The Gospel of Good Friday

Although we read the Passion story last Sunday during the Mass of Palm Sunday, that Gospel is always taken from one of the three Synoptic Gospel accounts, depending on the liturgical year. But on Good Friday, there can only be one Gospel that will be our guide and companion – the Gospel that shapes the whole of the sacred days of Easter – the Gospel of John. When you read or listen to the passion story in this Gospel, the experience is so different from what we had only days earlier with Matthew’s gospel. In John, there is no agony in the garden; there are no anguished cries; Jesus carries his cross himself, without any need for a passerby to be recruited. Jesus knows that his hour has come and he accepts and embraces it as a regal king. Jesus is always in control of these events and reigns as a king on the cross. He takes the vinegar to drink in answer to his cry that could equally be interpreted as a declaration for his love for humanity: “I am thirsty.” And his final words are a resounding declaration that anything that separated us from the love of God has now been abolished because death is now defeated and the holy spirit is now released into the world – “It is finished!” Even the events after his death should perhaps be more carefully understood. When the soldier comes to kill him so that his body can be removed before the solemn Jewish festival (which is far from the usual practice of allowing the naked bodies of the victims of crucifixion to remain on the cross for as long as it takes to suffer this excruciating and agonising death and then for their bodies to slowly begin to decompose and be eaten by rats and birds of prey) – they discover that Jesus is already dead, but to make sure a lance is pierced into his side. John describes how blood and water flow forth from the wound which mothers would recognise as an image of Jesus giving birth to a new family of redeemed children through the events of the cross.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 3pm Good Friday
John 18 – 19.

Exclusion and Embrace on the Cross

cross-sunsetTo gather each Good Friday for prayer around an instrument of Roman torture is still a very strange practice to have. To sing songs and come forward in procession to touch, embrace or kneel before this sign of brutality and terrorism… It can also be a very difficult exercise to reconcile the fragility and weakness of both Jesus and the early church with the power and domination of the contemporary church – even if it has been dramatically weakened by the ongoing scandals of sexual abuse and the increasing irrelevance with which the rest of contemporary post-modern society considers the church. Although weak, the church continues to so often act against the basic impulse of the cross – to embrace sin and offer redemption to the whole world.

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Recorded at St Paul’s (11:46)
Solemn Commemoration of the Passion

Prayer Reflection on the Cross

cloudy_crossA short prayer on the cross offered at the conclusion of the Stations of the Cross.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am service (1:47)
Good Friday, Stations of the Cross

 

Dealing with disfunction

may6Although St Paul tells his young disciple Timothy that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, refuting error, guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be holy” (2 Tim 3:16) it is hard to see how that can be applied to our first reading today, taken from Exodus 17:8-13. Like so many other passages from the Old Testament it describes a bloody battle that ends with the line “with the edge of the sword Joshua cut down Amalek and his people.” (Ex 17:13) Charming. To which we all replied: The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!

Like many other difficult passages the best way to understand and interpret this passage is by reading commentaries written by the Fathers of the Church – those saintly men who lived in the first few centuries after Christ and who spent their days pondering deeply upon the word of God. In addition to Origen, St Augustine and St Justin Martyr, there are wonderful insights by St Gregory Nazianzen, St Gregory the Great and St John Chrysostom. First, they point us to the other places where the Amalekites are mentioned, which give us knowledge of their origins, the meaning of their name – a sinful people – and their battle tactics. They also remind us that the whole of the Christian life is a battle and battle passages like this one speak into the truth of this reality. Let’s face it – there are certainly areas of our lives that we need to deal with. If we have a cancerous tumour, then to be told by the doctors after we have had surgery that they have successfully removed 60% of it would not make us completely happy. Likewise, when our state is faced with bushfires today that are burning on a 500km front, we would not be completely happy to learn that this has been reduced by only a few kilometres. 

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (10’44”)
Sunday 29, Year C. Luke 18:1-8

After my homily I played the reflection video Identity by Dan Stevers. Watch it and buy it here

Stations of the Cross Reflection

 

A brief reflection offered at the end of the Stations of the Cross, celebrated at St Paul’s, Camden on Good Friday morning.

Length: 2’15”

A full recording of the service (slightly edited to reduce some of the silences and not including the final multimedia)

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Length: 40’05”

The empty God

To make sense of the gospel today, you need to see what has been happening earlier in chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel. At the beginning of the chapter Jesus and his disciples have made their triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the day that we now call Palm Sunday. He then proceeded to cleanse the temple, driving out the money changers and sellers. It is at this point that he is confronted by the scribes and chief priests who ask by whose authority this country-bumpkin from Galilee is acting like this?

Jesus, as the good unoffical Rabbi, responds by putting a question to them about John the baptist’s authority – from God or man? When they refuse to answer he then tells the story that is the Gospel today. Closely related to this passage is the utterly sublime hymn that forms the major part of our second reading today, taken from the letter of St Paul to the church in Philippi. The hymn called the Carmen Christi, is usually considered to pre-date the letter and thus is the earliest declaration of the church to this question of the authority of Jesus to act like this – ‘his state was divine.’

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Recorded at SJV, 8.30am (9’23”)

At the end of Mass, it was announced that Bishop Peter has appointed me as assistant priest to the parish of St Paul’s Camden (Fr Michael Williams is the parish priest). Camden is the largest parish in NSW and the Diocese, and is growing rapidly with many young families. I will live in the presbytery in Camden; Fr Michael lives in Narellan. The appointment will take effect on 6 October 2011. At this stage there is no priest available to take my place here in the Lumen Christi Pastoral Region.

Changed by cross and glory

On the second Sunday in Lent each year we join Peter, James and John to witness that incredible moment when Jesus is changed (in the Greek, metamorphoo, which you can probably discern from the word is an aorist indicative passive third person singular verb, which is a form of ‘metamorphosis’ meaning ‘to remodel’ or ‘to change into another form’) before their eyes to show his glory as the Son of God. The three apostles are joined by two other, more ancient witnesses – Moses and Elijah – as together they worship before the presence of the Lord. In Matthew’s Gospel, there are three prominent mountains – the one that we have journeyed with over many weeks before Lent began – the mountain where the Sermon of Matthew 5-7 was delivered; our mountain today (traditionally listed as Mt Tabor, but Mt Hermon, being closer to Caesarea Philippi where Mt 16 ends is more likely – but it is more inaccessible and less pilgrim-friendly); and the ‘high place’ of Calvary. All three need to be seen in the light of each other.

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Recorded at Mater Dolorosa, 6pm Vigil (8’25”)
Lent 2, Year A. Matthew 17:1-9

A king on a cross

Christ the King – the final Sunday in the Season of the Year. This feast, and the image of king, undoubtably invokes many images. This week it was announced that Prince William and Kate Middleton were finally engaged which caused many hearts to race in anticipation of a royal wedding in the middle of 2011. As much as I would like to be excited by such things, the British monarchy doesn’t really do anything for me. When we think about a king, I am sure the many plays and movies that we have watched would supply a myriad of imagery – huge thrones, crowns with bling-galore, magnifent state rooms and equally splendid attendants bowing and scraping before the exalted presence. And although this image sometimes appears in scripture, the dominant image that is given to us this Sunday is so radically different.

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Recorded at SJV, 8.30am (7’04”)

Stones and the Cross – Good Friday

On Good Friday we reflect on the amazing love that was shown by Jesus. Last night we remembered the nature of our call to be a Eucharistic people and to respond to the call of our baptism through lives of service. Today we continue that reflection by remembering our call to be ministers and priests. Each of us is called to be like Christ and to serve and love the world. But it can be a sad and shocking realisation to be reminded that this is not necessarily the way that others see us as followers of Jesus. A survey was conducted recently and it asked the mostly unChurched participants to say what were things that came to mind when they thought of Christians and Christianity. They were not given a multiple choice test, but instead were presented with a blank sheet of paper and asked to write what came to mind.

Shocklingly and saddening, the most common response that was given by participants was not the cross, or love one another; the most common response was ‘hates gays.’

What a terrible indictment upon the Christian church. You would think that as followers of Jesus, the lover of sinners and lover of humanity, that we would be known as lovers of life, freedom, forgiveness, justice and truth…

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Recorded at St Michael’s Hall, 3pm Commemoration of the Passion (6’59”)

Trusting in the Lord alone

6th Sunday in the Season of the Year (C) – Jer 17:5-8; ICor 15; Luke 6:17-26. St Valentine’s Day.

The question that lies at the heart of our readings today is – where do you place your ultimate trust / faith / hope? Jeremiah rather starkly tells us that if it is in the world of people and things than we are cursed. In a similar way, the ‘beatitudes’ as given by St Luke in the Sermon on the Plain are in series of blessings and curses which are much more stark and confronting than the equivalent in the Gospel of Matthew.

In Luke, Jesus tells us that those who are poor, hungry, weeping and persecuted are blessed. So what on earth is Jesus getting at in this sermon? How can it be a good thing to be poor or hungry? When is it good to weep or be persecuted?

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Recorded at St Michael’s, 9.30am (12’33”)