Tag Archives: Jesus

Easter sequence with revised theology

This just kind of wrote itself in my head (as they do). It’s not perfect but I wanted to (begin to) address the tension between the remembered excitement of the Easter sequence when I was a child and my current unease at some of the imagery and unhealthy power-relations in the version I grew up with. Younger Stef, little Stef would be unhappy that my version has fewer verses but most people these days would not use so many in any case. With thanks to the one I grew up with which you can take a look at here

All people so diverse now bring

all that you are; together sing

alleluia alleluia

Jesus the lamb, the sacrifice

lives now forever, now death dies

alleluia, alleluia

 

The Human One who walked our ways

who broke our bread, now he is raised

alleluia, alleluia

Say happy Madgalene oh say

What did you see there by the way?

alleluia alleluia

 

I saw the tomb of my dear Friend,

to preach the gospel I am sent

alleluia, alleluia

I saw he glory, heard the Word

Love lives anew to heal the world

alleluia, alleluia

 

We now with hope-filled heart and voice

know you as risen and rejoice

alleluia, alleluia

to love you in the poor we seek

our hearts burn in us when you speak

alleluia, alleluia

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You’re risen but what am I?

The second reading finishes with the instruction: “let us celebrate the feast,
not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

Challenge accepted. How do I clear out and renew my life? What malice and wickedness lurks in corners of my (mostly) good intention? How can I be sincere and true to my calling, ready for the unknown hope after all the deaths and disappointments of life?

The suggested gospel of the day stops short without the abrupt ending to Mark’s gospel. I feel the abrupt ending speaks for me. I am caught up in a sort of Holy Saturday stupor- for me, for me the resurrection has not really sunk in, life is not really changed. You can see this, because it took until Wednesday to write last Sunday’s blog (for no good reason, I was just dry and empty). Good news needs time to be processed and finding safe people to debrief with is sometimes difficult.

Prayer life is a bit like any other relationship, if we merely chase what “feels good” we miss most of it. But I am left supposedly rejoicing and transformed and in fact feeling a profound sense of anti-climax. How do I change myself or gain some sort of understanding?

I feel a great deal of anger towards the church, and for a while I was expressing it in my blog, but I became to feel uncomfortable with the excess of my negative emotion, and especially the way it might contain traces of selfishness within it (or seem to). So I have tried to go further inward and transform myself. I have tried to focus on the positive and call myself to account rather than ranting at external forces. This was the next cycle and I feel that cycle too is exhausted.

By too much navel-gazing and piety I have become perfunctory about faith, I am not “feeling it” but then at odd moments I feel resentment or passive aggression toward the idea of even being at church (and my specific church community are so lovely and have done so much for me that this is completely irrational). I think rather than rising above my anger, like I thought I was going, I have merely repressed it (again). What is the answer? I don’t know. What is the next step?

Christ is risen.

“He” is risen indeed. Or so I am supposed to respond.

Is rising like getting up in the morning, because it seems significant that lately I have been uncharacteristically slow and reluctant to get out of my bed (or is that just the approach of winter?). I ache inside, some deep emotional hurt that isn’t so easily healed by a few Hallelujahs!

Did Jesus still hurt from the crucifixion? Physically? Mentally? Emotionally? Spiritually? Are we really supposed to see him post-resurrection as so renewed that pain is absent (and yet witness the wounds). What did he do with the pain? Isn’t death meant to be the only solution for that absoluteness? If he triumphed over death itself then at what cost? No cost?

Is this a “happily ever after” moment?

I live in the real world, what on earth am I supposed to do with that?

 

Jesus,

How do I hold a post-resurrection reality? How do I soothe a pain denied, a death reversed?

What am I when I am not dying?

How do I reach out to pain, numbness and confusion in others? How do I keep moving forward? I want some sort of meaning!

What do you want from me?

Is there something we can work on together?

I feel horrifyingly alone and insignificant within all this alienating “glory”. Connect me in somehow with resurrection.

Amen

Absence

When love is gone… For Jesus but also Felikss.

 

Just me alone with my own thoughts

remembering every mistake I ever made,

every persistent flaw that dogs my life and relationships

mea culpa

 

Just me in the dark waiting for dragging seconds

that make up eternal minutes,

of hours.

Trying to slow my breathing

wondering why I bother.

 

The night is dark and empty

and yet noises come to frighten me.

What would it feel like to be dead?

To be trapped under earth suffocating…

don’t be silly he is already dead.

 

His body was so wracked and so used up

he never even made it to 40

and it was so still and wax and tortured

I wanted not to recognise him

not to wonder what it meant

the expression on his face.

 

So still.

So absent.

Under earth, he can’t get out and I am scared.

I will die too.

This is what being human is- losing and fearing and dying.

 

Kyrie eleison

 

But the dark night still stretches ahead.

Stations of the cross III

This is my third year of doing only two stations of the cross and spending a bit of time on each one. You can check out stations 1, 2, 7 and 8 in previous years (one and eight), (two and seven)

  1. Jesus Falls the first time

When people are already beaten, already suffering, already beyond what is endurable and they are seeing in front of them still the long long road, uphill to more suffering and not even a friendly face in the crowd. Why do we sometimes feel disgust instead of pity for suffering people? We wih they would get out of our face. We wish we didn’t have to witness their indignity, as if we could catch it off them or something.

Or is it repressed guilt?

Or what about when it is me who falls? The problem with falling the first time is you realise how easily you can fall and how hard it is to get up again…and you see ahead of you many, many more falls and the aloneness of the struggle.

Is this why people sometimes give up? Jesus of course does not get the opportunity to give up, he is forced- whipped and threatened and kicked to get up and keep shuffling to doom and torment and death. This looks nothing at all like what we think of as “courage” or as “success”. Jesus in this scene is as much of a loser as we have ever been, and in the episodes of our lives where we can do nothing except shuffle along as someone forces us, or crumble under the weight are after all like Jesus.

Small comfort though because it hurts to be like Jesus.

Over the centuries we have put this burden on Jesus that he is carrying the whole weight of the world, that he is carrying our sins (there is that link to Julian of Norwich’s idea that Jesus is like a mother again). Perhaps Jesus does not want or need to carry everything for us. Perhaps it is not very helpful theology to put that on him so that we can avoid examining the sins of our society in too much detail.

Does the falling Jesus feel he has let everybody down?

Do we let “the least of his sisters” feel the humiliation and pain that we believe we would not have heaped on Jesus, himself?

They ought to stop blaming him, hitting him, forcing him. Someone ought to help him. Someone ought to rescue him. Someone ought to protest against this huge injustice.

But we are all too cowardly and aware of our own limitations.

So Jesus still falls.

Dear One, Jesus,

A few days ago I saw a three year old fall from a pile of blocks she had climbed on. She showed me her scraped knee, her grazed hand and she asked me to hold her and make it right.

“Falling is part of life” I told her and she looked at me and kept crying.

“It hurts doesn’t it” I said and she burrowed into my arms for comfort.

But no one comforted you, and your falling was not a natural part of life, it was something that the injustice of others caused to happen. It was something we should have prevented. It was something that still happens.

What would it have taken the first time you fell for it to be the last time you fell? What could people have done better?

How do I confront suffering and falling in others? What can I do? How can I respond?

Jesus, I am inadequate. I do nothing but weep.

Amen.

 

  1. Jesus is stripped

Like the soldiers who gambled for Jesus’ clothing, we profit from the misfortunes of others. We in a competitive, capitalist economy. We in the “developed” world. We the privileged.

We protect our borders by locking out the hopes and security of refugees. We choose the cheapest items, the best schools, the flashiest cars and stuff the fact that the environment or other people have to go without. It’s not our fault, we are not the powerful ones.

The soldiers, the foot soldiers. People doing an honest day’s work. They may well have had mouths to feed at home. They did the job that was available, they were soldiers, possibly underpaid. Part of the deal was getting the clothing of the “criminals” they helped execute.

Jesus however was left stripped, naked, humiliated and uncomfortable (well he was dying anyway so you can rationalise it can’t you?). He becomes a non-person in the system- just a set of procedures, just part of the job the soldiers have to do.

They didn’t make the rules.

Can you imagine what chaos the Roman Empire would have been in if no one enforced the rules? It wasn’t the soldiers’ job to find Jesus innocent or guilty.

And by this stage he is not even really a human any more. He has been “processed” he hangs between life and death, there is no remedy. There is no redemption possible.

So they may as well cast dice don’t you think?

And we may as well continue shopping and complaining about the cricket while the environment hangs on the cross of our over-consumption and while the refugees suffer dehumanisation and lack of hope.

There is no alternative. There is nothing we can do against a system so much bigger than us.

Even God has abandoned him.

Jesus,

I see you. I want to rehumanise you.

I cannot see the hope in his situation but I would cover you if I could. Even that!

Jesus, the small things I can do for people- the donation of money to a beggar, the meal cooked for a depressed friend, the non-judgemental smile for someone who feels cast out. Small acts of wishing I could take you down from the cross and let you choose from all my clothes.

I feel so powerless. I am complicit in evil systems. I benefit from unjust economics. I can’t find the answers to how we should live or what we should do to end this suffering.

Jesus remind me to seek integrity in all my life…not to give consent to systems that take away more and more and more from those already suffering.

Jesus, they never stripped away your goodness and your truth. Who we are goes deeper than trappings. Teach me to be filled with your truth to my core, to be more than my place in society.

Let us restore hope.

Amen.

Conclusion

I really struggled to get into the spirit of Good Friday today, and I really struggled to write something. I was too exhausted to make it to church, I could possibly have worked harder to get my body there but I felt I would not contribute anything (perhaps I ought to have tried).

Loving God, forgive me for being off-task. I long for hope and it seems impossible, and yet my immediate situation is alright. Perhaps I feel guilty not to be suffering more. Perhaps I have worn myself out with all the wrong things.

Today I am not like the faithful women at the foot of the cross, I am like the denying and cowardly disciples. I have run away. But even those ones, you continued to love and call.

I will do better when I can.

Amen.

Feeding, washing, serving, LOVING

“I give you a new commandment, love one another as I have loved you.”
To work out what loving each other means, we have to look to the readings. Love like the woman from Mark’s gospel last Sunday who used costly perfume to anoint Jesus for his ordeal? Love like the fickle crowds who acclaimed him into Jerusalem and then chose Barabbas? Love like the disciples who could be sleepy and slow to understand and even cowardly and denying Jesus but had the emotional honestly to weep when they could do nothing else?
But Jesus didn’t say love as much as humanly possible, he said love like I have done.
I, God, I am. The radical and faithful love of a God who passes over the houses of his people to protect them, who calls them out from slavery into wandering in the desert even before they are fully ready for liberation. God who feeds (see also the gospel) and washes (see also the gospel) and enjoy the company of “us”, the church, the human race, creation.
I don’t think “you” is only the church in the narrow sense. It could be argued from the texts that God only loves the insiders, apart from when you look at the abundance of God with Wisdom as accomplice making everything and delighting in everything, when you look at Wisdom’s great feasts.
We are called to be loved. We are called to love. Loving is about eating and washing (women’s work we are told every time except when it becomes church ritual).
Does Jesus love Judas after betrayal? Does Jesus love Peter after cowardly betrayal? What of the woman with the jar of ointment, what became of her? What of Mary Magdalene, Mary his mother, Mary and Martha, Peter’s mother-in-law, the woman at the well. This part of the gospel gives us only hints of presence but lots of tears coming- the tears of Peter, the tears of the women, the bitterness which is likely repressed tears of the thieves on the crosses to either side of him.
But how do we love, feed, wash, serve, warn, forgive as Jesus did. How do we call to consciousness a sleeping and cowardly world (and ourselves)? Who do we feed at the suppers “in memory” of the ultimate lover of all? Can we feed the poor better? Feed the children of single-parents? Feed refugees? Feed the elderly? Feed the disabled? Feed the disengaged? The anarchists? The artists? The sick? The lonely? The queer?
What hope and joy do we feed “millennials” a whole generation that feels unloved and unwelcome in society? How to we kneel to assist those who cannot help themselves, who need the balm and acceptance of being washed –touched and refreshed?
All Jesus says is “as I have loved you” therefore persistently, therefore patiently, therefore save some for the sinners and tax-collectors and prostitute as well. This is love not judgement. This is food not a stone. This is washing not sorting.

Jesus,
I need love. Help me to see that my world is infused with your love and service of me.
Thank you for the church communities that offer practical and emotional support to me, or show me how to do it to others.
Thank you for the seeming atheists that secretly work hand-in-hand with you, even if they don’t say your name.
Show me how to bless and distribute what people need to be fed- bread and wine, word, and acceptance. Show me how to serve by doing the unglamorous tasks- washing feet (or dishes). Show me how to revere the people who do the most menial jobs for the good of us all.
Jesus I am afraid of being broken and shared out so that I have none of me, left for myself. Your courage in this act is a mystery to me. Show me how to have the deepest integrity and judgement and to keep nurturing even when conflict, violence or death hang over my head.
Jesus, truly you are my mother.
I enter your presence through food and washing and friendship, through service today and always.

Amen.

Becoming and Begoing

Priscilla Alderson in Childhoods Real and Imagined, looks at what critical realism can offer researchers in the field/s of childhood. One of the very significant points she makes is in reference to the way childhood is often seen as a time of becoming, a future oriented “not yet” time that assumes that some adult point (perhaps middle-age) is the destination. She reminds us that every becoming has a related series of begoings, that to become one thing (an adult) you have to cease to be something else (a child). So when a baby learns to walk they are “begoing” from their identity as someone who is carried. When a child learns to tie their own shoelace they are begoing the person who has those brief one-on-one interactions with a caring, shoe-tying adult…although this reminds me of a time when I was thurifering in church and the priest who was also a very well-regarded lecturer knelt to tie up my undone shoelace instead of merely pointing it out to me, this was a moment of surprising ministry that stayed with me in my wish NOT to always have the humble service role forced on me but also to think I am able to minister.

But every becoming according to Alderson has inbuilt loss and change and absence (ask why mothers cry on the first day of school, ask why mothers feel loss as well as pride and relief when their child reaches 18, or marries, or moves out).

Begoing is a theme very relevant to Holy Week, and very much already present in the glorious becoming of Palm Sunday. This is possibly why we read the passion through on that day…in the becoming of Jesus into Messiah, the sacrifice or else the one who stands out openly as a challenge to the powers of the day, there is a relinquishing of any comparatively safe identity, of the ability to melt back into the non-event of Nazareth and be just a carpenter’s son. When we act, there will be consequences, when we follow God’s call we will offend the powers of injustice and they will punish us if they can.

I am rereading Bernadette Kiley’s, Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, as we are in the year of Mark and I wish to focus on the whole gospel not just the separated out torture and death scenes in Holy Week (ok so I started early), to try to grapple with a wholistic concept of the life and death (and Life) of Jesus. Bernadette (since I know her in the real world it makes sense to use her first name) writes: “”If then, Jesus will be misunderstood and hated, the disciple must expect the same response. Mark’s community knew this only too well. Persecution and dissension were realities they had to deal with in their commitment to proclaiming the reign of God. For us, too, there will be a similar Jerusalem winter, when we, like the disciples of Mark’s Gospel and the Christians of Mark’s community, know something of the suffering that was part of Jesus’ life.” (p31)

My mother had some of this theology, but to her the fact that so many people hate and criticise the Catholic church was proof that the church was “right”. I want to be cautious in seeing those sorts of truths in my own experience, however much after a rough election where I only got 7.8% of votes and the worse of the two “major parties” got in statewide, it is tempting to see my own work in that light. Rejection by the world is no more proof of being “right” than its acceptance would be. However the rejections, struggles and disappointments we experience find meaning both in our integrity in doing our very best regardless of the risk and weariness and humiliation and also in the struggles and fleeting triumphs of Jesus.

I will not speak of any potential Easter event, even though having read the gospels it is tempting to place that “spoiler” in the picture to find meaning in the sufferings of Holy Week. But n our life we are not privy to any miraculous “happy ending” when we are caught up in struggle and suffering (our own or that of someone we love). Jesus at Palm Sunday, can feel the gathering storm, on Holy Thursday he knows it may be his last chance to influence his friends with some worthwhile Wisdom, on Good Friday nothing is real except suffering and loss. Any hope that we have makes no sense yet when we are caught up in the despair of true death (climate change, austerity, growing conflicts in the world, personal aging, difficult job markets, bad health). All we have is our soul’s confidence that we are from God and to God and cannot fall away from that destiny, even now.

Somehow.

Without seeing a clear pathway.

Jesus in becoming the feted star of Palm Sunday, becomes the abandoned victim of Good Friday. His Easter becoming will come after some extreme begoing. You and I are called to leave behind our comfort zone and to take on Jesus’ mission to call the world back from the brink of destruction, to bring compassion and criticism wherever they are needed. To be greater than we are and to be a challenge to the mighty.

Instead of a prayer, I will leave this on a quote by Marianne Williamson, that is often misattributed to Nelson Mandela

“…Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

We accept this challenge and this call.

Amen.

The looming darkness

I don’t know what to think about these readings and about the recent election which made me cry tears of grief and despair (and sheer exhaustion it must be admitted).

On the one hand the first reading is promising a change in relationship- to God dealing more directly with an individual rather than through teachers and leaders. Nevertheless the words of the reading are authoritarian and the tone kyriearchal. I don’t want to be like the voters who fell for a slogan like “strong change” without asking what that will look like.

The God-voice in the reading seems grumpy and bitter about some sort of disobedience in the past and so the offer of a changed relationship seems like God having more direct oversight rather than a more respectful closeness.

Reading it leaves me in a spiritually empty space- resentful and without joy or hope. Is such barren terrain perhaps necessary to traverse in lent? But for what purpose?

It really is like being stuck in the wilderness with no idea of the destination.

In the psalm we have the refrain “create a clean heart in me O God”. Once again what strikes me is both an individualism (in “me” not “us” or “society”) and a being found to be flawed and failed. God is asked to “fix” me, the implication is that I am uncreated, dirty.

The implication is also that it does not matter what social world or time I live in God is interrogating “me” not inspiring or taking part in human society. These readings and the disappointing election led me to pray at church that we are earthlings after all. We are made from carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and minerals as much so as dreams and traces of Wisdom and free-will and tears. We are not just made to “rise above” everything and be so heavenly that nothing bodily matters.

I have a life on earth and I am concerned with politics and food and how messy my house is (though I don’t do enough about it) and how arms feel around me, and what my hands can (or can’t) touch. I dream of writing fiction or academic work as much as prayers. I desperately want to feel that my children and their children will find joy and pleasure (as well as work and responsibility) in bodiliness and earthliness.

Isn’t this what God made for us? Is this not God’s will? If so how do we follow God’s will to keep these goods?

The second reading equates prayer with tears (relateable) but talks about obedience and necessary suffering. I am not completely on board with that but I suspect it has more to do with trying to make meaning in incredibly hard times than any sort of universal truth. Anyway the word “obedience” rankles most feminists because of the way it has been used against us. No I will not obey institutions that do not understand me, represent my best interests or even let me know my own inner truth.

If I am stuck in the wilderness forever because of my lack of desire to submit and obey then I will never enter the holy city but will look for what flowers and fruits may grow in the wilderness, what streams there might be. I am reminded of the time Miriam (the singer, historian, psalmist of the people) was thrown out of the camp and people were in an uproar.

I feel beloved enough to risk disobedience, as obedience is a kind of death (which I used to know when I lived it).

In the gospel the way to Jesus is through two male gatekeepers. Same old, same old. Obeying…serving…following.

The reader in church this morning made me listen by using both the words “father” and then “mother” in the reading. But will Jesus’ suffering and death really glorify God? What sort of a God is that? What sort of a father (mother)? Growth is only possible through the death of the grain which sounds wonderful in theory unless you are the grain. Who are we in the story?

The gospel stays dark to the very end, and I am puzzled how it is “good news”. I wish Jesus had not been persecuted and tortured actually -secretly I have always wished it and I have become stubborn and outspoken enough to say it (as if God didn’t know how I felt). We have suffering and death in our lives, but I don’t feel we should celebrate that fact, though naming it may be useful.

I was asked to be Jesus in the reading of the passion next week and despite my fear of the violence and horror of any sort of passion story (or any sort of corresponding reality) I was sort of star-struck and honoured to play the hero, Jesus. Since then I have worried over all the ways my voice and expression are not up to the task (but of course noone expects me to actually “be” Jesus). But much as I would never want to be Jesus in a reality version of suffering, shame and death, much as I would lack courage and strength for such a thing I think the worst role in the story is that of Mary.

That is the part of the passion that is the worst suffering, the most awful thing possible.

That makes the story even darker, when I consider that Mary was there.

And we are called like Mary to open our hearts to the whole world and have a maternal and patient love for all humanity, all creation. Well to work toward it anyway. We are told that God/Jesus has that maternal love for all creation and for each of us, that it is in the nature of God to care, nurture and protect. How does God bear the harm we do to humans and nature? How do we claim to be following God if our hearts do not break from the pain of our neighbour?

Lost in these hurts and our own helplessness how do we live? Where is the healing?

I am not looking forward to four years of my state moving away from renewables (before we were properly started) and to the “strong change” of the Empire’s soldiers.

My mood is dark, in the church year the cross is beginning to loom. All I can summon up before God is my honesty about how uncomfortable the darkness is. I don’t want anything to get worse.