Tag Archives: Saint John

8 April: Stations for Saint Peter, Jesus takes up his Cross.

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Scripture references: Matthew 27:27-31, John 19:12-19; You will be led where you do not want to go: John 21:18-19.

You will go where you do not want to go

Jesus is left with no choices – he is forced to take up his Cross. there is nothing Peter can do now. Some weeks later, back by the Lake, Jesus would tell Peter: when you grow old you will stretch out your hands and somebody else will put a belt about you and take you where you would rather not go.

A prison in Rome!

No, I don’t want to be here, waiting for the soldiers to take me away. Will it be the lions or the gladiators or the cross? There’s only one way out of here, but I do know where I’m going!

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom!

Let us pray for all prisoners awaiting death. May Jesus walk with them and welcome them into his Kingdom.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom!

 

 

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April 6: Before the Cross XXII: Greater love hath no man.

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This image has always troubled me, since the day I first found a copy in a second-hand picture frame. This window is at Hythe in Kent, remembering a nineteen year old officer of the Royal Lancaster Regiment, Robert Aubrey Hildyard, seen dying at the foot of the Cross, his right hand on Christ’s feet, the feet Mary anointed with precious oil. At the foot of the cross lies Robert’s helmet, and a scroll reading, ‘Greater love hath no man’. We can all complete Jesus’ words: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ (John 15:13).

soldier.crucifx.hythe.detailRobert looks peaceful, asleep, while once again we behold a risen Christ: alive, with good muscle tone; his wounds not bleeding. Robert’s rifle and bayonet and an artillery piece are behind the two figures; there is a hill of mud in the background and angels in attendance above.

Surely this comforted the parents of Robert Hildyard, and no doubt others who lost loved ones, but it makes me uneasy. It seems to associate Christ with the war. Yet no less a poet than Hopkins wrote of a soldier or sailor (a tar):

Yes. Why do we áll, seeing of a soldier, bless him? bless
Our redcoats, our tars? Both these being, the greater part,
But frail clay, nay but foul clay. Here it is: the heart,
Since, proud, it calls the calling manly, gives a guess
That, hopes that, makesbelieve, the men must be no less;
It fancies, feigns, deems, dears the artist after his art;
And fain will find as sterling all as all is smart,
And scarlet wear the spirit of wár thére express.

Hopkins recognises that the men are no plaster saints, but if a man wears a brave uniform we – and he – hope, we and he want to believe him as bravehearted as he is smartly dressed. But no-one was smart at the Somme, where Robert died. Their heroism was different: men drowned in mud or were cut down by machine-gun fire before coming to close combat. Robert himself was killed when a shell hit where he and Godfrey James Wilding were sheltering.

Hopkins continues:

Mark Christ our King. He knows war, served this soldiering through;
He of all can handle a rope best. There he bides in bliss
Now, and séeing somewhére some mán do all that man can do,
For love he leans forth, needs his neck must fall on, kiss,
And cry ‘O Christ-done deed! So God-made-flesh does too:
Were I come o’er again’ cries Christ ‘it should be this’.

For love Christ leans forth to kiss Robert and cry … ‘So God-made-flesh does too!’ What did God-made-flesh do in the War? He did not conquer death and sin with violence.

I think of Jesus, asleep on the rugs in the sinking boat. A flimsy shelter, causing his friends to fear. Jesus sensed their fear, knew that death was close by, calmed the storm. But there was no dramatic rescue for Robert and Godfrey in this world, and no more that they could do. ‘It should be this’: not killing other men, but putting oneself in the firing line.


Why did Robert and Godfrey lay down their lives?

The gesture of touching Christ’s feet suggests that Robert’s parents wanted to associate his death with Christ’s, and saw it as freely given.

Here is another soldier’s take on the daily sacrifices of being a soldier in the Great War. For Joyce Kilmer the freely accepted, everyday deprivations were as a millionth part of Christ’s sufferings:

My shoulders ache beneath my pack 

(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back). 

We published his poem on the centenary of his death last July; click on the link. The post following that is Christina’s response to Kilmer’s poem: Is All Human Suffering The Same Suffering?. Do read that as well.

May we unite our sufferings with the Lord’s, may we grow into the persons he wants us to be, and may we be aware of our own lack of importance and ‘let us render back again /This millionth of Thy gift. Amen.’

MMB

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4 April. Before the Cross XX: Dancing in the blazing fiery furnace.

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When I first saw this picture that Rupert sent I had not read his reflection but I soon realised that our perceptions, thoughts and intuitions differed but in a creative way. Perhaps my grandson’s baptism attuned me to baptismal themes here. Thank you Rupert, for sharing this arresting image.

It was the dove descending that I first noticed, coming from the fiery light that overflows from the left hand side of the painting. The Spirit seems to be aiming for the water jar, just left of centre. ‘Fill the jars with water’, the Lord commanded at Cana, and the water and the wedding feast were transformed. To reinforce this connection, the jar at the very left has tongues of fire over it, the Spirit hovering over the waters. We are very much in John’s Gospel here: the cross is part of creation! There are six jars, as at Cana, and a basin in which to wash each other’s feet as in John’s account of the Last Supper.

The figures at the top right are in an attitude of adoration, which they express physically, they are not mere armchair Christians. And their attitude, their bowing, is athletic rather than abject. Thus is fear and trembling felt at a moment of great joy.

The three dancers across the middle of the painting are in harmony rather than unison with each other: there are may ways for Christians to be united, after all, but all hear and react to the same music.

The Cross – the blood-spattered Cross as Rupert points out – dominates the space, but is not a symbol of defeat. Rather like an Eschler work, its perspective is more than two dimensional, thrusting out of the frame, And where its shadow would be, were it not a blaze of light, the Light of the World, the undefeated Christ is carrying his banner forward. The dancers have seen him and respond in joy: the fourth person has appeared in the blazing fiery furnace: they are joyful, suffering, people of the light.

MMB.

Worship by Jun Ramosmos.

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27 March: Before the Cross XIII: Peace or Power?


osagie.osifo.x.rupertCrucified Jesus between two standing figures by Osagie Osifo

A wooden panel displayed in the Catholic Chapel of the University of Ibadan, carved by Osagie Osifo in 1961. (Willett, F. 2002 African Art London, Thames & Hudson Ltd.)

Here, Jesus is flanked by Mary, his mother, and John the “beloved disciple”, in a moment that could not be more serene. Mary and John both have their eyes closed, and their hands positioned as if in prayer. The object of their devotion is obviously the crucified Jesus, who, raised above and between them, forms the focus of the carving. Adding to the peace and calm of the image are the leaves: trefoil forms (possibly alluding to the trinity of the Christian God), while the simple interlace designs at top and bottom call to mind those of Celtic art. I think the whole composition has something of a Celtic “feel” to it.

Except, of course, that this is clearly an African work, and specifically one informed by the art and history of the kingdom of Benin, now a part of Nigeria. Osagie Osifo, himself from Benin, has fashioned this image deliberately to echo the famous bronzes, “rescued” by a British punitive expedition in 1897 mounted against the Oba (King of Benin) and his chiefs.

The Oba ruled over a highly organised society which, though famed now for its art and advanced understanding of casting bronze, was also extremely warlike. It was a culture where much of the religion and ritual was focused upon the King himself and on his ancestors. Some of these customs have been restored and are practised today in modern Benin. Osifo’s carving of Jesus challenges this in the most radical way.

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https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1990.332/

The Oba stands between two of his officials in this bronze plaque. He holds a huge sword in one hand, and a staff of office on the other. The three figures are helmeted, the Oba appearing the most fearsome of all with his distinctive collar and his domineering stance. His helmet is spiked. Nothing in this image would signify peace or tranquillity; it has only to do with naked power and aggression. By substituting the Oba for Jesus, and the two warriors for Mary and John, Osifo has consciously declared his position: Christ is Lord. He alone is worthy of worship.

Stylistically, Jesus and the Oba might share some characteristics: short legs and long arms, and both sport a similar wrapped garment with its hem rising to the waist at the front. (And there are leaf shapes on the Oba’s bronze background, too). But there the similarity ends. Much as with the confrontation between Jesus and Pilate, here two entirely opposite world-views collide. The one exercises power by bullying and coercion, military might and political clout. The other, relying on the power and authority of a loving Father, chooses to suffer, and dies on a cross.

Osifo’s carving is beautiful in its own right, but for me it becomes all the more so as I consider how it, and how the gospel, subverts the traditional order of things. Paul writes to the church at Colossae:

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Col.2:15.

The work is a beautifully contextualised statement on how Jesus challenges that which diminishes our humanity, oppresses us, or distracts us from our true vocation. It is in recognising the truth of Israel’s God and of the one he sent, that we can then see a hope for the world. Without him, insecurity and violence are sure to reign. The carving redeems something of Benin’s art, but in doing so must drastically alter it. Rightly, Jesus is at the centre, and the true power lies – as it should in our lives – in the crucifixion itself.

Rupert Greville

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26 March. Before the Cross XII: the beatific vision.

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Rood, Our Lady and English Martyrs, Cambridge.

This Crucifix is like that of Tignes a couple of days ago in one respect: it is a representation of the Risen Christ, but in a different context, and equally valid.

This Victorian Rood, full of symbolism, is in the Catholic Church of Or Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge, England. It is challenging in a different way to some of the other images we have seen this Lent, but like the Welcoming Christ, it is essentially an image of resurrection. No way is this Christ dead or in agony!

So what is the Rood telling us?

Let’s start with the Christ figure. We see a man in the prime of life, vigorously alive, not hanging naked on the cross but standing tall and robed in majesty. No-one could say of him, he cannot save himself! The crown on his head is of royal gold, not thorns; the nails in his hands and feet are in gold also, but lest we forget the earthly reality of the cross, we see red blood on his palms and insteps. As well as a King’s crown, he wears the long white alb and the red scarf or stole of a priest vested for Mass.

The white scarf around his neck is called a pallium. These are woven from lambs’ wool and given to archbishops by the pope. One appears on the coat of arms of Canterbury Anglican diocese and that of Westminster Catholic diocese. As well as announcing Christ as high priest, the pallium is associated with the idea of the Good Shepherd who brings home the lost sheep, and with the sacrificial Lamb of God.

The alb is a symbol of purity – we see in the Book of Revelation all the saints in white garments. Christ’s here has red trimmings; together with the red stole they tell of blood shed in martyrdom or persecution. The priest celebrating Mass today wears an alb to show that he is representing Christ, the High Priest, and seeks to be as saintly as the white garment implies. Christ, of course, has every right to wear the white garment, and each baptised Christian is given a white garment at Baptism: so we are crucified and risen with Christ: a thought to sustain us in times of hardship.

At the foot of the Cross stand Mary – the dedicatee of the Church, and John the Apostle and Evangelist. They are not mourning in this Resurrection Crucifixion but are absorbed in the beatific vision: this cross presents the artist’s interpretation of the true meaning of the Crucifixion.

Angels adore the Lord from around the Cross: again sending us to Revelation and pointing out the one-ness of Creation, of our world of time and space where Jesus died in Jerusalem with the heavenly Jerusalem where he is Priest and King; King of All Creation, not just of the Jews.

At the foot of the Cross and along its trunk and arms are stylised leaves and grapes: in John’s Gospel Jesus says, I am the Vine, make your home in me as I make mine in you. The wine pressed from the fruit of the Cross brings relief from our spiritual thirst and joy to our hearts. Take up your Cross daily and follow me – to the Crucifixion, yes, in smaller and bigger ways each day, but to the risen life each day as well, even before we die and go to meet the Good Shepherd.

Finally, at the feet of Jesus we see a chalice – for the cup at every Eucharist is indeed the Holy Grail, the cup of the Last Supper – and above the cup, marked with a Cross and radiant in gold, is a round of white unleavened bread; the ‘forms of bread and wine’ that make present in our day all that this Crucifix sets out to tell us.

If, like me, silence does not always come easily to your heart in church or in prayer, maybe sitting with this image can help direct your thoughts to the eternal reality which it professes. The whole story of Jesus is symbolised here from his birth to Mary, up to John running to the empty tomb and seeing and believing – and witnessing to what he believed. May we be ever more faithful witnesses to what we believe.

MMB

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2 February: The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

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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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25 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Day 8: The Lord is my light and my salvation

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The Lord is my light and my salvation (Psalm 27:1)

  • Psalm 27:1-4

  • John 8:12-20

Starting point

Over the past eight days the churches of Indonesia have helped us consider difficult situations facing the world. Many of these have raised questions of justice. The Church has been complicit in many instances of injustice and, through that complicity, we have damaged our unity and diminished the effectiveness of our witness to the world. Christians gather for common prayer, professing common faith and to listen for God’s voice. Although the many injustices wound us, we do not lose hope, but are called to action. The Lord is our light and salvation, the stronghold of our lives. We do not fear.

Reflection

Hope

Forgive us how we’ve devalued you:

‘We live in hope’ and yet don’t hope to live,

‘Hope so’, when we have none in our hearts.

Show us who you really are:

disturb the deathly ease of our despair

and give us the courage to embrace your pain:

impudent in the face of hate,

unrelenting under oppression,

daring to resist the entropy of division.

Goad us to take up that felon’s cross

whose agony

laid empty the grave.

Prayer

God our hope,

we praise you for your loving kindness.

Uphold us when we are about to give up,

show us your light when all around seems dark.

Transform our lives that we may bring hope to others.

Help us to live united in our diversity as a witness to your communion,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

one God now and forever. Amen.

Questions

  • How has Jesus empowered you to witness to what is right?

  • Where in the life of your church or group of churches do you most need the gift of hope?

  • What is your best hope for your community?

Go and Do

(see www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo)

Generate hope by sharing your actions and prayers for justice on the CTBI prayer wall using the #wpcuwall hashtag on Twitter and visit http://www.weekofprayer.org to see the actions others have taken.

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27 December: Bird watching

 

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It’s been a while since we heard from Sheila Billingsley, but then we have three seasonal posts: Christmas morning and now two poems for consecutive feasts: saint John the Evangelist today, tomorrow the Holy Innocents. 

This is a fragment from an early papyrus copy of Saint John’s Gospel, held at the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester. Go and see it; it’s usually on show.  We are told in chapters 20 and 21 that the signs that Jesus worked were witnessed by the disciples and written down ‘that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you may have life through his name.


Bird watching

The evening sun has warmed the wall

At my back,

Soon to cool in the last of its light.

The eagle hovers,

Circling tirelessly.

All day it has been there

Circling ever higher, higher,

Wider, deeper,

Always above.

While I, sit like the ageing man that I am,

And wait.

Watching the great bird,

Surely the great bird watches me?

Oh lift me, bird, on strong wings

Until I can look into the sun.

I could write.

I should write.

But what to write?

And how?

Watching you, bird, in your calm drifting

His voice returns,

His nearness touches.

His command.

Write this!

Tell them that I Am the Beginning,

The start of everything.

Tell them that you knew me!

Heard me,

Touched me!

Tell, oh, tell of my Father and our Love.’

The sun is almost gone,

The bird, great eagle,

To its eyrie.

Now light the lamp,

Bring my papyrus,

Bring my pen …

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25 October. What is Theology Saying? XXXVIII: We have locked ourselves in the shadow of death

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The evil in unredeemed desire is far deeper than the law could engender – which is why we are told that anger = murder and lust = adultery. The way evil cannot touch is forgiveness. We need to learn to desire without the need to compete, blame or measure ourselves against. We need to be free to relish good wherever it is found – but who decides what is good?

God gave a prohibition for our protection – which we have consistently ignored – not to eat of the tree whose fruit is knowledge of good and evil. But seeing something withheld led to rivalry and envy – we’ll show him – we’ll do it our way. Paul tells us that the Law is not sinful – Romans 7.7. – I was once alive apart from the Law, but when the command came sin sprang into life and I died. Paul sees the Serpent not as the Devil but as sin. Desire is a gift of God, but not when disfigured by envy. We have victimised the Law making it an instrument of redemptive violence, and locking ourselves within the shadow of death.

Desire turned to envy made what should have been the irenic way to life into the sphere of rivalry, envy and exclusion. Now all life is infected [universality of OS] by such distorted desire – they saw that they were naked – all this through ignoring that prohibition that was there to ensure our well-being.

It is my awareness of me as “I” that results from knowing other than me. Paul insists that it is Faith that allows us access to desire redemption, to desire in ways that owe nothing to envious rivalry. Sin means my “I” is not in control but is itself controlled by distorted desire. What is needed is the way of living that Paul describes as: It is no longer I but Christ living in me [controlling my “I”] – Gal.2.20.

Jesus shows that Original Sin is not of our essence, it is simply evidence of a faulty foundational principle [way of life]. Paradoxically, what Jesus was founding was subversion of the notion founding – in the sense of achieving identity by comparison over against others. It is totally gratuitous in every way… something that existed long before our capacity for distorting desire ever happened. Before Original Sin there is Original Grace.

The tragedy of Original Sin is not that it is universal, but in the universality of the new people we discover what is possible for “I” – to become enabled to move from the universal to the particular; whereas conversion requires recognition of our equality as the foundation of human dignity; unity in diversity, equal but not the same. Original Sin is what we are leaving behind when we take new life seriously. We realise the reality of Original Sin through those who have been set free from it. As Jesus told Nicodemus – we must be born into a new way – not going back and starting again. – Jn.3.3. Death was seen as an extrinsic punishment for sin – we all sin, we all die! Death and sin are connected – distorted desire cannot bring life, since only God is life!

AMcC

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October 23: What is Theology saying? XXXVI: Resurrection and Original Sin.

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The formal doctrine of Original Sin is not present in the apostolic witness, no more than is the doctrine of the Trinity. What is crucial for understanding God-with-us in Jesus is the real presence to the disciples of Jesus at once crucified and risen. The only reason why there is Christianity is the Resurrection. Any doctrine that cannot trace its origin to the Resurrection is to be discarded – Galatians 1:8. – But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!

The Resurrection was not a mysterious event within a pre-existing framework for understanding God, but the event by which God recast the possibility of human awareness of God. God blew apart former understandings of God in the birth, life, death and Resurrection of Jesus. Death is a matter of complete indifference to God Mark.12.18, which has Jesus telling the authorities you are very much mistaken! Any understanding of God based on death cannot even begin to know God. God’s love in Jesus is totally unaffected by death; love carries on being reciprocal right through and beyond death.

The doctrine of Original Sin is that death is not a necessity. The presence of Jesus crucified and risen reveals that we were wrong about God and wrong about ourselves; not wrong as in mistaken, but that we were going the wrong way. Divine forgiveness makes known the accidental nature of mortality. In John 9 we read Jesus’ response to who is the sinner: this man or his parents… I have come that those who do not see may see, and those who see – become blind – 9.39. The conversation starts with sin being the cause of his blindness, through which he is excluded. By the end sin is the act of exclusion.

AMcC

The design of the Canterbury Cathedral Easter Garden is entrusted to an apprentice.

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