Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Reflections from The Hill – Leaving Normal – John 20.1-18


Every day someone, somewhere, receives hard news from their doctor. Every day someone, somewhere, is told to clean their desk out because the business is finding it hard to keep them on. They wonder what on earth they’re going to tell their kids.


Every day someone, somewhere, hears the words “I never loved you”. Every day somewhere, an elderly couple’s only child phones to cancel his holiday visit to them after all.


Every day somewhere, someone’s hopes get dashed. Every day somewhere, someone’s dream gets snuffed out. Every day somewhere, someone’s reputation gets crucified. And the darkness is overwhelming.


In that same darkness, one particular Mary came with spices to complete a job of burying someone, one who had given her so much hope. Ever since, all over the world, things haven’t been the same.


We’ll never know that the Light of Christ has come until we’ve known the darkness of disappointment and hopelessness in some form or another. The absolute last thing we’re expecting is resurrection; the last place that we might look for it is in a cemetery.


We all know Easter’s not about rabbits, endangered bilbies or magically-painted (or just plain chocolate) eggs. Easter is really about having more hope than we ever knew was possible.


Picture Mary walking along the road to the tomb: thoughts of her last few days tossing in her head; thoughts of Galilee; thoughts of that fragrant moment in her home when the perfume pervaded the house; thoughts of the time when He was popular. There was hope then. Not now.


She was horrified to find that the body had gone. She reckoned that someone had pinched it. Of course, she was scared and overwhelmed, so she went looking. It’s amazing how much running around there is when dead bodies go missing.


In the end, it’s all too much for her: falling by the door of the now empty tomb, the dribbles of tears begin their sad descent. Was it madness that led her to ask the angels? No matter; their answer didn’t impress her anyway.


Then she supposed a gardener appeared. But he was not. All she wanted was for him to give her back the body but all he did was call her by name. Heart recognition wanted to embrace him but he said no. Heart break followed again.


Every time we think we have him in our arms, hands, captured, he slips away because every effort we make to nail him down is just another effort to put him back in the tomb. It’s futile, because he won’t go.


Then we find him again, in an even more unmanageable form this time, almost unrecognisable. Don’t we understand yet that the very thing we are looking for is dead – and Easter doesn’t alter that?


We can’t cling to the hope that he’ll take things back to the way they were, not only because he can’t but also because that’s not the way out of the darkness.


The old Rabbouni we once knew has been left behind like yesterday’s clothing and until we discover the new Christ, the new saviour who alone has risen out of our disappointments, we’ll never really understand what Easter’s about.  


It’s never been a matter of just believing the doctrine of the Resurrection. If it were, it wouldn’t be long before we found ourselves conforming to the darkness and making gooey claims about the “spirit of Easter” or about “new beginnings.”


It’s not a matter of belief in the historical event itself, either. (I can hear you sucking air between your teeth even as I write this, but stay with me.)


What each of the Gospels asks is not “Do you believe this?” but “Have you met the risen Christ?”


There is no doubt in my mind that Mary was the same after that first Easter morning. Her normality had been shattered the very minute she discovered that her hold on him wasn’t the issue.


What did matter was the confidence she had in his hold on her. It’s an easy step, then, that when it comes to our turn, the story is the same. It’s not about us holding on but of him holding on to us.


After the resurrection, things didn’t return to normal: they never could. It’s basic to everything else the New Testament talks about. There is no ‘Normal’ anymore. We can’t even rely on the darkness.


What we can rely on, the only thing we can know is that the risen one is out there somewhere. And he knows our name.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Reflections from The Hill – Hair – John 12.1-9


Give me a head with hair, long beautiful hair

Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen

Give me down to there, hair, shoulder length or longer

Here baby, there, momma, everywhere, daddy, daddy …

So begins the theme song of the Rock Musical “Hair”, a shock-wave of impropriety once upon a time that would hardly raise a gasp these days.


When this song starts, my old-man’s mind flips straight to the Gospel Reading for today. True. And a picture emerges of a long-haired lady falling at Jesus’ feet de-tressing her locks …


What on earth was she thinking? I mean, hair is such an intimate part of the body that its use as a washer and a towel for someone’s else’s feet only raises lots of questions that I’d rather not even think about.


I must admit, the whole hair thing is way out of my comfort zone. It’s hard enough having a haircut, without a blow-dry as well. Certainly, the length of hair on my hoary head precludes me washing my own face with it, let alone someone else’s feet.


It’s not at all surprising, then, to discover that Judas’ response to Mary’s actions was somewhat curt. He’s right: the year’s-wages worth of pure nard is a ridiculous amount of money to spend just on one pedicure or hairdo.


The fact that this scene had the added bonus of a resurrection does change things, so I don’t suppose you can blame Mary; not really. I guess that she was simply trying to put some shape to the feelings of thankfulness that were going on deep in her spirit.


Judas’ outburst only confuses things, for in response, Jesus links Mary’s actions with the question of discipleship and, to my mind, that’s the major factor.


Discipleship and its corollary of servanthood, is on show here; that much is obvious. And we see that it’s a double-edged sword – that discipleship and service is both giving to and receiving from another.


It’s not hard to be struck by the parallels we’ll read about before we get to Good Friday, where Jesus strips down and washes the feet of the disciples ‘while they were at supper’.


There’s no long hair there. There’s no fragrance of nard to fill the room, only a serious call to do similarly. The rub comes, as I’ve already intimated, in receiving: put up your hand if you really want your feet washed, your load made lighter or your ordinary life graced by the sweetness of sacrificial love?


It’s a tough ask, isn’t it? Tough because you and I tend not to believe that what we are offering is in the same league as what we’re about to receive. Leaving aside our self-deprecations, I wonder what it would take to stir us to offer something as lavish and intimate as nard?


Servanthood is not always about neatness, either. It’s often unconventional, wasteful and improper. It’s also messy. I’m beginning to think, however, that it’s what the generosity of discipleship actually looks and smells like most of the time.



Speaking of smells, death is already starting to cloy around the players in today’s story, so what Mary is doing – and what The Bloke does in the Upper Room a while later – is what we often wished we had done, up to a point anyway.


Mary discovers this truth: that discipleship is about community, not about a race to get a preferred personal place at His Side.


Unlike us, Mary didn’t have to wait for The Bloke to die before she acknowledged his gift to us. She was pouring it all out there and then …

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Reflections from The Hill – Prodigals – Luke 15.11-31

I love stories about prodigals, whatever their age shape, size or sexual orientation. There’s just something human about them – the going away, the messing up and the coming home; it’s so real – and I’m a sucker for real.

There are a couple of them in the Good Book; Joseph’s tale being by far the longest. Here’s a classic tale of redemption. Not only did Joseph and his brothers weep when they finally met but, over centuries, many readers done the same.

However, this wonderful story pales into insignificance when it gets stacked up against this week’s Gospel. Without a doubt, the Parable of the Prodigal Son trumps Joseph – and everything in its path.

In the popularity stakes, it might run neck and neck with the Parable of The Good Samaritan, but my money’s on The Prodigal.

If we’re not careful, though, the Prodigal can become a religious Aesop’s Fables: a challenging story with a nice moral ending. Nothing should be further from our mind.

The remarkable thing is that the Parabolic reader – you and I – can so easily identify with each of the characters. There’s not one of us who hasn’t felt the frustration of the younger brother, or had the longing, broken, heart of the father or harboured the resentments of the elder brother, whether we’re male or female.

This parable is not about something that happens to other people. It’s about us; it’s our story with all its familiar twists and turns. We inhabit its words and we live in it, which makes it easier for us to hear God’s invitation to come home.

Having said all that and established The Prodigal on the top of my all-time list of Favourites, I still think there’s a couple of issues the story raises. Let me start with the father. (I’m sure you’re aware that this Parable is often called The Parable of The Forgiving Father.)

This guy is an example of a pushover, someone who’s prepared to give their child whatever s/he wanted, even after getting an offensive mouthful from him. (By asking for his inheritance, the kid is implying that the old man is as good as dead, a suggestion hardly designed to warm parental hearts.)

Anyway, the kid gets his money, spends the lot and finally heads for home only to find his dad running to meet him. It’s the running that gets me: no self-respecting land owner would do that, not in a month of Sabbaths.

The point, dear reader, is this: with all the shenanigans about inheritances, running fathers and, eventually a banquet, we are now confronted with a different way of relating – the Kingdom way, the relationship way – a way that is contrary to and way beyond the legal logic of the world you and I usually inhabit.

Then there’s the kid himself. I’ve spent enough time around teenagers and young people to know when there’s a rat out there that’s on the nose. Honestly, do you reckon the kid was fair dinkum about his repentance? “When he came to his senses …” ain’t a story-tellers phrase, not if he wants to be honest.

At best, it’s a circumlocution, you know, one of those smart-alecky ways we have of saying something when, really, we aren’t saying anything. The kid doesn’t seem to be sorry. He only seems to be worried that his dad’s servants are better off than he is. Some repentance.

You know, we can get ourselves into a box by insisting that words get spoken out when, I reckon, the Big Fella is just – if not more – overjoyed just to have us come home. I wonder what our church life would look like then?

The other player in this Parable is the elder brother. Sure, he’s right – about himself, his wastrel brother and his ridiculously forgiving father but, then, Big Brothers can be a bit like that, can’t we? Always right.

Being more right than righteous often puts us in a place that is far removed from where we’d rather be. Sometimes being right, at the expense of being in a relationship, often sends us to a far country that is far more isolated and unforgiving than the one we left.

The father doesn’t cast the elder son away. The parable will not allow one child to be accepted and another rejected. The father calls the elder son "son" and confirms his standing within the family.

Both sons misunderstand the nature of grace. The younger seeks to manipulate, while the elder cannot let go of sacred cows of laws and grudges. Yet both are welcomed home, regardless. That’s grace and it calls us to reassess our own standards and the basis of our relationship to God.