Sermon for Easter – Year A – 2014 ‘Do not be afraid!’


Easter 2014

Matthew 28:1-10

Christ is Risen

“One has died for all, therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised again for us”

Two events of personal ‘significance’ have come to pass this last few days. On Thursday, the Diocese in which I was ordained ceased to exist. As someone asked me, ‘how old does that make you feel?’ The Old diocesan boundaries have been swept away, and today something radically new has been established. The Country which I once inhabited has disappeared. So in a sense I am now homeless . . . But!!!

The second thing happened not only to me, but to my family and I a week ago Friday . . . We were finally granted Permanent Residency status in New Zealand . . . which means it is safe for me finally to come out and stop pretending . . . I hereby declare in front of you all, without fear of immediate deportation – I DO NOT like Pavlova. . .

No home to go back to – am I an insider or an outsider here? . . .

It is interesting to note how we use ‘Culture’ to denote insiders or outsiders. A few years ago in England a government minister suggested the key test of whether folk really belonged was ‘Who do you support at Cricket?’ It was a particularly barbed choice as his target was the English born Asian population who turned out in droves if either India, or Pakistan was playing . . . or rather the Indians turned out for India, and those from Pakistan for the Pakistani team . . . ‘Real English people support England at Cricket!’

And what drives that determination to define, to mark those who are in and those who are out? Fear. Fear of the other . . . and in the Ukraine for example we see where that leads – where it always leads – and will always continue to lead. I find it immensely sad if not tragic that in the church we seem to have baptised the idea of ‘culture’ – for it is a way of seeing the world that in the last analysis is profoundly contradictory of the Gospel of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – no matter how much we try to dress it up in the sheep’s clothing of ‘celebrating diversity’. As St Paul says ‘For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.

The hostility between us. As I have been teaching through Lent, our perception of healthy community is one in which we have sufficient power to negotiate a comfortable distance from one another, it has little if anything to do with Life in Christ. Our fundamental problem is estrangement. The more power, and generally wealth we have, the easier it is to believe that it doesn’t exist – that all is well with the world – one way or another it rules all human lives. Through the sin of Adam, all of us become strangers to one another, for we have become strangers to God. The relationship between the Man and the Woman, between brother and brother is broken – and that leads to only one place – ‘In Adam all die’. Fear reigns – Life is extinguished. As Baxter Kruger puts it, in his wonderful exposition of the gospel ‘Jesus and the undoing of Adam’ – ‘Anxiety became the matrix of human existence’.

And thus the New Life, The Life of The Risen One is heralded with these words ‘Do Not be afraid!’ Fear is no longer what it means to be human. The consequences of our estrangement have been overcome in Jesus Christ. To Be in Christ is Not to be afraid.

In dawn’s early light ‘Mary Magdalene and the other Mary’ come to the tomb ‘And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightening, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men’ And the first words out of the angel’s mouth? “Do not be afraid”??? And indeed the women struggle to take in this command – for they run from the tomb quickly ‘with fear’, but as it dawns upon them, also ‘great joy’. ‘Suddenly Jesus met them and said “Greetings!” As usual our diminished translations do this salutation little justice – Better “Rejoice!” “Be Glad!”. The women are already running ‘with great joy’, but now the words of Jesus to them as they worship him, “Do not be afraid”. ‘He is our peace . . . for in his flesh he has broken down the dividing wall, the hostility between us’, Life in Christ is never determined by fear and estrangement, for in Christ, the old order of things has been judged and done away with.

And so it is unsurprising, totally unremarkable that the Resurrection is twice heralded with the words ‘Do not be afraid’ – The most oft repeated command in all of Scripture comes forth with full force in these Resurrection accounts – the declaration of New Life in the Risen Christ. The Old way of fear and separation is done away with at the cross.

The Old has gone, the New has come. Matthew marks both the death of Jesus and the Resurrection with earthquakes. As we know only to well, here on the PAcific Rim, Earthquakes change everything. As many have remarked following the Christchurch earthquakes, nothing can ever be the same again. But Matthew does not tell us that the Earthquakes changed everything, rather he is telling us through this metaphor, that everything has changed. The Old has gone. The Old life that was our life has been judged and declared finished in the death of the representative human, Jesus of Nazareth. We are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.
Now He is Risen – The New has come and so we who know our old life to be done away with as the One man dies are invited to walk in newness of Life. As Paul reminds us And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. We, the baptised are called forth from the death of Sin, to Participate in the New Creation, of which the Resurrection of Jesus is the first fruits.

This is no ‘better’ life than those amongst whom we live – it is a life of a totally different order. There is no continuity, between the life we once lived, and that which no pertains in and through the Risen Christ – and we should expect no less – for if the Resurrection is ‘beyond belief’, then surely its consequences also lie beyond categories that we can simply lay hold of. It is Radically New

And this is why we observe the discipline of participating in Holy Week – for without that full participation, that dying to ourselves that we might in the words of Thomas ‘go with him that we might die also’ – without that then, all we do is keep rehearsing the Old story which has been judged at the Cross – our lives just echoing the words of Macbeth

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

Without participation in Holy Week, the Resurrection is at best a plaintive hope, and at worst a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. This is why we go with Jesus through Holy Week.

It is why we walked in here last week waving our ‘palm branches’ – worshipping the one who comes to us ‘meek and gentle on the colt of an ass’, in our worship of the one who makes himself nothing accepting that as our Way also.

It is why we have gathered in the dark three evenings to be with Jesus in Holy week, to strip away our illusions about our lives, about Light and Love.

It is why we came together to share in a common meal, to wash one anothers’ feet, that we might grow deeper into fellowship with Him and with one another – Knowing that this is no mere ceremony but our Way of Life together.

It is why we joined in The Last Supper, and watched in the dark as the story was played out in the night. Finally it is why we joined together twice on Friday – to rehearse the tale and then to hear these words ‘It is finished’ To hear God’s judgement on the way of sin and death – to See in the death of Jesus our own dying to that old life controlled by fear, that life lived on our own terms. To see there the death of History as we know it. To Know the End in ourselves. To know in truth what St Paul tells us ‘that one has died for all, therefore all have died

These are not things that are put on by the church for us – they are the actions of the Body of Christ – for this is the story of Christ, who is our life. Participation. And it is Knowing our Participation in his death – that we might know our participation in His Life. that we might with those women Know the Joy of the Resurrection – and HEAR the words deep within us – Do not be afraid!

So, to conclude I fearlessly proclaim amongst you ‘I do not like Pavlova!’ :-) Because if we are participating in what Christ has done, through the Cross, those things that divide us, both great and small are swept away. What matters is no longer my culture or yours, that which divides and therefore is a token of fear. What matters is a New Creation, and that, our lives hidden in the Risen Christ, we are brothers and sisters, with Christ and one another.

And the end of my old diocese? When I was in the UK in July I visited the diocese for the last time – it is no longer there – I cannot go back. That the new diocese comes into being today is a powerful statement. For so it is with the death and resurrection of Jesus. The old order of life has come to an end in the death of Jesus. The Earthquakes heralded the End, yet also an utterly New beginning. As with the diocese – all the boundaries of the life we once knew have been swept away and something new has been established. This is why if we hang onto our life we lose it, for upon the Cross it has come to an end. What is on offer is nothing more that participation in the Life of the Risen Jesus. The Life that we call eternal life. For what is God doing? Baxter Kruger once more – nothing less than ‘recreating the human race through death and resurrection’

“One has died for all, therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised again for us”
Christ is Risen from the Dead. The Old has gone, the New has come
He is our Life
Nothing can ever be the same again

Sermon for Good Friday – ‘Now, this is The End . . .’

Good Friday

This Is the End

‘It is finished’

Since last Sunday, some words have been quietly working through my consciousness. They came unbidden whilst I was at prayer on Sunday morning and haven’t left me. The words are these: ‘The End of all things has come’.

Throughout the week, we have been asking the question ‘What do you See?’ It is a question with which the gospel of John is intimately concerned. The gospel which right in its centre contains that lengthy story of the man born blind. For the other gospel writers, the healing of say Bartimaeus occupies a few verses, but in John the healing of ‘the man born blind’ – the man with no name for like the beloved disciple, he might be a cipher for anyone and everyone – his healing occupies a whole chapter.

Ultimately, what do we See in the Crucified One, the Lamb of God, slain from before the foundation of the world? St Paul says For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. What we behold in The Death of Jesus upon the Cross is The End. Our End. One has died for all, therefore All have died.

This is the meaning of the words of Jesus from the Cross ‘It is finished’ – Everything. In the Death of the representative Human, all have died. Human history – that is the History made by humans trying to live their own lives, trying to tell their own story has been Judged in Christ and Him Crucified.

The early church knew this well. Hence so much of the preaching and teaching of the early years reminded the Christians that they were NOW citizens of heaven. The End of all things had come . . .

Why do such thoughts seem so alien to US now, as what we call C21 Christians? If not because the temptation to live life on our own terms caused us to in effect renounce the End that God had declared in the Cross of Jesus. To refuse God’s judgement upon us in Jesus. To allow us to live our own lives and then, hopefully, to become citizens of heaven in our own time. To reduce God to a kindly chaplain who oversees us living our lives. To reduce the Cross from being The Judgement upon us and lives lived on our own terms, to being a sign that God was with us in Our Suffering – that God was ‘with us’. In other words once more to seek to make ourselves the centre of all things.

Thus the Offence of the Cross – for it says ‘No’ to our lives. As Christ lays down His Life, All life is judged. One has died for all; therefore all have died.

As we noted upon hearing the story of the man born blind, God is at work in Jesus, separating out Light from Darkness. The Blind Pharisees drive from the synagogue the man who can now See. ‘And he divided the Light from the Darkness. And the Light he called Day, and the darkness Night’

Seen from the perspective of Our lives lived as we want them, the only way to See the Cross is as Night, Darkness and Death. The Cross Is the negation of Our lives. We want lives that are all about Us and our goodness, but as Jesus tells us ‘Only God is Good’ ‘Only God is Good’ The Cross is that separation of Light and Darkness. It reveals in Dazzling brilliance that Truth – That God Is Good – and His Glory is the only Glory. The Cross is the End of human glory.

Yesterday evening we reflected upon the epitome of human glory, what St Luke calls ‘Benefactors’ Those who try to do good, but on their own terms. Those perhaps who will have lengthy tribute and eulogy paid to them at their funeral – But Jesus says to those who would follow him, it is not to be so amongst you . . . you must follow in my way. Like me, make yourself Nothing in the eyes of the world. ‘We are unworthy servants’ All the Glory belongs to God.

It is in such ways that the offense of the Gospel, the offense of the Cross becomes most sharp – when it calls radically into question what we call the Good Life. We are happy enough for it to judge those parts of our lives of which we are ashamed, but we don’t want ALL of our lives to be taken to the Cross. The Offense is that ‘good life’, the things of which we are proud – the things which we have done which we want God to reward us for – those things are judged at the Cross. Everything is. This is The End of All Things.

To live for the Glory of God leads in human terms to humiliation and death. The Cross is The End of all of our attempts to ‘make a name for ourselves’ – to live a ‘good life’ within terms that we set out. To keep anything for ourselves – to try and steal the only Glory, that which comes from God.

Yet the flesh doesn’t want to die – it thinks if it keeps wrestling on and on, it will win out – but there is no on and on. ‘It is finished’ – The Cross is the End.

What do we see in Christ crucified? The judgement of our lives in their entirety? The End of our Lives?

Let the same mind be amongst you as was in Christ Jesus . . . who made himself nothing, taking the form of a slave, and being found in likeness as a man, became obedient to death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God highly exalted Him and gave to Him, the name that is above every name . . .

 

Sermon for Maundy Thursday – 2014

Maundy Thursday 2014

As we have followed Jesus through Holy Week, we have been encouraged not to act as spectators but to participate. But participation requires that we see clearly what Jesus is doing.

At Compline, following the theme of ‘Light and Life’ we have taken time to ask ‘Do we See?’ – truly do we Behold the Lamb of God, slain from before the foundation of the world? For to the World the Cross towards which Jesus walks is a place of Darkness, Human hatred and Death – yet for us who believe it is the Wisdom and the Power of God. To truly See the Cross is to behold the Glory of God.

So much contemporary theology seeks to make the Cross all about us. That somehow on the Cross, Jesus is participating in the suffering which is the commonplace of all of our lives. But this is not the view of the Scriptures, nor indeed until very lately has it been the view of the people of Jesus. Rather the Cross is entirely about the Glory of God. As we considered on Palm Sunday, God vindicates those who serve Him, by making them the place where His Glory is revealed. So in Jesus, the servant of the Lord, and Him Crucified, God reveals his Glory.
But, do we See it? Certainly the disciples were at best unclear. There were to be sure moments of illumination, but weeks and months of wandering in the dark. Do we Behold the Glory of God in this gospel of Jesus washing his disciples feet?

Our gospel reading from John, the traditional reading for this evening, has an interesting parallel in Luke. In Luke, the Lord’s supper is the occasion of the disciples arguing over ‘which one was to be regarded as the greatest’. Luke describes what happens next ‘Jesus said to them ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.’ Listen carefully to those words again – ‘the Kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.’. How similar this is to our way of seeing things. Even in the Church . . .

One of the churches in my care in England was very old and up on one of the walls, amongst many plaques was one listing the church’s ‘benefactors’. Those who had given significant monies to the church. We know how much the powerful like their largesse to be recognised, plaques here and there setting out the contributions the powerful make – but it seems it is so in the church also. Benefactors. We know who they are, everyone does. They are prominent members of society and often churches . . . but what was the name of the widow?

The widow?? Yes the widow. The one who put her last two pennies in the treasury of the Temple? Benefactors who put in out of their abundance, receiving human glory – but giving and receiving far far less than the one who out of her poverty puts in everything she has. She will not be lauded with special celebrations, or a plaque. The world has forgotten her.

And perhaps Peter sees where all this servant stuff is leading. There is no opportunity for ‘acts of service’, for which we might receive a reward, or indeed take a break. ‘I am among you as one who serves’ ‘As one who serves’. Not ‘I am doing these acts of service’, no ‘I am As one who serves. The Benefactor ‘does their bit’, puts in their hours, and retires in the warm glow of admiration and respect. As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, they have received their reward, the glory from human beings. No doubt many will appear at their funeral and bear handsome witness to their lives. Unlike the widow. And unlike Jesus who as The Servant goes to a criminals death.

Jesus IS a servant. It is his very being. It is his Existence – One who serves. It is no act, it is not ‘for the moment’, His Life is service and so he washes the feet of his disciples, not to make a teaching point, but because he is revealing his Glory to them. He is showing them ahead of the Cross Who he is, the one who lives by laying down his life – he is The Human. The Second Adam. Revealing what it really means to Live – his Life like streams of living water, Giving Life. Serving All.

‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

The Benefactor performs an act – then returns to life as it was. The Servant is one who has no life of their own – their Life is at the disposal of those whom they serve. The Benefactor uses their freedom to serve whom they want, to live the life they want. The Servant gives up all freedom and acts purely out of obedience to the one who has sent Him to Serve.

‘Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table”? Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink”? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!”

Jesus exemplifies this. Washing the feet of his disciples was no mere Act – it was Jesus revealing who he was.

This is the offense of Jesus. We want Jesus to be up there – reinforcing our sense of that pile which we spend our lives trying to climb – moving up the ladder – advancing our lives. Turning his commands to lay down our lives for the brethren into opportunities of choice – to make something of our lives – And Jesus, The Human, empties himself, becoming Obedient – submitting Himself. ‘You will never wash my feet!!’ But if I do not wash your feet, you have no part with me . . . and if I do wash your feet, then you must live in the same way, for I am your Lord and teacher.

Earlier this evening we washed one anothers’ feet. I must admit I am never too sure of this as a practise – is it an outworking of our shared life – or is it pure act? Do we rise from the floor to assume our usual position in the pecking order, or does it change everything?

If the True Human loses everything – lays aside any sense of entitlement – to Be The Servant. Then everything is upside down. The wealthy will have their plaques and elegant soirees in honour of what the world calls generosity – but God is Glorified in a nameless widow and her two pennies, who follows the one who made himself Nothing. Ultimately Glorified in the one who in the words of St Paul, made himself . . . Nothing, that God might be all in all. After All, where is the glorification of God in those plaques, in those elegant funeral eulogies [sic]

What Do we See in Jesus? A Benefactor? Someone who ‘went about doing good’?

Or one who ‘made himself Nothing. Friederich Nietzche, the prophet and spokesman for the age in which we live utterly despised Jesus – all he could see was nothingness. For him it was obvious that man should be glorified – and that we should live lives that sought that glory – He was blind to the glorified Man who set aside everything to serve.

our final reading from Compline came from John Chapter 12

Although Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. This was to fulfil the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
‘Lord, who has believed our message,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’
And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said,
‘He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.’
Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him. Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.

Human glory is on offer all around, Benefactors are glorified – Glory which can be bought and which finally rusts. The Glory of God is invisible to the world – yet nothing can take it away.

‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader must become like one who serves.

To all who believe in his name, he gave the right to become . . .

Benefactors? Or servants?
What do we Love? Human glory, or the Glory that comes from God?

The Cross – with its shame, its emptiness and nothingness – the Glory of God

What do we See? What are we looking for?

Reflection for Holy Week – Wednesday – Love and Light III

Reflection for Holy Week – Wednesday

Light and Love III

Last night, we not so much stepped back from the Cross with its Contradictions – rather we stepped through it into the Life of the Cross. The Life which is the laying down our Lives as we participate in Holy Week. Embracing Jesus’ poverty As Abundant Life and thus living with an open hand to the poor whom we See and thus serve. That which is Greater serves the ‘Lesser’

This Is the Blessed Life. John, we remember in the Only words of Jesus which John records which also are recorded elsewhere reminds us of the Deep tradition and Life of our Faith which Jesus, in giving All he has Makes Flesh. We read in Deuteronomy ‘Give liberally [to your needy neighbour] and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land.’ Not to do so is to incur guilt when the poor and the hungry cry out to God against the rich and well fed who ignore them.

But what is it that causes one to so live? To be truly Free? Surely it is to See who Christ Is. To behold the Crucified One – and to embrace Him in faith and let go of Our life to Live His risen Life.

The Contradictions of our faith we have explored have all been to do with How we see, whether or not we see with the eye of faith. [Surely to see Christ in our needy brother is to have such faith]. The Cross appears to be Death, Darkness and Hatred – but to the Eye of faith it is Life, Light and Love.

All those who see and judge the poor for their wastefulness, as does Judas, see Scarcity. The eye of faith sees in Jesus, Abundance. Bread for all. Life for All people.

So it is How we see, and ultimately it is What we see. What we See and What we Love. If we see in the Cross only Darkness, Death and Hatred, we will cling onto our lives refusing to give them up. If we see only scarcity and waste amongst the poor, we will fear being poor ourselves, not seeing Jesus the impoverished one, so we will cling onto that daily bread for ourselves, fearful for our futures, and stolen from the poor it will turn to maggots in our hands. The blessing of God to us is For the world. If we ignore the need of our brother, we do not see God. The blessing rots.

Seeing God – Light and Love – or Not Seeing God – darkness and hatred – is at the heart of our final reading in John’s gospel.

Jesus said ‘Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
The crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’
Jesus said to them, ‘The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.’
After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them. Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him.
This was to fulfil the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
‘Lord, who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ 
And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said, 
‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they might not look with their eyes,
   and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’
Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him.
Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.
To Behold Christ Crucified, the lamb that was slain from before the foundation of the world, is to See the Glory of God. Light. The LIght that shines in the darkness. The Light which reveals by its presence, the darkness. For we would not know we were in darkness if Light had not come into the World. But that Light so blinds the eyes of some, that like creatures of the depths of the oceans, even when confronted with the light, they are blind. Jesus performed So may signs in their presence, but they did not believe in him. So Judas sees Jesus, his poverty, his weakness, and does Not behold the Glory of God – that Glory which Isaiah Saw! and Spoke about. In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’ The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’

‘I saw the Lord . . . and the hem of his robe filled the Temple.’ Last night we noted how John had ‘moved’ the annointing at Bethany. Famously also he moves Jesus cleansing of the Temple, to the very beginning of Jesus ministry. Jesus publicly appears over and again in the temple in John. He is the One who fills the Temple – not the synagogues, but the Temple.

Commentators note that there is something odd in John’s use of the synagogue for as far as we know, followers of Jesus were not thrown out of the synagogue during the time of his ministry. So John obviously uses it for illustrative purpose. We saw this a few weeks ago in the story of the man born blind. The Pharisees, blind of eye and heard of heart, drove him out of the synagogue. ‘And God separated the Light from the Darkness’ . . . and again in our reading tonight, many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.
Love, and Light. Love of our life, Love of the money which secures our meagre life, love of human glory . . . all darkness.

Love of the Poor Crucified One?? Love of the Glory of God? We behold the Crucified One and with John declare – We have Seen His Glory. Judgement has come into the world, the secrets of all hearts revealed. Nothing can ever be the same again.
“the light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in darkness you do not know where you are going.
While you have the light, believe in the light that you may become children of light”
St.John 12:34-35

 

 

Reflection for Holy Week – Tuesday – Love and Light II

Reflection for Holy Week – Tuesday

Light and Love II

“the light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in darkness you do not know where you are going.
While you have the light, believe in the light that you may become children of light”
St.John 12:34-35

Last night, in effect we reflected on the question ‘what do we see in the Crucified One?’; the One who graciously invites us to lose our own life to participate in His Life.
In what I termed ‘the Great Contradiction of our faith’: that God who is Light and Life and Love is revealed in and through the Darkness, Death and Hatred of the Cross; we understand that a different way of Seeing is involved. We recall that John in his gospel highlights this Seeing, this comprehending of the Truth with the use of a word which our more traditional translations render ‘Behold!’. Behold the Lamb of God! We might call this ‘seeing with the eye of faith’, for surely it can only be that faith which God grants to us which reveals the One through whom all things came into being – the One without whom not one thing came to being – in the Crucified One. To Behold God’s Glory in the One lifted up from the Earth.

That seeing, that believing Is New Life. As John puts it ‘through believing we have Life in His name – not purely a new understanding, but New Life. And new Life is revealed in works which announce that New Life. Jesus in his actions announces the New reality of the Kingdom of God. If we are born anew in Him, then our lives are expressions of that New Life, that New Self, our participation in Him, in God-Self. Our Actions reveal us as children of Light; our lives at once judgement and hope for the World.

Tonight we take a step back – indeed if John is right then we step back in time before Palm Sunday, to an incident which happens in Bethany, but which Matthew and Mark record occurred during that first Holy Week.

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)

Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’

Here I want to suggest is another aspect of the Great Contradiction of our faith – our faith which is in, through and known in its entirety in Jesus. This Contradiction takes us from the realm of the nature of our Life in Christ, to its concrete Works.
And it is this. That in the Presence of the One who has nowhere to lay his head, in the Presence of the One laid in a manger for there was no room in the inn, in the Presence of the One whose parents offered the sacrifice of the poor, two turtledoves or two young pigeons – That is in the Presence of the One who is Poor – there is Always Abundance. The Presence of the Poor One is always the occasion of the manifestation of Abundant Life. So Mary correctly accuses Jesus after the death of Lazarus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would still be alive!’. Death cannot be present in the presence of Jesus, who Is Life. And again, in the Presence of Jesus, who is Bread, there are non hungry. All are fed and to Abundance. Yet Jesus Has nothing . . .

So Judas, who does not See – who does not Behold the Lamb of God – only sees what to him is poverty and waste. How readily we accuse the poor of wastefulness . . . and thus deny them life. He does not realise that in front of him sits one who Is Abundance – so blinded is he by Jesus’ material poverty. Hatred or Love? Darkness or Light? Death or Life? Poverty or Abundance? What do We See in Jesus? How do We Live as a result?

It is surely important to note that the only miracle Jesus performs which is found in all four gospels is the feeding of the 5000. John tells us the meaning of this Sign – that Jesus IS bread – He is The bread of Life. In his presence none can be hungry, just as in his presence none can ever die.

But there a couple of further intriguing points here in this incident, things which direct us to the nature of that New Life and its actions.
Firstly – that John, uniquely in his gospel quotes words of Jesus which are common to two of the other three gospels . . . I wonder if we noted them? John’s Gospel is SO different – surely if he quotes but One saying of Jesus which is found in other gospels, it must be of Great significance?
It is this. ‘You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me’ (Matthew and Mark also record this saying of Jesus – Mark adds the parenthetical comment – ‘and you can show kindness to the poor whenever you wish’. Luke of course has no need to record this, the announcement of the Life of Jesus as ‘Good News to the Poor’, and the warning parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus does the work for him amply.)

Secondly that this story of Abundance and that of the feeding of the 5000, are the only places in John where money is mentioned. First in relation to the disciples who do not See Jesus Is the Bread of Life, and here in relation to Judas. John does not even trouble himself to mention the betrayal ‘Reward’ – the mention of Judas and money here does that for him.

Judas only sees limited resource – he is a thief – but there is more going on here than just Judas’ character. ‘He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief. He kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.’ The two go hand in hand – for in the Light of God’s abundance – treating that which is for all as your own, is to steal. God has provided for all – thus we share so that there are no poor amongst us – but most do not live by this – thus the poor are always present. Not to live with an open hand to the poor is to be nothing less than a thief – one who comes by night – one who is in darkness. It is to deny that we have received daily bread from God, for the sake of the world. It is to refuse to participate in the abundant Life of Jesus, which receives only to Share that Life with All.

To live with an open hand to the Poor who are always with us, is to live with an open hand to the One who for our sake embraced poverty. To live with a closed hand to the poor is, with Judas, only to see scarcity, to so love our lives that we finally lose them, failing to see that our Life is with The Other – Blind to the Abundant One. To steal the Life which God has given for All. To live with an open hand is to freely give for we have freely received. It is to release the Life that is within us. It is to know that  the bread of heaven which is daily given – is given for the life of the world. Not to Share what He has given is to hoard the Bread of heaven. And stored manna  rots. It is to hate our brother whom we can see, because in Truth we have not beheld Christ. He is a stranger to us. His Life just a pretty idea.

“the light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in darkness you do not know where you are going.
While you have the light, believe in the light that you may become children of light”
St.John 12:34-35

 

 

Reflection for Holy Week – Light and Love I

Reflection for Holy Week 1

Light and Love I

“the light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in darkness you do not know where you are going.
While you have the light, believe in the light that you may become children of light”
St.John 12:34-35

On Sunday we concluded our journey with Jesus through Lent and began our journey with him through Holy Week. And we undertake this journey not as spectators, but as participants.

Through Baptism – we exchange our life for His Life – and so to live truthfully as Christians, we must live with Jesus, in Jesus, and through Jesus. We must remind ourselves daily that we have no other life. This is what it is to ‘walk in the light’. To participate and share in the Life of Jesus, our Crucified, Risen and Ascended Lord.

This week at Compline we are to reflect on three passages that tell the story of Holy Week as recorded by St John in the twelfth chapter of his Evangel. Each one has a double theme – that of Light and that of Love – although in each case these themes are expressed in different ways.

We begin with these verses

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.

Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

John’s account of Jesus entry into Jerusalem closes with the Pharisees all but in despair, saying to one another “You see? You can do nothing. Look! the world has gone after him” That theme of Sight is key to John’s Gospel. The world is now divided into those who See and those who do not and it is clear that here the Pharisees DO See. John uses the strong word for Look! Which our traditional translations read as Behold! Behold the Lamb of God! the other disciple entered the tomb, he Beheld [the empty tomb] and he believed! John uses this word for as it were truthful sight. Behold, the world has gone after him. And so Greek converts to Judaism have come to Jerusalem for the Passover and ask Philip – ‘Sir we wish to Behold Jesus . . .’

Philip and Andrew, the two Greek named disciples who had been responsible for bringing the boy with five loaves and two fish to Jesus – Philip who is always bringing people to Jesus – report this to Jesus.

How do we Behold Jesus? Now is the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified – Now is the hour for him to be lifted up from the earth.

It is in Seeing Christ Crucified that we Behold Jesus – we see him in his Glory. And Seeing Is to believe. To Believe in Jesus, is to believe in the Crucified one – to have our eyes enLightened – to Behold the Love of God. To Know it in truth.

Herein is the Great Contradiction of our faith. As St Paul puts it Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. To Believe in Jesus is to look into the darkness of the Cross, and Behold the Dazzling glory of God. Light In Darkness. In this apparent Utter negation of life – Life is revealed. Love springs as it were ‘ex nihilo’ – the New Creation – out of the Nothing of the Cross – Everything bursts forth. Light, Life and Love – the triumphant fruit of what can only seem to be Darkness, Death and Hatred.

Amen and Amen! I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

John as we know, announces the gospel in a different manner to his fellow evangelists. Yet it is the same Gospel. In Matthew, Mark and Luke – Jesus says ‘whoever would be my disciple must take up their cross and follow me. In John, the invitation to participation is even clearer. Having announced his glorification in being lifted high over the world on the Cross, he declares Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

This Gospel of Light in darkness is also The Gospel of participation. We Behold the Love of God in the Crucified One. We Participate in this Love by laying aside all other loves. We shall see this more in the coming nights – but for now we hear the clearest expression of it. We, beholding the Love of God in Christ, Beholding Love, Seeing Love are graciously invited to participate in the LIfe and the Love of God, by hating our lives in this world – by laying them aside. As we heard yesterday – to lay aside all our agendas – To Seek the Kingdom of God in purposeful manner – in the words of the writer to the Hebrews ‘looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the Joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of God.’

And thus we know the blessing of God – ‘Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour’ the LIfe that God blesses is the Life of Jesus and the lives of those who follow him in Truth.

God glorifies himself in the one who lives solely for the glory of God.

“the light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in darkness you do not know where you are going.
While you have the light, believe in the light that you may become children of light”
St.John 12:34-35