Easter says you can put truth in a grave, but it won't stay there.
Some unusual and little known holidays can be found!
The season of "giving up". One could give up sacrifice... I could give up smoking! Or give up giving up... So many jokes about Lent and making sacrifices which mean nothing. One could be forgiven that we have trivialised Lent in a whole range of ways, particularly when it comes down to sacrificing small things which do not touch the core of who we are and of that which shapes us most.
I wonder whether we might give up credit cards, or television. For some that might be more challenging. How about giving up the computer? Arrgghhh! Could I really survive? One writer suggested giving up supermarkets.
The original focus was food related, which is why the last day before Lent commences is Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Tuesday. It was the feast which removed all flour from the house: the symbolic leaven which turns our focus towards purification. If food was the major symbol of that which distracts us from God in ancient times, we might ask where our poverty lies today: time? technology? consumerism? How can we adopt a purifying approach to that which dilutes our humanity most and reminds us of our dependence upon God, or at least creates space for us to give this greater consideration. Perhaps a greater commitment to recycling, eating locally produced foods, leaving a smaller footprint upon the planet... So many challenges, choosing one could be life-giving in so many unexpected ways.
With thanks to Christine Sine
WARNING... WARNING: ADVENT VIRUS
Be on the alert for symptoms of inner Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. The hearts of a great many have already been exposed to this virus and it is possible that people everywhere could come down with it in epidemic proportions. This could pose a serious threat to what has, up to now, been a fairly stable condition of conflict in the world.
Some signs and symptoms of The Advent Virus:
* A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than on fears based on past experiences.
* An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
* A loss of interest in judging other people.
* A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
* A loss of interest in conflict.
* A loss of the ability to worry. (This is a very serious symptom.)
* Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
* Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.
* Frequent attacks of smiling.
* An increasing tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.
* An increased susceptibility to the love extended by others as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it.
Please send this warning out to all your friends. This virus can and has affected many systems. Some systems have been completely cleaned out because of it.
The most recent wedding I conducted raised some interesting questions amongst many of the guests, largely because of its location. I have performed wedding ceremonies in many different places, perhaps the majority of them outside of the church, but it was inside a church that the most questions were asked. Why? Because I - as an ordained Baptist Minister - was conducting a wedding inside a Catholic church.
The questions raised were not critical. In fact, most were quite pleasantly surprised to note the level of cooperation and affirmation which must undergird such an event. Old divides within the church are breaking down, and opportunities such as this serve to make public the fruit of some very productive conversation taking across the institutional boundaries inside the christian church. It is a reminder that we are working in the same cause, serving the same God, and that our diversity is celebrated rather than treated with suspicion.
I have been happy to work across denominational boundaries for many years, and have been greatly enriched by the conversations and partnerships. A simple occasion such as this serves only to bring to light for many people what the Spirit has been doing for many years.
With Shrove Tuesday less than two weeks ago, some are already giving consideration to Lent, the season of denial usually characterised by fasting. Here's one idea which is a new take: A Lenten Slow! That's it, a slow! Realising that the idea of giving something up for Lent be supplemented (or replaced) by doing something which goes against the constant pressure to speed things up. It's not a unique idea, there's a Lenten Slow wiki web site where you can join with others in the creative as well as the enacting phases. (Dare I say, "hurry and join today!"?)
Seriously though, someone has characterised Western life as suffering from hurry sickness. Heck, I've even stood at the microwave impatient as it counted down the seconds for something that used to take twenty minutes; I worry about a ten-second wait for a web site to begin displaying... Feeling the pressure to "use" every moment is a notion born of our consumer culture where all time is money.
A Lenten slow... why limit it to Lent?
We enjoyed New Year's Eve together as a family at the home of some friends. The view was spectacular - fireworks over the harbour. I've reproduced some of the images here just to give you a taste.
I thought I'd save them for the last day of Christmas! Epiphany, which marks the journey of the magi to Bethlehem, is the twelfth day of Christmas, and a reminder to us that we are all on a journey. The magi set out on nothing more than rumour and a star... and with Herod's words echoing through their brain.
When they arrived at Bethlehem, they realised that their journey brought them into the presence of God, and ultimately put them at odds with Herod's desires. And don't most spiritual journeys place us in tension with the political desires of our world?
News emanating from the US that some mega churches have decided not to hold worship services on Christmas Day this year (which falls on a Sunday). Although there is nothing sacrosanct about worship services on Christmas Day, this seems to be a strange decision. One of the reasons given by Willow Creek (one of the mega-churches going down this path) is that they wanted to give their volunteers time with family on Christmas Day. Yet the mandate as seeker-sensitive suggests that the first determinant of decision-making be the seeker rather than the church member. In Australia Christmas is one of those occasions when non-church people make a special effort to attend... which, if the trend were to translate in the US, would make the decision even more perplexing.
Our church does not hold services on Christmas Day, instead hosting an open lunch of sorts. It's not the decision not to have a Christmas service per se, but one which cancels it because it falls on a Sunday. Seems strange thinking to me... any thoughts?
OK... I may be a week late (or four weeks early if you are of the Orthodox tradition), but I'll share it anyway. We used it in our sacred space last Sunday as a powerpoint opening the time together (using the tag line at the end "... or did it?")
Jesus Christ, 33, of Nazareth, died Friday on Mount Calvary, also known as Golgotha, the place of the skull. Betrayed by the apostle Judas, Jesus was crucified by the Romans, by order of the Ruler Pontius Pilate. The causes of death were crucifixion, extreme exhaustion, severe torture, and loss of blood.
Jesus Christ, a descendant of Abraham, was a member of the house of David. He was the son of the late Joseph, a carpenter of Nazareth, and Mary, his devoted Mother. Jesus was born in a stable in the city of Bethlehem, Judea. Humble beginnings for one who, at the time of his death, was labeled "King of the Jews". He is survived by his mother Mary, his brothers including James, John the beloved, his other faithful disciples, and many other followers. It was thought that Peter would be one of his staunchest supporters, but he denied Jesus, not once but three times.
Jesus was self educated and spent most of his adult life working as a carpenter and later a teacher. Jesus also occasionally worked as a medical doctor and it is reported that he healed many patients. Up until the time of his death, Jesus was teaching and sharing his Good News, healing the sick, touching the lonely, feeding the hungry, and helping the poor.
Jesus was most noted for telling parables about his Father's Kingdom and performing miracles, such as feeding over 5,000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish, and healing a man who was born blind. On Thursday, the night before his death, he held a last supper celebrating the Passover Feast, at which he reportedly washed his disciples feet and foretold his death.
The body was quickly buried in a stone grave, which was donated by Joseph of Arimathea, a loyal friend of the family. By order of Pontius Pilate, a boulder was rolled in front of the tomb. Roman soldiers were put on guard and remain there today.
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that everyone try to live as Jesus did. Donations may be sent to anyone in need.
Jesus Christ had such a promising ministry. It is too bad it had to end this way.
Our community gathered in the park this morning to reflect upon the resurrection of Jesus. It was a peaceful morning as we heard the stories of those who appeared at the tomb that morning. The air was still and crisp, the grass still bearing the dew, yet to be dried by the sun. Hot-air balloons launched from a nearby park against the backdrop of a full moon still waning from the sky.
The park was empty, the only message being "he is not here", just as the women were told that first Easter morning, and a promise of meeting him at another time and another place.
We reflected on stories of redemption from the Hebrew Bible: Noah... Abraham and Isaac... Jonah and Nineveh... Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. We remembered how much of the Easter story unfolded in the darkness: the last supper, prayer in Gethsemane, the arrest, the trial... and the resurrection.
When we had read the account of John 21, we shared fish and bread together, then recommitted ourselves in the pattern of Jesus' re-commissioning of Simon. To hear the words "Do you love me fully?" as we remember the resurrection and our own denials of Jesus in word and deed, this challenge spoke powerfully.
The rising sun gradually warmed our gathering as we shared the refrain: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!!
It’s a nuisance when chocolate Easter eggs begin to appear in stores as outside temperatures reach the high 30s – it becomes awfully difficult to consume all the chocolate before it begins to melt! ‘Tis a sad waste of a wonderful delicacy to wash it away with soap… Yet this inconvenience is but a minor challenge for those who celebrate Easter in the Southern hemisphere – away from the emerging season of Spring so intricately woven into the traditional understanding of Easter we have inherited from our northern cousins. Christians in the fourth century found it uncannily expedient to attach celebrations of the death and resurrection of Jesus to an earlier pagan festival marking the commencement of spring: the themes of new life, rebirth and renewal already irresistibly embodied in the festival, waiting to be impregnated with christian meaning. The emergence of new life in creation as trees and plants begin their regeneration and new growth was a powerful symbol of new life to reflect upon in the light of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But does the springtime fully represent the meaning of events surrounding the passion of Jesus? Are we in the antipodes somehow deprived of a full appreciation of the Easter miracle? Or does this almost exclusive focus on new life mask something more profound about the life and teaching of Jesus?
Here in Australia we celebrate Easter as trees shed their leaves, as fading light gives way to increased darkness, accentuated on this Holy Satuday which is lengthened by one hour to accommodate the move away from daylight saving time. The Autumn equinox marks the shift from days where light is the greater part of the day towards ever-increasing darkness. Daylight saving ends, creating the impression of a sudden darkness as evening falls will fall much earlier from tomorrow in our working day. For the next three months the days become shorter, colder, somehow more alienating. We watch creation enter the throes of deconstruction. Animals begin to hibernate, some birds spread their wings for warmer climes, many flowering plants shut down production, and deciduous trees shed their leaves, ultimately lending a more sober and subdued – even dreary – hue to the landscape. While we begin to feel some sense of relief at the passing of the scorching heat of summer, there appears little to celebrate, little sign of the new life which is integral to the Easter story.
It seems that the Australian context has yet to find its place in the celebration of Easter in the christian church. Alongside our borrowed Christmas symbols of snow and holly, our celebration of Easter strikes a discordant note with the landscape, creation somehow out-of-sync with the Creator’s actions. Either we need to relocate the celebration of Easter to a more appropriate time of year, or look for themes and messages more consistent with the voice of creation. If an authentic and relevant spirituality reflects and shapes the rhythms of human life, then how are we to ground the christian message in the experiences and symbols common in the wider community – as it seems to have been the practice of the early church. Is this possible
My discomfort with the way in which Easter, and more particularly Good Friday, is celebrated in many churches within the Protestant tradition extends beyond its dissonance with the surrounding landscape. The celebration of Easter within the church reflects society’s broader reluctance to grapple with any sense of pain and loss. Rarely have I sat in a Good Friday service without there being a strong proclamation of the resurrection: a thought not found in the original experience of the disciples, who instead were enveloped with despair as they watched Jesus die. This shadow was deepened by their own complicity in his death through either their denial of him, or their abandonment in his time of need. In the death of Jesus they believed their hope had also died. The dream Jesus had instilled in them had dissipated at the cross.
Yet rarely have I experienced this in a Good Friday service. The death of Jesus is almost trivialized against the backdrop of the resurrection, the struggle and pain of the disciples glossed over, their sense of loss given scant regard. Standing as we do on this side of the resurrection it is difficult to fully appreciate the emptiness they felt, yet I sense that it is essential to the journey of faith that we endeavour to enter that same space today.
In the celebration of Easter, what is often overlooked is the means through which this new life was brought into being. The Easter story is marked by an all-pervading gloom, as many of the critical events took place under cover of darkness: Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, his trial before the Sanhedrin, the denial by Peter, even his death took place as darkness spread across the land. The resurrection hope only came through the despairing death of Jesus – the death of the one christians call the Son of God. Jesus’ disciples, the Jews, and the Roman authorities clearly could not reconcile the two. To them, Jesus’ death appeared as conclusive proof that he could not be who he claimed to be.
If we allow our focus to fall primarily on the resurrection without contemplating the circumstances by which it was made necessary, we merely echo the message of many a motivational speaker that failure is not the end, merely an opportunity to learn and grow. The Easter story is no tale of persistence through tragedy. But for the action of God in raising Jesus from the dead, Jesus’ death WAS the end. The act of God was the only source of light in an otherwise dark tale – and yet an overwhelming source of hope. Jesus died as the result of his deliberate submission to the purposes of God. It was an act of obedience and surrender, an embodiment of his teaching that the way to life was to lose it, to surrender it to the purposes of a Heavenly Father. Instead of seeking to preserve his own life for his own sake, Jesus gave it up for a greater purpose.
And creation at Autumn in Australia echoes that same truth, as flora and fauna ‘die off’ for months, a necessary prelude to the new growth which the Spring generates. The symbols of death are all around us: autumn leaves dancing their finale across the streets, driven by the autumn winds; lengthening sunsets and cooler evening winds driving us into shelter earlier each day, just as much of the animal world retreats to cosier places; the cries of the summer birds are slowly silenced, as creation slows its pace. As winter begins to dawn, and winter blues cast their shadow over life, we may despair of ever seeing the warm summer sun once more. Yet this too is part of the Creator’s plan, clearing away the old in preparation for the new. It is only as these sights and sounds die that they can be born afresh, in all their wonder.
But new life – the springtime - stands now only as promise, just as resurrection was promise to the disciples, just as the new life is the promise to all who would follow Jesus. Born out of death, resurrected from the passing away of the present, new life comes. It is a way to life that few choose, preferring to trust in their own strength than to surrender into the hands of another, to hold on rather than let go. To truly live, we must be prepared to die.
It is very difficult for christians to commemorate the events of Good Friday without reference to the resurrection. While the link is understandable, and reflects our desire to tell the whole story, it was clear that the disciples of Jesus had no idea about the resurrection at the time of Jesus' death. Even the first reports of the resurrection were treated with some skepticism, such was their lack of understanding.
So then... what did those disciples think on that first Good Friday: those who had given up everything to follow Jesus? Now that he was dead, their whole world collapsed. They scattered, Peter having a last memory of his denial of Jesus. What did they think, feel, and do in the aftermath?
While we continue to proclaim the resurrection on Good Friday, we trivialise the events, as if the death of Jesus were only a blip in a much greater story. But for the disciples - and the early church - it was the central aspect. "For we proclaim Christ crucified..." says Paul.
To look into the reality that the one anointed by God should die, being rejected by the very people he was sent for... that is something we need to ponder, resurrection or no. And perhaps those of us who are religious more so.
An interesting visual reflection... here
This year we supported the peace rally organised by the Victorian Council of Churches, who brought along speakers from Young Ambassadors for Peace. One of the speakers - a young lady in her early twenties - told of Burma's civil war, which has been continuing since 1949. It struck me that this woman was born into conflict - an inescapable conflict, with potential and real high cost. Many lives have been lost in this war, one which the West has been largely oblivious to and/or impotent in relation to.
But it struck me that the quest for peace is obvious in such an environment. Is it equally so in Australia? We fight wars seeking to bring peace to others: Iraq, Vietnam... yet the peace we offer is something that leaves us deeply discomfited. Despite a healthy democracy and a rising standard of living, the levels of dispiritedness and despair continue to rise, reflected in rising suicided rates, increased gambling, and greater evidence of mental ill-health. There is an insidious war at work stealing peace from us, yet we aim to bring it to other places.
That Palm Sunday represents the commencement to Holy Week provides a pointer to the pathway necessary to find peace. The One is whose name peace is celebrated today began a journey which took him to the cross. A journey of sacrifice, of surrender... a journey of giving up his rights for the sake of others. The peace he brought came at a high price. But with a deep and lasting value. How are we to gain this peace? By walking the same path: not by claiming our own rights and authorities, but by service, surrender and sacrifice - seeking to live for others and invest ourselves in others.
Jesus' injunction "all who would be my disciples must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me" applies most evidently to the events of this week.
We are born into a war zone: one more insidious than we know. Dare we live for peace in its midst?
It’s a long weekend in Melbourne, and we have had a household of 12. It’s an adjustment from our normally boisterous five to add another seven, with just about every decade represented in the house. In the early days of our relationship, Ev and I spoke about having a large family. Being from smallish household ourselves, we idealized the large family. If any thoughts remained, the birth of our third extinguished them completely (he was born at 24 weeks).
It hit me in the quiet of the evening that the households of old were as large as we have experienced (with some adjustment) today. Extended families, servants, villagers, all gathered around the table. I wonder if the noise level matched ours… But then, I suspect that their lives were generally less noise-affected outside the table.
I wonder if living in cities, with all their attendant noise, give us less emotional energy for the relationships which are the currency of life in the first place.
Returning home at the end of holidays... thoughts of work, school, and other routines start to find a place closer to the front of the mind. Changing one good thing for another!
Great cartoon from this morning's paper:
Tried to live it out by spending the morning at the beach. It was a scorching day, even before the sun had crossed the meridian. People of all shapes, sizes and ages parade themselves up and down the beach. I was watching an elderly man walking from the water towards his towel, his chest puffed out, stomach drawn in, and arms swinging in the manner of the gym junkie. From where I sat, this man looked in his 70s, but I wonder what he saw from his own perspective.
Do we really understand how others see us?
I occasionally compare myself with my own father at the same age. He seemed much older than I at the same age, and his father likewise before him... but I wonder whether my own children will say the same in relation to me. Do I look my age? Does it matter? Or is it more important that I have a healthy self-perspective?