Friday, 14 April 2017

holy week reflection #6 – good friday

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing near by, he said to her, 'Woman, here is your son,' and to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.'
— John 19.25-27 (NIV)

What do you see when you contemplate Christ on the cross? Perhaps you can visualise yourself among the group of women who attend to him in his suffering. Maybe you sense what it is to be the beloved disciple.

Christians around the world will attend vigils today, praying with this image and allowing it to speak into their lives and situations.

In Christ crucified we see all the suffering of the world resting on the shoulders of God. Jesus' pain represents all who suffer in the world today, and the hope of a new world where peace and justice abound as we are drawn into a new family of love.

Those arms, stretched out, draw all of creation to himself so that we and God may be one in Jesus. His love, shown here, is always ready to embrace us.
Incarnational God,
may we know your presence in our suffering,
your call to attend to others in need,
and our place in your family,
beloved by you.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

holy week reflection #5

Jesus said, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.'
— John 12.23

Which of us can imagine that victory could ever lie in prematurely giving up our life? It is hard to perceive the smallness of ourselves in the context of a bigger story. Surely our life is our story? What could possibly be achieved by walking freely into execution?
'Jesus went to his death trusting that his dear Father would bring victory out of what seemed total defeat of his mission.'
—William A. Barry, SJ

Most of us are not called to die for the greater good. Yet perhaps there are things we cling to that prevent us from properly entering into discipleship. What false comforts or security might you give up this Holy Week that would enable you to more fully experience freedom and fullness of life?
Generous God,
As we contemplate the gift of your Son,
and his example of self-emptying,
may we discover the joy of finding new life
in our willingness to give ours up
for his sake.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

holy week reflection #4

'Shall I crucify your king?' Pilate asked.
'We have no king but Caesar,' the chief priests answered.
— John 19.15 (NIV)

The passion narrative is full of treachery: Judas' betrayal, Peter's denial. The religious leaders of the day also play a deceitful game: corruptly engineering the execution of Jesus to protect their vested interests, while at the same time paying lip-service to a Roman regime they despised. 'This is your hour,' Jesus tells them, 'when darkness reigns.' (Luke 22.53)

In what ways do we collude with the values of society or friends, and in turn compromise our most cherished values, or our faithfulness to God? Where in your life is it hardest to discern what following Jesus might call you to do?
Gracious God,
Give us discernment and integrity
to honour your love for us,
and faithfully follow the example
of your Son, Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

holy week reflection #3

‘Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.’
— John 17.25-26 (NIV)

Jesus prays for all who follow him. This prayer is as true for us today as it was when he prayed it before his arrest (see Rom 8.34; Heb 7.25). And his prayer is that the love of God is richly and deeply present in all of us.

To know such love is transformational. Self-doubts and regrets wither in its blaze. Judgementalism and fearfulness about other people fade away. We are invited to step into the light of God's love which draws us into the best of our humanity.

We too can join in with Jesus' prayer of love:
Loving God,
draw us closer to your love this Holy Week
that, through Jesus,
we may know you more deeply,
and grow into people
transformed by you,
ready to touch the world around us
with your everlasting love.

Monday, 10 April 2017

holy week reflection #2

Jesus said, ‘I pray...for those who will believe in me through [the disciples'] message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.'
— John 17.21

What, we might wonder, occurred between Jesus uttering this prayer of unity, and the squabbles of the early church, the Great Schism (between Eastern and Western churches), the Reformation, and the continuing ructions that set Christian against Christian today?

Can we read this prayer as a promise, rather than a hope expressed? That, as followers of Christ, we are united with God through him, and that such unity transcends all human endeavours to undermine it and, indeed, extends to one another across traditions and denominations.

In a week where we mourn for murdered brothers and sisters in the Coptic church in Egypt, may we be mindful that 'in Christ Jesus we are all children of God through faith...' (Galatians 3.26)

Loving God,
As we recall the passion of your son this Holy Week,
we stand together with those
who have been martyred for their faith in him.
May your church be an example of oneness and unity
that witnesses to a new way of living harmoniously,
as one family under you.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

holy week reflection #1

Jesus replied, "You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand."
— John 13.7 (NIV)

We are so keen to make sense of our circumstances and existence that being left with uncertainty or confusion is avoided where possible.

In faith we learn to live with mystery. The human ego reacts against this, always wanting to structure a narrative, ascertain the facts, create a sense of control.

Jesus calls us to hand over our struggling and striving, and invites us to rest in his peace. The narrative will come. We will look back and notice patterns, stepping stones, that enable us to make sense of that which, when in the midst it, seemed unfathomable.

This becomes possible for us when we trust not only that God's loving presence is always available to us, but that Jesus has gone ahead and is already waiting for us in whatever unfathomable or surprising circumstances await us.

give us strength to trust in you
and discernment to look back on our lives
and see where you have been at work in us.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

on being pregnant with possibility

2nd Sunday before Lent
Genesis 1.1-2.3; Roman 8.18-25; Matthew 6.25-34

Each of the readings today have something to say about the creation of the world and our place within it as God’s creatures.

And the first thing to note is how God loads creation with potential. Listen to this:

Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind, and trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. Genesis 1.11-12

Rob Bell writes,

Notice it doesn’t say, ‘God produced vegetation.’ God empowers the land to do something. He gives it the capacity to produce trees and shrubs and plants and bushes that produce fruit and seeds. God empowers creation to make more… Creation is going to move forward. It can’t help it. It is loaded with energy. It’s going to grow and produce and change and morph. This point is central to the story: The garden of Eden is not perfect. Nowhere in Genesis does it say it is perfect. The word the Bible uses is good. Good means changing and growing and advancing and producing new things.
Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis

God is not micromanaging the world. Instead creation has been set running, loaded with all this good stuff to keep it moving and developing and growing.

I wonder if you have ever bought a gift voucher for someone, perhaps when you weren't sure what to buy for their birthday or Christmas? I remember when they used to be a paper ticket stuck inside a greetings card. These days the amount of money you choose to give is loaded electronically onto a little plastic card. The person who receives the card can take it along to the shop and buy whatever they wish up to the value you chose. The card has been pre-loaded with cash. It is up to the recipient to decide what to to do with it.

The earth comes pre-loaded with all this capacity to bring forth more. And we are part of that creation. We, too, come empowered, not just with the capacity to reproduce ourselves, but the potential do all sorts of things that are good.

The fruit trees and the flowers, the crops and the fish, the birds and the animals just get on with fulfilling their potential as part of this fantastic creation. They don’t choose to pollinate and germinate and mate and grow and reproduce, they simply do so. But people are pre-loaded with an extra bit of potential — free will. We have the choice and the capacity to decide what to do with all that we have been given.

So creation isn’t a one moment in time event. It is ongoing. The world continues to grow and evolve and adapt — or at least it does in those places where people aren't busy destroying it for personal gain.

And we continue to be created as life goes on. The cells that make up our blood and flesh and bone and brain continue to replace themselves. Every seven or eight years you grow a new set of lungs, for example. Isn't that incredible? You are quite simply not the person you used to be. You have been replaced many times over.

And this ongoing creation within us is not only true of our physical, material self. It is true of our inner life too, our Spirituality. All of us have a part of us that is hidden from view, which includes our thoughts, our feelings, our imagination, our moods and, most importantly, our soul — the engine room that drives all we do to fulfil our potential, to grow spiritually and to seek communion with God.

The soul is the part of us where the Spirit of God resides. When we pay attention to it, and nourish it and listen to the still small voice of God within, we change and grow as people of faith: learning how to be closer to God, how to allow God to speak into our lives, so that the choices we make not only fulfil our potential and allow us to make the most of all that God empowers us to be, but enables our life and character and behaviour to become an expression of God’s goodness within us.

Creation is not perfect, but it is good. Yes, there are disasters in the natural world that are not always the result of human behaviour — earthquakes and tsunamis and bush fires and droughts and floods. The human body does not endlessly reproduce itself perfectly, but begins to deteriorate over time. Cells get corrupted. Muscles, joints and bones weaken with age.

St Paul writes,

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us… creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay… We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation but we ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8.18ff

Our lives are pregnant with possibility. Yet bringing that potential to birth can be painful. And we live in patience and hope for the final act of creation, in our world and in ourselves, when the glory of God will be brought to bear in all its fullness.

And how do we know this is coming? Look around you. The world and all that is in it, including humanity, bears witness to the glory of God already: a foretaste of all that is to come. ‘Look at the birds of the air,’ says Jesus. ‘Consider the lilies of the field…’ Look around you. It is there to see if you choose to see it. The fingerprints of God all over creation. God is in everything.

St Ignatius, who founded the Jesuits in the Middle Ages, taught his followers much about how to nurture their spiritual life. And one of the pillars of Ignatian spirituality is learning to find God in all things. When we pay attention to God and see even the smallest of things in life as an expression of God’s presence, our love and devotion for God, for each other and for creation grows.

Consider the lilies of the field, and the birds of the air. The sun on your face. The first crocus of Spring. A good conversation.

Undertake the smallest of tasks with purpose and attention, and find holiness in the mundane. Prayerfully take stock of your blessings. And when you find yourself in the midst of a challenging situation, remind yourself, ‘God is here.’

We are made in the image of God. We come preloaded with a capacity to know God and love God, to see God in all around us. To grow into fullness of life and wholeness. It is our choice whether we use that gift or not. We aren’t changed by trying harder, or following rules or all the other things that religion sometimes tries to impose on people. We are changed by attending to God within us, nurturing patience and hope as we wait for all that God will reveal to us.