Reflections from the Holy Land – Garden Tomb

In January 2016, Ross led a group of 40 people from local churches on a St. Andrew’s Hall pilgrimage to Israel and the West Bank.  Here is a reflection from one participant:

In Protestant tradition, Jesus was crucified at Golgotha and buried in the Garden Tomb from which He rose from the dead on what became Easter Sunday. The Catholics and Orthodox have this occurring a half kilometre away at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I was personally more moved by the Garden Tomb but of course I am a Protestant Presbyterian nee Anglican.

Jesus died at Golgotha (now a bus station turn-around) and his dead body was placed in the tomb. A stone was rolled to block the entrance and a Roman guard posted to prevent His disciples from stealing the body and claiming he had been resurrected as He had predicted He would be.

St. Paul, our first extant writer on the subject, says that the extraordinary thing about Jesus was that God chose to resurrect Him and this proved He was the Son of God as He had said. Certainly, by Gospel accounts, the disciples were surprised when the women reported His body was gone. I guess despite Jesus’ prophecy, no one took it seriously until it happened. Why would you? It was a miracle and those don’t happen every day.

It seems to me that this tomb was what various modern science fiction writers call a “wormhole” to the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ dead body was carried into the tomb and was transported to the Kingdom, or the Kingdom to Him. Three days later the stone was rolled away, the Roman guard steamrolled, and Christ revealed the Son of God. And twelve fishermen transformed by the Holy Spirit founded a church that claims 2 billion adherents today, and many more come before us.

And what did I think when I saw this empty tomb and this round stone, 2000 years after the fact?

We Protestants have a tendency to view much of the bible as metaphor. Mr Borg, and others, assure us the miracles never happened because God is limited by reality, or at least by the scientific laws we acknowledge. Apparently there are supposedly limits even for the Almighty God, at least for Borg et al.

Well, I was never a Borg(ian?). For me, to see where God confirmed Jesus as His Son was the most moving moment of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I felt the presence of God as our group performed its Eucharistic worship at a place where the Kingdom of God was so close I could feel it, and still do.

Thanks be to God to show the reality behind the metaphor that both reveals it, and hides it from view behind common sense.

Seeing this place offers confirmation. Confirmation confirms trust. Trust is faith, and in faith there is the impetus to act for God and His Kingdom in an often godless uncaring world.

Dr. Neil Abramson is a professor at the Simon Fraser University School of Business and a member of West Vancouver Presbyterian Church.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lent: A New Spiritual Development Resource for Congregations and Individuals

At the United Church’s symposium on evangelism in November 2014, I was so pleased to meet the Rev Dr Randy Naylor, at last. Randy has served The United Church of Canada and other international church-related bodies with distinction for many years in many capacities. (Learn more about him here: http://www.parkwoodsunitedchurch.ca/wp/staff/)

He mentioned to me a little faith-encouragement resource that he developed with his congregation, Parkwoods United Church in Toronto.

These “Lenten Hangovers” were printed off weekly in Lent, and inserted into the pew bulletin. Randy told me that these went over very well in his church and people only complained when the series came to an end – they wanted more!

Randy has been very kind to share this resource with Creedalandlovingit. You are free to print, copy, and use it as well. Please find links to them below. There is one for each of five weeks.
– Rob Fennell

Diciples are people of the Way #1

Diciples are people of the Way #2

Diciples are people of the Way #3

Diciples are people of the Way #4

Diciples are people of the Way #5

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Grief and Grace in the Everyday

You never know where your day will take you.

A couple of weeks before Christmas (just past), I was going through packages of bacon on sale at the grocery store alongside an elderly lady. She was picking up packages, putting them down over and over when suddenly she muttered, “Oh, I’m having such a hard time with all of this…”

I thought, “it’s only bacon. I’ll just help her find a good package.”

Suddenly, she dropped the packages, turned to me face to face and said, “My husband died last week and I don’t know how to do anything, I don’t know what to do. He is not there in the morning anymore. He’s not going to be there tonight. When I go through this store, I see all the things he loves but it doesn’t matter, ‘cause he is not there.”

I put out my arms and she and I hugged and she cried as I too shed tears for her. And we talked. There we were in the meat department at Freshco as she shared with me that he had never ever been sick; then suddenly he was sick, went to hospital, and just died. She was lost. Didn’t know how to cook anymore. Didn’t know what to do, or where to go. So overwhelmingly sad.

So we talked…talked about spending Christmas with her children who loved her when she had initially planned to just stay home alone. Talked about Meals on Wheels and nutrition and seniors’ centres and the importance of people around her. And that while she was very sad and would be for a long time, that in time she might want to reach out and start connecting with others and that maybe her children could help. Talked about the importance of social connections…that loneliness will make it difficult to find purpose in life….she agreed.

I told her about how sad my mother was when she lost two wonderful men….and that she still has great memories and feels sadness now and then after all these years. She wanted me to send my mother her best. (I did that at our nightly talk that very night).

Crazy how a bacon-connection created a human-connection and how this sweet lady enriched my day 100-fold. You just never know as you slip out of bed, what the day will bring….and what strangers you may encounter in the path of life.

Marlene Pink lives in Kitchener, ON, and is a semi-retired Executive Director of a Social Services agency, and public school teacher, currently volunteering at a home support agency.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Prayer: An Undefended Heart

In Mark 1:29-29, having healed the demon-possessed, Jesus goes off to pray by himself.

Prayer is presence.  Prayer is incarnate being, embodied attention.  Prayer is not multi-tasking.

When you pray, you pray. 

Prayer is life in community with others.  It is being gathered up from dissipation and distraction.  It can be practiced in seminars, and anywhere, face-to-face with your friends, in conversations with people you do not “get.”  It can be a solitary practice of self-awareness and self-questioning initiated by interactions with others.  It is persisting in something that is impossible to master; in fact, mastery is not the objective.

Rather, it is the long, often boring, often frustrating practice of an undefended heart before God and neighbour. 

Facebook profiles express defended hearts.  Getting your cell phone out the moment there is a lull, trying to buffer yourself against boredom, is not presence.

Prayer is the long, often boring, often frustrating practice of an undefended heart before God and neighbour.  Always incompleteness.  It is a curious discipline of allowing yourself to be seen, of self-revelation.  It is the refusal of the safety of being a spectator in the digital world. 

Prayer can be learned, but you need embodied others to show you, and it takes practice, practice, practice.  It takes tolerating repetition and boredom.

The American poet Jack Gilbert has a sense of how difficult we find it to be present in the often boring everyday, as he writes in his poem, “Getting it all”: “The common/is mostly beyond us.  Love after the fervor, the wife/after three thousand nights.”  He lived alone, and with different partners, in various countries including the US, Greece, Japan, Denmark, often with little money, devoted to writing poetry, which for him, is about “making the important visible.”  From this he seems to have learned that “blinding intensity”—the demon attractor of social media that we all crave from time to time, sometimes crave a lot—“blinding intensity” is not the same as presence, whatever that is.

Presence is prayer.  Presence is incarnation, following the Incarnate One, Jesus Christ.     

Alyda Faber teaches Christian theology and ethics at Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax. This post is excerpted from her sermon, “From Demonic Possession to Presence,” offered at the Chapel of St Columba at Atlantic School of Theology, 14 January 2016.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Baptism of Jesus

Today in worship we marked the baptism of Jesus. The minister read from Luke 3 and noted the very cagey way the Lukan author avoids the question of who baptised Jesus; John was in jail after all (see Luke 3:16-22). Part of her sermon turned on our status as God’s “beloved” – springing from the heavenly announcement of Jesus’ belovedness.

Baptism, when you think about it, is sort of a strange thing to do. Christians initiate new members into the community with a ritual washing – with a lot or a little water.

In the broader secular culture, initiation is rather different: being screeched-in when visiting Newfoundland; imitating a pig after making your first big trade at a brokerage house in London [yes, that’s a thing]; drinking to excess with a fraternity; signing up for a service by giving away your personal information and credit card details to an anonymous commercial webrobot …

OK, well, maybe getting washed up a bit isn’t so strange after all.

What are we to make of the baptism of Jesus, though? Three things come to mind.

  1. Jesus was human, like us: he needed baptism too, apparently. This prevents us from supposing this is some God-in-a-bod, a divine disguise, or that Jesus was so astonishingly perfect that he needed nothing of what we mere mortals need.
  1. Jesus was divine, unlike us: when he was baptised, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him “bodily.” I have seen some awesome things in worship, but not that. This prevents us from supposing that Jesus was just some bloke like us, another average sinner, who (sadly) got martyred later on.
  1. Jesus chose to share our life: he did not stay away from us, in divine or human isolation, wishing us well from afar. In the wisdom of God, the incarnation signals to us that matter matters, that we matter, that God is not content to view us through a cosmic telescope, but is quite keen to be here, among us, to guide, teach, love, and transform us. There are many days in which I find this quite a relief.

The baptism of Jesus is one of the things we pause and celebrate in these very slowly lengthening days after Christmas. This Epiphany moment is full of strange wonders. Not least of these is God’s presence and love, here among us, day by day, in ordinary ways.

Rob Fennell teaches theology and the history of Christianity at Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, NS.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Christian New Year’s Resolution

Happy New Year!  Well, for liturgical purists I suppose that was back on Advent 1.  In any case, on behalf of Rob Fennell we wish everyone a very Happy New Year of 2016.

While many folks are deciding on what resolution to make regarding diet or finance, this is an opportunity for us to pause and offer our thanksgiving to God in Christ for all that has been accomplished on our behalf by grace.  Thank God (literally!) for God’s own revelation in creation, covenant, cross and church as we await consummation where the whole earth is restored and resurrection joy unfurled upon the cosmos.

Karl Barth once said that gratitude follows grace like thunder follows lighting.  Let us resolve therefore to live 2016 in gratitude, deep gratitude, for what God has accomplished in Jesus Christ.  Let our gratitude flow to witness as we proclaim the goodness of God in our time and place.  We are invited to rededicate our lives to God in prayer as Papa Wesley once taught:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside by thee.
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Christmas Confessions of a Musical Donatist

“Joy to the World! the Lord is come”

 

“Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

 

“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed…”

 

Merry Christmas!  What a wonderful time of year! Confession – I LOVE Christmas.   It’s one of the most special seasons of the Christian calendar and it seems to evoke memories and feelings of years past in a way that no other celebration can.

A second confession – I LOVE Christmas carols. In our house, the Christmas decorations went up in November and, invoking the logic of Papa Wesley that every Sunday is a little Easter, we began playing and singing carols a whole month before Christmas believing every Sunday is a little Christmas/celebration of God’s incarnation!

 

So, with this cheery feeling at the memory of Christ’s Advent and the promise of his coming again, I have to make a third confession. I fear that I am a “musical Donatist.”

 

Let me explain. As a church history geek, I have long been curious about the Donatists in North Africa. Donatism was the error taught by Bishop Donatus, that the effectiveness of the sacraments depends on the moral character of the minister. It’s important to note that Donatism arose out of early Christian persecution under Emperor Diocletian’s actions in 303 where all churches and sacred Scriptures were to be destroyed. Some clergy (including Bishops) saved their own hide by turning over the Scriptures to avoid persecution. When the wave of persecution ended, these leaders wanted their old church jobs back and the people essentially said, “No way, man. When it really mattered the most you fled. I’m not taking Communion from you.” A series of church meetings (of course!) failed to resolve the tension and finally St. Augustine (with the power of the Roman Legions) would bring Donatism to an end.

 

It was that same St. Augustine who coined the phrase, “to sing well is to pray twice.” Music matters. While not a formal sacrament, for many it can be sacramental. I agree with Augustine and the wider church that the moral goodness of the priest or pastor does not curb God’s ability to act through the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. That’s good news for all of us as clergy. Sure. But on the other hand, there must be some standard for Orthodox belief tied to church leadership – otherwise, why would people be so up in arms about Ms. Gretta Vosper at West Hill United Church in Toronto for being an avowed atheist and Ordained Minister.

 

So, I confess, in this season of Christmas Carols and some people coming to church simply to hear “nice” music, that I am a musical Donatist. After experiencing music in some churches where performance for people trump carded prompting the people in praise of the Triune God, I’ve become a musical Donatist. At this point in my discipleship, I think whether the musicians believe what they are singing matters. Just as we apparently care whether the clergy believe what they preach, so too I think we should care whether the soloists trust in Jesus or are simply there as a paid gig, half hung over on a Sunday morning and texting their friends from the choir loft when the preacher preaches. I’m tired of choir members who tell me they don’t actually believe the gospel but just like classical music and the “fellowship” of the choir.

 

If singing well is praying twice, then I want to worship the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit with fellow Christians who sing their faith from a core conviction that Christ meets us in our broken and sinful ways. I want to sing Christmas carols with other pilgrims hungry to find their kneeling place in Bethlehem. As a musical Donatist in this Christmas season, I acknowledge that we are all sinners in need of redemption by the One who lies in the manger, but I simply want to sing our faith alongside those who know what it means to be redeemed. Give me a little child’s wavering, monotone voice singing, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” this Christmas over the “professional choir” who hold their nose at the lyrics but delight in the sound alone.

 

Yes, I am a musical Donatist and I look forward tonight to singing about Jesus’ birth – Word of the Father now in flesh appearing – alongside those who are hungry for Christ’s nativity…where we find our own.

 

Ross Lockhart is Associate Professor at St. Andrew’s Hall at The University of British Columbia and Director of the Centre for Missional Leadership.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment