Arise from the sleep of death.

talithakumDeath 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.

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Sunday 13, year B. Recorded at St Col’s, Corrimal (8 mins)
Mark 5: 21-43; Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24.

 

The Friday that is truly Good

procession-crossRecently, I was asked an interesting question: Why is this particular Friday called good? We have Holy week, holy Thursday, holy Saturday… why not holy Friday? Why Good Friday?

I guess the first thing we might notice – as Christians – is that we are meant to be bearers and proclaimers of good news. And our central message is caught up in the events of that first Friday which we call good.

But what about it could be called good? We have just read the account of the passion from John’s magnificent gospel; wonderful though it is, with a very regal Christ, who in one sense almost reigns from the cross – nothing can take away from the horror of the death of Jesus. The sheer brutality, the bloody torture, the heart-breaking pain that Jesus experienced in his death.

We have journeyed with Jesus this week – from his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, to his betrayal, and last night to the last supper in the upper room, followed by the anguish and arrest of Jesus in the garden and the desertion of the disciples.

Today we have continued to walk with Jesus along the stations of the journey of his cross – the trial, the judgement, the scourging, the passion, and finally the death of Jesus – stripped and naked, raised up upon the cross.

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Lazarus / El’Azar – Unbound and unsmelly

stinketh03Death is something of a problem! The Gospel today, taken from John chapter 11, tackles the very real question of the significance of death full on. Jesus is good friends with this family of Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. So naturally, when Lazarus is sick, the sisters send Jesus a message to tell him the man he loves is ill. The first curious detail in this story is that at first, Jesus doesn’t move. He stays where he is for two more days. Perhaps so that he can pray and seek the will of the Father about whether this was now the time for him to make his final move and finally reveal his identity in this very public way, with all the risks that involved. Eventually Jesus makes his way to Bethany, to discover that his friend has died and has already been in the tomb for four days. Martha greets Jesus with a declaration that so many people have said over the years – ‘if only you’d been here!’ It’s a terrible thing to say – to have such regrets: ‘if only I left work earlier’; ‘if only she’d gone to the doctor sooner’; ‘if only the other party had been elected…’

Really it’s a kind of nostalgia, for a present that might have been, if only the past has just been a little bit different. But something like death is so final that we are prevented from allowing this nostalgia to take hold. Here we are told that when Jesus makes his way to the tomb and experiences the intense grief of the sisters and the crowd, he also bursts into tears. Love and grief is like this. This God will cry with the world’s crying. And still he will reach into the tomb of death and decay and speak life once more into the four-day dead Lazarus.

stinketh04Nothing captures the reality of that death like the reminder of Martha that her brother will now stink. But even though so much of what we do and so much of what we say continues to stink, it will never prevent Jesus from shouting his commandment of life into every situation we face. Like every thought that holds us captive, Jesus will speak life and freedom this week into any situation we face. And the things that we are so afraid of – like death – will no longer stink.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 6pm Vigil (10’16”)
Sunday 5, Season of Lent, Year A. John 11:1-45

The text above is from the Journey Radio program. Audio is available here.

Crowds and sandwiches

In the Gospel of Mark we are treated to a rather brilliant example of the Markan sandwich – two inter-related stories that provide flavour, texture and context to each other to highlight the power of the kingdom of God that breaks into our existence through the ministry of Jesus. The woman suffering with the hemorrhage for twelve years and the twelve-year-old daughter of Jairus are both fearful, suffering, in need of healing and salvation, and both are supported by faith in the midst of a crowd that has other ideas and does not share in the same faith.

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Recorded at StPaul’s, 10am (11’22”)
Sunday 13B

Seated at the right hand of the Father

The Feast of the Ascension can strike us a quite bizarre affair – especially to one who grew up on a diet of science-fiction and imagined that Jesus somehow managed to add flying and living outside of the atmosphere to his walking-on-water and multiplying food – as well as raising the dead and getting through locked doors (after being resurrected from the dead). So today I want to allow St Paul’s powerful prayer in Ephesians to inspire us to look deeper into the truth behind the feast, and particularly to consider what it meant for Jesus to be seated at the right hand of God. We begin with the description of the burnt offering in Leviticus 1.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (12’29”)

Prepared for heaven

Bastien Joseph Isaiah Madrill, 18 April 1996 – 26 April 2012

It is always with a certain hesitation that I attend to a call like I received last Thursday evening, to visit a family’s home after the death of a loved one. Although you have been invited, you are never quite sure what will await you when you arrive, and I am keenly aware of the sense of barging in and intruding on what has to be one of the most intimate and sublime experiences that any family will journey through.  (more…)

The Hunger Games and Sacrifice

 

Last weekend I joined the throngs – not in welcoming the Messiah to Jerusalem – but in watching the new hit movie, The Hunger Games – based on the first part of the popular trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. The action takes place in a future post-apocalyptic north America, where all that is left after the unnamed devastation are the capital (somewhere deep in the Rockies) and twelve districts. The heroes come from District 12, where the main industry is coal-mining. We discover that to ‘celebrate’ the quashing of the uprising that had happened 74 years earlier, when there was a 13th district that led the rebellion [apparently no longer in existence] a contest is held to choose two delegates from each of the districts – one boy and one girl aged between 12 and 18 to compete in the so-called Hunger Games. The object of the games is to fight to the death so that of the 24 competitors that enter the arena, only one is allowed to survive – and all of this is captured by hundreds of cameras and broadcast as compulsory viewing to the whole nation. Charming! (more…)

Annunciation – dreaming big and saying yes

The readings in the liturgy today provides a contrast between two figures – the great and mighty King Ahaz, and the young maiden Jew Mary. When the Lord, through the prophet Isaiah, appears before the king, and directs him to ask for a sign, he is given permission to dream big. “Ask the Lord your God for a sign for yourself coming either from the depths of Sheol or from the heights above.” So he is given permission to ask for anything; the boundaries that he is set could not – in the Jewish understanding of cosmology – be any bigger. In response, the foolish and rather pathetic Ahaz is only able to respond with false piety – “no, I will not put the Lord to the test.” It is hardly a test when you have specifically been given permission by the Lord to ask for something!

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Sacrifice, obedience and the lamb

Our first reading from Genesis 22 contains what is often regarded as one of the finest examples of a short story in all or Western literature. In 19 short verses, the reader is taken on a terrible and shocking journey along with Abraham and Isaac – your only son, the son that you love – for three days until they reach the mountain of Moriah (which 2 Chronicles tells us would become the temple mount in Jerusalem). Although the reader knows that this is a test for Abraham, he is not in on that little secret; so we can only wonder how he endured these three days while he would have been beside himself in grief as he walked along with Isaac, prepared camps, ate meals together and shared stories around a camp-fire – and yet pretended that nothing was amiss in this horrible pilgrimage. (more…)

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.