2 Tuesday Unless a grain falls…
Isaiah 49.1-7, Psalm 71, I Corinthians 1.18-31, John 12.20-36
Yesterday we said that the whole world is full of the glory of God. The glory of God is not visible everywhere. It is visible in what to us may seem the most utterly implausible way, the most counter-intuitive place. He has hid the truth of himself in one single person, and what’s more, he has hidden the truth of us in that same single person.
God has decided that man is his glory. And the way that glory can be accessed is through Christ. Christ is found through the prayers and worship which fill the Church. We said that the incarnation and passion of Christ, and so every day of Holy Week, is an unfurling of the resurrection, the truth that Jesus is the risen Son of God and the whole future of man with God.
Today, according to the Lectionary, our readings are from Isaiah 49 – ‘in the shadow of his hand he hid me’, and I Corinthians 1 ‘The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing’, and John 12. ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain.’
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1 Monday The house was filled…
Isaiah 42.1-9, Hebrews 9.11-15, John 12. 1-11
1. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume
Each day of Holy week is a lesson in the resurrection. The resurrection spells itself out to us as the cross. We learn the glory of God and about our place in this glory – which means the resurrection. We learn about the resurrection through the passion of Christ. The passion of Christ is the glory of God for us.
The readings set by the Lectionary of the Church of England for today are from Isaiah, Hebrews and John. Isaiah 42 – ‘Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights’. Hebrews 9 – ‘Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, through the greater and perfect tent’. John 12 – ‘Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
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Fifth Sunday of Lent
In our journey towards Easter we have seen that Christ is anointed and made king by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has brought us into the communion and body of Christ, so that we are anointed with him and he with us. We have seen that Christ is our universal human-to-human mediator. He is the one who can hear and receive all other humans. The question to us is whether we are ready to receive through him the whole human race and created order as the gifts of God. Christ makes himself present only in this disguised form, so that our freedom to receive this life from him, or not to receive it, is entirely ours.
Consequently man is a mystery that cannot be controlled. It is not just man’s present, defined by the limits of our imagination, but his future that God has at heart here. God is guardian of our freedom: he does not let us give it away. We have seen man wrestle with the question of his own identity. We have seen this wrestling spelled out to us in terms of the accuser wrestling in the wilderness with Christ, Israel wrestling with Moses, Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman at the well wrangling with Christ about where life can be accessed. Through these are many different encounters, we have seen man wrestling with the dark figure of his own future. This future is life with God. This week Lazarus anticipates Israel – All Israel will be raised and the Church will be raised.
Continue reading “On the way to Easter – Lent 5”
Fourth Sunday of Lent
1 Samuel 16.1-13
At Easter God completes his act of creation by raising one of us to the full definition of humankind. In Christ the whole work of creation has been successful, and that success is opened to all of us. Through the Holy Spirit Christ has attached us to himself, so that the resurrection of the first man is the beginning of the resurrection of all humanity. Easter is a preview of the consequences of this for us: Christ’s resurrection is a rehearsal for ours.
In Christ, each of us joined to every other. The Church is the companionship of God making itself tangible and corporal here. The distinctiveness of the Church from the world is the great gift that God gives the world: the world is anointed with the Church. But what the Church knows is not obvious outside the Church – it has to be confessed. The Church has to pray and to speak up for the world. The world relies on us to do this.
Continue reading “On the way to Easter – Lent 4”
In our preparation for Easter we have been looking at the different aspects of the resurrection that are presented to us in the Scripture readings for the five Sundays of Lent. We are thinking through here what we are doing when we gather in Church and spelling out some of what is going on, on Easter Sunday morning. We want to show when we say ‘Christ is risen’ we are referring to a question, and to a promise, about our own identity.
We said that the Christian confession of God helps us to hear the question of God, ‘Where is your brother?’ The Christian faith is a real listening, to the world and to God, and it prevents us from making ourselves secure without one another.
So far we have said that the Church is the fellowship created by the love of God for us and God’s act of witness to the world. Next we have to say that the Church is the whole company of heaven, making itself felt here and now for us. This company are our servants, and together they make up the service of Christ to us. This company is also in disguise, so it is not obvious that this is what is happening.
Continue reading “On the way to Easter – Lent 3”
Second Sunday of Lent (Year A)
Romans 4.1-5, 13-17
We are practicing our gospel. This is what we are doing in Lent. We are explaining what we mean when we say at Easter that Christ is risen. Last week we saw that man is confronted by the question of his identity. He is summoned to be free and to make the world free. Will he answer this summons? This the question for man, and indeed for God. Man is confronted by the question of whether this is his purpose, and he is tempted to turn away from this freedom to control it, reduce it, delegate it, even refuse it altogether.
I said that we talk about Easter by talking about the Church and by talking from the Church. We cannot discuss Easter in terms of general truth, that can be separated from the distinctive community of the Church and so turned into a cliché about ‘new life’, just a religious expression of what we already know from other sources. We have to learn the distinctive calling of the Church, which is to be Christ-bearers to the world. How hard this is and how inextricably it is tied to the Christian gospel and the Christian gospel to the Church is what I want to show you today.
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First Sunday of Lent (Year A)
Genesis 2.15-17, 3.1-7
I On the way to Easter
We are on our way to Easter. On Easter morning we will say that ‘Christ is risen’. Easter is the moment when the undying and indestructible life that God makes itself apparent. God has set out to bring us into relationship first with himself and then with all other human beings – he will raise us. When we say ‘Christ is risen’ we are pointing to the coming resurrection of all creation in him and so we are pointing to our own resurrection, which is the resurrection that is of real interest to us.
The resurrection is what the Church has to tell the world about. We can prepare for this resurrection, by learning something about Easter, and Lent is this preparation and learning. But Lent is not for everyone. It is not for those who are not Christians, nor even for those who are young Christians. Lent is not for you until you have been through a few years of Christian discipleship. The fasting and privations of Lent are for the Church only, and even then only for the experienced. The discipline of Lent cross is the means and the inner working of the resurrection. But the cross is the advanced class, for the Church only. Easter is not about suffering and death and so we are to become ever more doleful as Easter approaches, for the passion and suffering of the Lord is not the message to the world, the resurrection. The passion is how Christ’s resurrection makes itself known to us, for now.
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In the Western part of the Church we have this basic and very deep assumption of a oneness or unity that occurs at the expense
of diversity. Although the diversity is expressed, Western theology does not make clear that the diversity is not subordinate to the unity. It does not tell us clearly enough that plurality and unity are equally fundamental. To put it at its very bluntest, the Western church fails to tell us that the people, and included with them the leadership of the church (and not the leadership of the church without the people) who make the unity of the church. This is to say that Christ-united-with-his-people, never one without the other, who are the church.
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What is the purpose of hierarchy? What is the purpose of ordination?
1. The labour of the people
4. Handing on the tradition
5. The rights of the labourer
6. The lack of rights of the labourer
1. The labour of the people
God intends to make a competent and responsive people. The Church is to take on some of the servant character of God and some of the offices of God. It is not that God ceases to exercise his offices. No statement of this sort is possible if we attempt to consider the Church in isolation from Christ its head, or to limit ourselves to statements that merely contrast two natures, identifying a work of God (activity) and a work of man (passivity) in the act of Jesus Christ, or identify after the ascension an action of man presided over by an inaction of God. This people is the work of God who presently labours by his Spirit to bring us into action. God has made man passive in order to give him a new action and life. He gives us his Spirit, and he makes the Church confess this Spirit, and theology must set out a Christological pneumatology.
The whole Christian body is elect to the work of God. This work is to be a demonstration of the victory of the unity of God over all divisive powers. The Body is to participate in its Lord’s work of releasing the world from all the alien authorities that presently hold the world captive. All Christians are members of this new assembly which speaks the truth, which teaches and enables truthful public speech, practises justice and praises God for his justice. The Church is a proleptic parliamentary and juridical assembly. All its members are citizens in a commonwealth: they will all grow up to the fullness of Christ. ‘There are different kinds of gifts but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men’ (1 Corinthians 12.4-11, 28). The service all Christians are engaged is to point away from the premature closure insisted on by all worldly statement, and to witness to the heavenly assembly that works with a more ambitious definition of humanity.
Continue reading “5 Office in the Church”
The Christian commonwealth and the rule of the people of God
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord…
Calling the Twelve to him he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits… ‘Take nothing for the journey except a staff…’ (Mark 6.7) He said to his disciples ‘The Harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest therefore to send out workers into his harvest field.’ (Matthew 9.37)
1. The Church is the gift of God to the world.
2. The head and the body.
5. Public political leadership
6. One loaf – the modelling of the new life
7. Truth-telling and competing rationalities and communities
1. The Church is the act of God
The Church is the speech and voice of God to the world. God speaks first, and continues speaking, and alone can say what constitutes a proper conclusion. The breath, the voice and the speaking of God constitute the single action of one indivisible Spirit. The Word, and Spirit, and (spiritual) Body constitute one sacrament. All things are the generosity of God in speech and in provision, for ‘He sustains all things by his powerful word’ (Hebrews 1.3). The Church is that first sign of the coming new creation that the Son shows the Father. The beginning of the Christian (gentile) community represents the unlocking and opening of the one community of God to the whole world and all peoples. It is the commencement of that harvest. The Son united with his body reconstitutes the world as new world and new creation. The world is the burden and charge God puts on the Church, and the Church (united to its head) represents the world to God.
Continue reading “4 The Office of the Church to the world”