Archives For Easter

Like you, I’m wrestling with the COVID-19 changes imposed upon us. We’re adapting, steady, and we’re focused. We’re still homeschooling. We’re still reading the news in one hand, and reading the Bible with the other. We’re engaged, determined not to let the bad news sneak past us, or our prayers. We’re also determined not to let the barrage of repetitive, useless speculative analysis paralyze us.

In 1939, Karl Barth, who had long since been exiled by the Nazis for refusing to sign the Hitler Oath, and for opposing the deification of the State, wrote,

‘the Church prefers to suffer persecution at the hands of the State, which has become a “beast out of the pit of the abyss,” rather than take part in the deification of Caesar.’[i]

It’s in the vein of this context that we’re determined to not give in to fear and its consistent demand for absolute fealty. We’re steadfast in our commitment to the current treatment plan, but defiant in our “no” to this silent freedom killer. The virus, its source, and the exercise of political power – through a centralisation of government ruling by fiat, without the limitation of existing checks and balances – require a line in the sand drawn between us, and the totalitarianism attached to it.

Despite fear and powerlessness Good Friday remains Good News.

Its events do not show the clash of two kingdoms, and two kings, they show the affirmation of one King and His kingdom. Pilate asks, “are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus replies, “You have said so.” (Mark 15:2) And yet, Jesus ‘confirms Pilate’s claim to “power” over Him, as power given from above.’ (Barth) Pilate does not release Jesus. He crucifies Him. The confirmation of Christ as King is affirmed by Pilate’s mockery and Jesus Christ’s death sentence: here hangs, pierced, beaten, spat on, speared and abused, ‘Jesus, the King of the Jews.’ (Matthew 27:37).

The place where God makes His stand before all humanity is on a cross for all humanity. There is no greater line in the sand between humanity and sin – the corruption of absolute power, and the rejection of true freedom, than God’s revelation in Jesus Christ – Christ crucified and resurrected. Whether that absolute be a seemingly unbeatable microscopic parasite or seemingly unbreakable bloated bureaucracy.

Barth writes that Jesus and Pilate (Caesar’s proxy in Judea) confronted one another. What we see is the ‘homelessness of the Church in this age’, and ‘in its demonic form, the State’s authority as the “power of the present age.”

In yielding the Gospel the Church brings to the State a theological critique against all superstition, ideas, imaginations and ideologies, and therefore judgement on any manifestation of an imbalance of power. It can do this because ‘judgement begins with God’s household’ (1 Peter 4:17).

The Church is as a watchman, ‘knowing that it is responsible for the State and for Caesar, and it finally manifests this responsibility, through “the prophetic service of the Church as Watchman,” in its highest form by praying for the State and for its officials in all circumstances.’ (Barth) Both the Church and the State are under the Lordship of Christ.

There was no false dichotomy between secular and sacred. Civic duty for Christians is, as it has always been, holding themselves as individuals, and the Government to its role, function and purpose, accountable, under the Divine Lordship of Christ.

Right through the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ Kingship is at work. Healing and exorcism, announce His kingdom drawn near, His kingdom to come; his actions calling us to rethink and repent – for ‘the Kingdom of God is near.’

As Ethan the Ezrahite wrote, ‘God rules over the surging seas; waves rise, He stills them.’ (Psalm 89:9). The shock-waves of Christ’s kingship confirmed by the events of Good Friday, dark Saturday and Resurrection Sunday, spread His authority like a slow tsunami over the Pax Romana, past Rome’s powerful legions, liberating the hearts of the wounded, lame, repentant and humble. Christ’s just rule breaks like a wave over Church and State permeating both. The just who was judged becomes our just judge.

As things currently stand, we’ve had no reassurance from prominent politicians about how civil liberties will be safeguarded during the Coronavirus counter measures. We, the people, seem to be on a Shakespearean rodeo, living as Romeo, liberty as Juliet. There seem to be powerful forces at work to keep both separated, perhaps even on a permanent basis. But Shakespeare’s work isn’t just a tale of woe about oppressive forces that seek to keep man from woman, and woman from man, it’s a warning telling us not to give up hope.

Regardless of how dead liberty might appear to be, or how pathetically silent our leaders choose to remain. Regardless of how intimidated we are by the state flexing its muscles, prancing its ferocious might in our faces. Regardless of how we may suffer under the hands of those who make themselves the enemy of civil liberties, it’s because of Good Friday, we, who are raised in Christ, can say Good Friday, is still Good News.

Liberty may have been crucified, but liberty was liberated and lives yet still!

Though the state may flap and dance about, howl, breathe fire and brandish the sword, in a political thrust and parry against liberty, they cannot win. For although ‘it’s true that Jesus told His disciples to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. It [shouldn’t be forgotten that it] is God who declares what belongs to Caesar.’ [iii]

May God’s wisdom guide us, may His strength empower us, and with defiant humility, may we gratefully embrace the Light from which all true freedom breaks. For the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).

Happy Easter, folks!

Jesus is Victor!


References:

[i] Barth, K. Community, State, and Church, Wipf & Stock Publishers.

[ii] Barth, K. The Theology of John Calvin, Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[iii] Bell, G, 1940. Christianity & World Order, Penguin Classics.

First published on Caldron Pool, 10th April, 2020.

© Rod Lampard, 2020

Easter speaks of human salvation and God’s embrace of humanity.

The Advent of the prophesied Jewish Messiah, who we celebrate at Christmas, points the way to Easter. The hope we get a glimpse of at Christmas, joins with the sadness and joy that surprises us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

God has not abandoned Humanity. Though rebellious man and woman, betrays, breaks and beats God to a pulp, then puts Him to death through the cruellest of punishments, does not mean that God is forcefully and successfully overthrown. It is an act of grace that God gives of Himself in His son, who dies and is raised to life again, both in order to save and to show God’s salvation. This the embrace of Easter.

God brings life where there is death, exchanges joy for mourning, renews deserted places, heals broken hearts, rescues abused souls, and gives consolation to those long abandoned by their neighbours, loved ones and sadly, sometimes even by select churches. He does this on His terms.

By this, in this and through this, God comes to be for His creature. The Creator brings His creature into realignment – reconciliation and relationship with Him; whereby the creature finds the outstretched hands of unmerited favour; grace. God’s embrace of  humanity is grounded in Jesus Christ.

God is free and in His freedom He chooses to act in His Son for us, on behalf of us, in order to be with us and that we would be with Him [i]. Easter is about invitation to be with God, in spite of our best efforts to be or replace God. We see this thundering throughout history and we hear this resolutely spoken throughout the biblical witness and Judeo-Christian tradition:

“I will be your God and you shall be my people.”

In other words, life with God, begins with, God with us. Humanity doesn’t conjure up God. Although it can and does try to do this, any human attempt to create god will miss the mark every time. It was human minds, hands and hearts that built the Titanic, created the brutality of Blitzkrieg, called ‘greed, good’; slaughtered millions under communism and raised leaders to godlike status, only to find those leaders wanting, abusive; and mad with the power that was handed to them.

We are taught by this that all human attempts to conquer, mountain, monster and myth, fail if it includes the corrupted primal quest to supersede or conquer God.  We cannot make god in our own image, because it will always be a counterfeit god, a morbid light, an idol, empty of any real power. It will never be the God who speaks and steps in to save those lost in the freedom He granted that which He has made.

Cross Easter 25th March 2016

As it reads in the Gospel according to John,  ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word was with God and the Word was God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’

Easter teaches us that no matter how much His creature, who acts in rebellion against Him may will it, the Creator does not stay dead. ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ God is not devoured, will not be dissected, cannot be dethroned or surpassed. He makes Himself known to us on His terms. This is the embrace of the Resurrection; the events that unfold on the third day.

Will all that will be written over the course of this Easter weekend, grasp the weight of the events that Easter, outside its neo-pagan box, represents?

What if we trimmed off the fashionable arrogance of modern society, and for one moment stepped out of the encroaching neo-pagan fog, then took the time to hear, and see what, and who actually stood before ordinary men and women, who on a human level, were not all that far removed from ourselves?

This Easter weekend, what if we were to actually allow ourselves to read, hear and see what they witnessed? To see and hear, as best we can, who it was that actually stood before them, spoke to them, stood with and gave for them?

Can we truly claim to have superior insight over against those witnesses? Against those who not only found themselves swept up in those events, but came to give their lives for them? At what risk do we discount their voice, by detaching ourselves from their witness, choosing instead to live in ignorance under a de-constructed version of their accounts?

For the duration of this weekend we are called to give our attention to the remembrance of Jesus Christ. We remember the how, where and in whom, God, chose to speak and act in time and space .

The same God who rescued the Hebrews from the tyranny of Ancient Egypt, reaches to include all of humanity in His gracious emancipation. Just as our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate the Passover feast in remembrance of that deliverance around the same time as Easter every year, we unite with them in the understanding that Easter is the embrace of Exodus. God liberates His creature from sin, from itself and ultimately from all that seeks its total and final annihilation.

For the duration of this weekend our minds are called to the attention of an historical event, agreed upon by the majority of serious historians. In this event our attention is held by the sound of nails slamming through the hands and feet of

‘Christ, [who] had been put to death in Tiberius’ reign by the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilatus. But despite this setback the deadly superstition had broken out afresh, not only in Judea (where the mischief started) but even in Rome.’ (Tacitus, Annals circa 116 A.D)

For the duration of this weekend, the world is called to attention. Not just to remember, but to anticipate and have faith in His answer and challenge, decisively spoken on day three.

He who will be, was. He who was, is. He who is, will come again.

Maranatha!


[i] Barth, K. 1942 CD.II/2 The Doctrine of God: The Election of Jesus Christ, Hendrickson Publishers.

Easter Sunday is an anticipation of Pentecost.

Karl Barth writes of the human response being one of ‘unconditional gratitude…because baptism of the Holy Spirit is the active and actualising grace of God. This is because humanity is now ‘free for decision. A decision that conforms to our liberation’ which has come about in the gift of reorientation handed to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Barth, C.D IV.4.1, pp.33-3).

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Out and about today, traversing through back roads.

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We had a solid ride, this time around adding a few extra people.

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Not one of the standard Good Fridays, but it was worth taking the team out to fellowship with those God has brought us alongside.

Before we embarked I read out this word from Bonheoffer:

‘Good Friday and Easter – the days of God’s overpowering acts in history, acts in which God’s judgement and grace were revealed to all the world – are just around the corner. Judgement in those hours in which Jesus Christ, our Lord, hung on the cross; grace in that hour in which death was swallowed up in victory. It was not human beings who accomplished anything here; no God alone did it. He came to human beings in infinite love. He judged what is human. And he granted grace beyond any merit.’

– (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sermon in Barcelona 11th March 1928. God on is on the cross 2012:87)

 

 

Since summer the idea of reclaiming a small landscape in our backyard, not only to rejuvenate it, but also to plant some food to help my family eat better, has been of huge interest to me.

So for the past three and half months we have been carefully planning the better use of our space.

There are limitations to this that have been beyond our control. So, we’ve walked alongside them to the best of our ability in order to achieve something of value, sustainability and usability. Part of doing this has included implementing ideas which helped to identify and then redefine the use of areas that seemed too small, or were just under organised.

wheel barrow

In truth in a lot of ways it has matured into a homeschool science project. For example: the outcomes of this project, not only directly assists our approach to homeschooling. It also provides an environment where our homeschoolers can study and experience nature, the importance of horticulture and experiment with some of the basic elements within agriculture.

Yesterday we arrived at the final part of that work. Accompanying this was the realisation that, now, it is going to be a matter of letting it grow.

Unfortunately, like most well programmed retail managers I inherited the struggle between active and passive participation i.e: I sometimes wrestle with patience and people pleasing, particularly when positive results are slow to materialise even if an objective has been achieved.

Thankfully, this kind of internal conflict  finds a resolution when I acknowledge the value of stepping back and ‘standing firm’ (Eph.6:13).

Stepping back does not mean losing ground or “letting go” or “taking a back-seat”.

To “let it go” implies “abdicating responsibility” or worse, it suggests dropping any duty of care assigned to me.

Nor does stepping back mean that I “release the garden”, or find some woefully poor excuse “under grace” to ignore my commitment to it.

After all, the garden still needs watering, weeding and pruning.

By taking a step back, I am re-evaluating and observing. This prudently precedes firmly standing on a pre-emptive movement towards, not away from further engagement.

Like transforming a garden and small, apparently unusable areas around our house, transforming space becomes a witness to the process of transformative grace.

If I take a perfectionist stand, the process is compromised; the foundation is weak. If I retain my right to do what I want at the insane pace at which I demand, or am pushed to go, the process is sabotaged; the foundation is weakened further. If I deny grace by refusing to recognise God’s role here then the attempt to reach for the objective ends in utter failure; the foundation is abandoned.

Instead, if I exercise an already present grace by inhaling God’s costly claim on my life, I find myself summoned to ‘stand firm’, only after I have done the best I can with what I have already received.

Out of this flows a response to grace. In other words an actualising of gratitude, and in due course joy, contentment and peace.

A  garden of abundance, tended, loved, redefined, reconciled, redeemed –  life deemed worthy of life, by the giver of life.

‘He knows he must deny himself for the man he needs to be…the burden here is sweet compared to Calvary’

–  (Marie Bellet, via Mrs C )

Preamble to the fall of Empire

I speak into the void.
The sound of my voice echoes back at me;
The reverb of a roosters crow;
Three times reminding me that
I lived and walked beside the precipice.

Here I know the noise of nothingness,
And fear the emptiness of this dawn.
The tyranny of the mob demands solidarity.
We watched as the cloth and metal,

Holding together this rectangular sign of Empire,
its wood, its bark, and their arrogant remarks.
Soon to rise and soon to fall.
Like the crowned and lowering head of its sole occupant;
Like a preamble to the future of the Empire it represents.

I speak into the void and resist what I once feared.
This once victorious nothingness flees.
My eyes strain.
At the sight of this empty tomb the cold emptiness drains
Only anticipation and recollection remain.

Has this strange new kingdom appeared?
Un-expectantly leading without leading,
Exchanging a donkey for a stallion;
I found myself befriended by God’s apocalypse.

Not perceiving, but perceived.
Not asserting about God,
but hearing God assert things about Himself.

This God, alone, become our servant without equal
This man, Jesus, now become, Chief of Kings.
The Christ risen.

The firstborn of the dead; of New Creation;
restoration, reconciliation
Announcing and proclaiming:
Momentum awaiting movement;
movement engaged by loving motivation.

Joy and hope beaming from anticipation fulfilled.

©RL2014: Inspired by Simon Peter of the Gospels and Karl Barth’s discussion on Christology in CD.1.2:  The Mystery of Revelation, 1938

Advent days 20-22:

Leathen Comradeinwhite_ChristWW1

Christmas Day 1915.

‘By Christmas there was a widespread popular sense for a thoroughgoing reconciliation in no-man’s land. What had happened at Christmas in 1914 was the needful precedent. It was a sort of playful legend in the army. On Christmas Day there would be a going over and a shaking of hands and exchange of souvenirs and drinks. Both sides looked forward to it.

But the authorities evidently thought it dangerous. Orders to the effect that there should be no fraternisation were sent out, and a staff-officer here and there spent Christmas Eve in the trenches to see that the orders were carried out. He could not however effect very much…At dawn therefore parties went over, and whole battalions might have followed them had not the artillery at once set up a barrage. It was found also that sentries on both sides had been ordered to fire. Some obeyed, some did not. Meanwhile the troops about Neuve Chapelle and Aubers got across in large bodies. Even on the Guards’ front men risked their lives to shake hands. Did not one thus lose his life that morning!

There is a little old cemetery by the side of the road a mile or so from Laventie, and there lie prominently side by side two corporals of the Sixth Black Watch (Newell and Willis) and behind their graves is that of a certain Sergeant Oliver[i] who perished on Christmas Day…On all graves are weeds except on that of the man who gave his life to shake hands on Christmas Day’[ii].

There are some parallels here that meet with the Christ story. For instance light dawns on a dark day and is quickly extinguished.

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Source: Paul Fussell 1974:138 Oxford Uni Press, Schweizer illustriete Zeitung; The “Comrade in White”.

Similar to the authorities attempts to extinguish Jesus, soldiers on both sides of the trenches in World War One rose to match hope with peace, and experienced attempts by earthly authorities to extinguish their efforts.

They rose out of the trenches in spite of direct opposition and gifted us with a bewildering example of faith, courage and humanity.

We are told by Matthew that Joseph is warned in a dream about the possible act of infanticide. Carried out by a ruler who, after speaking with ‘wise men from the East’, feared the possibility of prophetic fulfilment. Fearing that a boy in Bethlehem ‘had been born’ (Mt.2:2, ESV) and that He would be a challenge to Herod’s authority. In a violent act of suppression, Herod, like Pilot not only becomes a key historical character, his actions also indicate how serious the socio-political nature of the event was perceived. The point is that the prophetic fulfilment was so intensely anticipated, that a ruler would eventually go to great lengths in order to undermine and eliminate a child:

“Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Mt.2:13, ESV)

In 1945 C.S Lewis, himself a World War One survivor,  preached these words:

Christ has risen, and so we shall rise[iii]… To be sure, it feels wintry enough still: but often in the very early spring it feels like that…The spring comes slowly down this way; but the great thing is that a corner has been turned…It remains for us to follow or not, to die in this cosmic winter, or to go into that spring and that summer… I believe that God really has dived down into the bottom of creation, and has come up bringing the whole redeemed nature on His shoulders.’[iv]

The difference between the soldiers in those trenches and Jesus Christ, is that in Him, God reaches out to us for more than just a moment of peace.

God’s eternal handshake with humanity is the gift given in the incarnation of His son Jesus the Christ. The effort he made marks the landscape of Christmas.

In Jesus Christ  God reveals Himself as God for us; His Word become flesh.

This event is the advent. That God became man and dwelt among us, is present with us in the Holy Spirit, and will be physically present with us at a future time determined by God.

He seeks a dwelling place with humanity. We read that:

“He will dwell with them, they will be his people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away…I am making all things new” (Rev.21:3-4).

Resurrection is God’s doing, God’s empowering. In reflections during advent we discover that rise, rising, and being risen are key theological concepts within a holistic advent reflection. In what theologians call Christology, we encounter the anticipation of the future-event based on the past-event. Christ becomes the fulfilment of promise. The end is established in order to begin. Since resurrection is a gospel proclamation of liberation, the word rise is a  theme not to be isolated or boxed into Easter reflections alone.

May the events of Christmas 1914 & 1915 be a strong reminder to us that even in the grip of tragedy; wisdom, reconciliation, mercy and justice are themes with deep roots in the significance of the Christ-mass – traces of the Saviour’s influence.

May they not be forgotten.

Sources:


[i] Fussel, P. 1974 The Great War and Modern Memory Oxford University Press, p.309
[ii] Graham, S. 1921 The Challenge of the Dead Cassell and Company, Ltd London sourced 22nd December 2013 from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/40507/40507-h/40507-h.htm
[iii] 1 Cor. 15:20
[iv] Lewis, C.S, 27 April 1945 Sermon: The Grand Miracle in Lewis, C.S. 2000 Essay Collection HarperCollins Publishers, p.9

RL2013