Monday, 5 April 2010

Postscript - Lent in Numbers

  • 1385 miles driven
  • 435 emails sent
  • 100s of people met
  • 50 posts on the blog
  • 45 meetings
  • 40 days (+ 7 Sundays)
  • 18 services
  • 10 ministry reviews carried out
  • 9 days at courses and conferences
  • 8 days off
  • 3 licensing services
  • 2 quiet days
  • One faithful God
  • Half an extension completed

"But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.' Deuteronomy 4: 29

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Easter Day - The End is the Beginning

Hallelujah He is Risen!

Practising the Presence of God

Mother Teresa writes:

'To be able to pray we need a pure heart. With a pure heart we can see God. Prayer gives us a clean heart and that's the beginning of holiness. Holiness is not a luxury of the few; it is a simple duty for you and me. Where does holiness begin ? In our own hearts. That's why we need that continual prayer - to keep our hearts clean, for the clean heart becomes the tabernacle of the living God.

You and I have every opportunity to become very holy through prayer, sacrifice and love. Let us pray for each other that we may grow more and more in the likeness of Christ.'

T S Eliot writes:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Day 40 - The Day of Preparation

Holy Saturday is a day of preparation in most churches. The flower arrangers are usually the first to arrive, armed with lilies and greenery for a creative morning, then there are the altar frontals to change, the pascal candle to set in its stand, the service sheets to be prepared, the talk to write and many people to encourage....

With Good Friday over the last day of Lent is one of looking forward with hope and anticipation - its a day of waiting - and with all there is to do its that waiting that isn't always acknowledged. What is it we long from at the dawning of the new day? What do we expect after Lent ends? Is it with a new joy that we wait to greet the risen Lord? Do we wait content that we have done our best in the forty days or anxious that we may not have done enough?

Personally I am aware that my daily appointment with this blog page is almost over, and the challenge for me will be to make that daily appointment with myself instead, taking stock, mulling life over and seeing where God has been and is in it all regularly, and with gratitude.

So Holy Saturday can be a day of preparation of another kind as we ponder deep questions for ourselves about what we are going to do next....

I recently found this poem that I had written in 1988:

A silent sabbath
no joy, no pain,
sorrow and uncertainly
the death of yesterday
A task accomplished.
'It is finished'
the cry.
The temple curtain
The darkened sky clear.

A silent sabbath.
No singing, no gossip,
hope and expectancy
the peace of tomorrow
to come.
A task unfinished
'death is defeated'
the promise.
The stone tomb entrance
The brightness shining through.

A silent sabbath.
Waiting for dawn to break.
Oils ready
for the risen Lord.


Friday, 2 April 2010

Day 39 - The Meaning of the Cross

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you
by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world

The meaning of what exactly happened on the cross continues to be a mystery to me - how could the death of Christ redeem the world ?

Yes, I have been taught all the theories of the atonement and they are worth a consideration on Good Friday:

The ransom view, or the classical view of atonement, that originated in the early Church, particularly in the work of Origen. The theory teaches that the death of Christ was a ransom, usually said to have been paid to Satan, in satisfaction of his just claim on the souls of humanity as a result of sin. Essentially, this theory claimed that Adam and Eve sold humanity over to the Devil at the time of the Fall; hence, justice required that grace pay the Devil a ransom to free us from the Devil's clutches. God, however, tricked the Devil into accepting Christ's death as a ransom, for the Devil did not realize that Christ could not be held in the bonds of death. Once the Devil accepted Christ's death as a ransom, this theory concluded, justice was satisfied and God was able to free us from Satan's grip. "Redeeming" meaning, literally, "buying back," and the ransoming of war captives from slavery was a common practice in the era. The theory was also based in part on Mark 10:45 "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" The ransom theory was the main view of atonement through the first thousand years of Christian history.

The satisfaction view of the atonement has been traditionally taught in Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed circles. Here the word "satisfaction" does not mean gratification as in common usage, but rather "to make restitution": mending what has been broken, paying back what was taken. It is thus connected with the legal concept of balancing out an injustice. Drawing primarily from the works of Anselm of Canterbury, the satisfaction theory teaches that Christ suffered as a substitute on behalf of humankind satisfying the demands of God's honour by his infinite merit. Anselm regarded his satisfaction view of the atonement as a distinct improvement over the older ransom theory, which he saw as inadequate and was a precursor to the refinements of Aquinas and Calvin which introduced the idea of punishment to meet the demands of divine justice.

Substitutionary atonement is the reconciliation of sinful humanity with God through the substitionary death of Jesus Christ and is the most widely held theory in the West. It holds that only human beings can rightfully repay the debt which was incurred through their willful disobedience to God. Since only God can make the infinite satisfaction necessary to repay it, therefore God sent the God-man, Jesus Christ, to satisfy both these conditions. This doctrine stresses the vicarious nature of the crucifixion as being "instead of us" and is expressed in Scripture verses such as "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness," 1 Peter 2:24 and "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God." 1 Peter 3:18

Aquinas' major difference with Anselm was rather than seeing the debt as one of honour, he sees the debt as a moral injustice to be righted. Calvin shifted from Aquinas' idea that satisfaction was penance (which focused on satisfaction as a change in humanity), to the idea of satisfying God's wrath. This ideological shift places the focus on a change in God, who is propitiated through Christ's death. The Calvinist understanding of the atonement and satisfaction is penal substitution: Christ is a substitute taking our punishment and thus satisfying the demands of justice and appeasing God's wrath so that God can justly show grace.

Penal substitution argues that Christ, by his own sacrificial choice, was punished (penalised) in the place of sinners (substitution), thus satisfying the demands of justice so God can justly forgive the sins.

So, I try as I might to get my head around all of that! However am still not content - there are so many strands to the events of Good Friday - my head and my heart go in so many directions. And the problem with theory is that it can remain just that, a packaged response (accepted or rejected) to an event which has cosmic consequences.

It is the writings of Jurgen Moltmann, which speak most to me about today. His book The Crucified God is one of the best works of theology I have read to date, as he brings the theme of divine love into the doctrine of the atonement. He writes that the grief of the Father is just as important as the death of the Son. That both suffer. In the cross Father and Son are most deeply separated in forsakeness and at the same time are most inwardly one in their surrender. 'Is is the unconditioned and boundless love which proceeds from the grief of the Father and the dying of the Son and reaches forsaken men in order to create in them the possibility and the force of new life.'

Somehow that does something in my heart and Good Friday, if it is to mean anything has to connect with our hearts. The world may continue to pass by this Holy Week, but in churches throughout the world today, Christians will be once more be motivated to live lives of faith. My prayer is that other hearts will be touched too, for the first time, because what happened over two thousand years ago was not only for the world, but was personally out of love for you and me.

The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing,
but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Day 38 - The upside down kingdom

Maundy Thursday - for me its today, more than any other day in the year, that reminds me of the essence of our Christian faith. It might be personality (or enneagram type) but the incident in the gospels which sums up ministry most for me is Jesus washing the disciples feet. Here is the Messiah, the King of kings not lauding it over everyone, but willingly taking on the role of the servant. Here he demonstrates, and we begin to further see, some of the tools of the upside down kingdom - the basin and towel. The drama is unfolding, not quite as expected, in the most unlikely way.

Today too is the day that priests and deacons gather at the cathedral to corporately renew the vows we made at ordination - for some recently, for others a long time ago. It's a time during Holy Week especially for those who usually serve others in the church, to renew that vow of service and rededicate our lives to serve Jesus Christ.

One of the most important books for me as I began to explore vocation was The Upside Down Kingdom by Donald Kraybill. It explores the whole theme of a social gospel, a new order inaugurated by Christ, in which the last become first, the weak become strong and the King became a servant. Even more so it is out of death that comes life, out of community (not individuality) comes strength and out of the least comes the greatest.

This is not a calling for us all to become doormats, and to be walked over by everyone else, but instead a beckoning to see that power is made perfect in weakness, and the natural ways of the world are often the opposite to the calling of the gospel. It's a calling for us all to go the extra mile, be willing to undertake the menial of tasks and give and not count the cost.

Looking back at church history, there are many examples of those who walked this way of the cross, yet there are still times when I find it hard to believe how the Church got it so wrong. Times (not so long ago) when priests were set on pedestals, motivated by power and control who expected others to wash their feet (or worse). As I begin Maundy Thursday this year I am very aware of all those who have been damanged by priests who have abused their power. It may have been in a very different context but nonetheless acts as a sobering reminder of the power we do hold as we are called to serve others.

Then today as bread is broken and wine outpoured we come face to face with the ultimate cost of service - the reality of Christ's love and self-sacrifice. And some very real questions come into my mind - How far am I willing to follow? What cost is too great for me? Is my idea of service the air brushed version after all? that is when what I say and sing over these next two days becomes so risky.....

Not only:
So let us learn how to serve
And in our lives enthrone Him
Each other's needs to prefer
For it is Christ we're serving

but also:

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.