Archive for the ‘Jesus’ Tag

Lent 2014 Reflections – Introduction   Leave a comment

Today is the Sunday before Lent, which then starts with Ash Wednesday this week. I propose to try and do a blog post each day through Lent this year reflecting on what I read and think that day. This blog post is an introduction to that series.

Parish Mass Today

I went to the 10:15 Parish Mass today at my church: St. Matthew’s Northampton. The Anglican Lectionary set two readings about mountain top experiences; one from the Old and one from the New Testament – the giving of the Law and the Transfiguration.  The Vicar said in his introduction that we all know mountain top experiences but then have to come down to face everyday life again.

In Exodus we read the following:

Exodus 24:12-18

New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

12 The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.’

13 Then Moses set out with Joshua his assistant, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. 14 He said to the elders, ‘Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.’

15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

I smiled at that reading because I had not remembered that Joshua accompanied Moses up the mountain in this story. A dear spiritual friend, Brother Nicholas of Alton Abbey, always used to call me Joshua because he thought I faced life bravely.

Then from the Gospel of St. Matthew we heard the following:

Matthew 17:1-9

New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

The transfiguration

17 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

4 Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’

5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’

6 When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’ 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’

There was not a formal sermon but a question and answer session between Fr. Peter (retired priest) and the children and teens about the below icon.

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It is an Egyptian ancient icon rediscovered in the C19th see: http://stephintaize.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/the-icon-of-friendship.html. The key lesson for me from this icon was that Jesus puts his arm around us but gives us space.

So that summarises my preparation for Lent. I have a lot of reading lined up and if you wish you would be welcome to follow me on this blog as I journey through Lent towards Holy Week and Easter.

Pause in Journey through Christian Thought   1 comment

Sorry there has a long pause in my blog series “A journey through Christian thought”.  I experienced a protract period of depression throughout much of last year (I am bi-polar).  That journey was not something I even found possible to do in that mood and thought patterns.  It would probably not have been the most helpful thing at the time if I tried.

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Photo credit: http://alwaysbobswife.wordpress.com/2012/10/10/nurture-photography-greenjourney/

I am much better now but have decided not to resume the series just yet.  This is because I want to participate in and blog about a Lent course being offered by my church: “Build on the Rock – Faith, doubt and Jesus”.  This looks like it will ring with the themes I was visiting on the “Journey in Christian Thought” as the early Christian writers wrestled with the question: “Who was Jesus?”

A thought on: “Who was Jesus?”

Attending Parish Mass at my church last Sunday, for the first time for quite a while, we sung a hymn I didn’t know:

In the second verse there is a statement about Jesus that stood out for me.  In all my own wrestling with who Jesus was, over the decades and on going, it was a statement I could happily rest with and own for myself:

Jesus, … , who trod faith’s road before us and trod it to the end.

 

 

Ignatious of Antioch   1 comment

[This post is part of a personal reflective journey through Christian theology.  An introduction to this project was given in the first post of this series.]

Biographical details/context

As well as the book by Daryl Aaron this series is framed around, I have consulted two main sources for a summary of what is known about Ignatius: the Wikipedia entry and the 1913 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia (made available online by New Advent).

Ignatius was born in Syria (poignant given the current civil war there) , between 35 and 50 CE.  He is thought to have converted to Christianity at an early age and to have been martyred, between 98 and 117 CE, by being thrown to wild animals in the Coliseum in Rome.  He was a disciple of John the Apostle (the most theological of the gospel authors). He was appointed Bishop of Antioch (then a major trading city in Syria) possibly by St. Peter. It was at Antioch that the followers of Jesus first got the name Christians (Acts 11:26) which was probably initially a term of abuse.  Together with Clement of Rome, previously written about, he is considered one of the 5 Apostolic Fathers fo the Church.

Writings

Following his arrest and during the long overland journey to Rome he wrote seven letters; six to established churches and one to his friend Polycarp who was Bishop of Smyrna.  (Other letters in later collections are thought to be spurious.)  These writings are principally pastoral letters.  However, Arron quotes Roger Olsen:

“It may be fair to say that these letters contain the first real theology in Christianity [beyond the apostles own writings]”

English translations of Ignatius’ writings are available online via Early Christian Writings.

I read first his letter to Polycarp which is mostly encouraging his friend and fellow Bishop and arranging for a replacement for himself as Bishop in Antioch to be selected and sent.  He uses analogies familiar form Paul’s letter’s: the Christian as athlete and the Christian virtues as the armour of God.  His letter to the Romans is difficult for me to empathise with. It is mostly about his welcoming his anticipated martyrdom and asking the Christians there to do nothing to prevent it. (I cannot imagine what they could do.)

In Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians the themes that Arron highlights are more evident.  This includes the role of the Bishops (and other church leaders) in preserving unity and warnings against false teachers and false doctrines.  He addresses the big theological theme of the early centuries of the Church: the nature of Jesus Christ.  To quote from Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians, Chapter VII:

There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first possible and then impossible, even Jesus Christ our Lord.

Arron asserts that while stating that Christ was God, Ignatius’ greater concern was that Jesus was genuinely human.  This was to counter a prevalent “Christological heresy” of the time Docetism.  Docetism claimed that Jesus only appeared to be human.  Quoting from Ignatius’ letter to the Trallians (Church at Tralles, now Ayden in modern Turkey):

CHAPTER IX,–REFERENCE TO THE HISTORY OF CHRIST.

Stop your ears, therefore, when any one speaks to you at variance with Jesus Christ, who was descended from David, and was also of Mary; who was truly born, and did eat and drink. He was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate; He was truly crucified, and [truly] died, in the sight of beings in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. He was also truly raised from the dead, His Father quickening Him, even as after the same manner His Father will so raise up us who believe in Him by Christ Jesus, apart from whom we do not possess the true life.

CHAPTER X.–THE REALITY OF CHRIST’S PASSION.

But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, that He only seemed to suffer (they themselves only seeming to exist), then why am I in bonds? …

CHAPTER XI.–AVOID THE DEADLY ERRORS OF THE DOCETAE.

Flee, therefore, those evil offshoots [of Satan], which produce death-bearing fruit, whereof if any one tastes, he instantly dies. For these men are not the planting of the Father. …

Personal Reflections

A caveat

I am going to confine my writings about the reflections I had while researching Ignatius of Antioch to thoughts about the nature of Jesus Christ.  Firstly, a caveat:  I am not trying to persuade anyone to my point of view, nor do I need to.  However, I want to be honest about the understanding I have come to (been led to?) over nearly 50 years of thinking about these things.  I certainly do not want to put a stumbling block in anyone else’s way.  I have come to love the phrase “journey to and with God“, and it would be grossly arrogant of me to think that someone elses journey should go through the same waypoints as mine. Further, my world view is complex.  In trying to sum up my thoughts in a few paragraphs I could easily, though simplification, lead others to misunderstand me.  If what I say is a stimulus or a help to you take it; if not set it aside.  [I think I should copy this caveat to the introductory page to this series.]

The nature of Jesus

Firstly, I have no problem accepting that Jesus of Nazareth was a historical person.  I think anyone, theist, atheist or agnostic who spends a little time looking into this would come to that conclusion.  There are fragments in existence of the Biblical gospels dating from the 2nd century CE (100-150 years after Jesus’ death) [see Wikipedia].  Compare this with the works of Julius Caesar (approx. 100 years before Jesus) where the earliest manuscripts in existence date from the 9th century CE [see summary in blog post by Roger Pearce].  Then there is the non-christian references to him and key facts of his life and death in the writings of the Jewish / Roman historian Josephus (b. 37 CE d. after 100 CE).  Then there is the rapid growth and spread of the “sect” that became Christianity led by those who claimed to have been his disciples while he was alive; many of whom subsequently died for their beliefs about him.  So the historical existence of Jesus and  Ignatius’ assertion that Jesus was fully human presents me with no challenge.  Of all the heresies I may be guilty of Docetism is not one of them.

I have long seen a loose analogy between the theological deliberations throughout church history and my own faith journey (although the order is different).  I characterise the first 300 years or so of church history as one when it wrestled with the nature of Jesus.  (More of this to come in this series of reflections).  For the church this culminated in the setting forward of the Nicene Creed at the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE.

I know I had questioned things through my teenage years.  I had certainly noticed that the prefered title for Jesus in the Gospels was “Son of Man”.  However, it was from my mid-twenties that this issue really came to dominate my thinking and more generally where I was spiritually.  By this time I was a least some of the time attending an Anglican church where the Nicene Creed was part of the liturgy.  So, I would say these words asking myself “what do I mean by this?“; and sometimes I could not say them at all:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

of one Being with the Father;

through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven,

was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary

and was made man.

This state of sometimes wrestling with, sometimes sitting with, this questioning lasted at least 10 years.  Then it came to be less important.  There was a more sublime truth underlying this thinking and form of words which I might simply express as follows:

  • God is love
  • God seeks relationship
  • God forgives
  • God is completing His creation

The mechanism of this, the human groping in the dark with theological/philosophical explanations, often led to complexities that were obstacles, rather than, pointers to God.

I will not be shying away from some of these complexities as this series progresses, but that seems a fitting place to end this post.

Saturday 24th December “Walking in the way of peace”   Leave a comment

Well I have made it. We have reached the eve of Christ’s mass and I have managed to read the set scriptures and commentary in the booklet by Redemptorist Publications and post some thoughts on this blog every day through Advent. I have valued the exercise and want to spend time in the coming weeks reflecting on what I have written, seeing what it might say about where my faith/spiritual journey now is and maybe glean some pointers as to what the next few steps might be. However for today I will reflect on the set passages as I have done throughout this period.

The Bible passages set for today are 2 Samuel 7: 1-5, 8-12, 14; and Luke 1: 67-79.

In 2 Samuel we have King David stating he wants to build a temple for God and then Nathan being given the prophecy that is was not to be David but David’s son who would build the temple. In the passage in Luke we come to Zachariah’s prophetic song at the birth of John the Baptist. 

There are lots of echos here in my personal life.  I have long identified with David, he mucks up big time over and over again but then comes back to God with deep passion. I have often mused that he was probably bipolar (manic-depressive) as I am. He certainly portrays in some of his psalms a personal knowledge of what it is like to be depressed (e.g. Ps 32). Then here he is trying to make a grandiose gesture of building a temple – very hypomanic.  And in this story it is Nathan the prophet again who is his spiritual counsellor. My firstborn son, who is 18 next month, is called Nathan. We did not name him after the Old Testament prophet but because the name means “gift”. However my attention is always alerted when I hear passages about him read out or the amazing anthem by Handel “Zadok the Priest, and Nathan the Prophet …” about the coronation of King Solomon, David’s son who was going to go on to build the temple.

There is thus for me in today’s readings a strong theme of “fathers and sons”. This is timely for me with my own son reaching the age that in our culture we think of as adulthood. Many a musing there about what I might have been able to pass on to him for his future life. One thing I value in Nathan is he seems to have inherited from both me and his mother an independence of thought and spirit. Looking forward to watching his life unfold with the ups and downs we all face. However as any loving father would be I am a little fearful for the immediate future with all its transition and uncertainty. I have hopes but no divine prophecies for his future. 

Then tomorrow we celebrate the birth of “The Son of God”.  Intellectually I can not say what I mean by that phrase as it relates to Jesus. For decades I wrestled with that but it has become less important in my spirituality now. However at midnight communion/mass tonight I will in awe and wonder give thanks for Emmanuel … God with us!

Saturday 17 December 2011 – “Part of the Story”   Leave a comment

The Bible passages set for today were:  Genesis 49: 2, 8-10, and Matthew 1: 1-17.

Matthew begins his Gospel with a genealogy of Jesus, in the 42 generations recorded there are some names very familiar from the Old Testament stories. Genealogies have been very important in many human cultures. It seems likely that Matthew included it here to show God’s purposes throughout history and to emphasis Jesus’ importance.

I don’t know my own genealogy back further than a few generations but I am aware that part of my own spirituality builds on that of my ancestors.

After a tiring day that’s as far as my thoughts have gone for this reflection.

Posted December 17, 2011 by Martyn Cooper in Advent 2011 Reflections

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Wednesday 14 December 2011 – “When God is in charge”   Leave a comment

The Bible passages for today were: Isaiah 45: 6-8, 18, 21-26 and Luke 7: 19-23.

The title for today’s reflection and the passage from Isaiah brought to mind a song popular, especially during the 1980s, in what some might disparagingly call the “happy clappy” end of the church spectrum. The opening line and title is “How lovely on the mountain are the feet of Him …” and it is by Leonard E. Smith Junior. It is commonly known as “Our God Reigns” because its chorus between the verses based on Isaiah 52: 7-10 is a simple repetition:

Our God reigns!
Our God reigns!
Our God reigns!
Our God reigns!

I have known it sung with great emotion; indeed have sung it so.  It sometimes causes me to question though is this an expression of a deeply held faith or an emotional way of trying to induce, or convince oneself of such a faith?    As the notes for today’s reflection point out, and as the stories of men/women of faith down the centuries has testified it is sometimes hard to look around the world with all its horrors and struggles and see God in charge.

I can only come back to the ground of my own faith in God the creator and sustainer of the universe here.  Indeed Isaiah does the same:

For this is what the LORD says— he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited— he says: I am the LORD, and there is no other.
[Isaiah 45: 18 NIV]

The story from Luke is where John the Baptist sends two of his disciples to question if Jesus if he is “the one who is to come”.  And Jesus sends them back to report what they see of his ministry which appears to be fulfilling the prophecies of Isaiah. Then there is a little verse at the end of today’s suggested reading which caught my eye, which I do not remember noticing before:

And blessed is he who takes no offence at me.
[Luke 7:23 RSV]

I have checked back to the original Greek (I am not a trained biblical scholar but have a few tools to hand) and found the word translated offended here is in Latin script form: “Skandalizo” meaning to put a stumbling block or impediment in the way.

So is what Jesus is saying here really something like: blessed is the person who does not find me a stumbling block to faith?

I think that is something I need to ponder on further before making further comment.

 

Monday 12 December 2011 – “Heaven on Earth”   Leave a comment

The Bible passages set for today are: Numbers 24: 2-7, 15-17 and Matthew 21: 23-27.

If I am honest I find the prophecies of Balaam harder to relate to than those of Isaiah that have been the fodder of these meditations up to now.  Maybe it’s because they are less familiar (although I remember well the story of Balaam and his talking ass from my childhood/youth); or maybe it’s because they come from an earlier time in history (possibly around 1200 BC compared to Isaiah around 700 BC).  The notes for today, doubtless like many other commentators, interpret them as pointing to the future messiah and asking the question will he come from heaven or earth? (I can’t see this question in the reading in several versions I looked at).

In the passage in Matthew the religious leaders are questioning Jesus again, trying to trap him.  “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” [Matthew 21: 23], Jesus throws the question back to them asking about John the Baptist.  The leaders discuss it among themselves: “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” [Matthew 21: 25-26]. So the question here boils down to: from earth or from heaven? (of human origin or divine?).

This reminds me of the nature vs. nurture debates that have raged over diverse aspects of human character.  The answer is almost always of both.  Here too the answer, as suggested in the notes, and maintained by me, is that Jesus (and John the Baptist) were of both the human and the divine; the earthy and the heavenly.

Quoting from the prayer from the notes:

God of earth and heaven …
Help us to recognise you in the places where heaven and earth meet.
Amen.
[Your Journey to Christmas, Redemptorist Publications, 2011, p.24]