The Gaze of the Crucified One

This week we were confronted by those horrifying images that came out of Syria of the chemical weapon attack on innocent civilians. This rightly appalled us and provoked a response. Yet, these horrors at one level are nothing new. We see this across human history, and especially in this part of the world. This basic disregard for a common humanity was certainly prevalent within the Roman Empire in the first century AD, especially if you were a slave or a rebel who had stepped outside of the appropriate public discourse. Crucifixion is probably the most heinous thing that any of us could ever imagine – and yet in the Gospel that we have just experienced, Jesus remains almost completely silent in the face of such horror. Our invitation as we move into Holy Week, is to look at the cross of Jesus. To be aware of the horror of the cross – but also to place ourselves in that silence before the Lord who launched a revolution on that cross. As we stare into the face of the perfect love that we find there on the cross, let us also allow Jesus to behold us. Let him truly gaze into us – and not just the good bits, the parts that we are rightly proud of. Let Jesus gaze also into all those areas of hurt, and disfunction, and addiction, and sin, and shame. Let the love of the crucified one gaze into that relationship that left such a deep wound in us; into that grievance that we cannot forgive; into that memory from the past that brings us such shame; into that hatred, and judgement, and racism, and greed that is slowly eating away at our soul. Let his gaze be enough for us as he invites us into the silence of his redemptive pain.

Recorded at St Paul’s, Palm Sunday / Passion Sunday (5 – 7 mins). All three Masses available.

Celebrating the Easter Experience

christ_pantocrator_mosaic_hagia_sophiaEntering into the experience of Easter is always a profoundly moving event. I found this year to be no different – even though it was the first time that I have had the chance to lead the liturgies in a parish that I am responsible for which added its own stresses. The liturgies and encounters that are offered by the church are profoundly rich and provide an opportunity to focus on what is truly central to our lives as Christians.

The following links take you to the links on to listen to or download the various audio files (I can only link one audio file here or iTunes doesn’t work.)

Easter Vigil – Play MP3

Which son of the Father?

palm-sundayThe passion narratives that we are presented with each Palm Sunday are so rich, that is a great shame that the imperative of keeping Mass within the hour time limit precludes a suitable reflection. This year I decided that it seemed best once Jesus had died in the story and I knelt down, that it makes more sense for the Lord to stay ‘dead’ – so I remained kneeling and offered this brief reflection while kneeling and looking at the beautiful stained glass window scene of the crucifixion that adorns the sanctuary. [At the first Mass people remained standing during my reflection; in the second Mass, the other characters also joined me in remaining kneeling as did the whole congregation besides the narrator – who was instructed to invite the community to be seated at the end of the Gospel.]

The Gospel of Mark joins the other Gospels in reporting the choice that was offered to the crowds concerning one prisoner that could be released for the sake of the festival. They are offered the choice between Jesus and Barabbas – a brigand. It is the same word in the Greek text that Luke uses to describe the ‘thieves’ that bookcase Jesus – so it could be thief, or zealot, revolutionary, terrorist… In the Gospel of Matthew, Barabbas is given an extra name: Jesus Barabbas. What makes this interesting is that the name Barabbas – Bar (son of) Abbas (the father) indicates that the crowd is actually presented with the choice between Jesus, the son of the father, and Jesus the Son of God the Father. Which adds to this text that is already laden with irony and sorrow in its description of the reality of human failure.

Play MP3

Palm / Passion Sunday; recorded at St Col’s (Vigil and 9am; 3 mins)

The dedication of the Lateran Basilica

dreamstime_108589It is rare for a feast day to bump-off the Sunday liturgy – usually only the feast days and solemnities of the Lord or of our Lady (but only during Ordinary Time) – but today the dedication of a basilica in the city of Rome from back in the fourth century displaces the Sunday cycle of readings and prayers. So this must be some church. Which it is. Not only is it the oldest church in the western branch of Christianity, being the first church dedicated after the so-called ‘conversion’ of the Emperor Constantine, it remains to this day the Cathedral Church for the Diocese of Rome and consequently the mother church of the whole Catholic world and the see for our holy father Pope Francis. But like the universal church, and the papacy, this particular church has a rich and diverse history including being sacked, burnt and destroyed by earthquake. It has also been repaired and rebuilt many times. It has also been the site of five Ecumenical Councils and was the location of the proclamation of the first Holy Year in 1300. Although small parts of the church date to its original dedication in 324, the majority of the present building only dates from the 17th and 18th centuries.

The readings today help to point us into much deeper mysteries then simply the fate of one particular church – even one as significant and beautiful as this.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (10min 58sec)

Large Blog ImageFirst Reading Eze 47:1–2, 8–9, 12;
Response Ps 46:5; 
Psalm Ps 46:2–3, 5–6, 8–9;
Second Reading 1 Co 3:9c–11, 16–17;
Gospel Acclamation 2 Ch 7:16;
Gospel Jn 2:13–22

A vineyard must be fruitful

camino1One of the things about spending the first half of September walking 320km across Spain was that it forced you to slow right down. Literally. Now that I’m home again, it can be tempting to revert back to the usual pace of life and fill every spare moment with the usual distractions. But at least for those 14 days our world was filled with much simpler things. Like walking. And feeling pain. And being hot. And thirsty. And hungry. And tired. And then towards the end of the journey, once we had arrived in Galicia – wet. Very wet in fact. But when you take a whole day to walk from one small village to another – the distance that you will probably cover in your car in 15-20 minutes – you tend to notice so much more of the landscape as it unfolds around you. You notice the dirt. And the waterways. The crops and the fruit. You especially notice any fruit that is hanging over the path of the Camino itself – especially if it looks ripe and accessible and to not be in someone’s property. All of this stuff begins to matter. Which also means that the parables that Jesus tells about vineyards and fences and fruit begin to jump out a lot more from the page. Especially because we were walking during late summer, which is just before most of the crops would be harvested and the fields were full of fruit and anticipation.

The vineyard was one of the favourite images that the prophets and psalmists used to describe the relationship of the people of God with the Lord. He wanted us to share in his bounty and his goodness and for us to enjoy a rich and full life. But when it came time for the harvest, he did expect for us to remember that we were the worker tenants and not the owners of the vineyard. The fruit belongs to him – not to us. He is looking for partners in his beautiful work of renewing creation. If the current tenants are not worthy of this challenge, then he will take away the vineyard from our control and give it to others who will return the blessings back to the Lord in worship, and acts of compassion, justice, love and grace. A huge and challenging parable.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (8’29”)
Sunday 27, Year A, Season of the Year
Matthew 21:33-43

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.


Became empty on a cross

cloudy_crossThe liturgy of Passion Sunday is dominated by the contrasts of the triumphant entry followed by the solemn proclamation of the Passion of our Lord. In between, the church each year provides us with two powerful texts to reflect upon – the first of the servant songs, followed by the Carmen Christi – the song of Christ – found in the letter of St Paul to the Philippians (2:6-11)

The powerful song or poem that Paul either wrote himself or he includes as an incredible testimony to the depth of the early Christian spirituality and understanding stands in stark contrast to the standard understanding of power and authority. Most people in the ancient world would have heard stories about two great heroes – Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) and the Emperor Augustus (65 BC – AD 14). Like the first fallen hero of the Bible, Adam, who grasped at equality with God rather than receiving it as a gift – the people of Israel and then the christian church across the centuries has continued to grasp and grab and cling and claim – rather than follow the example of the true God who only on the cross reveals his true divinity.

6 Who, though in God’s form, did not
Regard his equality with God
As something he ought to exploit.

7 Instead, he emptied himself,
And received the form of a slave,
Being born in the likeness of humans.

And then, having human appearance,
8 He humbled himself, and became
Obedient even to death,
Yes, even the death of the cross.

9 And so God has greatly exalted him,
And to him in his favour has given
The name which is over all names:

10 That now at the name of Jesus
Every knee under heaven shall bow—
On earth, too, and under the earth;

11 And every tongue shall confess
That Jesus, Messiah, is Lord,
To the glory of God, the father.

NT Wright (2004). Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon (p. 100). London: SPCK.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (5’52”)
Palm Sunday / Passion Sunday, Year A.

New day knowing

emptytombThe one thing that each of the Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus begin with – is that it happened on the first day of the week. Now in Jewish reckoning, the seventh day of the week was the Sabbath day (Saturday) – the day when the Lord rested from the work of creation, offering to us the example of a cycle of work and worship. So the first day of the week is the day that we call the Lord’s day, the day of the resurrection – Sunday. 

When this group of women made their way to the tomb that the body of Jesus had been laid in two days earlier, they would not have had any expectation of what they might find – other than the bloody and beaten and still very dead body of their dear loved friend and Messiah, Jesus. To see the stone had been rolled away would perhaps have been an initial relief – even with perhaps half-a-dozen women the task of moving that stone would have been a great burden. But that relief quickly turned into concern when they saw that the grave was almost empty. Almost – because the cloths that had wrapped the body of Jesus when it was hastily embalmed on the Friday – were still there. At least that meant that it was not grave-robbers who had moved the stone. Grave robbers were never interested in a dead body – especially one that had been tortured and brutalised through Roman crucifixion. They would take the expensive cloths and anything else that had been left in the tomb with the body – but here was the opposite situation – no body yet everything else was left. How strange and confusing! 

Into this confusion suddenly two men in dazzling clothes appear with a call to the women to remember the words that Jesus had spoken. Words that they indeed do remember as they take the first frail steps on the journey to belief.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul’s, Camden, 8am (8’50”)

Remember and believe

empty-tombI remember a day when I was bushwalking in the coastal range down the South Coast, and I had been walking for a while just below the ridge-line – so I was unable to actually get a view of the breath-taking coast-line. At one stage I saw a rocky outcrop that was just above the track, and I thought that if perhaps I climbed to the top of it then I would get a view above the trees. So I found a way to scramble and climb to the top, only to again have the view blocked by trees. Then I spotted a large boulder that seemed to offer a possibility of a view over and through the trees. It looked massive and immovable so I climbed on to the top of it – and was rewarded with the most fantastic view of the coast-line below. No sooner had I climbed on top, but the damn thing began to move! As the boulder began to fall – taking me with it of course (dow’h) – my heart began to race and pound like the drum-beat of early heavy metal music. Thankfully the rock quickly resettled into its new position, and I was left standing there on top of it, shaken and vividly reminded of how small I was in a massive and beautiful world.

I remember a call to the hospital, and taking the lift to the fourth floor, proceeding to the nurses’ desk to find out which bed the person I was visiting was in. Then, upon entering the room, to see my friend with her husband as she held her new-born baby lying there in her arms with the look of love on both of them at this tiny creation of love and cuteness.

I remember the joy of friends as they fell in love with each other and shared such happiness and delight as they prepared for the day of their marriage. Then when first I spoke to the husband, only months later, as he began to grieve and sorrow about the way their relationship was going. Later you talk to her and there is the expression of grief and sorrow about how their marriage is failing – how could it turn out like this?

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul’s – Easter Vigil (9’59”)

Service and worship

basintowel1What an amazing night it must have been! Already the Lord had demonstrated his incredible power in the nine plagues that Pharoah and the Egyptian people had suffered because they had still not let the people of God go free, so that they may go into the wilderness to worship the Lord their God. But on this night as they prepared the lamb that they had chosen to offer for the special “Passover Meal” that they were going to eat together for the very first time – they still didn’t really know what to expect. Would Pharoah finally actually let them go free – or would he change his mind and send his troops in pursuit of them? For the Hebrew people, all they wanted was to be free to worship – this was the true freedom that they longed for.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Mary’s Leppington (7’17”)
Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday