Tag Archives: Jerusalem

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 22: I is for Ironbridge.

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Ironbridge: the name says it. All those glorious structures like the Forth Bridge, Sydney Harbour, the Howrah, the Golden Gate and the bridge at Victoria Falls, owe their ancestry to this iron bridge over the Severn in Shropshire.

A bold venture to build a bridge of cast iron so high above the river in 1779. The beams were cast on site since transporting them would have been difficult. But would it work? Abraham Darby must have been an excellent mathematician, blessed with patience to check each step of his calculations and each stage of the casting, the building of foundations and assembly of the bridge. Here it stands today, carefully maintained, like the Forth Bridge and all those others. My grandfather, a Shropshire lad, took me to see it aged about five; it impresses me more now than it did then, unlike so many things.

Crossing the river here safely was a dream made real by Darby and the men who dug his coal, smelted, transported and cast his iron; masons, surveyors, painters. He and they had to trust in the laws of physics as they understood them. The people who keep the bridge alive –  it is still open to pedestrians – apply the physics and chemistry they understand to prevent rust, metal fatigue and erosion.

The dirt and hard labour of the Industrial Revolution have gone, leaving the Severn Gorge free from dark Satanic Mills. But if we are to build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land we need an understanding of what we are about, and how to ensure dirt, fatigue, rust and erosion do not stop us working together.

God, come to our aid, Lord, make haste to help us!

Laudaato Si’!

MMB.

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20 May: About an Icon.

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This is my last blog of the week and I would like to write a little about an icon I have written.

This Croix Rousse was written as a gift for Bishop Chad in Harare, in response to a talk I heard on the persecution of the Christian church there. It took a good eight months to complete and I had never written an icon of the crucifixion before.

There are elements to working with icons that are unexpected – insights; deep feelings; new ways of seeing and in one case, a continual stream of quantum physics (when writing an icon of Elijah!)

Christ’s emaciated body hangs on the cross in a pose of absolute peace and composure. He bears the wounds of the nails and the spear. The vinegar dipped sponge is being hoisted to his lips. Jerusalem is in the background by the bar at his feet and the cross rests on ground where Adam was purported to have been buried. Golgotha, the Place of the Skull.

Mary, Mother of God, weeps by his right hand and John, his favourite, stands at his left. Above his head is the inscription INRI and above that an empty throne with an open Bible and angels around it, awaiting his Resurrection. The Sun and Moon are symbols of the Old and New Testaments and the circle of the cosmos is at the very top. The power of Almighty God.

Iconographers work form dark to light and each pass of the icon is a level of refinement from rough to smooth and more exquisite detail.

During one profound moment before I parted with this gift I looked at the holes in Christ’s hands and for a nanosecond I seemed to be able to travel across the whole of space through a deep black pinprick of emptiness. The holes in his hands have now become a symbol for me as a gateway leading to Christ. Our Franciscan habit of adoring Christ Crucified has taken on a deeper meaning.

CW.

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14 April,Good Friday: Pilate’s Politics.

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John Masefield wrote a play in verse about Good Friday. In an exchange after Jesus was condemned, we hear Pilate and and his wife Procula, who famously warned him ‘Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.‘ (Matthew 27:19)

Pilate:

Another charge was brought some hours ago,

That he was claiming to be that great King

foretold by prophets, who shall free the Jews.

This he persisted in. I could not choose

But end a zealot claiming such a thing.

Procula:

It is a desecration of our power.

A rude poor man who pitted his pure sense

Against what holds the world its little hour,

Blind force and fraud, priests’ mummery and pretence.

Could you not see that this is what he did?

Pilate:

Most clearly, wife. But Roman laws forbid

That I should weigh, like God, the worth of souls.

I act for Rome, and Rome is better rid

Of those rare spirits whom no law controls.

He broke a statute, knowing from the first

Whither his act would lead, he was not blind.

‘Good Friday’ in John Masefield, ‘Collected Poems’, London, Heinemann, 1925, pp449-507.

Procula’s speech is as good an examination of conscience as any for today, but if you can find the text, the whole play is worth reading and pondering.

Tissot: The Message of Pilate’s Wife, Brooklyn Museum

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11 April: The Temple: Housing God.

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The Temple and its rituals are never far from the surface in Holy Week. All those lambs to the slaughter would put many people off belief in God. But it’s mildly irritating – or mildly amusing – how the latest objections to belief turn out to be nothing new, such as the idea that God is a product of human imagination, therefore less than us, therefore not God.

When civil war had abated in Israel, about 3,000 years ago:

Hiram the king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar trees, and carpenters, and masons for walls: and they built a house for David.

2 Samuel 5:11.

But when David wanted to build a temple for God the word of the Lord came to the prophet Nathan, saying:

Go, and say to my servant David: Thus saith the Lord: Shalt thou build me a house to dwell in? Whereas I have not dwelt in a house from the day that I brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt even to this day: but have walked in a tabernacle, and in a tent. In all the places that I have gone through with all the children of Israel, did ever I speak a word to any one of the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to feed my people Israel, saying: Why have you not built me a house of cedar? 

2 Samuel 7:5-7.

God had been walking with his people on his own terms, not theirs. The tabernacle had been constructed and embellished by the people from their treasures during the Exodus (See Chapter 26 onwards) but it did not include any image of God. He was beyond human imagination, unlike the golden calf that Aaron manufactured when Moses was a long time on the mountain. (Exodus 32)

David was not about to confine God to a fixed house, although the Temple would be built and rebuilt before Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman:

 Woman, believe me, that the hour cometh, when you shall neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, adore the Father. You adore that which you know not: we adore that which we know; for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeketh such to adore him.

John 4:21-23.

Of course it is possible to imagine a god who is smaller than us, indeed any god we can understand will be smaller than us. But God is greater than all or any of us can imagine; we see him now ‘through a glass darkly’ and need to keep our eyes and hearts open.

MMB.

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6 February: God with us

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Monday of Week 5

Mark 7:1-13

Jesus allows people afflicted by sickness to touch Him, even lepers, who are shunned because of the fear of contagion.  He shares His company and teaching with those whose sins make them social outcasts.  ‘It is not the healthy who need the doctor’, he says ‘but the sick’(Mark 2:17).

For Jesus, sin is a form of sickness.  It moves His heart to be with the afflicted person, to reach out with acceptance, forgiveness and healing wisdom.  Whether the sick respond to the doctor with co-operation or hostility, this does not affect Jesus’ commitment to be among those who need him.

Although He could have hidden or run away from those who wanted to kill Him, Jesus instead ‘set His face towards Jerusalem’ (Luke 9:51).  His teaching by example in the Passion reached out to the many people around Him in need of wisdom and forgiveness.  His compassionate mercy extended to the people who crucified Him, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’(Luke 23:34), and to the man dying beside Him, ‘Indeed I promise you, today you will be with me in paradise’(Luke 23:43).  This desperate man was saved on Good Friday because of Jesus’ commitment to be among His enemies as a healer.

I thank our Saviour for always remaining with me in my spiritual blindness, to guide me back to the right path.  The martyrs, like Paul Miki and companions whom we remember today, follow Jesus in His mission to witness to God’s indestructible love among those who need it most, regardless of the cost to themselves.

I pray today for the same courage, strength and trust in God to love my enemies as they did.

FMSL

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THE CELESTIAL CITY – Gothic Cathedrals.

May I share a notice from our friends at the Canterbury Gregorian Music Society. You’d be made most welcome!

THE CELESTIAL CITY – Dr. Jeffrey Miller

Temple of Solomon

Saturday 25th February 2017 10-1
Canterbury Cathedral Lodge
(small audio-visual room)
A morning workshop of talks and chant around gothic cathedrals
Jeffrey Miller holds research and teaching posts at the University of Cambridge and the Bartlett School of Architecture in London. His principal interests are in Gothic Architecture in Europe, including its materialization and meaning in medieval communities. Our morning will consist of two talks and two singing sessions. The talks will look at how mediaeval architects related their vision of a cathedral to passages in the Bible referring to the Temple of Jerusalem. How were the decorations and adornments conceived and realized? Cathedrals were important places for the civic and spiritual life of cities. How did communities decide where these buildings should be and how they should relate to the layout of their cities? We might also have a sneak preview of the end of the world. Questions such as these will be used to frame the two talks by our guest. In between we will discuss and sing some chant for the consecration of churches (and the end of the world?).
Free for members £5 for non-members
includes hand-outs, music and light refreshments
Further information from: jonathan.butchers@gmail.com

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August 8: What Obstructs our Focus

 

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Alexander Nevsky (d. 1263) was a popular Russian soldier who defeated Swedes, Lithuanians and Teutonic Knights in battle. The Russian Orthodox Church declared him a saint. Prokoviev’s cantata Alexander Nevsky was sung at this year’s first Prom Concert in London. It contains the lines ‘Peregrinos exspectavi’ (I expected pilgrims), then ‘Victory to the Crusaders, death to the enemies.’

This photo shows not Alexander but a different crusader, whose statue is prominent in the centre of Brussels. This is Godfrey of Bouillon (d. 1100) who took the title ‘Advocate of the Holy Sepulchre’ after he had been the first to defeat the Muslim occupants of Jerusalem, after three years of campaigning. The patriarch of Jerusalem (a man from Pisa) was forced to crown Godfrey’s brother Baldwin as the first Latin king of Jerusalem. Another brother, Eustace, inherited Boulogne, and a family estate in England.

Perhaps, with such a widespread confusion of the words ‘pilgrim’, ‘crusader’ and warrior we should not be too surprised that a number of people from Islamic cultural backgrounds regard European and Western economic and military dominance of the world as evidence that crusaders, tourists and trade delegations are  three versions of the same thing, all opposed to Islamic traditions.

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Belgians who wanted to let the world know their heartbreak after the subway train bomb went off in Brussels in March this year, left their flowers and memorial tributes to the victims in front of the Bourse, the Stock Exchange. Finance deals and power-brokering are one pattern of domination.

CD.

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July 26: The Parents of Mary, Saints Joachim and Anne.

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The Gospels tell us nothing at all about Mary’s parents, Jesus’ grandparents. Were they still living when Jesus was born, did they get to play with him as a baby? Perhaps not, if the Holy Family had to stay in Egypt for any length of time. Mary would surely have welcomed another pair of hands around the house, while her parents would have been anxious all the time the Holy Family spent in exile.

 

They were real people, even if we do not know their names for sure. The traditional names of Joachim and Anne first appear in the Second Century. The Missionaries of Africa look after the Basilica of Saint Anne in Jerusalem, built on the traditional site of their home. It is now a house of studies and retreat where pilgrims are welcomed to the church dating back to Crusader times.

 

Anne is the more celebrated of this couple. I don’t ever remember seeing a statue of Saint Joachim, though the happy couple are celebrated in icons and Anne is often shown teaching Mary to read. But then, last week, on a visit to Manchester, I found him at Holy Name Church. He appears as an old man with a beard wilder than my own. (Maybe Anne was less assertive than my wife.) And he carries a basket and two doves: we think of the two doves offered by Joseph and Mary when Jesus was taken to the Temple as a baby. (Luke 2:24) But perhaps we should remember the deserved reputation doves have for ‘billing and cooing’ – unabashedly showering affection upon each other all through the day. Those doves could stand for Joachim and Anne and for all married couples.

 

I was happy to learn, from the note beside Joachim’s statue, that he is the patron of grandfathers. I can live with a patron whose beard and hair are something to aspire to! And I can try to live up to the standards of care lavished on his grandson as well as the way he must have supported Mary and Joseph through those difficult months of pregnancy and maybe too their time as refugees. Fun though it is, grandparenting is serious work, God’s work, and mostly in the background.

WT.

 

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Light I: I offer you a part myself with this burning candle.

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Lord, may this candle, which I now inflame,

Be a light through which you enlighten me in all my difficulties and decisions.

May it be a flame by which you burn away my pride, my egoism and every impurity within me; a flame through which you warm my heart and teach me to love.

Lord, I cannot stay long in your Church, but I wish to offer you a part of myself, which will remain here with this burning candle.

Help me to continue my prayer in the deeds and words of this day.

Lord, a candle stands before me.

It burns restlessly, sometimes with a small, sometimes with a larger flame.

Lord, I too am often restless.

Let me find rest in you.

It gives me light and warmth; Lord, let me, too, be light for the world.

It burns away and consumes itself in its service.

Lord, often I have only an eye to my own interests.

Let me be a servant to others.

This candle can be used to light other candles.

Lord, let me become an example for others.

 

Candles themselves cannot pray, of course, but they can help us to pray.

Candles have various meanings in people’s lives.

Each candle is in some way a reflection of that light

Which came into the darkness of our world in Bethlehem.

A candle also reminds us of Baptism, the beginning of our way with Christ

And the call to life, to eternal life.

May you discover more and more the meaning which light has in your life.

 

Peter Smith MAfr.

(Peter Smith is a Missionary of Africa, at present working to welcome people to the Basilica of St Anne, Jerusalem.  This prayer can be found here in the May 2016 edition of the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) Magazine.)

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