Friday, April 19, 2019

Good Friday




When a nameless soldier pushed a spear between Jesus’ ribs, rupturing his heart, Mary’s heart had already been pierced with a sword. Run through as she stood her ground, refusing to move—“What are you going to do? Kill a defenceless woman? You already have.”

Mary was dead. But not just any old dead, not common-or-garden dead. Mary was dead, but unbowed. Still breathing. Walking. Would keep breathing. Death gets to have its day—announced long ago—but not the final word.

If Jesus’ resurrection, on the third day, was a seismic event—and it was—Mary was the foreshock, the warning-sign that it was coming.

I believe in the literal, physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus...and that, one day, we will experience the same gift of divine grace. But I also believe that, as Mary was the foreshock...so, many since have experienced foreshocks. Where your heart has been pierced, may you be one of them.

May you be as Mary today.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Maundy Thursday



A large, framed print of Sieger Köder’s Fußwaschung (The Washing of Feet) hangs on the wall of my study.

I am struck by how Peter simultaneously leans into Jesus and pushes him away...

presses into and pulls away from Jesus...

and in this liminal space, he, like the bread on the paten behind him, is taken, blessed, broken, and given to and for others.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Holy Week, part 5


The more I gaze upon Evetts’ windows, the more I am struck by his use of fired black paint. Of, grime. Of ugliness, if you will. All the grime and ugliness of the world, transcended by the presence of God-with-us. All things reconciled, resulting in beauty.




I am saddened by the call, sounded and taken up by various voices in the wake of the Notre Dame fire, that we should choose justice over beauty. It is hackneyed, a false dichotomy; and, indeed, a heresy. There is no justice without beauty, no beauty without justice. One of the tragedies of the Grenfell fire was that low-income families were not considered worthy of quality materials brought together for the flourishing of life, to the glory of God. Another is that the survivors are still waiting.

(One of the ironies of this social media debate is that it is those prophets who lead with a ‘social issues’ beat who are denouncing those prophets who lead with a ‘creativity’ beat! The prophetic calling has always embraced both. But, more: this is why we need all the voices—apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers—and not just our own.)

Only when we embrace justice and beauty, beauty and justice, will we tell stories worth telling; stories worthy of women and men, whose lives, diminished by sin, are being redeemed.

Evetts, and self-effacing artists like him, are a gift from God. In company with others, possessing other callings, they help show us the way.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Holy Week, part 4


We might not be a World Heritage Site, but, these windows!






I’m struck by the linen strips.


The new-born Jesus, wrapped in swaddling bands by his mother, Mary, and laid in a manger (which would have been a shallow bowl hollowed from a stone ledge)...


The infant Jesus, still wrapped tight against the night chill, carried off by his parents to Egypt, in search of asylum from a tyrannical ruler. Held close by his mother...


The man Jesus stretched on the execution-scaffold. His linen unravelled, only just (and a-historically) preserving his modesty...

We are not shown the corpse, taken down from the cross; washed and wrapped for one last time in linen strips by his mother; cradled in her arms; carried off to a safe place; laid in the tomb (again, on a shallow depression on a stone ledge: so many echoes); kissed goodnight xxx

But we are led there, in our imagination, step-by-step by-linen-strip by the genius of the artist-of-faith Leonard Evetts.

We are not shown the linen strips left by the risen Lord when he walked out of the tomb. Leaving them as a sign to be discovered, a sign not only of life but also of love.

Then again, perhaps we are.

Holy Week, part 3




Yesterday I sat with a man approaching his seventieth birthday. As a teenaged police cadet, he had been knocked out in a rugby match. When he came around, the first aiders wanted to take him safely home; but he, suffering from concussion, gave them his early childhood address, from where the family had moved many years earlier.

It was stunning—that is, concussion-like—to see a crowd gather in what is arguably the most secular city in the world, to sing hymns and bear witness to the destruction of Our Lady of Paris. Have we not moved on, years ago?

Church buildings are depositories of faith; reliquaries, if you will. I am an icon of Christ, and a True Nail that once held him to the Cross. The church building holds out the gathered Church for the benefit of pilgrims, and tourists; those who come in search of something too great a mystery to articulate, too real a presence to ignore.

Sometimes the building burns, the deposit of faith—in building and pilgrim alike—is tested and purified, like gold in the fire.

Sometimes what we manage to rescue becomes even more precious. And what is lost, opportunity to begin again.

And sometimes concussion brings us to our senses.

This is not the end, for Notre Dame de Paris, or for any of us who gazed upon her terrible glory.

Holy Week, part 2



 


I have been sitting in front of a jug overflowing with ‘water’ and reflecting on Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.

Feet that had followed him, for three years, almost to the end. Feet that would follow him, a little later, to the place where he would be arrested; and then flee. Simon Peter’s feet, that would walk into the very house where Jesus was being tried illegally; would stay as near as he was brave enough to go; and then carry him off in despair. Judas’ feet, that would soon dangle below a suicidal noose.

And Jesus’ hands, washing, and drying their feet. Hands that would soon enough be twisted by giant nails. Jesus’ feet, too.


Feet, and hands. It is a very bodily religion, Christianity. An embodied faith.

The vessel I am sitting in front of is old and tarnished and battered, just like the Church. The water, plentiful, just like the Holy Spirit. We are called to wash one another’s feet, to serve one another. The water, for dusty feet, does not run out.

Today, I have sat with a widow, and a man who lost his son forty years ago, and a man whose wife is very ill. Sat, and listened, to them talk or to the silence. Sat with them, noting their hands and feet. I have sat, praying for them, and asking for the grace to serve them as best I can, as they, indeed, serve others as best as they are able.

A very bodily faith. And one deeply concerned with memory. With memory, carried in the body—both personal and corporate, as we remember together. Our stories, woven into His story, woven into one another’s stories.

Memory and body. Aging bodies, and memory loss. Jars of water, and people willing to remember together and to embrace the indignity of serving another, or of being served by another.

It’s not a faith for those who aren’t interested in bodies or memory, those who choose to live in the moment as though they were immortal. No, being a Christian is not for everyone. But I commend it to you.

Holy Week, part 1


This week, I have set up a series of prayer stations at St Nicholas’ Church, a journey through Holy Week, the church being open at set times during the mornings, afternoons, and evenings for people to come and pray.



Station 1: Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume
At the book of remembrance, an invitation to pray for those nearing death, and those who have been bereaved.




Station 2: Jesus washes his disciples’ feet
At the font, an invitation to pray for those who serve us, and whom we serve.





Station 3: the Last Supper
In the middle, an invitation to take bread, and wine, and give thanks for all that Jesus has done for us.




Station 4: Gethsemane
At the sanctuary step, an invitation to pray with Jesus for all those who will believe in him, for the global Church—and especially where it is persecuted, or divided.



Station 5: the Courtyard
At the candle-stand, an invitation to confess those times when we have denied knowing Jesus [take and hold a dissolvable tablet while making your confession; then drop it in the large vase of water, where it will fizz like the brazier at which Peter denied knowing Jesus, before dissolving as we experience forgiveness].




Station 6: the Crucifixion
In the chapel, an invitation to sit and meditate on the death of Jesus.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Donkey


This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, when we listen again to the account of Jesus descending the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, the temple mount before him across the valley, riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey. In many of our churches, we will role-play the procession of pilgrims, cutting palm branches to wave in celebration, declaring, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Donkeys wander the pages of biblical history, in the hereditary blessing of the tribe of Judah, in the appointing of Saul to be the first king of the people, and the divine decision to appoint David in Saul’s place. In coming to Jerusalem in this manner, Jesus deliberately references the prophets, such as Zechariah 9:9-10, making the bold and subversive statement that he comes as the one appointed by God to be king over his people.

But in the reading from the Old Testament set for Morning Prayer today, there is another donkey. Jeremiah 22:1-5, 13-19 records the Lord addressing Jehoiakim, king of Judah sitting on the throne of David. The Lord charges Jehoiakim and the royal court to act with justice and righteousness, but also judges them for having set their hearts on dishonest gain, the shedding of innocent blood, practicing oppression and violence. Therefore the Lord declares: “They shall not lament for him, saying, ‘Alas, lord!’ or ‘Alas, his majesty!’ With the burial of a donkey he shall be buried—dragged off and thrown out beyond the gates of Jerusalem.”

If the rulers of the people refuse to turn from the shedding of innocent blood, and act with justice and righteousness, the Davidic king will be given the burial of a donkey, dragged off and thrown out beyond the gates of Jerusalem.

This donkey, too, is surely in Jesus’ mind as he winds his way down the hillside.

The blessed life


Some of my most interesting conversations with people take place at wakes, and yesterday was no exception. A wonderful privilege to be given the gift of time to talk to a nephew, a school teacher in south London. He spoke of the real privilege of being able to be a long-term, loving presence in the lives of young people who often have not known that in the context of family, and who are written-off by society, scared out of their wits by a press media that over-reports knife crime (some only carrying knives because they are so scared of others carrying knives).

He spoke of their potential, of how they respond to calm; of all pupils being asked to be actively engaged with the wider community through projects, volunteering, and spending time with the older residents; and of local shopkeepers signing-up their shops as designated safe places, should any pupil feel scared on the streets. Of developing a school roof-top garden, with the aim of selling vegetables on a stall in the neighbouring market...

I asked him if there was a time-limit on living in London, if it was a younger man’s game? He responded that London can be whatever you want it to be, that his London today is not the same as his London ten years ago. That London magnifies how you are within yourself, so if you are habitually stressed it will be stressful, and if you are meditative, it will afford you the river and bridges and architecture and all the scope to ponder life.

His vocation was abundantly evident, his enthusiasm palpable, his love for teaching and the kids he teaches and for life and for living where he does. It was a joy and a privilege, and a challenge and encouragement, to listen to him, to ask questions of him and learn from him.

At one point, he described his life as blessed. And it was clear that he lived a blessed life, that he received life as a gift and saw it as a gift with which to bless others.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

APEST and Anglicans, part 2


The Lambeth Quadrilateral (building on the Chicago Quadrilateral) is recognised as the common basis of Anglican ecclesiology, defined by:

(a) The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as “containing all things necessary to salvation,” and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
(b) The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
(c) The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself—Baptism and the Supper of the Lord—ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.
(d) The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.

How does APEST relate to this? Here are some initial thoughts.

(a) APEST function (corporate behaviour, presence, or manifestation) and vocation (personal calling, profile) are found throughout Old and New Testaments, and as such where any dimension is missing, the Church has fallen away from the scriptural rule and standard of faith. But is this ‘necessary to salvation’ or adiaphora—things permitted but not essential? Firstly, it is hard to describe the unfolding drama of salvation history without drawing on all five functions. Salvation is wrought in the person of Jesus by his being sent (and sending) (A), his covenant faithfulness (and drawing others into this) (P), his embodiment of good news (E), his laying down of his life as the Good Shepherd (S), and his instruction as the Way, the Truth and the Life (T). Moreover, if salvation is something to be lived-into, it cannot be fully embraced and inhabited without all five functions.

(b) The Creeds are historic statements that address particular issues facing the Church at the time of their formulation. While we affirm, in particular, the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed, they are first words (sufficient) rather than last words. The Apostles’ Creed is the baptismal declaration, by which we offer ourselves to the Lord (to use the gift receiving-and-giving language of Psalm 68, in which Paul anchors the gifts of Christ). Both Creeds begin with God and the created order (see my earlier post on APEST cosmology). Both Creeds affirm the ascension, the act from which Jesus gives APEST to the Church. Both, especially the Nicene, emphasise the apostolic sentness of both Jesus and the Church. Prophets are recognised, in relation to the Holy Spirit, and also the call of the Church to holiness. Unity is recognised in the call on the Church to be one; diversity recognised in the insistence that the Church is catholic (i.e. we recognise one another, in our difference). The Jesus event is proclaimed as good news for humanity. The forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the dead are profoundly pastoral, shepherding emphases. The systematising of faith into a creed that can be taught, a teaching impulse.

(c) Baptism is the event in which people—apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers—are liberated, through the waters, from death to life, and presented as gift by the Lord to his Church. The Supper of the Lord (or, Holy Communion, or the Eucharist) is the regular event in which our unity and diversity are held together; in which we recognise one another, and Christ re-members his Body.

(d) The Historic Episcopate is apostolic in that it guards the deposit of the faith (through time) and its spread (through space). (Not every bishop is primarily an apostle by gift, though all must attend to that aspect of their APEST profile.) The call to attend to the varying needs of nations and peoples called into Unity requires attending to all five ‘intelligences’ or biases, in order that the Body be built up: what needs to step back, in this or that context, in order that another might step forward?

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

APEST and Anglicans, part 1


Earlier this week, I was engaged in delivering some APEST teaching for a cohort of Anglican clergy in Durham Diocese (and as I am a member of the Durham clergy, they are my regional colleagues). In preparation, they had taken Alan Hirsch’s APEST profile test. One of the observations was that, in a room that represented a diversity of tradition, age, gender, and length of ministry experience, there were several Traditional Catholic colleagues who all came out as ES (Primary gift: Evangelist; Secondary gift: Shepherd).

This didn’t surprise me, though it took some unpacking for me to articulate why. My observation is that our own tradition shapes us for the nurture of particular gifts, as well as how they are expressed. So, for example, a conservative evangelical context will nurture Teachers, because ‘right teaching’ is of central importance. My observation of the Trad. Cath. tradition is that for generation on generation, they have gone to communities that live with multiple indices of deprivation; and, while not pretending that the challenges aren’t real, insist that such communities are deserving of and indeed in real need of beauty. Trad. Cath. ritual, with its colours and smells and processions and dressing up and candles and statues and ta-dah! is good news writ large for all the senses. And if we come from a very different tradition, that would express good news in a very different way, we might not even see it. And then, of course, they live alongside these communities and care for those who present themselves in need, of food or conversation or help in coming before God to give thanks for the birth of a child. Of course such a tradition produces ES’s.

As for me, I had been thinking that the Church of England is relatively weak at communicating good news. But whenever I teach, I learn. And on this occasion what I learned was my need to repent of my earlier assessment and believe something new.

APEST hermeneutics


Increasingly, I am using APEST as my hermeneutic of understanding pretty much everything, grounded, as it seems to me to be, in the very nature of God. As Alan Hirsch suggests, this pattern applies to cosmology (the way in which God has created, has set up the universe), anthropology (how we understand humans and human society), Christology (our understanding of Jesus), ecclesiology (our understanding of the Church), and eschatology (our understanding of where everything is heading).

Here is an outline APEST cosmology:
The universe is expanding, and inspires us to send out probes in search of other life. That’s apostolic sent-ness.
The goal is that all creation be reconciled to God in Christ Jesus. That’s prophetic covenant-faithfulness.
The heavens declare the glory of God. That’s evangelistic good-news-telling.
We live in a Goldilocks Zone that enables life. That’s the shepherding impulse to enable life to flourish at work.
There are whole university departments built on discovering the mysteries of the universe. That’s the impact of the teaching function.

Here is my take on APEST as hermeneutic for reading scripture and/or Bible story-telling:
A: How does this passage move the story on?
P: Who speaks/ What do they say?
E: Is there any good news to share?
S: How is the community built up?
T: How does this passage connect with what we already know?

And here is my take on APEST as hermeneutic for reading the Body of Christ, our lives in our neighbourhood:
A: Where have you been (say, this week)? What did you see? Who did you meet?
P: What have you heard—from God? from others?
E: Do you have any good news stories to share?
S: Who is in especial need of care? (And how might we respond?)
T: What are we learning to do as we follow Jesus together?

APEST and Psalm 68


Ephesians 4:1 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said,
‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
    he gave gifts to his people.’
(When it says, ‘He ascended’, what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Writing to the Christians in Ephesus, from where many churches had been planted across the cities of Asia Minor, about the gifts of Christ—apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers—Paul refers to Psalm 68, citing (in Ephesians 4:8) verse 18.

I have argued for the best part of twenty years that this is not a tangential thought, but that it anchors Paul’s thesis. Psalm 68 describes God descending on Mount Sinai in order to liberate his people from slavery in Egypt; journeying with them in the wilderness in order to shape a new community; before ascending on Mount Zion. For Paul, this prefigures the incarnation, ministry, and ascension of Jesus. The ascended Jesus liberates women and men who have been held captive to death by taking them captive by and for Life; and gives these newly-liberated human beings as gifts to his people, his ‘body’ the Church.

But when Jesus, or Paul, or any of the other writers of the New Testament, cite a verse from what we now call the Old Testament, they are expecting their hearers to do some work, to call to mind the full context being referred to. And twelve verses before the one Paul explicitly cites, Psalm 68 declares:

‘God gives the desolate a home to live in;
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
but the rebellious live in a parched land.’
(Psalm 68:6)

In recent weeks it has struck me with fresh force that the outworking of Jesus’ gift-giving, Ephesians 4:12-16, is also anchored in Psalm 68: that we find the fullest fulfilment of our personal calling within the context of the body of Christ, the Church, a community in which we are given a home and, together, do the hard but worthwhile work of knitting-together for mutual prospering. The picture painted in Psalm 68, taken as a whole, is of the transformation of the whole world, physical landscape and human society. The purposes of Christ, in laying claim to the redeeming of all, of each, of captive apostle and prophet and evangelist and shepherd and teacher is no smaller vision.

(By the way, ‘children’ in Ephesians 4:14—we must no longer be children—is better translated ‘childish’—we must no longer be childish.)