Keeping the word…

In post election Australia, eyes will be on the diligence of the successful party in keeping the promises they have made. The unsuccessful party will be under similar scrutiny. How disposable are the radical policies not bought by the public in maintaining the vision of an alternative way of governing our national affairs? How feasible is it, in opposition, to continue to promote a rejected platform based on an alternative political commitment? How will policies be remoulded over the next three years to become more electorally palatable?

Followers of the Way have no such wriggle room, it seems from this coming Sunday’s reading in John 14:23-24 “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.”

In John’s Gospel, “keeping the word” is not blind obedience, but discerning response to the Spirit of Christ that dwells within and amongst followers of Christ. The wider context emphasises over and over again the essential binding unity that is energised by the love of God revealed in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Perhaps the challenge and role of the Church in post-election Australia is to maintain its witness to this reality in its dialogue with those who represent us in Parliament.

Off to Vote …

Today is “democracy” day in Australia, the official polling day that comes around every three years or so. I dutifully set out for the 2 km walk (and a scaled fence!) to the nearest polling booth (generally closer but our suburb is still being established.) It was a marvellous opportunity to reflect on our process, a comprehensive and safe system involving opportunity for all to have a say in the governing affairs of our nation – as despairing as one gets at the manipulation of powerful vested interests. The system itself, as complex as it gets, has an independent scale of integrity that compares well with voting systems throughout the world.

Anyway, here’s some snapshots I took while on the way.

An Easter Back to the Future

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In the midst of the bright glow of the Easter season, this Sunday’s text from John’s Gospel takes us back to the eve of Jesus’ darkest hour, where he farewells his disciples and leaving a legacy in his words,

… I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

But is it a legacy?  The Cambridge dictionary defines legacy thus:

legacy definition: 1. money or property that you receive from someone after they die: 2. something that is a part of your history or that remains from an earlier time: 3. something that is a result of events in the past…

We may be inclined to think that meanings #2 and #3 fit the bill. The problem is that it promotes a “past” orientation in our thinking. John’s Gospel is very much a text of the present. Even though the text has Jesus speaking of his impending absence and “going where you cannot go” the import of his words is infused with his abiding presence. In the mere act of “loving as Jesus loves” we are being Christ to others. To the degree I see Christ in the other, even the stranger, and act accordingly, Christ is present, as in the words of the Benedictine benediction, “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.”

Easter is more than back to the future. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, all of time collapses into the eternal now.  Legacies become redundant.

Whose voice is that?

GrampiansI recall a moment, not much reflected upon, from a time long ago, sometime in early adulthood when I was in formation for ministry, where I stood atop a ridge in the Grampians, Victoria. The moment comes back in a flash from time to time, a kind of instantaneous remembering that is somehow in the present. Just as quickly, it disappears.

It was a moment of feeling at one with the universe in all its splendour, engaging all five senses and more – that inexplicable sixth sense. Although I was alone on the ridge, I had a deep consciousness of the presence of all the people I had ever met and those that I would meet. They, too, were part of this wholesome union.

It comes to mind again as I hear the words of Christ in this coming Sunday’s Gospel lection:

27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30The Father and I are one.”

I have often been asked, “How can you know you’ve heard God’s voice?” There is a long answer, but I also supply the short one which is the question of how it lines up with what is revealed in our sacred text and faith community.

I have just started reading Richard Rohr The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe.

I have a feeling my Grampians event will be visiting me a little more often in the days to come!

 

The Short-change of Resurrection Hope

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Okay – I’m inviting some pushback here. I confess to dissatisfaction with the word “hope” engendered by the Easter story. Notions of resurrection, to my understanding, point to a state that is beyond hope – let’s try “certainty!”  Hope points to something yet to be realised; certainty points to a reality that already exists. The witness of the first Easter accounts and their enaction in the early Easter community of the Acts of the Apostles declare certainty.

An amazing assertion for me, who for many years has defended the legacy of so-called Doubting Thomas and all his cohorts who play devil’s advocate and toy with hope versus despair. On my umpteenth reading of Thomas’ story in John’s Gospel, it hits me that his eventual faith declaration is based on a personal testimonial certainty, not a mere hope.

Yes, blessed are those who believe without having seen a physical presence of the Risen Christ. And blessed are those whose faith is nevertheless based in certainty. And blessed be those whose faith, right now, is best defined in notions of hope.

When Good Friday attacks Easter Sunday?

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Easter Sunday prevails. The image of live greenery bursting through the cracks of cold hard stone illustrates, not the hope, but the certainty of conviction for those wedded to the way of Christ. It is a much more powerful image than that of the bombed churches of Sri Lanka, for as tempting as it is to dwell on the horror perpetrated on peaceful Easter Sunday worshippers by whatever hateful, malignant forces, the totality of the Easter Triduum draws us to another place. Good Friday and Easter Sunday are not opposed – they are a seamless progression of our whole human story.

Jesus’ death reveals how a blameless life that is given to selfless regard for the other challenges and provokes powerful self-interests to ultimatum, manipulation and even state-sanctioned murder.

Jesus’ resurrection signals the antidote to cosmic violence and inner self-destruction. It gives force to Jesus’ Good Friday plea of forgiveness for those who destroy him, and calls us, even in the midst of grief, to do likewise. For on Easter Sunday, death’s delusion of finality is annihilated, suffering is vindicated and love, even for its enemies, springs forth in vibrant fulness.

Notre Dame & the Easter Triduum

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Universal horror unfolds this morning as news arrives of one of Christendom’s ancient and iconic structure’s destruction by fire. That the 800-year-old Notre Dame cathedral in Paris should fall in the days of Holy Week – the dramatic re-living of trial leading to the climax of crucifixion and resurrection – should not escape the notice of the faithful.  Indeed French President Emmanuel Macron declared, even as the fire raged, “Let’s be proud because we built this cathedral more than 800 years ago. We’ve built it and, throughout the centuries, let it grow and improved it, so I solemnly say tonight: we will rebuild it together.”

This is the first Easter in 45 years that I will not be conducting services, leading people through the darkness of Good Friday through to the radiance of Easter Sunday. Over those four decades, I have become aware of a deepening consciousness that Good Friday is not marked so much by desolation but a sober realisation that transformation, transcendence and new expansive life is always preceded by dying to something that is highly valued.

The power of the Easter Triduum engages us in re-enacting this very human and divine drama – beginning with foot-washing that reminds us that our humanity is fully realised in humble service of the other. As we follow Christ through the dark hours of his arrest and trial at the grasping hands of vested powerful interests, we enter the reality of the “greater love that lays down his life for his friends” and the gentle petition of forgiveness for those who are ignorant of what they are doing. We encounter the sublime power of powerlessness as the lifeless corpse of Christ is hurriedly laid in a borrowed tomb to be properly prepared at a later time. The Triduum climaxes with a burst of radiance when the embalmers arrive to find an empty tomb and a young man declaring “He is Risen!”  This radiance is not completely understood, for it leads Christ’s followers into new and expanded territory, new and deepened experiences and new and soul-stretching challenges. This is why the Triduum is not a completion, but a beginning. The Easter season will stretch yet for another 50 days until it reaches Pentecost, the celebration of the flooding in of the Spirit and the birth of a universal community of people called out to live the Easter drama in community.

So when something of our identity represented in any of our collective icons dies, we look for the new thing that will arise. When we find our identity in the Christ who goes before and engage in his journey of service, crucifixion, resurrection and openness to Spirit, we are fully alive.

Palm Sunday Choices

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Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan would have us choose between the military procession following Pontius Pilate in triumphant might through one gate of Jerusalem, reminding the Passover crowds that it is Caesar who is really in charge around here – or the more modest procession entering another gate, the one led by a country rabbi riding a donkey proclaiming the peace of a realm that is not Caesar’s.

The other choice is whether we reflect on the event as presented by Luke’s gospel or by John’s. The former gives a blow by blow account, almost like a police report. The drama of the Passion is beginning to unfold. John’s account, however, is more reflective, even recalling that “His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.”

Alexander Shaia reminds us that the journey from Ash Wednesday to Holy Week and Good Friday is only a part of a much deeper and more impactful journey for followers of the way of Christ, beginning with the revelation in the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop yet embracing the journey to Jerusalem, the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus, the Resurrection and climaxing with the Pentecost descent of the Holy Spirit and the release of God’s people into powerfully passionate service.

Palm Sunday gives us the choice of entering the experience of Easter from a perspective of conflict and defeat or the vision of a bigger picture that is already realised, yet awaiting its completion.

Musing on Bethany & the Budget

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I look at next Sunday’s text as the Federal Budget 2019 is being delivered in Canberra. We’ve moved into John’s Gospel, the place where, in her home in Bethany, Mary, with much devotion, extravagantly pours pure nard over Jesus’ feet. The aroma fills the house where she lives with her siblings, Martha and Lazarus.  Judas, one of the disciples present, is not impressed. The perfume could be sold and the proceeds used to buy bread for the poor.

On the surface, we see highlighted the perennial battle for, not scarce, but abundant resources. The nard is worth a year’s wages for the average worker. What do we do with a surplus? Splash it around extravagantly or “spend it responsibly for the common good?”

This is not the question John’s Gospel is addressing, and the story plunges us, if we let it, into a deeper perspective. What is the state of our union with Christ and his purpose? John’s Gospel is eucharistic in nature – we participate in Christ’s radiant victory over all that would defeat life even on this fifth Sunday in Lent. From this perspective, we move on to serve the world, but Judas is left in a state of miscomprehension because he never quite “gets it.”

When we question this night’s budget outcomes, may it be from the eucharistic space!

Please, come home, son! (But which one is he begging?)

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Fork in pathway - Kings ParkHe had already run down the road to greet the returning wasteful prodigal. He had already thrown the best robe around his shoulders and was now feting him with a roast calf on the spit and having all his old friends around. His youngest was home, bewildered, hosed and feted, hardly believing the turn of expectations.

But one was still lost, his firstborn who had stood by him through thick and thin, who shared his wealth, but who is noticeably absent from the lavish celebrations. Resentful, he loiters in the darkness refusing to come in.

His dad goes out to meet him and sits down on the stump next to where his eldest glowers. “Please, come home, son, and join the party!”

Read about it for next Sunday. With which son do I identify?