Posts Tagged ‘Easter’

Immersed in the world

May 12, 2018

Easter 7 – 2018

John 17:6-19

Marian Free

In the name of God whose Son draws us into relationship with God, with himself and with each other. Amen.

Marking assignments is an interesting task. In the process one learns a lot about the different ways in which people think. For example some students compartmentalise their material under sub-headings arguing every point separately before bringing the thesis together as a whole. Others write in a linear fashion, beginning at point A and moving consecutively through their argument to a conclusion at point B. Still others don’t appear to have any particular order or structure – all the details of the argument might be there but they are mixed together in a way that obviously makes sense to the writer but can be harder for the reader to disentangle[1].

If the gospels were student papers, as an examiner I would put John’s gospel into the last category. In this gospel the language and themes circle around and repeat themselves while at the same time moving forward to some new idea or insight. This is perhaps best illustrated by the images of the shepherd and the vine. Both contain more than one image (shepherd and gate, vine and abiding). These images somehow entwine together and get to the place for which the author is aiming, laying down one’s life for the sheep, and laying down one’s life for one’s friends but are difficult to disentangle without damaging or oversimplifying the meaning. Further, the imagery that relates to Jesus in chapter 10, is extended to the disciples in chapter 15, so the theme of an earlier part of the gospel is carried forward to later section. Similarly, at the conclusion of the discussion about the shepherd, the Jews accuse Jesus of having a demon. In chapter 15 Jesus warns the disciples that if the world has hated him, it will also hate them.

Another characteristic of John’s gospel that is obvious in today’s gospel is the density of the material – the number of ideas or themes that are contained in a few verses. Several words that John uses in very specific ways are found together but they are so enmeshed that it is impossible to separate them.  Yet knowing the meaning of each is important to our understanding of the passage as a whole. Making today’s reading more complex still is that these themes have been woven in and out of the gospel from the beginning. Expressions such as “the world”, “the truth”, “being one” and “being hated” have already been introduced and the author of the gospel expects that we will be familiar with his use of these terms and that we will know what he means when he uses them in this context.

For these reasons, it is my contention is that the fourth gospel is better experienced than dissected. When it is read as a whole, in one sitting, the various themes coalesce enriching and enhancing each other. The words echo through the text as they are repeated over and over again. Gradually they simply sink into the consciousness and understanding of the reader who understands their meaning without any need for explanation.

Our reading today is a portion of the prayer that concludes Jesus’ farewell speech (13-17). In preparing the disciples for his departure, Jesus demonstrates servant leadership, reassures the disciples that they will not be left alone, insists that they remain connected to him and assures them that they will receive the Holy Spirit. Finally Jesus prays – for himself, for the disciples and for those who will come to faith through the disciples. Having prepared the disciples for his imminent departure he now makes it clear through this prayer that he expects that his mission will not conclude after he goes away but will be extended through the mission of the disciples and the mission of those whom they bring to faith. The disciples are ideally suited to this task – they have “kept Jesus’ word” (17:6) and believed that “God sent Jesus” (17:8). As Jesus (through his life) glorified God, so now Jesus is glorified through them. As God sent Jesus, so now Jesus sends the disciples.

Jesus is ready to pass the baton and the disciples are ready to pick it up but Jesus believes that when he is gone they will need protection and he prays that God will further equip them. Jesus knows that the faith of the disciples has set them apart from the world. They no longer really belong, just as Jesus did not belong. This places them at risk of being misunderstood as Jesus was misunderstood, and of being mistreated as Jesus was mistreated. Until now Jesus has put himself between the disciples and the world, now he hands that responsibility over to God. He asks that God will protect them from the world.

Jesus also asks God to sanctify the disciples – to make them holy. He prays that God will “sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth”(17:17). Jesus is not asking God to bestow some esoteric piety or purity on the disciples. Rather, Jesus is asking God to bestow on the disciples the sort of holiness that he himself exemplified, a holiness (sanctification) that comes from knowing the Truth and having the courage to share God’s word (Word) and which results in being immersed in, and willing to die for, the world.

Like the remainder of the gospel, the prayer is multi-layered. The “word” that the disciples have is both the word that Jesus spoke and Jesus himself. The “world” is the place Jesus came to save and the world that is hostile to Jesus. Above all though, the prayer is multi-layered because it addresses not only those who were present but also all the generations since who have come to faith.

When Jesus prays for the disciples, he prays for us – that we who claim to know him may be so sanctified that we too will immerse ourselves in the world, sharing the truth and spreading the word no matter how costly that might be.



[1]Of course, I may be revealing that my thought processes are more linear. Those who think in a different way may find my style too spare, too direct.


Do your worst. I still love you.

April 15, 2017

Easter – 2017

Matthew 28:1-10

Marian Free

In the name of God who no matter what we do never, ever gives up on us. Amen.

I can still remember the television footage of the moment when the father of Scott Rush first met his son in the prison in Bali. Scott you will recall had been arrested with eight others for attempting to bring a 1.3 kg of heroin into Australia. I imagine that at the moment of Scott’s arrest his parent’s lives will have been completely turned upside down. Their son who had had the advantages of a comfortable upbringing and had attended a good private secondary school was now facing a lengthy jail term, if not death, in a country whose culture and legal system are very different from our own. Scott’s parents Lee and Chris had had to drop whatever they were doing to fly to Bali. No doubt they incurred considerable disruption and expense in the process, not to mention the anxiety and fear that would have attended the news of their son’s arrest. Imagine the embarrassment and shame – visiting Bali as parents of a drug smuggler, facing their friends and acquaintances at home and being exposed to intense media interest.

Media reports suggest that Scott was a drug user who was already known to police and who was wanted in Australia on an outstanding warrant for stealing nearly $5000 from an Australian bank. While he may have been caught up in something bigger than he realised, he was no innocent.

When Scott’s parents arrived at the jail surrounded by TV cameras, they didn’t remonstrate with Scott. They didn’t say: “why have you done this to us?” or “what were you thinking?” They didn’t reproach him for humiliating them or berate him for being so foolish. At what must have been an extraordinarily difficult moment, Scott’s mother Chris said to the journalists who crowded in on them: “I love him”. When his father Lee comes face to face with Scott for the first time, he says, as I recall: “you’re a good boy.” “I love him.” “You’re a good boy.” In the eyes of the world, in the eyes of every parent whose child has become addicted to drugs and especially in the eyes of the Indonesian legal system, Scott was anything but “a good boy”. To his father however, he was and remained “a good boy”.

Drugs – the addiction, the temptation to make vast amounts of money with relatively little effort – show humanity at its worst. Vulnerable people are taken advantage of, dealers use violence or threats of violence to protect their patch, to extract money for debts and to prevent people from breaking free of the habit. Addicts turn to crime and sometimes to aggressive behaviour to pay for their next fix. It is a dark and shadowy world that I am glad to have no part of. Scott might have only been on the fringes of that world, but he was part of it. Yet his father can say: “You’re a good boy”.

The events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion depict humanity at its worst. The disciple who for reasons unknown sells his teacher and friend for thirty pieces of silver, the remaining disciples who promise to be with Jesus even to death, but who abandon him and deny him, the priests who fabricate evidence against him, the solders who mock him, the governor, swayed by the crowd who refuses to do what he knows is right, the lynch mob who bay for Jesus’ death, the crowds who revile him and the soldiers and fellow criminals who taunt him. An innocent man is condemned to torture and death in order to preserve the status quo and to please the crowds.

The story might have ended there. The body of Jesus sealed in a tomb and guarded by soldiers. After all that the people (friend and foe alike) had done, God might simply have thrown up God’s hands in horror and washed God’s hands of an ungrateful and uncaring humanity. God had sent Jesus into the world to save the world, instead God watches humanity spurns the gift, as Jesus endured first betrayal, then trumped-up charges and finally an excruciating death. Imagine for a moment, God’s having to watch humanity behaving in such a debased, immoral and cruel way. Such behaviour would try the patience and love of the most loving and forgiving parent.

One might be excused for thinking that God had done enough for God’s people. God chose them from among all the nations, sent Joseph to Egypt to save them from the famine, brought them out of Egypt when they were no longer welcome and remained loyal and loving despite their waywardness, their lack of confidence in God’s power to save and protect, their failure to listen to the prophets and their chasing after other gods. As a last resort God came among them as one of them in the form of Jesus but they responded by murdering him and with him all hope of salvation. If at that point, God had decided that enough was enough no one would have thought that God was being unreasonable or vindictive. If God had walked away from creation in despair most would think that that was what humanity deserved. Yet God remained steadfast, God did not withdraw God’s love but instead raised Jesus from the dead. In effect God said to the world: “you’re a good boy, you’re a good girl – I love you.”

“I love you. You have done your worst, but I love you. You have shown yourself to be weak, disloyal, fickle and cruel and yet I still love you.”

“I still love you.” The most sure and certain proof of God’s love for us is the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection assures us that no matter what we do, no matter how far we stray, God’s boundless endless love will never be withdrawn.

Humanity can do its worst, but God’s love will always triumph.

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.



Jesus’ absence and presence

May 31, 2014

Easter 7 – 2014

John 17:1-11 (Acts 1:6-14)

Marian Free

 In the name of God whose Son we know both as present with us and exalted in glory. Amen.

 One of my friends has a blog on which he writes primarily about liturgy. For the past few years he has invited followers of that blog to support his campaign: “Easter is 50 days”. He is both insistent and persistent in trying to win over his readership and, through them, others to his position. You might wonder why he feels the need to be so vociferous. After all, this is the seventh Sunday of Easter and next Sunday – Pentecost – brings us to 50 days of Easter. A search of the internet will reveal that the length of Easter is a matter for heated debate (or at least a cause for confusion) in the blogosphere. The reason is this: up until the prayer book was revised, the season of Easter used to end on Ascension Day – 10 days short of 50! The argument then, is between those who support the change and those who do not and between those who think the Paschal candle should be extinguished on Ascension Day and those who keep it burning until Pentecost.

It’s interesting, but hardly a matter that will affect our eternal salvation! The seasons of the church as we practice them are somewhat arbitrary and as a result are open to discussion and to change. Jesus didn’t leave any detailed instructions for the church, and apart from instituting the Lord’s Supper, did not suggest the establishment of any festivals. It was believers who, over time, felt that there was value in setting aside days and lengths of time to commemorate different events in Jesus’ life. This did not happen all at once, but was a process that developed gradually and was open to change.

After Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples continued to worship in the Temple or in the synagogue. As well as this they met on Sundays to celebrate the resurrection and to continue the practice Jesus’ had instituted at the last Supper. It was not long before the community began to commemorate the anniversary of the crucifixion on the day of Passover or the nearest Sunday. What began as a single event began to grow until it extended over the course of a week and commemorated all the events in Jesus’ final week from the entry into Jerusalem to the resurrection. Gradually, the celebration of the resurrection – Easter – was extended for the seven weeks or 50 days leading up to Pentecost.

Some time before the fifth century the day of Jesus’ ascension began to be observed as a separate feast. The fifty days of Easter were thus broken into 40 days plus 10 and Ascension Day came to be seen as the conclusion of the Easter season – that is until the 1960’s when we reverted to the practice of the early church.[1]

One of the traditions associated with Ascension Day that remains contentious was the extinguishing of the Paschal Candle after the reading from Acts or after the Gospel. The candle is burned from Easter Eve as a sign of Jesus’ risen presence. It was extinguished to proclaim Jesus’ ascension into heaven and the absence of his physical presence. If Easter ends at Pentecost then of course, the candle should remain lit.

Of course, if Jesus is not bound by time and place, the candle, which symbolizes Jesus’ resurrection, can remain lit. There is a tension however between Jesus apparent absence and Jesus’ continued presence with us and it is reflected in the readings for this morning. In the book of Acts we have Luke’s dramatic description of Jesus’ ascent into heaven. The disciples remain – looking up – as if they expect that the cloud will part and that Jesus will return. It is only when the angels interrupt the disciples’ vigil that they realise that Jesus is really gone and that, at least in the short term, he is not coming back. In contrast, the account of Jesus’ discourse in John’s gospel implies that though Jesus is “no longer in the world” he is still very present to the disciples – reassuring them, challenging them and praying for them.

The question is, which is right – is Jesus now confined to heaven until his coming again? or do we, like the Johannine disciples continue to experience the risen Christ in our lives? Do we experience Jesus’ absence or his presence? The answer is that both are true. Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of God. He has returned to the place from which he came. We cannot know or experience the risen Jesus in the same way as did those first disciples. At the same time, Jesus, being God, is not bound by the constraints that limit us. Jesus can be both exalted and present, both with God and with us. There will be times when we feel Jesus as a living presence in our lives even though we know Jesus to be with God.

It is important to know that the customs of the church are just that – traditions that have developed over the centuries that are designed to give structure to our faith lives, to make our worship more meaningful and to bring into focus particular events in Jesus’ life. They are intended to enrich our experience of faith, not to bind us forever to one way of seeing or to one way of re-living the story. What matters is not so much the external practices of the church, but the internal disposition of our hearts. Not whether Easter is 50 days or 40 days, but whether or not we enter fully into the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. Not whether we debate Jesus’ absence, but whether we or not we experience his presence.

We believe that the risen Christ who transcends time and space is as real to us now as he was to the disciples two thousand years ago and there is nothing – not now nor in all eternity that will extinguish the light of his presence.


[1] Not surprisingly the Prayer Book Society encourages the return to the 40 plus 10.

Shepherding God’s people

April 28, 2012

Easter 4 2012 (Good Shepherd Sunday)

Benjamin Glennie
Marian Free

In the name of God who calls us to serve and to shepherd God’s people and the world beyond the church. Amen.

The history of the church in the colonies must be full of stories of heroism, vision, steadfastness and good humour. Clergy from a vastly different climate and landscape faced isolation and indifference, they had to travel vast distances in a largely unpopulated and sometimes unforgiving country and minister in situations that were quite different from the English Parish Church. A pioneering priest in this Diocese, Benjamin Glennie faced all these challenges with courage, determination and humour. I imagine that many of you are familiar with the Glennie School in Toowoomba, but I wonder how many of you know much of this tenacious man whose anniversary of death falls on April 30 and whose 200th anniversary of birth falls this year.

Benjamin Glennie was born in 1812, in Dulwich in Surrey, England, the twelfth son of William Glennie a school principal. On leaving school, Glennie spent time as a tutor in Europe before, at thirty, entering Christ’s College Cambridge. By this time three of his brothers had migrated to New South Wales – one a landowner, another a doctor and the third a farmer who was later ordained. Glennie himself came to Australia in 1848 with the first bishop of Newcastle, Dr William Tyrrell. Bishop Tyrrell brought with him several young men who were to be ordained and he took advantage of the long voyage to prepare them for ordination.

After their arrival in Newcastle, the only priest in the settlement of Moreton Bay drowned. As a result, Glennie was urgently ordained and sent to replace him. This was only three months after he had arrived in Australia and before he had had any experience in the ordained ministry. When he arrived in Brisbane he was taken to Newstead House to stay with the Governor. The very next day he conducted morning and evening services. Almost immediately, at the Governor’s insistence, he bought a black horse “Jim Crow” which was to be his companion for the next 20 years.

Glennie must have been shocked by his new home. Moreton Bay only opened to free settlers in 1842. It was isolated from the rest of the colony and sparsely populated. There was no church building so services were held in a converted carpenter’s shop on North Quay. This prompted Glennie to begin a fund for the building of what became St John’s.

Like his predecessor, Glennie was the only priest to minister the whole of Moreton Bay which included Ipswich and the Downs. He held services at St John’s church and also established day and Sunday schools in Brisbane. He visited Ipswich once a month and toured the Downs. Glennie was ordained a priest in 1849 and from 1850-1860 (another priest being available) he was made responsible for all of the Downs meaning that he had the oversight of all Anglicans west of Toowoomba! It must have been a daunting task. Each year Glennie (who did not have a strong constitution) covered a distance of nearly 5,000 kilometres and as he did so he established congregations and bought property suitable for the building of churches or schools.

Glennie disliked riding, but in that era, it was the only means of transport available to enable him get around his vast Archdeaconry. At the same time, there were few roads and those that existed often reduced to tracks through the scrub. This meant that, even if the church could afford one, a gig would have been of little use. It is reported that on many occasions, Glennie could be seen walking from place to place with the laden horse walking along beside him. Riding was not his only trial. In the days before telephones – let alone the internet – communication was slow or non existent. On one occasion Glennie wrote in his diary – “Drayton very wet, no one came to church: The Swamp very wet and no one came to church.” Another time he wrote: “Wet day, no person came to church and I did not go to Toowoomba.”

Among the other hardships were locusts, flies, intolerable heat, fleas and the vast distances with no homestead in which to seek shelter for the night. At times he was forced to sleep in a shepherd’s hut which he records was: “a place miserable in the extreme. The natural earth formed the floor and was quite wet.” Loneliness was another problem and he writes that he was “sadly isolated from my brethren of the clergy”.

A testimony to his drive and hard work are the four churches which he built in the four major centres: Drayton, Warwick ,Toowoomba and Dalby – named for the evangelists – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John respectively . A considerable amount of the funds for these projects came from Glennie himself. That he used money from his own pocket is revealed in a letter written to the Bishop after St Luke’s was built. “ St Luke’s building paid for, but in debt to me of 20 pounds.”

That said, he did not release the congregations of their obligation to support him. At one time, when the Parish of Warwick were behind in paying his stipend, his curate wrote: ” he had an extraordinary suit of clothes – blue frock coat, high collar and sleeves rubbed at the elbows, a pair of short grey trousers which displayed a good deal of white sock and an old cabbage tree hat. Whenever his stipend was in arrears he donned this suit and continued to wear it until the reason for doing so no longer existed.”

One of Glennie’s passions was education – not only for boys but also for girls and to this end whenever he built a church it was expected that during the week it would be used as a school. Glennie also established the “Schools Endowment Fund” to which again he contributed from his own funds, some of which came from the sale of fruit and vegetables grown in Rectory gardens. In 1882 Glennie transferred to the Diocese the sum of £1627 and in 1900 the Synod voted that schools for girls and boys be established in his memory. (By that time the Toowoomba Preparatory School had been founded, so only a school for girls was needed.)

In 1863 Glennie was appointed as the Archdeacon of the Downs. Glennie’s last appointment was to the Parish of Toowong where he built his fifth and final church. He is buried in the Toowong Cemetery and his grave can be visited there.

In 1919, a writer in the Toowoomba Chronicle said of him “The little children ran to welcome with outstretched hands and eager joy in their faces, for to them he truly was the Good Shepherd. ” On this Good Shepherd Sunday, it is fitting that we remember Benjamin Glennie and give thanks to God for his passion for the Gospel, his dedication to the Church and his love for the people. May we, remembering the stature of those whose shoulders we stand on, continue to support and build the church, preach the Gospel and show God’s love to all.

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