Glory be! Yesterday our Premier announced Stage 3 – the lifting of many restrictions on daily life due to COVID-19. Today’s media is full of celebration in anticipation of life in the city and across the state becoming almost “normal.” Physical distancing will reduce; cafes and restaurants can seat more patrons; cinemas and theatres, gyms and playgrounds will open their doors again. Freedom! As long as you keep washing your hands and keeping watchful – because the virus still lurks and prowls!
Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of Pentecost – the culmination of a hundred day journey that began with the transfigured human Jesus. We then progressed through his painful journey to Jerusalem where he was executed. We wondered and reflected as he was raised as the victorious Christ, and unified with his followers. Tomorrow we celebrate the sealing with the overwhelming descent of the Spirit as a promise of presence and empowerment to all peoples.
The journey to the depth of union, however, is at the heart of the quest for all world faiths. The hundred day journey from The Mount of Transfiguration to Pentecost peaks this Sunday with Jesus’ prayer for unity that all who follow the Way may be one, even as God the Father and he are one, that the whole world may “believe” (that is, follow the Way).
Such is the Christian discernment of the quest – that the Way has been revealed and is acquired by union with the Creator through an engaged relationship with the Christ, empowered by his risen presence at large among them and within them, and soon, through Pentecost, to empower them for the way ahead.
Looks like I drafted this 11 months ago but never posted it! It’s strangely prescient. Soon after I wrote these words we were plunged into a collective housing and financial security crisis as victims of fraud and regulatory negligence. With fellow survivors, we are campaigning towards the conclusion of a heroic journey marked by drama, tragedy, comedy and startling revelations. Vindication, restitution and prevention are the boons we seek. Onward and upward!
There is something about mileposts – or way markers – whichever one prefers. Passing them can mark an exhilarating achievement or bring to the fore awareness of a looming background of existential dread. For me, this year marks 40 years of soul partnership in marriage with Jenny, 45 years since ordination as a Churches of Christ minister and 70 years since being born onto this beautiful and challenging planet. There will be celebrations, but I look over my shoulder and perceive the black clouds of failed ventures, broken dreams and unrealised ideals. The numbers 40 and 70 have spiritual significance in our ancient sacred texts. They signify liminal spaces, unfamiliar borders between what was and what is to come. Hence the children of Israel cross into a Promised Land after 40 years in the wilderness, honing the temperament and culture necessary for the transition from slavery to nationhood. Jesus emerges from 40 days of wilderness preparation for world-changing ministry and mission. Notional borders are crossed. 70 years, of course, is the biblical span of years allotted to us (80 if you’re worthy), marking the nearness of the liminal space we traverse from this life. It’s right to mark the dread, and wonder if it might instead be awe, the apprehension of something far bigger, wilder and all-embracing of anything we’ve ever experienced.
There are things I heard and believed in my youth that I see quite differently from this high up the mountain on life’s journey.
Take some sound bites (as often employed)) from the passage set for the fifth Sunday of Easter – John 14:1-14 – part of the monologue presented as Jesus’ final conversation with his disciples! Just three will do for now:
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places… I go to prepare a place for you … (verses 2,3) Frequently quoted at funeral services, sometimes offering an assured view of the afterlife beyond the present experience of those now living.
Jesus said … “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (verse 6) Often used as a slam-dunk defense against views that question a narrow perspective on personal salvation.
I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. (verses 13,14) A frequently heard admonishment for persistence in prayer that raises expectations that are sometimes naive and superficial.
Further up the mountain, we see that this passage appears on the calendar that celebrates the Christian story as told near the culmination of the pilgrims’ 100 day journey that begins high on the Mount of Transfiguration, and climaxes at the celebration of the feast of Pentecost. The whole journey is bathed in the Christian experience of union with Christ, hence the frequent references to the Gospel according to John.
In union with Christ, the “dwelling places” are always now, no matter what. This is an eternal truth.
The Christ who dwells within and who is always accessible to those who are fully awake and receptive daily reveals the way. the truth and the life as we negotiate and transact our life relationships.
The Christ who dwells within prays our prayers – we cannot ask for that which is not in line with what is “in his name” or character. Prayer is a relationship rather than a shopping list.
It is no accident that this passage follows closely on the Good Shepherd passage (John 10) from the previous Sunday. Again, when we have the eyes to see, we can see this truth in places we have never dreamed of looking before. When we have the ears to hear, the most simple and mundane conversations carry its depth.
This week’s challenge was to respond to an invitation from Wembley Downs Uniting Church to prepare and present an online service for the fourth Sunday of Easter, typically Good Shepherd Sunday. So wrestling with PowerPoint and video-clips, plus sitting in rabbinic style while preaching into my computer, the final result can be seen by clicking here.
Or here is part, a simple reflection on John 10:1-10 if you are so inclined. I’m not as angry as I look!
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.
Random thoughts this morning take me to the many reported appearances of Jesus in risen mode in the days immediately following his crucifixion. Jerusalem, Emmaus, Galilee – suddenly manifesting in locked rooms, on open roads and at lake shore barbecues. Sometimes for a few brief minutes, other times for longer conversations.
Now you see him. now you don’t. Apostle Paul speaks of no less than five hundred witness events during these days.
What are we to make of these occurrences? When we listen to them as witness accounts that emerge from re-tellings from within faith communities in various stages of transition, we see more deeply than our habitual newspaper conditioned reading.
Resurrection is an experience, not a laboratory specimen. So let’s get on and live it!
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.