Saturday, 31 March 2012

Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested - the 2nd station

Ely Cathedral
43 Jesus was still speaking when Judas, one of the twelve disciples, arrived. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs and sent by the chief priests, the teachers of the Law, and the elders.44 The traitor had given the crowd a signal:

“The man I kiss is the one you want. Arrest him and take him away under guard.”

 45 As soon as Judas arrived, he went up to Jesus and said,

“Teacher!” and kissed him.46 So they arrested Jesus and held him tight. [Mark 14.43-46 Good News Bible]

Judas has fascinated us since the earliest days, and we all want to know why he did it, as if to understand motive justified the action. Sin explained is sin justified, we seem to imply. The other thing we do with Judas is to use him as the scapegoat. We point the finger, wash our hands, and walk away.

All this raises for me the more important question, which is where I locate myself in this freeze-frame. Who am I in the crowd? How shall I choose to orient myself towards Jesus? The truth is that every time I read these words, I find myself in a different place, and it’s this dithering uncertainty that is characteristic of so much that goes on around Jesus in the passion story. Most of the protagonists in this drama are ditherers, and I identify with them easily.

Mostly, I react, whereas Jesus, with immense human dignity and divine sense of purpose sets his face towards Jerusalem, and acts. Sure, he stands passively while people react towards him with kisses, hugs, scourges, stinging words and the rest. But he stands in the certainty that all of this is furthering the action of God, in which he shares: Your will, Father, and mine, are in the end the same will. I will be delivered over to the hands of sinful humanity…

And in his acceptance of his destiny, he acts for my sin and the sin of the world, decisively and finally. This is his desired outcome, and it will be accomplished. So as the story unfolds over the next few days, bring your dithering, your doubt and your uncertainty into conversation with the certainty of the love and grace of God made known to us in Christ Jesus. Be glad that the chief actor in this drama – true man and true God – responds to our undignified and sullied reactions with the supreme act of grace: the cross.

Lord Jesus, you were betrayed by the kiss of a friend:
be with those who are betrayed and slandered and falsely accused.
You knew the experience of having your love
thrown back in your face for mere silver:
be with families which are torn apart by mistrust or temptation.
To you, Jesus, who offered your face to your betrayer,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.Amen.

Prayer (c) Archbishops' Council 2012

Friday, 30 March 2012

Following Jesus through the stations of the cross

Over Holy Week, we are going to post short reflections on each of the biblical Stations of the Cross, with prayers that you might like to use. Do join us on this journey.

1st Station: Jesus in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’

Mark’s account of the garden prayers is the more shocking, because it comes immediately after Peter’s protestation that he will never forsake Jesus: he said vehemently, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And then he falls asleep. Peter, the master of the grand gesture, who so often, like me, seems to miss the small detail of discipleship: just sit here while I pray, says Jesus. Remain here. Not too tall a talk. Keep awake.

The small things in our following Jesus are the most symptomatic of the health of our spiritual life, and the details determine the trajectory of our journey of faith. It’s worth the mathematically-minded among you remembering that one degree of movement to the left or right takes us hundreds of miles off course. No wonder Jesus spoke about a narrow path leading to eternal life, lest we lose our way.

Now let’s look briefly at the components of Jesus’ prayer at the beginning of the crisis of his last days:

1.      He names God intimately, confidently, as one in relationship with him. We too can speak the language of Jesus in prayer.
2.      He tells the truth about God: for you all things are possible. This is what praise is: not flattery, not exaggeration. Just the simple truth, and it’s a perfect model for our praise.
3.      He makes a request, and then – almost as quickly – withdraws it. Well, not quite. He is honest with God, doesn’t beat about the bushes: remove this cup. At the same time, however, he speaks with courtesy to the one who know best, and whose will must be done for the sake of the world’s salvation.

And here too we learn from Jesus, to be bold, to be honest, but to be willing for it all to happen another way. Just stay awake long enough to pray this prayer, with its three simple components: My God, you are great. Help me, and help me your way...

Lord Jesus, you entered the garden of fear, and faced the agony of your impending death:
be with those who share that agony nd face death unwillingly this day.
You shared our fear and knew the weakness of our humanity:
give strength and hope to the dispirited and despairing.
To you, Jesus, who sweated blood, be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and forever. Amen.

Prayer (c) Archbishops' Council 2012 from Times and Seasons page 239 

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Where your strength comes from

…and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust [confided], and I am sure [persuaded] that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 2 Timothy 1.12

The word ‘confidence’ occurs 15 times in the New Testament, and 5 of those occurrences are in 2 Corinthians [5 are in Hebrews and the rest in other Pauline writings]. But the root of the word is the verb ‘to persuade’, and when you realize this, you realize also just how deeply embedded the idea of confidence is in the scriptures:

1.      God acts powerfully;
2.      We are persuaded by what we have seen and heard;
3.      We are filled with confidence;
4.      We are persuaded that what God has done will continue until the Kingdom come;
5.      We are transformed by God’s confidence in us and through us, and proclaim the gospel boldly.

Let me now briefly unwrap ‘confidence’ in 2 Corinthians. The argument is this:

1.      God redeems;
2.      We are given confidence/we are persuaded;
3.      Confidence is embedded in us;
4.      With that confidence, we act in the same way towards others.

This is acted out for starters in chapter 1, where – in response to his critics who accuse him of dithering – Paul reminds his hearers that they can have confidence in God’s ‘Yes’. God does not vacillate, is not changeable, does not dither. For in Christ every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’ And, Paul says, because God only says ‘Yes’, you can have confidence in us his servants, for we live in the light of that ‘Yes’.

In the next chapter, he underlines the fact that our confidence in God’s Yes comes by way of Christ’s triumphal procession: we are redeemed by the saving work of Christ. As in chapter 1, we are led to understand that this confidence leads to transformed lives: new creations. The metaphor here is the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. We who have confidence in the work of God become part of God’s ongoing work of redeeming humanity.

The 3rd chapter speaks of confidence in terms of the new covenant, again rooting it in the redeeming blood of Christ. Such in the confidence that we have through Christ towards God. [3.4] This new covenant, which removes the veil, enables us to see the glory of God, and (again, in case we haven’t yet got it), we are told that God’s glory transforms us: from one degree of glory to another.

After a reality check in chapter 4 about our weakness and suffering, Paul comes back to the theme of glory: Though we suffer now, we are being prepared for an eternal weight of glory. Glory and confidence are fully interlinked, of course, because our confidence comes from the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ.  And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. [John 1.14]
The 1st part of chapter 5 deals with the resurrection of the body: in the middle of it, though he is assured that he will be raised, he abandons everything for the sake of his pure confidence in God: Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. [5.8]
By the time we reach 5.14, Paul has repeatedly hammered home the two parallels:

Confidence in God is placed alongside our own brokenness
Confidence in Christ’s redeeming work leads to our transformation and reconciling work

So here’s your homework!

1.      Ask yourself how confident you are. If you are confident, be careful that it’s not self-confidence that you’re dealing with. If you’re unconfident, then know that you can depend on God alone.
2.      Knowing that in Christ we are a new creation, think about the fact that you are already changed – you are a likeness of a saint! How can you let this new creation shine out of you without striving to be nice, or good, or artificially holy?
3.      Do you really, really believe that the gates of hell will not prevail against Christ’s Church? Or are you wasting a lot of missional time worrying about the death-throes of old institutional patterns?
4.      Are you confident in God and his Church, or in God despite his Church?

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Practically pursuing holiness

The call to holiness is terrifying at the best of times. The Bible enjoins us to be holy, because God is holy, regularly repeated in the Old Testament, picked up in 1 Peter 1.16: for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy. Even more daunting are Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, calling us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is.

It’s not terrifying because I don’t understand it, but because I do. I am to be like God: there are no two ways about it. It’s not a warning so much as a given, a lifestyle command to the disciples of the Kingdom. And because I know myself only too well, it’s a command to a movement, a process, a journey, a dynamic change in which I expose my life to the gaze of those around me, so that they can help me to identify areas of work and potential growth.

It’s a work that the Holy Spirit must enable: the fruits of the Spirit listed by Paul in Galatians 5 are after all, fruits of the Spirit, with the emphasis boldly put on God. My part is played by collaborating with God, and I want to suggest some additional and very practical ways of pursuing an feeding a holy life in the everyday things this Lent.
  1. At the beginning of the day, pray for the events of the day (so far as you know them) one by one. In so doing, you will enter those appointments and actions with the will to do them in the power of God. 
  2. At the end of each day, respond thankfully to these actions and events by ‘counting your blessings, one by one.’ In so doing, you will create an inner environment of gratitude which will be likely to generate gracious attitudes in your thought and speech for several days to come. 
  3. Identify one person to encourage by your true words. Don’t use flattery, and don’t overplay your words of encouragement, or they will sound hollow. It might simply be a compliment, or the voicing of a good thought about a sermon. How many of us never say thank you to the preacher! 
  4. Look for one piece of good news on your favourite news channel, and make a note to talk about it to someone in the next few days. One I found today was that Atlantic Records is giving £26 million to Oxford University for student scholarships in the humanities. It’s hidden low down on the website, but it’s there.
  5. Send one less email, and make a lot of people happy.
 I’d love to know what else you do to cultivate a personal environment of holy attitudes which lead to holy actions, so do please add your comments.