So, here we are dear friends, after a sun drenched Easter Sunday. All things are possible. The death that swallowed light and life is over and new life has come.
By way of proof of this, Michaela and I spent our Easter Sunday on Inchcolm Island in the Firth of Forth, visiting the ancient Priory and soaking in the peace of the place, despite the tourists with their selfie sticks and the constant noise from the kingdom seagulls on the cliffs above.
The Priory is full of small spaces of life and worship, mostly intact but in places with half a vaulted ceiling curling like a waving hand to the years now past. Years full of all sorts of history, but speaking to us of a time when people thought that one of the prime responsibilities of Christians was to set themselves aside to pray- to pray for the success of the harvest, and the health of their Kings and the productivity of their Queens. To pray for success in fishing and victory in battle. They were the beating heart and the spiritual voice of their age.
I make no value judgement about the spirituality that these men lived their lives by – after all mine is surely just as compromised by my own prejudice – the question for me is for we people of faith to consider again what might be the beating heart of our own age that we need to tune ourselves to, and the spiritual truth that we should seek to voice.
For this has to be our quest, to bring the essence of what we are to Jesus, and allow this transformative encounter to lead us outwards on a new mission; not the mission of a previous age, or the mission that belongs to others, but our own mission. Our own small, humble, broken, imperfect crusades (minus the sword and spears).
They are building a new bridge over the Firth of Forth. Giant new towers are thrusting up from the river bed and cranes are raising and lowering the girders and vast bucket loads of concrete. However all this is happening in the shadow of two other bridges.
There is the famous Victorian iconic masterpiece that we all know the shape of so well. It still carries rail traffic but it was not sufficient to meet the needs of modernity, so the Forth road bridge was erected, still carrying thundering loads of lorries and crowds of commuters, cursing as they inch to work through the rush hour traffic. This bridge is showing its age, hence the requirement for a replacement.
All of which is my (rather laboured) way of offering a prayer that on this Beautiful Easter day, the foundations of many a new bridge might be laid, over which we might travel together to new peaceful places. For what else might new life be for?
Today marks one of the pivotal days within the Christian calendar so lets pause and dwell for a while on the story we find ourselves part of…
The scandal of the cross.
The unreasonableness of the cross.
The injustice of the the cross.
The laying down of all power and majesty; the ultimate vulnerability of the cross.
The end of all hopes on the cross.
The defeat of the cross.
The humanity of the cross.
The mystery of the cross.
The enduring symbolism of the cross.
Perhaps too it is appropriate to personalise this story a little more, and ponder again how it relates to us; to our lives, our small stories.
I am increasingly uncomfortable with the atonement theories that I grew up with- if you are interested, some of my thoughts about all this can be read here.
Rather I find myself returning to another old word- redemption defined thus;
an act of redeeming or atoning for a fault or mistake, or the state of being redeemed.
Theology. deliverance from sin; salvation.
atonement for guilt.
repurchase, as of something sold.
paying off, as of a mortgage, bond, or note.
recovery by payment, as of something pledged.
Somehow, I am being redeemed. How and why I am not sure, but nevertheless I chose to believe that engagement with the love and life of Jesus changes, restores and rescues me so that the man that I am is both more and less than I was. I also know this process to be necessary and incomplete.
Today I will carry a small cross, not because I believe myself to be a finished article, but because I know myself to be needful of redemption.
May you carry yours also.
The Queen will toss out a few specially minted coins today as a symbol of charity to fellow man. Of course, she can afford it.
The origins of the word ‘Maundy’ seems to be obscure, but one thought is that it derives from the Middle English and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” which many of you will of course already have correctly translated into these words from John chapter 13;
‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this shall men know you are my disciples.’
The story goes that Jesus gathered with his friends for a last meal together. One of them was going to betray him, another would deny him before the night was over. After all the parables and obscure teachings he offered something unequivocal. He distilled his hopes for his friends into this one simple phrase. He demonstrated it as well by washing their road stained feet.
So many things he could have said- stuff about saving souls, striving for correct doctrine, worshiping correctly, fighting to defend the faith, condemning sins in society etc. All those things that seem to have become the preoccupation of his followers over the years; he chose not to mention these.
So, how do we demonstrate love for one another? What does this look like? Can we or others really recognise it when they see it?
I think of my own community- a loose ragged group of people on a parallel journey. Our love is sometimes tinged with irritation, pride, ignorance. There are often undercurrents that even when unacknowledged leave a stain on our gathering.
But gather we do. We eat together and share lives. In spite of all our busyness, we remain faithful to one another. The quality of our loving is imperfect, certainly less than Christ-like. I fear it might not be convincing to others who might observe from the outside.
And yet- what we have in this gathering is so much more than many others that I know. We have become so separated from one another. Human contact is increasingly excarnate, more like a software interface.
May this Maundy Thursday offer places of connection. May it be a bowl in which you are held in love.
This is a re-blog of an old post. Traditionally in the Eastern Church, the story of a woman pouring expensive oil onto the feet of Jesus and wiping them with her hair is told. The identity of this woman is unclear- but some have suggested that she was one and the same character familiar from this story. I thought it worth re-telling…
Originally posted on this fragile tent:
(This is a continuation of a series of posts (here and here) asking questions about the dark passages of the Bible. Forgive me if this is all old news to you theological types- I began writing this as a review of where my own thinking is up to….)
So, we come to that truth word. I am tempted to try to deal with this as a philosophical concept- but for now, lets stick to Jesus-
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
What did Jesus mean?
When you read the full passage, the whole thing gets even more complicated- Jesus is in the middle of one of his regular arguments with the religious hard liners- the Pharisees. Firstly they try to catch him out by bringing him a woman caught in adultery- who by law (Biblical, scriptural…
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He stood in the door of the temple
And saw red
The beautiful ones
Stressed up like sharks
Creases sharp enough to cut
Hunkered down over their spreadsheet scriptures
Their holy bottom line
These beautiful creatures
Who can never have enough
Who are blind, but for the glint of golden things
Their altars slickened with the substitutionary sacrifice
Of the poor
Tear a rib from me Father
Make them anew
Turn over their chemical tables
Snap the twisted strings of their DNA
My blood boils
The Easter news is shadowed by the dirty politics of the up and coming election. Opinion and counter opinion. Analysis based on believability and presentation skills of leaders. As has become normal here in the UK, ideology, meaning and passionately held principles are rather absent from the debate and I mourn the absence. Without principles in our politics, what is left? Personal advantage, protected and enhanced privilege? A game of power played out by corporations and international capital? Conquest held only in check by threat?
Not that faith has really helped us to solve these ethical dilemmas. Ever since stories about the life and death of Jesus first began to be told, those who follow him have been caught up in confusion as to what it was all about- what is the central message that we are to hold close and carry into all other things?
Some said that he came first and foremost to solve a cosmic problem; that his death was to assuage the need for vicious eternal punishment that were the just deserts of sinners everywhere. Those that carried this message had a powerful duty to spread the Good News- which amounted to the fact that not everyone needed to face this dreadful punishment in the next life as Jesus could rescue those who would climb aboard his life raft. In this version of the story, the world we live in has already been handed over to the devil, and the best we can hope for is to save those just like us.
I confess to an increasing discomfort with this very modern reading of the story. Perhaps God is bigger than the cosmic laws we projected skywards confounding millions in the process. Perhaps he is more. Perhaps the death to come was not the point after all- it was more about the life thereafter.
Other Christians have always focussed more the here and now. There are after all many words of Jesus as recorded in the accounts handed down to us that call us first and foremost towards compassion to the other. We are clearly instructed to look after the poor, the weak and the broken, so Christians have thrown themselves into great works of philanthropy, throwing up hospitals, libraries and orphanages. They have opened their homes to strangers and taken in orphans and foundlings. They have become politicians.
A friend of mine quoted these words at an Aoradh meeting on Sunday from Zachariah chapter 8. They are the dreams of every society, the hope of every new voting generation;
“Old men and old women will come back to Jerusalem, sit on benches on the streets and spin tales, move around safely with their canes—a good city to grow old in. And boys and girls will fill the public parks, laughing and playing—a good city to grow up in.” (The Message.)
It could be said that we in the UK have known this city. More than most of the world, we have been blessed with relative peace, with a welfare system, a health system and a society that has been mostly harmonious, but we should take nothing for granted. At present, the rich are getting richer, and despite the current arguments about living standards, the poor and broken are being vilified.
Of course it could be argued that our peace has often been bought and paid for at the expense of others who did not enjoy these advantages. This too should be a responsibility be bear heavily.