Tag Archives: Hebrews

September 6. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, 4: Creation and Christ

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We have God totally alive, without violence or death; who has revealed himself as loving humanity so much as to give himself to us so that what is God’s life can be ours for the receiving – to live outside and beyond the culture of death – even now. But he reveals something else as well – God is Creator-God.

We have become accustomed to speak of creation and salvation as two separate realities: first there was creation which happened at the beginning; then the fall from grace in which we fell, needing someone to lift us out; God sent Jesus to save the situation. Looking at this model, it doesn’t look as though Jesus has made much difference; so we struggle and wait hoping finally that we’ll get the visa.

This model does nothing to encourage people to take seriously what they might do to improve things for themselves and others – other than treating symptoms by works of charity and overlooking the cause; seeing Christianity as promoting social progress. The problem with creation-fall-redemption-heaven model is not between redemption and heaven, but in the relationship between creation and heaven. There is a very big difference between a factory that makes cars and a garage that repairs them. If creation and redemption are two different realities it makes it difficult to see a relationship between Creator and Redeemer – in this scenario it’s not clear what God has to do with Jesus.

The Apostolic witness tells us there is a clear relationship, and that to say that God so loved the world that he sent is Son is not sufficient. This certainly reveals God as love but doesn’t show how that love has anything to do with creation. The hints we get from the apostolic group that there is something more are to be found in New Testament passages about the pre-existence of Christ, most notably –

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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made – John.1.1-3.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power – Hebrews 1.1-3.

Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live – 1Corinthians 8.6.

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross – Colossians 1.13-20.

We must ask: what was it that enabled the apostolic group to see this, to link creation and salvation in such a way that they come to be seen as the same thing? They weren’t asking questions, they were affirming something they already knew, from the Jesus they knew, that he was in some way involved in creation.

It seems that the Resurrection not only changed their perception of God by removing any remnant of violence, allowing God to be understood as total love, but it also brought a change in perception of God Creator. Jesus didn’t just add salvation to the already existing Jewish understanding of God Creator. The human perception of God as Creator is not a simple concept. There are austinmany accounts of gods creating and Genesis seems to suggest creation not from nothing but from a chaos needing to be ordered. This means that God is responsible not so much for creating everything out of nothing as for producing the order of the world. One of the things the Resurrection actually did was to separate God from any link with the order of this world, which has become a violent order based on death.

A McC

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September 3. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, 1: What changed the disciples on Easter Day?

Easter Saturday

What changed the disciples on Easter Day? Their former understanding of God was gone, as was their awareness of what being human really meant. When disasters like the Tsunami strike – we don’t ask who is responsible; we ask what happened? We expect some kind of scientific answer rather than looking for someone to blame.

What happened to them on Easter Day was the same thing that made Jesus not be just another dead person, another victim of human violence – it was the Resurrection. An historical happening on the Sunday after his death – the same man they had buried is with them. What happened to this group of friends transformed them, took away fear and made them eager to share their experience. They had a change in perception of what being human means – but most especially, a revolution in their understanding of God. They shared their memories and wrote them down, from which we now have the New Testament. They talked of his life, living with him; his death and now this…

The Resurrection brought new insights – something Jesus had before his Passion and death; he had told them you do not understand now but you will… He spoke of God in an entirely new way, one which proved threatening to the Guardians of the Law, to Temple worship, to Sabbath observances and to ritual prescriptions. The last straw was calling God his father. The disciples were already unsympathetic to the authorities, but it is unlikely that when Jesus was executed that they dismissed the idea that maybe the priests were right after all, that Jesus was not from God; surely death is final, and puts an end to dissent?

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Two were walking to Emmaus with hopes shattered [we had hoped]. His death seemed to vindicate what authority was claiming. Jesus must have been a sinner for this to happen –he who hangs on a tree is cursed – Deuteronomy 21.23; Galatians 3.13. When he rose from the dead and appeared to them the whole system leading to his death is called into question. Jesus had been right, God is the way Jesus spoke of God; nothing like the description offered by his accusers.

The reasons they produced for getting rid of him were not reasons, but part of a sinful mechanism for getting rid of troublesome people – with nothing whatever to do with God. This leads to questioning the Law as not reflecting the true God, or as distorted by human violence. The Resurrection did not simply reveal Jesus’ innocence, not only was he right about God; it exposed the mechanism by which innocent victims are created by those who believe that in doing so they are doing God’s will.

We can now imagine the innocence of the victim and see the complicity in violence of the perpetrators. If we see things as the disciples first did, feeling uncomfortable that Jesus may not have been up to what he promised – and then see him back, how would we talk about it? Our stories have beginnings and endings, and, so they thought, was Jesus’ story ended – but now: how do we tell a story that has no ending? They tried telling this story which had no room for death – death which happens to everyone – and they didn’t know how to do it.

Resurrection has now burst into our storytelling. They couldn’t tell the story in the old way, and the new way they were inspired with we call the New Testament. It was not a question of eliminating death, but how death has its part in the story, but not as the ending. Jesus did not appear as someone who had been dead and is now better – like Lazarus. The risen Jesus was at once dead and alive – as the five wounds testify – and is now showing death as empty of its power. He is at once dead and alive. His whole life including death is present in its fullness. He has conquered death, not just for himself, but for all who share common humanity with him; death and its whole system by which all were held in thrall, is not necessary. Whatever death is, and it happens to all of us, it is not what dictates or shapes the pattern of life. It is an empty shell, a bark without a bite. We will die, but death cannot separate us from the source of the fullness of life.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death – Hebrews 2.14.

We need to ponder those empty marks of death [5 wounds] within the splendour of his risen life, which enables them to be seen in new light. His life did not cancel death, but includes it, letting it be seen so that they be not afraid. All human history including violence has been taken up in his risen life. God does not require us to deny the violence all around in order to give praise – God is praised when we are fully alive – Irenaeus.

The presence of the crucified and risen victim says the divine story is related to the human story. God becoming man creates the real human story – a story that knows nothing of violence or the structures that seek to foster it. For this divine story to make sense to us it has to start from the story we know how to tell. The divine story is not just at a different level, and replacing the human story, it includes all that is capable of being transformed – such as violence and victimising.

AMcC

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13 November: In and Out of the Door of Mercy.

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Although NAIB has an Anglican door of mercy just outside her front door, I never expected to pass through one myself, but we entered two of them in Poland, the first at the Sanctuary of the Holy Family in Zakopane. A beautifully carved wooden frame had been constructed around the West door of the Church: you’ll have noticed that we have been using their version of the Mercy Icon when our reflections touch on the Year of Mercy. Look carefully and you’ll see it on the left of the frame.

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Where should a Door of Mercy lead? This one opened onto a crucifix just inside the door, a manned confessional, then a beautiful interior, with the birds of the air upon the ceiling and scenes from local history in murals above the nave. Here, next to the altar, was the font with John baptising his cousin and Our Lord. Here was the Blessed Sacrament exposed, half a dozen faithful keeping watch.

 How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts. Psalm 84:3

mercy.carving. (328x640)But where should a Door of Mercy lead? It leads us – not just the Old Testament High Priest – into the sanctuary, but also out of it.

We have [hope] as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm, and which entereth in even within the veil; where the forerunner Jesus is entered for us, made a high priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech. (Hebrews 6:19-20).

We have hope and entering a door of mercy is a sign of that hope but as we exit the door we are called to be instruments of mercy, not passive recipients of it. We are called to forgive seventy times seven (some people I know can almost be that annoying!) and to have compassion on our fellow servants; to feel for them and to build them up. (Matthew 18). So now, as the Year of Mercy ends, go out through your local door of mercy and get at it! (Your door of mercy is the one you have the key to and where your letters and visitors arrive; your front door.)

MMB

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April 19, Jerusalem III: The Temple and Sacrifice

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A few years ago a romantic young Jerusalem rabbi explained on television how he would restore the sacrificial ritual of the Temple, once his organisation had taken charge of the site, an event he was confident would occur soon. He was convinced that this was what God wanted.

Scripture seems far less certain about Temple sacrifice; there are plenty of passages like this one:

You who wanted no sacrifice or oblation,

opened my ear;

you asked no holocaust or sacrifice for sin,

then I said, ‘Here I am! I am coming!’ (Psalm 40:6–7)

 

Yet the sacrificial dissection, burning and eating of animals by priest and people went on, day after day, year after year. Why? Mary Douglas suggested that sacrifice was a concrete form of telling the story of the Lord’s presence at the heart of the Temple and of his people. The body of the sacrificial animal ‘corresponding to the tabernacle in the holy nation’,[1] and its life and that of the people were  symbolically returned to God through the blood and vital parts offered at the altar, while the meat shared by priests and offerers expressed communion with God and each other.

The young rabbi’s plan is on hold for the foreseeable future. God wants neither elaborate ritual nor the innermost parts of animals; he wants faith (Hebrews 11); he wants the innermost parts of his servants to ascend to him in a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).

We do not need to be in Jerusalem to make a morning offering!

MMB.

[1]    Mary Douglas: ‘Leviticus as Literature’, Oxford University Press, 1999; p 134.

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April 17: Jerusalem I: Melchizedek and Abraham

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Jewish tradition holds that the Temple in Jerusalem was built where Abraham once made ready to sacrifice his son, Isaac – or as Muslims believe, Ishmael – to the Lord (Genesis 22). So Jerusalem was already a place of sacrifice before a great city grew up there.

Yet before this event, Melchizedek, who met Abraham after one of his battles with bread and wine to share (Genesis 14: 18-20), was already established as the ‘Peaceful King of Salem’ at, tradition insists, Jerusalem.

The bread and wine he shared with Abraham suggests that this was already an agricultural centre. I ask myself, therefore: where was Melchizedek, Priest and King of Salem, when his esteemed neighbour came to the hill behind his town in order to kill his own son?

Perhaps he had already sat down with Abraham and Isaac, talked through their plan. Perhaps, as High Priest of the Lord and King of Peace (Hebrews 7:1-7), he was the ‘Angel of the Lord’ who stayed Abraham’s hand, restored Isaac to his father (and mother – Sarah seems to have had no part in this), and provided the ram for the offering (Genesis 22:11-14).

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The Angel of the Lord who intervenes in people’s lives is more likely to be a flesh and blood human than a being from another universe. Perhaps by sitting down over a cup of tea or a glass of wine, there will be an occasion for you to en-courage a friend or a stranger today.

On the Monday morning I wrote this I was greeted at the railway station by a smiling supporter of the Samaritans. ‘We don’t just hear you, we listen.’ A good motto for each one of us, on Monday or any other day!

The Samaritans

MMB

Max Emanuel Ainmiller, Claudius Schraudolph, Heinrich von Hess; Royal School of Glass Painting, Munich,  c1850: chapel window, Peterhouse, Cambridge. ‘Abraham  Sacrificing Isaac’. Photograph  by MMB.

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