Tag Archives: Angels

September 15. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, XIII: A structural change in the foundations of the world

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Jesus brought a structural change into the foundations of the world, and he called it the Kingdom. A very grand statement for one who ended up isolated and abandoned, nailed to a cross – with “My God, why have you deserted me?” on his lips.

After three days a most unexpected and unheard of event happened. God raised him up. He came to his disciples, not as one back from biological death, but as one who, though obviously Jesus, showed himself fully transfigured, in whom all the possibilities for the human and the divine were now fully realised. Not the revitalisation of a corpse but a radical transformation of the earthly reality of Jesus, this is what we mean by Resurrection.

Jesus is revealed in a life no longer under threat. The Resurrection is the realisation of his message of total freedom. It is direct evidence of what the Kingdom is meant to be: “Death is swallowed up… Death, where is your sting now?” If Jesus is not risen: “your believing is useless… we are the most unfortunate of people”. But a door has been opened for us into an absolute future, hope is real: God really does have the power to achieve in us what was always promised [this is what Hope means]. Faith cannot be sustained without this, for this is the only foundation of Christian faith.

Historians cannot help much at this level. The Resurrection is not an ordinary historical fact [though it is an historical fact]; since it is a fact available only to faith. No one saw the Resurrection actually happen. What we have are appearances and an empty tomb. On the basis of all these, the disciples came to the conclusion: “The Lord is risen and has appeared to Simon“. If we are to do what Peter recommended: “Have your answer ready for people who ask the reason for your hope“, we should have a brief look at what is involved.

The Gospel does not present the empty tomb as evidence of the Resurrection. Instead of giving rise to faith it caused fear and fright. Mary Magdalene saw it as evidence of theft. For the apostles it was simply rumour. By itself the empty tomb is an ambiguous sign, capable of various interpretations, only one of which might have been Resurrection. It is only with the apparitions that the ambiguity is resolved, and the empty tomb can now become a sign of the Resurrection of Jesus. As such, the empty tomb makes people think, it is no more than an invitation to faith, it is not yet faith, and something more is required.

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He is risen!

The “something more” is provided by an angel: “Jesus of Nazareth is risen, he is not here. See, here is the place where they laid him…” The sepulchre is empty, not because someone has stolen the body, but because he is Risen. This interpretation by the women is held to be a revelation from God. It is expressed in the language of the day as being a message from an angel [God].

What finally got rid of the ambiguity once and for all was the fact that the disciples saw Jesus, spoke with him; they spent time with him and he ate with them. The oldest Resurrection formulation, Chapter 15 of First Corinthians and Acts 2-5., with marked absence of pathos, suggest that these accounts are more than subjective visions, products of the faith of the community, but real and trans-subjective, a witness to something imposed from without and not conjured up from within.

How many apparitions were there? 1Corinthians 15.5. contains 5 apparitions. Mark.16.1. has none, but says that Jesus will be seen in Galilee. Matthew.28.16. refers to one. Luke.24.13. refers to two. John relates three, and all of them happen in Jerusalem! There are two tendencies evident: Mark and Matthew are interested in Galilee; Luke and John concentrate on Jerusalem, emphasising the bodily reality of Jesus and the identity between the Risen Christ and Jesus of Nazareth.

Exegesis tends to show the appearances in Galilee as being historically certain. The appearances in Jerusalem are the same as those in Galilee but transferred for theological reasons to Jerusalem, for in Scripture Jerusalem possesses a unique place in salvation history: “Salvation comes from Sion [Jerusalem]“. Jesus’ death, Easter and Pentecost occurred there.

Details of the appearances: they are described as a real experience of the Jesus they knew. He eats, walks and talks with them, allows himself to be touched. It is so normal that he is confused with a gardener or a stranger on the shore. Alongside this there are strange phenomena too: He appears and disappears; he goes through walls, the bruised and battered state of Friday has gone.

Eventually it was asked: Is the Jesus of glory the same person as Jesus of Nazareth? Assertions are made: Christ is totally transfigured, he is not a spirit, nor an angel. The one who died and was buried is the one who is risen. This is why there is preoccupation with, as well as emphasis on the wounds, and the fact that he ate and drank with them.

This helps clarify things a little: The Resurrection is not a theological treatise put together by an enthusiastic follower. Faith in the Resurrection is the direct consequence of the impact on the apostles of the apparitions of Jesus Risen. Without this they could never even dream of preaching a crucified Lord, itself an abomination to a faithful Jew, without this event there could be no church, no worship in the name of Jesus.

What is being asserted through faith like this is not just that Jesus is risen, but that this says something about the possibility of the total realisation of the whole of creation. This is a scandal to many. The early church proclaimed the significance of the Resurrection for us as hope of a future life; what is now for Christ will be the now for us. The Resurrection makes it possible to read reality very differently: the past, present and future take on a new significance.

Christ told the apostles that they would all lose faith in him. Now all this is changed: they return toaustin faith in him, this time no longer as the Nationalist liberator, but as the “Son of Man”. They believed that the Resurrection began the end times. The language is deliberately Apocalyptic. The end will be the Resurrection of the rest of the human race. The very same Spirit by which Jesus was resurrected is now given to everyone.

AMcC

 

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August 9: Francis Thompson VIII: The Kingdom of God.

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O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air—
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumor of thee there?

Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!—
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

The angels keep their ancient places—
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
Tis ye, tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry—and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry–clinging to Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Genesareth, but Thames!

Harrowhell

And the Thames was filthy in Edwardian times. But Christ ventured to Hell itself to rescue those held there.

Thompson’s editor, Wifrid Meynell wrote:

This Poem (found among his papers when he died) Francis Thompson might yet have worked upon to remove, here a defective rhyme, there an unexpected elision. But no altered mind would he have brought to its main purport; and the prevision of ‘Heaven in Earth and God in Man’ pervading his earlier published verse, we find here accented by poignantly local and personal allusions. For in these triumphing stanzas, he held in retrospect those days and nights of human dereliction he spent beside London’s River, and in the shadow – but all radiance to him – of Charing Cross.

See also our post of June 23rd 2017, Shared Table VI.

 

 

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25 March:The Annunciation.

We are told (Luke 1.29) that, at the Annunciation, Mary ‘was troubled at his (the angel’s) saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be.’ The troubles did not end there, as Simeon foretold: (Luke 2:35) ‘And thy own soul a sword shall pierce.’

I would like to take a sideways look at this story with a passage from Father Andrew SDC, writing to a woman recently bereaved in World War II.

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable,’ (1 Corinthians 15:19) because, indeed, as S. Paul knew so well from his own experiences, our Christian hope brings us all sorts of pains which we only have because of it; I mean the pain that comes from the failure to live up to it, and the pain of sacrifices made because of it, and also as it deepens and enriches our relationships and makes our friendships much more deep and sacred, so our partings are made more poignant as each beloved one is taken from us. But it is not in this life only that we have hope in Christ, and so we can smile through our tears and be sure that our dear ones are with Christ, and nearer to him are not farther from us.

Life and Letters of Fr Andrew, p 162.

How much pain Mary took on trust when she agreed to the angel’s request!

 

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14 January: Robin and Angel keeping watch.

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Here is Robin, watching the back door from our old Welsh angel. This stone came from St Tydfil’s churchyard in Wales. I was working on the clearing of this ground some years ago and rescued this slab of forest stone from the bulldozer and the skip.

The angel has guarded our comings and our goings since we moved to this house. If we don’t make a daily conscious prayer of thanks for God’s protection on our home, we once and for all made a concrete prayer when we put the stone on the wall.

And robin is welcome to our protection too, in the shape of a few crumbs but also a dense ivy hedge that offers protection for nesting and for roosting – and a few insects and slugs for food.

Visit, we beseech thee, O Lord, this place, and drive from it all the snares of the enemy; let thy holy angels dwell herein to preserve us in peace; and may thy blessing be upon us evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

MMB

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6 January: Epiphany

 

moon-bow

Even those of little faith are predisposed

on Christmas Eve for wonder, I suppose,

as night grows late and great with child.

Those shepherds of so long ago had trained their eyes

on earth: too much of gazing up at skies

and sheep go missing in the wild.

 

Thus shepherds don’t discourse with angels as a rule.

Nor I.  But I am keen on tidings yule

and probably disqualified.

Still, hear me out: I went about my routine tasks

with eyes on earth before the midnight mass,

expecting bread and wine to hide

 

not less – or more – than mystery.  Outside the door

the night was lit.  I stopped.  I’d not before

known midnight give a bird its note

as though at dawn, but softly as a lullaby –

and earth become all ear, with no reply

but something catching in the throat.

 

But if you think the wonder of the bird and song

the marvellous epiphany, you’re wrong.

It was the sky – no other place.

Susceptibility in me won’t sink so low

as claim a real miracle – oh no.

Yet, as I gazed at outer space,

 

I saw full mother-moon and off-spring aura bright,

and a second aura capture light from light –

with light-years singing in between:

Hosannas heaved.  I heard them.  Not with day-time ears,

but night-ears heard their music, calming fears

of aeons. So: epiphany.

 

I took it back inside with me as I returned

to routine tasks with thoughts of heaven.  I’d learned

to train my eyes on high surprises.

SJC

 

 

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6 December: Christ knows Mercy is not always easy.

Mercy is not always an easy virtue to live out. Masefield recognises this in The Coming of Christ. He portrays a foretelling of Jesus’s Agony in the Garden (Luke 22:43) when ‘there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony, he prayed the longer.’

Masefield’s words could apply to Christ’s thoughts in Gethsemane as well as to his reason for coming to earth in the first place:

I stand here at the gate

I quake as I enter in;

Life with its griefs and sin,

Earth with its death and Fate,

Man with his love and hate. (p6)

The Gate of Life, the Gate of Death: two fearsome Gates of Mercy through which Christ entered this world and the next.

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5 December: Mercy for those with neither hope nor peace.

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The Angel of Mercy joins the other angels to explain why mercy is needed:

We see the world of men seizing and slaying,

            Lusting for wealth, destroying and betraying,

With neither hope nor peace,

Save greed, between their darkness and decaying.

They come out of a darkness; they awaken

To the Blood’s storms, they tremble, they are shaken,

With neither hope nor peace,

They war in bloody blindness until taken. (pp 4-5)

Seizing and slaying – what changes? Greed is encouraged, consumption to keep the economy growing, so that we can earn more money and lust for more wealth. And whether it is people or the environment, we go on slaying or others do so in our name.

We need God’s mercy to live, and our sisters and brothers need us to live God’s mercy in hope and peace, whatever bloody blindness infects our society.

WT

Star from the walls of Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury. MMB.

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December 4: Mercy is a star to steer by.

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There is an angel  called ‘The Mercy’ in Masefield’s play, who says:

I bring the Mercy of God as peace, as balm,

            As loving–kindness between soul and soul.

In the world’s storm I am the central calm,

            In the world’s sky my brightness is the Pole. (p4)

 

God’s Mercy as the fixed, dependable Pole Star that helps us find the way; our loving-kindness to each other as the day-to-day expression of Mercy; here are two ideas worth holding onto. We need Mercy as a star to steer by: Mercy needs us to bring it to where it has to be.

As Masefield wrote elsewhere:

All I ask is a tall ship

And a Star to steer her by.

‘Sea Fever’.

WT

Polaris is the bright start to the left of this NASA image.

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October 21: Emptiness without him

. . .  What resource have I

other than the emptiness without him of my whole

being, a vacuum he may not abhor?[1]

R.S. Thomas makes us aware of the winter of the soul, waiting for one flower to open within. Is this vacuum a sign that we are doing something wrong? Wrong question: doing is secondary to listening, to loving; these will point us to the right course of action.

We have no resources to offer God, other than emptiness: a quiet place with room for him.

In her personal life, the poet Christina Rossetti knew bleak and empty heartache; her most well-known hymn is more than sentimentality:

 In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, 
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; 
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, 
in the bleak midwinter, long ago. 

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain; 
heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign. 
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed 
the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ. 

Angels and archangels may have gathered there, 
cherubim and seraphim thronged the air; 
but his mother only, in her maiden bliss, 
worshipped the beloved with a kiss. 

What can I give him, poor as I am? 
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; 
if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; 
yet what I can I give him: give my heart. 

 

[1] The Absence, SP p133

 

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2 October: Guardian Angels

If it were not Sunday, this would be the feast of the Guardian Angels.

People who are sceptical about angels should bear in mind scientists’ speculation about parallel – or is it intersecting universes? Talk of angels as ‘pure spirits’ and I’m lost; if they exist in some parallel universe, they are almost completely different to us. Almost, but not quite. If, as Jesus tells his disciples, children have guardian angels, they must have ways to relate to their charges.

See that you despise not one of these little ones: for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 18:10

Fr Gerald Scriven M.Afr. wrote a series of children’s books, now very dated, about an apprentice guardian angel nicknamed Wopsy. His first posting was to a small boy somewhere in Africa. One sentence struck me as worth sharing today:

Wopsy wasn’t a bit afraid of devils, for whom he had a great contempt, quite out of proportion to his size.

From: Wopsy, Adventures of a Guardian Angel, at http://www.thepelicans.co.uk/mc11.htm

Whether you believe you have a guardian angel or not, pray for the courage to face evil or sin, however it presents itself, and the wisdom to know what to do about it. And thank God for the times you’ve been kept safe in body, mind or spirit, perhaps well against the odds, as humans see things.

For he hath given his angels charge over thee; to keep thee in all thy ways. In their hands they shall bear thee up: lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt walk upon the asp and the basilisk: and thou shalt trample under foot the lion and the dragon.

Psalm 90.

And pray that, unlike Cain, (Genesis 4:9) we may be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers or indeed guardians.

MMB.

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