Messages of Hope

Month: April 2018

Rethinking practices of exclusion

Published / by Sandy

Reflecting on the Acts reading (the Ethiopian Eunuch, Acts 8:26-40)

So, the Ethiopian Eunuch is reading aloud (a very common practice – if you had the ability to read, then you would read aloud) from the scroll of Isaiah (Chapter 53), a passage that has come to be associated with the passion of Jesus.

What was this Ethiopian Eunuch doing reading this particular part of Isaiah?

Well, the background is that eunuchs were specifically excluded from the temple:
“If a man’s testicles are crushed or his penis is cut off,
he may not be admitted to the assembly of the Lord”
 (Deuteronomy 23:1)

But here, in the very section of Isaiah where the Ethipian Eunuch is reading, is this text:
Let no foreigner who is bound to the LORD say,
“The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.”
For this is what the LORD says:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant—
to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever” (Isaiah 56:3-5)

A text of inclusion. It would have been a ‘favourite’ part of the Isaiah scroll for the Eunuch, one he would return to again and again, as it gave him a place of belonging. And, in the course of reading this text of inclusion, he would have become familiar with the surrounding text (no verses and chapter headings in those days!) including Chapter 53 that is the focus of the Acts 8 reading today (and for the conversation between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch):

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”

After Philip gives witness to Jesus, the Ethiopian Eunuch is baptized (in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy), and eunuchs find a place of belonging in the reign of God. That which was excluded has now been included.

It would have been a surprising and wonderful moment for both Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.

Here’s a great reflection on this reading by Richard Beck:

The “eunuch story” may, at least in part, speak to the issue of social contribution or function. It seems that great emphasis was given to function in the old covenant “congregation of the Lord”. The “commission” of old covenant community focused around the growth of the Jewish nation, particularly in terms of the “be fruitful and multiply” directive. What we think of as evangelism wasn’t a primary focus – having and raising children with a particular worldview and a peculiar kind of monotheism was. Eunuchs could not contribute to this social mandate, and were therefore viewed as vestigials, as supernumeraries. There was a central religious goal, and these eunuchs were people who, having no way to further that goal, had no place in the religious community.

So, when the Spirit of the Lord went to miraculous lengths to ensure that the first known Christian non-Jewish convert was both of an alien culture and a “functionless” eunuch, the intention was to make us think about what it means to have “function” within the new covenant community of faith, and further,  about how the Christian community, like a family, must embrace a non-utilitarian society.

In the Ethiopian eunuch, I see every person that typically would be relegated to the non-contributing “others” of society: the irritants, the wastes-of-time, the hangers-on. I see friends with Aspergers and autism spectrum disorders and severe depression and body odour. I see psychopaths and addicts and narcissists. I see people with unusual humor and inconsiderate conversational habits. Communities formed on utilitarian goals or on the fulfillment of mutual self-need, would leave all these people behind, but the community of Christ continually redefines itself in order to accommodate them.

The community patterned after the heart of God intentionally includes the maladjusted, the awkward, and the outcast, even to the detriment of “the perfect social atmosphere”. Loving “non-contributors” is inconvenient, messy, unpredictable and disruptive.

This is the practice of unconditional love. The church will grow more by that practice in itself, than anything that could be done by avoiding all the “time wasters”. Whatever is gained by avoiding them of time, comfort and money, is lost to apathy, impatience and unlove. “The community that seeks to save its life will lose it, but the community that loses its life for Christ’s sake will gain it.”

Lest we forget

Published / by Sandy

A homily by Rev Dr Greg Elsdon for ANZAC Day Evensong 2018

(Micah 4:1-4 and John 15:9-17)

Together with Lest We Forget, the words ‘Greater love has no man than this’ have become deeply and powerfully lodged in the secular liturgy of Anzac Day. And as we saw last year, any attempt to use these words to draw attention to the plight of victims of war, violence or injustice in other contexts is likely to draw immediate and savage condemnation.

Many Australians have mixed feelings and emotions when Anzac Day comes around each year. On the one hand we experience a deep and solemn sense of mourning and grief as we recall the brutality and inhumanity experienced by so many. On the other hand, we feel a profound sense of gratitude to, and pride in, those men and women who served their country with indescribable courage and self-sacrifice.

But it is not unusual for us to experience feelings of disquiet, even awkwardness, at the way these legitimate and worthy responses to the events of The Great War can so easily deteriorate into an almost cultish reverence or romanticisation of war and violence. In recent years there has even been a discernible push by some to elevate Gallipoli and the ‘Anzacs’ to the status of the ‘foundational events and stories’ of our Australian identity.

Lest we forget is the call for active remembrance of war not in order to glorify war or indulge ourselves in bouts of nationalistic pride. It is rather the call to acknowledge the gravity of the events and the consequences of what happened not just in places such as Villers-Bretonneux and Gallipoli, but wherever people have been killed in conflicts between nations.

But Lest we forget is also a call to mourn and to lament the horrors of all war; to pay respect to the countless millions whose lives were brutally taken or permanently disfigured or deranged – and to commit ourselves to do all within our power, our spheres of influence, to reject the deathly ways of violence and the romanticisation of war.

Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs —

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?

Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.

The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Lest we Forget

What will we do with our remembering?

What does our remembering mean for us?

What does our remembering demand of us?

Where will our remembering take us?

What value is our remembering,

– if it does not inspire us to commit ourselves to the ways of peace and reconciliation?

“In a society and world in which military metaphors and binary choices are extended increasingly to international relationships, immigration, customs, policing and welfare, Anzac Day is an occasion for dwelling compassionately on the things that bind us together, not those that separate us into allies and enemies.” [Andrew Hamilton SJ]

For those of us who encounter God in the life and teachings of Jesus, Lest we Forget is a call to eschew violence and learn the ways of peace and justice – following the one who dares us to learn what it means to love enemies and repay evil with good.

In Sydney’s Anzac War Memorial there is a bronze sculpture by artist Rayner Hoff titled Sacrifice.  It depicts the body of a dead soldier held aloft on a shield, his arms draped across a sword in a posture of crucifixion, like a sacrificial alter. Australian theologian Ben Meyer has comments, “It is a majestic image, a portrayal of worship, devotion and sacrifice. It’s hard to imagine a more vivid representation of the cult of war that lies at the heart of the modern nation-state.”

Rayner Hoff, Sacrifice

Rayner Hoff also sculptured another bronze, which wasn’t displayed. He called it The Crucifixion of Civilisation. Of this sculpture Ben Meyer writes;

“In this sculpture, the form of a young naked woman (symbolising Peace) is crucified atop a pile of corpses, limbs, weapons, and other wreckage of war. She is crucified on the weapons of Mars, the Roman god of war. The huge helmet of Mars gapes over her like some monstrous ravening mouth. From a distance, the whole hideous scene forms a traditional symbol of victory. Hoff himself described the sculpture like this: ‘Adolescent Peace is depicted crucified on the armaments of the ravisher, the war god, Mars. The Greek helmet animalistically gapes over the head of expiring Peace, the cuirass of the body armour hard and brutal in contrast to her lithe woman’s body’.”

Rayner Hoff, The Crucifixion of Civilisation

Peace, Shalom, human well-being … sacrificed on the altar of the cult of war.  It’s disturbing and deeply challenging.

We’ve been at it for a long time, this warmongering. You’d think we might have learned something by now.  But it seems not

700 years before Jesus, the Jewish prophet Micah – who lived surrounded by wars and rumours of wars – eloquently captured the human longing for peace and peacefulness: 

3 He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
4 but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.  [Micah 4:3-4]

On this Anzac Day, may this graphic portrayal of human wholeness be that which calls us forward. May this vision of God’s Shalom be that which inspires and shapes our living.

And may the God of Peace be with us all.

Amen

Reframing the Good Shepherd

Published / by Sandy

A sermon by Dr Liz Boase, 22nd April 2018, Pilgrim Uniting Church

The Lord is my shepherd.

Jesus says, I am the good shepherd.

Bring to mind an image of a sheep with Jesus as the good shepherd. A tiny lamb lying in the arms of Jesus, the arms of God.  Cuddled, gazed on with love, every need provided. How wonderful is that? 

I wonder if that is what came to mind as you heard today’s readings? Do you picture Jesus as we see him portrayed in so much traditional art. A clean shiny Jesus, not a speck of dirt or dust anywhere, in clean white robes, cradling a snowy lamb, also surprisingly clean? The lamb looks so content and rested and it is clear that all the lamb will ever be asked to do is to remain lying there content with not a demand made upon it.

It’s a lovely, comforting image. 

But if that’s the image we hold, then we’ve got Jesus and the lamb all wrong. 

What are we saying when we say the Lord is my shepherd? What does it mean that Jesus is the good shepherd?

Let’s start with Jesus. 

The image of a gentle eyed Jesus softly cradling a lamb is, without doubt, a comforting one. It’s an image of gentle power, of someone who can control the uncontrollable in our world. And isn’t that what we want of Jesus?

We want Jesus to tame what is wild and unruly in the world. A God who can solve what is unsolvable and answer what is unanswerable. We want to feel safe and comfortable.

Regardless of what we want, though, we eventually come face-to-face with the reality that the world is wild and unruly, that there are questions without answers, that there are thieves and bandits in the world bent on destruction.

When we look at our world, at the destruction in Syria, the detention of refugees in off-shore centres, at the impact of natural disasters, environmental degradation, and so on, we are left wondering where is the Good Shepherd in the midst of the violence and the suffering and the destruction.

Where is the shepherd that will sanitize all that is wrong with the world, who will clean up all that is messy and misplaced in our lives?

Where is the shepherd? 

The Good Shepherd, He Qi

He’s right there, in the midst of it all. In there amongst the dirt and the grime. With the sheep, protecting the sheep, fighting on behalf of the sheep, warding off the thieves and the bandits. 

You see, that’s what shepherds do. They protect the sheep. Not in the rigid confines of the sheepfold, but out there in the midst of the world. If the shepherd simply kept the sheep in the pen, the sheep would not thrive. The food would run out, the sheep’s ability to grow and thrive would be restrained through lack of space. 

The shepherd takes the sheep out to where there is food, space, the potential to live an abundant life – but those places are also places where there are dangers, risks, thieves and bandits. The good shepherd, in contrast to the bad ones (the Jewish religious leaders in the context of John’s gospel) is out there to protect the sheep. The bad shepherds are there for their own gain, but the good shepherd is there for the sake of the sheep. The good shepherd is there in the dirt, the squalor, the un-sanitized places. The good shepherd is in the real world outside the safety of the pen.

The good shepherd is even prepared to lay down his life for the sake of the sheep. 

But why? What is it about sheep that leads to this? Why does the good shepherd act this way?

We have talked about the shepherd, and dismantled the view of a squeaky clean Jesus, now, let’s look at the sheep. What might this have to say about us and who we are as the community of Christ?

In the ancient world sheep were valued. Shepherds didn’t  generally keep sheep as pets, but because of their usefulness. 

Shepherding was a job, a means of making a living and feeding a family. If the sheep didn’t produce, the shepherd’s family was at risk. The shepherd cared for the sheep to ensure that they would thrive. That they would produce wool and provide meat.

So when we think about that lamb, we need to think about who we are as individuals and who we are as a church. What does it mean that we are cared for? What is expected of us?

The image of the good shepherd is not only about God, about Jesus, it is also about us – about what it means to be sheep.  It’s about our part of what’s going on with this familiar and comfortable talk about green pastures and still waters. 

We don’t grow wool, that’s not of our nature. But we can worship and serve; we can reach out and share; we can study and pray; we can increase in holiness and tell the truth; we can fight for justice and to be willing to sacrifice. We can choose to grow into the fullness of who we are in Christ– and to do this in community, and with integrity. This is expected of us. 

The metaphor of the good shepherd tells us that there are expectations on us. . The care offered us is intended to lead to something, something real and substantial. There are other sheep – other people – that Jesus wants to reach out to, to enfold.

I need to make something clear here. Jesus as the good shepherd is about the gift of God. There’s  no fine print on Jesus’ promise to be the Good Shepherd, or that he’s only a good shepherd for the most useful of the sheep. Jesus isn’t going to leave us to the wolves or turn us into dog food – or whatever it is you do with worthless sheep – if we don’t produce. God cares for us and has blessed us. Jesus has laid down his life for us. That sacrifice, that love, that continued care, these are simply gifts. They are given without condition and without exception. We don’t try to do stuff in the hope that God will be nicer to us or love us more. There is no “more.”

But there are expectations. We are to produce, to give back, from who we are – from what we can do, from what our situation in life is. From our various skills, abilities, resources and gifts. 

This isn’t just about church work – Sunday morning and committee stuff – although that can be part of it. Instead, this is about the work of the church, which is much larger and a whole lot more interesting.

Each and every one of the sheep, has purpose and value and worth.  Each is important. Each and every one of us can contribute, and is called to contribute, in one way or another, to the mission of the church. You can’t be too young or too old or too new or too sick or too ordinary or too uneducated, or too busy, or too anything to avoid that reality.

We are needed; and without us, without any single one of us, the mission and work of the God and the church are impoverished. 

So, let’s put aside the sugary image of a washed out Jesus and a meek and gentle lamb. Instead, let’s embrace the radical call of Christ the good shepherd. The call to be out there in the grimy, messiness of the world. A call to go with Christ and for Christ into the places where Jesus is already active and present. A call to walk along paths of righteous action. A call to dwell in and with God in God’s house, the world. A call be sheep, in all our glorious messiness, doing what we can, when we can, following the one who leads us.

Amen

 

Making a new world

Published / by Sandy

Acts 4:32-37: Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Acts depicts the ideal of the Christ-following community and provides a glimpse of the dynamic experiences of a community enlivened by God’s Spirit. What do we do with this story from the early church? Sell up and move into community? Many have been inspired to do so, some successfully, and some where the communities have ended up fractured and dysfunctional. Is the depiction of the early church community a pipe-dream? Maybe a short term response to the hope of Jesus’ imminent return? Or is something else happening in this story?

The commentator Luke Timothy Johnson, says: While many of us go searching through the scripture looking for rules which will tell us what to do, what we find instead, particularly in Luke-Acts, is what he calls a “diversity of mandates”. Christianity isn’t an ethical system that tells you what you’re  supposed to do all of the time. Instead, it tells you who you are and through the shaping of that identity you then grow to discern, by the power of the Spirit, which mandate of the many given in scripture is the best one to be followed at a given moment.

Martin Luther King Jr followed a particular mandate of compassion and justice. The world remembered his death this month – 50 years ago on April 4, 1968. Just 2 months earlier he had delivered a powerful sermon, at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he served as co-pastor with his father. The sermon was entitled ‘The Drum Major’s Instinct’ (it’s available on the web to watch – be uplifted by his oratory and content). It features his trademark fusion of radical faith and politics, and calls out the dangers of capitalism, racism and militarism. Towards the end of the sermon, King speaks about his own mortality, and the way he wants to be remembered as one who pursued justice. “Every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral. I don’t think of it in a morbid sense. Every now and then I ask myself, ‘What is it that I would want said?’” “I’d like somebody to mention that I tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day that I tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness … Yes, Jesus, I want to be by your side not for any selfish reason, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition. I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world”. Two months later, this part of his sermon was played as part of his eulogy at his own funeral.

What strikes me about his sermon is the way he made clear that activism or acts of compassion emerge from and are sustained by faith. His action were not so he could find purpose and identity and fulfilment for himself but primarily about a selflessness shaped by the example of Jesus and the transforming work of God’s Spirit in his life.

Rev. Dr Sarah Bachelard, founder and leader of Benedictus Contemplative Church in Canberra, and an honorary fellow at the Australian Catholic University, has reflected on activism. Yes, she says, there needs to be awareness raising, advocacy, education – all these things are clearly vital. Yet by themselves, they’re not enough. What is also needed is the deeper transformation of persons, where individuals and whole communities let go of certain ways of imagining themselves and others, and build a different kind of community. That’s what was happening in the community in our reading today.

She cites another example: where the Jewish Christian Peter goes to the home of the Gentile Cornelius (Acts 10). It was a radically new way of relating that transcended the divides of religion, culture and tradition. It placed the primary focus on hospitality and a willingness to be vulnerable.

It demonstrated the imperative for followers of the Jesus way to be willing to give up particular social norms and patterns of behaviour and identity formation, and to take up new ways of being, belonging and behaving. It involves a willingness to let go of a constructed ‘ego’ identity with particular social norms and patterns of behaviour, to let go of old certainties, and to be willing to be vulnerable as new ways are practiced and embedded.

Sarah speaks about an example where she attended a pastoral care committee meeting. The agenda was how to ensure that people felt welcomed to the church, how to ensure that new people stayed. At one level, the concern expressed was genuinely for the people: Had they been offered hospitality? Did they feel accepted, cared for? They’re important concerns. At another level, though, I discerned something else driving the meeting’s agenda. Things like: Is our community growing and sustaining itself? Are we being seen as welcoming? Are we living up to our self-image as inclusive, caring and warm-hearted? In this she saw a clear distinction between selflessness in serving others on the one hand, and the concerns of the community to enhance their own identity. The problem is that too often Christian acts of compassionate care and our desire to do good don’t emerge from humility and poverty of spirit. Unconsciously, and despite our best intentions and sincere efforts, often our involvement serves our own needs, or the desire to be seen as “good Christians,” as “worthy and good”.

English theologian Andrew Shanks has identified the issue at stake here. He’s pointed out that when it comes to doing the “right” thing, two motives are, in most of us, deeply intertwined. There is the genuine desire to do justice, and show compassion, and then there’s the desire to find satisfaction in doing the right thing. This second desire, he says, gets in the way of the first. Instead of being genuinely other-directed, our concern is subtly but unmistakably self-centred. The same thing can be seen at times in the way the church speaks in the public arena. Throughout history the church has often been concerned to secure a place in the world, and has often been more a “sign of wealth rather than of poverty and has aligned itself with the rich and powerful on earth more than the weak and lowly”. 
(Luke Timothy Johnson, Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church: The Challenge of Luke-Acts to Contemporary Christians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), p. 125.)

When the church should be living out hospitality together as an alternative way of life in opposition to runaway and militant consumerism, we instead have become that which we have otherwise been called to convert.

The community of Christ is called to grow in ‘self-forgetfulness’ in order to more fully serve others. It would be good to reflect further on the difference between a self-forgetful church and a church that has forgotten faithfulness. How does the church identify and deal with the confusion between faithful Christian discipleship on the one hand, and ideology and self-protecting religion on the other?

Perhaps the example of the selflessness of the early church speaks to us afresh today – not to replicate the actions of caring and compassion for their own sake as a kind of blueprint of Christian community, but to open ourselves afresh to the God we know through Jesus, and to God’s living Spirit, so in turn we may become ‘self-forgetful’ and to give ourselves selflessly to others following the example of Jesus, so we can ‘make of this old world a new world’. 
May it be so. Amen.

(this sermon was inspired by and draws on an article, The Ego-Driven Church: On the Perils of Christian Activism 2017)

A meal for the homeless

Published / by Sandy

On the day of his funeral, Professor Stephen Hawking’s family donated an Easter meal for 50 homeless people in Cambridge. It was held at Wesley Methodist Church, about a kilometre away from where mourners gathered on Saturday to celebrate his life. A touching note, signed by “the Hawking family”, was left on the tables and told the 50 guests that the lunch was a “gift from Stephen”. Organisers of the event, run by the charity FoodCycle, said the much-loved professor was given a “little cheer” by diners before they tucked into their meals. FoodCycle Cambridge said: “We’re so grateful to the Hawking family for their generous donation so we could give our guests an extra special Easter meal yesterday. A heartwarming gesture from the Hawking family that no doubt provided great cheer and comfort to the homeless.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, another act of generosity, and another special Easter Day meal at Pilgrim Uniting Church. This year the meal was served to about 100 people in a delightful ‘al fresco’ setting in the Pilgrim Plaza area at the rear of the church, making the most of a balmy autumn evening.

Twice a year, on Easter Day and Christmas Day, the Australia Angels for the Homeless  (coordinated by the amazing Steffan Joseph) prepares a meal for homeless, and disadvantaged people. This has been happening for 10+ years, with Steffan bringing together a huge number of volunteers, and preparing a veritable banquet for those who rarely have anything to celebrate. Food and other items are donated and some are purchased for the meal, with takeaway bags with treats for each person, and a toiletries bag with a range of personal care items.

In addition to the meal, some guests at the special events enjoy an opportunity to have a haircut, manicure and massage.

This is truly inspirational. Congratulations to Steffan and his team.

And for the other Sundays evenings in the year, Pilgrim Uniting Church hosts the Sunday Night Tea program for homeless and disadvantaged people, with numbers averaging around 60-80 people each night. Volunteers from Pilgrim as well as other churches and the wider community provide a warm welcome, and nutritious food.

(If you want to find out more about the Sunday Night Tea program, or how you can be involved in supporting the special Easter and Christmas events, please contact Pilgrim Uniting Church, office@pilgrim.org.au, 8212 3295).

2018 Easter message from the Uniting Church President

Published / by Sandy

Easter Greetings to you. I’m Stuart McMillan, President of the Uniting Church in Australia. 

Welcome to my home town Darwin – a beautiful place of diversity and difference. 

For Christ’s love compels us – he died for all so that we should no longer live for ourselves. This is at the very heart of the Christian faith, and yet in our own lives we often fail to resolve conflicts between ourselves and others.

The Karama Indonesian Uniting Church Congregation here in Darwin is doing just that. This new community came together at the end of last year. After 17 years of separation Christ’s love compelled them to be reconciled, truly one in Christ.

REV. THRESI MAUBOY: Greetings from Northern Synod – Karama Indonesian Uniting Church. I’m Thresi Mauboy – I’m the Moderator of Northern Synod.

The Indonesian community in Darwin – we’re coming from a multicultural background. 

We celebrate diversity, but we are one. So we as a Christian people, we always make sure – part of what Jesus teaches us to do is to bring people into unity and reconciliation.

JESSICA MAUBOY: [singing Amazing Grace]

REV. THRESI MAUBOY: You can come together – to love one another, to support one another and burn the burden and the suffering – and start a new life. That’s part of the reconciliation.

STUART MCMILLAN: It’s this amazing grace, this love of God for all people which is the message of hope at Easter. For me that is the message of the Cross. Our world needs this message of hope, of reconciliation.

The love of Christ means we put the needs of others ahead of our own and seek to come together to find a new way forward, a way of peace and reconciliation. This Easter, Christ’s love compels me to pray, and continue to work for reconciliation; in families, in communities, in our nation and between nations.

May the God of love and peace be with you all.

Reflections on April Fools’ Day and Easter Sunday

Published / by Sandy

April Fools’ Day is the perfect excuse to talk about jokes in the Bible. Most of us believe that the Bible is all heavy stuff, and Christian discipleship is based on a very serious Jesus, so we need to try to be a very serious Christian. But the Bible is full of jokes! This does not mean Jesus is not serious. A joke need not be frivolous or false, and in fact the best jokes are neither. One reason we miss jokes in the Bible is our Puritan tradition of disdain for levity, which tends to frame the things Jesus says as pithy ripostes or clever aphorisms – but not jokes. There is a logic to this: we have no problem being fully human but struggle to be godly, so we should focus on what is godly about Jesus. The ability to tell good jokes (and get them) is deeply tied to our moral imagination.
A good joke in the functional sense depends on our ability to see the difference between the world as it is and as it could be. A good joke in the moral sense, then, depends on our ability to see the difference between is and should. A good joke can light up the dark between the two, can help us see one from the other. Not everything that is funny is a joke, and not every funny joke is a good joke, but a good joke helps us see the distance between who we are and who we should be. Who but Jesus ever saw so clearly the distance between is and should? Who else had the imagination to grasp fully the gulf between heaven and earth? Laughter is both human and humane, an essential tool to help us cross the distance to God.
The lectionary for April 1 – Easter Sunday – is heavy on the heavy stuff, but it does contain one good joke. In the Gospel reading from John, Jesus finds Mary Magdalene weeping over the tomb. Mary, “supposing him to be a gardener,” does not recognize him. It is a joke about Mary’s failure to recognize Jesus, but also a joke about the reader’s ability to do so. The joke is at Mary’s expense and also ours.
It is neither stretch nor slight to say that the resurrection was a joke – and a good one. What more could Jesus have done to mock the world that killed him than rise from the dead? When we say we are Easter people, we say we live in the light Jesus brought to the darkness between what is and what should be.
“Jokes can be noble. Laughs are exactly as honourable as tears. We have no problem with the Jesus who wept. This Easter, let’s grapple with the Jesus who laughed”. (Kurt Vonnegut)


(adapted from an article by Miles Townes on Christian Century

Here’s another thoughtful article on Eureka Street