Dedicated to my mother.
The first reading, taken from the opening verse of the book that we usually call the ‘Acts of the Apostles’, is clearly presented as a sequel to the Gospel of Luke. As Bishop Tom Wright says, it could just as easily be called the Acts of King Jesus, part II. For although Jesus is only present for the first nine verses, it is experiencing his life and ministry, and above all else of the encounter by the disciples with the resurrected body of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit that dominates the whole book.
Both the ending of Luke’s gospel and the beginning of his Acts focus on the Ascension of Jesus. But to understand the significance of this feast day, we perhaps need to look beyond the standard artwork that usually focuses on the upward movement of Jesus and his disappearance into the clouds. For what is at stake is so much more than the mere departure of Jesus and his flight plans.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (11’45”)
Sunday of the Ascension.
Finally in the season of Easter we arrive at the end of the story with the final two chapters of the book of Revelation being the centrepiece of the liturgy this week and next (the second reading is in the middle/centre of the liturgy of the word). The vision that St John receives in Revelation 21 is absolutely stunning with the transformation of the existing order of things – in the Jewish worldview all of heaven and earth come together in the city of Jerusalem. The previous 15 chapters have dealt with the necessary cleansing of the world (chapters 6 – 20), so now we can say that with the birth of the new heaven and the new earth the old order of creation has passed away – including the waters of chaos (Gen 1:2). In this beautifully described celebration of this ultimate wedding feast, John sees a new Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth.
Recorded at St Mary’s, Leppington (6’11”)
Sunday Easter 5C: Rev 21:1-5; John 13:31-35
Heaven, Hell and God’s love
Presented over a two-day seminar, these workshops open up the theme of the place of the resurrection of Jesus in the life of Christians, considering what society teaches and understands about death and what happens after death. The seminar looks at the teaching of scripture and the church on such ideas as eternal life, paradise, heaven, hell, purgatory and new creation. It is based on the writings of contemporary authors including Pope Benedict, Bishop Tom Wright and Rob Bell.
Given at Summer School of Evangelisation, Bathurst – January 2013
The notes from the seminar are also available: Notes – PDF
The Prezi presentation is also available: Prezi.com
In Hebrews 12 we arrive at what can be argued as the climax of the letter/document with a description of two mountains. The first, although unnamed, clearly refers to Mount Sinai and the place of the reception of the great covenant by Moses. The frightening scene is related powerfully – complete with a blazing fire, darkness, gloom and whirlwind. By way of contrast, the readers are told that no – you have come to Mount Sion/Zion – to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. We discover here a vision of heaven that is strikingly similar to the vision that the pages of scripture closes with, in Revelation 21 and 22.
Recorded at St Mary’s Leppington, 7pm Mass (Thursday, week 4)
This workshop was presented during the Ignite Conference 2012 – Awaken. It is in part a response to the book written by Rob Bell, called ‘Love Wins’ which was published in 2011. This is the description of the workshop:
Rob Bell challenged the Church to rethink heaven and hell in his book Love Wins. This seminar will look at the teaching of the church on heaven, purgatory and hell in the context of the resurrection of Jesus and the belief in the new creation and look at the recent writings of Pope Benedict that help us to see that the truth is something very different from what we probably grew up with.
“Every single person – whether they believe in God or not – wonders at some point about what happens when and after they die? Ghost stories have always been popular: in part because they provide a hint of another (unknown) world. Further, our sense of justice makes us wonder about a life after death, because “far too many good people die without receiving in this life a sufficient reward for their goodness, and many wicked people die without being compelled in this life to pay for their wickedness. If God is just, it seems there has to be some state of being, some place in which these injustices are set right.” [Rob Barron, Catholicism]
- What happens when we die?
- What do we hope for after death?
- What is the cause of our hope?
- What, indeed, is the ultimate Christian hope?
- What does it mean to be saved?
- What do we understand by heaven?
- What do we understand by hell?
- Where does purgatory fit in?
- Why did Jesus live?
See also: the Q&A session at the end of the workshop
One of the lovely things about the Gospel today (Luke 24:35-48) is that it deals with the nature of the resurrected body of Jesus and demonstrates that the disciples did not share the same drug-induced hypnotic experience, or simply remember the warm and fuzzy experiences of Jesus invoked by a vision of his ghost, and then go onto bear witness to his resurrection and commission to be bearers of reconciliation and peace in the world. Jesus has already appeared to the women (Mary Magdalene, Johanna, Mary the mother of James, and the unnamed others), to Simon Peter as well as the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Cleopas and another); when the two return from their encounter when their “hearts burned within us” as Jesus shared the scriptures with them, and after they had recognised him in the breaking of the bread, they returned that night to be with the Apostles and other disciples. (more…)
After journeying through this season of Advent with the prophet Isaiah, and then for the last two weeks with the witness of John the Baptiser, it is only on this fourth Sunday of Advent that we finally are presented with the figure of Mary to accompany our Advent reflection. When we encounter her in the gospel of Luke 1:26-38, we are invited to reflect upon her in the light of the desire by King David to build a temple for the Lord – as a suitable dwelling place for the Lord (2 Sam 7:1-16). Clearly the church wants us to reflect upon these two figures together in order to understand the prophecy that David receives from Nathan about the House of David.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (11’27”)
Literature in the classical world was often concerned to set the scene and provide an overview of the whole text from the very first line of the text. When we come to a text like the Gospel of Mark, we may be tempted to pass over the opening line of the Gospel – which we are presented with in our liturgy today for the Second Sunday of Advent – but that would be a mistake. When Mark sits down to compose his Gospel – more than likely the very first gospel to be written – he was very aware of his context. (more…)
During the month of November, there is a tradition of remembering the dead and praying for them – particularly during the Eucharist. Our liturgy this Sunday provides an opportunity to reflect upon this practice in the light of the Lord’s coming and the judgement. When Paul writes his earliest letter, to the Thessalonians, he still had an expectancy that Jesus would come again soon. He knew that everything was now different because of the resurrection of Jesus, which was the first fruits of the new creation that God would bring about. So he describes the reasons that the church has to live in hope – even as we pray and mourn for those who have already died. We continue to do the same.
Recorded at St Paul’s (9’20”)
Sunday 32, Year A: 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18; Matthew 25: 1-13.
This was ‘Thanksgiving Sunday’ – the culmination of a four week ‘Planned Growth Mission’ renewal program; the homily was replaced by a video presentation as a lead-in to the pledge renewal, so I didn’t actually preach this homily – it is just some thoughts on the readings today.
The feast of the Ascension can be one of those feast days that seems utterly bizarre and irrelevant – it is so mythological and pre-scientific to border of pointless. Or if we can reclaim it somehow in our understanding of its place in the life of Jesus, we can still be left wondering what this means for us. One bridge that we first have to cross is the acknowledgment that much of our thinking is not biblical – we are more formed by the systems of thought that the western world has taken from the ancient Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle than they are by the rich eastern and Hebrew spirituality of the Bible. We tend to think of the world in a dualistic way – divisions between spirit and matter, between good and bad, here and there, now and then. When we think of heaven and earth, we try to fit them into one or several of these dichotomies. But this doesn’t help us to approach the Ascension and its meaning – to do this we must dive into the original biblical vision.
Recorded at Mater Dolorosa, 8.30am (11’15”)
Ascension Sunday. Acts 1:1-11; Matthew 28:16-20.