Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Feast of the Resurrection 2013: Gaze we on those glorious scars

The dear tokens of His passion
Still His dazzling body bears;
Cause of endless exultation
To His ransomed worshippers;
With what rapture,
Gaze we on those glorious scars!
John Ce­nnick  

Alleluia, Christos anesti!

You'd have thought, given Our Lord Jesus can appear in utter majesty at His Transfiguration, that He ought to have made an effort when appearing to His disciples after His Resurrection! What better proof of His triumph over Death and the truth of our hope in His word than for Him to appear in blazing light in no uncertain terms and fix His image in the minds of all Jerusalem and the world?

Yes, but that's not how Our Lord Jesus Christ works, and if we think like this, then, like the disciples, we haven't quite heard His message.

He appears to us bearing His wounds. He allows us to touch them, to see them, to put our hands into them to prove, this is no make-up, no feint, no magic. With these scars He destroys our doubt. With these scars, He appears to us as we might know Him. He doesn't need to appear in radiance to His friends who have known Him and loved Him in the grubby garb of the street. He doesn't need pomp and ceremony to eat with those who have truly known Him.

His scars give him continuity - this is the same Jesus Who was crucified, dead and buried. If you can put your hand into the wound of a man on his side, then there is something horribly wrong unless... unless this man is precisely who He claims to be! This man, who stands in front of us, smiling, eating, being just as sociable as he was before the grotesque events of the past days, this man is God Incarnate.

Ours is a scarred God. Christ has perfected His Incarnation with wounds, great livid scars that speak of pain and suffering. He does not permit them to heal on His new Resurrection Body because they do not need to heal. While He bears these scars, He gives to His followers the pattern to be able to bear their scars and see them as part of our being.

All our lives we are scarred in many ways, small and great, and often big, disfiguring wounds given to us by the world and even by our own silly fault. Often we look at those who suffer and cannot turn our eyes away quick enough from their disfigurement because, in seeing their pain, we imagine it in ourselves and feel ill at the thought. This is a reasonable reaction, but a reaction that should be followed up with the same compassion that the Lord showed them when He gazed upon their scars.

His knowledge of suffering allows Him to identify with them - with us! - His pain is not imagined, but real and so He knows the reality of the blind eyes, deaf ears, leprous hands,  haemorrhaging, paraplegic and sheer crushing misery of destitution and abandonment. The is our God whose scars show the world He is one of us! He does not need to heal - these scars are His badges of honour. They cease to be the livid marks or pain and anguish, of torture and hatred, of fear and malice. They become more precious than Victoria Crosses, Military Medals, more glorious than tiaras and sceptres and crowns. These are not perishable baubles, but are genuine, personal and indelible. Each imprint of the nail, the jagged hole in His hand, is a shining beacon of light and a doorway into Heaven to sit and eat in His Kingdom.

His scars give our scars the opportunity to shine radiently too. All our hurt and woe, our rejection and dejection, our tired vain and impotent attempts just to try and get things right in the unfair, unkind, unaccommodating world, all of these He turns into the same badges of honour. Christ gives us the dignity to suffer in life and to come through and find our battle scars reflecting His glory to the world. Yet He offers this challlenge to us that we should be prepared to become as scarred and marked as He if we aim to have any fellowship with Him. Take up our cross? Yes, we must, but we will not regret it!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Vulnera Christi: The wound to the side

Ave verum corpus, natum
de Maria Virgine,
vere passum, immolatum
in cruce pro homine,
cuius latus perforatum
fluxit aqua et sanguine:
esto nobis praegustatum
in mortis examine.
O Iesu dulcis, O Iesu pie, O Iesu, fili Mariae.
Miserere mei. Amen.

Hail True Body, born
of the Virgin Mary,
Who suffered indeed, sacrificed
upon the cross for men,
Whose side was pierced
whence flowed water and blood:
be for us the foretaste
in life's agony.
O sweet Jesu, O holy Jesu, O Jesu son of Mary
have mercy on me. Amen.

Our Lord is dead!

The Earth groans and shudders. The Heavens sigh. The disciples cower afraid and ashamed. The sky darkens. The Holy of Holies is compromised as the curtain is rent.

And on the central cross of three lies a dead body. To the left and to the right, the thieves utter their last cries as the authorities break their legs to end their agony. But the figure on the central cross is dead already.

To check, a soldier pierces the corpse's side to allow streams of blood and water to pour forth. Yes, the figure is dead. We can be certain of that.

Our Lord's final wound happens after His death because even then, even after He has cried out and breathed His last, people do not trust Him and want to be sure that He has gone, allowing them to be free from His undermining of their position and authority. This man who exposed hypocrisy without any violence or hatred or malice, who would rather heal, would rather eat and talk and listen and do things to help - extraordinary things - this man they wanted out of the way so that they could feel good about themselves and live lives without Him raining on their self-righteous parade.

And they still do.

This figure is still hated today. His teachings are questioned; His deeds are questioned; His resurrection is questioned; even His existence is questioned. All because if what He says is true, then things will have to change in so many lives and in so many ways and there are some whose authority will be utterly wiped away so that they can be loved for who they are. They can't stand that!

Our Lord's pierced side calls us to repent of our lack of trust in Him. If He so loved the world that He came to do this, then there must be something for us to believe in. Let us wait in this dark hour with our dead Lord and trust Him when He speaks of Resurrection on the third day!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Vulnera Christi: The wounds to the feet

With his feet pierced and fastened to the Cross, Our Lord has lost the physical support that has kept Him upright since He learned to walk at the hand of His mother, the Blessed Virgin. With His feet fixed in this position, the very act of breathing becomes intolerable.

It's a fact that we don't really notice in our daily lives. The position of our feet and legs affect our breathing. There are so many things in our lives that we do take for granted. That's not a sin in itself, nor is it necessarily a failing. It is a fact of our being that there are aspects of our lives that go unnoticed by our everyday experiences. How many times do we just get up and walk to the shops without really noticing the number of busy roads we have crossed?

We cannot possibly focus on God 24 hours a day. It is a sad fact of life. It is only when something cues us into the presence of God that we turn to look for Him. Our daily rules of prayer help us to remember where He is and keep us travelling on the road towards Him. What if we have no rule? How can we travel to God if we do not look for Him.

We often lose our direction in life but, if we do not look for that direction in God we can become rooted to the spot, unable to move. Habitual sin often puts us into a rut,a groove which makes it impossible to determine whether it is a slow spiral with a way out, or a circle which takes us inexorably back to the same hellish place. In the knowledge of the circularity of our habitual sin, we stop, stuck fast by the knowledge that we have got nowhere, that we will get nowhere, that we can get nowhere.

The feet of Our Lord were fixed, so that ours might be freed from the shackles of Sin and Death. It is through Christ's difficulty in breathing that we can take in the fresh air that gives us the confidence to get moving again. It is the cross of Christ that gives us the direction, the signpost out of our rut. Although we will traverse many a circular route, we do so with Christ until the day He lifts us out into true freedom.

The wounds on Christ's feet call us to the repentance from complacency. He calls us to do something, even if that route is circular, rather than give up and let life become stagnant and empty from God. We must keep walking and look to the cross of Christ as the signpost out of our rut. Through His pain do we truly find the way to the Father.

Look on his head, that bleeding head,
with crown of thorns surrounded:
look on his sacred hands and feet
which piercing nails have wounded;
see every limb with scourges rent:
on him, the just, the innocent,
what malice hath abounded!
Tr J.M Neale

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Vulnera Christi: The wound to the left hand

When wounded sore, the stricken heart
lies bleeding and unbound,
one only hand, a pierc├Ęd hand,
can salve the sinner's wound.

Cecil Francis Alexander

We see that it is the right-hand that is regarded as the "best" hand in Scripture. Even in the Middle East today, the left hand is seen as a hand of baser uses and the right hand as the more socially acceptable.

Where does this leave left-handers, the sinister people?

This is a clear discrimination is it not? For one hand to be preferred to the other, if one is indeed naturally left-handed, this is a big sleight on one's existence.

For most people in the majority of cases, one hand is clearly more suited to certain tasks than the other and yet both hands are clearly valued. There is discrimination, but that discrimination comes from an ontological statement rather than a conscious decision. Discrimination is not a bad thing in itself. It is the means to getting things done well by the judicious selection  of what is most appropriate for the task.

However, there is a discrimination that raises the means above the ends. To say that the left hand is inferior because the right hand does all the writing is clearly foolish. To say that the rich are more important just because they are rich fails to recognise the intrinsic worth of each human being.

Our Lord is crucified because He has challenged those who have raised the means of devotion to God far above the end of being actually devoted to God. The Pharisees have discriminated unfairly against those who are incapable of being a Pharisee on the grounds of intelligence, wealth, upbringing and shibboleth. Theirs is a discrimination of worth which ignores the substantial commonality that all human beings share just by being human.

As his left hand is affixed to the cross, so Christ gives Himself for each and every human being irrespective of their persons. Salvation is to be denied no-one. His right-hand is nailed for the Jew, His left for the Gentile; His right for the Rich, His left for the Poor; His right for the Man, his left for the Woman - different hands, different roles, but ALL humanity.

In His complete offering of Himself, Our Lord offers us a way of repenting of discrimination of intrinsic worth. He offers us the opportunity of looking into the eyes of the person with like the least, even loathe, and to recognise within that person the same being that we ourselves have, to recognise that we are the same, from the same earth, with the same mould, with the same unutterable worth in the love of God.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Vulnera Christi: The wound to the right hand


The hands that touched the blind to sight,
that gave the sick man strength anew,
that raised the dead to life and light,
were pierced and wounded through and through.

Cecil Frances Alexander
 
The right hand in the first century was set by convention as the hand of power, the hand with which to do business, the hand that taught. Those who used the left hand were odd, unconventional and suspicious, hence the word for left in latin - sinister - taking on a more negative meaning.
 
We are not told which hand is nailed to the cross first. It seems likely that the right hand is nailed first both for a the practical reason of sufficiently incapacitating a felon as well as symbolically rendering powerless. Whichever hand was nailed first, certainly Our Lord's right hand was pierced and fixed to the wood that He had just carried on the via dolorosa.
 
This was the hand that blessed, this was the hand that taught and gestured, the hand that drew in the sand while meely mouths and self-righteous hearts demanded from Him the judgement of a woman caught in adultery. This was the hand at which the Lord Jesus declared to be the side of the Father on which He sits in Heaven.
 
Those who nail that hand to the cross believe that they are rendering the Lord impotent, incapable and powerless. The pain they inflict is, apparently, the most pain that can be inflicted upon the human body. With it, those who crucify believe that they are extinguishing all hope, all possibility of recovery, of salvation, of future happiness.
 
Yet, Our Lord suffers this to happen for in it Psalm xxii is brought to the fore. Our Lord uses the first line to cry out that sense of desolation, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me." Again, in utter solidarity with us, Our Lord gives voice to our own fears when our faith is shaken, when we find ourselves impotent and incapacitated by life's misery.
 
Yet that very Psalm also says, "O praise the Lord, ye that fear him : magnify him, all ye of the seed of Jacob, and fear him, all ye seed of Israel. For he hath not despised, nor abhorred, the low estate of the poor : he hath not hid his face from him, but when he called unto him he heard him." God gives us strength in our weakness though we may not even perceive it.
 
In suffering the wound to his right hand, Our Lord offers us the opportunity to remember that our powers in themselves achieve nothing. It is only when we put our right hands into the hand of God that we are given the capability to move forward in our lives and from Him only do we gain the power to act efficiently. In His suffering, Our Lord offers us humility and the chance to trust in God even when that trust is blinded by pain and suffering.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Vulnera Christi: The wounds to the head and face

As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men: So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see ; and that which they had not heard shall they consider. (Isaiah liii.14-15)


We know that Our Lord was not exceptional in appearance, save only in the Transfiguration, His Crucifixion and after His resurrection when His appearance was deliberately altered. We know that those sent to arrest Jesus had to rely on Judas identifying and betraying Him with a kiss. There are no direct references to His appearance in the Gospels. He is normal. One can look at His face and recognise that it is our own face.

Upon that face, we read the whole gamut of emotion. With a look, He can both convict us and recall us. Those He heals are first looked at, regarded, studied with an intellect that is both Human and Divine, though kenotic.

It is this very face burning with intelligence and love that is beaten, slapped with hands, struck with rods, spat in and upon which the crown of thorns is thrust scratching the skin and causing the blood to trickle. His face is indeed marred. "Behold the man!" says Pontius Pilate, and the figure of Jesus, looking more like a bloody mess after his beating, is paraded to the crowds. How can they recognise a triumphant king and Messiah in a bleeding lump of earth? It's easy to shout for the crucifixion of something that doesn't look really human.

Yet, what Our Lord suffers physically, we to suffer. Ours is a life like Dorian Gray. Our image too is marred by all the wounds inflicted upon us by the devil and by ourselves. Our disfigurement is the result of our own mutilation, our own cutting off of our nose to spite our face. And yet this disfigurement is not apparent to those who would look at us as we go respectably about our daily business. Our disfigurement is shut away in the attic.

But "For there is nothing covered , that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known", says the Lord (St Luke xii.2). Our Lord hid not His face from shame and spitting because He had nothing to hide. He came to be a revelation to us, indeed to reveal the Glory of God in humanity. We hide our faces from shame. We dress well to hide the frailty and vulnerability of our soft flesh forgetful of the fact that God can see through our deceits to the real people that we are.

Our Lord is disfigured so that our own disfigurement might be revealed to us. He gives us an opportunity to turn and not hide ourselves, and to know that we are loved for who we are rather than what we appear to be, and that we must afford the same dignity to all those whom we meet, accepting them for who they are in turn.

O sacred head, sore wounded,
defiled and put to scorn;
O kingly head surrounded
with mocking crown of thorn:
What sorrow mars thy grandeur?
Can death thy bloom deflower?
O countenance whose splendor
the hosts of heaven adore!
Robert Bridges

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Vulnera Christi: The wounds to the back

According to Jewish Law, the maximum number of stripes a man can receive at his flogging is 40. Since the number of lashes was administered in multiples of three, the maximum was usually left at 39. One could receive anything upto 39 stripes, but the full number was reserved for those who deserved the greatest punishment.

And so, Our Lord receives the full 39 in an attempt by Pilate to placate the pharisees baying for crucifixion.

The back is associated with our labours. When we are not giving our best we are told to put our back into it. It is upon the back that burdens are borne, just as today - Palm Sunday - when the colt bears upon its back the person of Our Lord, while those around cheer and rejoice triumphantly.

Injuries to our backs render us unable to work effectively. We can be laid up with bad backs and the experience is indeed rather miserable. Thus we begin to see the extent to which Our Lord's Passion is greater than we imagine. He is given the 39 stripes and re-clothed - His ability to labour is now severely compromised - and then He is made to carry the cross, a beam of splintery wood upon his torn back, all the way out of Jerusalem to Golgotha. Then the clothes are wrenched off of His back and it is forced against the wood again in His crucifixion.

Thus Our Lord's labour does not cease until He dies. Although rendered unable to move, unable to embrace, to perform acts of wonder, His labours continue right up to that last ecstatic "tetelestai!"* and He does not for one moment stop that labour even though He is offered an opportunity to dull the pain with a spunge soaked in vinegar. He works until the work is complete, done, finished, fulfilled!

That is Our Lord's tenacity for us.

In so doing, He offers us a way for our repentance, to turn our lives around. He offers us the opportunity to see that our labours in our darkness are not in vain. He tells us that if we can persevere to the end, even as He perseveres to the end, our own personal cry of "tetelestai!" will reach the ears of God and we shall find Him there with us.
 
Now the thirty years are ended
which on earth He willed to see,
willingly He meets His passion,
born to set His people free;
on the cross the Lamb is lifted,
there the sacrifice to be.
 
Venantius Fortunatus tr J.M. Neale
 
* An almost untranslatable phrase, rendered by many translators as "it is finished" but this lacks the  power, relief and triumph with which it is uttered.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Vulnera Christi: The wound to the person

Go to dark Gethsemane,
ye that feel the tempter’s power;
Your Redeemer’s conflict see,
watch with Him one bitter hour,
Turn not from His griefs away;
learn of Jesus Christ to pray.
 
James Montgomery

We must not forget that Our Lord has been suffering throughout His life with us. Our demands on Him have pulled Him away from prayer; we have begged, pleaded and insisted on Him going out of His way to heal us; we have demanded that He explain Himself; and some of us have attacked Him, prepared to stone Him, and sought to kill Him. These has he borne with kindness, love, charity, and with passion too.

On the night of the Passover, knowing that His end is coming, He is frightenened. Is this a sin? No! This is the very heart of the greatest human courage - to feel the fear and do it anyway. He prays, begging His Father to try another method, but nonetheless accepting the inevitable in obedience to His Father. There can be no other way to accomplish the conquering of Death itself on behalf of all humanity.

Our Lord's humanity craves company in His hour of need and He finds His friends asleep, unable to stay awake with Him. In a few hours, they all abandon Him, the ones who love Him most. Even on the cross, the Lord sees them at a distance. He cannot escape the fact that He has been cut off from His friends and is in the hands of those who mock Him, deride Him, twist His words of love into worst of the filthiest hate, and make of His name a swear word.

"Thy rebuke hath broken my heart; I am full of heaviness : I looked for some to have pity on me, but there was no man, neither found I any to comfort me." (Psalm lxix.20)

This is Our Lord's first wound. The way to justify an act of atrocity to another human being is to deny that he is a human being. In being stripped of his clothes, He is stripped of the dignity and worth that men would give his fellows. He is stripped of His personhood, His appearance of humanity. He is now a piece of meat to be beaten and pierced and stabbed before those who cannot see what He has been trying to do.

Our Lord's first wound, however, shows us how to turn things round and make that repentance. Every single human being on this planet, no matter what evil they have committed, no matter how wickedly they think, no matter how good they are, no matter how they irritate us, no matter how young or old, no matter how demanding or insistent or strident or foolish or challenging - all, ALL, possess the image of God. All are human. All have a worth given to them by God and this cannot - can not - be taken away from them. We can choose to ignore it, but we do so at a loss to ourselves; we do so at a separation of ourselves from God and from each other. We can look at Our Lord's agony as his personhood is wounded by us and for us, and we can see ourselves as we separate ourselves in the same way from the love of God.

Let us always seek to love one another, particularly those who are difficult to love. Then, and only then, can we make good use of the freedom and dignity bought with the price of Our Lord's freedom and dignity.

Vulnera Christi: Introduction

For Holy Week this year, I thought I'd do some reflections on the wounds our Lord suffered on the via crucis. It's important for Christians to think very seriously upon what happened to Our Lord. Too often, we think complacently about the cross without realising what can only be described as agony. Yet, many of us are in agony too. Our own battles with sin, the world and the devil are not nothing in the eyes of God. Yes, we should indeed weep for the wound our sin and wickedness have caused to Our Lord upon the cross and we should weep long and sore at how the One Who loves us suffers for us. However, all through His ministry, Our Lord chooses freely to identify Himself with us in the worst that we are so that we can be the best that He is. His pain is our pain, and our pain is His.
 
Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle,
sing the last, the dread affray;
o'er the cross, the victor's trophy,
sound the high triumphal lay,
how, the pains of death enduring,
earth's Redeemer won the day.
Venantius Fortunatus tr J.M Neale

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lenten Attitudes: 4 Attitudes to God

Sermon preached at Our  Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on Passion Sunday 2013.

The duvet – friend or foe?  Most of us would agree that it is certainly one of life’s irritations to know that you have to get up, when you are warm and snug in bed after a good sleep in the midst of a cold, dark winter. While Jack Frost is prancing around your bedroom early on a January morning, your valiant duvet takes up your battle, protecting your toes from the nip of Jack’s icy fingers. Yet, as the day’s work calls, you know that you have to fling aside your defender and enter the chilled atmosphere of the winter bedroom.

The reason why it is an irritation is quite obvious. You are torn between your duties and claiming back just a few more minutes under the duvet. You know what you ought to do, but summoning up the strength to throw off the bedclothes is very hard, especially as it is so comfortable and warm there. It is a place where we run to when we are upset or sad or demoralised, because of its comforting nature. Even the psalmist speaks of the comfort of his bed when confronted with sadness:  ” I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim ; I water my couch with my tears.” The bedclothes have soaked up tears for millennia.

Ultimately, we must leave the embrace of our feather-filled protector and enter into the reality of the cold world outside.

Just how easy do you find that?

[PAUSE]

There used to be an advert for “duvet days” which depicted folk wandering about, all bulky and wrapped from head to toe in their sheets, protected from the sharp corners of the world. It sounds like a terribly good idea. Why not do such a thing? Yet, imagine the impracticality of living life wrapped in a duvet.  Imagine trying to drive a car while covered completely in bubble wrap, or doing gymnastics in thirteen layers of woolly jumpers.

There is, of course, a bigger danger, that in our sleepy state we miss what is real. If our desire to be protected gets too indulged then we lose sight of what problems need to be fixed. We would not want to live our lives in a state of sleepiness and numbness from pain, would we?

[PAUSE]

Pain exists for a reason and none of us live can life pain-free. We all naturally try to avoid it but somewhere along the line, because of our human frailty, pain and sorrow are inevitable in every human life. We try to protect ourselves, our children and our loved ones, but to no avail. God gave us nerves so that we might be aware when things really are wrong. The ancient disease of leprosy is so awful due to the injuries people sustain because they cannot feel pain.

Look how happy the lepers are when they are healed by Our Lord.  They are given the gift of pain again! They are able to re-join society and in some sense be real people. Despite their lack of physical pain, they have suffered from being cast out of acceptable society and shunned, unloved and unwanted. They have been treated as half-human because of their disease. Theirs was a different pain from the physical, and Our Lord recognises that as much as He recognises the suffering of paraplegics, of the blind and the lame, and the pain of losing someone.

Pain lets us know when attention is needed. Sometimes it’s right to take a headache pill, but the Anadin packet tells us that, if symptoms persist, consult a doctor. If we prefer to be numb, to remain under Life’s duvet, then we are not able to know when we are in grave danger.

[PAUSE]

All too often we prefer to ignore the pricking of our conscience when we have sinned.  The World’s position is to say that sin does not exist, full stop! The World says that there is nothing to be ashamed of. The World says, “come back to bed and stop worrying.” But the World is not God, and that is the point.

God is real. He is here in the real world. He is here in the real pain of animals and people just as much as He is in the joys and ecstasies of others. He is in the sorrows as well as the joys and that is how we really experience life. The World promises us a sugar-filled life which is pain free. Not only does it not deliver a pain free life, but our laziness makes us fat and unable to move.

[PAUSE]

Laziness is the sin that prompts us to live life from under the duvet. It is a failure to trust completely in God. It is a failure to engage with Him in reality and can lead us into worshipping a false god of our own construction. Associated with this is the eighth deadly sin which is only known by its Latin name – acedia. Acedia is the sin of giving up on God, a refusal to be happy, a wallowing in self-pity. This is the soaking-wet duvet of someone who refuses to believe God when He promises Eternal happiness. It is most associated with monks and nuns who find their prayer lives so dry and empty that they give up and fail to persevere.

[PAUSE]

It is easy for us to get discouraged by our sins; they do hurt God and they do hurt us. But this is what Lent has been about. It is our chance to change our attitudes to our property, to ourselves, to others and to God Himself. We are not to run from life in fear of sin, nor to give in to despair because we have sinned and thus give up. He that shall endure to the end shall be saved. If we take away only one lesson from Lent this year, let it be the lesson that we have to keep our Faith alive by dropping the duvet and walking in the cold light of reality, trusting in the active presence of God in our lives.

Let us persevere in prayer. Let us persevere in reading and thinking and talking about God and living a life ruled by Him, trusting in Him to make Life’s agony worth bearing and Life’s joys point to His kindness to us.  How has Our Lenten discipline prepared us for this?

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Lenten Attitudes: 3 Attitudes to Others


Sermon Preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Third Sunday in Lent.

All it takes is a little spark. Lisa watches as the furnace sweep across her outback home in New South Wales. A few hours ago, it was just a little flame caused by the sunlight focussed through a broken bottle. Now spread by the wind and feeding on the dry grass, the wall of fire rages over the ground consuming bush, tree, house, and animal without any hesitation. It had such a small cause but, because there was nothing to stop it, the devastation is great.

[PAUSE]

All it takes is a little spark. David watches as his family tears itself apart, his sons rebelling against him, his kingdom in tatters. A few decades ago, it was simply the sight of a beautiful woman washing herself. Now spread by adultery, an arranged murder of her husband, and the death of the resulting offspring, the intrigues between David’s sons wrestling for his kingdom have caused civil unrest in Jerusalem. It had such a small cause but, because there was nothing to stop it, the devastation is great.

[PAUSE]

All it takes is a little spark. Cain watches as he struggles to find a home in the land of Nod, his feet sore with walking, dispossessed from his home, his farm and his God. A few weeks ago, it was simply a twinge of indignation as God judged Abel’s offering better than his. Now, after his anger has blown out of all proportion, his hands have crushed the life out of his younger brother, he has been found out, confronted and banished from his home by God, he walks into uncharted territory solitary and afraid despite God’s protecting mark upon him. It had such a small cause but, because there was nothing to stop it, the devastation is great.

[PAUSE]

Anger and Lust are both burning fires which can spring from innocent causes. God has imbued us with sexual attraction. Not only is it natural, it is very necessary for forging relationships, building marriages and growing happy families. There is nothing wrong with finding someone attractive but it can ignite a flame which can grow and ruin lives.

Anger is born out of a sense of justice and fairness. Our Lord Jesus Himself grew angry enough to throw the money changers out of the temple. Anger has been the catalyst for some very necessary social reform. However, anger is also responsible for the loss of life on immense scales and often justified rationally. The fury of anger devastates nations and will continue to do so.

At what point does a natural attraction turn to unbridled lust? At what point does a righteous indignation turn to a fierce rage?

[PAUSE]

There is a reason that Anger and Lust can be said to be consuming. Under their influence, only the source of that anger or that lust matters. Our vision is narrowed to what has set us on fire to the point that we forget everything. In particular we forget that there is a picture bigger than our perceptions. We forget that the object of our desire has a life, choices, ideas, thoughts al independent of any designs we might have upon them. In our rage, we forget that the person who has caused that rage probably has acted based upon good reasons of their own.

King David forgets about Beersheba’s marriage to Uriah. He forgets about Uriah’s rights as Beersheba’s husband. He forgets the law of God. He forgets that there are always consequences to adultery.

Cain forgets about the fact that Abel is his little brother. He forgets that God has reasons for choosing Abel’s offering over his.  He forgets all sense of proportion for what’s at stake. He forgets that there are always consequences to murder.

[PAUSE]

Our Lord says, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill ; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment… Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery : But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

For Our Lord, the solution is clear. We need to widen our view of the situation. To deal with Anger, Our Lord tells us to make peace with anyone who might have a grudge against us, not to make peace with those who have offended us. Our Lord reminds us that while someone may have angered us, we may very well have caused someone else anger. We remember other people’s humanity by remembering our own frailty. Peace-making is a beatitude, a blessing by which we become children of God.

To deal with Lust, Our Lord is pretty fierce, for He says, “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish , and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” Yikes! However, this shows how seriously Our Lord treats Lust. We should rather want to cut bits off of ourselves than treat another human being as less than human. The Lord does not mean that we should chop bits off, but He does want us to take firm action.

[PAUSE]

We cannot allow ourselves to succumb to the flames of Lust and Anger. They are certainly forgivable sins but they are called deadly for a reason. To be a good Christian, we need to be successful fire-fighters. Do you know how to put out a fire?

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Division, multiplication and Alphabetti Spaghetti!

There is an accusation levelled against Continuing Anglicans that because there are a large number of groups who call themselves "Continuing Anglican" all known by various acronyms, hence the umbrella term, alphabet soup. Why should this be a problem if we are all Christian? Why is the fragmentation of the Continuing Anglican movement a scandal? Are these not all branches of the Church sprouting from the True Vine that is Our Lord?

First, we note that, as per Ephesians iv.5, anyone who takes the Bible seriously (as Christians necessarily must) cannot fail to accept One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. This seems very straightforward until you realise that the Christian next to you does not necessarily agree on the meanings of "Lord", "Faith" or "Baptism". Since these terms only receive a truly Christian meaning in the context of Holy Scripture, it is how people interpret that corpus of work that causes any differences in meaning.

The historical facts of Jesus Christ are most completely to be found in the Bible, the reason being that the Church deliberately chose all the most reliable written information about His life to form the testimony of the Gospels. That which was left out was largely written too late, too secondarily or with a vested interest in changing the facts. This is why one does not find much outside the Bible relating to Our Lord's Holy Incarnation.

Thus, to truly be a Christian, one must necessarily hold to the Holy Scriptures as the source of Who Jesus is, what Baptism is and what our Faith is. If we hold to the same Lord, Faith and Baptism, then we are indeed truly One Church. It is, however the word "Faith" that needs to be scrutinised carefully as it necessarily affects our relationship with the Lord and how we do Baptism. By and large the majority of Christians will accept one another's Baptism. There exceptions especially in some of the African Orthodox Churches who refuse to recognise another's baptism on the grounds that the baptism was not performed in the right Faith in Christ. This is a rather more extreme version of the Orthodox relationships with Anglicanism where Anglican Orders will be recognised by the Orthodox Church only when the Anglican Church converts wholesale to the Orthodox Faith. Faith seeks understanding (fides quaerens intellectum) and to change one's understanding means to change one's Faith.

The Undivided Church seeks to be true to clarify what is meant by "One Faith". How do we read the Holy Scriptures with the right understanding so as to bolster that One Faith? The result of the process include the three great Catholic Creeds, most notably the Nicene Creed.

So what if one does not hold to the Nicene Creed? Well, necessarily, one stands apart from what the Catholic Church believes, and by "Catholic" I do NOT mean "Roman Catholic". Well, what do I mean by "Catholic"? Well, I mean the Church that fought and strove together to thrash out at the seven oecumenical councils what "One Faith" means. There was a lot of fall-out from this as Ebionites, Arians, Nestorians, Apollinarians, Monophysites, Sabellians, Marcionites, Socinians, Iconoclasts, and Montanists went their separate ways. In that they believed that Jesus Christ is Lord there is no problem, in that sense they were Christians, but they had a different faith as can be deduced from Holy Scripture as it has been interpreted from the first. We should give them the benefit of the doubt if they refer to themselves as Christian and treat them with the same love and respect as we would those we know to be Christian, but they simply cannot be Catholic by the very difference of their Faith.

Catholic means holding to the "One Faith" of Ephesians iv.5. This is why there can be only One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.  All four marks are necessary to give ourselves assurance that we hold to the Christian Faith. Departure from any one of them loses that assurance. All those in the Catholic Church will fall together and rise together and, because they hold to the same faith as the Apostles of Our Lord, they will rise and fall with those Apostles who taught, wrote about, and suffered for the Faith of that One Lord and who are succeeded by the Catholic Bishops and Patriarchs. Theirs is a common Salvation and a common Destiny because they have a common Purpose. Those who prefer their own interpretation of Holy Scriptures do so on their own, but they lose any of the assurance of Salvation in Christ as the Apostles.

So then, what of Alphabet Soup?

Any Jurisdiction which can show that its faith arises from Holy Scriptures as interpreted by the Church Fathers, the Catholic Creeds, and the Seven Oecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church is indeed Catholic. Any Jurisdiction which can demonstrate a line of Apostolic Succession in line with the threefold Ministerial Priesthood of Deacon, Priest and Bishop is indeed Apostolic. Any Jurisdiction which prizes the Christian Faith above Secular Ideals, which strives against the tide of popular opinion when popular opinion is against the Christian Faith, and produces martyrs for that Faith, which seeks to proclaim the Faith in action as well as, if not more than, words is Holy. Such a Jurisdiction is actually part of the One Church whether it is recognised by other Jurisdictions who themselves may be part of the One Church.

By and large, many of the Continuing Anglican Jurisdictions are divided more due to Law than to Doctrine. This needs review and constant dialogue should be seen as a necessity in order to work towards a more visible expression of the ontological unity that Catholic Jurisdictions have. We may indeed be separated by Ecclesiastical Law, but these are largely man-made and, if they produce any schism at all, then that schism is within the Anglican Continuum and not from it.

But why be "Continuing" Anglicans at all? Why not seek unity with the Anglican Communion?

The new Rector of my old CofE parish Church which abandoned me almost precisely two years ago recently described me as "not main church". I cannot honestly say what he meant by this except that he did not see me as being either Anglican or Catholic. To him, one supposes "Anglican" means "CofE" and "Catholic" means "Roman Catholic". The Established Church refers to the Continuing Anglican movement as "Breakaway Anglicans" and in so doing completely misrepresents the position.

What does "breakaway" mean?

It means a deliberate separation from the main body, in this case the Established Church. This is the case of "schism from..." Yet any separation must be the result of some change in the material cause of that main body. The thing is, at most one part of that separation will continue with the material cause unchanged otherwise there is no separation. Now one looks at the Established Church and the Continuing Anglican Church and asks "who changed?" The burden of proof must lie on the one who makes the claim that the change is necessary. Since the changes to the Catholic Faith and Apostolic Order have been made by the Established Church, and that these changes have not been demonstrated to be Catholic, it can only be that the Established Church is the breakaway Church. The Continuing Anglicans, however small in number, are still the main Church having the four marks of the Church on their side.

So can there be unity with the Anglican Communion?

It doesn't matter on which side of the schism we are, we can still pray for the other. Clearly, a Christian cannot engage in worship that is schismatic so until the breach is healed there cannot be full communio in sacris. This does not mean that we cannot act charitably towards one another. If there is no Christian Charity then being Holy, Catholic or Apostolic is fundamentally meaningless. There has been far too much sniping and litigation between ecclesial bodies and Catholic Jurisdictions and the true fault of these schisms lies squarely in each of us when we do not love our neighbour as ourself.

Perhaps that's where we should start!