Easter Vigil – Begin in the beginning

The scripture readings that are offered to us each year during the Easter Vigil are so rich and beautiful. It would be great to be able to spend time reflecting on each reading in turn – but tonight let us at least begin in the beginning and consider the wonderful poem that opens the strange library of books that we call the bible – the account of creation in Genesis 1.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, Easter Vigil (17 mins)

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A storm-tossed life

stormysea-rembrandtAncient people were always deeply afraid of travelling by sea. This is especially so because of the primitive ships that they had to travel in – the wise sailors would hug the shore as much as possible. In Genesis 1, God creates order from the ‘toho va bohu’ – the dark depths of the ocean and chaos. In Exodus 14, the people fleeing from the slavery of Pharaoh find liberation only to come face-to-face with the dark depths of the impenetrable sea that blocks their way until the Lord intervenes and uses a mighty wind to drive back the dark depths of the water and leads them through on newly created dry ground. The sea comes to symbolise all that is evil and dark. In the book of Daniel, the sea is the place where the monsters come from. Our Psalm today as well as a number of others speak of the creator God who calms the sea, who brings order to the chaos, telling the raging storms to quieten down.

Sometimes life can become too much for us or for those who are close to us. It can seem like we are in a small boat that is being tossed about on the waves. Sometimes the storms that arise are like the one in the gospel today – sudden and unexpected. Sometimes the storms have always been there. Sometimes they have been brewing and building for untold ages and we cannot remember a time when they were not there!

In our first reading we have part of the Lord’s response to Job. Job has endured a terrible storm – he lost everything – family and friends, possessions and reputation, livelihood and health. He suffered and complained; he called God into the dock. Yet in the end, through it all he trusted. And in that trust he found his vindication. Trust gave him all that he needed – even if he never really found the answers that he was looking for.

All four Gospels record this storm out at sea – this event where the disciples are scared witless when their tiny little boat is tossed about on massive waves and seems almost at the point of being swamped and sunk. The sea and the waves are signs of all that darkness and nothingness that stand against us.
Mark has a very spiritual and symbolic telling of the events. In the Gospels, when you have the disciples and Jesus in a boat, that is always an image of the church. All the disciples (that is ‘us’) are in the boat of the church, journeying with Christ. We are always journeying to the far side – to the reaches of the world, of time, of experience.

In the midst of this journey, this gale rages up and the waves begin to break over the bow of the boat so that they are almost swamped. This particular storm must have been really something – because these fishermen were used to the weather on the Sea of Galilee. They were used to the many storms that would brew and blow – but this storm was really something. This was not a minor one – it wasn’t one that you’d get everyday or every few weeks. This storm doesn’t stand for the small troubles that we sometimes have to face – but the truly devastating and destructive powers that sometimes rise up to overwhelm us. The kinds of forces that can so dominate our lives that it can lead to an overdose or a suicide attempt.

And yet here in the story, Jesus is asleep – in the stern, with his head on a cushion. Amazing – while we are going through these terrible crises and Jesus is just asleep. He hasn’t just happened to fall asleep while sitting at the back – no he has made himself nice and comfortable on this cushion. Kind of pathetic at one level!

Yet Jesus knows the source of true power – he knows the creative and sustaining power of God. Maybe Jesus is pointing to something precious here: maybe we need to cultivate that same kind of place of peace and calm in our lives. Where do we live spiritually? (Note: the storm is still there either way!)
So they wake Jesus up – “do you not care that we are going down?” Save us we are going to drown! Out of the depths they cry out to the Lord. They are utterly desperate. He gets up; and with a single word he rebukes the storm and all is calm. They saw the same powerful forces that were at work in the beginning, at the dawn of creation. Trust in the Lord. Cry out to Jesus.

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Recorded at St Col’s
Sunday 12, Year B. Mark 4:35-41

O happy fault of Adam

Magic forestAt the Easter Vigil, there is an especially poignant moment during the singing of the Easter Proclamation, or the Exsultet, when the deacon or priest sings: “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer.” (Roman Missal II translation) As we set out on the journey of Lent, the Church offers us the figures of the Adam and Eve in the garden surrounded by all the delights that earth can offer. When we become aware of these faults and failures within ourselves, it is a connection with the foundational nature of sin. The fall of Adam and the entering of sin into human history was an essential part of salvation history. St Paul understands this clearly because he knows that in the person of Jesus you don’t just get a simple reversal of the disobedience of Adam by the absolute obedience of Jesus – but the transformation of the original sin as new creation begins to break into the world.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (9’31”)
Sunday 1, Season of Lent, Year A.

Revealing New Creation

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.

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Recorded at St Mary’s, Leppington (6’11”)

Sunday Easter 5C: Rev 21:1-5; John 13:31-35

Timely weddings

kairos‘Nuptial imagery rings through the bible like peals of wedding bells’ (Bishop Tom Wright)

Today we have the fourth of the great epiphanies – when the true identity of Jesus is revealed. Although it may be tempting to imagine the scene of the wedding at Cana as a contrast between the stale water of Judaism and the good wine of Christianity, the Beloved Disciple has overlayed so many rich images in this simple story that we need to go deeper to find the meaning for us. One of the striking elements is the fact that it seems this was not going to be the moment when Jesus chose to reveal himself, but as the result of the persistence of his mother (who was the primary wedding guest – Jesus was the +1) the planned schedule that Jesus was following (the chronos) was interrupted and this wedding became a kairos moment, when he revealed himself and his glory as the first of seven (or eight?) signs.

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Recorded at NET training, Weyba Downs, Qld (11’09”)

Marriage in the kingdom

A line in the first reading (from Genesis 2) caught my attention today: “The man gave names to all the cattle…” I wondered how many species of cattle there are that they are worthy of a special mention? Mainly, the line caught my attention because it reminded me of growing up on our farm, and the fact that my parents gave names to all the cows. Usually it was just the house cows – the ones that we still milked – but later on Mum tended to give names to almost all the cows in our smallish herd. Family members came to the rescue in terms of supplying names for the cows – including male and female names. So, for example, Mum would take delight in pointing out which cow was called ‘Rickie’. Yep.

In turning to Mark 10, we begin a section of the gospel that looks at living out discipleship in everyday life, addressing topics like marriage, children and work. The first trap that is set before Jesus concerns the question of divorce. Unfortunately, we are not given verse 1 which provides the geographical context for the question posed by the Pharisees. That it takes place in Judea beyond the River Jordan immediately evokes the ministry of John the Baptist, who had been killed by ‘King’ Herod for challenging his marriage to his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias. The reason that the question that the Pharisees put to Jesus is a test is because it is not just marriage in general, but this marriage specifically that the question is about. They hope to trap Jesus in the same way that John was caught up in this political intrigue. The fact that ‘back in the house’ (code for the church) Jesus gives two possibilities: both a man and woman divorcing – when the Jewish law only allowed the male to initiate divorce is also an indication that this is really about Herodias. [It could also be provided for the Roman Gentile community who were the recipients of this Gospel, where the law allowed men or women to divorce.]

The first answer that Jesus offers is, in Rabbinical style, to ask a question about the teaching of Moses. He refers to the only commandment contained in the Torah concerning divorce, namely Deuteronomy 24: 1-4. Here the case is posed of a couple who have married, but the wife ‘does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her.’ The law allows the man to ‘write her a certificate of divorce …and send her out of his house.’ Scholars indicate that this text and law is primarily about the protection of the woman and her rights. When she entered into the marriage, her family would have offered a dowry which the first husband would keep. However, once she enters into a second marriage, she was able to keep the second dowry for herself. The law forbade her to return to the first husband, probably out of fear that he would take her dowry. Complicated enough?

The Rabbis debated among themselves about what constituted something that was sufficiently objectionable to justify a divorce. The three famous schools from the previous centuries all had interpretations to offer. The school of Shammai (noted for his hard-line and strict interpretations) said it could only be where the wife had been unfaithful to her husband. The more liberal house of Hillel suggested it was objectionable “even if she spoiled a dish”, whereas the Rabbi Aqiba suggested it was sufficient grounds if the husband simply found someone else prettier (and hence that rendered the first wife objectionable!) It is noteworthy that Jesus usually follows the interpretations of Hillel over those of Shammai, but in this case he takes the more hard-line interpretation. Why?

Recorded at St Paul’s, Camden, 10am (12’00”)
Sunday 27B: Genesis 2:18-24; Mark 10:2-16


He does all things well


The Fathers of the Church remind us that there were many miracles that Jesus performed; when a particular one stood out in the memory of the evangelists, it was perhaps for a particular spiritual lesson that the story can offer to us as we read and listen to it. AS always, we are invited to enter into the scene before us and allow Jesus to address us.

To begin, Mark provides us with an interesting geography lesson as he relates the route that Jesus took from Tyre to the Sea of Galilee. To travel between these two points via Sidon and the Decapolis is a little like travelling from Sydney to Canberra via Newcastle and Bathurst. You can do it, but you should seriously consider updating your GPS if that is the suggested route! (more…)

Creative word

The Word of God is so creative, powerful and fruitful, that sometimes we need to go to a high place to see the incredible vista that the Lord provides before us. This is the image that St Paul uses in Romans 8 when he lifts us with him to see the vision of all creation groaning and longing for the revelation of the children of God. The powerful and prophetic Word of God (dabar) never returns empty – that is why the parable that Jesus tells of the sower of the seed is even more intriguing. The scattering of the seed willy-nilly suggests a farmer who is extremely foolish with such a precious commodity in first-century Israel. The grace the Lord offers is never stingy; he is always generous.

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Recorded at St Francis Xavier Cathedral, 10.30am (9’33”)
Matthew 13:1-23; Isaiah 55:10-11; Romans 8:18-23

Resting in the Father

As we return to the ordinary season of the year, we are given a most magnificent Gospel to land on, in Matthew 11:25-30. This gospel passage is unusual in the first three Gospels that rarely take us into the inner life of Jesus in his prayer to the Father. Here we are plunged into this moment when Jesus rejoices in the possibility that those around him might be able to share in the incredible intimacy that he shared with the Father – a secret that the inarticulate infants are able to grasp, but which is hidden from the learned and clever.

If we wish, this secret is available to us as well – especially if we labour and are overburdened and want to finally find our place of rest.

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Recorded at the Kairos Young Adult weekend, QCCC Centre, Mt Tamborine. (11’17”)

God is love

When you read through the scriptures, one thing that modern readers might expect are passages that point to proofs for the existence of God. And yet there is not a single place that we can turn to to find something even remotely close to a De Deo Uno (Concerning One God) treatise that you find in classical and medieval theology. In fact the closest that you get is the statement that begins Psalm 14 and 53 – ‘The fool says in his heart, “There is no God”.’ The bible – like all of the ancient near east, simply takes for granted the existence of God.

So what does the bible tell us about the nature of God? What are the images that you find that can help to illuminate the profession of faith of the early Church that God is three in one?

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Recorded at St Brigid, Gwynneville, 9am (10’49”)
Trinity Sunday | John 3:16-18