Monday, April 24, 2017

MATTHEW 28: 8-15a 
Matthew in the Margins…Easter 3… Revised 2017
(for LK 24:13-35 see

Differing accounts of when & where & to whom Jesus appears reflect a variety of earliest Christian traditions passed down within their circles by a number of spiritual leaders. Here, the two Marys flee in a mixture of fear & great joy. Then Jesus Himself greets them with, “G’day!” Or, He would have if this had happened here in Oz! Does it matter whether we meet Jesus in the garden, in Jerusalem, in Galilee, so long as we meet Him meaningfully, somewhere, somehow? Jesus, in Person in Spirit? Depending upon the kind of meeting we ‘experience’, we, too, may feel conflicted responses as our Marys do here. Uniformity isn’t a requirement of discipleship!

Charles Elliot1 says ‘God offers us a companion whose joy is infectious, whose laughter is never long silent, & who knows better how to dance than to hobble’. That’s the kind of God, the kind of Jesus I’d choose to meet up with any day. Sydney Carter’s ‘Lord of the dance’2 enlarges on that same theme of God’s joy in a Jesus who lives for us & is prepared to die for us. Think on his words, or, better still, sing them! Dance them! ‘… they buried my body & they thought I’d gone, but I am the dance & I still go on…I am the life that’ll never never die…I’ll live in you if you live in me, I am the Lord of the dance said he’. The Jesus in these examples is a more appealing One than many of the other ways He’s presented to us. Or, we present Him to others. The above portrayals appeal to me because they invite us to join in a continuing victory dance. In the present. In ‘now’ time! It appeals, too, because they say to us, ‘You can’t keep a good God down! You can’t keep a good God from dancing the dance of life’. And, ‘the good God needs partners to dance Him. As we dance Him with others. As the first Christians learn to do in their own various ways.

The story about the guards, like the differing descriptions of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances, reflects how stories can ‘change shape’ in re-tellings. Anyone involved in researching family history will have come upon this & made allowances for ‘in house stuff’ told from different angles. Often with good motives, not really as ‘alternative facts’! If the disciples had, as alleged, engaged in body-snatching, wouldn’t the authorities have ‘sniffed that out’ in no time? On the other hand, if the Jewish leaders, or the Romans had removed Jesus’ dead body, all they had to do was produce it to kill the Jesus movement stone dead in its tracks! They never did. But none of this proves anything. Only meeting up with Christ raised from death can do that for us & to us.

The strongest evidence for the Resurrection remains the Jesus who appears to His followers back then meeting us, in Spirit, now. Somewhere, somehow, sometime. Saying “G’day” in some way, & inviting us to join the dance of Resurrection life with Him.

1 Comfortable Compassion, H & S, 1987 2  242 in Together in Song

Monday, April 10, 2017

MATTHEW 28: 1-10 
Matthew in the Margins…EASTER DAY…Revised 2017 
If the answer to Pilate’s “What’s truth?” on ‘Good’ Friday will out, it’ll do so in the way we preach Jesus' resurrection. Is the way we understand Him to be raised worth a sermon? Reinterpret Jesus to the point where He’s not truly & meaningfully raised, & He isn't worth worshipping either. What are we celebrating? An old story has a new curate, who after preaching his first sermon asks his supervisor, "Will it do?”. The reply comes, "Will it do what?”  What we expect Easter to do will be reflected in how we preach it!

The two Mary’s come to do what many a mourner does today; visit the grave of a loved one. They aren't looking for any miracle, or Sign as John would have it. But they get more than they bargain for! As they approach JS’ tomb, enter a figure from God’s greater world beyond this one - or could it be an earthly messenger? The angel's dramatic arrival coincides with an earthquake. Like the one that’s happened when JS dies on the cross; that rips the great veil in th TMP from top to bottom. Shatters earth itself. Splits great rocks to pieces. Opens tombs & reportedly brings many holy people sleeping in death back to life.[MT 27: 51] If we 21st C people are sceptical about this kind of language in today’s world, describing something beyond our imagining, personally, I’ll run with the imaginative! Especially when I stop to consider how much more imaginative God is in anything & everything He does  
than any possibility I might consider!

Take heart! Which is what God in raising Jesus wants to give us. Heart! At a crucified Saviour raised & able to raise a world that’s busily crucifying itself all over again. (MT may also be pointing us to HOS 6:2, where the nation's resurrection is at issue.)  Why not confess that what’s happening here is beyond our understanding, rather than pontificating about it? Jesus is powerfully (operative word!) & mysteriously (another operative word) raised (another - Jesus doesn’t just sit up, rub His eyes & say “It’s time for me to get up”!) All this by the mighty (another) energising (another) cosmic (another) power of love (another) making Jesus over as God can still, & wants to, make people over today. 

This isn't an invitation to descend into biblical literalism, or fundamentalism. Just a plea to let God lead us into the mystery of the empty tomb & out again. Raised as Jesus is. To this end, can we go so far as 'handing ourselves over' to God, as Jesus hands himself over to his enemies three days earlier? 

PS: I like John Chrysostom’s: 'Hell took a body, & discovered God. It took earth, & encountered heaven. It took what it saw, & was overcome by what it did not see!'
(Thanks to 'Anglicans on Line' somewhere along the line for refreshing my memory of the wording of the above.)

 A Joyous Easter to you. And Joyous Easter Preaching!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

MT 21: 1-13 
Matthew in the Margins…Palm Sunday Liturgy…Revised 2017 

The procession may end at v. 11, but we need Jesus to reach the Temple in v.12, & throw down the gauntlet in v.13 for it all to come together. The point the procession makes is the kind of rule Jesus comes to bring, & the kind of ‘religion’! Clive Sansom (‘The Witnesses’) contrasts Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey with Pilate ‘bouncing the same road on that horse of his…armour shining…half Rome trotting behind him’. Jesus is acting out Zechariah’s prophecy, deliberately & provocatively! He’s driving what’s going on! Not simply letting Himself be carried away by an event set in motion by others. Not yet!

W.H. Vanstone1 argues a case for Jesus being the 'subject' of the situation until he becomes the 'object' by allowing himself to be handed over to his enemies in the garden. (Judas isn’t all that important in this process.) I’m attracted to this view. I wonder, though, if Jesus isn’t setting in motion this ‘letting Himself be handed over’ process earlier still; on Palm Sunday. (Some might say it started even sooner, with His raising Lazarus!) His secrecy in borrowing a donkey today strongly suggests He’s not going to prejudice His calling the shots without interference until it’s time to let go & let God. That stage at which He gives up control as totally as He's been in the driver's seat up to that point.

The introduction of a colt into the story as well as the donkey simply reflects the parallelism of the poetry of ZECH [9:9]. There is no second donkey! But it’s an example of how things creep into all our stories. What incidents, real or imagined, do we embroider, allow to take on new life in re-telling, face to face, or, say, on twitter, or Facebook? What are facts if fiction's better! (Or, ‘alternative facts’, like those coming thick & fast from a certain administration! Would we lend Jesus our donkey - or anything else - on the strength of what sounds an embroidered story of His being Messiah?  

MT wants us to see people who follow Jesus as able to recognise a true king, of a new & different kind, when they see one. Liturgy puts those words of recognition on our own lips with its: ‘Blessed is he……' But are we prepared to go further than just cheering Jesus’ procession on? Will we go on to enter the city with Him, & do what needs to be done there? Till we reach that ‘green hill far away outside a city wall’? Are we up for what that may entail these days? 

Jesus comes to bring not peace but a sword. To be a sword to pierce us through & through. As the religious crooks who run the Temple & those who work for them, trading on little people are soon to feel. That's when vv.12-13 become the punch line of the story! Words from a hymn by John Bell & Graham Maule2 sum up the Jesus who declares his hand on Palm Sunday: ‘Praise the Son who feeds the hungry, frees the captive, finds the lost, heals the sick, upsets religion, fearless both of fate and cost’. Well may we say, or preferably, sing: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!” And mean it with every fibre of our being! 

1 The  Stature of Waiting’, DLT, ’82  2 Wild Goose Songs 1, Wild Goose Publications