About Me

My photo
Mullavilly, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
A child of the early 60's. Married with three children, two of which are at Uni. I have been the rector of Mullavilly Parish since 1993. I enjoy travel and animals, and I look after three dogs, four cats, and a snake.

Friday, 5 November 2010

From Earth to Heaven 3rd Sunday before Advent. Luke 20:27-39

People can be very limited in their understanding! Its nothing to do with intelligence but rather in what information we have been given, or (more sinister) in what we want others to believe. We see it in politics when prejudices and myths are promulgated to ridicule te opposition or promote an attitude. For example - most benefit claims are fraudulent or the French are unreliable.
It was ever thus and therefore there's a social and historic background to this morning's gospel reading. The history of the Sadducees is a bit vague and may itself be coloured by the prejudices of those who passed on the information but it seems that they were a small group of Jews who focussed on a literal and basic interpretation of Scripture without any allowances. Also, for our purposes, they did not believe in immortality or resurrection. These two attitudes explain why they challenged Jesus in the way they did. It might have been a deliberate attempt to provoke ridicule or it might have been a genuine concern, rooted in their very literal approach to the teaching of the past. They simply couldn't handle anything that was new.
As they saw it, heaven, if it existed at all, was simply a continuation of this life and that the rules of this life would continue to apply.
The Sadducees may be gone, but the attitude still remains among us! Not in any malicious sense, but simply because we, as humans, have such great difficulty trying to understand what heaven will be like. Even the descriptions in Revelation are limited to things which we can understand – a city of gold, a river, a tree, a throne room, a large gathering. You might have in your mind heaven as a place in the country, or a cloud, or a place where you will have a mansion in which will live all your past generations – the great reunion. People get anxious about who or what will be there – the dog or cat? What about Roman Catholics, what about criminals, what about Sadducees. And it gets so confusing.
And it will continue thus for our little minds cannot, in this life, comprehend heaven.
At its very simplest and broadest, the words of a chorus come to mind:
Heaven is a wonderful place
Filled with glory and grace
I’m gonna see my Saviour's face
For heaven is a wonderful place
I wanna go there.

To the Sadducees, Jesus makes two points.
First, he says, remove your limitations. Set aside the regulation on marriage because it is a gift for this age – there is something greater. This doesn't do away with the hope of reunion but rather tells us that there is something even greater. My soul will meet with the souls of grandparents and more but the relationship will be even better, even deeper because we are children of the resurrection, God's children.
Second, Jesus tells the Sadducees, this is not actually a new teaching, the great fathers of our faith, Moses, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are still alive under God. He is the god of the living, for to him all are alive.

This is a big encouragement to us this morning. And a big challenge. We are encouraged by the hope of resurrection but also challenged in our understanding of heaven. We don't always want to deal with such issues and this is something so great that writers, artists theologians cannot help us but maybe only increase our limitations of thought.
We can only catch a glimpse, through Scripture, through worship, through seeking the presence of God here with us now – a little bit of heaven breaking into earth. Setting aside our prejudices and misunderstandings and allowing the Holy Spirit to show us enough of what we need to know so that, despite the rubbish that we hear around us,we can truly rejoice and find comfort today in what is yet to come.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Liverpool Cathedral at Halloween

Every so often, the opportunity comes along to try out something new. The tag line for the Halloween event in Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral was "Night of the  Living Dead". The comments on the Facebook event suggested that it wasn't suitable for children and that we would be asked to stare face in the face in this Gothic space.
The event had already attracted some local radio publicity and the evangelical wing were already very suspicious that the cathedral was engaging in something pagan and nasty.
we arrived a half hour early and were quickly ushered to our seats. The cathedral interior was lit with green lasers, strange white lights, candles and lots of white ice. The sounds were suitably atmospheric. to my amusement, the cathedral staff, in their capes and gowns, looked as if there were part of the set!
The service started with the funeral march and a coffin was carried up the aisle and set in front of the communion table. Actors screamed out words of fear and terror. then Richard, the (genuine) priest, dressed in bright white alb, stepped out of the coffin. he introduced us to what was about to happen - a celebration of Holy Communion with the theme of overcoming our fears. There was a powerful and moving dramatic presentation of Peter stepping out of the boat towards Jesus - "walking over the waves, walking over his fears" , and then being distracted by those fears and sinking, with only Jesus able to save.
Richard then elaborated with a sermon appealing for people to abandon their zombie half-life for fullness of life in Jesus. this was succinct and well-delivered to a congregation sitting in silence as we thought about fear and weakness and the new life that Christ could offer.
The communion part of the worship was simple and straightforward. A beautiful highlight was the way a spotlight was used on some of the stone carvings of the last supper and crucifixion. We were invited to respond in any of three ways. we could take communion, we could initial the coffin as a symbol of putting to death our old self and we could sit for awhile in an area occupied by a large cross. This was one of those special moments as the congregation wandered from one area of the large cathedral to another, spending time in their response.
The whole was brought to a close by a powerful live solo rendition of Matt Redman's "You never let go"
This wasn't the usual celebration of light that Christians usually opt for at Halloween but it embraced the darkness and the fear and leads us through the valley of the shadow to the cross and to peace. it was a superb use of the space of the cathedral, of contemporary technology, of drama, of Scripture. it was a simple point well-made and it allowed all those present to to walk on their fears and reach out to Jesus. It was a privilege and a blessing to be there.