Category Archives: the risen crucified One

An unexpected Lamb

Reading
Revelation 7.9–17

 

Scholars debate the origins of apocalyptic theology and literature, but its basic function seems fairly clear: to sustain the people of God, especially in times of crisis, particularly evil and oppression. Apocalyptic literature both expresses and creates hope by offering scathing critique of the oppressors, passionate exhortations to defiance (and sometimes even preparation for confrontation), and unfailing confidence in God’s ultimate defeat of the present evil. — Michael Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly 

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Perhaps you’ve noticed we’ve been hearing from the Book of Revelation lately. You know, it’s been said that Christians can be divided into two groups: those who open Revelation as often as they can, and those who never open it at all. 

Many of us are tempted to be in the ‘Keep Revelation Closed’ group. But let’s take a peek inside today, shall we? You never know what you may find… 

Oh, but one thing you won’t find is a detailed prediction of what is going to happen in the near future. You won’t find whether Donald Trump is the Antichrist, or whether the rise of China was prophesied. 

What you will find is help ‘to sustain the people of God, especially in times of crisis, particularly evil and oppression’. (Michael Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly) Revelation is a book of hope: hope for a new future for God’s whole creation. 

So, let’s turn to today’s reading from Revelation. Did you pick up which character was mentioned most? Let’s hear part of it again. John, the visionary, writes:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.

They cried out in a loud voice, saying,

‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ 

And then:

They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the centre of the throne
  will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs
  of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear
  from their eyes.

Who is the major character here? The Lamb. In fact, the Lamb is mentioned twenty nine times in the Book of Revelation. It is easily the most common way of referring to Jesus in Revelation. It’s even more common than the name Jesus itself! (‘Jesus’ occurs twelve times.) 

To really get why Jesus is the Lamb in Revelation, we need to go back a couple of chapters to chapter 5. 

There, John the Visionary sees a scroll that no one could open, and he becomes very sad. Then, he says,

one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals’. (Revelation 5.5)

A lion is a pretty scary beast. Let me tell you about the first time I came across a lion. 

I was ten, and it was my first long trip anywhere. It was a school outing, a day trip to Edinburgh. It was a whirlwind of a day, taking in Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood House, St Giles Cathedral, the Forth Rail Bridge, all the big Edinburgh touristy things… 

One stop was the Edinburgh Zoo. I’d never been to a zoo before. Now, you’ve got to realise it was 1964, and everyone still thought it was cool to keep animals in little concrete enclosures. 

I approached the lion enclosure. There were lots of people there, but I managed to squeeze through to the front. A lion, a male with a fabulous mane, was standing there looking right at us. 

So I decided that I would roar at the lion. I took a deep breath, and let out the biggest roar my ten-year old prepubescent body could possibly make. 

Well, the lion must have decided to teach this little pipsqueak a lesson. He let out the biggest roar I had ever heard. I was petrified! If I’d been a cartoon character my hair would have been standing on end.

I was very scared I’d get into trouble. So I beat a very quick retreat, to the general amusement of everyone else there. 

So, back to Revelation. John hears that a lion can help the situation. And not just any lion, but ‘the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David’, who has conquered. 

The Lion of the tribe of Judah is an Old Testament image of the Messiah, the Christ, the mighty anointed One of God. 

Well, John probably thought, we’re in business now! So he turned to see this great Lion, who could roar 10000 times louder than my Edinburgh lion. 

So, what does John see? He sees something so totally unexpected that nothing could prepare him. 

I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered…

He hears the all-conquering Lion has come…but he sees a Lamb. This is one of the most shocking reversals in the history of literature! John is told of a mighty Lion; his eyes fall upon a Lamb, standing but bearing the wounds of slaughter. 

We need to unpack this just a bit. 

Firstly, the Lamb itself. The word John the Visionary uses is the one for a little lamb, a lambkin if you want. ‘Mary had a little lamb’, if you like. 

This tiny Lamb isn’t a cute little thing though. Apart from bearing mortal wounds, he has seven eyes, which symbolise the fullness of the Holy Spirit. 

He also has seven horns, symbolising the fullness of power. But the power of the Lamb is very different from a lion’s power. 

As I found out in Edinburgh, a lion is very fierce. But I’ve never heard a lamb roar. I’d walk through a paddock of sheep, but I wouldn’t step into a lion’s space. 

John heard there was a lion, but he saw a lamb. I wonder how the Lion and Lamb are related? 

Both are images of the Messiah, the Christ. So is the Messiah sometimes a Lion and sometimes a Lamb? 

If you google for images of the Lamb in Revelation, it’s easy to get images of the Lion too. There’s one in which Jesus is standing between the Lamb and the Lion. Does Jesus balance the Lion and the Lamb, like yin and yang? Is Jesus a kind of mediating principle

Did Jesus die a Lamb, but rise a Lion?

Was he perhaps a Lion in the Old Testament and a Lamb in the New?

Is he maybe a Lion to unbelievers and bad people and a Lamb to people like us?

Is he a Lamb now, but one day he’ll come back as a Lion to punish the wicked?

None of that will do. John hears there’s a Lion. What he sees is the Lamb. And while the Lamb is mentioned twenty nine times in Revelation, this is the first and last time we hear of the Lion of Judah. The Lion disappears after this. 

Say it how you like: the Lion is the Lamb. The Lamb subverts the Lion. The Lion fades away, the Lamb remains. 

The power of this Lamb is the power of innocent suffering. The way of this Lamb is non-violence. The Lamb suffers that mortal wound to bring peace. 

We spoke of the wounded God a couple of weeks ago. Here is the wounded God once more. But we have a problem: it’s very hard to let go of the Lion!

Let me put it another way.

If you were given a choice, which Messiah would you rather have? The Lion or the Lamb? Be honest. Would you have straightforward power of the Lion, or the hard-to-grasp power of the suffering Lamb?

If you still can’t make your mind up, think about the Federal Election next Saturday.  

Untitled

Who would you vote for? The Lion Party, with its proud, majestic beast protecting you? Or the Lamb Party, with a mortally wounded little lambkin? What could the Lamb Party even do?

Who would you vote for? Those who control the agenda through the use of power, even force, or those who are willing to work so that others can know liberation? 

And do we even have that choice? 

John was expecting a Lion, but he got a Lamb. A slain-yet-standing Lamb. I’m not sure how John felt; I’m sure he was surprised. But was he disappointed? Or did it all make sense of the cross? Did it show that in times of hardship or even persecution, God’s people are to take the way of the Lamb? 

What kind of church are we? We are a church of the Lamb. We seek to bring life and hope into dark and cramped places. We seek to do it in the Name and in the Spirit of Jesus, the risen crucified One. We seek to do it with gentleness and care. 

When we gather next week, the election will be over. In the lead up, let us pray that the Australian Government may not stand in the way of the coming kingdom, and that God’s will may be done on earth as in heaven. 

 

West End Uniting Church, 12 May 2019

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The Wounded God is the Risen God

Reading
John 20.19–31

The gospels invite the reader to inhabit a narrative space so as to be reformed in imagination and desire. ‘Written so that you may believe’ (John 20: 31), they extend to the reader an invitation that, whether it elicits a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, is radically self-involving. Its proclamation demands much more than an intellectual consideration. It is a summons to participate in a particular form of life, to become a ‘new creation’ in Christ. — Brian Robinette, Grammars of Resurrection 

The difference between the Christian hope of resurrection and the mythological hope is that the former sends a man back to his life on earth in a wholly new way which is even more sharply defined than it is in the Old Testament. The Christian, unlike the devotees of the redemption myths, has no last line of escape available from earthly tasks and difficulties into the eternal, but, like Christ himself (‘My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’), he must drink the earthly cup to the dregs, and only in his doing so is the crucified and risen Lord with him, and he crucified and risen with Christ. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

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On Anzac Day, I began to reflect on wounds and woundedness. And a memory from my childhood surfaced.

In the bible’s famous ‘love chapter’, 1 Corinthians 13, St Paul says:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.

I’m going to tell you a story from when I was a child, and thought like a child. I was born in 1953, and the adults around me were nowhere near over the Second World War. Rationing hadn’t completely finished in England when I was born, but I’m speaking of course about the psychological effects on ‘my’ adults. 

My dad used to talk about being in the Royal Navy. When I asked him what he did in the Navy, he told me he was a gunner. So I would ask him how many German planes he’d shot down, and every time he would give me this one-word answer: ‘None’. 

I couldn’t believe it. My dad must have shot down hundreds of German planes! He was being modest, I thought. 

When I was old enough, I realised that since my dad was born in 1931, he wasn’t old enough to have fought in World War Two. He joined the Navy as soon as he could, but it was after the war. Dad was telling the truth: he didn’t shoot down one single German plane.

As I thought like a child, my first reaction was disappointment. Thank goodness we are given the opportunity to think as adults. 

Yet as a child, and because I thought as a child, I wanted my dad to have shot down German planes. I didn’t even realise that may have meant German airmen being wounded, or dying. 

Today’s Gospel Reading is about a perennial favourite of mine, Thomas. ‘Doubting’ Thomas. 

(Let’s get one thing out of the way; it’s ok to doubt and even better to open up to someone about it, but Doubting Thomas wasn’t doubting. The thing is, when Thomas committed himself to something he threw himself right in there. So he wasn’t going to commit to what the others had said about Jesus being raised from death unless he saw for himself.)

So I don’t want to talk about his so-called doubts, but about him and his God. This is the amazing thing: Thomas’ God was wounded. 

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Not the mountain, the plain

Reading
Luke 9.28-43

There is a terrible cruelty to it. Baptizing them as children, teaching them in Sunday school, hosting lock-ins & game nights in youth group, encouraging their calls to ministry, and then, when they work up the courage to tell the truth about their sexuality, kicking them out. — @rachelheldevans, Twitter 28.02.19

The society in which we live suggests in countless ways that the way to go is up. Making it to the top, entering the limelight, breaking the record—that’s what draws attention, gets us on the front page of the newspaper, and offers us the rewards of money and fame.

The way of Jesus is radically different. It is the way not of upward mobility but of downward mobility. It is going to the bottom, staying behind the sets, and choosing the last place! Why is the way of Jesus worth choosing? Because it is the way to the Kingdom, the way Jesus took, and the way that brings everlasting life. — Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, p.186 (https://henrinouwen.org/meditation/downward-mobility/)

The transfiguration is something any old atheist could understand: ‘glory’ is a body and face shining with supernatural light. This does not unsettle my pagan presuppositions of what ‘divinity’ and the ‘supernatural’ mean. What we need faith to see is this: that the dead Jesus, forgotten and abandoned, naked and hanging on the Cross, is truly the Love of God Incarnate. In the wounding of his fragile being is the fullness of the divine glory. He is not ashamed to be our God. — Brad Jersak, A More Christlike God, p.135

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There’s a tradition in preaching on the Transfiguration of Jesus, that we talk about ‘mountaintop experiences’ that we take down to our everyday lives on the plain.

So where do we start today, on this Day of the Transfiguration of Jesus? Do we start on top of the mountain, along with Peter, James and John, with Moses and Elijah in glory? Do we begin bathed in the reflected heavenly light coming from Jesus? Do we start with a privileged glow mixed with strange feelings of awe or even dread?

Well no, not today. Today, we must start on the ground, along with the helpless, hapless and confused disciples who couldn’t expel a demon from a young lad, the only son of his father. That’s where we are today, at the bottom of the mountain. 

We have to start—and stay—on the ground today because as Christians in Australia, as members of a mainstream church, many people see us as representatives of something that is not only wrong but despicable. There’s a man I know who frequents the same coffee shop I do. We get on, we pass the time of day. The first time he saw me in a clerical collar he wondered if I should be wearing one, because it could make me look like a ‘paedo’. 

This week, Cardinal George Pell was found guilty of child sexual abuse. The charges relate to acts committed in 1996, while he was Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne. Pell had forcefully denied all charges, but now that a media ban has been lifted the news is known within Australia. 

A number of prominent figures have leapt to his defence, he will mount an appeal, but the fact remains: today, Pell is a convicted child abuser. 

We have to stay on the ground and not go to the mountain today because last weekend one of our sister churches in the USA, the United Methodist Church, discussed the place of LGBTIQ people in their church. Their special conference began with hopes of full inclusion of people regardless of their sexuality. Instead, the conference voted to accept the so-called ‘Traditional Plan’ which keeps the current exclusions of LGBTIQ people in place. 

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Holy, Holy, Holy

Readings
Isaiah 6.1–8
1 Corinthians 15.1–11
Luke 5.1–11

 

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. — 1 Corinthians 15.17–19

Christians, for instance, are not, properly speaking, believers in religion; rather, they believe that Jesus of Nazareth, crucified under Pontius Pilate, rose from the dead and is now, by the power of the Holy Spirit, present to his church as its Lord. This is a claim that is at once historical and spiritual… — David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions

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Our three readings today have one thing in common: the Lord is present in each one in a way that changes everything. We live in a world confronted by the Word.

Let’s start with the big one. This world is confronted by something that for many is literally unbelievable: that is, the Risen Crucified Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul says,

I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day…

‘He was raised on the third day…’ We might be used to the story of Easter, but really that is quite shocking. And just a bit after today’s reading, Paul says something even more shocking than that:

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 1.17–19)

‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile…’ 

The risen Christ is present with us in a way that changes everything. It’s a way that is not easily described, though we can and do experience it. 

The risen Christ brings life where there was death and decay. In the presence of the risen crucified One, we find ourselves confronted by life when we are confronted by death. Let me tell you about my dad. 

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Jesus Christ: faithful witness, firstborn of the dead, ruler of the kings of the earth

Reading
Revelation 1.4b–8

Reading the Bible with the eyes of the poor is a different thing from reading it with the eyes of the man with a full belly. If it is read in the light of the experiences and hopes of the oppressed, the Bible’s revolutionary themes—promise, exodus, resurrection and Spirit—come alive. — Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, Kindle ed’n, loc.394.

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It was a Sunday. John was on the island of Patmos. Patmos is a Greek island, but John wasn’t there on holiday. He had been exiled to Patmos, confined there, imprisoned there. I doubt they had a cocktail hour or any all-you-can-eat buffets on Patmos.

It was a Sunday, the ‘Lord’s Day’, and John was ‘in the Spirit’. His eyes were opened to a vision in which he  Continue reading

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Ascended

Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him. Listen to the words of the Apostle: If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth. For just as he remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies. — St Augustine, sermon on Ascension Day

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I find the story of the Ascension of Jesus to be a very difficult one. Are we dealing with a historical event, or are we meant to understand it as something symbolic?

If it’s a historical event, it really only makes sense to me if we live on a flat earth. 

That may have been ok for the disciples. They lived in a three-storey universe. Heaven, the home of God, was somewhere beyond the clouds; hades, the place of the dead, was below the earth. And we are in the middle of the two.  

So when Jesus ascends he travels a short distance to heaven, and he is hidden in a cloud. A cloud, for them, symbolised the hidden, mysterious presence of God.

Think of a photo of the earth from space. Jerusalem  is on just about the opposite side of the world from Brisbane.  

My question is, Which way is up? ‘Up’ from Brisbane is a totally different direction from ‘up’ from Jerusalem. Or are we meant to believe that heaven is a place directly above Jerusalem? And if it is, how far away is it? If Jesus took off at the speed of light, he’d only be 2000 light years away by now. That’s not very far in terms of the size of the universe.

The important thing in the Ascension, as in many things in the scriptures, is not whether it literally happened but this: What on earth does it mean?

How do we engage with it today?

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No other God has wounds

Reading
John 20.19–31

Christianity is the only world religion that confesses a God who suffers. It is not all that popular an idea, even among Christians. We prefer a God who prevents suffering, only that is not the God we have got. What the cross teaches us is that God’s power is not the power to force human choices and end human pain. It is, instead, the power to pick up the shattered pieces and make something holy out of them—not from a distance but right close up. — Barbara Brown Taylor, God in Pain, kindle edition, 1998, p.118

If I were writing the Easter story, I wouldn’t write it like John.

For example: in the Gospel According to John, the risen Jesus greets the disciples with ‘Peace be with you!’ Shalom! 

My Jesus would be still a bit angry with them, you know? He’d rebuke them. He’d tell them he expected better next time, they’d better pull their socks up or gird their loins or whatever they did back then. 

And what’s more, my Jesus wouldn’t have wounds. He’d be pristine perfect.

I mean, whoever heard of a resurrected Lord with wounds? 

The very thought is bizarre. Yet there it is.

Shall we try to make some sense out of this risen but wounded Lord? 

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