Tag Archives: Isaiah

22 March. Before the Cross IX: Fresh, accessible and slightly subversive.

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Bearing of the Cross

 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ekjohnson1/25761762410/in/photostream/

My son is now 14, and thinks he’s much too grown-up for Lego. But I’ve really enjoyed these years of revisiting the world of long six-ers and square flat four-ers, finding myself far more creative now with the pieces than I ever was as a child.

This crucifixion scene is an image designed to appeal to the younger Bible student, of course, as much as to adults. The quotation from Peter’s first epistle connects the death of Jesus with our response in dying to sin and living for righteousness (covenant justice, that is, lest we lapse into moralism). It indicates that its production by EK Johnson was an act of faith and this is important to me, as it is with all Christian art.

But shouldn’t a subject as serious as this be treated with more gravitas than Lego can offer? My inner conservative complains that “Lego Jesus” just seems wrong, diminishing his lordship, maybe, or infantilising his mission.

My inner iconoclast replies that this Lego scene represents a gentle mocking of religious art – with all its trappings of patronage and power; pride; ill-gotten wealth and elitism – and not of the cross itself. Wasn’t the cross always meant to serve as a massive lance to the boil of religious pomposity?

I like this image because I believe that the gospel story should be communicated meaningfully by every possible means. Fresh, accessible and slightly subversive, a Lego representation of Jesus connects and engages with today’s culture in ways that renaissance art and stained glass simply cannot.

EK Johnson is clearly keen for us to grasp the solemnity and significance of the event he depicts. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross … by his wounds you have been healed” reads the text. The apostle Peter is alluding to Isaiah the prophet, making sense of Christ’s crucifixion through the lens of the Hebrew scriptures and the promised “suffering servant”. If we find the Lego distracting or overly provocative, this text should leave us in no doubt that this was the most profound, powerful and momentous event in all of human history. It was the day the God of Israel worked his salvation for the world; for our lives.

Lego might not give us everything we want in a crucifixion scene, but it communicates its historical truth simply and clearly. Every age in religious art has provided its own distortions and distractions, however well-intentioned the artist. We inherit notions of the “sublime” from the Romantics, for example, but it’s a misguided ideal, because it lacks humility. There is certainly humility in Lego. Simple blocks and simple figures remove much of the element of human sophistication. And with that gone, we can begin to grasp – and be overwhelmed by – the love of God demonstrated on a hill in West Asia, two thousand years ago.

Rupert Greville.

Photo credit.

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8 January: An Epiphany Celebration with L’Arche Canterbury Pilgrims.

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Six times a year a mixed gathering of L’Arche core members, assistants and friends meet as the Pilgrims’ Group to pray, eat, and enjoy each other’s company. Pilgrims? Well we are in Canterbury, where every footstep is on the traces of pilgrims to the Shrine of Thomas and saints like Alphege and Mildred from Saxon times, less well known now but great witnesses.

We make no claim to greatness but we do witness together with Scripture, prayer and fellowship at a shared table. This time we were remembering the wise men who made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to meet an infant king – but found him in Bethlehem.

Our celebration – and we are good at celebrations – took the form of a mini-mystery play around the office and workshop. The wise men left their cosy way of life behind, to try another way: the pilgrim road, seeking for the new born King, and being pointed to Jerusalem.

pilgrims way

And they had to try another way to go home, after they all had the same dream. Here is the text we followed, and the figures that we used to act out the story. After that, we prayed around the table, made ourselves crowns, and feasted. We are good at celebrations!

The lines in blue are repeated by all; red for rubrics means stage directions, not to be read aloud.


The readings are from Isaiah and Saint Matthew.

Isaiah wrote about people going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem before Jesus was born.

Shine out, Jerusalem, your light has come! Kings will come to your shining light. They will bring gold and incense and sing the praise of the Lord.

All: Sing the praise of the Lord.

Our scented candle can stand for the frankincense and myrrh, and the flame is the same colour as gold.

candle

The wise men were pilgrims following the star.

Mark to take up star to first station where magi are waiting.

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in the time of King Herod,  some wise men came from the east.

 

Wherever they went they asked: ‘Where is the baby king of the Jews?’

‘Where is the baby king of the Jews?’

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On the way they told people: We saw his star and have come to honour him.’

We saw his star and have come to honour him.’

Nobody else thought the star was special. They all said:

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‘Go to Jerusalem to see the King of the Jews.’

Stop at  three ‘stations’ and repeat this scene.

At Jerusalem station we see Herod flanked by hid guards.

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When they got to Jerusalem, they went to see King Herod. He was worried. He asked the priests and the teachers where Christ was to be born. They told him ‘At Bethlehem .’

At Bethlehem .’

‘for the prophet wrote:

Bethlehem! Out of you will come the shepherd of my people Israel.’

Bethlehem! Out of you will come the shepherd of my people Israel.’

Then Herod called the wise men. He asked them when the star had appeared, and sent them to Bethlehem. ‘Come and tell me when you find the baby, then I may go and worship him.’ They listened to the king, and they set out. And the star went forward, and halted over the place where the child was.

To final station, the crib.

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They saw the child with his mother Mary, and they fell to their knees. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.

gold and frankincense and myrrh.

But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and they went home a different way.

they went home a different way.

Magi depart.

When I was at L’Arche Edmonton, I visited one of the activities where core members worked. The man in charge of it was a wise teacher. He taught me something I’ve never forgotten. Don’t tell someone they are doing something wrong when they are doing their best. Say, Try another way.

That is what the wise men did. First of all they left their home and their work to follow a star. And then, instead of going back to report to King Herod, they went home a different way. If they all had the same dream, they would have taken it seriously! Let’s try another way with the people we live and work with this year.

With thanks to Christina Chase who helped crystallise some of the ideas in this celebration, and thanks to Abel for the loan of his people.

pilgrims.diners.7.1.19

WT

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October 26. What is Theology saying, XXXIX: What Morality did Jesus teach?

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The humiliation that we all carry is that we are a mass of contradictions. Yet we are, before all else, a blessing; but we are well aware it is a mixed blessing – Original Sin, a doctrine many dislike – whatever we call it, we do have a sense of being inadequate. The word sin implies culpability, which is not what the doctrine wants to say! The precise meaning is that we are not culpable for it, but that we are wounded by it. It names my inner conflict so that I will not be shocked or surprised when it shows itself.

Paul sees both Adam and Christ as summaries of humanity. What happens in them must happen in all; not just then but always now. If you know you are a mixed blessing, filled with contradictions, a mystery to yourself, you won’t pretend to eliminate all that is unworthy, but heed Jesus’ advice: let them both grow together until harvest time – Matthew 13.30.

Jesus told us not to pull out the weeds – Matthew 13.29 – lest we also pull out the wheat; this is both sound spirituality and psychology. In Genesis 1.26 God says Let us make humanity in our own image – note the use of the plural form, as if intuiting the Trinity, God as relationship, the perfect mystery of total giving and receiving. It is interesting that physicists, molecular biologists and astronomers are more in tune with this universal pattern than Christian believers.

God isn’t looking for servants or contestants to play the game – God is looking simply for images to walk around the earth. This is as if God is saying all I want is some out there who will communicate who I am, what I am about and what is happening in God: You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he – Isaiah 43.10. All morality is simply the imitation of God – not those who do it right go to heaven, but those who live like me are already in heaven.

AMcC

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8 March: Not Listening? Me?

‘As I was saying …’

‘You just don’t listen!’

I overheard this brief exchange in the street, and offer it as a reflection for Lent. Do I listen? Do I let the Lord get a word in edgeways? Is my heart open to the Lord, in whatever guise he may present himself to me?

As Jesus himself said, quoting the prophet Isaiah:

This people honoureth me with their lips: but their heart is far from me.

(Matthew 15:8).

‘As I was saying …’

 

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4 December: Light to see by.

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I looked up from my mother’s garden to see these windows glowing in the winter’s sun. Those are weavers’ windows, raised up high and facing South to catch the sun, ‘that it may shine to all that are in the house’. Daylight was the more precious when there were only oil lamps to work by as the shades lengthened. Those sycamores would not then have been there to cast a shadow.

You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house.

Matthew 5:14–15

We can forget what a precious gift light is, with our street lights blotting the stars from view. And we are in danger of forgetting how precious our sisters and brothers are when we are encouraged to want an excess of earth’s goods for ourselves.

 Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and the harbourless into thy house: when thou shalt see one naked, cover him, and despise not thy own flesh. Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall speedily arise, and thy justice shall go before thy face, and the glory of the Lord shall gather thee up.

Isaiah 58: 8-9

WT

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November 13: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xiii – ‘Resurrection is the affirmation of a life fully lived.’

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He is risen!

 

Little by little, slowly and gradually, the process of dis-covery [uncovering] is worked out to the subversion of the persecutors when the innocence of the victim becomes more and more evident: Joseph, Job, and Songs of Suffering Servant in Isaiah – when God is distinguished from the violence of the gods, and clearly on the side of the victim.

This is the genius of Judaism, having nothing equivalent elsewhere. This is what we call Revelation, God’s self-revelation by means of the innocent victim. We never reach the full revelation of this in the Old Testament, nor a full revelation of the innocence of the victim, nor a separation of God from involvement in the sacred self-deceiving violence. Such fullness occurs only in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

If we diminish the significance of Jesus’ death are we not undermining the very essence of the Resurrection? If we honour, as did Jesus, the primary role of the Kingdom, life radically lived to the full, then resurrection is not so much about the vindication of his death as about the affirmation of life fully lived. Resurrection belongs to life rather than death, an affirmation and celebration of what fully alive means.

Following Jesus has become synonymous with belonging to a denomination, and inevitably came to see Jesus as a ruling Lord – with scant reference to the freedom and empowerment of the powerless which is his hallmark. By the time of Emperor Constantine the Kingdom of God was clothed in the imperial system of Rome. Whereas the freedom Jesus brought would happen not by intervention from above but by empowerment from the ground up. The one and only time Jesus approved of them calling him king was when he chose to ride on a donkey – he embraced kingship but turned it on its head.

AMcC

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15 April, Vigil of Easter : O Living Water!

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Holy Name Church, Manchester

Water is everywhere at the Easter Vigil, from Creation (Genesis 1) to the Exodus (Chapter 14) and the rain making the land fertile in Isaiah (35:1-11) to Paul’s ‘When we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death … so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life. (Romans 6:3-11)

The water is blessed by immersing the Paschal Candle in it, as we pray that all who are buried with Christ in the death of baptism may rise to new life with him. New Christians are baptised; we are all sprinkled with holy water.

The Church is serious about death, the church is serious about the Resurrection. As you enter the Holy Name church in Manchester you cannot avoid their magnificent holy water fonts: this particular church is very serious about the death of baptism.

If we are to be raised from the dead, then despite all our trials and troubles, everything is basically all right. All will be well, all manner of things will be well. If you cannot quite believe in Easter and everlasting life, ask yourself, if this story were indeed true, what difference would it make to me today? How would it change my life? Then try starting that change in behaviour, and see if it makes sense.

WT

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26 March: “Is Christianity Dead?”- Our Response to BBB: I, Christianity cannot die.

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I invited Doug to respond to BBB’s blog, ‘Is Christianity Dead?’ which you’ll find re-blogged here. In the next few days I’ll follow Doug with some reflections on particular points raised by BBB, who is one of our most faithful readers. Over to Doug.

Will.

I recently read the thought provoking lamentations of a concerned Catholic writer who raised the question “Is Christianity dead?”  Despite a litany of bad news ranging from a half empty church at Christmas Midnight Mass, to Pew (no pun intended) Research findings of decreasing church attendance, prayer, and living the faith, she answers her own question with a resounding, yet less than inspiring, “No”.

Her contention is that, “Christianity is not dead. It is alive in our hearts. In our homes. In our prayers.”  But while she concedes Christianity is not dead, she doesn’t seem convinced that it might not be gravely, or even terminally ill.  She sees inviting others to fill the empty parish seats as one way to save Christianity from certain death.

No, Christianity (A.K.A the Church and the Body of Christ) is not dead, nor is it dying.  It cannot, and will not die.  Christ told Peter (Matthew 16:17), the Church was built upon on the rock of Peter’s faith, “and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it”, and as the Prophet foretold about the strength of the Church entrusted to Christ (Isaiah 22:22), “…what he opens, no one will shut, what he shuts, no one will open.”

While evangelizing is the baptismal obligation demanded by God, if we fail at this mission because of our fallen nature, God will still prevail and the Church will not die.  Take comfort in the fact that our heavenly father has “set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed…”  (Daniel 2:44).

DW.

 

Pilgrims in the rain, Krakow, August 2016.

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11 March, Human Will VII: The Will of God

 

 

What do we learn about the will of God for humanity when we ponder the sacred texts of scripture?  We find first in Genesis that we were created by God to share his life: this is his will for us.  We find that by sin we opposed God’s will and placed our will against God’s.  In consequence, we lost our closeness to God, we lost the harmony of our being, we became disordered within ourselves, and our relationships with each other became fraught and conflicted.  Our will, rather than being oriented toward God, turned in on itself.

Then began the long, long process by which God, without ever violating the freedom of our will, would lead humanity back to himself.  Scripture shows the stages in this process: the covenants with Noah and Abraham; the Exodus and journey to the Promised Land; the Law revealed to Moses; the growth of Israel’s identity as God’s chosen people, the organisation of Israel’s religious life, the building of the Temple.  In the midst of these stages, a theme emerges: God is faithful but the chosen people are wayward, contentious, fickle, heedless of God’s will, prone to idolatry.  The prophets and the psalms lament this.  Nevertheless, a new covenant is promised in which God will make possible a new depth of relationship with himself:

Look, the days are coming, Yahweh declares, when I shall make a new covenant with the House of Israel, but not like the covenant I made with their ancestors the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of Egypt, a covenant which they broke….  No this is the covenant I shall make with them, Yahweh declares.  Within them I shall plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. 

(Jeremiah. 31:31-34) 

 

The other great theme that emerges in tandem with this is the prophecy of an individual man who will inaugurate this new covenant in his very person.  He will be the messiah.  He will be a king, yet he will also be a servant who will suffer.  Above all, he will be the faithful son that Israel, in her sinfulness and waywardness, had not been.  He will come for the poor and humble of God, and will himself be gentle and humble (see Isaiah 11:1-9, 42:1-9, 61:1-9; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Psalm 72; Zephaniah 2:3).

Jesus himself said that he was the fulfilment of this hope in Luke 4:16-21:

 

Jesus came to Nazara… and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day as he usually did.  He stood up to read, and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.  Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:

            The spirit of the Lord is on me,

for he has anointed me

to bring the good news to the afflicted. 

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives,

sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord.

He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down.  And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him.  Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even while you are listening.’

Christianity is built on the belief that what Jesus said in the synagogue that day was true, that he was the anointed one of God who would be, in his very person, the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy, and indeed of all the prophecies.

Christians see that the truth of Jesus’ claim is subsequently borne out in his public ministry, in everything he said and did, in his death, resurrection and ascension.  Where Israel had been a faithless and fickle son, Jesus remained faithful to the will of God, even unto death.  He, and he alone in all history, did his Father’s will.  And his own will?  It was completely united with the Father’s will, so much so that Jesus could say, ‘My food is to do the will of the one who sent me’ (John 4.34).

Jesus, by his life and his very being, shows us the love with which he unites his will to the will of the Father.  Through his Spirit, we are able to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus, a relationship written on our hearts, by which we journey to the Father.  We cannot fully fathom Jesus’ love for us in this life, but we can love him in return.  We can strive to follow him.  We can give him our will.  To do this is to do the will of God.

SJC.

 

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22 December: This birth was hard

 

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It’s easy to feel smugly indignant at the commercialisation of Christmas and attempts to create an official Winter Holiday instead. I wonder whether that is a greater threat to the truth of Christmas than sentimental carols, sung unheedingly? Christmas is, as Mary herself said when she met Elizabeth before their sons were born:

He casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly;

He fills the starving with good things, sends the rich away empty.

Luke 1: 52-53.

Here is one mighty one, years later, most uneasy on his throne, cast down even:

 … this birth

Was hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to  our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people, clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

T.S. Eliot, Journey of the Magi.

Clutching their gods? We are tattooed on God’s hand (Isaiah 49:15); he hold us, gently. May we know his presence  every day, seeing him in the eyes of every person we meet.

MMB.

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