Monday, January 18, 2021

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany- 17 Jan 21


My Friends 

My Friends, 


Saint John 2.1
“Mine hour has not yet come”
 
This, too, is part and parcel of the Epiphany, the making known of the essential divinity of Jesus Christ which contains as well the making known of the will and purpose of God for our humanity. And, perhaps, no epiphany story better concentrates and encapsulates both the essential divinity of Christ and the divine will and purpose for our humanity so gently and so joyously.
 
It is such a pastoral, rustic, and ordinary scene. The setting is a country wedding, “in Cana of Galilee”, but in the midst of the ordinariness of this ordinary scene extraordinary things occur. They are things for us to ponder, to wonder and adore. 
 
There is the discovery of the limitations and the poverty of our humanity, pointed out ever so poignantly and yet so directly by Mary, “they have no wine”. There is the divine provision for our joy, water turned to wine, and not just ordinary wine but the best wine, “the good wine [has been kept] until now”.
 
It is, we are told, the “beginning of signs” which Jesus did. “This beginning of signs”, this first of a series has a greater significance than the mere start of a linear progression of events. “This beginning”, as it were, contains the essential meaning of all the signs of Jesus. In a way, they only make sense through this story. 
 
The miracles of Jesus are ultimately signs – things that are done – which teach and manifest purpose. They show the power of God in Jesus, the power of the Creator who is the Redeemer without which our humanity would remain in its wounded and broken state of sorrow and sin: blind and deaf, dumb and lame, lacking the means of lasting joys within ourselves; in short, dead and dying. 
 
What are the miracles of Christ really all about? Two things. There is the power of the Creator from within the created order – “what manner of man is this”, say the storm-tossed sailors, “that even the wind and the sea obey him?” There is the power of the Redeemer present in the compassion of Christ who seeks the healing and the restoration of our humanity, both soul and body.
 
But why? For what end or purpose? The gospels show Jesus giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, cleansing the lepers – and, by extension, to all who suffer from the contagion of disease – giving movement to the paralysed and the lame, even life to the dead and buried. Indeed, all these signs have a signal purpose. They speak to us about the hope of transformation and healing, the hope of being made whole in the fullness of our humanity. In a way, the healing miracles of the Gospel are all about death and resurrection, the death and resurrection of Christ in us. But again, why? For what end or purpose? 
 
Simply for praise. Simply for the act of worship and adoration. Simply for joy, holy joy. 
 
The teaching church does not exist first and foremost as a world-improvement society. All the things which Paul reminds us about and exhorts us to be in the epistle for today are testimonies and witnesses to the meaning of our life in Christ. Our work and our actions are to be the signs of the love of Christ alive in us. We reach out to others out of that love, seeking his face in the poor and the lonely, the sick and the dying of the world; in short, providing for others in need out of the love of Christ. Our works must be signs of our faith. That is always the challenge. 
 
God seeks the very best for us and that very best has to do with our joy and blessedness, a joy and blessedness that can only come from him to us, even more, a joy and blessedness that must be Christ in us, sacramentally and practically speaking, by way of what we hear and see, by way of what we do out of what we are given to hear and see in the Word proclaimed and the Sacraments celebrated, in lives of holiness and service, in lives of sacrifice and commitment. 
 
The healing miracles are about far more than the healing of our physical selves. They are about far more than our mental sense of well-being. They are much more radically about our life with God. The end and purpose of our humanity is found in God. We have an end with God. And something of what that means appears in the imagery of a wedding feast. After all, the kingdom of heaven is often imaged in terms of the marriage feast, the feast to which we have been invited. And while there are things that, quite rightly, are required of us as guests and participants in the wedding, marriage is fundamentally of God’s doing, whether we speak of the union of man and woman in holy matrimony, that divine estate “instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency”, as the marriage service in The Book of Common Prayer so wonderfully puts it, or whether we speak spiritually and metaphorically of the union of God and man in Jesus Christ, a union which preserves in the fullest possible way the distinctiveness of the divine and the human. Such is the challenge for our church and age. 
 
There are, as an old medieval hymn puts it, our “social joys”, the joys which belong to our fellowship in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, come what may, whether it be persecution or sorrow, frustration or failure. How can that be? Because of the radical meaning of this Gospel story. There is this extraordinary thing which Jesus says to Mary, “mine hour has not yet come”. What does he mean? He means that the very things which God seeks for us, our good and our joy as found in him, are bought with a price, the price of his sacrifice, his death and resurrection, the hour of his crucifixion and triumph. Somehow “this beginning of signs” points to what is present in all of the healing miracles of Christ. They all belong to his passion. In a way, they all participate and share in his passion by which our humanity finds healing and salvation. The end – the goal or purpose - is joy and blessedness. But only through “his hour”, the hour which gathers all the things of time into the eternal purposes of God. 
 
The point is wonderfully captured in the opening phrase of one of the reformed catechisms, the Westminster Shorter Catechism. “What is the chief end of man?”, it is asked, to which the answer is given, “to glorify God and enjoy him forever”. Our reformed liturgy, especially in this Gospel story, suggests something of what that means. We live in Christ through his Word and Sacrament. But we can only partake of Christ through his body broken and his blood out-poured, through the things “of his hour”. Such is his love for us, the love that is agony and joy. For “love”, as one of our poets and divines, George Herbert, puts it, “is that liquor sweet and most divine, / which my God feels as bloud; but I as wine”. The wine of divinity graces us with the social joys of heaven and signals the salvation of our humanity; all because “mine hour has not yet come”. 

Father Ed Bakker, 
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province, 
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne, 
Launceston 
Tasmania, 
Australia







Monday, January 11, 2021

The First Sunday after the Epiphany - 10 Jan 21


My Friends 

My Friends, 


Romans 12.1


“Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed  
by the renewing of your mind.”
 
The twelve days of Christmas end with the Feast of Epiphany, the last and great festival of Christmas. Epiphany is, as it were, the Christmas of the Gentiles, for in the journey of the Magi-Kings, the birth of Christ is made known to all the nations of the world. As a 17th century Anglican divine, Bishop John Cosin of Durham puts it: “[Christmas] has been indeed a feast of joy to us all this while … but our fullness of joy comes not [until] now, for the Angelic tidings of joy came first to the shepherds, to Israel, to those near at hand, but upon this feast it is omni populo (to all people), news which the star brought to all the world, and to us too, that now salvation was come unto the Gentiles”. Joy increases to fullness of joy and light blazes forth into fullness of light.
 
Epiphany means more than just the ending blaze of Christmas, however. It also inaugurates a season of teaching, the season of Epiphany.
 
The word Epiphany means  manifestation or shining forth, and refers to the manifestation of God’s glory in the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus. Epiphany raises our minds from  the paradise of Bethlehem to the heaven of Jerusalem. In a way, we move from meditating upon “His coming in the flesh that was God”  to “His being God that was come in the flesh”; in short, “to turn ourselves from his humanity below to his divinity above” (Cosin). For that reason, too, the Epiphany season abounds with the stories of the miracles of Jesus, told, however, as teachings about the divinity of Christ, the very thing which grounds all worship. 
 
The manifestation of the divinity of Christ is Epiphany’s theme. In the words and deeds of Christ, God is revealed and revealed in ways which open out to us the true nature of God. What is made manifest is not something arbitrary, tyrannous and willful. No. Epiphany in every way is pregnant with purpose, the purpose of God. Epiphany celebrates in St. Paul’s words, the making known of “the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord”(Eph.3.11). Thus, the First Sunday after the Epiphany signals the manifestation of Christ as the Wisdom of God, the epiphany of the divine wisdom, the true source of all teaching and every learning.  
 
Education is often about the discovery of things which were previously hidden from our view. Here, in the only Gospel story that treats the boyhood of Christ, Jesus is found in the temple at Jerusalem, “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions”. The initial picture is Jesus as the student but “all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers”. Jesus the exemplary student is also Jesus the Teacher among the teachers.  
          
These teachers have the humility to be astonished, to be amazed and full of wonder. As Jesus will say to an anxious Mary and Joseph who had “sought [him]”, as Mary said, “sorrowing”, so, too, he says to us “wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” Which only heightens the wonder. 
 
It is a curious phrase and one which is variously rendered as being “about my Father’s business” or “in my Father’s house”, έν τοίς τοϋ πατρός μου, in any event, underscoring the connection between the boy Jesus and the heavenly Father in the place of teaching, the temple at Jerusalem. It suggests something of God’s will and purpose for us.
 
Epiphany makes known to us the twofold purpose of the coming of Christ. He comes to reveal divinity and to redeem humanity. He is the eternal Word made flesh, true God and true Man, as orthodox Christianity rightly and firmly insists. As Athanasius, the Father of Orthodoxy says, “without forsaking what He was, namely God, he became what He was not, namely man”. Divine wisdom is fully present at every stage in the true course of his real humanity, the unchanging in the midst of the changing, from the unspeaking babe in Bethlehem to the agonizing words of the crucified Christ at Calvary. “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature”, humanly speaking, that we, too, may grow up into wisdom provided we are attentive to Christ. 
 
Like Mary and Joseph, we, too, must find him in the temple with the priests and doctors of the Law, the place for those who seek God. And what could be more appropriate than that he should be in their midst in the study of God’s Holy Scripture? He who reveals divinity among those who would have divinity revealed? What could be more fitting than that a school boy’s innocent simplicity and directness of insight should be the vehicle of the manifestation of God’s wisdom?  
 
And yet, there is the astounding wonder of the thing precisely because it runs so completely counter to our expectations. “Be not conformed to this world”, St. Paul says in a similar fashion, for Christ’s coming runs counter to all human expectation, to all worldly calculation. It confounds our schemes and designs, as it must, for it all about grace, God’s grace and our engagement with him. Epiphany shows us that God is the teacher through the wonderful paradox of the child Christ among the doctors. 
 
Christ’s coming opens out to us a new vision and a new perspective. He opens out to us the kingdom of God, the place of human perfection, and he opens out to us the form of our participation by grace in that kingdom. In no small measure, it has to do with our being taught. “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds”, St. Paul says. 
 
This, too, is a wonderful phrase. It signals the hope of transformation through our being changed and our being changed fundamentally in terms of our outlook, in terms of our thinking. This renewal of our minds requires our attentiveness to God’s revelation of himself, to the means of his engaging us through the words of Christ in the witness of the Scriptures and through the sacrament of his body and blood, the revealed and given means of his being with us. This renewal of our minds requires our turning away from “being conformed to the world”. Conformity, as something static and confining, contrasts with the dynamic of our being transformed by our attention to the high things of God unveiled in our midst. The vain pursuit of every passing fad and fancy afflicts contemporary culture and alienates us from the dynamic of God and thus from ourselves and one another. To be transformed means to attend to Christ in the places where his Word is proclaimed and his Sacraments celebrated. Only so can we be what we behold in Christ.  
 
“You must therefore seek him there in the Temple, seek him in the Church, where you will find the Word and the Wisdom of Christ”, as an older wise man and theologian, Origen, once said. Nothing could be more profoundly counter-culture even as it shapes and defines cultures. Ultimately, we are what we contemplate. We become what we behold. The Church must be the place where we behold Christ in his revelation of himself to us; only so can we find him in one another. “Trasumanar”, transhumanised, as that wise poet, Dante says, coining a word in Italian to capture the wonder of our being transformed into what we shall be according to will and purpose of God.
 
The collect for the First Sunday after the Epiphany sets the logic for the Epiphany season and for our lives. We seek the wisdom of God that “we may both perceive and know what things we ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same”. There is a kind of logical priority given to our reasoning, the sense of the logos of God undergirding all rightful action. That sensibility goes to the very meaning of education, to the idea of our being led out of the prisons of ourselves in conformity to the whims and dictates of our world and day and our being led into the wisdom of God which alone is transforming. Only by contemplating the wisdom of God made manifest in Christ, in his Word proclaimed and his Sacraments celebrated, can we hope to grow up into wisdom. The meaning of the Epiphany, it signals the journey of our lives to God and with God. 
 
“Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed  
by the renewing of your mind.”

Father Ed Bakker, 
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province, 
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne, 
Launceston
Tasmania
Australia





Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The Epiphany of our Lord


My Friends 


Not too long ago I saw a marble bas-relief representing the adoration of the child Jesus by the Magi. The central figures were surrounded by four angels, each one bearing a symbol: a crown, an orb surmounted by the cross, a sword and a sceptre. The artist had chosen symbols with which we are all familiar to illustrate the event we commemorate today. Some wise men whom tradition describes as kings come to pay homage to a child, after having been to Jerusalem to ask “Where is he that is born king of the Jews?”

Moved by this question, I too now contemplate Jesus “lying in a manger,” in a place fit only for animals. Lord, where is your kingship, your crown, your sword, your sceptre? They are his by right, but he does not want them. He reigns wrapped in swaddling clothes. Our king is unadorned. He comes to us as a defenceless little child. Can we help but recall the words of the Apostle: “He emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave”?

Our Lord became man to teach us the Father’s will. And this he is already doing as he lies there in the manger. Jesus Christ is seeking us — with a call which is a vocation to sanctity — so that we may carry out the redemption with him. Let us reflect on this first lesson of his. We are to co-redeem, by striving to triumph not over our neighbour, but over ourselves. Like Christ we need to empty ourselves, to consider ourselves as the servants of others, and so to bring them to God.

Where is the king? Could it be that Jesus wants to reign above all in men’s hearts, in your heart? That is why he has become a child, for who can help loving a little baby? Where then is the king? Where is the Christ whom the Holy Spirit wants to fashion in our souls? He cannot be present in the pride that separates us from God, nor in the lack of charity which cuts us off from others. Christ cannot be there. In that loveless state man is left alone.

As you kneel at the feet of the child Jesus on the day of his Epiphany and see him a king bearing none of the outward signs of royalty, you can tell him: “Lord, take away my pride; crush my self-love, my desire to affirm myself and impose myself on others. Make the foundation of my personality my identification with you.”

We want to identify ourselves with Christ. It is not an easy goal. But it is not difficult either, if we live as our Lord has taught us to live, if we have recourse to his word every day, if we fill our lives with the sacramental reality, the Eucharist, which he has given us for our nourishment. Then the Christian’s path proves to be viable. God has called us clearly and unmistakably. Like the Magi we have discovered a star: a light and a guide in the sky of our soul.

“We have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him.” We have had the same experience. We too noticed a new light shining in our soul and growing increasingly brighter. It was a desire to live a fully christian life, a keenness to take God seriously. If each one of you were to tell aloud the intimate details of how his vocation made itself felt, the rest of us would conclude immediately that it was all God’s doing. Let us give thanks to God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, and to Holy Mary, through whom all blessings from heaven come to us, for this gift which, along with our faith, is the greatest the Lord can bestow on any of his creatures. It is a clear desire to attain the fullness of charity, the conviction that sanctity is not only possible but necessary in the midst of our social and professional tasks.

Look how gently the Lord invites us. His words have human warmth; they are the words of a person in love: “I have called you by your name. You are mine.” God, who is beauty and greatness and wisdom, declares that we are his, that we have been chosen as the object of his infinite love. We need a strong life of faith to appreciate the wonder his providence has entrusted to us. A faith like that of the Magi, a conviction that neither the desert, nor the storms, nor the quiet of the oases will keep us from reaching our destination in the eternal Bethlehem: our definitive life with God.


Fr Ed Bakker




Monday, January 4, 2021

Second Sunday after Christmas - 3 January 21


My Friends 


 

“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: 

they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death,

upon them hath the light shined.”  

Isaiah 9.2

 

Our celebration of the Nativity of Christ coincides with the season of the winter solstice – that turning point of the year when the shortest and darkest day is left behind, and the hours of daylight steadily increase.  The returning, or rebirth, of the sun has always been a cause of great rejoicing, and, all through human history, has given rise to all kinds of celebrations.  In ancient pagan Rome, for instance, at this season, it was the great festival of Sol Invictus: the celebration of the unconquered sun.  In a climate such as ours, it is perhaps easy to understand the motivation of such festivals; the growing hours of light remind us that even though the hardest part of winter still lies before us, we are surely on the road to spring.

 

The coincidence of Christmas with the winter solstice has given rise to much speculation and suspicion.  Were the Christians just trying to divert people from those pagan revellings?  Well, perhaps; but surely there is more to it than that, because the coincidence is full of profound symbolic significance, which is neither arbitrary nor accidental.  In this, as in so many matters, the course of nature serves as a parable of spiritual truth: we celebrate the rising of a better sun; the growing of a light which all the darkness of this present world can never overcome, a light which shines to life eternal.  “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light:  they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined”.

 

That symbolism of light is fundamental in Holy Scriptures, from the beginning of the Book of Genesis.  In the first instant of creation, God said, “Let there be light.  And there was light” – not the natural light of the sun and moon and stars; they come later, on the fourth day – not the light of nature, but the spiritual light of God’s presence, God’s word, God’s will.  The Scriptures begin with that light, and they conclude with that light:  in the Book of Revelation, the holy city of St. John’s vision has no need of the sun, for the Lamb of God, God’s eternal Word, is the light which illumines it.

 

Thus, the Prophet, in today’s lesson, when he speaks of the coming of the light, is speaking of God’s presence with his people: the coming of the word of God to deliver those who dwell in darkness.  Isaiah’s words are a great outburst of rejoicing.  In his vision of the coming of the light, he sees the kingdom of Israel restored:  a child is born to sit on David’s throne.  “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:  and the government shall be upon his shoulder…of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgement and with justice henceforth even for ever.  The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform this”.

 

The promised child is the child of Bethlehem, Emmanuel, God with us.  He is God’s word made flesh – a light shining in the darkness, which the darkness cannot overcome.  He is the promised Messiah, who sits on David’s throne as saviour of his people; and therefore his name is “Jesus”, which means just that:  “Jehovah saves – God saves”.  He comes as the light, as the rising of the sun, to illumine all the nations, and to be the glory of his people, Israel.

 

Thus the prophesies are fulfilled in him:  but they are also transformed in his fulfilling of them.  They are given a deeper spiritual sense. He comes to restore the kingdom, no doubt; but what is the Israel he restores?  The new Israel is not the kingdom of an earthly territory; it is a kingdom of the spirit.  He comes to break oppression; but the oppression which he breaks is not the oppression of Babylon or Rome; it is not the oppression of flesh and blood; it is the deeper, and altogether more hateful and devastating oppression of spiritual blindness, and deceitful lusts and vain ambitions.  The captivity from which he liberates is the captivity of the confused and wayward human soul, the captivity of sin and hopelessness.  The darkness he illumines is the darkness of the human mind and heart.  In the frozen darkness of our winter, he brings promise of a rebirth of the spirit.

 

“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light:  they that swell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”  That is the light of the glory of God’s eternal word.  That is the light of the first day of creation, and that is the light which shines upon the heavenly Jerusalem.  And that is the light which illumines the manger scene in Bethlehem, for there is the Word made flesh, and there we see, if we will only look, “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”.  May that light illumine the dark, cold stables of our hearts with promise of a new life.

 

As Robert Herrick puts it, in his lovely carol:

Dark and dull night, fly hence away,

And give the honour to this day,

That sees December turn to May,

If we may ask the reason, say:

            We may see him come, and know him ours,

            Who with his sunshine and his showers,

            Turns all the patient ground to flowers.

In today’s Gospel Lesson, we have St. Luke’s story of the shepherds, hastening to Bethlehem “to see the thing which is come to pass.”  “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.  And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.  But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

 

The world was indeed astonished by the strange story the shepherds had to tell; but we, we who have worshipped at the manger, let us, with Mary, treasure these things, and ponder them in our hearts.  Let that be the ground of our peace, and of our rejoicing, in this New Year.

 

Fr Ed Bakker




Thursday, December 31, 2020

New Year’s Day - 1 January 2021


My Friends 

January 1
God, thank you for a new year. May everyone in our family be willing to begin anew with a clean slate. We know that you are always ready to forgive us. Help us to be willing to forgive ourselves and to forgive one another.

As we begin a new year, remind us of our truest values and our deepest desires. Help us to live in the goodness that comes from doing what you want us to do. Help us to put aside anxiety about the future and the past, so that we might live in peace with you now, one day at a time!

RevdFr Ed Bakker