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.

Passion and Sorrow

palm-sundayEach year we are invited to be part of this mad emotional journey on this day that begins with such joy, wonder and jubilation as we join the crowds in their shouts of Hosanna and glory, lining the roadway from the Parish Centre across the carpark into the church, with palms and greenery aplenty, joyful shouts and singing to accompany the procession into the church – only to be greeted by the first song of the suffering servant in the first reading, the Carmen Christi in the second reading, and then the profoundly sorrow-filled reading of the passion.

Play MP3

A brief reflection for Passion Sunday (2 mins)
Passion Gospel, Luke 23

Reflection video: Dan Stevers, Son of Man

Cross of Glory

cross-sunsetA few verses before our passage today we read that “And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.” (Mark 10:32, RSV) Then Jesus takes the twelve aside and announces to them what is about to happen when they arrive in Jerusalem – being handed over to the Jewish authorities, who will condemn him to death, deliver him to the Gentiles (Romans) who will mock him, spit on him, scourge and kill him; and on the third day he will rise again. So this is the background to the question that James and John request of Jesus – to sit on his left and right when he comes into his glory. Amazed and afraid. And stupid!

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul’s.
Sunday 29, Year B. Mark 10:35-45.


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)

Changed into glory with the Lord

above-the-cloudIn 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.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul’s, 6pm Vigil (10’57”)

The text above is from the Journey Radio Program:

Setting our face towards the Lord

mowedpathThe Gospel of Luke begins and ends in Jerusalem. Until the Gospel today (from Luke 9:51-62) all the action has taken place with Jesus ministering around the area where he grew up – Galilee – in places such as Capernaum, the lake, Nain and Mount Tabor. But there is a decisive shift at the beginning of today’s gospel, when Jesus “sets his face resolutely towards Jerusalem”. It seems that the question that formed the heart of the Gospel last week – “who do you say I am?” which Peter answered on behalf of the other disciples with “the Christ of God” must have indicated to Jesus that the time to begin his final pilgrimage to the holy city had arrived.

Play MP3

Recorded at Young Adults Weekend, Camp Laurence, Moogerah Dam (8’19”)

Palm Sunday

palm-sundayJesus demonstrates what it looks like and what is possible as a human being to say a complete yes as a servant of the perfect will of God. Most of our life is marked by living with compromise and settling for second best – or worse for addiction, failure and sin. As we walk with Jesus during this Holy Week, we witness Jesus the man of sorrows – showing us how seriously God becomes involved with human dysfunction – not at arm’s length, but in the very midst of our own experience.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Mary’s, Leppington (4’38”)

King for the world

The sense of royalty that we have is very muted. We live in Australia in a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II as our head of state. Yet, the role of the Queen (or her representatives in the Governors and Governor General) within our lives is very limited, and severely restricted under the constitution and conventions to offering particular suggestions and guidance. In the time of Jesus, almost every person lived under the direct and immediate influence of a king or emperor. People understood the nature and scope of royal authority and the way that this was normally exercised through military might and power.

Although there was the usual system of transferring kingship from father to son, the Jewish people were aware that revolution was also possible. Around 200 years earlier, the line of token kings was replaced by the revolutionary action of Judas Maccabeus against the Seleucid empire to establish a new Jewish kingdom; some thirty years before Jesus was born king Herod had replaced the Hasmonean dynasty with his own creation, acting as a client for the Roman Empire.

So when this Jesus stood before Pilate this morning, it was possible that he was wanting to create a new line of Jewish kings by revolution, rather than by birth right. But the man who stood there would have looked nothing like a king that Pilate would expect. Although he had gathered a large group of followers around him, they had all but fled, to leave him completely alone. He was not dressed in any finery, but would have shown the effects of a night without any sleep, and perhaps already some cut and bruises from being arrested and taken away by the Roman soldiers. So it is probably with great irony that Pilate looks with disdain at the man who stands shackled before him as he asks: “are you the king of the Jews?”

Play MP3

Recorded at Good Shepherd Church, Hoxton Park, 10am (9’50”)

Suffering, service and mission

As the liturgical year draws to a close, our readings bring us ever closer to the events of holy week and the suffering and death of Jesus. Immediately after today’s Gospel from Mark 10:35-45 we find Jesus and the disciples travelling through Jericho in the final stage of their pilgrimage to Jerusalem (next Sunday) and Mark 11 recounts the triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the day that we call Palm Sunday. Just before the Gospel passage today, Jesus gives the prophecy about his passion and death for the third time. We are told that as they journey to Jerusalem, the disciples are ‘amazed and afraid.’

So the fact that James and John come to Jesus after this third prediction, and put the same question to Jesus ‘give us whatever we ask of you’ that ‘King’ Herod had put to the daughter of Herodias before the execution of John the Baptiser – makes us also amazed. Jesus is turning the whole world upside-down, and even his closest followers who have journeyed with him for several years, can still get al this so wrong.

Into this Jesus again declares the truth of what his cup of suffering will involve, and that the places to the left and right of him when he comes into his glory will not be given to James and John, but to the thieves and brigands who share his same shameful death, alone on the cross. The reading from Hebrews today reminds us that Jesus has experienced everything that we experience – including not just physical suffering (which is why Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ got this so wrong) but also emotional and moral suffering. It is this emotional and spiritual form of suffering that Jesus and the gospel writers emphasise much more than the physical. It is this suffering that we have so much power to relieve and ease – particularly today as we celebrate with the universal church Mission Sunday.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (4’55”)
Sunday 29B 

Photo credit: