Tag Archive: Jesus Christ


An Advent hymn

Help, I’ve already had two Christmas lunches and a carol service and Christmas is still three weeks away. I suppose it doesn’t matter that much – not one has died as a result of not keeping Advent. However, it was suggested that perhaps we get so caught up with Christmas and the celebration of Jesus’ first coming, that we lose sight of the other meaning of Advent. As well as looking forward to Christmas there is looking forward to Jesus’ return, his second coming, just as he promised. I sense (and this includes me) that many Christians may well nod in agreement with the idea of Jesus’ return and yet. And yet, while we may still be waiting, we have given up expecting him.

So as a reminder to myself I re-read this old Advent hymn. It was written around 500 years ago by John Milton. As with all poetry, it is better read (or sung) out loud.

The Lord will come and not be slow,
his footsteps cannot err;
before him righteousness shall go,
his royal harbinger.

Truth from the earth, like to a flower,
shall bud and blossom then;
and justice, from her heavenly bower,
look down on mortal men.

Rise, God, judge thou the earth in might,
this wicked earth redress;
for thou art he who shalt by right
the nations all possess.

The nations all whom thou hast made
shall come, and all shall frame
to bow them low before thee, Lord,
and glorify thy name.

For great thou art, and wonders great
by thy strong hand are done:
thou in thy everlasting seat
remainest God alone.

John Milton, the elder (c.1563–1647) based on verses from Psalms 82, 85, 86
from “Ancient & Modern”, no. 51

Tourism in the Bible?

The other day I thought to myself that tourism is a luxury only the relatively rich can afford and this post started out as a note to say that tourism is unbiblical. Until I thought about it. Now, there is the principle of taking a rest (Sabbath) and time for family and recreation free from the obligations of working for a living (see the fourth commandment in Exodus 20 verse 8 or Deuteronomy 5 verse 12) so having a holiday seems OK.

You do not have to look to far to see people taking a journey whether it is to a new land to live in, as with Abraham, or to visit the baby Jesus, as with the Magi. Going on a pilgrimage to a special place because you believe God has sent you or because of a holy association seem to be OK as well. But tourism? Visiting places out of sheer curiosity or going somewhere new to get away from it all?

Well, I think I have found two instances which seem to suggest that going as a tourist is OK – at least some times. When the Queen of Sheba heard about King Solomon’s fame, her interest is piqued. So she sets off to see for herself. It seems to me that curiosity was her motive. In the end she discovered that what she had heard was no exaggeration and she was suitably in awe of what she saw. Now one person’s curiosity is another person’s nosiness, so we do need to stop and check our motives. However, I think that a desire to learn, to discover new things, to allow ourselves to be challenged by new people and places etc is acceptable – so long as we are respectful of the people we meet en route.

The other day, when reading and studying Mark chapter 7, I saw something that I had not properly appreciated even though I had read that chapter several times before. At first glance in the gospels, Jesus appears very busy and appears to have little time to eat and sleep let alone take a break. That is understandable as it would be a very slow read if we had to plough through details of every meal and every time he went to the bathroom! Having said that, there are a number of times when Jesus does take time out, usually to pray. If we follow Jesus, having proper rest periods is part of our calling. But in the middle of Mark chapter 7 Jesus does not just have a rest: he goes abroad to another country where people will not recognise him. In other words he takes a foreign holiday.

Jesus’ “holiday” is not like ours. For a start he probably walked. For another, his holiday was briefly interrupted by a “foreigner” who asked him for help. His response is instructive. At first he says “no” but when the woman shows that she is serious, he then grants her request. What he does not do is say, “Now that is my holiday ruined, I might as well go back to work”. That is another lesson for us. If our holiday is interrupted and there is no one else on hand to help in a particular situation, then it is OK to help out. But that is no reason to go back to work – continue with the rest of the holiday.

So the Queen of Sheba travelled abroad to satisfy her curiosity and Jesus went abroad to get away from it all. I therefore conclude that being a tourist on a foreign holiday is permissible.

Ascension Day, 14th May

Previously, I mentioned the Novena which starts tomorrow. Today in the church’s calendar, Ascension Day, we remember the day Jesus went back to heaven some 40 days after being brought back to new life (Easter Day).You can read about it in the last chapter of Luke’s gospel (chapter 24) and in the first chapter of the book Acts.

The particular emphasis today is on triumph. Jesus’ resurrection demonstrated his victory over the forces of darkness, over sin and death. The battle was won, and his new, risen life observed by a number of people. Now, he returns home to heaven, victorious. In art Jesus is depicted as sitting on a throne because Jesus is King of the whole world, of the whole known universe. A king who won without the force of arms but through the power of God’s Spirit.

Sometimes it feel like that Ascension Day is simply a little be of tidying up of some loose ends in the story. It is not. I tend to think of it as being end of part 1; part 2 continues after a brief intermission

A prayer for Ascension Day

Risen Christ, you have raised our human nature to the throne of heaven. Help us to seek and serve you, so that we may join you at the Father’s side, where you reign with the Spirit in glory, now and for ever. Amen. (Common Worship, Additional Collect)

 

Easter Day 2015

This is one of my favourite hymns, partly because it features one of my favourite saints, namely St Thomas. I also like it because it works equally outside for a dawn service – either read or, with a choir, sung – as at a service in church later in the day.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

O sons and daughters, let us sing!
The King of heaven, the glorious King,
o’er death to-day rose triumphing.
Alleluia!

That Easter morn, at break of day,
the faithful women went their way
to seek the tomb where Jesus lay.
Alleluia!

An angel clad in white they see,
who sat, and spake unto the three,
‘Your Lord doth go to Galilee.’
Alleluia!

That night the apostles met in fear;
amidst them came their Lord most dear,
and said, ‘My peace be on all here.’
Alleluia!

When Thomas first the tidings heard,
how they had seen the risen Lord,
he doubted the disciples’ word.
Alleluia!

‘My piercèd side, O Thomas, see;
my hands, my feet I show to thee;
not faithless, but believing be.’
Alleluia!

No longer Thomas then denied;
he saw the feet, the hands, the side;
‘Thou art my Lord and God,’ he cried.
Alleluia!

How blest are they who have not seen,
and yet whose faith hath constant been,
for they eternal life shall win.
Alleluia!

On this most holy day of days,
to God your hearts and voices raise
in laud and jubilee and praise,
Alleluia!

O filii et filiae, Jean Tisserand (d. 1494), translated by John Mason Neale (1818–1866)*

If you are somewhere safe and secure, a dark, clear, night brings the opportunity to gaze upon the stars, to wonder at their beauty and marvel at the complexity of the universe. We are so tiny compared to the cosmos and a few moments’ thought may strike us with awe or a sense of humility.
Darkness, though, may mean something quite the opposite to us. An ill-lit path of an evening may make us feel nervous. For some people, darkness may help cover up illegal or anti-social behaviour. Indeed, we describe some terrible things that people may do as “deeds of darkness”. Then again, for some of us, there may be a sense of darkness within ourselves: perhaps of loneliness or guilt or despair.

To all our darknesses came Jesus the Light of the world; like the dawning of the sun outshining all the stars of the night, the power of God’s love and life shines through Jesus into the world.
Light, which defeats darkness, is one way to understand the Christmas message. It is a message of hope for the world, which we celebrate at Jesus’ birthday in Bethlehem. It is also a message of joy for Christians who pray, as it says in the carol, “be born in us today”.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell:
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel.

Phillips Brooks (1835-93)

May the light of Christ shine for you this season. Amen.

Easter People

“We are an Easter People and ‘Alleluia’ is our song.” So said St Augustine some 1800 years ago; and it is still as true today as it was then. He was writing at a time when Christians were still very much in the minority, when the world was a dangerous place and, for many, life was “brutish and short”. It was against that background that Augustine declared the hope, the promise and the truth that gave Christians their strength and determination to stand against the tide of paganism and violence that beset the world around them.

They were “Easter People” because they believed in Jesus’ resurrection: he had died but, by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, had been brought back to a new life which was witnessed by many of his followers at the time. They were an “Easter People” because they had decided to follow that same Jesus and to model their own lives on what he did and taught.

Above all, they were “Easter People” because they had confidence in God despite anything the world might say or do to them. That is what they believed and that is why their song is “Alleluia”.

“Alleluia” means “Praise the Lord”. The word has been used by Christians of all denominations for centuries. It is used most often at Easter and in the Easter season but is a good word whenever we want to praise God and to thank him for his goodness. There are times when we most certainly do not feel like praising God. Life can be tough through illness, loss of income, grief, arguments etc etc. When we praise God we are not saying that “everything is OK”. What we are saying is that, despite anything else that might be going on, God is good all the time.

If it had not been for what God did through Jesus at Easter, there would be no Christianity, and we would not have the hope, the promise or the confidence in God that we do now.

 We know that Christ has been raised from death and will never die again – death will no longer rule over him.

(Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 6 verse 9)

Alleluia! Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Easter Day, 2014

We are an Easter People and “Alleluia!” is our song. (Augustine of Hippo)

A prayer from “Common Worship”

Lord of all life and power, through the mighty resurrection of your Son you overcame the old order of sin and death to make all things new in him. Grant that we, being dead to sin and alive to you in Jesus Christ, may reign with him in glory; to whom with you and the Holy Spirit be praise and honour, glory and might, now and in all eternity. Amen. (Collect for Easter Day)

Psalm 70

Help!

It is said that there are four short great prayers which everyone should have at their disposal. They are: please, help, sorry and thank you. The beginning of the psalm I’m looking at here could be summarised as “Help!” and the end as “Hurry up!”. There is an urgency about this prayer and I guess that is one reason why this psalm is one of the shorter ones – just five verses.

It also seems to me that Psalm 70 fits in with this week in the Church’s calendar. The week began with Palm Sunday and remembering Jesus arriving in Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. We then follow Jesus through the days and events that lead to his  crucifixion; and then we celebrate his resurrection at Easter. At this point of the journey, Jesus is in Jerusalem with his friends and followers. He is aware, much more acutely than them, that things are coming to a head and that he will be presented with “the cup of suffering” to drink. Jesus is no masochist nor is he a fatalist. He has a choice but the consequences for him will be dire: he will suffer and die. Before Easter, there is Good Friday; before resurrection there is the cross. Surely Jesus would ask for God’s help and with some urgency to put it mildly. No matter what he knew or expected to happen afterwards, the prospects for that week would make anyone turn to God for help.

I would not press psalm 70 too far or try to put words into Jesus’ mouth. I do suggest that it is OK to ask God for help and, if the situation warrants it, to ask him to hurry up.

A prayer from “Common Worship”

True and humble king, hailed by the crowd as Messiah. Grant us the faith to know you and love you, that we may be found beside you on the way of the cross, which is the path of glory. Amen. (Additional Collect, Palm Sunday)

Psalm 143

“My heart within me is desolate” (verse 4) (other translations use ‘appalled’ or ‘dismayed’)

There is something that I wish I had been told when I was a relatively new and young Christian. I understood about Jesus being the Son of God, I knew about the cross and resurrection and believed that God’s Spirit was present in/with me as a Christian, a follower/brother of Jesus etc etc. Somewhere, though, I had got the idea that if you are a Christian, if you have faith, then everything will always be OK – or at least that you will always feel OK. It followed that if I felt low, sad, depressed, upset etc, then I was not a proper Christian or perhaps not really a Christian at all. Now, that is nonsense, of course. People of God do get upset, sad or lonely from time to time. When Lazarus died, Jesus wept; in Gethsemane his heart was breaking. Even when Jesus was in the boat with them, his disciples were afraid when a storm blew up. A few minutes with the Old Testament with the likes of Job or some of the Psalms of lamentation should quickly show the same thing.

I have learned that desolation, feeling upset, sad, dismayed or the like, is part of the Christian walk with God. If your heart is set to follow what is right and good, you want God’s just and merciful kingdom to come, it is your intention to do his will; then, when something goes against that, it hurts. If you do something you believe to be wrong, your conscience will hurt; if you see an injustice, it will move you; if someone you love dies you may weep like Jesus did. Mind you, if your heart is not with God, you can feel desolate just because you are not getting your own way.

Then there is the opposite: consolation. That is the sense that every thing is right, in proper order, going well, at peace. If your heart is set on God’s will and his kingdom it will be when your life is in harmony with his will. Those moments are precious and a gift from God to be enjoyed – they are not a right to be demanded of him.

In psalm 143 I think the Psalmist shows that they understand this. They feel like they are in darkness and their spirits are low – but they remember what God has done in the past and therefore have confidence to tell him like it is and to pray for help.

The joy of the Lord is indeed our strength, but that does not mean we shall always feel happy. It might mean that we feel secure because we can trust God to walk with us in both the good and in the bad times. And because he loves all his children, we can be sure that he is with us whether it feels like it or not.

A prayer from “Common Worship”

Gracious Father, you gave up your Son out of love for the world. Lead us to ponder the mysteries of his passion, that we may know eternal peace through the shedding of our Saviour’s blood, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Additional Collect, Lent 5)

2nd April

Psalm 29

I wonder what God sounds like? I suppose he sounds like Jesus – if we are thinking of a human voice that is. Elijah heard God in a still small voice, and Moses heard him when he saw the bush that was burning but not burning up. Jesus reminds us that God is Spirit – what does that sound like? Maybe the question implies that God is a big bloke sitting on a cloud with thunderbolts in one hand and rainbows in the other – totally wrong, of course, and anyone who has flown in an aeroplane will have had a chance to inspect the clouds in any case.

In Psalm 29, David has an idea of God’s voice from the sounds you can find in nature. There is a thundering waterfall, lightning, earthquakes and whirlwinds (tornadoes even). The point being that God’s voice is more powerful than anything in nature. Whatever it is, God’s voice is not timid. It is worth pausing sometimes and reminding ourselves what we are in comparison with the world around us – pretty small. Yet not matter how big, great or powerful Nature is, or how beautiful and energetic the Universe is, God is so much more so.

That is the heavenly Father we pray to, whether we are asking for strength or praying for peace.

A prayer from “Common Worship”

God of love, you are passionate and strong, tender and careful. Watch over us and hold us all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Additional Collect, Mothering Sunday)

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