Posts Tagged ‘Easter’

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Maunday Thursday – Jesus Washes his disciples’ feet

April 5, 2012

Human hands gently clean human feet

Maunday Thursday

Traditionally, at this time of year, Christians from across the world gather together to remember the Biblical story of a man called Jesus, who led a group of male and female disciples in first century Palestine.

The story (or stories) of the Biblical Gospels tell us of how this young man spent time with a small group of close friends having a final communal meal before being arrested by the religious and political establishment of that time,  brutally tortured and executed. 

It is a story told that represents a prescient moment in the history of world religions and civilisation. In a traditional society with entrenched hierarchies of power and authority, the charismatic young leader, who has at times gathered crowds of thousands followers, prepares for an intimate dinner (possibly the Jewish Seda and Passover meal) with an estimated twenty to thirty close friends and family.

 Before eating, however, it is custom for people of that time and place to have their feet washed by a slave. Their feet are covered with dirt and sweat having travelled mostly on foot on dusty roads,  fitted only with simple sandals.

According to the historical texts, the disciples of Jesus should be at the peak of their knowledge, insight and training. Yet, predictably, like so many of us human beings, they expect a ‘lesser’ person to do the dirty work of feet washing.

As almost a final gesture of the young leader’s life,  Jesus, the man at the top of the hierarchy of the group of disciples, takes off his outer clothes, wraps a towel round him and begins to wash…to wash the disciples grimy feet.

The scene is described in chapter 13 of the Gospel of John.

In sparse words, a moment of scandalous epiphany in the history of human/religio relations is richly described. The man at the top gets down on his knees and takes the role (probably of a woman) at the lowest strata of society. For believers this scene represents even more than that…it is God Himself in human form washing dirt from the feet of human beings.

It is an often overlooked aspect of Christian teaching, that I think all of us, certainly myself, continually struggle with. Yet it shows forward a new idea in human beings relationships with one another and with God.  Here we see illuminated that the path to God is downwards not upwards. We encounter God not as ruler or king, but as a servant for blood and boned, fleshly humanity.

Artist Howard Banks captures in earthy hues and subtle light a  silent, close up of this scene. The figures and faces of the people involved are not revealed. We see (we believe) the hands of Jesus and the foot of one of the disciples in a tender gesture and gentle intimacy. Yet, the painting leaves open the viewer to question whose feet and whose hands are portrayed? Might they also be yours and mine? The painting is entitled Our Humble God.

 “Our Humble God”, by artist, Howard Banks, is reproduced with permission by Veritasse Ltd. More  Christian art work by other gifted artists can be found on the Veritasse site at www.veritasse.co.uk 

For a link direct to Howard Banks gallery see below:http://www.veritasse.co.uk/community/artists.html?artist_id=58

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Church, Resurrection and the management of the rising Sun

April 8, 2010

Sun's brilliance more apparent at the horizon

On Tuesday I wrote that I believed that the Christian belief in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ celebrated at Easter, was intended to be a universal phenomenon. For Christians and the Church through out almost two millenia, the Resurrection has been the belief that although Jesus was killed on a cross, because his life had been lived completely without sin and because he was God’s Son, he came back from death to return to life. A new kind of life, Christians believe, a new humanity both similar to and strange from normal human existence. 

For the European and Middle-Eastern believers in Jesus, this celebration of the Resurrection generally fell during the season of Spring. Consequently, the primal re-birth of nature that occurs during Spring, after the bitter cold death of winter, resonated deeply with symbolism for Christians. As Jesus returned from death, so nature began to blossom and re-emerge in the new primaverial warmth and light.  

This year I celebrated Easter mostly in solitude, with a couple of bike-rides in the woods. I had a profound sense of how universal and indiscriminate was the season of Spring, in comparison to the carefully administered celebrations of Easter Sunday in churches across the country (the United Kingdom). Of course, I didn’t take an empirical survey of every church. So, my comments may seem pre-judgemental or critical of the worthy traditions of  humble and beleaguered institutions like local churches. Certainly, for many Christians Easter is a time of genuine rejoicing. Celebration at the work of salvation they believe was historically achieved by God through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. It is from the beleiver’s perspective, a moving celebration that links modern Christians to the ancient forebears and roots of this great religion. 

So, why critique the church at all? To what end is it aimed? My experience as I have indicated in previous posts stems from an intense and disorienting period of ‘darkness’ and ‘absence’ of God over several years. A time when many aspects of my conventional ‘Christian’ and secular ‘modern’ life were washed away, seemingly as easily as sand castles by the waves. Much of my life was overturned in, what I experienced to be, the turbulent waters of chaos and night. Friends, my wife, my career chances, even my sanity were taken without any respect for the dedicated and I hope ‘moral’ life I had chosen to live for the previous ten years of my life, since becoming a Christian at University. 

Honestly, I don’t see myself, as particularly unlucky in the grand scheme of things. I have beenmore or less blessed for most of my younger life, with some periods of difficulty and illness, but nothing compared to hundreds of millions of people across the world. How many people are inflicted with great pain, sorrow, loss and injustice from the day they were born? What right have I to cry out in pain? Who do I think I am to complain and lament my meagre losses in a world where poverty and oppression is for many people their ‘daily bread’? 

I would answer simply that, “I am no one.” 

At least, I am no one of special importance, just a fortunate, white-middle class English man, who happens to have fallen on a few hard times. Don’t weep for me, or pity me. My loss is no more than many and a lot less than most. 

Still, as a Christian I had embarked on a way of thinking about the world that told me that even though I was merely a ”grain of sand’ on the beach of  the world, I was, however, important to God. Particularly, my God, the Christian God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

When what seemed like almost everything of great worth to me had been taken away, I guess there was at the bottom of all this pain a reassurance that actually somebody cared…somebody cared deeply. Not merely my parents, or my psychologist, or my best friend, my brother, but some thing much deeper. A relationship with an invisible ‘God’ (I think that’s the only reasonable word I can use to describe it. For most people ‘God’ can mean different things. I mean a kind sense of the ineffable – invisibly, present, intelligent, caring, personal and immanent. Yet could also be described simply as ‘Being’ – the life energy that is the ground of all life, transcendent, numinous, beyond.), a ‘God’ who cared even about me and my sufferings. 

Yet, in all of the pain and loss, the most unsettling thing that happened to me was the lack of response from the Church.  It was difficult to see how during my crises the organisation that I had been so deeply committed to and had supported with time, energy and money over many years, simply ‘ignored’ the plight that had befallen me. At times, ministers of religion used the fact that suffering had befallen me to discriminate against me and refuse to even consider me for service in the Church – a very bitter blow for somone who was dedicated to and loved the faith, as well as having the kind of attributes necessary for Church ministry. In other respects, my local church was just silent on what was happening. Not the serene silence of inner peace that reverberates in your heart and soul, but a dumb, numbing silencing. It was a refusal to acknowledge another’s distress. Instead there was a seeming deafness to pain and a damned determination to keep things going as they had always been going regardless of what was going on to a fellow human being. 

I say this to give a kind of background to why I feel an uneasy relationship with the role the Church has taken upon itself as chief administrator of the Resurrection. Particularly, the priesthood in the established churches, which operates a kind of eccclesial management of the in-flow and out-flow of the flux of Divine Power. My experience is that many people never come to realise the significance of Easter for their lives, since the Church is a completely alien environment and concept for them. Yet, the Church often exacerbates this by wielding religious authority with an arrogant attitude as if it alone should determine the conditions of divine blessing: 

“If you want to be blessed then you better come to us and mind you, it had better be on our terms that you come…our time, our place, our music, our traditions, our convenience and your obedience!” 

Perhaps, I exagerate? Perhaps not? 

Yet, two years ago when a new vicar arrived in my local congregation with a full stipend (or salary), free newly refurbished accommodation and healthy pension scheme, decided within months to close down a contemporary monthly event for younger adults in their 20s and 30s that I had nurtured and developed into fruition on a voluntary basis, because it was ‘too expensive’, (about £1000/year for 10 services), the rest of the church made barely a murmur. 

When my then wife left me shortly afterwards and I was shocked, disorientated and spiralling into depression, no one… no one…phoned me or visited me to ask how I was or say that they were sorry, that shook me. This from a Church that I had been an active part of for over ten years. I have to admit that such expereinces forced me to question what exactly was the nature of community and Christian love in this  religious organisation – called the Church.

It was hard to accept, but I knew from experience of seeing other people drop out of church unexplainably over the years that the Sunday services would carry on. I think I can say without exageration that no doubt songs of jubilation and victory were heartily sung during those months I was left in devastation. I’m sure the Eucharist was performed, the Gospel resoundly preached, decorative vestments worn and pious prayers said. But it was difficult to acknowledge to myself that no one picked up the phone to find out how I was? Just to mourn a little with me, as I was left in the darkness. 

I’m not writing this merely to publicly air some grievance of yesteryear.  I’m wriitng this because I believe that I’m lucky. I am fortunate. For much of my life, I have had a firm grasp on the way I wanted to live, regardless of what other people thought or did or didn’t do. I am also very priviliged to have a loving and supportive family to see me through the worst, as well as an encouraging and faithful psychologist who has never let me down.  I guess my real concern is for those people who don’t have that kind of support. I wonder and fear for those who haven’t the resistance to carry on alone through the hurt. I suspect that such painful experiences will turn them away not only from church, but from God as well. 

I wonder how many other people have experienced something similar, or how many other people who have not led the typically ‘Christian’ ‘moral’ livestyle will never get close to church to hear about the love God has for them.  I know that the God described in the pages of the Bible is a not a God who is deaf and dumb to people’s cries for help and consolation. But what about his ambassadors on earth? Are they willing to reach out and listen to those same distress calls? God commands humans to love one another, not ignore eachother. 

 I guess this is why I wrote about Spring and the Resurrection earlier in the week. As I rode my bike last saturday and sunday around the woods, everything was bursting back into life. I mean everything! Birds, animals, flowers, trees, buds, grass, insects, people out on bikes or walking the dog or kids.

Why? I wondered. 

Why does nature and humanity burst back into life at this time of the year?Well, although, I’m not a scientist, I guess part of the answer is simply that Northern hemisphere of the earth is turned closer to the sun as it orbits around it. In a sense a cosmological explanation. 

Everyone knows this natural phenomenon. It is an experience which registers deeply with everyone, at physiological, psychological and intellectual levels. Yet, there is no special institution that moderates peoples’ exposure to Spring. No hierarchy of ministers, with special honours and privileges to make sure peoples’ experience of Spring is done in the correct way. Spring just happens, spontaneously. Bursting forth like an eruption of light and warmth over the earth. Casting away dark shadows and long nights. It needs no announcement – you can sense it, feel it first before you acknowledge it intellectually. 

The Christian traditions for centuries have maintained that the Resurrection is also a ‘cosmological’ event. A happening that has significance for the whole cosmos. It’s my argument, as a twenty-first century Christian, that the Resurrection happened on that first Easter morning in a similar way to  the way Spring comes upon us today. It simply broke through the boundaries of death and degradation, like the rising of the Sun on a new day. An eruption of light, an effusion of new life, that broke away the oppressive patterns of existence that had operated in the dark winter years of humanity’s history. As the beginnings of the Church, as told in the Book of Acts and the rest of the Resurrection stories in the Gospel’s tell, there is no setting up of priestly rituals or classes, rules or complicated requirements. There is simply the unstoppable force of a message and experience that one man had died and now he was alive again.  

I have had a phrase going round my head the last couple of days, in relation to the church’s magnified, self-appointed role of chief administrator of the power of God. I thought it was a quote about acting, said by some eloquent, witty, bohemian thespian. It turns out it’s actually a quote from a former British Prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. She once said this when asked about the nature of power in leadership: 

“Being powerful is like being a lady… If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” 

I can’t help thinking that this description of ‘power’ also applies to the experience of God in the Church.

‘Experience of God in the church, is a bit like being a lady…. If you have to tell people that it is God, then it probably isn’t.’

God’s power doesn’t need dressing up in vestments, ecclesial power structures, buildings or language. If it’s God, then most people will know it. They can sense it has a different quality to it, even if they don’t put the name ‘God’ to it. God like Spring doesn’t need introduction. If a person was dead and then comes back to life again, you don’t need a formula to follow in order to celebrate its miracle. People just go wild with elation, joy and amazement. Such experiences alter a person’s life, irreversibly…with or without organised religion.

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Easter – One Spring for all, One Resurrection for all

April 6, 2010

  10Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no-one else can share its joy. 

Proverbs 14:10 (NIV) 

Some times it is just a word or two, from a great text, such as the Bible, that can open up a person’s heart to the deeper feelings locked inside. 

For me the above quote from the book of Proverbs, is one that speaks to me today. If you weren’t aware of their existence, they might be difficult to find in the ample writings of the Bible. Sometimes there are sayings that seem so timeless and poignant to the human situation, one is amazed that they were written so many thousands of years ago. Finding them too, as with many books from the Bible can be quite difficult for the unexperienced reader, they are like pearls stuck in the mud of the author’s preaching about morality, foolishness and wisdom.  Looking at the whole you can get one message, looking at the words in detail selectively brings another. 

Still, this is what Proverbs 14:10 states: 

10Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no-one else can share its joy. 

These words resonate with me deeply this Easter, an Easter I have consciously chosen to celebrate alone, and with my faithful and loving parents and ailing grandmother. I guess at the outset it is important to say that – I am so very, very fortunate to be in the situation I am with such loving and caring family living close by, as well as money in my pocket, a nice place to live, in a peaceful and stable democratic country such as England in the United Kingdom. 

I feel it is worth stating at the outset that compared to most people in the world today, I live in paradise. It is so easy to forget this when we compare our successes and failures to our neighbours and peers or media stereotypes and expectations. So, I thank God for how lucky I am. I am very fortunate. 

At the same time, this year’s Easter celebrations have been difficult and challenging. It has been difficult to be stood in the gap between the World and the Church, trying to be faithful to God and at the same time staying aware of the great hidden and secret pains so many people have outside of the Church. People that all, my Bible reading since I was a child, tells me that God dearly, dearly cares about even though for many it must seem God is a bitter illusion and a sick joke amidst their pain and suffering. Yet, not always so. 

This Easter, I have to admit I have felt the Resurrection very much absent in my life in my limited engagement with the Church and the people of the church, save for a few often marginalised followers who feel deeply the world’s gaping alienation and God’s desire to tend to those wounded scars on the souls of every day people. 

Bare winter woods feel the first taste of Spring sun

Resurrection has been present to me through the beauty, new birth and light of Spring. A blessing that has struck me particularly this year as a completely Universal phenomenon. There is only one glorious spring for all people, regardless of their values, beliefs or behaviours. There isn’t one spring for Christians, another for Muslims, another for atheists (or perhaps they really don’t deserve a spring at all?!), another for Jews, Buddhists or Hindus.

I mean: “Is there?!”

There’s just one wonderful, warm, vibrant new season where grass bursts into growth and buds appear in trees, and the sun shines through the branches of the trees or through the gaps in the sky line.

One Spring. 

One Resurrection? 

This year, I felt a profound sense of how the Resurrection of Jesus which Christians generally celebrate at least in the Northern hemisphere, in the season of Spring. Is and was always meant to be a new start for humanity or even for all creation. I don’t think it was ever meant to be the birth of another religion or sect. I’m pretty sure it was meant to be God intervening in history through Jesus, to wipe the debts of people free, and give the opportunity for a new divinely infused life – combining in nature and human beings, a new kind of heaven and earth combination. 

New green shoots burst through the dead leaves of winter

Heaven and earth renewed together. A new gift, a new start for all of life to begin again, actually not trapped in the power systems of religious or political elites or social stigmas. 

As Christians, over the centuries have spoken about this New Life, as being ‘Born Again’. Not I would argue to become a new kind of religious fundamentalist of whatever colour – Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Sectarian. But rather just a new start at life, with a new relationship with the Divine that is based completely on God’s acceptance and forgiveness of us as human beings – NOT ANGER, JUDGEMENT, CAPRICIOUS, VINDICTIVE PUNISHMENT… 

No, this Resurrection thing is about new birth, and the human person being in a mutual relationship with the Creator, the Divine, like a Mother and Child, like a Father cooing over his baby. 

And just like Spring, it’s meant for ALL of us. God doesn’t distinguish between the good, the bad, the ugly and the indifferent when the earth turns closer to the Sun and warms under its fire and light. Nor, I believe is Easter and the Resurrection meant to be an invitation to become religious or a cog in the religious establishment, which so many people find difficult to agree with. 

It’s simply New Life for everyone through Jesus. A complete cancellation of debts and a $100 million dollars in the bank, if you like. 

All the rest of it, the religious side if you like is simply meant to be about how we can learn and grow to make the best of this wonderful new start and gift. Anything else is an encroaching attempt by misguided people to try to impose conditions and requirements, fences and boundaries around what God has supplied and provided for so freely. So that certain human beings and certain organisations set an agenda for how and what, and whom and when people can receive this blessing. 

For me this behaviour which is common to all religions and all societies and all traditions is the opposite of the Resurrection, even though it might be widely dressed up and decorated as such, to speak plainly, it is not. In a way it’s Anti-Resurrection. It’s a return to rules and regulations and conditions and approval/disapproval by established ‘authorities’ – the exact thing the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth, came to do away with. 

I guess this kind of institutionalisation and regulated administration of a Divinely, freely given gift is part of my pain in my heart…and without going into very personal details, “No one understands it”. It has been a lesson taught through experience (what better teacher?) and unless you have experienced it at first hand, you would find it difficult to believe. 

I finish for today on this note: roughly 7% of the population attended church on EAster sunday to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, (it could be more possibly 9 or 10%). On the other hand, approximately 100% of the population are experiencing the new life of Spring in these weeks in one way or another. Would it be unreasonable to assume that: if there is a Creator God, who fashioned the seasons of nature for peoples’ and the earth’s benefit, and if this Creator God is also the same God that raised Jesus from the dead, then maybe this God doesn’t want only a fraction of the population to experience the benefits of the Resurrection this year or any year? Perhaps, the Resurrection was really not meant to be the beginning of a new sect administered by priests, bishops, authorities and councils, traditions and rituals, but simply a new season of life and peace with God for humanity and all of nature.

What do you think?

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Easter – Some personal thoughts

April 4, 2010

Light at the end of the tunnel

I write this on Easter sunday morning. It’s 8.52 am. 

The following  words are not exegesis of the Biblical text, but are simply a few personal reflections,  informed by my experience of depression, abandonment and the Dark Night of the Soul. 

It’s funny, as in funny strange, but today is perhaps the first time in about 13 years when I wont be attending Church on Easter sunday with other Christians to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and return from the dead. 

I feel like I have been enclosed in tomb like darkness for a good two years. But recently, a little like the picture above I am beginning to walk out into the light – the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Truly, its been a long time coming. 

I looked through my Bible today, in vain, to see if there is any description in there of what actually happened that day, when Jesus woke up Easter morning, returned from the dead. The Bible is absolutely silent on that matter. We can only speculate and imagine. But I wager that it was an ‘unbelievable’ experience for the young man from Nazareth, who after experiencing so much of life on earth as a human being, suddenly was awoken to a different kind of existence. Heaven infusing the body of a man. “Hallelujah!” He must have thought. 

Hallelujah indeed. 

For me the Resurrection in my life is not yet complete. It is only partial. I am only now re-emerging out of the darkness. Welcoming gladly the new warmth and light. 

I won’t be attending Church this morning, simply because I haven’t got a Church family to belong to. Certainly, not one with community, close friends and with leaders I can trust.  So this Easter morning, I celebrate the new birth of the Resurrection alone and with you. After all these years, and all this struggle I have reached the end of the black tunnel. I am sure that I will be revisited by darkness again sometimes, but for now Light bathes my eyes. Spring sunlight warms my face. 

 Thank God, I think. 

 Hallelujah! Hallelujah indeed! 

‘Christ is risen today! 

Hallelujah, he is risen indeed!’

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Saturday – silence and waiting

April 3, 2010

Black silence of death

 

There is one particular day in Western history about which neither historical record, nor myth, nor Scripture make report.

It is Saturday.

And it has become the longest of days.

We know of that Good Friday which Christianity holds to have been that of the Cross. But the non-Christian, the atheist, knows of it as well. This is to say that he knows of the injustice, of the interminable suffering, of the waste, of the brute enigma of ending, which so largely make up not only the historical dimension of the human condition, but the everyday fabric of our personal lives. We know…of the pain, of the failure of love, of the solitude which are our history and private fate.

We know also about Sunday.

To the Christian, that day signifies an intimation, both assured and precarious, both evident and beyond comprehension, of resurrection, of a justice and a love that have conquered death.

If we are non-Christians or non-believers, we know of that Sunday in precisely analagous terms. We concieve of it as the day of liberation from inhumanity and servitude. We look to resolutions, be they therapeutic or political, be they social or messianic….Sunday carries the name of hope…

But ours is the long day’s journey of the Saturday.

Between suffering, aloneness, unutterable waste on the one hand…

…and the dream of liberation, of rebirth on the other.

In the face of the torture of a child, of the death of love which is Friday, even the greatest art and poetry are almost helpless.

In the Utopia of the Sunday, the aesthetic (the beautiful) will, presumably, no longer have logic or necessity.

The apprehensions and figurations…in the poem and the music, which tell of pain and of hope, of the flesh which is said to taste of ash and of the spirit which is said to have the savour of fire, are always Sabbatarian. They have risen out of an immensity of waiting which is that of man. Without them, how could we be patient?

George Steiner, Real Presences

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At noon darkness came over the whole land

April 2, 2010
They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left.

 

 At noon the sky became extremely dark. The darkness lasted three hours. At three o’clock, Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly,

“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”

which means,

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Mark 15: 33-41 (The Message)