The first reading, taken from the opening verse of the book that we usually call the ‘Acts of the Apostles’, is clearly presented as a sequel to the Gospel of Luke. As Bishop Tom Wright says, it could just as easily be called the Acts of King Jesus, part II. For although Jesus is only present for the first nine verses, it is experiencing his life and ministry, and above all else of the encounter by the disciples with the resurrected body of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit that dominates the whole book.
Both the ending of Luke’s gospel and the beginning of his Acts focus on the Ascension of Jesus. But to understand the significance of this feast day, we perhaps need to look beyond the standard artwork that usually focuses on the upward movement of Jesus and his disappearance into the clouds. For what is at stake is so much more than the mere departure of Jesus and his flight plans.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (11’45″)
Sunday of the Ascension.
One of the challenges of anyone attempting to read through the Bible are the encounters with the chapters that contain bizarre laws or content that seems to offer no significant spiritual content. For example, if you start with the book of Genesis, the pace and scope of the narrative will carry you through the book fairly easily and through the first half of Exodus. But once you arrive on Mount Sinai and have made your way through the Decalogue, you strike laws that are massively irrelevant – unless you really do want to know how to sell your daughter into slavery or who is responsible if an animal falls into an open-pit that you have dug.
But the great pity of this is that the chapters that describe the building of the tabernacle (Exodus 25-31) are about much more than the furniture or vestments of the priests – they really present the reason that God wanted to rescue Israel in the first place – so that he could make his dwelling within them. Eventually – after a number of missteps, including the massive one when Aaron doubts that Moses will return from the mountain and invites the people to turn their gold into a false idol in the golden calf – the sanctuary is made and the dwelling of God does indeed fall upon the camp and the Lord is now present in the midst of his people (Exodus 50).
All of this background is essential if we are to understand the book of Revelation properly. Otherwise we miss so many of the images that so richly illustrate the points that the seer John receives and shares with us about the new Jerusalem.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (9’15″)
Easter, Sunday 6C (Rev 21)
Finally in the season of Easter we arrive at the end of the story with the final two chapters of the book of Revelation being the centrepiece of the liturgy this week and next (the second reading is in the middle/centre of the liturgy of the word). The vision that St John receives in Revelation 21 is absolutely stunning with the transformation of the existing order of things – in the Jewish worldview all of heaven and earth come together in the city of Jerusalem. The previous 15 chapters have dealt with the necessary cleansing of the world (chapters 6 – 20), so now we can say that with the birth of the new heaven and the new earth the old order of creation has passed away – including the waters of chaos (Gen 1:2). In this beautifully described celebration of this ultimate wedding feast, John sees a new Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth.
Recorded at St Mary’s, Leppington (6’11″)
Sunday Easter 5C: Rev 21:1-5; John 13:31-35
After these things I looked, and behold, a great crowd that no one was able to number, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes and with palm branches in their hands. Rev 7:9 [LEB]
Two weeks ago I mentioned that our companions during the season of Easter this year are the Book of Acts, Revelation and the Gospel of John. Although Revelation can at times be a very confusing book, this week provides a powerful interlude in the narrative of the book. After setting the scene in chapter 1, Revelation 2-3 provides a series of seven letters to seven churches in the region of Asia Minor – representing thereby all churches across all time. Then, in chapter 4 and 5 we have the beginning of the Revelation per se that John received, as he is transported into the throne-room of heaven as it is now. In chapter 6 through 20 there is broadly a description of the great cleansing that has to take place to prepare the world for the final consummation, when heaven comes crashing into earth – described in the final two chapters of the book and the whole bible, 21 and 22.
In chapter 5 we are introduced to the scroll that the one who sits on the throne is holding – written on the front and back. But no one is worthy to open the scroll, except the lion of the tribe of Judah. Then in chapter six we watch as one-by-one the seals are opened by the Lamb and great calamities are released. So, when chapter 7 opens, the early church community would have expected that John would have moved straight onto the end times and the opening of the final seal, since that was so much a part of their own expectations. Yet he doesn’t. Instead there is an interlude when we are told of two ‘visions’ where John first hears then sees this great multitude of all those who have been sealed by the Lord because they are the slaves/servants of the Lord. This is the vision of the church – coming from every nation and tribe and people and tongue – which John understands is the way that God is beginning to clean up the world and prepare all creation for the final revelation of God’s glory.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (8’45″)
The final chapter in the Gospel of John is simply fascinating – on so many levels. The fact that the beloved disciple, the author of this gospel, whom tradition has always named as John, the brother of James and son of Zebedee, clearly finishes the gospel at the end of chapter 20 is curious in itself. This section of material has enough in common with the rest of the gospel in terms of style, language, theme and construction that it has always been identified with the same author. There is such richness here that it is difficult to choose what to say of this passage when there is so much that is deep and beautiful about it.
From the despondency of the disciples, the interplay of light and darkness, the recurrence of the charcoal fire, the nakedness of the apostle Peter, the reconciliation and restoration of “Simon, son of John” to once again be Peter the apostle, this gospel offers rich food for thought and reflection for our church.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 6pm Vigil. (12’10″)
Sunday 3C Easter. John 21:1-19
I love going to the movies. There is something great about being in a dark theatre, waiting for the curtain to open and the movie to ‘roll’ so that you can be transported into another world. One of the most memorable experiences of this is almost twenty years ago, during my first trip overseas. It was in Paris, and it was a freezing cold Christmas Day (even the fountains were all frozen mid-stream); after midnight Mass at the parish of Sainte-Trinité and then sharing in the orphans’ lunch a group of us headed to the movies to see the newly released Le Roi Lion. It was a beautiful old multi-tier theatre dating to the time of Napolean with elegant fittings and fairy-lights in the ceiling. As the lights dimmed, we were expecting the kind of pre-show mix of ads and previews, but here we were treated to a light, music and water-fountain extravaganza that set the scene for the transformation that continued when the curtains finally opened.
During this season of Easter, the second reading for the first 6 weeks is taken from the Book of Revelation, the final book in our scripture. It can be a very confusing and misunderstood book, and yet as the opening passage ‘reveals’, John the Divine is wanting to share this most extraordinary experience that he has had while in exile on the Island of Patmos. On the Lord’s day – perhaps immediately after celebrating Mass? – he is caught up in a vision that is often impressionistic and dream-like and at other times quite surrealist. But what John has received is not meant only for himself, which is why he prepares this letter written initially to the seven churches of modern western Turkey but meant for all Christians. He is a seer – one who has seen the inner reality of heaven, and like the great prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, feels compelled to share his insights with the whole church.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (9’30″)
Easter, Sunday 2C – Sunday of Divine Mercy
The one thing that each of the Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus begin with – is that it happened on the first day of the week. Now in Jewish reckoning, the seventh day of the week was the Sabbath day (Saturday) – the day when the Lord rested from the work of creation, offering to us the example of a cycle of work and worship. So the first day of the week is the day that we call the Lord’s day, the day of the resurrection – Sunday.
When this group of women made their way to the tomb that the body of Jesus had been laid in two days earlier, they would not have had any expectation of what they might find – other than the bloody and beaten and still very dead body of their dear loved friend and Messiah, Jesus. To see the stone had been rolled away would perhaps have been an initial relief – even with perhaps half-a-dozen women the task of moving that stone would have been a great burden. But that relief quickly turned into concern when they saw that the grave was almost empty. Almost – because the cloths that had wrapped the body of Jesus when it was hastily embalmed on the Friday – were still there. At least that meant that it was not grave-robbers who had moved the stone. Grave robbers were never interested in a dead body – especially one that had been tortured and brutalised through Roman crucifixion. They would take the expensive cloths and anything else that had been left in the tomb with the body – but here was the opposite situation – no body yet everything else was left. How strange and confusing!
Into this confusion suddenly two men in dazzling clothes appear with a call to the women to remember the words that Jesus had spoken. Words that they indeed do remember as they take the first frail steps on the journey to belief.
Recorded at St Paul’s, Camden, 8am (8’50″)
I remember a day when I was bushwalking in the coastal range down the South Coast, and I had been walking for a while just below the ridge-line – so I was unable to actually get a view of the breath-taking coast-line. At one stage I saw a rocky outcrop that was just above the track, and I thought that if perhaps I climbed to the top of it then I would get a view above the trees. So I found a way to scramble and climb to the top, only to again have the view blocked by trees. Then I spotted a large boulder that seemed to offer a possibility of a view over and through the trees. It looked massive and immovable so I climbed on to the top of it – and was rewarded with the most fantastic view of the coast-line below. No sooner had I climbed on top, but the damn thing began to move! As the boulder began to fall – taking me with it of course (dow’h) – my heart began to race and pound like the drum-beat of early heavy metal music. Thankfully the rock quickly resettled into its new position, and I was left standing there on top of it, shaken and vividly reminded of how small I was in a massive and beautiful world.
I remember a call to the hospital, and taking the lift to the fourth floor, proceeding to the nurses’ desk to find out which bed the person I was visiting was in. Then, upon entering the room, to see my friend with her husband as she held her new-born baby lying there in her arms with the look of love on both of them at this tiny creation of love and cuteness.
I remember the joy of friends as they fell in love with each other and shared such happiness and delight as they prepared for the day of their marriage. Then when first I spoke to the husband, only months later, as he began to grieve and sorrow about the way their relationship was going. Later you talk to her and there is the expression of grief and sorrow about how their marriage is failing – how could it turn out like this?
Recorded at St Paul’s – Easter Vigil (9’59″)
What an amazing night it must have been! Already the Lord had demonstrated his incredible power in the nine plagues that Pharoah and the Egyptian people had suffered because they had still not let the people of God go free, so that they may go into the wilderness to worship the Lord their God. But on this night as they prepared the lamb that they had chosen to offer for the special “Passover Meal” that they were going to eat together for the very first time – they still didn’t really know what to expect. Would Pharoah finally actually let them go free – or would he change his mind and send his troops in pursuit of them? For the Hebrew people, all they wanted was to be free to worship – this was the true freedom that they longed for.
Recorded at St Mary’s Leppington (7’17″)
Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday
During this most extraordinary week that we call Holy, the liturgy of the church leads us in a confusing journey through the final week of the life of Jesus. Even the colours that the church chooses for each liturgy demonstrate the range of emotions that we are called to enter into during this week. From the red of welcome and celebration to accompany the palms and branches of the crowds who welcome Jesus into Jerusalem, into the solemn reading of the passion, we return for the first three days of Holy Week into the purple of Lent that has marked us over these past six weeks…
Journey with Jesus and the church across this roller-coaster of colour and emotion.
Recorded at school liturgy for Holy Week – St Paul’s Catholic Primary School. (7’15″)