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)
One 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:
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.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am (13 mins)
Pentecost Sunday, Year C.
View the Presentation Slides. Reflection video: All Creation Worships You (iWorship)
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.
With 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.
Death was not God’s doing.
So how do we make sense of death and how the Christian should approach this stark reality? How should we respond to our natural instinctual and evolutionary reaction to fear death? The teaching that the book of Wisdom offers and which is then magnified by Jesus in these two tightly woven stories of healing and new life – the woman with the twelve-year haemorrhage and the twelve-year old sick then dead daughter of the synagogue official Jairus. The words that Jesus offers to Jairus perhaps need to be spoken also into our own lives – Talitha kum – “little child, I say to you arise” from the sleep of death.
Sunday 13, year B. Recorded at St Col’s, Corrimal (8 mins)
Mark 5: 21-43; Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24.
In the journey through Lent each year, the Church leads us first out into the wilderness to be with Jesus during his temptations, and then on the second Sunday of Lent his three closest disciples join Jesus as they journey up a high mountain. The strange event which the bible calls Jesus being transfigured is told today in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 17.
Sometimes we think that it is on this particular mountain that the divinity of Jesus is revealed when he shines brightly. In fact, the writers of the New Testament knew that humanity itself was a rather glorious thing, and that the perfect humanity that was Jesus was the model for the glory that all his people would one day share.
Early Christians would tell us that if you wanted to see the divinity of Jesus, you must look at the suffering and shameful death of Jesus – even if this continues to surprise us. So, to understand what happens here on the mountain of the transfiguration, you need to meditate on the other mountain – the place of the crucifixion.
On this mountain, Jesus is revealed in glory; there, on that hill outside Jerusalem, Jesus is revealed in his shame. Here, the clothing that Jesus is wearing is shining white and bright; there his clothes have been stripped away. Here Jesus is flanked by the two great heroes of Israel – Moses and Elijah; there he only has two brigands to flank him. Here a bright cloud covers them with its shadow; there the land is covered in darkness. Here Peter declares how wonderful this all is; there, Peter and the others have run away and hide in their fear. Here the booming voice of God declares that this is His beloved son; there, it is left to a pagan Roman soldier to declare in his surprise that that really was God’s son.
Perhaps it is only when we begin to really see that the glory of God can be revealed in sorrow and shame that we begin to understand how strange and wonderful is this story of Jesus. This Lent we are invited to move deeper into this story, as we listen to the voice of Jesus calling us into life.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 6pm Vigil (10’57”)
The text above is from the Journey Radio Program: dow.org.au/catholic-radio
The long journey that we have been on with Jesus which began in chapter 9 of the Gospel of Luke – the journey from Galilee in the north down to Jerusalem has finished and Jesus has made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem – which the church celebrates each year on Palm Sunday. So all the gospel passages over the next few weeks take place during Holy Week – those final days leading up to the events of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Tensions, therefore, begin to rise!
The Gospel today is from Luke chapter 20. This is the only time that we meet this strange group called the Sadducees in this Gospel. The Sadducees were the conservatives and the aristocratic group of the day who scorned the more progressive views of the more popular Pharisees. The Sadducees only accepted the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, known as the Torah.
In the Book of Deuteronomy, in chapter 25, we find the law of levirate marriage, whereby a brother was supposed to raise up an heir for his childless dead brother. This was meant to protect the property rights of a family.
Here, the Sadducees pose a case of a succession of seven heirless brothers that they think will force Jesus to renounce the resurrection by showing the absurdity of it. Instead, Jesus replies that the succession of husbands is a problem for the Sadducees, only because they have not thoroughly comprehended the meaning of the resurrection.
Resurrection life will not be exactly the same as the present one. Death will have been abolished, and so sexual relations, and especially the need to continue a particular family line, will be irrelevant. Those whom God counts worthy of ‘the age to come’, as opposed to ‘the present age’, will have bodies appropriate for the new world in which death will be no more.
And this continues to be good news for all who work for justice in this present world.
Recorded at St Paul’s (8am & 5.30pm; 8’47”)
Sunday 32, Year C. Luke 20:27-38.
When was the last time that you were so truly grateful for something that happened in your life that you had to shout out aloud in thanksgiving. Perhaps if you were a Roosters fan, it was last Sunday night? I remember as a kid growing up on the farm, we would often help dad when he went to burn off in the steep gullies that were difficult to slash or otherwise control. Usually the fires burnt away without incident, but occasionally the day was a little hotter than you thought, the ground a little drier or the wind a little stronger and suddenly you were staring down at these seemingly massive flames leaping towards you, with only a damp hessian bag to save you. Thankfully dad always seemed to be there at the right time to block the flames or move the tractor to provide a barrier and we all managed to escape with most of out hair intact. The only appropriate response at such a time is to lift your voice in praise of the God of life!
We are given the stories of a number of individuals today who have every reason to be truly grateful to the God of life – for curing them of their dreaded skin diseases. In 2 Kings 5 there is the story of Naaman, a commander in the Syrian army inflicted with leprosy who hears through one of his Hebrew servant girls that there is a prophet in Israel who could heal him. With gold and silver and fine linen piled on him he and his soldiers set off to visit the king of Israel. Unfortunately, with the diplomacy of the time, the king suspects that Naaman is only there to spy out the land or otherwise cause trouble, so he doesn’t receive this request to be healed very well. Elisha the prophet hears about Naaman and sends word for him to come and visit the home of the prophet. Naaman expects a great show with Elisha performing perhaps a complicated incantation and dance while waving his hands over the leprosy to effect the cure. Instead Elisha merely sends word through one of his servants to Naaman that he should proceed down to the river Jordan and wash seven times in its muddy waters. Naaman is offended by this treatment and leaves, preferring to wash in the more abundant and cleaner rivers of Syria, fed as they are by the snow melt and springs of Mt Hermon – but after the pleading of one of his servants he finally agrees to wash – and he is cured.
But it is one thing to be cured of disease – it is quite another to be healed. All ten of the lepers in the Gospel today, from Luke 17, are cured. But only one is truly healed. Only one returns in gratitude to worship the God who restored his life. Many are called – but only few respond in grateful worship.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (10’05”)
Sunday 28, Year C.
The vision that the letter to the Hebrews paints today is certainly expansive. It is an image of the new creation where everyone is welcome and treated as a first-born son and citizen. After attending a forum at the University of Wollongong this week on Refugees, it became even more apparent how far removed this vision is from our current experience in Australia. Bishop Peter Ingham released a pastoral letter on the issue and friends linked a letter that the Bishop of Darwin, Bishop Eugene Hurley wrote recently to Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott. The letter is powerful and worth quoting in full:
16 August 2013
Dear Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott,
I have just returned to my office from the Wickham Point and the Blaydin detention centres here in Darwin.
Sadly, I have been involved with detention centres since the creation of the Woomera centre, followed by Baxter and now, over the last six years, with the various and expanding centres here in Darwin.
I experienced once again today, the suffocating frustration of the unnecessary pain we inflict on one another. I celebrated Holy Mass with a large number of Vietnamese families, made up of men, women, children and women waiting to give birth. The celebration was prayerful and wonderful, until the moment of parting.
I was reminded of something a young man said to me during one of my visits to Woomera, all those years ago. I was saying something about freedom.
He replied, “Father, if freedom is all you have known, then you have never known freedom.”
I sensed the horrible truth of that statement again today.
I was also conscious of that beautiful speech made when the UNHCR accepted the Nobel Prize in 1981. In part it states,
“Throughout the history of mankind people have been uprooted against their will. Time and time again, lives and values built from generation to generation have been shattered without warning. But throughout history mankind has also reacted to such upheavals and brought succour to the uprooted. Be it through individual gestures or concerted action and solidarity, those people have been offered help and shelter and a chance to become dignified, free citizens again. Through the ages, the giving of sanctuary had become one of the noblest traditions of human nature. Communities, institutions, cities and nations have generously opened their doors to refugees.”
I sit here at my desk with a heavy heart and a deep and abiding sadness, that the leaders of the nation that my father, as an immigrant, taught me to love with a passion, have adopted such a brutal, uncompassionate and immoral stance towards refugees.
I imagine he would be embarrassed and saddened by what has occurred.
It occurred to me today that neither the Prime Minister or yourself know the story of any one of these people.
Neither do the great Australian community.
I find that it is quite impossible to dismiss these people with all the mindless, well-crafted slogans, when you actually look into their eyes, hold their babies and feel their grief.
There has been a concerted campaign to demonise these people and keep them isolated from the great Australian public. It has been successful in appealing to the less noble aspects of our nation’s soul and that saddens me. I feel no pride in this attitude that leads to such reprehensible policies, on both sides of our political spectrum.
I cringe when people draw my attention to elements of our history like The White Australia Policy and the fact that we didn’t even count our Indigenous sisters and brothers until the mid 1900’s. I cringe and wish those things were not true. It is hard to imagine that we as a nation could have done those things.
I judge the attitude of our political leaders to refugees and asylum seekers to be in the same shameful category as the above mentioned. In years to come, Australians who love this country will be in disbelief that we as a nation could have been so uncharacteristically cruel for short term political advantage.
It seems that nothing will influence your policy in this matter, other than the political imperative, but I could not sit idly by without feeling complicit in a sad and shameful chapter of this country which I have always believed to be better than that.
Sometime I would love to share with you some of the stories I have had the privilege of being part of over the years. I am sure you would be greatly moved. Sadly, for so many, such a moment will be all too late.
Bishop E. Hurley
This seems to be precisely what the Gospel is calling us to today. Jesus always welcomed everyone and anyone to eat with him – to share life with him. But the Christian church today is so much more exclusive than this. We have forgotten what it is like to be boat people ourselves.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (12’32”)
Sunday 22C. Hebrews 12:18-24; Luke 14:1, 7-14.