons. So begins one of the most moving and beautiful stories that Jesus told – Luke 15. We have often called this parable “The Prodigal Son” but that removes some of the richness – because all three characters are essential to this story – the prodigal son, the waiting father and the elder brother all add so much to the richness and beauty of this encounter with brokenness, mercy and grace. Reflecting on this story provides us with a beautiful illustration of the rich Jewish understanding of “T’Shuvah!” – the God who created us good, to share in his life through walking along the ways of the Lord – but acknowledges that we often wander away from the path. Always and forever, the Lord invites us to come on home and join in the feast. Unfortunately we are too often the older brother in this story and continue to slave away in service of a mean and stingy God. This is brought out in another story that Jesus tells in Matthew 18 – this time its the story of a king and two servants, one who owes a massive sum to the king and the other who owes the first slave a smaller sum. The king forgives the first, but the first is not able to learn from this grace and mercy and extend it to the one who owes him.
The God of the Broken continues to invite us to come on home and join in the feast with the fatted calf.
Recorded at St Paul’s, Vigil Mass.
Sunday 4, Season of Lent, Year C.
Dan Stevers – Presence
The account of the encounter between God and Moses on the holy mountain can teach us so much about our journey towards healing – receiving and sharing mercy. It is worth reflecting on the divine name that God reveals to Moses – that he calls himself “I am”. This should remind us that the only place to truly encounter God is in this present moment – not in our past regrets or in our future fears. But God will also bring healing to our past relationships in the present and he tells us that this sacred encounter with the Lord is worth protecting through appropriate boundaries being put into effect.
Recorded at St Paul’s, AP (first part is from 7.30am; second part from 9.30am – if you were there, you will know why! #godblesstech) – 14 mins
Season of Lent, Third Sunday. Exodus 3.
Slide presentation: Download moving-mercy-3.pdf
Video Reflection: Dan Stevers – Presence