Ransom

This arose out of some emails I exchanged with someone I hold in great respect. Should you read this I apologise for not telling you first.

I have always struggled with the idea
of Christ being punished for us.
Many believe He was,
but it was punishment set by us,
not by God.

I cannot feel God saying,
‘Someone must pay for this.’
and Jesus replying, ‘Yes,
but I shall pay instead.’

Did Christ die for our sins?
take our punishment on Himself?
Did our Father send His only begotten Son,
begotten, not created,
beloved, pleasing, one in love with Him,
to die as a blood sacrifice,
as the Paschal Lamb,
for us?

We rejected and murdered Him,
but that is not why He came.

For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that all who believe in Him might not perish but have eternal life.

I came that they might have life, and have it more fully.

Like Dame Julian of Norwich,
when I see Jesus Christ
I see the Trinity in Him,
God the Father
acting in His creation,
and in Love.

I see our Father in Jesus
showing the length that He will go
to show His love for us,
to suffer, in Christ, to save us.
As our Lord said,
I and the Father are one.

His suffering was more,
infinitely more, than crucifixion.
He loves us as his dear children,
eternally loving, not condemning
though we betrayed Him.

To bring damned sinners back
He went into the deepest hell
(which we made for ourselves,
bolting the door inside).

One day I shall write on my understanding of hell.
For now give it any meaning you wish.

What debt was paid upon the cross?
The amazing depth of love
in Jesus’ sacrifice
is more than any debt,
more than any price.

What debt was paid upon the cross?
The Aramaic Jesus spoke
had just one word for debt and sin,
and was guilt paid in pain?
Or was sin paid in death
to a wrathful, punishing God?

The Son of Man, the Son of God,
who prayed we may be one
as the Father and He are one,
suffered and died on the cross.
What ransom, what debt, was paid?
If He was not sacrificed for sin,
what debt, what ransom, was paid?

Because I live, you also will live.
In that day you will know
that I am in my Father,
and you in me,
and I in you.

Was our Father, in Christ on the cross,
a true lover grieving, bearing
anything for his beloved,
though we turned on Him murderously?

Is our debt that infinite love?
Was Christ’s crucifixion
not a ransom for our sins,
but a statement of that debt;
not cancelled on the cross
but rewritten in love,
which we owe in return.

Collar and Tie

I was challenged in my teens (long, long ago in the late nineteen-fifties, but still seems like yesterday) for wearing a sweater to church, ‘You would not turn up at work dressed like that so why do so in the house of God?’

As I was a student in London, and under my sweater was wearing a collar and tie. You might think I had a readily available answer but in those days even students wore jackets and ties to college. I gave a mildly apologetic response.

Things have changed since then.

Within ten years I had stopped wearing a tie to church; not from lack of respect but because I noticed that when strangers came into a service they often had open-necked shirts and looked self-consciously out of place. The presence of a few others similarly dressed gave them a chance to feel more at home.

Now things have changed even more; the wearing of ties has become rarer. For many, ties are not worn even for church. I find myself only wearing them on those autumn or winter days when a scarf might be too warm. One day perhaps I might sport a tie more regularly to ease the embarassement of strangers who come dressed in what they have seen in their only attendences at weddings and funerals – or will these also follow the current fashion?

There may be worse reasons for not dressing for church:

There is a story, a parable, of a king inviting guests to his son’s wedding feast
(which carries echoes of the King who invites guests to His Son’s wedding feast).

The kingdom of heaven is like a king
who gave a wedding feast for his son.
He sent his slaves to call guests to the banquet,
but they would not come.

He sent other slaves, saying,
‘Tell those I invited,
“Look! The feast is ready.
My oxen and fatted cattle are slaughtered,
everything is ready.
Come to the banquet.” ’

But they were indifferent and went away,
one to his farm, one to his business.
The rest seized his slaves,
insolently mistreated or killed them.

The king was furious!
He sent soldiers to put those murderers to death
and set their city on fire.

He told his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready,
but those invited were unworthy.
Go into the main streets,
invite all you find to the banquet.’
They went out into the streets and gathered all they found,
filling the wedding hall with guests.

But when the king came
he saw a man not wearing wedding clothes.
He asked him,
‘Friend, how did you get in without wedding clothes?’
but he had nothing to say.
The king told his attendants,
‘Tie him hand and foot
throw him out into the darkness,
where there will be weeping and gnashing teeth!’

Many are called, but few are chosen.

Why was the guest thrown out for not wearing wedding clothes? Was he too poor? Probably – he had been called in off the street when the king’s rich friends turned their invitations down, but the king knew that and would have allowed for it. So why was he not wearing them?

He seems no better than the rich guests, disdainful of the king’s generosity. He came to eat but without bothering to wear the clothes provided. Rich or poor we can still get it wrong.

We have the King’s clothes to wear
for the wedding feast of His Son:
compassion, care, a held-out hand,
love and the acceptance of love,
the Image of God that God bestowed on Man.

Who is the bride?

The earliest account of Christ’s Great Commission,
translated literally from Mark’s Greek, is
When you have gone into all the world,
preach the Good News to all creation.

All creation is His bride,
over which as His hearers believed,
God set all Mankind to rule.

The true clothing of a ruler
is that of the Servant King:
compassion, care, a held-out hand,
love and the acceptance of love,
the Image of God that God bestowed on Man.

Delirium on entering a Dark Tunnel

Darkness.
.      Swirls of colour.
.           Fear – past and present fear.
.             Whirling colours, flecking in the dark.
.                    Fear of the darkness?
.                              Or the light?
The Voice,
.     soothing, calming,
.         shadows fold, light fades,
.           one into another,
.              into another,
.                    calm, quiet,
.                                    sleep.
.     Light,
.            the Voice,
.                      movement, twisting;
.                                gibbering swirls, sound and light,
.                                                          being lifted, turned;
.                                                Heat, other Voices,
.                                      pain.
.                   fear,
.        pressure,
.     the calm, protecting Voice;
.     warmth, calm, the Voice,
.        folding, fading light
.           into dark,
.                  gentled
.                            shades;
.                                      sleep.
.                   Darkness.
.     Flecks of light,
.shapes, sounds, fear.
.Fear in the Voice, fear and concern;
.Pain in the Voice; fear in the Voice,
. yet it helps, it helps.
.      Pain, the Voice –
.         safety,
.                dark,
.         comforting dark,
.      a near and far tunnel of dark.
.      Fear, sounds, drowning the Voice,
.         burning in the darkness,
.            fearful light,
.                  a tunnel,
.                              light.
.     Pain,
.           light,
.                 brightening, not paling.
.                           Loud meaningless sounds,
.                                           painful light,
.                                                      the tunnel
.                                                                      leading on,
.                                                                                             away.
.      Loud meaningless sounds,
.         pain, loss, pain, distress;
.            the Voice crying – more crying.

“Mrs. Smith, you have a beautiful baby boy.”
.     Warmth, the Voice, comfort, safety;
.                 The Voice has loving eyes.

Saturnalia

‘During my week the serious is barred,
no business allowed,
drinking and being drunk,
noise and games and dice,
appointing of kings,
feasting of slaves,
singing naked, clapping of tremulous hands
and the occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water.’
–           Cronos, in ‘Saturnalia’ by Lucia of Samosata, 167-175 AD.

When curtained night is closest drawn
and daylight hours are short,
the Yuletide solstice warns of frost
and summer days are long since lost,
and gloves and scarves are bought.

When autumn’s leaves are blown away,
when longest night means shortest day,
and winter deepens, cold and grey,
and dark clouds veil the dawn,
then, in our coldest, darkest times
we light our days with song;
our glasses raise among the show
of holly, fir and mistletoe,
to cheer the days along.

And did you see our seedtime feast?
and in those measures hide your yeast,
and see the harvest grain increase,
and wine-press autumn’s later lease,
a glowing, golden song?

Saturnalia’s grinning orgy,
the High Lord of Misrule,
the prancing, dancing Feast of Fools,
our mingling right and wrong?

Our pagan village feasts and fétes
that close-pursed lips and high-held hates
see as our faults and so mistakes
the courage in our song?

And did you see our courage then?
your children singing in the dark?
And did you give your heart to them
who loved the One they did not know;
and bowed to You they could not see
and gave another name to You?

Did you not know Me then,
my children, singing in the dark?
I who made your solstices, your moons,
who threw the wheeling stars,
the tides, the seasons, day and night.

You who sang the seasons,
named turning stars and constellations,
saw life’s spring and summer,
its autumn and its winter
the zodiac in life’s zoè,
its seedtime, its harvest,
did you not know Me then
and give me many names?

I AM your Father, I AM Mother,
your Sister, your Brother;
I AM Love and I AM laughter.
When My erring son or daughter
turns away and strays to danger.
Though I grieve and there is anger.
Yet in Me there is no turning,
no wrath nor fierce burning,
simply longing and a yearning
watching for My child’s returning.

Though you nailed me to a tree,
from death I’ve broken free,
and follow you through hell
to bring you home.

 

Emmanuel – God of Emotions

I was  given this poem by someone who wishes to remain anonymous.  Its author expresses, with great sensitivity, the most dearly held feelings about God and His love.

Emmanuel
“God with us”

God is the God of emotions
He…
Laughs when we laugh
Cries when we cry
Hurts when we hurt
He feels the pain
…and the joy

Because of this there is;
Light in the darkness
Joy amongst the sadness
Healing in pain and brokeness

“We have this treasure in jars of clay”
(2 Corinthians, 4:7)
Here is an invitation to have immense hope

Emmanuel
“God with us”

Made in the Image

Cneius Pompeius was the first of our countrymen to subdue the Jews. Availing himself of the right of conquest, he entered the temple. Thus it became commonly known that the place stood empty with no similitude of gods within, and that the shrine had nothing to reveal.
Tacitus, Histories, Book 5, chap. 9

When Cneius Pompeius entered as conqueror
into the Holy of Holies, did he find nothing there?
No Godlike image? No fragment of wonder?
no token of the invisible God?
an empty room?

Did nothing in that empty, holy shrine,
ask the great question of our common daily tasks,
those shared hopes of yours, and mine, and his;
the great perhaps that there might be
something there that speaks beyond desire,
beyond you, beyond me, beyond him,
that knew his name?

No ark, no cherubim, no tablets of the Law,
hidden or lost since that first temple,
destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar
half a thousand years before?
Did holiness remain?
or any thing?

No ark, no cherubim, no tablets of the Law,
Was that image in the seige-towers?
The battering rams?
the hand to hand facing with the enemy?

And were his gods in the victory parade,
passing like a sword through vanquished, sullen-lined streets?
Or in the holy place beyond the double veil?
The Holy of Holies of the only God of this strange race?

Pompey returned to his daily soldier round,
to his home’s embrace, his wife, his children,
and was His image there?
Did he recall in the empty shrine
that image of God seen there,
in himself,
and in the little things of home?

Two thousand years have passed, and more,
since Pompey came as conqueror
into the Holy of Holies.
Did he find nothing there?
No Godlike image? No fragment of wonder?
no token of the invisible God that asks,
as we are asked now,
in our homes, our daily tasks,
our homely shrines, where we,
wives, husbands, children,
each made in the image of God –
are asked to see,
and love and be loved.

Why do we bicker, in and with His image,
with weapons forged of words,
of sighs and glaring eyes,
with those whom we should love?
How, faced daily with His image,
should we do anything but love?

The Debate Of The Gaps

Can science explain faith? Perhaps, but ‘explaining’ must not be misinterpreted as ‘explaining away’. In the debate between science and religion the debaters are often separated into those discussing how we exist and those discussing why. Sometimes the religious argument is described as plugging holes that science has not yet explained – a retreating ‘God of the gaps’, but this is reversible. There are gaps on both sides. We can too easily treat the discussion as ‘either/or’.

There is a move away from the ‘God of the gaps’ to an equally erroneous ‘science of the gaps’ such as the apparent counter to Big Bang Creation theology by multiverse theories which avoid a single creation moment by postulating an infinite supply of them; or the infinite-finite source of Hartle-Hawking space which does the same by making the creation moment unattainable. It is easy to point out that neither answer the ‘why is there something rather than nothing’ question, but nor does religion. Both skate round an unknown centre.

There is neither a God of the gaps nor a science of the gaps. They are two views of the same whole.

Even if we could remove the need for God it would not necessarily remove our desire for Him. Lovers do not need each other, they want each other. Richard Leonard touches on this in ‘What Are We Doing on Earth for Christ’s Sake?’, describing a friend struggling with some religious work or duty suddenly feeling the peace of knowing God did not need him but simply loved him. If he died or did not finish, someone else could do it. Although God loved him doing it He did not need him.

Removing the need does not remove the love or the lover.