Tag Archives: prophets

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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5 April, Palm Sunday

Today we’d put out the flags, as Caernarfon did to welcome us (and thousands more tourists) a few years ago. 2,000 years ago it was palms and cloaks that were actively waved – not just left out in all weathers – as Jesus came to town. But by the following Friday nobody would have wanted the Romans to see the national flags and emblems on their buildings. Jesus had become dangerous to know.

The Plantagenet Kings whose castle commands this view would have looked askance at the scene, and their spies would have filled the castle governor’s ear with more or less factual accounts of the latest prince to arise to rally the Welsh. Pilate would have heard about Jesus before Palm Sunday but the parade of the King of the Jews did not lead to his immediate arrest. Pilate thought he could contain this uprising before it got very far.

By Friday festival fever was worrying a hypersensitive elite who valued the shaky Pax Romana as it applied in Judea, offering them status and privilege and allowing the Temple worship to continue according to the Law. Verses from the Psalms and the Prophets that challenged the idea of sacrifice were dismissed in their turn by the priests of the Temple.

For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

Ps 51: 16-17

 

Jesus’s heart was broken, his body too, though not his spirit. His death completed his lifelong passion. It is all of a piece, as the Pieta tells us – the baby we saw Mary cuddling at Christmas is the One she cradles briefly before his burial. But today, knowing he is riding into difficult times, he is the King the crowd were waiting for.

Image from Missionaries of Africa
Strasbourg Cathedral

So let’s put out the flags in our hearts, and wave our palms for our King! And let’s hope we can distribute palms from the backs of our churches should we be banned from gathering to celebrate Holy Week and Easter.

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18 November: The King II, Pilate and Jesus Meet.

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We are preparing to look at the relationship between Jesus and Pontius Pilate with a view to exploring the theme of power as it emerges in the relevant texts of the Gospel of John (18:1 – 19:22). I would like first to summarise the passage immediately preceding the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus. In John 18: 1-11we are told that Jesus had been arrested in the evening by a cohort from the Roman garrison, and a group of guards sent by the chief priests and Pharisees, all with weapons and torches – essentially, a lynch-mob. Jesus handles the mob with courtesy, cooperation and courage. Nonetheless, they bind him and, no doubt, shove and frog-march him to the palace of Annas, the high priest. Annas, probably realising after a short exchange with Jesus that he was out of his depth and could not possibly win in a dialogue with him, sends Jesus on to the next questioner. This will be Pontius Pilate and Jesus is sent to the Praetorium – his palace.

Pilate does not meet with Jesus until he meets Jesus’ captors – a rather unsatisfying encounter, I suspect, as far as Pilate is concerned. Jews were not allowed to go into the inner court of the Praetorium on pain of incurring ritual impurity, so Pilate must meet Jesus’ captors outside – a concession which must have rankled. But he complies, and questions them about the reasons for Jesus’ arrest. According to the text, they claim at this point simply that Jesus is a criminal and deserves death, and that they are not allowed by their religion to pass the death sentence. They do not specify what Jesus has done to deserve it (see Jn. 18:28-32). Pilate, none the wiser for this exchange, must now question Jesus about the reasons for his arrest.

Pilate leaves them, returns to the inner court of the Praetorium, summons Jesus and begins a highly revealing exchange with him. We see here two men who could not possibly have been more different. Pilate, with an abruptness suggesting that he is an important, busy man, asks Jesus the only question that could have any real interest to him, or any bearing on his judgement of Jesus: ‘Are you the king of the Jews?

Immediately, we see that the issue for Pilate is power, but he must hope that Jesus’ power is a trumped up affair, threatening to no one. He had probably encountered mad prophets before – they were not unusual in the Judea of Pilate’s day. So, Pilate’s question would, Pilate hopes, set such a prophet up to expose himself as a rant-and-rave religious fanatic. A wild-eyed diatribe on Jesus’ part would be most useful to Pilate and enable him quickly to dismiss Jesus as long-winded but essentially harmless; then Pilate would be free to move on to the more important business of the day. It is easy to imagine the slightly mocking tone of voice in which Pilate asked his question, much as one might use to a rather ill-behaved child, perhaps, or to someone whom one has already mentally pigeon-holed as not worth taking seriously. Pilate feels secure, powerful at this stage. Accordingly, his treatment of Jesus belittles him. We will examine Jesus’ response to this tomorrow.

Pilate went out to the street to meet the Jewish leaders.

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12 October, Month of Mission: A worthless servant in Algeria.

taize algeria

Another visit to Algeria and a taste of a prophetic mission.

My name is Vincent Somboro. I am a Malian, a dogon from the Diocese of Mopti, right in the centre of West Africa, and I am preparing to be a Missionary of Africa. After studying Philosophy for 3 years in Burkina Faso, then completing my novitiate year in Zambia, I was appointed to a community of Missionaries of Africa in Ghardaia, Algeria, for a two year lived-experience of Mission. I have been here for one year now. Algeria is a Muslim country and religion is absolutely central to its daily life. I count myself very lucky to be working amongst a people for whom God and religion are still so important. As Christians here, our life is one of discreet dialogue. It can happen that I talk with certain people about religion, but this would only be with people who want to convert me to Islam. I build my life as a Christian on Our Lord’s words, “whatever you do to one of these little ones, you do to me!” and still I remain “a worthless servant who is only doing his duty.”

I live this life in different places. In a library; in a centre for handicapped children; in meeting migrants and anyone else the Lord puts in my path. In the library: as well as being the librarian in charge of books, I give extra help to both children and adults who are learning English or French. It is really the only place where I can meet Algerians: coming into contact with Algerian society in a more informal way.

Once a week I play sports with the children in a centre for the handicapped. This simple interaction, being with the children, with no agenda other than being there with them, brings me great pleasure.

Being a Malian, an African, is also a great advantage when it comes to contact with migrants. Meeting migrants affords me a marvellous opportunity to serve my African brothers and sisters. This is a challenge which preoccupies me greatly, and it is doubly useful: in the context of Algeria, I am able to be both a missionary and a prophet.

I am a missionary because the migrants really feel at home when they come to our house. A confrere and I, between us, speak Moore, Hausa and Bambara. This covers most of West Africa. As fellow Africans, we are living the same reality in Algeria as they are.

I am a prophet because, as an African, I yearn for our home countries to come up with structures to help our young people, helping them struggle against famine and war, and against the desire driving our youth to get to Europe no matter the cost. I feel troubled and challenged when I see young people crossing deserts to get to Algeria, hoping to cross the seas to Italy and Spain. I see the religious and cultural divides, the injustice and the racism that they encounter. I thank God for my experience here.

Vincent Somboro.

From the White Fathers Magazine, February 2017.

Taizé celebration in Tlemcen

https://www.missionariesofafrica.org.uk/

 

 

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May 16. What is Theology Saying? LIII: Salvation outside the Church II.

 

archway.amsterdam. (2)

austinWhen the first Christians claimed a new covenant, they were aware of how the word new had been interpreted in the prophetic writings. Later generations spoke of old and new covenants – with the presumption the old was past its sell-by date. This is mistaken, the facts of history contradict it. The Jews have been faithful to Covenant in large numbers, even to the point of martyrdom; and Scripture tells us that God does not desert those who are faithful.

Some believe the issue is simple. If the Jews had really been faithful they would have recognised Jesus as Messiah, and have been part of the new covenant. But since they do not recognise Jesus as Messiah, we can assume they are unfaithful to the covenant. For this reason history left them behind as forever lost.

Such a view leaves all kinds of questions unaddressed. Even if it was perfectly clear that Jesus is the Messiah, we must remember that the Jews of the dispersion had never had the gospel preached to them. For example, exactly when did the covenant go out of date? Was it at Pentecost or at the death of the last Apostle? Also, does the Jewish participation in the covenant not remain in date until the end of time?

The only contact many Jews through the centuries had with Christians and the Gospel was that of persecution and victimisation in various forms of anti-Semitism. And many were told to renounce Judaism in favour of Christianity – if you are persecuted on account of your Christian faith and told to recant, would you see this as an act of God? We must accept the possibility that Jews cannot accept Jesus as the expected Messiah because he is not yet Messiah. We who are the presence of Jesus have not yet produced the promised signs of the Messianic presence. We know what these signs are – the Prophets are full of them, and the Gospels have Jesus quoting them.

The signs of Messianic times are: peace among nations and all people; perfect fraternity; justice for the poor and the powerless; no more violence and enmity; and all coming together to praise the one God in their own ways in peace, without hindrance. When Paul writes of these signs he says there is no discrimination in Christ between Jew and Gentile, between cultured Greeks and primitive Barbarians, between men who had all kinds of rights and women who had none. Today we might add: no discrimination between white or black, gay or straight, rich nations and poor – no annexation of the poor by the powerful.

AMcC

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9 May: Jean Vanier: a welcome for all.

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As our friend and contributor Rupert Greville says, ‘there’ll be a great deal of reflection to read over the coming days on Jean Vanier’s life and work.’ Here is a short memory from Laurent de Cherisey, founder of the Fondation Simon de Cyrene, which develops and animates shared homes on a human scale. These welcome abled bodied people and those who have become disabled during the course of their lives. He shared a platform as a speaker with Jean and they co-wrote a book,  “Tous intouchables ?” (All of them Untouchable?) with Philippe Pozzo di Borgo.

He challenged us to live fraternally, as brother and sister with the most fragile, to go beyond our private fears and build a world that welcomes everyone. He was one of those prophets who bear witness to a possible way forward for humanity, at a time when it shows itself to be extremely disturbed and anxious about living with one’s neighbour.

On the contrary, the experience of Jean Vanier and L’Arche demonstrates that when we pull down the ‘walls of fear’, as he called them, we can become co-creators of that common home where there is a fulfilling place for each one of us. 

From La Croix Newspaper

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

lego X

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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17 March: Before the Cross IV: Fulfilling the prophecies.

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This painting has been the subject of more than one family discussion over the years. But why have I included it in a series about the Crucifixion? Surely this is a Christmastide image?

Well, the man on the right is Saint Luke: see in the background the book open at his Gospel and his beast, the ox, at the small of his back. Luke was thought to have been an artist, responsible for the first icons, and a confidant of Mary, on account of the infancy stories in his Gospel. Here he is in both roles.

At home we have on the wall a framed postcard of the mother and child section of the picture. ‘I’ve seen that look on all your faces,’ my wife tells our now grown up children. It makes Jesus look truly human.

‘But that pose!’

‘That too; a moment of joy, stretching his arms and legs: he has finished drinking his mother’s milk, he’s close to mother, warm summer air playing over his skin.’ Mother and child are there for the artist, and the beholder – you and me – in all their humanity and vulnerability.

As in Luke’s story of the Presentation in the Temple, there is  a foreshadowing  here. This painting is from the studio of Rogier Van der Weyden, but produced after his death. There are other versions including the original in Boston Massachusetts; this is in Bruges at the Groeninge Museum.

Over the Channel in London’s National Gallery is another painting from Van der Weyden’s school, a Pieta.   Here we are kneeling at the foot of the Cross, with Mary and three contemporaries of Van der Weyden (The painting can be dated to mid-15th Century.) If they are invited to come and mourn with her awhile, then so are we; as witnesses we close the circle of prayer, of support for Mary and of sorrow for Jesus’ death.

The Dominican priest on the right is reading from near the end of the  Bible he holds wrapped in blue cloth, but his finger is marking an earlier passage, telling us that the death of Jesus fulfils the prophecies.

The similarity between the pose of Christ in the two images is striking: arms and legs outstretched, head turned to his mother. Intimately, her hand is on his belly in each picture. She remains his mother.

The traumas of the infancy stories in Luke and Matthew point to this moment. Now it is finished. But when Luke came to write the Gospel, and when we and the Dominican friar came to read it, we already knew this was not the end.

May we, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, walk with Jesus and know him in the breaking of bread.

WT

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2 February: The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

simeon.2

The Nunc Dimittis Canticle is recited every night in the Catholic Church; in Anglican churches, such as Canterbury Cathedral, it is sung during Vespers. It is originally the Song of Simeon; the old man was overcome with joy and peace when he met the little scrap of humanity that was ‘the Salvation which you have prepared before the face of all peoples.’

That was the easy bit when I was asked to play Simeon in a mystery play at Canterbury Cathedral three years ago. My grandson was already too big for the part but the doll we borrowed did not steal the scene. I could concentrate on the Baby, the Father -and then Mary.

It is a massive shift of key as the prophetic revelation finds utterance, and yet we know it is true: a sword will pierce her heart – indeed there is a tradition of the seven sorrows of Mary. I had to come down from my great joy in an instant and look into Mary’s eyes with an overwhelming compassion that was neither mine, nor yet Simeon’s, but the Father’s.

Thirty years after the Presentation that compassion would be brought to practical life by John.

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This window from Saint Mary’s in Rye, Sussex shows Mary, almost blind with grief, following her adoptive son by the hand. She turns her back on the apple tree of temptation and stumbles trustingly towards the Vine.

The empty Cross is a point of light against the night sky: sorrow will be replaced by joy, overturning the order of Simeon’s vision. This is a John’s Gospel window. We also see the Great Bear in the stars. If a star told of his coming, this constellation points to the North Star by which we can find our way to him.

I am the way.

Anyone who wants to follow me must take up their cross daily and follow me.

 

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