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.
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)
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
Before I begin this gospel reflection, there is one thing that you should know about me: I am not height challenged – in fact I am much more likely to be asked to move out of the way so that others standing in a crowd behind me are able to see the action. So the story that is told only in chapter 19 in the Gospel of Luke about this height-challenged bloke Zacchaeus having to climb up a tree to see Jesus doesn’t really connect with me.
I’ve also sometimes joked that the bible may well be sexist, but it is also heightist – it is the little runt of a kid David who wins over the tall Goliath, and is chosen by the Lord in preference to the tall king Saul. But I guess you can’t win them all.
The encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus stands fittingly as the last episode of the long journey that Jesus and his disciples have been taking from Galilee to Jerusalem. Along the way Jesus has been mocked as a friend of tax collectors and sinners, so it is appropriate that the final act of Jesus is to eat in the house of not just a tax collector, but a chief or senior tax collector. These characters were really entrepreneurs – they were required to pay the contract amount in advance, and then employ others to help them to collect all the taxes, with a tidy profit built into the collection system. While all tax collectors right across history have never been the winners of the most popular awards, these chief tax collectors were especially despised by their fellow Jews. The other people in the town no doubt had watched as Zacchaeus walked around town in ever finer clothes, with more servants at his beck-and-call, attending to his every need in his ever more beautifully furnished and grander house – and all at their expense.
Luke carefully weaves this story into the ones that have gone just before it. In the Gospel that we heard last Sunday – of the Pharisee and another tax collector – Jesus had declared that “all who humble themselves will be exalted.” Today we see this very thing in the person of Zacchaeus. He casts aside all regard for his own dignity by climbing a tree in order to be able to see Jesus. Also in the previous chapter, Jesus had challenged the rich ruler to sell all he had and give it to the poor, but that man went away sad.
Here, as soon as the eyes of Jesus met the eyes of Zacchaeus, there was a meeting of souls. Jesus had seen that look in many others that he had encountered before, and he knew that it revealed a sickness in the heart of Zacchaeus that only Jesus could touch and heal. But rather than providing the opportunity for a parable as the people in the crowd complain and groan about this meeting, we hear Zacchaeus himself speak to us in front of Jesus and the whole crowd, bearing witness to the extraordinary and extravagant repentance that has happened in this instance. Zacchaeus knows that words alone are not enough – so he makes a lavish offer to make amends. His offer to sell half his property and to make a four-fold restitution will impact his fortunes deeply. But he knows that in the person of Jesus he has found something of untold value – because today, salvation has come to this house. Now he is restored where he is as part of the renewed Israel. For the son of man has come to seek and save what was lost.
Recorded for Journey Radio Program (3 mins)
Sunday 31, Year C. Luke 19:1-10.
Jesus is somewhat uncharacteristic today as he tries to win friends and influence the crowds by declaring that they will not be worthy to be his followers and disciples unless we hate the most significant people in our lives, including ourselves, take up our cross – which means to prepare to die – and give away all that we possess. Such strong stuff. To drive home the message, Jesus uses two images – both of which are very appropriate for Father’s Day – the Bunnings/Masters friendly man doing the DIY project of building a tower, and the very Game of Thrones friendly reference to two kings going to war against each other. The stakes are certainly raised. Jesus is deadly serious that this discipleship business will cost us everything. At the beginning, we must be ready to learn and grow – but he will ask everything of us – because it is only when we are free to follow him that we will find any freedom in life.
This weekend also marks the beginning of my second year at St Paul’s. So this Gospel provides the basis for this call to respond to the great commission that Jesus gives to us – to go, make disciples, baptise and teach. Only one of the four elements of the commission is central – and it happens to be the one part that the church has not been especially strong in – we have faithfully baptised people over the centuries, and built schools and educated children, and we have sent missionaries to new territories – but we have often failed to do the one essential thing – which is to make disciples. This has to change – because the central call of the church – the reason that the Church exists – is to evangelise and make disciples – which means that the reason that this parish exists is to evangelise and make disciples. So as we begin this new season of Spring, let us also make this a new springtime in the parish by embracing this call to make disciples.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am Mass (13 mins)
Sunday 23, Year C. Luke 14:25-33
The wonderful reading from Hebrews 12 today (second reading) may pass us by, because it presumes that we have a good understanding of the rest of the book, as well as Jewish history, geography, scripture and the Jerusalem temple. It probably doesn’t help that the name of the first mountain is not even given in the text, although the description makes it very clear what the author has in mind. The scene is from Exodus 19-20, when Moses leads the chosen people from the slavery of Egypt into this wilderness encounter with the Lord at Mount Sinai. Although it was a wonderful event, it is so dramatic and overwhelming, that most of the people would have been left as a trembling mess after this theophany. What the author wants us to know, is that as wonderful as Jewish history, centred on these key events of Exodus, wilderness wanderings, settling of the promised land, and the building of a people, then a nation, then a kingdom, which culminated in the establishment of the city of David on Mount Zion, where his son Solomon would build a temple and begin the traditions of temple offerings and sacrifices that shaped the identity of the Jewish people. When he turns in verses 22 to 24 to this contrast that is found on Mount Zion, it is not primarily to negate all that had gone before, but to speak of the ministry of Jesus as being the true and better way – completing and perfecting the limitations of the first and necessary system that was the Mosaic law. The way that he describes the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem is simply stunning. The even more stunning thing is that this access to God the supreme judge is made available through Jesus every time and in every moment that we gather to celebrate the Eucharist.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 7.30am (9 mins)
Sunday 22, Year C.
If your image of Jesus is of Mr Nice Guy, always meek and mild, then the Gospel today will come as a massive shock. In the Gospel, from Luke chapter 12, verses 49-53, there doesn’t seem to be a hint of gentle Jesus, or even nice Jesus, but instead a wholesale picture of family feuding and fighting. Maybe we always imagine Jesus as the gentle prince of peace. But in this passage it seems Jesus is more the prince of division than prince of peace.
Maybe we are like the contemporaries of the prophet Micah, who reminds us in chapter 7 at the end of his book, that family dysfunction is a sure indication that everything is not the way that God originally intended. Micah laments about the many things that are going wrong in the world, and that there is only one way forward – which is to trust in the Lord and wait for the God of salvation.
Many years ago, I was in the habit of falling asleep while listening to music on my headphones, and mostly it was pretty quiet and gentle kind of music. One of my mates, knowing that this was my habit, decided it would be rather funny to add some extra music to the end of the tape. So just as the music was doing its trick, and I was calmly and gently falling asleep, it was all rudely interrupted by loud heavy metal music – which immediately jerked me wide awake.
Perhaps my friend’s trick was a bit cruel, but the shock of the crash of those notes interrupting the gentle melody is a great image of the warning that Jesus gives us in our Gospel today. Jesus sees a crisis coming. He says ‘I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already! There is a baptism I must still receive, and how great is my distress till it is over!
The crisis that is coming will centre on him – the baptism of his own suffering and death – and he can’t believe that the people around him can’t see the massive storm that is brewing. Perhaps we are being invited today to really wake up and take a long and hard look at all that surrounds us in the world. We have to read the signs of the times and act accordingly.
We pray in the Our Father for the kingdom of God to come on earth as it in heaven. Surely the church is called to ponder the events on earth and address them with the truth of heaven. Maybe we need to wake up with a crash so that we don’t remain asleep on the job.
Journey Radio Program recording
Sunday 20, Year C. Luke 12:49-53
We are invited deeply into relationship with a God who as a good father wants to give good gifts to all of his children – and especially the gift of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus was a little child, as was the tradition at the time, his mother Mary would have taught him how to pray to God. She would have shared the many stories of God and God’s people that she would know by heart from the Hebrew Scriptures and her own experience of praying and trusting in this good father. As Jesus grew, prayer to the father becomes so characteristic of his whole life that it is remarked upon, and it provokes the desire of his disciples and followers to pray in the same way – teach us to pray. The prayer that Jesus teaches us in Luke’s gospel today is not just a prayer that we need to learn and recite word-for-word – but an invitation into communion with the same father – an invitation to rest in his word and rest in his love.
Sunday 17, Year C. Luke 11:1-13
Arriving at the fourth part of this series on being disciples of Jesus, we are given the provocative question by a lawyer – what must I do to inherit the life of the age to come? True to form, Jesus does not provide a direct answer, but instead asks a question – what does the law say? What do you read there? In the other gospels, it is Jesus himself who provides this bringing together of two different strands of the law – to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (only three of these are found in the original Hebrew text, or in the Greek translation) from the Shema in Deuteronomy 6, combined with the call to love our neighbour as ourselves from Leviticus 19. Because this commandment is so difficult, we also want some wriggle room to evade being judged by such a strong teaching. Yet, the call of the Lord is very clear. It is only the one who showed mercy who was the true neighbour. And we show mercy not just in binding wounds, or providing food, but also whenever we speak truth into another person’s life – whenever we offer them the only hope that any of us absolutely need – to know and be known by Jesus the Christ.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 7.30am (15 mins)
Sunday 15, Year C. Luke 10:25-37
Reflection video: Come be my light (Liturgically Sound)
View the Presentation Slides
Communion Reflection Song: Good Good Father (Chris Tomlin)