Saturday, April 30, 2011

the whole story

today's Gospel reading for Holy Communion from the RCL is Mark 16.9-15

       wild garlic
        ~white blossoms
         among nettles

Most scholars would agree that the original ending of Mark's Gospel was at 16.8, where the women flee the empty tomb in terror and amazement. I like it as an ending, because it underscores a profound theological point that Mark sought to make all through his Gospel, that the disciples always failed to understand Jesus. It's not as if he was 'leaving out' the resurrection or the post-resurrection appearances. The community for which he was writing knew the story. Mark was allowing them to fill in the blanks for themselves in the narative even as he made his own theological point.

Subtlety, alas, is not always appreciated. 'You've left out the most important part,' his readers complained. So the text was 'fixed.' Perhaps by Mark in a later edition. Most likely by other hands, given that the longer ending seems to smack of bits from the endings of the other three canonical Gospels. Slightly ironic I suppose that Gospels which had leaned heavily on Mark as a source (Matthew and Luke) should themselves later become sources to correct a perceived 'error' in their 'parent' document.

It really wasn't necessary. When you know the story, you fill in the blanks naturally. Think about how we hear scripture in Church: a little snippet of Old Testament, a little snippet of New. Well of course it has to be like that, otherwise a church service would never end! But the point is we know the story, and we fill in the blanks.

Or at least we are supposed to. There is a danger that people are becoming illiterate in terms of their faith. Huge swathes of people who call themselves Christian may only appear in Church occasionally. What context do they have for the seemingly random bits of scripture they may hear?

Perhaps the 'editors' of Mark, if we may call them that, actually did us a favour. They didn't think it was a good idea to take things for granted. And maybe we shouldn't either. We can no longer assume that people 'know the story' that lies behind our faith, even amongst those who claim to be part of that faith. We have work to do. Otherwise when try to tell the story our hearers will react partly like the women that morning by the empty tomb - they will not be afraid, but like the women they will not understand.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Vocation renewed

today's Gospel reading for Holy Communion from the RCL is John 21.1-14

    spring morning
      ~cat stares at door
       willing it open


Back home in Galilee, the boys decided to go fishing. This wasn't your 'throw a line in the water while having a quiet think' kind of fishing; it was the seven of them and they were out all night with boats and nets. They had gone back to work. They were thinking about going back to the old life. It's hard to blame them. Whatever they had thought they were signing up for when they first began to follow Jesus, this wasn't it.

But Jesus calls them again, just as he did the first time when he told them they would be fishers of men. And that seems reasonable; a new ministry requires a new call. They had first been called to travel Israel, spreading the teaching of their Rabbi; now they were being called to tell the world the Good News of the Risen Lord.

We all have different callings at different times in our life. It is a mistake to believe what you are called to in your youth will be the same at all stages of your life. It is an even bigger mistake not to listen for what that call might be. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that when when one calling is winding down that God's calling on your life is coming to an end, or to see it as some kind of crisis of faith. His call never ends. The time when one calling is ending is not the time to despair but rejoice ... and pray that you will hear clearly what it is that you are called to now.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Jesus stood among them

today's reading for Holy Communion from the RCL is Luke 24.36b-48


           ~city thronged
            with bird song

I have heard it argued that Jesus' resurrection was some kind of a spiritual event. A book I was reading only last night said that what the disciples experienced was some kind of faith encounter when they came to understand that the Messiah must suffer and die ... but they never actually came face to face with a risen Christ.

That flies in the face of what we are told in the Gospels. Today's reading tells us of a Jesus who they could see and touch, who wanted them to accept that he was physically there so much that he ate with  them. With all due respect to the scholars who argue for some kind of spiritual resurrection, their position is counter to the evidence we have from scripture. Those who have have seen and told us are clear that Jesus' rising from the dead was physical - they saw the man, they heard him, they touched him, he stood among them, he ate with them. This is what they witnessed to. This is what they believed. This is what they passed on to us. We either believe that or nothing at all.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Were not our hearts burning within us?

today's Gospel reading for Holy Communion from the RCL is Luke 24.13-35



brown blackbird
~cat on the wall

The story of the two disciples encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus has to be one of the most well known and loved of the post-resurrection appearances of Christ. For many it is because of the way way Jesus opens scripture to them as they walk along. For others because it is in the breaking of bread that they recognise him for who he is. Others still the fact that the two men have an active involvement - if they had not pressed them to stay with them, they might never have know who it was with them on the road. I especially love the fact that these are two otherwise unknown characters from the Gospels to whom this special event takes place. Such an encounter with the Risen Lord is one that is available to us all, no matter how humble or obscure. Jesus wishes us all to know him.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mary went back

today's Gospel reading from the RCL is John 20.11-18

    her rueful voice
      ~I thought he was
         so naive

One of the details that I had never really thought about before is the fact that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb of Jesus twice. In John's account Mary arrives early & discovers the tomb empty and then she runs and tells the disciples. Peter and the beloved disciple run to the tomb and go in. And having had their look go home. But in our Gospel reading today we hear that Mary remained outside weeping. Which of course means that she must have followed after them and returned to the garden, even though this isn't stated explicitly in the Gospel.

Why did she return? What was she hoping to find there? And why did she remain when the other disciples did not? Tradition has always treated Peter and the beloved disciple as being more important than Mary. Perhaps that's not surprising. They were apostles, part of Jesus' inner circle, participants at the last supper. Yet it is Mary who remains weeping in the garden. And it is Mary who is graced with the first of our Lord's post-resurrection appearances.

I wonder why that was? Is it because of her greater faithfulness, as she holds weeping vigil outside the empty tomb? Is it because our Lord wishes to comfort her even as she mourns for him? Or is it that he wishes to remind us that he does not see things the way that we do and the people the world sees as being important are not the ones that get his first priority?

Whatever the reason, Mary experienced great joy that morning in the garden, a joy that she would not have experienced if she had not gone back. A reminder to us, perhaps, that whatever our doubts or fears may be in relation to the mysteries of our faith, it is always worth returning to them again, because our faithfulness may be rewarded in ways we never dared hope or dream of.

Monday, April 25, 2011

be my witness

the Gospel for Holy Communion today from the RCL is Matthew 28.815


   Easter dawn
    ~daffodils adorn
     the wooden cross

Today's Gospel shows three different ways in which people react to what happened that morning in the garden. Some try to deny what has happened and cover things up. Some try to take advantage and make a profit from the strange turn of events. And others, afraid and bewildered as they are, are determined to be witnesses to the truth of what they have seen and experienced. If you're a Christian, you are supposed to do your best to be in that last category of people. Ask yourself a question: how do you think you're doing? Go somewhere when you can have some quiet and calm. Read that Bible passage again. Of all those people mentioned in the passage, who are you really most like? Are you someone out to preserve the status quo, looking for a quiet life whatever the price? Are you someone for whom loyalty belongs to the highest bidder, someone who will mould truth into whatever brings you the most profit? Or are you someone who is willing to take risks to let the truth be known, someone who will press on even when you are afraid and uncertain? We are all called to be witnesses to our faith. What kind of witness are you?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

today's Gospel reading from the RCL is Matthew 28.1-10

    Easter Eve
     ~long grass
      on preacher's lawn

Sermon 4.24.2011 Easter Sunday

May my words be in the of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Amen.

Lent is over … and thank goodness says I and no doubt many of you! I wonder now if I were to ask for a show of hands to see how many had kept up with their Lenten promises, how many hands would go up … and how many family members sitting near those people might snort and smile and whisper 'Oh no you didn't' to them! … well, I'm not going to ask … Lent is over, and the joys of Easter are here … and no doubt all over the world Easter Eggs and all kinds of treats are being consumed with gusto, even from those who didn't give up chocolate for Lent … and indeed by those who are quite hazy on what Lent and Easter are all about!

Lent of course used to be the preparation for baptism for those who were to be baptised on Easter morning … and it was full of rich symbolism … the soon-to-be-Christians strengthened themselves for their new way of life through the disciplines of fasting and prayer as they journeyed with Christ in his time in the desert … on Good Friday they relived his passion and death … on Easter Eve they kept vigil with Christ as he lay in the tomb … and then on Easter morning they died to sin and were born to new life in the waters of baptism as they joined themselves to Christ's breaking the bonds of death as he rose from the grave …

[parish X: It is a particular pleasure therefore that we have a Baptism here in this parish this morning … not only does it help us get back to our roots as it were as a Christian people, but it also allows those who might wish, as they follow along in the service, to silently renew their own baptismal vows as the parents and godparents of young ___________ make those promises on his/her behalf …]
[parish Y: to bring that baptismal spirit to this Easter morning, when we come to the Creed, we are going to do it in the same question and answer form that baptismal promises are asked and made … ]

So what did happen that morning in the Garden that is so central to our faith? In many ways we don't know. In our reading from Matthew this morning we hear how there was an earthquake, how an angel appeared and the stone was rolled back, how the guards were terrified at what was happening and fell to the earth like dead men, how an angel appeared to the women and told them not to be afraid … but notice what we are not told … we are not told that anyone saw Jesus stepping out of the tomb … the stone was rolled back, not to let Jesus out … but to show the world that he is not there … in fact this is what the angel tells the women: he is not here; he is risen; come and see the place where he lay … but how he was raised from the dead and how he escaped from the tomb we do not know … indeed, we know from elsewhere in scripture that when his disciples, not believing what the women had told them, came to see for themselves & found the linen cloths he had been wrapped in for burial left behind in the tomb … if this were a mystery story, then indeed the mystery would be complete … a man is executed on the cross … to be doubly sure his killers drive a spear through his heart … he is laid in a tomb, hewn from the rock … a great stone is rolled across the entrance, so large it would take several men to move it … the tomb is sealed … guards are set … days pass … the events we spoke of earlier happen … the tomb is opened, but the dead man is gone … and there is nothing to explain the mystery but something that is a greater mystery itself … an angel tells them that he is risen … he also tells them not to be afraid … but of course, they are afraid … what is happening here would make anyone afraid … their very understanding of the fabric of the universe is being challenged … I'm sure the women didn't know what to believe … but then Jesus comes to them … they see him … they run to him … they still do not understand … but they know what they see …

This is the mystery that lies at the heart of our faith … the empty tomb … the fact that a man who said that he would suffer and die and rise again on the third did exactly that … it is this central fact which gives all our faith meaning … because knowing this proves that Jesus was exactly who he said he was, the Son of God who had come into the world for us … and it also tells us now that all the other things he said to his disciples, the promises he made to us through them, that these are also true … we may or may not keep our Lenten promises but he is always faithful to his … this is why we re-live this day … and this is why we rejoice … because through our baptisms we are in Christ and he in us … the victory that Christ won that day was not just for himself alone … it is for us … from his resurrection we know we have the promise of Eternal Life … amen.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Eve

today's New Testament reading for Morning Prayer from the RCL is John 2.18-22

     leaf filled grate
      cat crouched over
       ~a rustle from within

It wasn't until after Jesus had risen that his disciples began to understand what was happening. And their understanding was not immediate. The women who came to the tomb thought that someone had stolen his body. Once they had seen him, no one believed them. Some of the men ran to the tomb and found it empty, but didn't know what to think. It wasn't until after they had seen him for themselves that they started to believe. Famously, Thomas refused to believe the witness of his friends until he has seen for himself.

What does that tell us? Well one of the things it tells us is that doubt is OK. Christianity is a faith in which God becomes a human being, a peasant, who suffers a humiliating death as a criminal, and then rises from the dead. There are bound to be times when we are uncertain. Especially the hard times when we wonder where God's love is in anything in this world. And perhaps also in the good times, when life is going so well that we'd rather not think about God in case it reminds us to put the brakes on in the way we're living ... and the easier option is to refuse to believe.

There's bound to be doubt. If those who knew Jesus felt doubt, then why not us? Are we less human than they? Do we think we are better than those who saw him face to face? Their reaction to the Risen Lord was to lock themselves away in a room to hide. They needed God's help, through the work of the Holy Spirit within them, to give them the strength and the courage to go out and tell the world that Jesus was alive and what that meant for all people.

So if you feel doubt, don't worry. So did they. But then remember the faith experiences that you have had - how you've felt God's presence in your life while in prayer, the comfort you've felt when you needed it most, the unexpected moments when you felt so close to him that you thought you might reach out and touch him. That's God giving you the help that you need, just as he helped the first followers of Jesus.

Those experiences are as real as any other you may have in your life. You may not be able to put them under a microscope, but then neither can you put so many other parts of human life on a glass slide. You know they are real ... and in your heart of hearts you know your experience of God and your faith is real also. Doubt is OK. Just don't let it get in the way of believing and living out your faith in the world.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

     after all the sun
      today none
       ~Good Friday

The way of the Cross

For generations, the faithful have sought to enter into the sufferings of our Saviour for us. A traditional way of doing so is what is called the Stations of the Cross. The following is one such journey that we made in our parish earlier today. It is made up of 14 passages of scripture (nrsv) detailing 14 episodes in the Passion from the four Gospel accounts, followed by a short reflection on each reading.

First Station: The agony in the Garden Luke 22.39-46
39 He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. 40When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’* 41Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, 42‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ [[ 43Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. 44In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.]]* 45When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, 46and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’*

I think it is more than just the anticipation of suffering and death that causes Jesus' intense agony in the Garden. We all face death; many men have gone to their death bravely, knowing that they are about the suffer terribly. But for Jesus the anguish of what he is about to face is so intense that he, someone who has spent his whole life doing God's will, even from childhood, prays that 'this cup will be removed from him;' his agony of anticipation is so great that his sweat becomes like great drops of blood falling down onto the ground. Why? He has been telling his disciples almost from the beginning that this is what he must face; he has set his face towards Jerusalem with single-minded determination with full knowledge of what lies at his journey's end. Yet as he kneels there, with his hour almost upon him, the anticipation of what is to come almost breaks him – why? Is it the pain? Is it death? I think it is more. I remember what St Paul told us – that through our baptisms Christ is in us ... and we in him. And if we are in him, all our imperfections, all the imperfections of humanity, all the sins that ever were committed and ever will be, have been laid upon him ... and Christ knows that this means more than just human suffering and death ... he knows the separation that sin causes each of us from God ... and for the first time in his life the Son is going to know what it is like to be separated from God ... and the prospect is almost more than he can bear, and causes the most intense distress that it is possible for a human being to experience. And still he goes on, obedient to the will of the Father .... and because he loves us ...

Second Station: The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus Luke 22.47-54
47 While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; 48but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?’ 49When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, ‘Lord, should we strike with the sword?’ 50Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him. 52Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? 53When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!’ 54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance.

Judas comes and betrays Jesus with a kiss. He has led the enemies of Jesus not only right to him, but to a place where he knows the man he follows goes to pray in peace and solitude. Generations of Christians have hated Judas with an intensity so great that his name has become a byword for treachery. The artist Leonardo da Vinci is said to have spent months trying to find a man who he could use as a model to portray such depths of iniquity. Yet consider. Judas either did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, in which case he thought he was merely betraying a man ... or he did believe and was in some way trying to force Jesus' hand, to make this man who spoke of peace and love into the warlike Messiah that he wanted him to be. Whichever it was, Judas clearly did not fully understand what it was he was doing. What is our excuse, each time we betray Jesus in the way we lead our lives. Judas did indeed hand Jesus over to his enemies ... but we know that Jesus had come to save the world from it sins, to suffer because of our sins. And knowing what it is that our sins do to our Saviour, we sin anyway, again and again. Judas did not know what it was that he was doing ... we however, do not have that excuse ...

Third Station: Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin Matthew 26.59-68
59Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death, 60but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61and said, ‘This fellow said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.” ’ 62The high priest stood up and said, ‘Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?’ 63But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, ‘I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah,* the Son of God.’ 64Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, From now on you will see the Son of Man   seated at the right hand of Power   and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ 65Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66What is your verdict?’ They answered, ‘He deserves death.’ 67Then they spat in his face and struck him; and some slapped him, 68saying, ‘Prophesy to us, you Messiah!* Who is it that struck you?’

What can it have been like to watch the religious authorities of his day going to such extremes to try and find a way to kill him? These were the ones who were the greatest authority on scripture and its interpretation – yet here they stood, telling him he was wrong – so wrong that all that he had said and done meant that he should die ... more, that he was a blasphemer, one who spoke insultingly and disrespectfully of God ... did Jesus at this point experience any moments of doubt? Did he have a huge, stomach-dropping sense of 'maybe I got it all wrong?' It seems not – he stands his ground with these men, even though all he has to do to save his life is simply to agree with them ... all he has to do is say 'you're right boys – what was I thinking?' He does not – he stands there quietly as his own people come forward and tell lies about him, as others seek men to come forward and tell lies ... and even then they can find no proof against him ... all he has to do is keep silent and the cup he dreaded so much will pass ... but his silence in the face of their accusations would be a lie ... he answers their questions and they twist his words and use them to condemn him ... they have heard his words, words proved true by all that he has done before this night and their response is to scream blasphemy and to spit at him and strike him ...

Fourth Station: Peter denies Jesus Luke 22.54-62
54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. 55When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. 56Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, ‘This man also was with him.’ 57But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him.’ 58A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, ‘You also are one of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not!’ 59Then about an hour later yet another kept insisting, ‘Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.’ 60But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about!’ At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. 61The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ 62And he went out and wept bitterly.

I wonder how hard it must have been for Jesus to hear Peter deny him again and again ... he knew it would happen ... he had told Peter in advance that this is how he would behave on this night ... but yet, it is hard not to believe that it must have been a particular agony for Jesus to hear Peter claim that he did not know him, that he was no follower of this man, that he didn't know what they were talking about when they said that he was a disciple of this man ... this was Peter, the one who had said that he was the Messiah ... the one he had said was his Rock ... the Rock that he would build his church on ... and even when Peter realises what he has done ... when the cock has crowed and Jesus has turned and looked at him ... after he has gone out and wept bitterly, Peter does not find the courage to change his behavior ... he weeps, but outside, where Jesus does not see him, where those who have his master as prisoner do not see him ... even in his weeping, Peter denies him ... and the man who had said that he would die with Christ can not even find the strength to be with his master when he needs him most, can not find the courage to stand with him as he dies ...

Fifth Station: Jesus before Pilate Mark 15.8-15
8So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. 9Then he answered them, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ 10For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. 12Pilate spoke to them again, ‘Then what do you wish me to do* with the man you call* the King of the Jews?’ 13They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’ 14Pilate asked them, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him!’ 15So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

Only days before the crowd had hailed Jesus as the Son of David, a messianic title ... now they are baying for his blood ... more, they are asking their most hated enemies, the ones who have invaded their sacred country and oppress them on a daily basis, to be the ones who put him to death. To work for the Romans is a sin – look how they hate the tax-collectors who work for them - their name has become another word for 'sinner' to them ... and it is the Romans that they ask to kill Jesus ... more, they are given the opportunity to let him go free, to show mercy ... and they choose instead to let a bandit go free, a murderer who preyed upon the weak and the vulnerable, the very kind of man who we hear about attacking travellers in the parable of the good Samaritan ... his own people in the course of a few days have come to hate and despise him so much that they would rather see a man like him go free than release the one they have seen do great miracles ... the one they have seen heal so many ... the one they have seen raise the dead ... and they cry not just for any death ... not for a quick and merciful execution by the sword ... but for the cruelest death that was known in the world at the time ... that is still perhaps the most terrible form of execution that was devised and used by humanity at any time in history ... they cry out 'crucify him.'

Sixth Station: Jesus is scourged & crowned with thorns Matthew 27.27-30
So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. 27 The the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters,* and they gathered the whole cohort around him. 28They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ 30They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head.

The word flogging hardly begins to describe what it was the Roman soldiers did to Jesus that day. Bad enough that they mocked him – dressing him up as a king in one of their old cloaks, crowing him with a jagged cap of thorns, and then striking him on the head with the reed they had given his as a pretend sceptre ... spitting at him ... calling him by the title 'king of the Jews' ... I wonder how he suffered at that moment ... being called a king mockingly, as part of the lead up to his execution, this the one who more than any man was entitled to be called king ... more than just mockingly, but as part of his torture ... hail king, they spat in his face, as they struck him on the head, driving the thorns deeper ... all that would have been bad enough ... but they scourged him as well ... a Roman scourging was enough to kill a man ... their whips had pieces of metal and bone knotted into the end ... each lash stripped flesh from the victim ... by the time they were finished, Jesus would have been a bloody wreck ... and yet, he did not cry stop ... he carried on ... he allowed them to carry on ....

Seventh Station; Jesus takes up his cross Matthew 27.31
31After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

When the Romans crucified a man, often they would add to the indignity of his death by forcing him to carry the instrument of his execution to the place where they intended to kill him. Usually, they gave just he cross piece to their victim ... the whole cross would have been too much for a man already weak from pain and blood loss to drag along. Even in Jesus' daze of pain, this must have been an especially terrifying moment, to have the beam of the cross laid upon his shoulders. It must have brought home to Jesus, in a way that nothing else could, the reality of what was going to happen to him. It is one thing to imagine it; one thing to think in one's mind, this is what they are going to do to me ... but the moment the cross touched his shoulders must have made it all agonisingly real ... Just the weight of it alone must have been a shock ... and we know also that the wood was probably rough, unfinished, crudely hacked into shape with an axe, covered in long and jagged splinters which would have cut into him like knives ... tearing at the skin that was already raw from the flogging he had just received ...

Eighth Station: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus Luke 23. 26
As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.

Why did the soldiers force someone to help Jesus? It cannot have been as an act of kindness ... the men chosen for Crucifixion detail would have had to have been the hardest and most brutal of their comrades – no one else could do such a thing to another person ... and they had shown no mercy up to this point in the way they had treated Jesus – why should they do so now? It was surely because Jesus at this point could not carry the cross ... and without the help of someone he would never have made it to the place of execution ... this was no act of mercy – the soldiers were probably worried that he would die before they reached Golgotha if they made him carry it himself ... and if so he would be spared the greater agony of dying on the cross ... so this was in fact the opposite of an act of mercy ... it was done to prolong his pain and suffering ... but think, Jesus as a carpenter must have been a strong man ... think how terribly they must have beaten him it they had reduced him to the point where he could not carry this wooden beam himself ...

Ninth Station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem Luke 23. 27-31
27A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For the days are surely coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.” 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us”; and to the hills, “Cover us.” 31For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’

So Jesus is staggering and stumbling to the place where they will crucify him; Simon, a poor man who was coming in from the country that day and had no idea what was going on has been forced to help him, because Jesus is too weak to do it himself; all day Jesus has been mocked, spat on, lied about, tortured ... he has heard not one kind word, he has not received one friendly gesture ... one of his own has betrayed him with a kiss ... his closest friend has denied he knows him ... the crowd who hailed him as king now screamed for him to be crucified ... and then, for the first time Jesus comes across someone who cares for him, who feels for his pain, who cries out for the injustice of what is happening to him ... some women of Jerusalem are wailing for him and beating their breasts ... and what does Jesus do? Does he say thank you for caring? No ... instead he basically says, don't worry about me ... worry about yourselves ... there are hard times coming ... weep for yourselves and your children ... even at this time ... at a time when his agony was so great that he could hardly put one foot in front of another as he all but crawled to the place where he would be killed, still his concern is for others ... do not weep for me, says the dying man, weep for yourselves and your children ...

Tenth Station: Jesus is crucified Luke 23.32-38
32 Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus* there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [[ 34Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’]]* And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah* of God, his chosen one!’ 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ 38There was also an inscription over him,* ‘This is the King of the Jews.’

There is no need, I think, to dwell what it must have been like for Jesus to be crucified, to have the heavy nails driven through his wrists and ankles. But think of some of the other details that are going on here. Jesus is being crucified with two others, two criminals ... Jesus is been executed as if he were just any other common criminal at the time ... nothing special ... not only is he being given the most painful death possible, what is happening to him is being normalised, trivialised almost ... it is as if they are saying to him that he is so unimportant that he doesn't even deserve to die alone ... he is just taken our with whoever else was on the schedule to be executed that day ... and even as he hangs there, bloody, exhausted, dying, do they show any pity to him? No, they continue to mock him – let him save himself if he is the Messiah! How hard must it have been to hear these words, knowing it to be true ... was this, I wonder his last and greatest temptation? We remember all through Lent the temptations he underwent in the dessert ... but how often do we think of the temptations he underwent as part of his passion? The constant, unrelenting reminders of who and what he was as he suffered ... the taunting temptations of 'save yourself', 'show us that you are the Messiah!' Is this what Judas though would happen? That by doing something like this to Jesus he would have no choice but to act and prove beyond all doubt to the screaming mob that he was who he had said he was? But Jesus chooses a different path, to obey the will of the Father, to hang on a cross with the words 'The king of the Jews' written above his head ... and to say, 'Father forgive them, for they know not what they do ...'

Eleventh Station: Jesus & the good thief Luke 23.39-43
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding* him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah?* Save yourself and us!’ 40But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into* your kingdom.’ 43He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

Often when people are suffering they ask – where is God in this? And sometimes the answer there are given is that he is here suffering with you. The thief on the cross, suffering the same fate as Jesus, looks at him and does not despair. He is looking at the man on the cross next to him, yet he does not cry out to him to save him from this fate ... he does not mock him ... he does not say, if you're hanging here like me than you must have no power ... instead he rebukes his companion and says 'do you not fear God?' A man on a cross, looking at another man broken and bloody on the cross next to him, is somehow able to look through what we might term the obvious and see the truth that lies beneath ... somehow this man ... a criminal who says that he deserves the fate he is receiving – so we can only imagine what terrible crimes he has committed – this man is the one who is able to find meaning in this moment – he is able to look at the terrible events of this day and see the truth of what is happening ... not the good and wise teachers of the city ... not the people who had seen the miracles and the acts of power ... not the disciples who had followed him and lived with him and told him that they loved him ... but a thief on a cross ... and Jesus, despite his own suffering looks at him and listens to him ... the petition of the thief on the cross is not ignored ... remember me when you come into your kingdom ... truly I tell you, this day you will be with me in Paradise ...

Twelfth Station: Jesus, his mother, & the beloved disciple John 19.25-27

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ 27Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

Of all the suffering that Jesus endured up to this point, I wonder if this was not the hardest to bear. He has been betrayed, denied, condemned, mocked, spat upon, tortured, and finally crucified and hangs dying on the cross. Through it all he has shown incredible grace ... even in his own pain as he made his way to Golgotha he felt the pain of others as he reached out to the women of Jerusalem ... as they nailed him to the cross, he asked God to forgive them ... as he hung on the cross he spoke words of comfort and hope to the thief beside him ... but what must it have been like for him to look down and see the sorrow of his mother as she gazed upon her dying son ... more than just dying ... as she gazed upon his battered and bloody body and witnessed the excruciating pain that it was to die upon the cross, struggling to get every breath, suffocating as hung there, in agony if he sought to support his weight upon the nails, caught between pain and exhaustion ... this sight must have been all but impossible for her to bear ... and the final and worst agony for the man who was itself love ... Christ caught between love and love ... his love for mankind called for him to be here ... but his love for his mother called for him to spare her this ... from the cross he reaches out to her, giving her into the care of his beloved disciple, but how he must have longed at that moment to reach out to her himself ... he was a human being, and any man would have wished to take such suffering from his mothers ... and to not be able to do so must have been as exquisite a torture as all the rest combined ...

Thirteenth Station: Jesus dies on the cross Mark 15.33-39
33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land* until three in the afternoon. 34At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’* 35When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ 36And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ 37Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he* breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’*

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? What desolation must Christ have felt at that moment ... he has borne everything else with dignity and grace ... he has not struggled, he has not fought back ... when one of his disciples raised a sword he made him put it away and healed the one he had wounded ... Pilate, the roman governor, a man who had travelled the world, and condemned many a man to death, was left shaking his head in wonder at how calm Jesus was in the face of what was happening to him ... even in his own pain, Jesus has reached out to others to help and comfort them ... calling for the forgiveness of those who were doing this to him ... but now, it is all almost too much to bear. He feels abandoned by God – God's Son, the word made flesh ... the word who was with God from the beginning, through whom the world was made, the one who was God ... feels abandoned by God, separated from his love ... the pre-existant word has never known anything like this ... since before time he has been one with the Father ... all during his life on earth he has known that he and the Father are one ... this is what impelled him to complete his ministry on earth, to except the suffering and death that he knew were part of it ... and now that is gone. The Son is alone, dying on the cross, as he always knew he would ... because he knew to die thus, to die for the sins of the world, would bring him to this point ... and yet, even knowing this, he had kept going ... Jesus had accepted even this for us ...

Fourteenth Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb John 19.32-42
32Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35(He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows* that he tells the truth.) 36These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘None of his bones shall be broken.’ 37And again another passage of scripture says, ‘They will look on the one whom they have pierced.’
38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Even in death, the body of Jesus is not spared one last indignity ... his corpse is stabbed with a spear ... the brutal efficient Roman executioners taking no chances that their victim might escape them ... the body is taken from the cross ... artists through history have imagined that moment ... often they depict him being given into his mothers arms one last time ... scripture does not say it was so, but it is hard to imagine that it did not happen ... one last embrace for the one she wrapped in swaddling bands and laid in a manger ... before he is again wrapped in cloth and again laid to rest ... this time in a tomb ... and just as the manager was not his own, so also is the tomb not his own ... but one that had been prepared for another ... and he is not laid there by his closest friends ... not by Peter or any of the Apostles ... but by Joseph and Nicodemus ... one a many who is only a follower in secret ... and the other a man who has never up to this point declared himself to be a follower of Jesus at all ... these are the ones who claim the body and lay it in the borrowed tomb ... and even then they must do it hurriedly and rush away ... there is no time ... darkness is coming ... and with it the Sabbath laws ... and Jesus must be rushed to his tomb by men who are all but strangers and left there without even the proper burial rites being carried out ... he is denied even that as they roll across the stone, sealing him into the darkness of the grave ...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

House of Prayer

The reading for Holy Communion today from the RCL is John 13.1-17, 31b-35

            wooded path
               ~warm air heavy
                with burnt gorse

Not surprisingly for a clergyman I've been spending a lot of time in church lately. I love the old buildings, witnesses to the faithfulness of generations past, sustained by the current generation, and held in trust for generations yet to come. Of course, the congregations over the last few nights have been small, which does make me wonder for the future.

Last night, the theme of the service was prayer. When I was lying in bed last night, thinking about prayer myself, I wrote this poem:

House of Prayer
Prayer has gathered like a thick dust
upon the high ledges and in the crannies
no hand can reach;
                             it has blackened
the old beams and darkened old pews
and warn their varnish thin; it has
seeped into the walls, causing plaster
to bubble and crumble and flake away;
it glints off much the polished brass
and shines dully from the faded tiles
of the chancel and sanctuary floor;
is has been trodden into the weave
of the carpet in the central aisle,
it has been moulded into the light
filtered through stained glass
                                          and hangs
in the air with the scent of old polish
and damp and wax.
                              Even when the people
are not there, the people of today,
the people of yesterday, the prayer remains
as the fabric of the place, more than a part,
it is this place for this place itself is prayer.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

It wasn't just the banks ...

The Gospel reading for today from the RCL is John13.21-32.

     wooded path
      ~warm air heavy
       with burnt gorse

You might say it is official: a Swedish banking expert, Patrick Nyberg, has issued a report which states it wasn't just the banks or the developers or the government which was at fault for our economic meltdown here in Ireland. The people played a part too. Large sections of society cheered the madness on in the face of all the warning signs. There was a  “national speculative mania . . . centred on the sale and acquisition of property.”

As a society we got greedy. I've made this point in sermons a few times. It's interesting the different reactions I get. Some people come up to me afterwards and tell me it's a hard truth that needs to be said; others say 'well yes, but we were caught up in forces beyond our control'; and others only hear what they want to hear and tell me how angry they are at the banks and the government and they're glad I'm naming their wrongdoings from the pulpit.

But Nyberg makes it clear. We all had a hand in it. Certainly some benefited more than others. And those who are taking the biggest hit now are those who probably benefited least. The letters pages of the papers are full of tales of woe. No one seems to remember how much they were enjoying themselves while the good times rolled. Something like 80% of our school leavers were going on to some form of third level education. We had nearly full employment and even those who couldn't afford property had an amazing lifestyle. Even the unemployed had it pretty good - I remember standing in a post office queue behind two young women who were waiting to collect their dole who were discussing the foreign holidays they had already been on that year and how many more they were planning.

No doubt some had it pretty miserable. But in general we had it good and we cheered on those in charge who we thought were making it happen. Until it stopped and then we were really cross with them. And we are right to be cross with them. They were the ones in positions of leadership and their stewardship ought to have been better. But we are far from being innocent victims.

What we need to do now is learn from the mistakes we made in the past & put mechanisms in place to prevent similar foolishness being allowed to reign again some time in the future ... if we're ever lucky enough to have good economic times again. But for the present we need to recognise that those we are choosing to scapegoat now, so we don't have to feel so guilty about how plain dumb we were, weren't the only ones to blame.

And perhaps, as a matter of justice, we shouldn't let the individuals who are bearing the hardest burdens now, those in danger of losing their homes, suffer the most for mistakes we made as a society. In today's Gospel reading, Jesus sits at table with his disciples during the Last Supper. It is a reminder to us of the fellowship that Christ shared with fallen and broken humanity. And it should also remind us of the calling we have to be in fellowship with all our brothers and sisters. Letting them go to wall for the mistakes of all is a poor way to answer that call.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hot or Cold?

today's Gospel reading from the RCL is John 12.20-36.


   running path
    ~two stuggle
     to uncap beer

We began our Holy Week series of services in our parish last night. The preacher for the week, our rector, laid out his stall in a brave and unambiguous way. He said he could understand those who came to church every week, and those who came not at all, but not those who came occassionally. Christianity either matters completely or not at all. There is no in-between.

Later chatting in the vestry I remarked that what he had said reminded me of what CS Lewis wrote about in Mere Christianity: Jesus is  either the Son of God or he isn't and is therefore either a complete fraud or delusional. There is nothing in between, none of the good man & great moral teacher half-way house.

Look at what Jesus says in today's Gospel. He promises eternal life to those who follow him. This is not simply moral teaching. It is either true or not true. If it is not true then nothing that he has to say means anything. If it is true then he is who he says he is and what he has to say is the most important message that anyone could ever hear. You either worship Jesus or walk away; there is no luke-warm in-between. You either believe it or you don't.

I said my rector was brave because there are so many people today who treat their church affiliation very lightly. They drop in every few weeks or so when they feel like it and have nothing better to do. Inevetibly quite a few of them will wander in at some point during Holy Week. And there's a danger that some of them will become offended and say to themselves 'fine, if that's how he feels, then I won't come at all.' I hope the do come - this message is, after all, for them. And I hope that isn't the way they react, that instead they will say to themselves 'what is it that I believe? And if I do believe that Jesus is Lord, why is it that I am so casual in the practise of my faith?' Jesus in today's Gospel said that he was to be lifted up to draw all people to him. He thought that doing that was important enough to die for. We should think it important enough to live for completely.


Monday, April 18, 2011

The sign of Judas

The reading for Holy Communion toay from the RCL is John 12.1-11.

      sleeping child
         ~face flushed
             with fever

I have always been a little uncomfortable with what might be termed the acceleration of accusation against Judas. By this I mean that as we 'travel' through time, from the earliest Gospel of Mark to the latest of John, the faults and failings he is guilty of multiply. By John he is not only the one who betrays Jesus for money with a kiss , but one who would publicly question Jesus' behaviour and an embezzling thief.

It all points to the natural abhorrence the early Christians felt for the character of Judas. But as one of my old teachers used to say, to ask if it is true is the wrong question - what does it mean? In this case, I think the question 'what does it mean' must be applied not to the individual actions of Judas but what does the man Judas himself mean ... I'm thinking about the idea that the meaning of who Judas is goes far beyond the person himself, but what he and his deeds stand for in the Gospels.

Judas is one of the 12, hand chosen by Jesus, an intimate friend who has seen the miracles, heard the teaching, and known the man. Yet he deliberately sets himself against him. He travels with him as he offers to his enemies to hand him over. He sits at table with him even as he plans to sell him for money. He comes forward to betray him with a kiss him even as he leads an armed mob to arrest him.

What does Judas mean? I think he means us. We also are ones whom our Lord has individually chosen to be with him, whom he has invited to be intimate with him. He calls us to him, to rest our heads in his bosom as his beloved disciple at table. Yet we betray him every day. It is our actions that place him on the cross. It is for our sins that he suffers and dies.

Judas is a reminder and a warning. He is a reminder of where our sins lead. They lead to a betrayal of the one we claim to love ... and to our own despair of soul and spiritual death. Judas reminds us that we may sit at table with Christ, calling ourselves his friend, and yet be a devil, no different from those who publicly confess themselves his enemies. Judas is a sign to us of what we may become if we love Jesus only with our lips but not truly in our hearts.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

'Hosanna' or 'Crucify?'

The Palm Gospel is Matthew 21.1-11 & the Passion Gospel is Matthew 26.14 - 27.56

     light rain
       ~a larger drop
          from leafless tree


We did a dramatised reading of the long Passion Gospel today. Because of the length we decided to do without a sermon and let the Gospel story speak for itself for once, without the filter of clergy interpretation. So I was spared having to write a sermon this week - and more importantly, the parishioners were spared having to listen!

But I did preach on this theme this week, at the end of school service for one of the parish schools. We used a dramatised version of the Palm Gospel. There were a lot of parents and teachers there during the talk I divided them up into three groups and assigned each one of the lines the crowd called out during Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. First I got them to call the lines out in rotation, then I speeded it up until we had a wonderful cacophony of shouting and laughter. There was around 300 people there, so you can imagine the volume of noise - I think it helped give the children a feeling for the excitement of that day. Then I called for silence (good job I had a microphone!) and asked the question: does anyone know what this same crowd was calling out a few days later? A hand went up and I gave the microphone to a little girl who said: Crucify him.

This being mainly a group of children, I wasn't going to attempt a deep theological discussion. But I think the point was made in a in subtle way. The same people who cried 'Hosanna' that day, cried 'Crucify' only days later. And we who cry 'Hosanna' with our lips are also the ones who cry 'crucify' with our deeds.

I finished by asking the children which they thought Jesus deserved: Hosanna or Crucify? They all shouted Hosanna and we entered into another glorious bedlam of enthusiastic sound. And they I again called for silence and asked them to remember to always cry hosanna to Christ with their lives. I pray that you may do the same. Amen.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

faith justice

today's reading for Holy Communion from the RCL is John 11.45-57



         grey noon
          ~four mallards flying low


In our Gospel reading today, the authorities see Jesus as a threat and plot to kill him. People are always doing what they think is best - often with disastrous results. The government of Japan tries to give the people the energy they need; now they have a nuclear crisis, which may have consequences for generations to come. The people of Ireland borrowed from the banks like there was no tomorrow; but tomorrow has dawned and brought with it a debt burden that may cripple the grandchildren of those who borrowed.

When things are going wrong, the solution is often presented as a justice issue. Christian Aid has launched a tax justice campaign to deal with overseas companies making their businesses in developing countries appear unprofitable through sharp accounting practices and thereby avoiding taxes in the incredibly poor countries that are generating their profits. Barack Obama is talking about climate justice to get the rich countries to understand the unfairness of how the pollution generated by the rich has the heaviest impact on the poor. In Ireland there are mutterings of what we might term mortgage justice, the idea that it is wrong that people should be burdened beyond their capacity by debt for which the lender and wider society bear a large portion of the responsibility.

Perhaps what we need also is faith justice. People have been told that their faith is a private matter that should not impact on their public lives that they bought into it. The result is that what they believe, and the moral values they hold as a result, is not feeding into the decision making process. Faith justice would have called halt to the greed that fed the Celtic tiger, the lack of love for our brothers and sisters that feeds climate change and exploitation of the developing world. And unlike Tax Justice or Climate Justice a person doesn't have to wait for big business or big government to start the ball rolling - they can start it themselves, one person at a time. We are all responsible for the making our own decisions according to the values we claim to ascribe to. Perhaps it is time we started putting that into practice for the good of all.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Agony of the Son, the Agony of the Father

today's Gospel rading for Holy Communion from the RCL is John 10.31-42

    spring dawn
      ~navy blue sky
        a curl of moon

At this time of year, as we dig deeper into Passiontide, it is difficult for me not to think of Jesus' mother. What must it have been like for her, not only hearing the stories of what her son was doing, but also being told about the growing opposition to him? Knowing that there were people out there who wanted to kill him can't have been easy for her. What must it have been like for Jesus, knowing the suffering that he must cause her?

And what of the Father? We know the agonies of anticipation Jesus suffered in the garden. Jesus said that he and the Father were one. That means that the sufferings of the Son were also the sufferings of the Father. This gives a different perspective on the Atonement, the way in which God was making us at-one with him through Christ. I've never bought into the penal substitution model of the Atonement, the idea that the suffering of death of the Son was in some way required by the Father. It was something that had to happen - this is something that they both knew and accepted. But I don't think it was something that the Father demanded of the Son for himself. Christ's suffering and death was consequent on his coming into the world. But this was something they accepted as being a necessary part of the Atonement.

I don't think I've ever read anything anywhere as the suffering of the Father as being part of the story. Perhaps somewhere a wise theologian is chuckling gently at my foolishness for thinking this. Perhaps. But I think the idea that the Father suffered also through his oneness with his Son deepens the graciousness of God's action in sending the Son into the world. And gives us all the more reason, as we go deeper into Passiontide, to attempt in our own poor way to try to enter into the sufferings of Christ for ourselves. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

No true Scotsman

Today's readings for Holy Communion from the RCL are here


    white fog
      pecks chip wrap

I'm sure you've all had the experience of coming across a word or phrase for the first time & then suddenly encountering it again and again in rapid succession. For me, the most recent experience of that is the expression 'No true Scotsman.' As I understand it, it was coined by 'Antony Flew' in his atheist days, primarily as a way of denying Christians a get out clause in relation to those members of the faith who do not act according to its tenets (& posthumous apologies to him if I've got this wrong).

It can be an exasperating, indeed infuriating, counter-argument to have thrown in your face. It's a bit like what Jesus has been saying to those listening to him in our Gospel readings over the last few days, only in reverse. They tell him they are children of Abraham; he tells them that if they were true children of Abraham they would believe in him. By the end of it all they want to stone him.

It's a tempting defence to use though. When we hear about something terrible that someone who claims to be a Christian has done, something that no one who follows the tenets of Christianity should do, there is the temptation to say that it is something that no true Christian would do. But the truth is that there are many, many Christians who are far from perfect in their following of the faith - indeed, there are probably no Christians who have got it all right. Which shouldn't come as a surprise - we are a faith that accepts that even the best of us is a sinner. In fact, looking to the lives of the saints, it's almost a truism that the better one becomes in ones holy living, the more one recognises how imperfect one is.

We all wish no true Christian would have a hand or part in the terrible things that happen in the world. Like Flew's imaginary Scotsman who, reading about the crimes of a countryman declares that these are things that no true Scotsman would do, we wish to cast outside the fold those who fall short of the standards we have set. But to do that would be to have everyone outside the fold and no one within, because the hard truth is that we all fall short.

And perhaps it is for the best that we recognise that. That we are all sinners, struggling to lead our lives the way that Jesus calls us to, and failing badly at it everyday. Because there is a danger in thinking of ourselves as 'true Christians' and others as the sinners who are not. The danger is that we will be so pleased that someone else is making a worse job of it than we are (by our reckoning) that we forget about our own failings and our own need for forgiveness and Grace. For there are no true Christians, not in any ultimate sense - but there are many poor sinners, struggling to make their way nearer and nearer to what it might mean to be one. And it is a struggle that lasts all life long.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

because you're worth it

The Gospel reading today for Holy Communion in the RCL is John 8.31-42

    early Mass
     ~eastern light
     blood red on altar

In today's Gospel Jesus tells the Jews listening him that they are slaves. It shows just how radical Jesus' message was. Telling slaves they are slaves and ought to be free is rather expected; telling free men they are slaves is rather different. Jesus tells them they are slaves to sin. As of course are we.

The 'because I'm worth it' generation of the developed world doesn't like to think of itself as sinners - we deserve all the treats and indulgences we give ourselves. The irony is, we only buy all that stuff that the marketers tell us we deserve because deep down we don't believe we are worth it at all. We want to look like the person in the hair product ad, or have the life style of the one in the beer ad, to be as loved like the person in the clothes ad. We don't choose to buy these things out of a sense of worth but inadequacy - a sense of inadequacy that the sales people seek to exploit. They know that deep down people are seeking to fill a void in their life so they offer us something to fill it with ... knowing all the while that the void can never be filled with shampoo or cars or a new laptop ... and that's just fine with them, because all long as we think we can fill the void with stuff then we'll keep buying in order to try and fill it.

So what do we really need? We need to be free; we need the freedom Jesus offers. To gain that freedom we have to look deep within ourselves and see ourselves as we really are ... weak, imperfect, frail human beings. We have to recognise ourselves for the sinners that we are because unless we do we can never recognise what it is we really need, what it is we really search for. We're a bit like addicts who can't begin to seek help until they realise there is a problem in the first place.

And here's another irony. Once you realise you need help and reach out for it you'll find it waiting there for you. Because you are not worth all the junk that the world tries to foist on you - you are worth more ... you are worth something better ... and there is someone who knows it ... someone who came into this world so that you would know what it is that you are really worth. And once you come to know that, you can stop being a slave to all the distractions the world puts in your path and become the free person you were made to be.