On this feast of the Ascension, we ponder the event of Jesus ascending into heaven as told in the Lukan literature – the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. The other synoptic Gospels do not record the event at all, and John only hints at it by telling Mary of Magdala that he has not yet ascended, and in Paul he again speaks of Jesus ascending to the right hand of the Father, but without any details. No doubt, when we were children, we were very clear as to where heaven was located. If you ask any child to point to where heaven is, they instinctively point upwards. But as clever and sophisticated adults who have moved past the simplicity and naïvety of childhood, we are able to provide a much more nuanced answer. If we are asked to point to where heaven is located, we at least shrug our shoulders before pointing to the sky. This is probably not helped by the images that may come to mind when we think about a man rocketing upwards from earth up through the clouds.
Which leads us to ponder a little more clearly what it is that we understand heaven to be. We begin to realise that it is not a geographic reality, but a dimensional reality within our experience of time and space. For heaven is simply that place where the will and purpose of the Lord is always done – and everything unfolds as God intends and desires for it to happen. Here on earth our reality is much more mixed – sometimes we might manage to do the will of God, but so often it is simply our own will that is fulfilled, no matter how much we dress it up in religious finery.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am (15 mins)
Ascension Sunday, Year C.
Watch reflection video: Dan Stevers, Ascension.
Look at the Slides. Read the background notes.
- Since this was Mother’s Day, we also watched an intro video (Floodgate Productions) and reflection video (Igniter Media) before the final blessing.
Flowing directly out of the celebration of Christmas this year we have the opportunity to reflect upon not only the holy family of Nazareth, but also our own conceptions and ideas of family. In my case, I know that many of my most basic understandings of family came from comparing the idealised image of family that came from watching perhaps far too many mainly American sitcoms and family dramas as a child – with my experience of family. And it would be fair to say that it seemed that my family rarely measured up to the esteemed heights of the Walton family or the Brady bunch. We never seemed to be able to solve all of our problems within the allotted half-hour or hour, and things sometimes seemed more complicated than ensuring that we all said goodnight to each other would fix. As I have grown older and experienced many more family situations, I have discovered the often-quoted declaration that there are only two kinds of families in the world – the dysfunctional families and the very-dysfunctional families. Thankfully in the scriptures that we are presented with today, we discover that being a holy family and being a dysfunctional family may not be incompatible.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am (8min)
Feast of the Holy Family, Year C.
1 Sam 1: 20-28; 1 John 3:1-2; 21-24; Luke 2: 41-52
Video reflection: Gift of Life (LifeWay Media)
The Gospel this Sunday concludes our readings from John 6 where Jesus now addresses himself only to his disciples, rather than to the whole crowd. We hear that many of his disciples draw back and grumble and complain about the teaching of Jesus. Not because they could not understand what he is saying, but because what he is saying completely upended their whole world-view. If everything that you’ve ever been taught to believe has just been demolished, and you are being forced to think about the world in a whole new way – many people will just politely excuse themselves and never return to listen to the message again.
A few weeks ago we heard in Exodus 15 about the Hebrew people grumbling in the wilderness out of hunger. The disciples who grumbled then are like those who grumble now that we should only be interested in the spiritual truth that the gospels present. The whole of the Gospel of John is about the Word becoming flesh – not the Word becoming only an idea, or a spirituality, a feeling or an experience. Part of what John is telling us is that history matters; the actual story of Jesus matters.
Verses 62 and 63 remind us that the flesh by itself is of no value; but when the flesh is indwelt by the life and spirit of God than anyone who eats this flesh is able to be as equally at home in both earth and heaven – just as Jesus as the Word of God is and was.
We are urged to go beyond a one-dimensional and basic appreciation of all that Jesus is saying and doing. We need to break through to truly listen to the Word that is within the flesh. The only way to do this is with the help of the Spirit of God – which John will write so much more about later in his Gospel. It is only when we receive the life of the Spirit that we are able to move beyond the unbelief of the crowd.
When we are open to the Spirit, then we can join Simon Peter in his declaration of faith: “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Recorded at St Columbkille’s (Vigil and 9am, plus radio program – text above)
Sunday 21, Year B. Ephesians 5:21-32; John 6:60-69
The scriptures given to us today for the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus take us to the very centre of our faith and our relationship with God revealed in and through Jesus. The gospel ends with the declaration in the Gospel of John that we will look on the one whom they have pierced. It is in this moment, when we are lost in wonder, that we can begin to discover the very nature of who we are before God – even if we are the least of the saints as Paul describes himself as.
Recorded at a school Mass with St Columbkille’s Catholic Primary School.
Hos 11:1, 3–4, 8c–9; Eph 3:8–12, 14–19; Jn 19:31–37
We often struggle with some very basic questions – like who are we? When we meet people for the first time, conversations invariably begin with a process of classification – so, what do you do? Where do you live? The Gospel today takes us to a much deeper place in our relationship with God. It begins with the declaration that we have been loved into existence by a God who is love. Although God has no need of our love or friendship, the love that is shared by the Trinity is so abundant that it longs to overflow and share it with us as well. It is this love that called us and chose us so that we might experience something of the very joy that Jesus already experiences as a result of his relationship with the father.
Recorded at St Col’s (Vigil and 9am available)
Sunday Easter 6, Year B.
Acts 10:25~48; I John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17
Beginnings and endings are always significant. How you start a story – and how you end a story create so much of the impact of the whole story. We know well how the Bible begins – “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth…” (Gen 1:1) We might even know how the story ends in Rev 22:21: “Amen. Come Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.” A great beginning and a very hope-filled ending. But for the Jewish people, their scriptures do not end with the New Testament book of Revelation, nor do they end with the final prophet Malachi, like most of our English bibles do. No, the Hebrew bible is actually organised into three sections (Torah, Prophets and Writings), not the four sections that most of our bibles use (Pentateuch/Law, History, Wisdom and Prophets). The twenty-four books that comprise the Hebrew Bible (Samuel, Kings, Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah which are broken into two books in our bibles are considered one in theirs; and the Twelve Minor Prophets are considered a single work) come to their conclusion in the Book of Chronicles, and the final passage in their bible is what we read today as our first reading. Which if you think about it, doesn’t seem like a very satisfactory ending. The final words are even given to a pagan king, rather than a Jewish hero. Have they really sunk that low? Well, I guess – yes! One of the things that really strikes me about the Jewish scriptures is that they do not eulogise; their story is told with all the gritty and shocking details. They know whose fault it is that they ended up in such a mess: theirs. The own their sin and the claim it as their own. They would agree with St Paul that when God intervened in our lives we were still dead in our sins. We hadn’t done anything to earn God’s grace and mercy. Yet still it was faithfully and freely given: “because it is by grace that you have been saved.”
Recorded at St Col’s, 9am (11mins)
The blessing of children and adults
Just as the Lord teaches us how to pray (and not just one specific prayer) in the Our Father, so also he teaches us how to bless when he instructs Aaron to bless the people in Numbers 6:22-24. There he tells the people to bless each other saying “May the Lord bless you and keep you.”
So when people come forward to Extraordinary Ministers with their arms crossed, it is entirely appropriate to make the sign of the cross on their foreheads (just as parents and godparents are asked to do during baptism) while saying the same prayer of blessing: “May the Lord bless you and keep you.”
Note this is appropriately different to a priest’s blessing.
From the Pastor’s PC – Fourth Sunday of Lent
Today is called Laetare Sunday (from the Latin for ‘be joyful’) and the Gospel reading provides many reasons to indeed rejoice. And to celebrate the fullness of life here at St Col’s. Although the Gospel verse that lies at the centre of our reading this week is so well known that it is almost a cliché, the truth of this verse must be allowed to rest lightly yet deeply upon our souls. We have heard in these weeks something of God’s plan for salvation and his desire to dwell with and among his people. But we also know our failure to respond; our failure to be faithful; our failure to trust; our failure to keep the commandments.
What is astounding about the liturgy today is that God wants to tell us about how much he has loved us and how generous he is with his mercy. Why? Because he is not just rich in grace, but infinitely rich in grace. Which in my book is rather large. In fact, enormous. (Kudos to the Monty Python crew.) Now, if only we could embrace this, and live it. How great would that be?
The first reading today is actually taken from the very end of the Hebrew Bible. Unlike the Greek bible – which English bibles follow – which breaks up the Old Testament text into four basic sections: Law (Pentateuch), History, Wisdom and Prophets, the Hebrew Bible has three sections which provide the name of the Bible: Tanakh. T is for Torah; N is for Nebi’im (the Prophets) and Kethubim is the Hebrew for Writings. The Prophets contain some of what we call history (like Samuel and Kings) and then the Writings contains everything else (like Psalms, Proverbs, later history and then Chronicles to finish everything off.)
The Sunday readings in Lent have given us key points in salvation history. Today we hear that the chosen people abandoned the law God gave them and the destruction of the kingdom established by the final Old Testament covenant – the covenant with David. As a result of their sins, the temple was destroyed, and they were exiled in Babylon. We hear their sorrow and repentance in the exile lament we sing as the Psalm.
But we also hear how God, in His mercy, gathered them back, even anointing a pagan king to shepherd them and rebuild the temple. God is so very rich in mercy. He promised that David’s kingdom would last forever, that David’s son would be His Son and rule all nations. In Jesus, God keeps that promise.
Moses lifted up the serpent as a sign of salvation. Now Jesus is lifted up on the cross, to draw all people to himself (see John 12:32). Those who refuse to believe in this sign of the Father’s love are not condemned by God; no, they condemn themselves.
￼But just as God did not leave Israel in exile, He does not want to leave any of us dead in our transgressions. We are God’s handiwork, saved to live as His people in the light of His truth. Midway through Lent, let us behold the Pierced One, and renew our commitment to living the “good works” that God has prepared us for.
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
In the first century, the standard expression of the Jewish faiths was strongly influenced by the Pharisees, the most populous of the many forms of Jewish sects that were active at the time. Unlike other groups which were often on the fringes of Jewish society or groups such as the Sadducees which were deeply embedded in the very narrow world of the Jerusalem temple and its rituals, the Pharisees were widespread and mainstream, and consequentially able to influence most pious followers of the kingdom of God.
I am sure that if many parishioners ever bother to listen to the first line of the second reading today, they either choose to ignore it or doubt that it can actually be true. It is a rather extraordinary claim: ‘think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called the children of God – for that is what we are.’ If we imagine the love that God gives to us, I suspect that for many people ‘lavished’ is not the first descriptive word that would be chosen; perhaps ‘grudgingly offered’ would be closer. (more…)
A brief reflection offered at the end of the Stations of the Cross, celebrated at St Paul’s, Camden on Good Friday morning.
A full recording of the service (slightly edited to reduce some of the silences and not including the final multimedia)
Play Full Service mp3