Last night both sides of the Pacific Ocean saw one of the great astronomical wonders,
I was dragged from my slumbers by one of my daughters at around midnight to share (be it briefly) a moment of wonder as the incredible brightness of the directly reflected sunlight disappeared and all the moon was red-orange, with accompanying improved 3D perspective.
As a physicist and also as someone of relatively advancing years, this was nothing ‘out of the ordinary’. In physical terms, the moons orbit took it briefly into the full shadow of the earth, directly opposite the sun. So whilst not in shadow the radiance of the moon was at its highest, sunlight being almost directly reflected of it to the eye of this sleepy observer. Then, the moon being at a fairly average distance from the earth, a fairly broad spectrum of longer wavelength light was refracted through the earth’s atmosphere, making the moon more orange than the deep red associated with the biblical image of ‘the moon turning to blood’, which would require the moon to be closer to the earth allowing only the longest visible wavlengths, red, to curve round the earth. Just another lunar eclipse . . .
Of course given this ‘explanation’ – the apocalyptic biblical account – Acts 2:20, drawing on Joel 2:31 expanded in Revelation 6:12, seem at best silly, to our way of thinking. Even though some seem to continue to think otherwise. It’s ‘just another lunar eclipse . . .’ after all. Yet, immediately one may well ask – what happened to ‘Wonder’? Put another way, our faith actually teaches us that Creation is ablaze with the Glory of God, ‘every common bush afire . . .’ so indeed it is not that these things do not signify, but rather that everything signifies. Literally everything is freighted with significance . . . a view which since the unravelling of the sacramental understanding of the world, begun about a thousand years ago, has gradually become more and more elusive, and those seeing things in ‘the mundane’ are readily dismissed as ‘lunatics’.
One of the aspects of Christian faith which most disturbs is precisely that which is meant to, its apocalyptic or revelatory nature – a tearing back of the veil from our eyes that we might see things as they are in their essence, rather than as they have been translated to us through the dulling lens of culture, in our case one which keeps the spiritual and the ‘real world’ poles apart. And it is disturbing for these aspects find their focus, not in the outer reaches of biblical strangeness, Revelation and the latter part of Daniel, but in Jesus himself. [Those struggling with the end of this coming Sunday’s gospel, might do well to read Revelation Chapter 19:6-9 for a clear interpretation ] It is after all Jesus who speaks most of uncomfortable realities which we would rather not see. Jesus who speaks of Hell – Jesus who declares woe to the Rich. And Jesus who speaks of signs . . .
I remember as a young Christian – not yet fully conversant with Jesus’ words regarding signs, that they were for those who were barely believing, not the provenance of those who had fully cast in their lot with the man from Galilee – asking for a sign and getting one. The small, but faithful and lively Anglican church of which we were part in the English city of Bradford had several home groups and also wanted to tell people about Jesus through the Alpha Course. The then Vicar, I am sure more than aware of the juvenility of my faith, all the same asked me to either co-ordinate the groups, or set up Alpha. I duly agonised over this for several weeks. They both seemed good to me, and I hadn’t the faith just to cast lots, so on the way to work on the bus I asked the Lord to give me a sign . . . I stepped off the bus and setting off to walk up to my workplace, lifted my gaze to see a car pass by, registration A1PHA . . . which pretty much sealed the deal 🙂
I had cause to remember that this morning when, crawling from my bed after a disturbed night, I went off to do what is necessary at that hour, drink a huge coffee and go for a walk to pray in the new days light. As I walked along, I was thinking about the point in life of the church of which I am privileged to be the Priest. The sense that we are being called to learn more deeply what it is for the Lord to provide for our needs. And so my thoughts turned to my dad, who died more than 20 years ago, and his constant testimony ‘we have never had much, and there were moments where I had no choice but to leave my job and didn’t know how I might continue to provide for you all [business life was often desperately hard on his good and gentle soul] , but God always provided’ And I was caused to give great thanks for that inheritance of faith, that had caused us to live with little thought to our own needs over the years and rather be available for what God was calling us to . . . however hard at times those choices had and have been. But that was not all . . .
Eldest sons traditionally have a difficult time with their dads. I was no exception. He was frequently out of the country on business, leaving me as the Alpha male ( 🙂 ) until his return, when the territory had once more to be disputed. One of the losses of this was that I had difficulty seeing him for who he was – and thus I missed Signifiers . . .
As I gave thanks I continued to pray and walk and the Lord reminded me of something to which I hadn’t attended, another burning bush. On the evening he had died, he had gone out for a walk with my mother, and then come home, retiring to bed at about 10 as was his custom, and as he did every night, kneeling down beside the bed in prayer. He then got into bed and died.
I knew this but didn’t SEE. This morning I saw. And my heart was filled with Deep gratitude and I know I have a long journey ahead of me to mine this treasure, this Gift . . .
Setting off to walk home, I lifted up my eyes to see a car coming towards me, registration THXDAD . . .
So I walked on, pondering Inheritance. On the one hand a financial gift which had been converted into a car, which was already showing signs of dilapidation and like all things will turn to dust – and then this miracle of Life . . . and I thought of all those years of kneeling at the bed to pray, and Wondered at the Inheritance beyond my finding out my dad had bequeathed me in and through that . . .
Jesus told a story about inheritance
One day he was out and about when someone came up to him and demanded ‘Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me’ Jesus, the one who embodies the Mishpat, the Justice of God, seems less than enamoured at this request – his response a rebuke to the one who seeks ‘fair shares’
‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’
He then goes on to use the occasion for a parable, one the power of which may elude us, as we do not often read the Scriptures with the story of the people of God as narrated to us thus far, in view.
It is a familiar tale, uncomfortably so for we who are wealthy . . . ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” So far, so familiar. He has a good year – made good profits we might say – the odd thing in our ears is his question ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ If we do well, we seldom ponder what we will do – the answer our culture gives us is clear – store it up against unknown futures . . . but to Jesus listeners, his response is scandalous. For the righteous, the question does not even enter their head – your barns are full? You have excess?? Everyone knows the answer – Love your neighbour as yourself! You have done well, feed those who have not, your Life is with your neighbour. This was written DEEP into Israel’s story, and everyone knew it. When John the Baptist comes, his message of repentance is simple. Your brother has nothing, you have more than you need – it is a no brainer for anyone who loves God, or claims to love his fellow man. No one argued with John. He was only setting forth what the people of God had ALWAYS been called to.
With that in mind, as Jesus goes on, the crowd must have gasped ‘Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” How is it I ask that we do not see ourselves in this response?? I’ve had a good year, I am going to enjoy the fruit of my labours for many years to come . . . We do not gasp in horror at the man’s response, for it is our response . . . our culture has not only disconnected the physical from the spiritual, that disconnection has bored deeply into our souls so that we see no problem with the fact that some starve whilst we ‘eat, drink and are merry’ The disconnection means we no longer see our life is with our neighbour, and like the Pharisees with their interpretations of the Law, we have developed ways of interpreting Jesus’ words to make sure we don’t have to take them literally. Physical and Spiritual cast asunder . . .
. . . as we see when we interpret Jesus’ final line . . . But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’ We ‘spiritualise’ the last response – for those of Jesus’ time, this was impossible. Jesus’ hearers knew his meaning – to live with an open hand towards those in need – to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked etc. was to be rich towards God. Jesus makes this utterly explicit in the parable of the sheep and the goats . . . this night your life is being demanded of you.
Jesus’ message is clear. Terrifyingly so.
This message remained the teaching of the church long after the Resurrection, indeed it was a signifier of the Risen one amongst his people. That the teaching of Jesus was continued, whereas now it is abused and ignored. To have faith is to liv in obedience to Jesus words.
If we have so little faith we need a sign (John 14:11)??
Well, last night the moon turned to blood . . .
Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison