One of the limitations of celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus is that for so many people in the church, they still operate with a tri-part understanding of creation, even though they know that this is not the case in the physical universe or according to the laws of science and nature. So we still think that the world is divided into heaven above, the earth here and the underworld below, and then dutifully assign the various characters into their realms which are rarely breached. So we allow God to be safely locked away in the heavens where he can go about his business without disturbing us too greatly. But a fundamental problem with this understanding, which has allowed the church to function as an elevator – is that it is so deeply unbiblical. It is not just the role of the holy ones, or the designated ministers to ascend into the heavenly places to receive lots of information and experiences which are then imparted upon the uninitiated (and in this worldview that is most people). The whole power of the incarnation is undone and the effects of the redemption that Jesus won for us are belittled. Thankfully this is not the witness of scripture.
Even if we insist on relegating God to the heavens and we insist on situating the heavens to being up in the sky, one of the lovely insights that Diana Butler Bass shares (in Grounded) is that the sky in fact begins under our feet and is as close as the air that we breathe – which is pretty close indeed!
Recorded at St Paul’s, 9am
Easter Sunday, Year A.
Although each of the Gospels is carefully crafted, the Gospel of John provides an extra layer of rich reflection which reveal the degree to which the beloved disciple as author has pondered deeply his own experience of the life and sayings of Jesus in the light of the experience of the early church and the vast richness of the Hebrew scriptures. The passage that we have today from the original ending of the Gospel very clearly points to this extraordinary richness.
The author – which tradition has unanimously called John – wants us to know that in this resurrection appearance – on the first day of the week – brings to a climax the whole of his gospel account and launches the whole merciful mission of the church throughout history. The doubting and questioning of Thomas provides the framework for the highest declaration of faith that you find in any of the Gospels and places on the lips of Thomas the imperial declaration, but now declared in worship before the wounded healer – ‘my Lord and my God.’ John clearly wants every reader to go on the same journey of faith and discovery, to ponder carefully and deeply the seven signs that he gave us in the first half of his gospel account in the light of the eighth and greatest sign – the empty tomb and the new creation Lord who returns as a bringer of peace and breather of new creation and new life and new possibilities.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am (12mins)
Sunday of Divine Mercy; Second Sunday in Easter, Year C. John 20:19-31
Death 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.
Sunday 13, year B. Recorded at St Col’s, Corrimal (8 mins)
Mark 5: 21-43; Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24.
Entering 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 frrick.org 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
In the final chapter of the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24, there are three stories about resurrection appearances of Jesus: all of them take place on that first day of the week – the first Easter Sunday, and all of them take place centred on Jerusalem. In this well-known story of the road to Emmaus we join these two down-hearted disciples who have travelled with Jesus and experienced his public ministry and know that he proved himself to be a prophet mighty in word and deed, but their own hope that he would be the one to set Israel free from the Roman occupation had obviously proved to be illusory because Jesus of Nazareth had not been mighty enough to escape death of a Roman cross. So as evening approaches, these two disciples – Cleopas and his unnamed friend – trudge along heading back into their old lives after their experience of being part of this failed revolution. They want to make some distance between themselves and the revolutionary turmoil that would continue to sweep through Jerusalem until all the followers of Jesus were rounded up and had been given their fate. But their ordinary lives will have to take a rain cheque. Because on this day, even though they were headed in the wrong direction, the stranger who has joined them along the road will begin to retell the very familiar story of the history of Israel and their desire for the coming of the Messiah in a whole new way. And when they finally knew the story of God’s people in the right way, they would also have the chance to understand who the stranger of the road really was, and then their eyes could be opened by something as simple as a piece of bread being broken.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (9’20”)
Easter, Sunday 3, Year A. Luke 24
A sorrowful journey; suspense; the interpretation of scripture; a meal, a slow then sudden dawning and a mysterious disappearance. Today’s masterful and rich Gospel, from Luke 24, allows us to join with two downcast disciples who had been with the Eleven on that first Easter Sunday morning, as they make the slow pilgrim journey back from Jerusalem towards the village of Emmaus, described as being ‘sixty stadia’ away – about 12km. Jesus joins them along the way, but they can’t recognise him and take him as just another pilgrim who is surprisingly and ironically ignorant of all of the events that have been taking place the last few days. ‘What things?’ the strange pilgrim asks.
Cleopas and his unnamed companion – it may have been his wife Mary – express their conviction that Jesus was a mighty prophet but also their dashed hopes that he might even have been the Messiah. They talk of the empty tomb and the witness of the women, but they cannot see beyond the harsh and devastating reality of the crucifixion. Unspoken is the assertion that the Messiah should have defeated the pagans, not died at their hands.
The stranger then begins to show them that they had been reading scripture the wrong way round – it is not the story of how God will redeem Israel from suffering, but instead the story of how God would redeem Israel through suffering. He proceeds to retell the whole story of scripture – from the first verse of Genesis to the final verse of Chronicles (which is the end of the Hebrew Bible) which pointed to a fulfilment that could only come about when the anointed of God took all the world’s suffering on himself and died under its weight. But that was not the end of the story, because the anointed one also rose from the dead as the beginning of God’s new creation and God’s new people.
In some ways it is not strange that they couldn’t recognise Jesus in all this. Perhaps he can only be recognised when we read the story of God in the right way. Only then will we be able to see him in the breaking of the bread.
When Jesus makes his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the day that we call Palm Sunday, the crowds acclaimed him as the Messiah and welcomed him with great joy. But the first three gospels record him doing something very strange as his first act of coming into the city – he goes into the Temple and cleanses it (Matthew 21:12-15; Mark 11:11-16; Luke 19:41-48). But this action is only the first shocking thing that Jesus will do in regards to a Temple that was not only sacred, but also central to the religious, historical, political and economic identity of the Jewish people – and which had been since the time of King David who had first desired to build a temple in honour of the Lord and which his son Solomon had built almost 1000 years before. He tells the people “destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) The people respond with a question – it has taken forty-six years to build this temple – and you will raise it up in three days? The first temple (Solomon’s) was a wonder of the ancient world, and people travelled from near and far just to be able to say that they had seen it with their own eyes; but it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586BC. After the Persians defeated the Babylonian empire, they allowed the Jewish people to return from Exile and to slowly rebuild the city, its walls and the temple. But this second temple was not as large and nowhere near as grand or elegant as the Temple of Solomon, until the time of King Herod who embarked upon a grand rebuilding program that had turned the Jerusalem Temple into a new wonder of the world.
As grand and beautiful as the temple was – made of brick and stone and decorated in silver and gold – it was not this building that Jesus was referring to, but the temple of his body. In fact the temple would be destroyed only a generation after the time of Jesus, when the forces of the Roman Emperor Titus swept through in AD 70 to quell a rebellion that had begun four years earlier in what became known as the First Jewish War. Jesus wanted his disciples and the church to understand that the temple was only a sign of the presence of God – but it was the even more precious temples of flesh and bone that would be the stunning sign of the presence of God – his own body and then the body of each believer was meant to become a place where the very presence of God will dwell. The resurrection of Jesus is the first fruits of this, reminding us that the human experience is meant to be a place of transformation and new life.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10.30am (8’02”)
Easter Sunday – Mass of the Resurrection
I played an edited version of this video after the homily: Starting Today – what will you do?
Death 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.
Nothing 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.
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.
In the journey through Lent each year, the Church leads us first out into the wilderness to be with Jesus during his temptations, and then on the second Sunday of Lent his three closest disciples join Jesus as they journey up a high mountain. The strange event which the bible calls Jesus being transfigured is told today in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 17.
Sometimes we think that it is on this particular mountain that the divinity of Jesus is revealed when he shines brightly. In fact, the writers of the New Testament knew that humanity itself was a rather glorious thing, and that the perfect humanity that was Jesus was the model for the glory that all his people would one day share.
Early Christians would tell us that if you wanted to see the divinity of Jesus, you must look at the suffering and shameful death of Jesus – even if this continues to surprise us. So, to understand what happens here on the mountain of the transfiguration, you need to meditate on the other mountain – the place of the crucifixion.
On this mountain, Jesus is revealed in glory; there, on that hill outside Jerusalem, Jesus is revealed in his shame. Here, the clothing that Jesus is wearing is shining white and bright; there his clothes have been stripped away. Here Jesus is flanked by the two great heroes of Israel – Moses and Elijah; there he only has two brigands to flank him. Here a bright cloud covers them with its shadow; there the land is covered in darkness. Here Peter declares how wonderful this all is; there, Peter and the others have run away and hide in their fear. Here the booming voice of God declares that this is His beloved son; there, it is left to a pagan Roman soldier to declare in his surprise that that really was God’s son.
Perhaps it is only when we begin to really see that the glory of God can be revealed in sorrow and shame that we begin to understand how strange and wonderful is this story of Jesus. This Lent we are invited to move deeper into this story, as we listen to the voice of Jesus calling us into life.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 6pm Vigil (10’57”)
The text above is from the Journey Radio Program: dow.org.au/catholic-radio
The long journey that we have been on with Jesus which began in chapter 9 of the Gospel of Luke – the journey from Galilee in the north down to Jerusalem has finished and Jesus has made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem – which the church celebrates each year on Palm Sunday. So all the gospel passages over the next few weeks take place during Holy Week – those final days leading up to the events of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Tensions, therefore, begin to rise!
The Gospel today is from Luke chapter 20. This is the only time that we meet this strange group called the Sadducees in this Gospel. The Sadducees were the conservatives and the aristocratic group of the day who scorned the more progressive views of the more popular Pharisees. The Sadducees only accepted the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, known as the Torah.
In the Book of Deuteronomy, in chapter 25, we find the law of levirate marriage, whereby a brother was supposed to raise up an heir for his childless dead brother. This was meant to protect the property rights of a family.
Here, the Sadducees pose a case of a succession of seven heirless brothers that they think will force Jesus to renounce the resurrection by showing the absurdity of it. Instead, Jesus replies that the succession of husbands is a problem for the Sadducees, only because they have not thoroughly comprehended the meaning of the resurrection.
Resurrection life will not be exactly the same as the present one. Death will have been abolished, and so sexual relations, and especially the need to continue a particular family line, will be irrelevant. Those whom God counts worthy of ‘the age to come’, as opposed to ‘the present age’, will have bodies appropriate for the new world in which death will be no more.
And this continues to be good news for all who work for justice in this present world.
Recorded at St Paul’s (8am & 5.30pm; 8’47”)
Sunday 32, Year C. Luke 20:27-38.
Dedicated to my mother.
The first reading, taken from the opening verse of the book that we usually call the ‘Acts of the Apostles’, is clearly presented as a sequel to the Gospel of Luke. As Bishop Tom Wright says, it could just as easily be called the Acts of King Jesus, part II. For although Jesus is only present for the first nine verses, it is experiencing his life and ministry, and above all else of the encounter by the disciples with the resurrected body of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit that dominates the whole book.
Both the ending of Luke’s gospel and the beginning of his Acts focus on the Ascension of Jesus. But to understand the significance of this feast day, we perhaps need to look beyond the standard artwork that usually focuses on the upward movement of Jesus and his disappearance into the clouds. For what is at stake is so much more than the mere departure of Jesus and his flight plans.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (11’45”)
Sunday of the Ascension.