Tuesday, November 26, 2013


  • Isaiah 2:1-5
  • Psalm 122
  • Romans 13:11-14
  • Matthew 24:36-44
    Kandinsky -- Angel of the last Judgment

    On Advent Sunday a new cycle of readings begins. This year the Gospel passages (for the most part) come from Matthew rather than Luke, from which they were taken over the course of last year. But on Advent Sunday itself, the change is not so very significant. Whatever the year, the readings for the first Sunday in Advent are always powerfully apocalyptic – all about the end of time and the final judgment.

    Generally speaking, the modern world has greater difficulty in believing in an apocalyptic end to time than people had in centuries past, and the popularity of 'the Rapture' and  'left behind' theology in some quarters, has resulted in 'adventism' being regarded as an extreme, even by sincere, more mainline Christians. Yet, doctrine of the Second Coming  and the Last Judgment in not an esoteric invention. Here they are in the appointed common lectionary. So what should we think about them? How are they best understood?

    Breughel -- Last Judgment
    The first point to emphasize is that, despite the frequency (and enthusiasm) with which people have tried to predict ‘the end of time’, Jesus is quite clear -- “about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”. In other words, all this will happen in God’s time, not ours. Secondly, ‘if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into’. The message seems to be this: don't try to predict the end of time, but always be aware of its possibility.

    Since each of us has our own ‘end of time’ – the hour of our death -- this makes sense. It does not matter when God brings the whole of history to a close, if we have met the end of own lives quite unprepared.

    Bosch - Last Judgment
    Suppose with the inevitability of death in mind, we take the message of Advent to heart. What then are we to do by way of preparation? The Epistle for this week has the answer ‘You know what time it is now, how it is the moment for you to wake from sleep. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day’. The passage from Isaiah puts it even more simply ‘Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!’ The world regularly confronts us with the choice of letting our thoughts and actions be exposed to the light, or hiding them in some form of darkness. The 'moment’ to choose light over dark is perpetually 'now'.

Monday, November 25, 2013

St Andrew the Apostle November 30

St Andrew -- Georges de la Tour (1620)

Andrew, by Jesus drawn
away from nets and fish,
Till his discipleship 
hides all his other, earthy life.

Andrew, the first to call from Galilee,
Calls still, each time in echoes,
on some other shore
where rocks of ages glisten in the sea.

Andrew, an icon of the faith
that Jesus wrote,
Or in a stained glass window as
God lights some dedicated place.

Deuteronomy 30:11-14
Moses said to the people of Israel: Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

Romans 10:8b-18 
'The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our message?" So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.
But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have; for"Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world."

Matthew 4:18-22 
As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea-- for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

CHRIST the KING 2013

Apocalyptic Christ -- Salvador Dali

The Revised Common Lectionary that has now been widely adopted across the world celebrates the last Sunday of the Church’s year as 'The Feast of Christ the King' (or 'The Reign of Christ'). Thirty years ago this feast would have been almost unknown to the Episcopal Church, and indeed across the Anglican Communion. Even for Roman Catholics it is not a very longstanding observation, being added to the Calendar as recently as 1925.

Yet celebrating Christ as King is an especially appropriate way to conclude the Christian year. Faithful observance of the Church Calendar enables those who follow it to live through the cosmic story of humanity’s salvation. We start out  languishing under judgement (Advent). In that condition God comes to dwell among us, and is made manifest to the world (Christmas and Epiphany). This incarnate God calls us to a time of repentance (Lent), but because of our own inability to save ourselves, comes in great love to die for our salvation (Passiontide and Good Friday). In a mighty and glorious demonstration of saving power, God raises Christ Jesus (Easter), and returns to the heavenly places (Ascension), while continuing to strengthen us with his Holy Spirit (Pentecost).

Christ in Judgment -- Fra Angelico
Reflecting on this narrative of salvation, we can see that, despite many appearances to the contrary, the God in whom necessarily ‘we live and move and have our being’, has given final authority over human kind to Jesus Christ. Yet, as the Gospel for this week so powerfully reminds us, Christ’s Kingdom signals a complete reversal of the values of worldly power that so evidently shape and influence our political life. Where the State relies on coercive power for its security, the path that Jesus pursues (to quote this week’s Epistle), is “making peace through the blood of his cross”.

While Jesus is truly “Christ the King”, his throne turns out to be a place of torture, his crown is made of thorns. In order to pray sincerely for the coming of the Kingdom of God in Christ, therefore, we must first grasp just how different it is to all worldly authorities – be they ancient empires, military dictatorships or modern liberal democracies.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


As Advent approaches, the Lectionary readings take on a more apocalyptic tone, with warnings about turbulent times ahead, religious persecution, and finally, the end of history in preparation for the transformation of the world. Since the Gospel passage was written after the destruction of the temple, it was written with hindsight. Luke knew that the warning was for real. Like the other evangelists, however, he places these warnings just before the passion narrative begins. So the story of persecution and suffering starts with Jesus himself. His 'followers' are just that -- people who follow in his footsteps.

Titian's Scourging of Christ
Modern times are no less turbulent than the days of the Roman Empire. There are plenty of 'wars and insurrections', 'nation still rises against nation', every year there are 'great earthquakes, and 'in various places famines and plagues'. In the United States and Europe followers of Christ are more likely to be held in contempt than persecuted, but in the world at large violence against Christians is possibly more frequent than ever. So what of the spectacular end that these trials were supposed to be a prelude to? Can't we now say that these are neither 'dreadful portents' nor 'great signs', but simply recurrent, brutal, features of life on earth?

In this same passage, though, Jesus says 'Beware that you are not led astray' by people who say 'The time is near!' 'Do not go after them', he tells us, because 'the end will not follow immediately.' 'I am about to create new heavens and a new earth', God declares through the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament lesson, but God's time is not our time. The task of disciples is to say, in the face of everything, 'Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation', and to fix their gaze on the Christ of the Cross who has been there first.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


For many people, both those who believe and those who don't, belief in God and the hope for life after death are closely connected. Indeed, for some people the belief in God seems pointless unless it is connected with surviving death. So it is instructive to hear about the Sadducees in this week's Gospel passage.  The Sadducees are less familiar than the Pharisees, but they too were a sect of devout Jews at the time of Jesus. Passionately committed to the worship of God, they nevertheless denied the existence of life after death. They subscribed to a long held Jewish view that God's blessing and our enjoyment of it, are confined to this life. 
Christ in Glory -- Limburg Brothers

In the passage from Luke they pose a riddle to Jesus. Their  purpose of which is to show that belief in life after death speedily reduces us to paradox. Jesus' response is not to resolve the puzzle, but to cast a different perspective on the belief. The life to come is not just like this one, only better and longer. It is altogether a different order of existence. People are changed, and, like angels, dwell in the presence of the eternal God. The God in whose presence they dwell -- then and now -- is the God of Abraham who spoke out of the burning bush,  so that life after death is not a restoration of normality, but rather a continuation and perfection of the eternal life that we begin now.

St Paul, addressing the Thessalonians, connects life after death with the Second Coming of Jesus and the judgement of the world. He warns them, however, against the temptation to anticipate it and make it their principal hope. He reminds them of what they have and are now -- chosen 'as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit' and called to the proclaim the good news, so that they may 'obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ'. The lesson is not to become all other-worldy, but to 'stand firm and hold fast' enjoying the grace of God 'in every good work and word'.