Tuesday, 19 July 2011

One bit of what happened... perhaps

Having asked the question yesterday "Why did Jesus have to die how he died?", I've been digging.

I like digging - it satisfies my insatiable appetite for knowledge. Unfortunately, in a family-tree-esque expansion of subjects, it always ends up with me asking more questions - which ends up in more digging.

This bit of digging did, though, provide some kind of answer - which is that perhaps Jesus had to die the way he died because of the Passover story. 

Passover was the story of how God redeemed the Israelites from slavery. It was a convenant, wrapped in a story... a story that the Jewish people told to remember how God chose them and rescued them to be the salvation of the world... wrapped around a promise, that God would be with them.

The central actor (rather despite himself I'd have to say) was the passover lamb - a "male without defect" which was selected (by Jesus' time) five days before Passover, killed ceremonially at the Temple on the Friday afternoon... the day after a passover meal that includes the curious tradition of taking three striped and pierced (no, seriously - from prophesies in the O.T.!) wafers, breaking the middle one, and then wrapping it in a cloth and 'burying' it until the end of the meal, when it is 'resurrected'.

I don't really understand where some of those traditions came from... more digging ahoy!

But, surely, there are too many parallels for Passover to not have something to do with Jesus' death.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem five days before Passover, was killed at 3.00 p.m. on the Friday afternoon just as the sacrificial lamb was being killed in the Temple, and was buried on the Friday evening. Before being resurrected early on the Sunday.

And Jesus seems to have seen his involvement as central to the story. In the Passover meal that he shared with his disciples, he took the bread and broke it and said 'This is my body'... and then after eating took the wine and said 'this is the new covenant in my blood'

 What covenant?

Well, Jeremiah 31 says:

"Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jer 31 : 31-33)

So, from yesterday's slightly tentative question about obedience, I'm now wondering if Jesus death was another covenant, wrapped in another story, which represents and resurrects the original plan that God had for the salvation of the world...

Pop... right back at you with your lack of plan B ;)

And more digging... 

Monday, 18 July 2011

Why the way it happened?

There a niggling question that has been in the back of my mind for a few weeks.

Not a big one, at least not to start with, but one that highlights another situation where what I've always been taught (and - I'll admit - accepted,without even a murmur of questioning) and what the bible seems to be teaching in a more complete sense glide past each other like Hogwarts staircases, reaching different landings and taking you off in different directions.

My question is this:

If, as I was always told, Jesus' primary reason for living was to die, and then be raised from the dead, why did he have to die the way he did? On a cross, violently, in his prime, at 33 years of age?

Could he not have simply lived until he was old, and then died, and then been raised?

If the aim of his life was simply to overturn the sin that Adam and Eve brought into the world, wouldn't that have done the job? Wouldn't that have demonstrated the final victory of God?

Obviously not... because when Jesus asked God if there was another way, the answer was pretty conclusively 'no'. 

So Jesus did have to die the way that he did. Why?

I think there's a clue in the question of obedience... Philippians tells us, for example, that "He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross"

NT Wright even goes as far as to suggest that it was Christ's obedience, not just his death, that was crucial - his actually doing what Israel was supposed to have done - obeying God.

I've not finished unpacking this by any means, but if that's true - there's quite a difference between the Jesus I was taught about, for whom life was basically just a precursor to death, and a Jesus for whom life was also a key part of his mission.

... and what that means for me in how I live before I die.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Have you ever noticed...

... a particular style

of speech or praying. In church where, people move.

All the punctuation and word breaks around into strange. Places so that the sentences.

All stop.

And start.

In the wrong places and it sounds like they're on drugs?


Friday, 1 July 2011

It takes a long time

Earlier this month I said I'd start blogging again. I have. This month's tally has reached five (I think, with this one included) - not a bad start.

(I started this yesterday... seems that saving a blog on Blogger also takes a long time)

Writing those five, though, it's struck me though how different this blog is from my work blog. There, I can just drop in comments here there and everywhere and not worry too much about how they read. Here, maybe because there's something eternal about what I'm talking about, and something of God that I'm sharing, there's a need to take a bit more care.

Ultimately, I don't know who reads this, what they think, whether they know me or Jesus... and, although there's a bit of good-natured ribbing goes on in Christian circles, the kind of scattergun approach that is often employed in academia - picking at anything and everything just to provoke it to some kind of self-critique - would turn this blog into the rantings of an unabashed cynic.

That's not very constructive because, after all, whatever the minor or major niggles or questions, I am committed to Jesus, excited by his vision of Church, empowered by us being God's plan for the salvation of the world (Ephesians 2 somewhere!) - and that needs to show through too.

Writing this month, though, (oh, and a birthday that took me ever closer to the magic 40) has driven home the fact that things take a long time. I'm still writing, and thinking about issues that I've been thinking about for years. Church hasn't really changed much in the grand scheme of things. People are largely in the same place, situations and issues pretty much the same as they were 6 months ago. 

At least, that's the way I see it from my limited point of view.

If you feel that way too... then there's something that was shared in our homegroup a few months ago that has helped me come to terms with this and cope with the frustration.

Reading through 2 Corinthians, we reached the (chapter 10 and 11) bit where Paul is talking about the difference between him and the 'Super Apostles'.
  • Super apostles big themselves up, do big showy things and compare themselves with themselves. They commend themselves.
  • True apostles don't boast about what they do but simply produce fruit, work almost unseen except by God, are people of integrity. They are commended by God.
Key to our discussion was the nature of how the Kingdom is built; slowly, often hidden, simply one fruit at a time, a truly humble movement dependant on truly weak humans. We used the phrase 'viral' at one point - spreading like yeast, unseen, unstoppable, unnoticed, untrumpeted.  

And that's not a mistake. It's the way God intended it to be. 

That's the opposite of what I've always been told; that the Kingdom is built through Super Apostles.

It's so reassuring to know that God designed the Kingdom to be something that doesn't rest on my ability to deliver big things in short time scales. Rather, he designed it to be much much bigger than us so that it only successfully works, when each of us subsumes ourselves into it, playing our small, temporary, limited, hidden, human parts and leaves Him to worry about everything else.

The antedote for things taking so long, I've found, is accepting that they're supposed to...

Wednesday, 29 June 2011


I've no wish to wade into centuries of religious debate (and, apparently, it has been debated for centuries) but I'm confused about the whole communion lark.

As far as I can see, what we now call 'communion' or 'the Lord's supper' (I can't help but have a mental picture of Jesus with his slippers on having a few crackers and a bit of cheese before bed) came from the passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples before going out to die.

If that's the case, then blessing and breaking bread was a normal part of the meal (as it was of pretty much every Jewish meal at the time) and blessing the wine was just a marker that it was a special meal with a particular significance.

Whether Jesus' words about 'whenever you do this' were directed at celebrating the passover (he was Jewish after all, and perhaps assumed that people would continue to celebrate the passover - just associating it with him) or whether that's supposed to apply to breaking the bread and blessing the wine, i.e. eating together, I don't kow. But there's no indication there that he was turning it into a ceremony.

Ditto the Lord's supper during Paul's time, where there is reference to eating together and to special Love Feasts (my years in YWAM swim back to haunt me - in a good way), but again no reference to a ceremonial bit of bread and bit of wine taken in isolation at the end of a service.

Where's that all come from?

And what's happened to the subversive 'show no favoritism, invite the lowly, eat with tax collectors' demonstrations of the Kingdom of God, which start with breaking the bread and blessing the wine putting Jesus right in the centre, and remembering that he's the reason that we gather?

Monday, 20 June 2011

Just off signal

At the moment, we've got some builders working outside where I work. I think they're cleaning the stonework.

In addition to pouring water all over us as we return from meetings in other parts of the university, they emit a constant kind of builder-chatter. Out of deference to the ivory towers that they're working on, what they say is only mostly blue. But being the west country, and they being Bristolian builders, most of what they say begins, ends (and mostly consists of) the sounds 'oi' and 'ar' - even the swearing. It makes you feel like you're working in a pirate ship.

Oh, and there's also the radio, which this morning as I arrived, spewed forth Lady Gaga - with the tuning slightly off signal.

Now, ask The Wife, and she'll tell you that distortion is a particularly resident bonnet bee for me. I'd rather listen to nothing than listen to something that has even the slightest chance of distorting.

Anyway... this made me think of a conversation I had yesterday with the new Pastor of our church. I say, new - he's been there for several months now.

In a brief 5-10 minutes we talked about a lot of things. But something that he said made me think.

I struggle with Sunday morning church because of the way that it seems to try and be a surrogate for a week's worth of 'Church'. In some ways, I'd rather see the week put back in order, and the Sunday service dissove into the everyday 'just being' Church. 

He, on the other hand, expressed what he wants to see in terms of 'getting the passion back' into the church so that they can take that passion and 'go out' into the week.

I don't think there's very much difference between the two. Ideally, they flow together into one.

But it did make me think how tricky it must be to lead a church when the people in it appear to be 'just off signal'.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

What do I do now?

When I was growing up, I remember being told that - when in a pickle - we could ask Jesus what to do. We could ask him, based on the fact that he had been a human and so had 'experienced everything that we could experience'.

At the time I must have nodded and thought 'yup'.

However, as I've got older, I've wondered how much wisdom there really is in telling people things like that. 

Setting aside all the trappings of modern life, Jesus still didn't know lots of situations. 

He was never married for example.

He never had children. Was never a father. He never failed to have children when he wanted some. Or wished he'd not had them when he had. 

He was never a woman. He was never pregnant. He was never a mother. 

He was never terminally ill.

Actually, when you think about it, the only person who really has a chance of Jesus knowing what they're experiencing, based on that logic, is a single Jewish carpenter under 30, living somewhere in occupied land, destined to save the world by giving up their life.

I don't know how many people that applies to.

Why are we told these things?