Mark’s Deposition

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Raphael - depositionOf all the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion, Mark’s seems to dwell at some length over the details of what happened to Jesus’ body immediately following his death.

To quote Julius Sumner Miller’s famous question “Why is it so?”

  • Is it to establish the fact of Jesus’ death? There is no evidence that the “swoon” theory regarding resurrection was yet in play. On the contrary, Mark’s audience was facing the threat of violent death each day under Nero’s persecution. Perhaps such lingering provides a point of identification. Here are contemporary witnesses to the Roman certified death of Jesus.
  • A number of names are mentioned, unusual in this gospel narrative. Notably, there are a group of women standing off at a distance. Two are named, presumably they are known to Mark’s audience. Also named is a high ranking official of the Jewish ruling class, Joseph of Arimathea. Not only is he named, but there are details of his negotiation with Pilate and the donation of his family tomb to afford Jesus a dignified burial not otherwise accessible to crucified insurrectionists. Again this lends credibility to the fact of Jesus’ death.
  • Later, we will find Mark’s account of the empty tomb confronting and the reaction of the women unsatisfying and unsettling in the light of “joy of Easter Day” celebrations. Again this speaks deeply to the challenge before Mark’s original audience. How does faith work when Damocles’ sword is hanging over your head by a rapidly unravelling thread?

I’m sure there are other considerations worth noting, but these are enough to keep me guessing for a while!

8 days B4 Good Friday

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candleToday the lectionary gives us Mark’s terse account of the crucifixion.  Why so early? We haven’t even engaged the joyful and celebratory Palm Sunday celebrations yet.

Worship planners are often flummoxed when coming to the Revised Common Lectionary to plan Palm Sunday celebrations. They are confronted with a choice – Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday. Either pull out all the stops on palm leaves and hosannas or focus on what happens afterwards, particularly the crucifixion of Jesus.

Some will opt for celebration – shorter passage, less angst. Others, noting that many eschew the solemnity of Good Friday services, choose the longer passion narrative in order to present the completeness of the passion, crucifixion, resurrection story by the time the faithful return next Sunday (if they aren’t taking advantage of the extra long weekend elsewhere).

Many get lost in the confusion and herein lies the challenge for contemporary Christian communicators. How to convey the drama of the Easter message, the core of the Christian understanding of inspiration, transformation and spent living in a way that entices and awakens a world that is mostly only half awake.

Ancient church rites centred on the Triduum may hold a key. Contemporary reworkings of the practice as suggested by Alexander Shaia in the following podcast may even be a good start to re-entering the journey of Easter:

https://jamesprescott.podbean.com/e/shaia-easter/

Radical Palm Sunday

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#OutOfLimbo #Justice4RefugeesThis Sunday’s Palm Sunday Walk for Refugees from Perth’s St George’s Cathedral will repeat a tradition that has grown over recent years. Palm Sunday events commemorate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem riding the colt of a donkey – the ultimate symbol of peace. It was a high festival time in Jerusalem with pilgrims from all over the Mediterranean. Jesus’ peaceful entry was in stark contrast to the arrival on the other side of the city of Governor Pilate and his military cohort to reinforce crowd control. Mark 11:1-11 is one telling of the story

Palm Sunday commemorations highlight ways of peace and reconciliation in contrast to dominating powers of coercion and control. It will be a crazy mix, just as the Jerusalem crowds were. There will be contemplative Christians, singing Christians, shouting socialists, bemused bystanders, and those simply seeking to stand alongside destitute men, women and children who have been demonised and incarcerated indefinitely by our authorities for daring to claim asylum in unapproved circumstances.

Together we will be claiming the radical hope that love and justice will prevail. There have been enough Good Fridays. Let Easter Sunday prevail!

A teacher’s lament

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teacher_s_lament_grandeI have hung around enough educators to know that a teacher’s lot is not always a happy one. Today’s lament in Isaiah 50:4-9a probably resonates with a few.

The teacher here is different, however. It is a collective group – the people of Israel in exile aware of their usurped role as those chosen to teach the ways of G-d to the world. Far from adopting a superior stance, their lament is couched as part of one of the four Servant Songs of Isaiah. These songs would later be appropriated by early Christians to describe Jesus as the Suffering Servant.

Is there common ground in the lament of contemporary educators, ancient exiled Israel, and Jesus of Nazareth?  Misunderstood passion, unrealised vocation, and devalued commitment might all seem to be in the mix.

Perhaps all we are meant to do this side of Good Friday is identify and engage it.

Who/what is Melchizedek?

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san-vitale-basilica-ravenna-melchizedekMost readers would struggle with today’s text from Hebrews 5:5-10. Martin Luther attempted to remove the book of Hebrews (and some others) altogether!

It uses ancient Hebrew concepts, symbols and metaphors to explain the role of Christ in brokering access to G-d. If you can work through that – you come to the clincher – that, after all, Christ was “designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.”

Who was Melchizedek? There is scant reference to him in the Hebrew scriptures. Genesis 14:18-20 introduces him as the king of Salem who offers Abram hospitality and a blessing on Abram’s epic journey. Psalm 110:4 references him in glowing terms as G-d’s high priest. That’s all we have!

So what does the tradition say? Rabbinic literature and midrash is complex, but points to natural priestly or “go-between” attributes of Melchizedek upon which the latter Hebrew priesthood is modelled.  Christian tradition points to Melchizedek as an ancient archetype of the Christ.

If one’s personal history is deeply steeped in the stories that create one’s identity, this would mean a great deal. Who is the Melchizedek in our life story that offers a pathway to understanding the role of Christ in our midst?

Welcoming the “other”

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51Tnturgz6L._SX355_When Greeks in the festival crowd came looking for Jesus, the fourth Gospel describes a scene of conniptions! It seems their agent and Hellenistic namesake, Philip, part of Jesus’ inner circle, takes their petition to Andrew (arguably and anecdotally a little closer to the main man). When Jesus finally hears the request, we enter a moment strangely familiar to his response to Peter’s “Good Confession” (seen in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but not in John). Jesus’ focus now falls on the inevitability of the crucifixion that will paradoxically introduce the fulfilment of his purpose. John’s bent for drama underlines Jesus’ devotion to this awareness with a clap of thunder and the divine voice loudly acclaiming Jesus and his Way.

Greeks in a crowd at a Hebrew festival were not unusual. Hebrew society had not escaped the universal Greek enculturation of the Mediterranean. Non-Jews were tolerated at best, but were never really “in.”  Greeks looking for Jesus were a harbinger of the Way of Christ that does not discriminate, for in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, for all are one …”

It would take a crucifixion, a resurrection and an outpouring of the Spirit, however, to bring about this habitual “welcome of the other.”

“Contract” of the heart

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heart shapeIn these days of contractual focus and litigation, it is rare to hear of the “contract of the heart.” At least, that’s what I thought until I decided to google it and see what came up. Apparently, it is a thing! Put simply, it is a mutually agreed “code of conduct” to be exercised at senior levels of management. In the USA, it is called a “love contract.” Hard-bitten Aussies are reluctant to use such nomenclature, but (probably in the wake of high-profile public scandals) are seriously implementing it. See Contract of the Heart by Robyn Molloy

It’s not new, however. Check Jeremiah 31:31-34. He was not all doom and gloom. He envisioned the day his people would move beyond the rigour of unkeepable rules and regs and be guided instead by the contract that G-d would write on their hearts. We may have some way to go yet, but maybe the great ship of our world can still have its course corrected. All it takes is enough open hearts willing to be written on.

Age and purity …

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Today’s short text from the very long Psalm 119 asks “How can young people keep their way pure?”  Apart from my instant retort that this question also applies to old fossils like yours truly, I hesitate to pontificate from a lofty platform of age and experience when I have never had to face the kinds of pressures that the generations have coming up behind me. This is underlined by a Robert Reich quote I just saw on my social media feed and which has universal application:

The moral crisis of our age has nothing to do with gay marriage or abortion; it’s insider trading, obscene CEO pay, wage theft from ordinary workers, Wall Street’s continued gambling addiction, corporate payoffs to friendly politicians, and the billionaire takeover of our democracy.

Maybe I’ll just leave this younger bloke to sing the psalm for all our edification:

 

Fading out, Fading in

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Change is in the wind. Transition is a process of letting go in order to grasp the new thing.

Sometimes the process is swift and decisive, leaving us reeling and wondering where to grab on to something – anything – simply to stay oriented.

Or the process can be slow, planned and deliberate. And we are still left reeling and wondering, reluctant to let go of the familiar.

Observe this phenomenon in John 3:22-30. John the Baptist has been preparing the way for Jesus of Nazareth. The time has come to pass the baton, but John’s followers are reluctant to switch allegiance. John is firm that the time has come. He must fade out in order for Jesus to fade in and set about what he has come to accomplish – their common goal.