Tag Archives: resurrection

September 19: What is Theology Saying? XXIX: letting Grace do the talking

Is it possible to let Grace do the talking, instead of talking about Grace? Can I know from experience that God loves me? The fact is that we live within Grace, what we are about is to seek how to know this and how to be in touch with it. Some have said that Grace comes only through the Church. First, it is not the Church that contains Grace; rather does Grace contain the Church – among everything else; though authentic grace always has an ecclesial dimension – i.e. it tends to show itself in the shape of community.

God and Christ are freely within the world and manifest themselves variously. The Church is one such manifestation – an explicit, conscious and guaranteed presence – but not the only one. Because Grace is divine nothing escapes its influence, even sin succumbs to Grace as the Resurrection shows.

How do we image Grace? Is it the loving attitude of God? Is it the means by which God liberates and justifies us? Is it some reality which surpasses all our thinking? Notice, all these turn Grace into a “thing”. It is something different, it is something freely given, it is some “thing”.

The Catechism called it a supernatural gift – but what is “supernatural”? By definition supernatural is not on the same level as natural. The Supernatural is God, uncreated, mysterious. We use the terms Grace and Supernatural as symbols of experience, meant to translate that experience for us. What kind of experience fits what is meant by Grace? Grace is not an entity existing independently on its own. Grace is related to human beings, before ever it is spoken about [and language does tend to separate the two]. Grace is a lived reality.

AMcC

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12 August, What is Theology Saying? XXIII: Jesus was alive and present to the disciples

upperroom tomdog

We can see in the Nicene Creed two kinds of information. Jesus born of Mary, executed by crucifixion and buried. This account comes from observation. But the facts are set within a different recital, which says: before the beginning of time Jesus was born as the only Son of God; at a point in time he became incarnate. It is only in recent times we have asked if religious statements were literally true – verifiable by observation. Our technology minded age is in danger of thinking that such verification is the only criterion of truth. As a result, new questions are being asked. One item in the Nicene Creed’s account of Jesus causes a special problem. It is not self-evident that and on the third day he rose again belongs to the first or second account. Saint Paul says if Christ is not risen then our hopes are in vain. We do not know whether Paul was thinking of the resurrection in the first or second recital.

We know that everywhere in Scripture, where we have testimonies of the risen Christ, mystery language is used – dazzling light, white garments, sudden appearances, ecstatic joy. No unbelievers had seen Jesus, and the guards told a different story. In effect, it doesn’t matter whether the resurrection belongs to the first or second recital, because the important issue is that it does hold the two recitals together. The apostles spoke from a faith experience, Jesus alive and present to them: something that changed everything for them. The evidence they gave was their own lives; alive in hope, joy and freedom – no longer cringing in that locked upper room – they were now living as a community of love and trust. Because they never asked was the Resurrection true as an observable fact, it never occurred to them to answer the question, and because they never asked or answered, we shall never know.

How could Jesus be truly human? Theology is never the study of God, but the study of man and his experience of God, because this is the only experience open to us. Focussing on Jesus is on a man in whose existence we have glimpsed the invisible God whose only image is man. In the experience of the man Jesus, especially in the way he met his death and his triumph over death, we have met the image of God who gives life and gives himself in a shocking and unique way, once and for all.

AMcC

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What is Theology Saying? XXII: God revealed in their friendship with Jesus

As time passed, Christians kept asking questions about Jesus’ unique relationship with the Father, and about the title Lord. Here again, as with the Eucharist, we face a mystery. We have the living experience of Jesus, and of the risen Christ in the early Church along with their testimony of what this meant for them. They used whatever words they could put together to express this in language that was mysterious and religious and which hinted at more than it said. God had been revealed to them in their friendship with Jesus in an overwhelming way.

The questions they asked were against a background of Greek philosophy and religion – a vision of the universe in which their time and space were somehow contained within eternity and infinity as though these were continuations of time and space. This was a world that believed that gods sometimes descended and mingled with humankind, intervening and then withdrawing again. In fact, their great problem – and ours – was to find any way to express religious experience and faith. No matter what words are used to explain mysteries, they are analogies and comparisons that never quite fit. Gradually, formulations were worked out to answer the questions, and examples remain with us today in what we know as the Nicene Creed of 325 AD.

This is a statement of what Jesus Christ means to us. We say it so frequently as almost to take it for granted. Yet if we read it as for the first time we will see in a single recital two kinds of information. Jesus born of Mary, executed by crucifixion and buried. This account comes from observation and could be found in any police record. But the facts are set within a different recital, which says: before the beginning of time Jesus was born as the only Son of God; at a point in time he became incarnate [before this he was son of God but not human]. After his death he was back again and at another point in time went back to the Father; he will return, establishing the endless kingdom.

This second recital could not have been checked by observation – yet the account is written as though it could have been observed: a story of two persons, one who stays always in that upper region, the other moves to and fro between heaven and earth, linking them in one experience. They did not think that Jesus came down from heaven like he came down from Mount Olivet, nor that he sat next to the Father in the way he sat next to John at the Last Supper.

Bring the two recitals together as one and see that the historical facts provide the immediate experience which the Christian community has always wanted to interpret. It does not matter that theology through the ages has discussed the mysteries of his life, treating both accounts on equal footing. The whole account means we see Jesus as the meaning of history, everything was at the beginning with God, and at the end linking everything together reconciling human and divine.

AMcC

Canterbury Cathedral Easter Tomb;
African Pilgrims at St Maurice, Switzerland (MAFR)

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10 August, What is Theology Saying? XXI: Who is Jesus Christ?

Croix Rousse large

Our reflections on Eucharist raise a couple of questions about Jesus. What is the importance we attach to his death and the meaning of the Resurrection? And then, Jesus is shown as figuring things out about the meaning of his life, like the rest of us. He did not give us a theology of himself. He is simply there giving people his total presence, his friendship, his example and his teaching about the will of the Father and the Kingdom. We don’t have a chronology of his life, nor do we have a literal record of his words. The Gospels were written simply as proclamations of the good news of salvation, which the early Christians found through the experience of the resurrection and which they wanted to share. There was no intention to give us a biography of Jesus, which explains why so many things seem to be missing, and why the four accounts do not always agree – they are shared memories.

The basic message that the apostles preached was that they had experiences of Jesus as alive and present after his death; experiences which changed everything for them. At last, everything made sense. Jesus who had been crucified had been raised up by God, so that in him all could be raised to eternal life. Because of what they experienced they looked back to the Hebrew Scriptures in which they had grown up, and saw how everything was centring on Jesus, who somehow fulfilled the promises of all that went before.

They proclaimed that he was the Christ, the anointed and chosen one, who brought the promised kingdom in which hopes will be fulfilled. They also preached that he would come again, because they knew the messianic times had not yet been fully realised, and that they, the Church, had to strive to bring about these promises of peace, love and universal fraternity. They proclaimed Jesus as Lord, in a context in which it was always clear they were not identifying Jesus with God the Father, but relating to the Father in a uniquely special way.

AMcC

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July 30: Is All Human Suffering The Same Suffering?

strasbg.harrowhell (505x394)

Strasbourg Cathedral: the risen Christ brings Adam and Eve out of Hell to Paradise.

 

Is all human suffering the same suffering

the suffering of God who is a Man?

 

Did he not exist before all of us?

Did he not live in the unfathomable joy

of endless, ceaseless, divine

love, so resplendent that it brought forth galaxies

of stars and blue and green planets

teeming with flowering, fluttering, soaring life?

And when the great joy of his creation, so wondrously beloved,

became the great pain of its falling – just in a moment

slipped

from his grasp of tender love – seeing it, feeling it, sensing it collapse

in the misery of mistakes immeasurable and immutable,

with agony as immense as the ecstasy

that rushed the universe into being, then infinity was cut through

with the loss of its loveliest part,

the part given freely and generously in

hopeful love.

Did he not suffer before all of us?

 

Did he not die before all of us,

any of us,

his beloved creatures, who ever struggled for the last earthly breath?

When he felt his own skin rip and tear with the cruelty

of the fallen, when he watched his own feet stagger in the forced death

march, when he saw his own mother weep and brave

his pain, her pain,

when he sensed the strong beat of his heart weakening

from the failing gasps of air… did we not all die?

The moment that his love sought for the lost

in the garden of his grace, the moment that

he knew that we had left him – that we were gone –

in that incalculable instant as quick and cataclysmic

as the burst of creation, he reached out for us

and fell to his knees in the gravel of Jerusalem,

his heart erupting with the affliction of love’s pain.

 

And didn’t he rise before all of us?

Before any beloved human body turned cold upon the ground,

before any mourning mother laid a wreath upon a weathered grave,

he caught hold of the beloved

and saved his exquisitely loved one from the endless falling away,

stretching out his mercy like the vast stretches of the cosmos

so that every sufferer, every pained, beleaguered,

and bewildered human creature who senses the slip from infinity,

who mourns the divide from love’s heart and home, can look up

and feel his presence within and all around, loving, caring,

carrying the soul of every hopeful home.

 

good shepherd mada3

Christina Chase

DivineIncarnate.com

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13 May: What is Theology saying? VIII: Our faith confesses Jesus as Lord

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Our faith confesses Jesus as Lord, uniquely Son of God, and therefore the definitive Word of God spoken in history. Which only makes sense if we understand that it is a fully human word that is spoken. He struggled to express in the Aramaic words of his culture and his own experience, his human understanding of the divine meaning of his own life and existence in the world. Likewise with typical Jewish gestures and signs, and in the way he shaped his life and responded to the way others shaped it.

When the Apostles began passing on his message, they didn’t begin by reporting what he said. They first mention their own Easter experience, their experience of the Resurrection. What they saw was his way of meeting death and bursting its bonds. For them, the meaning of Jesus was something that could not be contained entirely in words; and Revelation could not be entirely communicated in words.

What was this Revelation? It was first and foremost the full experience of his presence, his companionship and friendship giving meaning to their own lives. Only secondarily, and within the embrace of friendship, did they receive explanations in which Jesus gave his own prophetic interpretation of why he was present with them. They received his words through living with him and living as he lived. Only by doing this did they come to reflect on what he said, and because of this proclaimed the reality in their own words; a further prophetic interpretation – extending the presence of Christ further into the world.

We have the classic collection of these words – the New Testament. We also have a collection of prophetic interpretations of what the apostolic community was like passed on to us by tradition; consisting of liturgical and catechetical formulae of all kinds [e.g. the Creeds]. These testimonies are more elusive because they have been worked out and refined through the centuries. This asks an important question about Revelation. If a text or prayer is written after the time of the apostles, does this make it less sacred or less revealed? Did Revelation stop when the last apostle died? Obviously, the interpretation of the apostles is special, indeed unique, simply through their personal presence at the heart of the Christian event.

If Jesus is the Revelation of God because of the conversation we now have with God – which he achieved during his life as it unfolded, and because of the way he met and overcame death, then those who walked with him had an experience definitive for all time. He changed radically our understanding of life in a way that will never change again. The Apostles are witnesses in a way no one else can be.

AMcC

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7 May: What is theology saying today? II: Earthquakes and thunderbolts.

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Before we understood what caused thunder, and earthquakes we were inclined to see God’s presence – as if God in anger sent thunderbolts; and could switch-on rain or sunshine. To understand the laws governing atmospheric conditions does not mean losing faith in God’s providence, but needs to express it differently. Just so, a more traditional believer might think we are becoming godless because we no longer make the sign of the cross when there is lightning, or say god-willing when speaking of future plans. In fact there might well be truer understanding and greater faith than before.

Newman’s criteria, discussed yesterday, are difficult to apply, but others have worked on them since he wrote. He, himself, showed insight gleaned from his own knowledge of the history of ideas within Christianity – pointing out that in the past, at the time of the great heresies, faith always emerged again from deep within the heart of the Christian community, who were not acquainted with theological subtleties.

Karl Rahner, an Austrian Jesuit, began with the fact that we know now what it was in the past that led to present orthodox teaching of the Church. Whatever development was needed to bring us to where we are now, is a lawful development and very likely to be necessary again. He takes the development of doctrine we can see within the New Testament as the model of what development of doctrine should be; because the New Testament is given to us to show what Christian life is and should be. The development is more than a question of logic; the Church teaches the same doctrine, but continues to make explicit what is implicit.

An example: Peter preached God raised Jesus from the dead. What is implicit is that Jesus died, which the Creed makes explicit: was crucified, died and was buried…

AMcC

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8 April: The Passover Sequence, The Morning.

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It was still dark when John came,

Tho’ the women had already gone,

With their bowls and their cloths,

Their herbs and oils,

Their spices and ointments.

Busy!

Fit for the King, they said.

John met them on the way,

Hurrying,

Worrying,

Fearful their strength would not move the great stone

Enclosing their Lord.

John came with news of Mary,

Safe,

Protected in his home.

John said, she had kept vigil

All the long hours,

Silent,

Sleepless,

Still.

Taking only a little water.

Waiting ….

Until, as dawn approached

She stood, at last.

Facing the death of the night,

The birth of the day.

John was exhausted,

He too had kept vigil

Beside her.

His charge – his mother.

We made him rest,

Take some food.

And so we sat,

Wordless,

Wondering,

Waiting, together.

Until, the darkness broken by the dawn,

The silence broken by the women.

Returning.

Breathless,

Breathing their unbelievable tale

Of an open, empty tomb,

All tidy and neat,

And of a young man in white

Waiting for them.

He must have been an angel, surely?

He had a message,

From the Lord, he said,

The Lord, Our Lord! would see us soon.

I heard John, beside me, breathe so softly …

He promised, oh, he promised,

We must go to him, now, now.”

And gathering us like chickens,

we ran to him,

Ran to our Lord.

SPB

Angel from Wreay, Cumbria.

 

 

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April 3: Easter Tuesday.

dew.grass.png

 

 

the storm shrieked

rushed at everything

tossed and roared

when he rose

like some

possessed

maniac

Now

he stands with

grave authority

quietly speaks

between

sun-streaks

and blades

of grass

SJC

 

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1 April: Did it Rain that Morning ?

dew.grass

Did it Rain that Morning ?

How did the sun rise that morning?

Did it roar into the sky?

Did it dance, throwing its flames across the void?

Did it rain?

Surely it rained?

A penetrating April deluge,

Short, sweet, cleansing.

Penetrating like grief,

Like relief.

Did the wind blow?

With no-one to feel it lift the dirt, the dust,

Sweep clean,

Prepare the way.

The sun at darkness’ end.

The lightning, thunder.

Fit entrance to a forgiven world.

Fit entrance for a Prince, a Lord.

Did the birds and the creatures rejoice together?

The flowers tremble,

Their perfume astonish?

Till all ablaze,

You stepped forth

Accompanied by Angels,

And went your way, about your world.

Until the women came,

Looking,

Peering,

Anxious,

Worried.

All was calm again by then,

Nothing untoward,

Except that you had gone to Galilee

And left a message with an Angel.

 

easter.tomb.CTcath.18.jpg

SPB

Sister Johanna insisted, underlined and insisted, that we should publish this today. Of course she was right. Thanks, Mum! Maurice. (And it was raining on Wednesday in Holy Week at Canterbury Cathedral.)

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