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Daily Bible Readings and Reflections for the Week of April 19, 2020

Saturday, April 25, 2020 (St. Mark)
Isaiah 62:6-12

Upon your walls, O Jerusalem,
I have posted sentinels;
all day and all night
they shall never be silent.
You who remind the Lord,
take no rest,
and give him no rest
until he establishes Jerusalem
and makes it renowned throughout the earth.
The Lord has sworn by his right hand
and by his mighty arm:
I will not again give your grain
to be food for your enemies,
and foreigners shall not drink the wine
for which you have laboured;
but those who garner it shall eat it
and praise the Lord,
and those who gather it shall drink it
in my holy courts.

Go through, go through the gates,
prepare the way for the people;
build up, build up the highway,
clear it of stones,
lift up an ensign over the peoples.
The Lord has proclaimed
to the end of the earth:
Say to daughter Zion,
‘See, your salvation comes;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.’
They shall be called, ‘The Holy People,
The Redeemed of the Lord’;
and you shall be called, ‘Sought Out,
A City Not Forsaken.’

+ + +

Today is the feast day of St. Mark, who is associated with the second gospel book of the New Testament (considered by most scholars, these days, to be the earliest written of them).

As a kid I remember being directed toward the fourth gospel — John — quite frequently, as the Jesus found therein is so powerful, authoritative, and clearly divine. These days I’m more drawn to Mark, for its bare bones structure and sense of urgency. (Though I must tell you that, especially after Holy Week, I’ve found a new appreciation for the deep scenes of dialogue that John paints between Jesus and whoever he’s engaging with.) But Mark’s gospel is so short and blisteringly-paced, it’s incredibly powerful.

“The Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to daughter Zion,‘See, your salvation comes.” That comes through in the gospel’s opening lines: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” BOOM. That’s it. No angels, no baby Jesus, no shepherds. Just an assurance that God is acting here.

“You who remind the Lord, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it renowned throughout the earth.” There is indeed very little rest found within Mark’s pages. One of its distinctive characteristics is its frequent use of the word “immediately” (or equivalent). You’d think all the action had taken place in the course of a week. And then as soon as you catch on, you arrive at the passion, and everything crawls to nightmarish slow motion, for the last days in Jerusalem. It’s a remarkable work.

One of my favourite musicians, whom I mentioned a few weeks ago, Nick Cave, wrote an introduction to the Gospel of Mark several years ago. I share an excerpt.
——
[O]ne day, I met an Anglican vicar and he suggested that I give the Old Testament a rest and read Mark instead. I hadn’t read the New Testament at that stage because the New Testament was about Jesus Christ and the Christ I remembered from my choirboy days was that wet, all-loving, etiolated individual that the church proselytised. I spent my pre-teen years singing in the Wangaratta Cathedral Choir and even at that age I recall thinking what a wishy-washy affair the whole thing was. The Anglican Church: it was the decaf of worship and Jesus was their Lord.

“Why Mark?”, I asked. “Because it’s short”, he replied. I was willing to give anything a go, so I took the vicar’s advice and read it and the Gospel of Mark just swept me up….

The Christ that emerges from Mark, tramping through the haphazard events of His life, had a ringing intensity about him that I could not resist. Christ spoke to me through His isolation, through the burden of His death, through His rage at the mundane, through His sorrow. Christ, it seemed to me was the victim of humanity’s lack of imagination, was hammered to the cross with the nails of creative vapidity.

The Gospel According to Mark has continued to inform my life as the root source of my spirituality, my religiousness. The Christ that the Church offers us, the bloodless, placid ‘Saviour’ – the man smiling benignly at a group of children or serenely hanging from the cross – denies Christ His potent, creative sorrow or His boiling anger that confronts us so forcibly in Mark. Thus the Church denies Christ His humanity, offering up a figure that we can perhaps ‘praise’ but never relate to. The essential humanness of Mark’s Christ provides us with a blueprint for our own lives so that we have something we can aspire to rather than revere, that can lift us free of the mundanity of our existences rather than affirming the notion that we are lowly and unworthy.

Merely to praise Christ in His Perfectness keeps us on our knees, with our heads pitifully bent. Clearly, this is not what Christ had in mind. Christ came as a liberator. Christ understood that we as humans were for ever held to the ground by the pull of gravity – our ordinariness, our mediocrity – and it was through His example that He gave our imaginations the freedom to fly. In short, to be Christ-like.
——

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Friday, April 24, 2020
Psalm 135

Praise the Lord!
Praise the name of the Lord;
give praise, O servants of the Lord,
you that stand in the house of the Lord,
in the courts of the house of our God.
Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good;
sing to his name, for he is gracious.
For the Lord has chosen Jacob for himself,
Israel as his own possession.

For I know that the Lord is great;
our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the Lord pleases he does,
in heaven and on earth,
in the seas and all deeps.
He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth;
he makes lightnings for the rain
and brings out the wind from his storehouses.

He it was who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
both human beings and animals;
he sent signs and wonders
into your midst, O Egypt,
against Pharaoh and all his servants.
He struck down many nations
and killed mighty kings—
Sihon, king of the Amorites,
and Og, king of Bashan,
and all the kingdoms of Canaan—
and gave their land as a heritage,
a heritage to his people Israel.

Your name, O Lord, endures for ever,
your renown, O Lord, throughout all ages.
For the Lord will vindicate his people,
and have compassion on his servants.

The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but they do not speak;
they have eyes, but they do not see;
they have ears, but they do not hear,
and there is no breath in their mouths.
Those who make them
and all who trust them
shall become like them.

O house of Israel, bless the Lord!
O house of Aaron, bless the Lord!
O house of Levi, bless the Lord!
You that fear the Lord, bless the Lord!
Blessed be the Lord from Zion,
he who resides in Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!

+ + +

I have to admit, I have trouble with Psalm 135. I’m okay with it up to verse seven. God is praised. The singer extols the power of God. The singer states that God consciously moves the clouds, lightning and wind wherever he [sic] wants them to go. The clouds come from the corners of the earth and the wind comes from God’s storehouses. Even with these pre-scientific images, I’m fine so far.

Then, the singer starts listing all the enemies of the Chosen People God has helped them defeat. He starts with the Pharaoh and continues through all the rulers who had kingdoms in Palestine when the Israelites moved into that area. And, under General Joshua, one by one they were all wiped out.

The singer of the psalm names the reason these people were defeated. They worshiped idols of silver and gold. The idols had ears that could not hear, eyes that could not see and mouths with no breath. In verse eighteen the singer claims “Those who make them will be like them and so will all who trust in them”. This is the excuse for their destruction.

The singer finishes by encouraging all the houses of Israel to praise the Lord.

While it is true that these were false gods, and the Living God guided the Israelites to take that land as their homeland, is it also true that genocidal war was the only way to accomplish this goal? Perhaps in that era, violence was the only method of survival as a people. But I wonder. Even the Old Testament describes God as a Being of compassion and love. Was there any other way?

It grates against me when powerful countries take over weaker ones and demand they adopt their economic structures, and their cultural and religious institutions. But it happens all the time. It happened When the Isrealites invaded Palestine and it happens today. I really try hard to see this psalm as a religious song to God. But every time I read it, I see the politics. “Our God beats your gods!”

I just pray for wisdom on this one…

[Peter Mansell]

Thursday, April 23, 2020
1 Peter 2:11-25

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honourably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honourable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.

For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honour everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honour the emperor.

Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. For it is to your credit if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, where is the credit in that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.

‘He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.’

When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

+ + +

A few days ago I warned of this passage coming up. And while there is some beautiful stuff here, the reference to (and tolerance of) slavery is problematic. Readings like these — as much as life might be easier without them — are important, in that they prompt us to reflect on what the Bible is and how we should or shouldn’t apply it in our own lives.

Today’s reading itself, and the above-mentioned issue of Biblical interpretation and application relates to the theme of authority. What’s authoritative in our lives, as Christians? The Bible is certainly an authority for Christians. But does that mean that it demands unthinking obedience from us? Here I think two things are important.

Firstly, it is important to remember that — for good and bad — we’re people of the 16th century Reformation. Chafing against the abuses and extravagances of the medieval Church, the Reformers sought to get back to the simpler, ‘purer’ faith of the Bible. Thus, they jettisoned Church authorities (most especially the papacy) and essentially put in their place the Bible as the primary source of authority. A lot of good came out of that, but also, some bad. It’s naive to make such a black-and-white distinction between the Bible on one hand and human/Church traditions on the other. The Bible in itself developed over time, and there was no Bible, as we have it now, until the Church started sifting through its documents, looking for writings suitable for teaching and liturgy. The Bible is a good starting point for growing in the Christian faith, but the Protestant ethic unchecked can lead to an unhealthy idolization of the Bible that is simplistic and dangerous. Being a good Christian does not mean being a papal, or Biblical, or Prayer Book fundamentalist.

Secondly, as Anglicans we often speak of three sources of authority that work together: the Bible, human reason, and the voice of the Church (often referred to more simply as “tradition”). There will be times when interpreting the Bible is difficult. In such cases we apply our God-given reason to work through the difficulties. Sometimes we might still find ourselves struggling to come to a solution. That is where “the voice of the Church” comes in: this might refer to a grand council of the Church where representatives come together to discuss a difficult issue. Or it might also refer to the inherited traditions of the Church; the growth in wisdom of the Christian community over many centuries. And I’m sure this at times involves trial-and-error.

What seems important to me is that we remember that the Bible — even divinely-inspired — is the library of the Church. It helps form us into the people that God calls us to be. Our goal isn’t to mould ourselves into an archaic, Biblical pattern, but instead, to be formed through our reading, reflection, and praying of the Bible — alongside the sacraments, our other Christian practices, and through God’s grace — into God’s new creation. The former model is past-oriented, while the latter is future-oriented (though past-informed).

And remember that we don’t read the Bible in isolation (another danger of Protestantism unchecked: an unhealthy individualism). We read and discuss and debate the Bible in the context of the Church community. Both our local church community — our parish, our friends, our family — but also the Church that has come down to us through the ages. We read alongside the saints and sinners of Church history, and learn from them.

Paul Gibson, whom I often mention as one of the architects of our green service book, once described the Bible as a map, and the Judeo-Christian tradition as a great flowing river charted on the map. We’re part of that river, and the Bible catches the “main drift” of the flow of the river. But the map is quite detailed. It shows everything, good and bad, useful and not. So on the map — in the Bible — are swampy areas that have been part of the winding of the great river, but, we can now admit, may not fit with the main course of it.

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Wednesday, April 22, 2020
John 15:1-11

Jesus said:

‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

+ + +

Our relationship with Jesus is paramount when developing an effective Christian life. Today’s scripture describes this relationship using imagery that would be familiar to the apostles: vineyards, branches, vines, and fruit. You may recall from previous teachings that today’s scripture — a conversation between Jesus and His followers — was held prior to the Last Supper. Jesus is preparing His apostles to live a life without His physical presence, and yet his words instruct the disciples to cling to Him. What may appear as a contradiction is actually a guide for the development of a new and different relationship – and it requires some explaining.

As we review John’s words, we see the progression of bearing fruit, moving from scarcity to abundance (vs 2, 5). Yet, what is the fruit that is produced from our relationship with Christ? Familial peace? Financial stability? Professional success? Vocational leadership? My friends, if you’re like me and believe that scripture supports scripture, we can solidify our knowledge by turning to Galatians: … the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control… (5:22-23).

Like the apostles, our Christian life will flourish if we cling to the fruit-building branches. We will not multiple by the tangible materialism of the world, but rather blossom in the intangible gifts of the Spirit. Scripture assures us that our personal harvest is abundant when the Holy Spirit flows through us.
Let us pray for such a harvest:

Dear heavenly Father,
I come before you socially isolated in my home.
During this time of solitude, teach me to graft myself to the branch.
Like your apostles, show me how to renew and develop my relationship with you.
Through Your Holy Spirit, dwelling in your love, reveal the areas in my life that need the nourishment of your spiritual fruit.
I pray to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen

[Katherine MacLean]

Tuesday, April 21, 2020
John 14:18-31

Jesus said:

‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way.

+ + +

The dense nature of today’s scripture offers many avenues for prayer; however, as I read, the word orphan in verse 18 leapt from the page and thus will be the focus of today’s meditation. Although this term appears only once in today’s readings, its impact is such that the remaining scripture adds layers of assurances to comfort anyone who feels orphaned.

While I freely admit that I’m not a biblical scholar, I thoroughly benefit from researching and learning what theologians offer. Hence, I share with you Strong’s Dictionary definition: Greek word orphanos – “to be orphaned or without a father or lacking a guide or teacher.”

Before we move to back to the scripture, I’d like to share a COVID-19 situation that exemplifies orphanos. A dear friend who is single and lives in a one-bedroom apartment is now transitioning her work office to her kitchen table. For several weeks, my friend has been isolated, working without an ergonomic chair or desk, without files and office supplies, without colleagues, without professional and technical support: in other words, she has been orphaned by society and her employer. Yet, she is expected to carry on, despite lacking a guide or teacher. During a recent telephone call, my friend spoke brave words, but I could hear a crackling voice and sensed tears slipping down her cheeks. What comfort could I offer?

I now see that a boost to our wellbeing, to those lacking a guide or teacher, is found in today’s scripture readings: I will come to you (v 18); you will see Me; because I live (v 19); the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things (v 25); and most importantly, Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled; nor let it be fearful (v27). Still, scripture cautions us. These words will only bring comfort to those people who believe in Jesus: He who does not love Me does not keep My words (v 24).

So, my friends, as we experience being orphaned by society, employers, and even families, let us take courage in this biblical standing stone; we are NOT orphaned by God: He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and disclose Myself to him (v 21). Let us fill our days and hours with more prayer, more meditation on scripture, and more self-reflection. In other words, practice our faith so that we will receive the comfort of the Helper.
[Katherine MacLean]

Monday, April 2020
1 Peter 1:1-12

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood:

May grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated, when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look!

+ + +

The First Letter of Peter provides encouragement for Christians that are going through some sort of hardship. Whether it was official state-sanctioned persecution, or just general challenges in relating to the dominant culture, we’re not sure, but the letter’s references to Christians as “exiles” and “resident aliens” reflects this tension.

In certain parts of the world today there are persecutions happening, and even where that is not the case, we have all likely experienced tension between the calling of our faith and the habits of our dominant culture. It’s easy for us to get divisive and polemical when we feel that sense of dislocation in our lives. And this dislocation is felt differently by different people and different factions. Think of how (and I try not to use these blanket labels too often) conservative Christians in the US often speak of no longer fitting in their country’s landscape, because of multiculturalism, or the lack of explicit mentions of “Christmas” in retail settings, or the evolution of social mores. (Or evolution in general!) Meanwhile, liberal Christians (again, I use this term loosely) feel like they don’t fit in either, because they don’t see themselves represented in the statements and positions of the vocal and powerful religious right. Nor are their Biblically-inspired values of justice shared by a lot of Christians that read the same Bible.

Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners magazine has done a lot of work to try to step into this space of disagreement. His point — far from revolutionary, yet seemingly hard to find — is that no political party or ideological position perfectly fits or speaks for the Christian. We’re bound to be exiles, “in, but not of the world,” no matter how we vote. And that’s exactly what can lead to productive collaboration for the common good.

It can be difficult being a Christian; answering to what one perceives as a ‘higher authority.’ When do we go with the flow? When do we protest? Should a secular value, even one that seems good, still be looked upon with suspicion because it’s, you know, secular? Should expectations for the Christian community be laid upon those who have no commitment to the Christian faith? Can a Christian hold office? (Or the opposite, dare we vote for someone who doesn’t have a faith affiliation?) When we speak about inclusivity in the Church today are we inspired by Jesus’s life, or just speaking the language of ‘the world?’

These questions come up all the time, in one form or another. But we’re not the first generation to wrestle with how to live our faith in the world. The documents of the New Testament reflect these same questions and this same tension, though sometimes the specifics were different. (What do we do with food sacrificed to pagan idols? How do Jesus-followers relate to civil authority? How much of Jewish tradition gets carried over into this new way of faith?)

In a few days we’re going to be reading a snippet from a little later on in the First Letter of Peter. “Slaves, accept the authority of your masters…” How does that sit with you? The chapter ends with probably my very favourite Bible verse (“For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”), but boy, how I wish it wasn’t in such close proximity to that endorsement (or at least acceptance) of slavery…

Reading and applying the Bible can be tough, or at least not as simplistic as cutting and pasting verses here and there. (My opinion; I know that some people would disagree.) Being a Christian can be tough, or at least not comfortable. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. A letter like 1 Peter, warts and all, can encourage us to continue on in faith in these difficult circumstances and situations. The opening of the letter reminds us that we’re waiting for salvation, “ready to be revealed at the end of time” (verse 5). And so while we wait, we do our best. We walk humbly. We love our neighbours. And we pray for the “sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit,” the Spirit that was breathed on the disciples on that first Easter night, to enlighten and empower us in our reading and in our doing.

As I offered the intercessions on Sunday morning I was particularly struck — perhaps you even noticed it in my breathing or facial expression on the video — by this excerpt. We prayed for: “the authentic relationship you offer, Christ, like you gave to Thomas when you replaced his doubts; not with impersonal platitudes and cold certainties, but with the marks of your vulnerability.”

Our reading of, meditation on, and grappling with scripture, I would suggest, need not lead us to “impersonal platitudes and cold certainties.” But to a spirit of vulnerability that gives birth to wisdom and empathy. In this time of waiting for the salvation of God to be fully revealed, I think wisdom and empathy are preferable to cold certainties.

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Sunday, April 19, 2020
1 John 1:1-7

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

++++++++++

In the years following the first Easter and Pentecost, St. John the Evangelist travelled from Palestine into what is now Southern Turkey, and there founded churches that based their understanding of Jesus, and their Christian practice, on John’s teachings and their reflections on them. By the 90’s of the first century divisions appeared in these churches on the nature of Jesus and his relationship to God. John had taught that Jesus was a fully human person, who lived a fully human life and died a fully human death, but was also and at the same time the Son of God and the eternal Word that had existed with God from before time, and indeed was God. Some of John’s churches had deviated from this Gospel, and were falling into the docetic heresy, that Jesus was not really and fully human, that the Son of God, the eternal Word was God pretending to be human, acting human, the way an actor plays a character on a stage. Believing in that sort of Jesus, the orthodox followers of John’s teachings argued, was worthless and was dangerous to eternal salvation. The author of 1 John, a person we call John the Elder, was a supervisor (we might call him a bishop) of the churches founded by John the Evangelist and is writing his letter to correct their errors.

Two things strike me on thoroughly reading this passage over and over. The first is John the Elder’s appeal to the fundamentals of his belief – he has known it from the beginning, has experienced it with his senses. He is not claiming to have been present at the events of Jesus’ life, but he has learned them from someone who was, and more, they have become so real in his life that they are his own experience. He has known God in Christ to work in his life, and to see that others, others for whom he is pastor (or bishop) falling away into untrue belief pains him. It makes it impossible for him to be joyful. For John the Elder there is a core of belief that is not negotiable, that cannot be modified!

I am by nature and by training to a high academic level an engineer. And I am a priest and pastor. Engineers deal in facts, physical reality, and the notion that something you can’t measure doesn’t exist for practical purposes. Priests deal in the exact opposite; we trade in faith! Faith – “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” [Hebrews 11:1] I have had to do a lot of rationalizing and negotiating between my inner engineer and priest. But there must be a core that both the engineer and the priest can agree on, that, like for John the Elder, is not negotiable.

Mine is much the same as that of John, but I’ll leave it to a more eloquent voice than mine to say it. It is a poem by John Betjeman, about Christmas, but you can easily substitute appropriate Easter references – baskets, coloured eggs, chocolate rabbits, lilies, triumphant hymns, fancy hats etc.;

“No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things
Bath salts and inexpensive scents
And hideous tie so kindly meant,
 
“No Love that in a family dwells,
No Carolling in frosty air
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this simple truth compare –
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.”

My inner engineer and priest agree on this simple truth, God was human in Palestine, and lives today in bread and wine. And I suspect John the Elder would say “Amen.”

Which brings me to the second thing that strikes me about this passage from 1 John. My joy is not complete, because in these present dark days, our community cannot come together to celebrate God living in bread and wine. And from the several Christian social media platforms that I monitor, that is a great sadness shared by my priestly sisters and brothers, we cannot celebrate the Holy Eucharist with our communities. (We could do it privately or with our families, but our bishops, at least in Ontario, have asked us not to, as we should not claim a privilege denied to our people.)

But that second thing that strikes me is also the contrast in the second half of the passage between light and darkness. John uses light to describe Christ, and also those who believe in the true Christ of the Gospel, and darkness for the false, docetic Christ and those who believe in that. But it strikes me also that in our present situation, there is both light and darkness to be seen, and we can choose which we see. Looking at the whole of our situation in this time of pandemic, we are overwhelmed with information, fake news, rumours, advice that changes from day to day and situation to situation. It is like a jigsaw puzzle, and we’re not sure that all the pieces belong to same picture or that some aren’t missing.

Which brings me to a movie we watched earlier this week [Man Up, 2015], quite enjoyable, but one of those movies that goes directly from editing to the online streaming services. Here is a short dialogue between the two lead characters:

Nancy: You’re just – – you’re an emotional jigsaw at the moment but you’re gonna piece yourself back together. You know, start with the corners. Look for the blue bits.

Jack: And where do I find these “blue bits”?

For me the corners of this jigsaw of our present pandemic world is my belief that, ultimately God in Christ is with us. And the “blue bits”, the sky, are the signs of light in the darkness – our churches finding new ways of being church, people reaching out to people, our society seeing those who in previous days were seen as menial drones as essential workers and heroes (and hopefully will continue to do so), people rising to the challenge of our times in unexpected ways, random deeds of kindness. If you look, there is lots of light, lots of “blue” bits” to be seen among the dark stuff!

The Book of Revelation (written by another John) has been summarized as “God wins!” For me, that is the ultimate “blue bit”, the ultimate light. This too will pass, God will win, we will come back together in worship, and we will once again, together, know that “[God] lives today in bread and wine”.

[Gerry Mueller]