Our Biblical Blog /'Examined Life'
Our Biblical Blog /'Examined Life'
We really should re-read God’s Old Testament promises to the people of Israel during this octave of Easter. God’s promises and warnings just highlight the value and precious life of renewal that we have been given in Easter. This historical undercurrent gives a fresh dynamic to our experience of Easter.
First, we should see this gift as a gift in history. As such, it is fragile. We can drift away from it, to the extent that we can even lose Easter – and become blind to its meaning. ‘I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over Jordan to possess it…and the Lord shall scatter you among the nations.’ The state of Christian faith and community cohesion shows that we should face God’s Easter presence from the perspective of the Jewish people. The Sacred can be lost, if we are lost for the Sacred.
As indeed it this case of how our churches suffer from losing the connection with the ‘centres’ of our faith. ‘And there ye shall serve gods, the works of men’s hands, wood and stone [and technology], which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.’ The prospect of losing our Easter should be a sobering experience, an imperative for conversion.
However, this is the nature of the gift of Easter, the rays of the Resurrection, will always reach and address us. The communion with the Resurrected Jesus surfaces in all circumstances when our ‘loss’ and becoming prodigal is recognised. ‘But it from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God [your Easter!], thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all your heart and with all thy soul.’ Indeed, this is the mark of Easter in us: we are capable of mobilising our whole being. We are marked by Jesus’ full self-emptying for us and we can reciprocate it through our renewed love.
When we contemplate Easter, we can see clearly how through this focal point of love we are being regenerated by God. What we celebrate in Easter is our formation as a community by our risen Lord.
When we contemplate the Eucharist in the Adoration, this ‘light of communion’ shines on us. In the Bread, which is the body of the Resurrected Lord, we here the summoning voice of God. ‘Ask from the one side of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it? Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of fire, as thou hast heard, and live? Or hath God assayed to go and take him a nation from the midst of another nation, by temptations, by signs?’ In the Eucharistic adoration, which is the condensed meaning of Easter, we celebrate our formation and recollection by the Lord of History.
The Eucharist, its contemplation, becomes our Easter-Creed when look upon it. ‘Know therefore this day, and consider it I thine heart, that the Lord he is God in heaven above, and upon earth beneath.’
In the Acts we can see the same gift of our formation as a community. ‘And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.’
This is perfect unity. They wanted to give utmost expression to this union, that is why ‘Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands of houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.’
The question is not whether this ideal was sustainable or not, as it failed because of human weakness. This was not a model for organising society. Rather these gestures can be seen as the expression of the desire to form our identity in Christ. As such, this is a blueprint for our Anglican Catholic community here at St Augustine’s: we desire to be rooted in our Tradition with one heart. With an undivided heart.
The above scene of distribution also shows that they acted in the spirit of Jesus. They felt, that through acts of sharing, Jesus was acting among them. This ‘presence’ is worth observing. The enthusiastic conversion of whole communities is owing to the fact that Jesus was well known in Jerusalem; the Palm Sunday welcome clearly showed it. Now they converted to his memory. They converted to the Resurrected Jesus as their Master.
‘Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like drops of blood falling down on the ground.’ This is the second antiphon from the Benedictine Prayer Book of Pannonhalma, Hungary (Morning Prayer, Holy Thursday).
What strikes us is how our Lord is profoundly rooted in this life. He is so much one with our human existence, he is so much one with who we are − his whole being refuses to be severed from this life.
In his agony we should see Him as part of us; as the centre of our identity (who we are in Him). So his Passion is not simply is about us, it is not an external offering of himself for us. His protest against being cut off from life valuates and blesses our present life. We must appreciate and respond with gratitude that his suffering, at the same time, has created a gate in the walls of our present. This gate will open us soon, in this Three Holy Days of Easter, into life-changing possibilities.
‘And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.’ ‘’And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it shall live.’
People are just passing by our Church without noticing it. They carry their thoughts and businesses inside. Perhaps, not much is missing to ‘look upon the church’. In the Book of Numbers it is serpents which cause harm. But it is also the figure of a serpent which is the antidote. What does it tell us? That the ‘church’, our mission should respond to what people carry inside, the facts of their lives. In return, they will recognise that the Christ we proclaim is their Christ.
Another beautiful composition from Cranmers lectionary. The Book of Lamentations and John’s Gospel enter into dialogue in a complementary way.
In Lamentations, the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in 586 BC forms the background to the poems. ‘How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! How she is become as a widow!’ The image, however, is a universal image of all destruction. It tells how a culture, a community can be wounded and stops functioning. ‘Her priests sigh’ and ‘her virgins are afflicted’ is a telling image. When there is no vision of the sacred and the meaning of life, the ‘city’ necessarily reaches a stalemate. ‘Her children are gone into captivity.’ Buried in the sarcophagus of an aimless present − the sense of the common good, compassion and higher values are lost. Today, we are marked by this disorientation. ‘She had no comforter.’
However, Scripture teaches us it is the Lord who ‘hath afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions.’ This is good news. The very fact that the Lord is in control of the process, gives us hope! The state of disorientation in our culture is only temporary.
In terms of Church life, there is also hope attached to the criticism which we find in this line: ‘The adversaries saw her, and did mock at her sabbaths.’ The standards of compassion and faith must be raised in the Church of England!
The ‘city’ is also a profound image of the isolated person. A culture never becomes inert in itself. First, we, as individuals, become detached from our vital resources. A culture’s disorientation is the consequence of our spiritual, psychological, and social isolation.
The ‘city’ thus cries for compassion, divine and human. ‘Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow?’
The sheer beauty of Cranmer’s arrangement is manifest in what follows in the Gospel. This is the scene when Jesus’ intimately prays with his disciples before his passion. He consoles them. ‘Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.’ To the above afflictions, he responds by offering a lasting abode with the Father. ‘In my Father’s house are many mansion: I go to prepare a place for you.’
What a wonderful image of the future. At the very core of our affliction; at the very heart of the present aion (age), there is life connected with Heaven. Our beautiful and free future arrives and fills up our hearts with dazzling light. ‘I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.’ Our city, our culture is only seemingly dark.
Following Cranmer’s old lectionary, today’s readings give an important teaching. The memory of raising Lazarus from the dead is still fresh. At Jesus’ visit to the family, ‘Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.’ People came to see Lazarus. The miracle speaks for itself: it attracts the crowds. To the extent, that on the next day, many of them who came to the fest, ‘when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.’ He is greeted as King. This greeting is the aftermath of the fresh memory of Lazarus’ being raised from the death.
Whenever ‘healing’ takes place in a community, it liberates trust. Indifference, lack of hope and goals suddenly gives way renewed energies. Let us take the momentum and use it well! The celebration of the Eucharist is our day by day catalyst of trust. Our personal encounters with Jesus add something vital to the ‘vitality’ of the community. This is what I see here at St Augustine’s, Grahame Park. Prayer, by individuals and as a small community, creates a gate in our otherwise closed, banal, and routinely present. New opportunities arrive. Our present moments do prepare way for the future; for a ‘graced’ future. Like the unexpected visit of a Hindi family who asked for prayer for their mother who is unwell. They came with expectation and hope ‒ for prayer, and support. Their faith, I am sure, has triggered out something coming good. We do not know what it is yet. Our task is to preserve the momentum.
Otherwise, and this is the great lesson of today’s Old Testament reading, in place of grace, instead of grace, mistrust emerges. Which prevents any further growth and healing. Not only can mistrust cause stagnation but it can kill ‒ as Korah’s story shows. Instead of recognising the value of their liberation from Egypt, they can see only, in a distorted way, the opposite. They are refuse Moses and God’s work: “you only brought us out from a safe and desirable country (Egypt) ‘to kill us in the wilderness’.”
Let us welcome the moments of grace; let us prepare ourselves for its arrivals, and continue the life bequeathed to us in these events.
Now there is a beautiful Hungarian embroidery in our side-Chapel. Its white purity and orderly patterns of flower change the whole atmosphere. The embellishment is simple yet complex. Just like God’s laws in the book of Numbers (Chapter 6). On the surface, the Mosaic Law is overtly detailed and the rituals are worked out with almost painful precision. Yet the more we look for the centre and the origin of these humanly crafted words of the Bible ‒ the more of the simplicity and beauty of God’s Presence is revealed to us. Seeing these subtle concentric compositions on the altar-clothes has a healing and calming effect.
It is worth reading the polemics between Jesus and “the religious experts” in a similar fashion. They refuse him because of blasphemy. “For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God” (John 10:33)
Following our analogy, the more we contemplate Jesus’ story, the more credible of the Father’s presence in Him becomes. Also, his refusal by the Pharisees and scribes is highly symbolic. In their suspicion, mistrust accumulated through generations surfaces. This is a wounding blindness in history; this is the wound of History itself. Inertia. Overcoming this mistrust successfully, the transformation of our eyes happens. The Beauty of Christ as our Master is revealed to us. Even more, this Beauty shapes us from within. History itself, becomes, like the altar-cloth-embroidery. We are transformed into a new and lasting Meaning.
There is so much to contemplate in Jesus’ ability to forgive. The elders who are rigid in their way to stone the adulterous women also play an important part. Their role in the story shows that forgiving is a complex issue. It is a long lasting dialogue between our soul and Jesus. Healing, and understanding of a situation requires our co-operation and openness to other way’s of judging a situation and someone.
What strikes us is how much Jesus is above the mud and distortions of our human judgements. He is outside the murderous cycles of our judgements, which, often lead to death; the death of a situation, a dialogue, a relationship.
The statue of the Sacred Heart in our chapel is very expressive of the nature of his judgement. The hands of the statue are broken. Now it can be read as an expression how human judgement can be devastating and actually they wound us and others. Also, just a reminder, Jesus was wounded to death by misjudging who he was and what he did. Love was sentenced to be a criminal.
The message of these wounded hands in our Chapel is this. ‘Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.’ Go and judge no more.
There seems to be a growing trust in Moses. The people of Israel undergo a transformation; just as Moses is being transformed in the presence of God. ‘And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant.’
‘ Behold, the blood of the covenant!’ The deep-root of our Christian Eucharist is this. The Old Testament people gave their most precious life-source as sacrifice. In the Sacrifice there is a genuine investment of ourselves. This giving of a significant part of ourselves initiates a further dialogue of exchange with God. The more we open, the more he opens up; the more he opens our understanding of his ways.
In our chapel, here at St Augustine’s, the Sacred Heart of Jesus (the statue) makes the nature of the Eucharist, as our sacrifice, visible. The heart of God ‘surfaces’ and becomes visible through the cloth. It tells us the same dialogical nature of knowing God better. God opens up his inside to us; that we might be transformed by this initiative and enter through this gate.
Eating the sacrifice transforms us. We need the Eucharistic Presence just as the Jewry needed time to spend with God at Mount Sinai. ‘And the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel. And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and gat him up into the mount: and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights.’ Eating the Eucharist transforms us into God’s knowledge. God’s glory abode on the Mount of Sinai in order to transform His chosen environment in which he dwells.
In John’s Gospel we see a similar visit which transforms. Jesus visits Jerusalem. ‘Neither did his brethren believe in Him.’ ‘But when his brethren gone up to Jerusalem, then went he also unto the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.’ ‘And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?’ In a parallel way to our reading above, Jesus must go up to Jerusalem in order to transform the place, people’s responses. His stay, his teaching becomes a Eucharistic Event: he gives and shares wholly his identity, and this ‘Eucharist’ transforms. People will know who he is, or whom they refuse. The interrogation, the questioning about his identity is good. Just like with our statue of the Sacred Heart, God, his Father ‘surfaces’. He pronounces himself in Jesus, overcoming our superficial thinking about him and his ways.
The message of the passage? Here, at Grahame Park, we have to be patient. Time and again, we must perform the Eucharistic Encounter, and let us see, how the Sacred Heart transforms us. And burst open the unknown history of Grahame Park. Just let us wait patiently for the encounters and changes the Lord can bring about ‒ through our hearts.
Exodus 19 aptly describes my situation at Grahame Park. Just like Moses and the wandering Jewry in the desert, all of us here needs a confirmation. We tend to read the events of the Exodus as static scenes. What should come through these lines, however, is the fragility of the community. They are surrounded by the unknown ‒ and all the fears this unknown can generate. The landscape they see is not a domestic landscape. What they see is not their own. There is no time to cultivate this environment, which actually is barren. There is no feeling of a home, sense of settlement. Only a trying journey under a fragmented sky.
Here at Grahame Park, at St Augustine’s, we need a day-to-day manifestation of God’s love. There are no spectacular miracles here; the building is in a very sad state. Anyone with a loving heart towards God can only cry ‒ and do something to change the situation. That is why it is so important that as a community we listen to God’s powerful miracles in liberating the Jewry from the power of Egypt. We are called to draw strength on these powerful stories.
Two images are in front of me. The first is Janos Pilinszky’s poetic image from Children and Soldiers, a play in three scenes (In Hungarian, Gyerekek és katonák, színmű három képben.) One of the characters is a philosopher sitting in a glass-cage. When the lights are lit up in his bird-cage, the old philosopher starts typing. He reads it out but nothing can be heard of it. Noise?
The other image is the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the side chapel of St Augustine’s. The ceiling came down few weeks ago and fell on Jesus’ statue breaking his two palms of hands. One of them, the right hand side, is completely broken off. This other one has lost all his fingers. The statue otherwise is beautiful. Nothing special about it, but our Lord has attained a special beauty. I see Him beautiful in this image. He absolutely shares the state of Grahame Park ‒ the story of the wounded, joys and sorrows of those who live here.
What happens between the two hands, the stretched out arms, resembles the Biblical scene of Exodus. How Moses confirms and nourishes his people by interpreting God’s powerful appearances. The desert bears life in the sense that this is the medium, the way, which leads us to Life. The desert may not be a habitat or a friendly home but is the homeland of Hope. Our call here at St Augustine’s is being part of divine encouragement.
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..