Friday, 14 July 2017

Figural practice as a five-fold movement

From Ephraim Radner, Figural exegesis and the Anglican tradition
Figural practice can be imaginatively described as a five-fold movement: sowing, tending, gathering, sorting, and enjoying. There is nothing inevitable about this imaginative framework, of course, although it does have the advantage of having some scriptural resonance. In sowing, a biblical word is cast into the soil of the Scriptures and allowed to resonate, collide, scrape, and wander. In tending, there is a deliberate effort to let this seed do its resonating work — time, prayer, reflection, study. In gathering, the reader (ultimately the Church) consciously collates the accumulated connections and associations the original word or words have taken on. These become a fund or treasury, and at this point are most clearly given over to documentation. With sorting we come to the articulated effort to make sense of this collation. This is the stage we associate with theology or homiletics, dogmatics or controversy. Finally, in scriptural delight, the reader (and Church) turns all this work to God, and returns to prayer, considering the nurture the word has offered, and praising its speaker and person.

Figural Reading in the Anglican Tradition

The Living Church website recently run a series on Figural Reading in the Anglican Tradition. It consisted of the following posts published between 14 March and 20 June 2017:
Introductory essay by David Ney, “The bare reading of Scripture and Anglican hermeneutics
First, I will suggest that being a community gathered around the Word of God is central to Anglican identity. Second, I will argue that, historically, to speak of Anglicanism as a community gathered around the Word is to speak of the prayer book tradition and the way it orders the communal reception of God’s Word. Finally, I will suggest that this ordered reception breeds a particular response to Scripture: the prayer book’s juxtaposition of “bare” Scriptural texts commends figural reading.
Ephraim Radner, Figural exegesis and the Anglican tradition

From the final essay:
The different articles have emphasized that the individual interpreters had their unique approaches to figural interpretation, but they all approached their craft from a particular standpoint: As members of the prayer book tradition they received the “allness” of Scripture, and their particular figural practices therefore must be seen as particular responses to this allness. In this final post, I will suggest that these figural practices are far more than merely idiosyncratic responses to Scripture’s breadth. These practices help us to see that, for Anglicans and non-Anglicans alike, the Christian interpretation of Scripture has little to do with the division between subject and object that modern critical studies take for granted. Instead, Christian readers are drawn into the Scriptures, unveiled for who they are, and, through the integrative reach of the divine Word, transformed. When pursued in common, the figural interpretation of the Bible finally refashions and transfigures the Church as a whole.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Metaphysics of Participation

“The Catholic exegete and theologian Francis Martin has shown that biblical interpretation requires an account of historical reality informed by a scriptural metaphysics rooted in the relation of “participation” that is creation.[1] This is so because exegesis (including much contemporary exegesis) that participates doctrinally and spiritually in the realities depicted by Scripture, and thus reads Scripture not merely as a record of something strictly in the past, requires the sense that all human time participates metaphysically (order of creation) and Christologically-pneumatologically (order of grace) in God’s eternal Providence and therefore that no historical text or event can be studied strictly “on its own terms.” Conversely, certain metaphysical presuppositions are inadequate to Christian biblical interpretation.”



[1] Francis Martin, “Revelation as Disclosure: Creation,” in Wisdom and Holiness, Science and Scholarship: Essays in Honor of Matthew L. Lamb, ed. Michael Dauphinais and Matthew Levering (Naples, Fla.: Sapientia Press, 2007), 205-47.


Matthew Levering's Participatory Biblical Exegesis: A Theology of Biblical Interpretation (University of Notre Dame Press, 2008), 18.

Participatory Biblical Exegesis

From the introductory chapter of Matthew Levering's Participatory Biblical Exegesis: A Theology of Biblical Interpretation (University of Notre Dame Press, 2008).

“Participatory biblical exegesis locates the linear-historical details within a participatory-historical frame, a frame established by God’s creative and redemptive work in history. Such exegesis is ongoing whenever people presume that a biblical text about Jesus is about the Jesus whom they worship in the Church, or whenever people suppose that the local churches founded by St. Paul have a real analogue today. It is ongoing whenever people pray, receive the sacraments, or ask forgiveness in the context of the reading and teaching of Scripture, It involves an understanding of historical realities, of our place in the history of salvation, that comes naturally to the believer. Yet it is one whose justification has largely been lost and needs reclaiming.” (6)

“As traditionally understood, the spiritual sense of Scripture serves to go deeper into the infinitely rich dimensions of the biblical realities.” “I hold that the literal sense itself possesses the resources for bridging past and present, because of the literals sense’s conjoined linear and participatory dimension. The literal sense of the divinely ordained realities present and active in linear history (for instance, covenantal Israel, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Eucharist, the Church) possesses a participatory-historical dimension, since these diachronic realities expose how human time, already metaphysically participatory in God, shares ever more deeply in the infinite wisdom and love of divine action...I am aware that all the talk of metaphysics (participatory and nominalist) and its exegetical implications may put off both biblical scholars and theologians, for whom such discourse may be an undiscovered country or an outmoded theory.” (7)

“...interpreters must seek in and through Scripture the realities to which Scripture points. Yet these realities can only be sought in and through the words of Scripture, in and through the messiness of human history, into which linear-historical research can attain such valuable insight. For its full flourishing, participatory biblical exegesis thus requires not merely theological and metaphysical insights into God’s work of creation and redemption, but also historical-critical procedure of hypothesis and verification, as well as literary analysis. These approaches give insight into the full fabric of the texts’ richly human aspects, which are both participatory- and linear-historical. The integrity of linear-historical research does not require bracketing the participatory reality of God’s presence and action in history.
     In short, historical reconstruction that recognizes that historical reality is not solely linear, but rather is both linear and participatory (in the triune God’s creative and redemptive work), will be illumined both by linear-historical data and by participatory-historical ecclesial judgments about the divine realities involved.” (13)

“When the participatory dimension of reality is lacking, either anthropocentric readings of Scripture or, conversely, theocentric readings that deny the human dimension altogether, take over. By contrast, in participatory biblical exegesis one can integrate conceptually divine and human agency. On the one hand, everything comes from the triune God, the one in whom all finite things participate (metaphysically and Christologically-pneumatologically). For biblical exegesis, this means that the Bible is not ultimately about human beings, but rather about the triune God...On the other hand, the participatory relationship means that God’s action and human action are not in competition. In Scripture, the centrality of God’s teaching does not displace the human writing, editing, transmission, and interpretation of biblical texts, that is the human aspects of the text. These human aspects, of course, are not solely linear-historical. The task of appreciating the linear-historical “Messiness” of the biblical texts requires engaging the human aspects in their participatory-historical dimension.” (14)


“Once one understands reality as participatory-historical (providential and Christological-pneumatological) as well as linear-historical, what aspects of patristic-medieval biblical exegesis might once again be found valuable within contemporary biblical exegesis? Let this question stand as an overarching concern of the present book.” (16)

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Jesus of the Scars

This poem by Edward Shillito was first published in Jesus of the Scars, and Other Poems, a volume that appeared shortly after World War 1.
If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
      Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow;
      We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
      In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
      Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.

If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
      Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,
      Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
      They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds speak;
      And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

Cited in William Temple, Readings in St. John’s Gospel (London: Macmillan, 1949), 385; John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Leicester: IVP, 1986), 337; D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 170; Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 1175.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Ezekiel 37 and the ministry of Jesus

Ezekiel's famous vision of the dry bones can be read as anticipating that the ministry of the Son of Man would have two phases. In The Rhetorical Function of the Book of Ezekiel (SVT 76; Leiden: Brill, 1999) I argued that it is not merely for rhetorical effect that the bones are at first only re-constituted with a second act of prophesying required for the bodies to come to life and to stand up as a great army. Ezekiel 37 reflects the belief that it would take more than one generation for Ezekiel's prophecies to have their full effect. Within the first generation, during Ezekiel's oral ministry, the prophet gathers the community around him but without changing hearts and minds (see Ezekiel 33:31-32). This is not success; it is not failure either. It is a first step but more is required. In book form the prophetic word will give life to a future generation (see pages 199-209 for the detailed argument).

This can be related to different ways of hearing God's word. In many synagogues and churches today the reading and hearing of Scripture serves community cohesion, gathering people around a tradition. This is good but not the same as communities receiving life in the hearing of Scripture and so becoming a mighty force to be reckoned with.

Acts 1 tells us that during the forty days following his resurrection Jesus continued to speak with his disciples about the kingdom of God. His ministry prior to the ascension can be summed up as a re-constitution of the people of God, symbolised in the election of twelve disciples. This is completed by the replacement of Judas by Matthias. But the Gospels also show us that Jesus's disciples continually failed to "get it" and so they may remind us of bones coming together, bone to its bone, with flesh and sinews on them - but as yet without the breath of life.

The breath/Spirit is of course given at Pentecost which turns the disciples into a force to be reckoned with, no longer just gathered around Jesus but a people on fire with a mission. This time the major second step takes place within the same generation but similar to Ezekiel's, the ministry of Jesus can be divided in a first phase which focused on gathering and re-constituting God's people around the prophet and a second phase during which the wind/Spirit brings life to the people of God once the prophet has been taken out of sight.

Both movements, the gathering around Christ in word and sacrament, and the sending out to the ends of the earth, are still still important within the church. The second cannot truly happen without the first; the first is not enough without the second.

Monday, 15 May 2017

On St Matthias Day

O the promise of God’s presence
spurned as greed led to contempt
and to the great revocation
and to death.

One made God his chosen portion,
to do God’s will his daily bread.
Full of delight in all God’s people
he will not be held by death.

O the horror of being hurled away,
whirled round and round, thrust down,
vocation taken away.
Despair cuts out a tomb –

or is cut off on the holy hill,
pegged to the uncorrupt one
who fastened to the cross
draws all people to himself.

“The promise is for you,
for your children, and for all who are far away.”
It is for the fullness of God’s people,
as Matthias testifies today.

With Jesus from the beginning,
twice he saw him taken away,
now a witness of the resurrection,
and of the great re-vocation.

Called to abide in God’s presence,
called to remain faithful to the end,
called to be friends of Jesus,
and called to bear fruit that will last.


1 Samuel 2.27-35; Acts 2.37-47; Psalm 16; Isaiah 22.15-25; Psalm 15; Acts 1.15-26; John 15.9-17

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Martin Luther on Evening Wolves

From his Lectures on Habakkuk, discussing the translation of Habakkuk 1:8.

The Latin Text (1525)
There is a difference of opinion among the linguists whether it ought to be translated “evening wolves” or “wolves of the desert.” Jerome translated “evening wolves,” influenced by this line of reasoning: Since evening wolves have suffered hunger throughout the day, they attack a flock more viciously than other wolves do, and they do not leave until they have filled themselves. Who does not see that such an interpretation is weak? Therefore I prefer to adopt the other interpretation, so I translate “wolves of the desert,” that is, wolves that are fierce and untamed.

The German Text (1526)
“The Hebrew letters admit either...I believe that these are evening wolves. I think that this means to say that wolves, which are rapacious, ravenous, murderous beasts by nature, are far more so in the evening because they have not roamed about during the day and their hunger looks to the evening. Therefore the term “evening wolves” is practically synonymous with “hungry wolves” who have not eaten for a long time.


Luther's Works, Volume 19: Lectures on the Minor Prophets II (Jonah, Habakkuk), translated by Charles D. Froehlich, edited by Hilton C. Oswald (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1974), 112-113, 170.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Homo Viaticus

Some kind of journey, is essential to what it means to be human. Redeemed humanity will have a history and memory which would not be there if we had been created straight for “heaven”. God wants the kind of beings we will be in the new heaven and earth more than the kind of beings we might have been without the possibility and history of suffering, death, and sin.

I cannot remember from where this thought came to me a few years ago. I do not remember having come across the blog https://thinkingreed.wordpress.com before today but Lee M.'s post Was this trip really necessary? could have been the inspiration.
My reasoning is that, just as my personal history is an essential part of my identity, the history of the human species is an essential part of its identity. ... maybe the long evolutionary history of humanity is an essential part of us. Human-like creatures created in an immediate state of blessedness simply wouldn’t be human beings since they wouldn’t be the heirs of human biological history. If they were close enough replicas they might have the characteristics of humans, but those characteristics wouldn’t be the result of the same process that created us.
...Christian theology has usually held that the condition of the blessed redeemed is superior to the original condition of Adam and Eve in the garden. Redemption is not simply a restoration of Eden, but a transition to a higher state. So it seems that humanity was always destined for a journey from a less exalted state to a more exalted one; going through a historical process is essential to our destiny.
Another consideration: creation, in the opening chapters of Genesis, is said to be good, not perfect. This allows for a development or process toward better things, even if we recognize that at some point humanity went off the rails into sin and away from God’s intentions. (This is a more “Irenaean” picture of the fall than an Augustinian one.)
Finally: a robust minority tradition in Christian theology has held that, even if there had been no fall, God would still have become incarnate to unite human nature to the Divine, and to manifest the divine love to creation. This also seems to imply that humanity was not created in an original state of perfect blessedness, but with a potential for that state – being united in the closest possible relationship with God.
So, there are both theological and broadly philosophical reasons for thinking that some kind of process of development, some kind of journey, is essential to what it means to be human. This suggests that, if God wanted to create human beings and raise them to communion with the divine life, then it was necessary to create them as part of an unfolding, historical process rather than in an immediate state of static perfection. And that only after becoming the kinds of beings we are can we be raised to communion with the divine life. And it may further be that such a process inherently involves the possibility of suffering, death, and sin.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Our Part in Unifying Humanity

I was impressed by the way Charles H. Talbert integrated Ephesians 5:8-14 in the letter as a whole and much of the following as well as quotations marked CT are from his Ephesians and Colossians (Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007). FT refers to Frank Thielman, Ephesians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010).

We live in a fractured world and this is evident both in hostile events such as the Westminster attack last Wednesday which nevertheless also create unity at least for a moment in a solidarity with victims, and in peaceful celebrations of unity such as the marking of the 60th anniversary of the treaty of Rome and the march in London in support of the EU which are of course over against those who cponsider the EU a wrong sort of unity.

Many of us long for a unity that does not compromise our diversity, or at least does not threaten our liberty, but we are struggling to discover how this can work. Some push the unity, arguing that we must be less tolerant of those who threaten it. In this way we buy our unity at the expense of deeper divisions with others and may seek to strengthen unity by enforcing greater uniformity. Others stress that we must now be extra careful to remain inclusive rather than shutting out others. In this way, we risk the stability of unity, as we are unsure how to restrain the forces that push us apart without forcing uniformity.

The church wrestles with the same issues. The latest attempts within the CofE to safeguard our unity in diversity run under the banner of “good disagreement” and “radical inclusion” but what do these phrases mean? It’s hard to tell. Does it mean that it is quite all right for Christians to completely disagree on something as long as they are nice to each other?

Is “good disagreement,” as someone commented, “only a different way of saying we should tolerate and respect one another’s beliefs because there is no such thing as truth, only what we believe to be true.” And does the call for “radical inclusion” take the place of the traditional call to repentance? Does it mean that we must not challenge immoral behaviour but celebrate different lifestyles? If so, is this Christian unity? Most certainly not.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is about “the plan of God to unify the cosmos through Christ.” Two “important pieces of the plan” are “reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in a new humanity and concord in the Christian household.” (CT) And Ephesians 5:8-14 belongs with this plan.

Dio Chrysostom, a famous Greek orator, writer, philosopher and historian of the Roman Empire in the 1st century, had this to say:
“Only by getting rid of the vices that excite and disturb men, the vices of envy, greed, contentiousness, the striving in each case to promote one’s own welfare at the expense of both one’s native land and the common weal—only so, I repeat, is it possible ever to breathe the breath of harmony in full strength and vigor and to unite upon a common policy.” (Or. 34.19)
I think the apostle agrees, except for adding that ultimately this is only possible in and through Christ.

Let me underline this because so often we believe that what we really need is to find and stress the common ground and that this is where we find unity. But to pursue such a line single-mindedly what we hold in common must be valued more highly than what divides us and this means that the question which values and ideas trump others becomes hugely important and necessarily contentious.

And problematic. Because what we hold in common, probably a longing for peace and justice, possibly values such as “individual liberty” and “the rule of law” need to be supported and defined by a greater vision, a world-view which brings us to the kind of stuff on which we disagree. In addition, some of the values apparently are in conflict with each other, e.g., “democracy” which encourages short-termism (and selfishness?) and “sustainability” which requires long-term thinking and planning (and sacrifice?). Again, we need a greater vision to arbitrate.

Against this mistaken belief that unity is basically a matter of finding and stressing our common ground, ancient wisdom inside and outside the Bible points us to the need to get rid of the vices that threaten our unity.

It is a question of light and darkness, again both outside and inside the Bible. But what the apostle reminds us of here is that we are unable to move from darkness to light (and of course unable to move others from darkness to light). In the Lord you are light. Live as children of light!” This is how we come into God’s project of unifying the cosmos through Christ. “The fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true” and the fruit is to be found in us.

The word for “good” here means benevolent – doing good to others in practical ways. Interestingly, these three words, “good and forthright and honest” are often found in ancient Jewish and Christian literature to describe the character of God (FT). The choice of these three virtues seems deliberate. After all, just a few sentences earlier the apostle has called us to be “imitators of God” (Galatians 5:1).

“Deciding what is benevolent, right, honest, and therefore pleasing to the Lord in any given situation is often complicated, and Paul recognizes this by” (FT) adding “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.”

But note: the challenge is to be different for the sake of unityWe are to be “a contrast society” (Gerhard Lohfink), “a body of Christians whose common life and practice stand as a sharp yet appealing alternative to the surrounding world” (CT) and so exposes the deeds of the world.

Verse 11: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”

Exposing the unfruitful works of darkness not by harassing people but by living alternative lives that show up the deficiencies of a life without Christ, revealing how shallow, futile, sterile, and shameful the life choices of many are, and inconsistent with their own convictions. It means “stripping sexual immorality and greed of the attractive veneer placed over these activities by those who practice them and revealing their true colors” (FT).

In other words, this is not so much a matter of condemning others for sleeping around or cheating on insurance claims or pursuing a favourable deal regardless of the costs to others but of demonstrating through our lives
  • that true, faithful love is so much more attractive than cheap sex;
  • that honesty in all our dealings is so much more rewarding than single-minded pursuit for gain;
  • that concern for others is so much more truly human than a life of greed.
The challenge to the church is to stand as an appealing alternative to the world.” BUT this appeal does “not lie primarily in the moral superiority of Christians” (CT) to other people. Rather, it lies in the contrast between the unfruitful, unprofitable works of darkness and the “purposeful, goal-oriented existence that characterizes the believing community because of its union with Christ” (FT) and “in the manner in which believers confront their sins, seek and offer forgiveness, and live reconciled and reconciling lives.” (CT)

Verse 13: “everything exposed by the light becomes visible”.

In John 16:8 Jesus promised his disciples that the coming Advocate will “prove wrong” or “expose [same word as here in Ephesians 5] the world with regard to sin, righteousness, and judgement.” The Christian community appears to be the place where the Holy Spirit does this and “the vehicle through which the Spirit plays that role.” (CT)

And by the grace of God in Christ such exposure is the way to transformation, “for everything that becomes visible is light” (verse 14) and the apostle seems to quote an early Jewish-Christian liturgy to make the point: Where “unbelievers awake to the truth of the gospel and rise from their former lives of sin,” (FT), where in other words someone rises from death to life, you know that Christ shines “his powerful light on them” (FT).

How do we know this can happen? Hopefully because we have experienced it ourselves. The light of Christ has shone upon us; it has enabled us to be open and honest about our own sin and awakened us to a life in imitation of God’s goodness, justice and integrity.

This is the way God makes us one in Christ, children of our heavenly Father. And this is how we play a part in God’s plan of unifying the cosmos, as the light of Christ chases away the evil works of darkness that cause our divisions.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Hilasterion: Propitiation or Expiation?

"C. K. Barrett is a balanced and judicious interpreter who thinks that the idea of propitiation plays an important role because of its link to the wrath of God, even if (as he recommends) the word "expiation" is used in translations.In an oft-quoted passage from his commentary on Romans, Barrett says, "WE can hardly doubt that expiation rather than propitiation is in his [Paul's] mind," because there is no trace of a suggestion that God is the object rather than the subject. However, Barrett continues, "it would be wrong to neglect the fact that expiation has, as it were, the effect of propitiation: the sin that might have excited God's wrath is expiated (at God's will) and therefore no longer does so." Cousar summarizes Barrett's argument: "The propitiation is a secondary result rather than a primary cause of the atonement." That, in one sentence, tells us what we need to know at the conclusion of the debate.

God is not divided against himself. When we see Jesus, we see the Father (John 14:7). The Father did not look at Jesus on the cross and suddenly have a change of heart. The purpose of the atonement was not to bring about a change in God's attitude towards his rebellious creatures. God's attitude towards us has always and ever been the same. Judgment against sin is preceded, accompanied, and followed by God's mercy. There was never a time when God was against us. Even in his wrath he is for us. Yet at the same time he is not for us without wrath, because his will is to destroy all that is hostile to perfecting his world. The paradox of the cross demonstrates the victorious love of God for us at the same time that it shows forth his judgment upon sin."

Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 281-282.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Evening Service with Fauré Requiem

An Evening Service
with music from the Requiem Mass by Gabriel Fauré

Gabriel Fauré wrote the Requiem, the best-known of his large-scale choral works, between 1887 and 1890, adding further instrumental parts in 1900. The text is based on the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead but it departs significantly from the standard liturgical text.
John Bawden explains: “Fauré included two new sections, the lyrical Pie Jesu and the transcendent In Paradisum, with its soaring vocal line and murmuring harp accompaniment. He also omitted the Dies Irae and Tuba Mirum - for most composers an opportunity to exploit to the full the dramatic possibilities of all the available choral and orchestral forces. Consequently the prevailing mood is one of peacefulness and serenity, and the work has often been described, quite justly, as a Requiem without the Last Judgement.”


Preparation
Hymn 14 Eternal Light, shine in my heart

O God, make speed to save us.
O Lord, make haste to help us.
Lead your people to freedom, O God,
and banish all darkness from our hearts and minds.
The Rector introduces the service.

I Introit – Kyrie
Rest eternal give them, Lord,
and let light always shine on them.
It is right to hymn you, God, in Sion
and to you will be made a vow in Jerusalem.
Hear my prayer, to you all flesh will come.
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.

II Offertorium
O Lord, Jesus Christ, king of glory,
free the souls of the dead from the punishment of hell and the deep pit.
O Lord Jesus Christ, king of glory,
deliver the dead souls from the mouth of the lion,
so they are not swallowed by hell and do not fall into darkness.
Sacrifices and prayers to you, Lord, with praise we offer
receive them for those souls whom today we remember.
Make them, Lord, from death cross over to life
as once to Abraham you promised and to his seed.

The Word of God
Old Testament reading: Joshua 1:1-9
Each Scripture reading concludes with
This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

III Sanctus
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts,
full are the heavens and earth with the glory of you.
Hosanna in the highest.

New Testament reading: Ephesians 6:10-20

IV Pie Jesu
Merciful Jesus, Lord, give them rest,
give them rest, eternal rest.
A sermon is preached.
Hymn 602 Blest are the pure in heart
Confession and Forgiveness
Christ the light of the world has come to dispel
the darkness of our hearts.
In his light let us examine ourselves and confess our sins.
Silence may be kept.
Let us admit to God the sin which always confronts us.
Lord God,
we have sinned against you;
we have done evil in your sight.
We are sorry and repent.
Have mercy on us according to your love.
Wash away our wrongdoing and cleanse us from our sin.
Renew a right spirit within us
and restore us to the joy of your salvation,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Rector declares God’s forgiveness.

V Agnus Dei
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
give them rest.
Let light eternal shine on them, Lord,
with your saints for eternity,
for you are merciful.
give them eternal rest, Lord,
and let light always shine on them.

Intercessions
That the rest of this day may be holy,
peaceful and full of your presence;
in faith we pray.
We pray to you our God.
That the work we have done and the people we have met today
may bring us closer to you;
in faith we pray.
We pray to you our God.
That we may hear and respond to your call to peace and justice;
in faith we pray.
We pray to you our God.
That you will sustain the faith and hope of those who are lonely,
oppressed and anxious;
in faith we pray.
We pray to you our God.
That you will strengthen us in your service,
and fill our hearts with longing for your kingdom;
in faith we pray.
We pray to you our God.
God of mercy,
you know us and love us and hear our prayer:
keep us in the eternal fellowship of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

The Collect of the Day and the Lord’s Prayer

VI Libera me
Free me, Lord, from death eternal
on that day of dread,
when the heavens will be shaken and the earth,
while you come to judge the world with fire.
I am made to shake, and am afraid,
awaiting the trial and the coming anger.
That day, day of anger, of calamity and misery,
that day, the day of great and exceeding bitterness.

Sending Out
The Rector pronounces God’s blessing on his people

VII In Paradisum
Into paradise may angels draw them,
on your arrival, may the martyrs receive you
and lead you into the holy city Jerusalem.
May the chorus of angels receive you,
and with Lazarus, once a beggar,
may you have eternal rest.

Preaching alongside the Fauré Requiem

The Fauré Requiem was designed for a Roman Catholic mass for the dead which creates challenges for a devotional performance in a Church of England service. [Outline of service]
The Church of England is separate from the Roman Catholic church not least because from the sixteenth century onwards such masses were considered an aberration. The Eucharist is a memorial of Christ’s atoning death; it cannot function as a sacrifice the living bring for the dead.
John Bawden writes about the prevailing mood of the Fauré Requiem being one of peacefulness and serenity. This probably reflects the way many in our society think about death: an entry into peace and serenity. We like to think that those who have died are now at rest. But is this what we truly believe? And if so, on what grounds?
Is this a little like people saying to someone who goes through a hellish illness, “I am sure you’ll be all right in the end; life will get easier!” Do we know that? Just this week I read a contribution from a woman suffering from chronic pain, saying how unhelpful such reassurances which have no basis in fact are.
The rest for which we pray so hopefully is of course not the cessation of all activity which is simply death. The “eternal rest” is meant to be a peaceful life where instead of striving and fighting there is calm and refreshment; it is not the eerie silence of a place where nothing ever happens any more.
The Requiem, from beginning to end, petitions God many times that he would give eternal rest. Now it seems to me that it is one thing to commend someone who has died to God at a funeral service, praying that God would give rest to the deceased. It is a different thing to continue to petition God several times on later occasions. Why continue the petition? Is this for our sake or for the sake of the departed?
Is there maybe a niggling doubt? Does God need to be urged to give eternal rest because we are not actually convinced that he has done so?
This seems to lie behind the words of the Offertorium. The music may sound like “a Requiem without the Last Judgement” but the words of the Offertorium very much assume that there is “the punishment of hell and the deep pit” and that there is a real risk that the “souls whom today we remember” might be “swallowed by hell” and so the prayer asks for a passing from death to life.
This reflects a very controversial doctrine, namely that purgatory is a part of hell. Hell is therefore seen as a place of punishment for two types of people – those, on the one hand, for whom all hope is lost, namely any who died unrepentant, and those, on the other hand, who have to endure sufferings before they are fit to enter the presence of God.
This does not sit well with the overall testimony of the New Testament.
Appeal is usually made to 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 where Paul writes,
12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—13 the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. 14 If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If the work is burned, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.
But it is quite a leap from the picture of a builder escaping “as through fire” with nothing to show for his efforts to the idea that many will need to spend some time in hell before they can enter heaven.
We read in Hebrews 9:27 that “it is appointed for people to die once, and after that comes judgement” and wherever the NT speaks of post-mortem judgement a clear division is implied between those who enjoy God’s presence and those who do not. In the story about the rich man and Lazarus, we hear in Luke 16:26 “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.”
Many Christians have read these statements as incompatible with the belief that the dead might move from the pain of hell to eternal bliss, let alone that they may do so through the prayers of the living.
If there is a purgatory, it seems better to locate it in or with heaven than in hell in so far as hell indicates ultimate separation from God. As Geoffrey Rowell, a retired bishop in the CofE states, “Purgatory is a place of preparation for heaven, not a lesser hell.”
Indeed, if there is a purgatory, its purpose is surely to purify us from every sinful thought and attitude and make us holy in desire, character, and habit. In this case the process will take as long as it takes and it seems to make little sense to believe that it can or should be shortened by our prayers, even if we wanted to accompany the process with our prayers.
But it may be wrong in any case to think of purgatory as a temporal process to which we can contribute with our prayers.
But maybe the prayers are not really about the departed, maybe they are about us. Maybe they are our way of saying that we have not forgotten someone.
In this case would it not be better to mention our loved ones by name in our own private prayers and to do so with gratitude for what we have received rather than with anxiety about what is or might be?
The CofE has prayed since 1552 “for the whole state of Christ’s church militant here on earth.” Militant here means the opposite of “at rest” and so ensures that the prayer is for the living only. Indeed, the 1552 Prayerbook (The Second Prayer Book of Edward VI) finally removed all prayer for the departed and even the Elizabeth Prayerbook of 1559 did not re-introduce them.
The 1662 Prayerbook added a thanksgiving for departed Christians, coupled with prayer that we may share the glory with them hereafter.
“And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to give us grace so to follow their good example, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom.”
This has a very different ring from the prayers in a Roman-Catholic Requiem.
Except that the penultimate movement of the Fauré Requiem, Libera me, also is a reminder that thoughts about death and the afterlife should lead us to pray for ourselves. Our main concern must be with the living.
We hear the Fauré Requiem tonight alongside the second service readings appointed for this Sunday. The first reading [Joshua 1:1-9] is very matter of fact about the death of Moses and encourages a forward-looking perspective. It urges meditation on what has been received through Moses rather than reflection on the fate of Moses who famoulsy disappeared without his body being found.
Similarly, our second reading [Ephesiasn 6:10-20] can remind us that we are “the church militant” – we are the ones in the midst of the battle of good against evil. Those who have gone before us are no longer in the battle. Our departed brothers and sisters in Christ are at rest, awaiting the resurrection. And those who do not belong to Christ are no longer in the battle between good and evil either.
Those who are beyond this battle in Christ, the faithful departed, do not need our prayers; the departed who are not in Christ cannot benefit from our prayers. We need to pray for one another, the living. It is us who are called to take up the whole armour of God and to stand firm against evil.
So tonight, for me, is not an opportunity to pray for souls in purgatory. But this is not because I dismiss all talk about purgatory as fanciful myth. Much of the imagery which we link with hell and purgatory comes from the middle ages when, so it seems, the pictures were often understood quite literally, more often than either in antiquity or in modern times.
It is easy to dismiss these pictures of purgatory and hell by insisting on taking them literally but many Christians throughout history spoke of the fires of hell without thinking of literal flames and instead pondered what it is that is being symbolised here.
In his encyclical SpeSalvi (Saved In Hope), Pope Benedict XVI wrote:
“Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Savior. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgment. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves.
All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire” [1 Cor. 3:15].
But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God.
In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defile­ment does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, to­wards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ's Pas­sion.
At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy. It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world.” (par. 47)
And it is also clear, to me anyway, that this process is meant to happen, or at least begin to happen now. As we encounter Christ in one another, in the poor and marginalized, in his word, and in the Eucharist we are to be cleansed of our falsehood.
Purgatory is here – and now, as we meet Christ, whether or not it is also there and then in a post-mortem encounter with Christ.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

“I have no husband"

“I have no husband” (John 4:17). Karoline M. Lewis, John (Augsburg Fortress, 2014), 59, comments:
“Her brief statement is heartrending. It is not only a statement about her marital status but an assertion about her marginalized status. She is a woman, a Samaritan woman, without a name, who has been married five times. To have been married five times in ancient Palestine would be evidence of circumstances completely beyond the control of any woman at that time. Likely widowed or divorced, the fact alone of having had five husbands would have indicated some sort of curse against her or her family. What on earth did she do, or her ancestors, that she would be subject to such destitution. To have had five husbands could also mean that the woman had been divorced, often for trivial matters, but more likely because she was barren. If she was barren, that would mean that she would not have family to turn to in the case of being widowed [but what about extended family?], which would further exacerbate her dependent status. The fact that she is currently living with a man not her husband does not correspond to a modern-day “shacking up” or “living in sin.” Rather, her situation was probably a levirate marriage. By law (Deut. 25:5-10), the brother of the dead husband was obliged to take in his dead brother’s wife, either by formal marriage or by living arrangements of some kind.”
Shawna R. B. Atteberry similarly notes:
“She could also be trapped by the Levirate marriage law. Her five husbands could have been brothers for whom she was supposed to produce an heir (Matt. 22:24-28). Either the family ran out of sons or the next son could have refused to marry her. That she was living with a man now who was not her husband could have been the lesser of two evils. Since the culture provided economic security only within family structures, her only other choice after husband number five died or divorced her could have been prostitution. Regardless of why the woman had had five husbands, the implication is still that she is a woman who cannot keep a man.”
As to why Jesus even provoked this statement Karoline Lewis notes:
“For the woman to be able to recognize who Jesus is means that Jesus has to reveal not only who he is but also who she is. her need for him must be named so as to make sense of the mutual dependence between believers and Jesus.”
“At stake in this encounter is the incarnation itself. For Jesus to name anything else about her other than that which has completely defined her reality up to this point would be to not take the incarnation seriously.”

Friday, 10 March 2017

Who Gets Reconciled, God or Us?

"One of the objections brought against Anselm is that he makes it sound as if a change has to take place within God -- as though the crucifixion altered God's attitude towards his rebellious creatures. The New Testament, however, never mentions God being reconciled to us. It speaks only of our being reconciled to him." But Anselm does not claim that "somehow the sacrifice of Jesus caused the Father to change his mind".

"If we are to appreciate -- if not entirely adopt -- Anselm's language of satisfaction, we need therefore to be clear that the change effected by Christ's self-oblation does not occur within God. This is of primary importance. If we do not emphasize this, we end up with a dangerously capricious God who is indeed open to the critiques brought by those who think of the wrath of God as an emotion that must be appeased. In all our discussions of reconciliation, this underlying point is fundamental. It is not God that is changed. It is the relationship of human beings and the creation to God that is changed."

David B. Hart shows in his essay "Gift Exceeding Every Debt" that "the cross does not effect a 'mere posterior reconciliation of justice and mercy' but is -- in a lovely phrase -- the 'filial intonation' of the preexistent divine love. He sums up: 'In the God-man [Deus Homo], within human history, God's justice and mercy are shown to be one thing, one action, life, and being...the righteousness that condemns is also the love that restores.'"

Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 163-164.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Adam and Eve Breaking Apart

"Eve, the other person, was the limit given to Adam in bodily form. He acknowledged this limit in love, that is, in the undivided unity of giving himself; he loved it precisely in its nature as a limit for him, that is, in Eve’s being human and yet ‘being another human being’. Now he has transgressed the boundary and come to know that he has a limit. Now he no longer accepts the limit as God the Creator’s grace; instead he hates it as God begrudging him something as Creator. And in the same act of transgressing the boundary he has transgressed the limit that the other person represented to him in bodily form. Now he no longer sees the limit that the other person constitutes as grace but as God’s wrath, God’s hatred, God’s begrudging. This means that the human being no longer regards the other person with love. Instead one person sees the other in terms of their being over against each other; each sees the other as divided from himself or herself. The limit is no longer grace that holds the human being in the unity of creaturely, free love; instead the limit is now the mark of dividedness. Man and woman are divided from each other.

This means two things. First it means that the man claims his share of the woman’s body or, more generally, that one person claims a right to the other, claims to be entitled to possess the other, and thereby denies and destroys the creaturely nature of the other person. This obsessive desire [Sucht] of one human being for another finds its primordial expression in sexuality. The sexuality of the human being who transgresses his or her boundary is a refusal to recognize any limit at all; it is a boundless obsessive desire to be without any limits. Sexuality is a passionate hatred of any limit. It is extreme lack of respect for things-as-they are [Unsachlichkeit]; it is self-will, an obsessive but powerless will for unity in a divided [entzweiten] world. It is obsessive because it knows of a common human being from the beginning; it is powerless because in losing his or her limit a human being has finally lost the other person. Sexuality seeks to destroy the other person as a creature, robs the other person of his or her creatureliness, lays violent hands on the other person as one’s limit, and hates grace.By destroying the other person one seeks to preserve and reproduce one’s own life. Human beings create by destroying; in sexuality the human race preserves itself while it destroys. Unbridled sexuality is therefore destruction κατʼ ἐξοχήν; it is a mad acceleration of the fall, of the downward drop. It is affirming oneself to the point of self-destruction. Obsessive desire [Sucht] and hate, tob and ra—these are the fruits of the tree of knowledge.

From this dividedness, however, there now follows a second thing, humankind’s covering itself up. Human beings with no limit, in their hatred and in their obsessive desire, do not show themselves in their nakedness. Nakedness is the essence of unity, of not being torn apart, of being for the other, of respect for what is given, of acknowledging the rights of the other as my limit and as a creature. Nakedness is the essence of being oblivious of the possibility of robbing others of their rights. Nakedness is revelation; nakedness believes in grace. Nakedness does not know it is naked, just as the eye does not see itself or know about itself. Nakedness is innocence."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works 3 (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1997), 123-124.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Did God Really Say?

The question is ...one that is put by a forked tongue, for it plainly wants to be thought of as coming from God’s side. For the sake of the true God, so it appears, it wants to cause the given word of God to fall. In this way the serpent purports somehow to know about the depths of the true God beyond this given word of God—about the true God who is so badly misrepresented in this human word. The serpent claims to know more about God than the human being who depends on God’s word alone. The serpent knows of a more exalted God, a nobler God, who has no need to make such a prohibition. It wants to be somehow itself the dark root from which the visible tree of God then first stems. And from this strongly held position the serpent now fights against the word of God. It knows that it has power only where it purports to come from God and to represent God’s cause. Only as the pious serpent is it evil. In posing its question it derives its existence from the power of God alone, and it is able to be evil only where it is pious. So now it purports to be the power that stands behind God’s word and from which God then draws God’s own power.
The question that the serpent posed was a perfectly pious one. But with the first pious question in the world, evil appears on the scene. Where evil shows itself in its godlessness, it is altogether powerless; at that point it is just a bogeyman, something we have no need to be afraid of. Indeed evil does not concentrate its power at that point at all; instead it there most often diverts attention away from the other place where it really wishes to break through. And in this latter place it is veiled in the garb of piety. The wolf in sheep’s clothing, Satan in the form of an angel of light—that is the figure that is in keeping with evil. Did God really say …?—that is the utterly godless question. Did God really say that God is love, that God wishes to forgive us our sins, that we need only believe God, that we need no works, that Christ died and was raised for our sakes, that we will have eternal life in the kingdom of God, that we are no longer alone but upheld by God’s grace, that one day all grieving and wailing shall come to an end? Did God really say: You shall not steal, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not bear false witness.…? Did God really say this to me? Or does it perhaps not apply to me in particular? Did God really claim to be a God of wrath toward those who do not keep God’s commandments? Did God really demand the sacrifice of Christ—the God whom I know better, the God whom I know to be the infinitely good, all-loving Father? This is the question that appears so innocuous but through which evil wins its power in us and through which we become disobedient to God. Were the question to come to us with its godlessness unveiled and laid bare, we would be able to resist it. But Christians are not open to attack in that way; one must actually approach them with God, one must show them a better, a prouder, God than they seem to have, if they are to fall.
What is the real evil in this question? It is not that a question as such is asked. It is that this question already contains the wrong answer. It is that with this question the basic attitude of the creature toward the Creator comes under attack. It requires humankind to sit in judgment on God’s word instead of simply listening to it and doing it. And this is achieved by proposing that, on the basis of an idea, a principle, or some prior knowledge about God, humankind should now pass judgment on the concrete word of God. But where human beings use a principle, an idea of God, as a weapon to fight against the concrete word of God, there they are from the outset already in the right; at that point they have become God’s master, they have left the path of obedience, they have withdrawn from being addressed by God. In other words, in this question what is possible is played off against reality, and what is possible undermines what is reality. In the relation of human beings to God, however, there are no possibilities: there is only reality. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works 3 (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1997), 107-108.