His expectations were always realistic. He was the one who led the disciples to accompany Jesus back to Lazarus’ funeral, fully realising the dangers and risk of arrest. He was the one who challenged Jesus about “knowing the way.”
He wasn’t there when the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples in lock-down. Why not? Perhaps he was the designated shopper. They were still cowering behind locked doors when Thomas returned. He could not accept their account of a meeting with the risen Christ.
But then he did. A personal encounter and a gentle chiding appeared to do the trick and “Glass Half-Empty” Thomas became “Cup-Overflowing” Thomas. He became a patron saint for all who find faith through honest doubt.
Those who have travelled the Christian journey for two thousand years know that the Easter Saturday Pause is a mere interlude between Good Friday lamentations and Easter Sunday celebration of raised life.
Prescience prevents us into entering the utter despair and hopelessness of those who experienced the first Easter. There was no expectation of dead Jesus’ resurrection even though he had provided his closest companions a heads up on several occasions. “What now?” would have been the big question emerging from the funk of overwhelming grief.
Something like the perpetual “Holy Saturday” that now has the whole world in its grip – the one called COVID-19. Will there be an Easter Sunday and, if so, when?
Let’s take a cue from the lived out Christian tradition which now confidently embraces Holy Saturday as a time for pause and reflection, trusting that a time for joyful celebration of union is next on the agenda.
“Why is it called Good Friday? What’s so good about it?”
All the years I taught Religious Education in public schools, I could lay bets on some student asking this question. By and large, the kids I taught were engaged with the stories of Jesus – enough to be dismayed and offended at the accounts of his arrest, trial and crucifixion. In this secular age, many had not come across these stories before.
In true pedagogic fashion, I always answered the question with a question. “It comes from when it was originally called God’s Friday? Why do you think this name was used?”
Discussions would arise that theologs might identify as atonement theorising. Did our classroom reflections reflect Anselm or Abelard, or even the more complex but apt Girard?
They ended up more ANZAC. As Easter almost always fell in close proximity to their ANZAC Day studies we segued to the oft appropriated quote “Greater love has no man than he lay down his life for his friends.” Students were surprised that these words are taken from John’s gospel and refer to the action of Jesus on this day.
It led to more visceral, reflective responses – more appropriate to this day than our poor efforts at theorising.
Who knew this was a name for the Wednesday before Good Friday? It brings in the Judas principle. He was the bean-counter for Jesus’ inner circle of twelve – the one who objected to Mary’s extravagant anointing of Jesus with expensive perfume which could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. From that time, we are told, he colluded with the authorities to turn Jesus over to them. Ancient church rites weave this occasion in to the Passion story of Holy Week.
It is telling how Jesus accommodated Judas in the whole episode – even to the embrace with which Judas eventually identifies Jesus to the arresting temple police.
We all live with a Judas principle – something primitive within that rebels against the common good and team goals. Jesus did not oppose Judas, carpet him, or cut him off. He did reveal his knowledge however, when at the supper before his arrest he said to Judas “Go and do what you have to do.” Somehow he wove Judas’ machinations into his strategy while allowing Judas the freedom to pursue his own dark lights.
Again, it seems a bit like dancing the Tango and my old judo teacher’s advice to not resist the force but to move with it to your advantage.
Perhaps this says something about how to manage polarities brought about by opposing passions in community life. Right now our country is divided over a legal decision of the High Court that yesterday led to the acquittal of Cardinal George Pell – relief for his supporters; despair and angst for the many victims of childhood sexual abuse, particularly by religious institutions. The finer points of the difference between legal and moral arguments are lost in the rawness of reaction.
How does Spy Wednesday speak into this angst? Like the poor, human dysfunction will always be with us. Jesus models a way, not of accommodation but costly acknowledgement – a crucifixion lies in the pathway. But so does a resurrection, ascension and Pentecost that, through Christ-filled community, transcends all things.
For both victim and ambassador, the pain and struggle of living the Christ life under the shadow of its defiled and disgraced institutional expressions will continue for some time. Spy Wednesday says, for now, embrace this reality as we walk the path to Good Friday in full hope of vindication beyond.
Retirement was meant to be easy and simple. Instead, for the last ten months, we have been involved in a battle of wits and wisdom with the powers and principalities of Australia’s labyrinthine financial regulatory system. In seeking redress for a failed retirement “lease for life” scheme, our cohort of some 105 retirees plus their landlords and investors have encountered lies, chicanery, buck-passing, evasion, entrapment, and ducking and weaving while dealing with august institutions charged with consumer protection. When principals (and principles) are not held to account, Australia’s apparent reputation as the seat of the crime capital of the world is well deserved.
Honesty, candor and transparency seem to have little skin in this game.
As our campaign continues, it is instructive to reflect on some of the ancient Christian commemorations of Holy Tuesday that focus on Jesus’ encounters with the ruling elite of the Temple. They use sophistry and trickery to entrap this dangerously popular teacher. In the end, their hypocrisy is exposed as they take and dispose of him by force. In argument, however, Jesus is always one step ahead of the game, and his integrity is ever intact.
The events described in the gospels are not meant to be analysed chronologically, but reflected on for meaning and application. Here is a simple summary for those inspired to continue.
The commemoration of Easter events does not stop with Good Friday or even Easter Sunday. Jesus’ story of resurrection goes on, equipping his frightened disciples with fresh courage and understanding . He ascends and then returns in the form of Spirit at the feast of Pentecost, outpouring on all flesh, equipping the receptive with the means to build a new global community imbued with compassion and creative boldness.
COVID-19 has certainly turned the tables over economically. “Free market” trickle-down philosophy has suddenly and seismically given way to billions of dollars worth of rescue to keep society viable. One can discern a palpable shift in many communities. Supermarket brawls that reflected neo-liberal “survival of the fittest” philosophy have given way to neighbours and strangers looking after each other. Imposed restrictions are giving rise to creative initiatives as people rediscover “the commons” – the way in which villages of old ensured everyone was “looked out for.” The miracle that no-one ever thought of is happening – a quiet socialist revolution under a strictly conservative government. As we continue to find ways of thriving while in danger, one ponders what will last, whether the new found good can remain sustainable or greed seek to take up the reins again.
The Monday before Easter commemorates the occasion of Jesus clearing the Jerusalem Temple of traders and money-changers – the one instance described of violent physical action on Jesus’ part. High level corruption had entered the holiest place and Jesus was having none of it. This action solidified the course for what many saw as his downfall and eventual trial and execution. They did not take into account the matter of resurrection, ascension and the pouring out of himself in Spirit when the world was gathered at Pentecost.
Corrupt systems have a finite shelf life. The human will to thrive in mutual community is forever.
Only four weeks ago Canning Highway in Perth was packed tight as thousands of fans commemorated Bon Jovi and AccaDacca’s “Highway to Hell” famous signature song vibrating from bands on a fleet of tray-top trucks as they rolled from Canning Bridge to Fremantle.
Four weeks later Perth’s highways are all but deserted as we self-isolate in a mass attempt to avert the worst effects of the Covid-19 corona virus.
Some would point to the “Highway to Hell” celebrations as a harbinger of doom, but Covid-19 was already well established in some pockets of the globe and well on its way here.
And now Palm Sunday is upon us. An occasion to reflect and reminisce on past Palm Sunday processions with Sunday School kids waving palms as they usher the congregation into services. Some brave churches even commandeer donkeys (well fasted!) to be ridden up the aisle of the sanctuary. The socially conscious rally outside city cathedrals to march for peace – taking their cue from the one who they named the Prince of Peace.
Perhaps only Jesus, the focus of the original procession, knew what a highway to hell he was travelling. A few short but long days of passion, betrayal, trial, abandonment, torture and suffering to beyond the point of death lay ahead – and he knew it. He had a purpose beyond our ken however – Christian scripture and tradition refer to the Harrowing of Hell performed by Christ between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. You can read about it here.
Somehow I felt I had to justify this sermon title for John 15:1-8 at our combined Uniting Church/Church of Christ service this morning.
During the week, with ANZAC Day music playing in the background, while I exegeted the Greek text of “abiding,” my attention was drawn to jazz variations of the ubiquitous commemoration hymn, “Abide with Me.” Here is what I listened to and played to our combined congregations this morning.
The “I am” sayings attributed to Jesus in John’s Gospel are the set piece that gives rise to expansion, repetition and poetic exploration much in the way a jazz orchestra explores a theme. While we listened to the BJO’s rendition of “Abide With Me” we noticed the cornet setting the main theme as the accompanying instruments almost champed at the bit, waiting for their opportunities to respond, improvise and interpret, the cornet later rounds them up bringing them back to the central theme. We then looked at the John 15 passage, observing how the text works in much the same way, illustrating the unity to which abiding in Christ individually and collectively identifies and which cannot be separated.
My understanding of this encounter has gone through a lifetime of development, moving from the Sunday School scolding “to not be a Doubting Thomas” to an appreciation of the complexity of Thomas’ courage and questing faith.
As I was contemplating what further might be said when preparing for yesterday’s 43rd (and possibly final) Thomas Sunday homily, the thought struck me that Thomas could actually be the anonymous “beloved disciple” mentioned at six key moments in the Fourth Gospel and traditionally identified as its bashful author, the Apostle John. After all, according to our account, Thomas had an unidentified twin (Didymus), never named and only mentioned on this occasion.
Now the Fourth Gospel is full of enigma and double entendre and was almost rejected on several occasions from the New Testament canon for its alleged Gnosticism (an early church heresy that feted “special knowledge” and separated spiritual and material realms.)
I have come to approach John’s Gospel as something like the playing out of a Greek drama on a cosmic stage, with each character’s encounter with Christ portraying the questions, dilemmas and struggles of the attending audience, namely you and me. The idea that both Thomas and “the beloved disciple” have represented different aspects of us who are growing in our following has fleetingly appeared in my presentations over the years. But to conflate the two – Thomas and the beloved disciple together – this is a new and exciting thought.
I found Charlesworth’s arguments compelling and worth exploring invitationally with my congregation, particularly as, over the years, we have had fraternal connections with Christians from Syrian and Indian traditions, each of which trace their origins back to the faithful work of the Apostle Thomas.
I once nominated Thomas as my patron saint because of my constant questing. I guess this will not abate and I hope it doesn’t.