Tag Archives: Bible

April 20, Emmaus VIII: Opening the book

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The disciples did not know that it was Jesus walking with them. They told him how sad they were that Jesus had been killed.

They did not understand that Jesus had risen.Then Jesus said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have declared! The Messiah had to suffer these things and then enter into his glory.’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he opened up to them the things the Bible told about himself.

It’s a bit difficult to open up the Bible if you never open the Bible! But I don’t think it’s fair to accuse these two disciples of never opening the Bible, no! Jesus knows that they do read the words in the Bible, but he wants to open their hearts and their minds to understand the Bible in a new way.

Open hearts and open minds lead to open ears and open eyes. Open to read the Bible in what we see and hear around us. Let us listen today to our fellow walkers; can we have a laugh with them? Dennis was laughing and joining in when we saw the ducks on Tuesday and joined in with my quacking at them. That was more fun with two.

It is foolish playing at ducks, perhaps, but the disciples’ foolishness is the way in to their hearts that works for Jesus. I think he wants us in L’Arche to be like the prophets. They often did silly things that made people think about their lives. Some of the things we do may seem silly to other people, but we know they are important.

Is it foolish to spend four days walking from Dover to Canterbury? Saint Paul said, ‘We are fools for Christ’s sake.’(1 Corinthians 4:10)

MMB

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April 16: Emmaus IV, We have a sure hope.

 

Rupert Greville contributed today’s reflection on the Emmaus story and tomorrow’s. The swallow returns and so will Jesus.

Bible reading: Luke 24:25-27.

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Luke 24:25-27.

 

The two travellers had told of what had happened in Jerusalem, that Jesus had been crucified and that his tomb had been found empty.  ‘Did not the messiah have to suffer these things, and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself.

Jesus gave these travellers the best Bible study ever. And he showed how the whole of the scriptures pointed to his coming – and to his suffering and his death. While the travellers knew about the suffering and death, as they’d been in the city,  maybe they didn’t understand so much about the Messiah ‘entering his glory’.

The father had raised him from the dead and set him in the highest place over all of creation, seen and unseen.  So the Messiah of Israel would be the true Lord, not Caesar, and Lord over every world power that would ever come after, whether in Europe, Asia, the Americas or the South Pacific. And he continues to reign today as Lord over all. And if Jesus is Lord, then we have a sure hope for ourselves and the world.

Today our daily bird is the swallow.  (Each day of the pilgrimage there was a bird to look out for.) The swallow spends its winter in South Africa, so if you have swallows nesting in your barn, you’ll see them fly off in September and you won’t see them again for months. Then, amazingly, about this time of year, the same bird flies back to exactly the same place it left 7 months before, to rear its young. So they leave in September, and we wonder, will they come back, and they do.

Jesus promised that he’d return to reign on earth, destroying all evil and bringing healing to the nations, and that his people will share in his eternal rule. If we can trust the swallows to return from South Africa, we can surely trust that Jesus, having entered his glory, will return again to reign.  

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November 14: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xiv – ‘ A place for everyone at table.’

 

Throughout the parables and miracle stories Jesus is forever flouting rules and tradition; and offers no apology for so doing. He certainly went to the Temple to pray, but often accompanied by outcasts whose presence defiled the holy place. Jesus was committed to fullness of life above and beyond any and every system. He made people search for God not only in holy books, but principally in daily life; he uses everyday language – calling on everyday experiences; he insists we are constantly in God’s presence, not just when we formally pray – he makes care and concern for the other the key factor for kingdom living.

The Twelve certainly expected the messiah to be heroic – and they were disillusioned when he didn’t live up to expectations. Saint Paul’s vision of Church is more in line – centred on the Word in service of the community – but by the Second Century the Church was rapidly becoming institutionalised according to a shape at variance with Jesus’ own vision. This was when ecclesiastical [ritualisation] became more important than ecclesial [community in faith]. However, the original vision was never lost, nor will it ever be lost. Truth always survives, despite efforts to constrain it. What came to be known as the dark ages was when the Church had difficulty in controlling what was happening – whereas from the perspective of the Spirit it was a time of creativity and growth.

Is the real Jesus the middle-class revolutionary we have inherited? Are we true to the prophetic figure from Nazareth? Was the following of Jesus meant to be via a respectable religion? Can the freedom of the oppressed, and the empowering of the powerless happen this way? We surely should be recognised as different – to live for Jesus demands much more of us than to die for him. It means seeking justice, inclusiveness and equality – a place for everyone at table. Kingdom living was not something Jesus inaugurated for others to embrace and follow. He is the Kingdom. The Kingdom is how he lives and relates. What was he seeing that captivated him so much?

We are brought up through co-dependency – some are in charge, most aren’t. Our role is largely passive obedience. God is father, the Church is mother, making our relationship that of children. In such a setting the discipleship of equals has no chance. Adult is reserved for those in charge. Compassion is a fascinating quality in Jesus – it is always a verb, not a noun. Compassion means entering into the suffering of another, not just being there to help; and has nothing to do with pity and mercy.

AMcC

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November 6, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: vi – ‘How would he tell his own story? ‘

 

Is there a place for Jesus in today’s world? Has Evolution side-lined Christian belief? Certainly questions like these are not readily answered in terms of traditional theology. There isn’t an obvious fit between the conventional understanding of faith and the unfolding reality of the world. It might be preferable to be content with asking the questions rather than trying to provide answers!

It is clear that such questions are being asked more and more today and it is not clear whether conceptual answers are available. The questioners seem to be from a group familiar with the Christian story, but suspicious of the ways the churches tell it, or live it in a challenging way.

Scholars tend to say the Jesus story is for students and researchers of the Bible to elaborate. Jesus belongs to anyone struggling with faith – and how to live it truthfully. There is no doubt that Jesus remains a fascinating figure for many; and it is clear that many who would call themselves agnostic or even atheist actually live by values closer to the Gospel than do many Church-goers.

There’s obviously something bigger about Jesus than what is contained in doctrinal teaching. He appeals to the imagination in ways that make official teaching about him seem very bland. What is the reality of Jesus beyond dogma? He was very imaginative, to a degree more suited to story than to doctrine. How would he tell his own story?

There never has been a time when God was not fully involved with Creation. The Book of Genesis states that God takes great pleasure in the creative process – and God saw that it was very good – everything is good because it is of God, good only comes from goodness. With evolution the time came for the break away from our primate ancestors, when God adds a new dimension with the arrival of the human.

Strictly speaking this is when the Incarnation actually began – the Incarnation means God identifying with the human species. God, who created the human six million years ago did not say I’ll wait millions of years until Jesus comes before declaring salvation. Yet this has been basic to Christian faith for 2,000 years.

AMcC

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30 September – William Blake’s ‘The Agony in the Garden’

The Agony in the Garden c.1799-1800 William Blake 1757-1827 Presented by the executors of W. Graham Robertson through the Art Fund 1949 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05894

William Blake, The Agony in the Garden, c.1799-1800. Tempera on iron. Tate Britain. Image released under a Creative Commons license.

 

Blake’s The Agony in the Garden is a highly original take on this scene from Luke’s Gospel. According to Luke 22:41-45, Christ kneels, praying to the Father to ‘remove this cup from me’; an angel appears to strengthen him, and as he continues to pray, ‘his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground’. Artists depicting this subject are usually faithful to the details of Christ’s kneeling and the presence of an angel (sometimes more than one is included), often holding a cup.

In Blake’s version, Christ is kneeling and his eyes are open, but he is falling backwards and being caught by an angel swooping down from above. There is a strong sense of intimacy in the interaction between Christ and the angel – the direct alignment of their faces creates a mirroring, and the embracing reach of the angel and Christ’s open arms are offers of union.

Our eyes may not immediately tune in to notice the sleeping disciples in the shadows among the trees in the background. They have been relegated to this place of semi-darkness in stark contrast to the angel who appears in answer to Jesus’ prayers.

The strangeness of Blake’s interpretation of this scene might emphasise the question of how we are to read the angel in this story? I wonder if Blake has presented us with a (rather unorthodox) depiction of the Trinity, with the angel representing the Father, responding to Jesus’ prayer, and the strange blast of red light above it as the Holy Spirit.

What we certainly have is a powerful image of an angel as a positive, sustaining presence in answer to a prayer.

NAIB

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29 September – William Blake’s ‘Angel Appearing to Zacharias’

William Blake, The Angel Appearing to Zacharias. c.1799-1800. Pen, ink, tempera and glue on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image released under the Metropolitan Museum’s Open Access for Scholarly Comment scheme.

 

The pictures posted today and tomorrow are from another series of pictures of biblical subjects painted by William Blake for the civil servant Thomas Butts. Before Blake made Butts the watercolours of which we saw one yesterday, he painted fifty small temperas of biblical subjects.

Within this group of paintings, Blake’s Nativity pictures seem to act as a distinctive sub-group with a strong sense of series – an unfolding narrative which reflects the artist’s conception of Christ’s identity as the source of Vision and prophecy. Christ’s advent in Jesus is part of an ongoing process of revelation.

The New Testament sequence in Blake’s biblical paintings opens with The Angel Gabriel appearing to Zacharias. This is an unusual subject: I have not come across other examples by Blake’s contemporaries, but it is possible that Blake had seen prints of Old Master versions such as Ghirlandaio’s fresco in the Tornabuoni chapel, Florence.

The angel is bringing news of the birth of John the Baptist, the prophet of Christ and a figure with whom Blake himself identified (because Blake saw himself as a prophet).

Blake strips away the temple architecture which tends to dominate images of this subject and contrasts the priestly trappings of Zacharias and the temple with the simple white garment of the angel – the herald of the prophet who points to the blast of light coming from above.

Zacharias doubts Gabriel’s prophecy and is struck dumb in punishment until the child is born (Luke 1:18-20), demonstrating that doubt hinders prophecy, although this blast of light outshines the menorah (the seven branched candle-stick) and the fire on the altar. Blake, who saw angels in a tree on Peckham Rye, and on the beach at Felpham uses this story to encourage his viewer to trust in the messages of angels.

NAIB

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28 September – William Blake’s ‘Jacob’s Ladder’

William Blake, ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, c.1799-1807. Pen and grey ink and watercolour. © The Trustees of the British Museum. Image released under a Creative Commons license for non-commercial use.

 

William Blake’s (1757-1827) watercolour of Jacob’s Ladder is one of about eighty watercolours which Blake made between about 1800 and 1806 for his loyal patron, the civil servant Thomas Butts (more of Blake’s works for Butts follow in tomorrow and Friday). In Genesis 28, Jacob has a dream in which he sees a staircase between heaven and earth with figures ascending and descending on it.

 

We do not know the precise date of this watercolour, but it may well have been inspired by a vision which Blake had shortly after he moved from London to Felpham, West Sussex in 1800, which he described in a poem addressed to Ann Flaxman, wife of the sculptor John Flaxman:

 

Away to Sweet Felpham for Heaven is there

The Ladder of Angels descends thro the air

On the Turret its spiral does softly descend

Thro’ the village then winds at My Cot it does end

You stand in the village & look up to heaven

The precious stones glitter on flights seventy seven

And My Brother is there & My Friend & Thine

Descend & Ascend with the Bread & the Wine

(‘To my dear Friend Mrs Anna Flaxman’)

 

The poem suggests that Blake felt that there was a connection between heaven and earth in Felpham. Having only known the smoggy air of London for the first 43 years of his life, one can well imagine that Blake felt that the veil between heaven and earth was thinner in Felpham – the kind of place one might encounter angels.

 

NAIB

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Saints at Play II

alfWe count David as the human source of Christ’s Kingship. That sounds solemn. Even to be King of a scrap of a Kingdom – as Israel was then, in terms of population – is a heavy responsibility. Even to be father or mother of a family is a heavy responsibility, but we find time to play with our children  and discover that the burden can be light as well.

David danced in front of the Ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6) as it was processed into Jerusalem. Saul’s daughter Michal, watching from the window, was disgusted with his performance.

It is too easy to despise play, but I am convinced that creation is God at play. There was no need for any of it, it is all gift: gift from God to himself, gift from God to each one of his creatures. And so we are called to give to each other, and playing is one sure way of giving our talents to one another, of giving time to one another, and indeed of helping each other to discover the talents we have been given.

And perhaps the dogs who eat on the floor beneath our tables can also teach us something about playing; not just throwing sticks, but also throwing ourselves into our relationships with other people – and with God.

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Jerome, Who Brought the Scriptures to Ordinary People.

30th September     Saint Jerome

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We owe Jerome great gratitude for his work to ensure a reliable text of the Bible but also for establishing the principle of translating the sacred texts from the original into the language of the people – in his case the Vulgate Latin that people actually spoke to each other. If ‘vernacular’ everyday language was good enough for men and women to understand each other, it was good enough for them to understand God; and to speak to him as well.

The precedent was set on the first Pentecost when the Apostles were understood by those who heard them, wherever they came from; then in early times Thomas went to India, preaching the Good News there, Phillip to Africa; Paul, Mark, Barnabas, Mary Magdalene – and Peter himself – dispersed across the Empire.

Jerome had a reputation as a quarrelsome man, but his talent for languages was put at God’s service and was his way to salvation. For that matter, so was his argumentative side, for he was ever ready to defend the faith in writing.

Later in life Jerome became a hermit, and he is often shown in a cave with a lion. The story is that this beast came to him with a thorn in its paw, and became a faithful companion after Jerome had tweezered it out.

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Lazzaro Bastiani – St Jerome in the Desert – WGA1486.jpg

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