Posts Tagged ‘life’

A matter of life and death

June 30, 2018

Pentecost 6 – 2018

Mark 5:21-43

Marian Free

In the name of God who knows our desperation and responds with compassion and love. Amen.

What would you do if your child or someone whom you loved were dying? Would you, as some parents have done, have raised money to travel overseas to a hospital or clinic that promised a cure, or at least an extension of life? Would you try an untested miracle cure because you didn’t want to leave any stone unturned? Would you publicly challenge doctors and hospitals if they told you that nothing more could be done and that further treatment – even different and better treatment – could not reverse the damage that the disease had already wrought on your child’s body?

None of us really know what we would do until we find ourselves in that situation, but I’m sure that most of us would do everything possible to ensure that our child received the very best chance of a positive outcome.

It should come as no surprise to us then that Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, should have sought out Jesus when he knew that his daughter was dying. Jairus was desperate and despite the fact that the scribes, the Pharisees and other Jews were suspicious of Jesus to the point of seeking to kill him, Jairus’ desperation was such that it overcame any reservations that he might have had about Jesus and overrode any concern for his status within his community. He was prepared to endure any social cost if it meant that his daughter would live. So, with no regard for his position or reputation, Jairus, in the presence of the crowds, threw himself at Jesus’ feet and begged him – not once but repeatedly – to come to his daughter. Jairus was not just hopeful. He was confident that Jesus would be successful.

Can you imagine then how Jairus might have felt when Jesus stopped in his tracks? His daughter was dying and his one hope that she might live had been distracted by someone in the crowd who had touched his clothes! Every second must have seemed precious to the anxious father and any number of people in the crowd could have rubbed against Jesus, bumped him or touched his clothes. As the disciples said, how could Jesus possibly identify this one particular offender? How much worse would Jairus have felt when messengers arrived to tell him that his daughter was already dead?

It is possible to draw all kinds of conclusions from the story as it stands. For example, Jesus knew that he was going to raise the child from the dead, God’s time is different from our time and so on.

In fact, according to the story, Jairus doesn’t react at all which tells us something about the way Mark has retold these two stories. Almost certainly, the two events occurred on separate occasions[1], but Mark brings them together allowing each to interpret and emphasise the other. Mark often uses this sandwiching technique to give greater depth and emphasis to the point that he is trying to make.[2]For example by interrupting the account of Jesus’ family trying to restrain him Mark makes the point that Jesus’ family are no different from the scribes who accuse Jesus of casting out demons by Beelzebul (3:20-35). Both Jesus’ family and the scribes have failed to see the hand of God in Jesus’ actions. In the same way Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple is framed by the account of Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree and the withering of the fig tree. In this way Mark implies that the failure of the Temple to bear fruit will lead to it’s destruction of the Temple (11:12-24).

In this instance, the raising of Jarius’ daughter is interrupted by the healing of the woman with a hemorrhage. By placing the two stories together in this way Mark emphasises the desperation of the woman and of Jairus and also highlights Jesus’ power to restore a person to life. The two accounts compliment and contrast with each other in a number of significant ways. They are similar in that neither Jairus nor the woman give any thought to behaving in socially acceptable ways. Jesus is their last hope for a cure and they will risk everything – including censure from the community – to tap into his healing power. The stories are also different. Jairus is a person of high status and the woman, thanks to her gender and her illness, is marginalised ostracized. Jairus seeks Jesus’ help, while the woman creeps up to steal a touch. Jesus publically engages the woman in conversation, but heals the girl behind closed doors and insists that Jairus tell no one what has happened.

The similarities between the woman and the child, the disciples and the crowd are also significant.  The woman has been afflicted for 12 years and the child, we are told, is 12 years old. The woman has reached the end of her childbearing years and the girl has reached a marriageable age. The child is physically dead and the woman has been socially dead for years. By curing the woman, Jesus restores her to her place in society and by raising the girl Jesus restores her to her family and, in time to a family of her own. Both the disciples and the mourners doubt Jesus ability – the former question whether Jesus can identify who touched him and the latter laugh when Jesus suggests that the girl can be brought back to life..

These two miracle stories are, in the end, not about Jesus’ power to heal. Mark has intertwined them so as to illustrate the relationship between faith and salvation. Jairus begs that his daughter might be saved and live. The woman is sure that if she touches Jesus’ garments she will be savedand Jesus assures her that her faith has saved herand Jesus tells Jairus not to fear, but to have faith. Faith (confidence in Jesus) is the assurance of salvation. Salvation is life – life both in the present and  in the future.





[1]The writing style for each is quite different.

[2]A technical term is “intercalation”.


Life and Death – two sides of one coin

March 31, 2018

For the Good Friday Liturgy, go to that page.

Kahlil Gibran – On Death

You would know the secret of death.

But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?

The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.

If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.

For life and death are one, even as the river and sea are one.
In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;

and like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.

Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?

And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.

And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.

And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.


It is easy to think that Good Friday is all about dying and indeed we do focus on Jesus’ gruesome death and the events that led up to it. Today is a sombre and sobering day when we are forced to face our own role in the death of Jesus – our daily betrayals, our luke warm faith and our love of all things worldly. It is also the day when we are brought face-to-face with the potential consequences of standing with the oppressed and the marginalised, of challenging unjust structures and of confronting the love of power.

It is also a day of contradiction – the cross revealing in stark relief the ignorance and foolishness of humankind in regard to all things Godly. We begin to understand that life and death go hand in hand – they are two sides of the one coin. Without life there is no death, without death we do not really know life. Death throws life into perspective, helps us to appreciate the gift that it is, challenges us to value and to use the life that we have, encourages us to make the most of every minute.

Life that acknowledges death tries to make the most of every moment – to grasp with both hands the good and the bad, to embrace the future rather than to hold on to the past, to have half an eye on eternity rather than being bound to this earthly existence.

Life and death are aspects of daily existence. Every moment we can choose life or death – we can choose to behave in ways that are life-enhancing or life destroying. We can choose to hold on to those things that are familiar and comforting but which are stultifying and limiting, or we can let go and embrace a future that is uncertain and full of potential and opportunity.

Do you fear death? Are you afraid of letting go of those things that are familiar and comforting?

As the poem suggests, death and life go hand in hand. Through our daily deaths (to fear, anxiety, greed and hate) we free ourselves to embrace life more fully.

All our little deaths, free us to live more fully, more authentically,













Desolation and despair

June 4, 2016

Pentecost 3 – 2016

Luke 7:11-18

Marian Free


In the name of God, who shines light in the darkness, turns despair to hope and raises the dead to life. Amen.

There are a number of images from recent times that are seared into the minds of many of us. For example, think of the desolate picture of an emaciated child who is sitting on his haunches with his head in his hands and beside him is a buzzard just waiting for the child to die. Another picture that has haunted the world in recent times is the heart-wrenching image of young Aylan, the Syrian refugee washed up like flotsam on a lonely beach. Both children were victims of conflicts in which they had no part. Both pictures are confronting images of despair and desolation in a world in which selfishness, greed and a desire for power leads to suffering for the innocent.

I’m not sure that any of us can begin to imagine what it must be like to be a parent in a country devastated by drought or war. We cannot conceive how it must feel to know that we are unable to feed or care for our children. It is impossible to really understand what it must be like to live with the fear that hunger or disease might kill us first and leave our children alone and unprotected in a harsh and uncompromising world. Nor can we envisage the sorts of horrors that lead parents to risk their lives and the lives of their children on dangerous journeys across sea and land.

Few of us will ever know the despair and desolation that characterizes the lives of millions of people throughout the world. Thankfully we will probably never know what it is like to live in on the rubbish tips of Manilla, or to live in constant fear of Isis or Boko Haran. We will not have to live with the constant fear that haunts the slums in countless countries throughout the world. An accident of birth has ensured that we are by and large protected from some of the horrors that are the daily experiences of so many.

Despair and desolation are at the heart of today’s story. It is only in the last century, that women who had no father, husband or son to support them have not faced a life of destitution and isolation. What was true in the memory of some of us was no less true in the first century. A woman without a man in her life was entirely dependent on the charity of others.

In today’s story, Jesus is confronted with a widow who had only one son and now he is dead. She may have had many daughters, but they were no protection against the harshness of the world. If married, they would have been absorbed into their husband’s families. If still at home, they would have been a drain on whatever resources the widow still had.

We know only the bare details of the story. Jesus, for reasons unknown has travelled to Nain. There he observes a funeral procession. Even though the widow is a stranger and the funeral is in full swing Jesus finds himself unable to remain distant and aloof. He “sees[1]” the widow and has compassion on her (and her situation). He interrupts the proceedings and orders the woman not to weep. It is an extraordinary situation. Without invitation, Jesus steps into the woman’s grief and desolation and without being asked he restores the son to life and the child to his mother.

Can you imagine someone entering a church or a chapel at a crematorium and halting the proceedings while at the same time ordering the bereaved not to cry? They would almost certainly have been evicted from the building for being disrespectful and for adding to the family’s distress. This would be equally true in the first century – interrupting a funeral procession and appearing to make light of the widow’s grief would have been social suicide, demonstrating a lack of respect and a failure to understand the gravity of what is going on.

Jesus interrupts anyway. It is almost as if he is compelled to help. He cannot bear to see so much present and potential suffering – especially when he can do something to stop it. Two lives have come to an end – that of the son but also that of the mother. Jesus brings life and hope. He gives a future to the widow and life to her child.

Mass media has made us aware of the enormity of suffering in the world. It is easy to be overwhelmed, to turn off, to feel that there is nothing that we can do to really make a difference. Some issues are so complex that we are at a loss as to how to help we are afraid to interfere in case we make things worse. When suffering does not directly touch our lives, it can be easy to stand aloof – to blame the victim for not doing one thing or another, or for taking a risk that from the comfort of our arm chairs we deem to be to dangerous or unnecessary.

Jesus could not stand apart. While he could not and did not provide hope for every widow in Israel and while he could not and did not heal every Israelite who was suffering from demon possession, disease or infirmity, Jesus did what he could when he could.

You and I cannot, collectively or individually, bring an end to the suffering in the world. We cannot house all the homeless, protect the vulnerable from harm or find a cure for dementia or for cancer. That does not mean that we should do nothing. As followers of Jesus we need to find ways to bring life and hope into situations of desolation and despair. Where we can, we need to disrupt, interrupt the things that are going on around us. By our actions and our words, we need to say that so much suffering should not be the norm.

We need to have the courage to interfere and to challenge the world to follow our lead.


[1] In Luke’s gospel, “seeing” has particular significance. Jesus “sees” the whole person, the whole situation.

No easy answers

March 26, 2016

Today we meet, not only in the shadow of an act of terror over two thousand years ago, but also in the shadow of events in our own day. We draw comfort from the knowledge that God in Jesus shares our suffering. We know too that in Jesus God wrought victory from defeat, joy from sorrow and life from death and we believe that good will triumph over evil and that love will conquer hate.


Service of the Passion


Recognition of the Cross


The contradiction of the cross

The contradiction of    the cross



(On this most solemn of days we would invite you to enter
and leave the church in silence.)


Procession with cross:

Hymn: 349 in the cross of Christ


The Lord be with you.

And also with you.


Let us pray:

God of contradiction,

give to us wisdom and understanding,

patience and humility,

and the courage to live with uncertainty,

so that we may hope for the right things

and arrive at what we do not know[1].

We ask this through your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Poem: T. S. Eliot – from The Four Quartets


I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.

The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,

The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy

Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony

Of death and birth.


You say I am repeating

Something I have said before. I shall say it again,

Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,

To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,

You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.

In order to arrive at what you do not know

You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.

In order to possess what you do not possess

You must go by the way of dispossession.

In order to arrive at what you are not

You must go through the way in which you are not.

And what you do not know is the only thing you know

And what you own is what you do not own

And where you are is where you are not.


In the name of God who suffers for us and with us, and who longs for us to turn and be made whole. Amen.

“And what you do not know is the only thing that you know.”

Shortly after five pm on Tuesday the world was shocked by the news of yet another act of terror – this time in Brussels. At least thirty people were dead and more than two hundred wounded many seriously. For those of us in Australia this news followed a grueling day in which, through the inquest into the police response, we revisited the final moments of the Lindt Café siege and the deaths of two hostages. At times like this, it is difficult not to ask: “Why?” “Why now?” “Why them?” As the story of the Brussels explosions unfolded, we learnt that a simple decision such as not buying a coffee made the difference between life and death, between being in the line of fire and being a safe distance away from the explosions.

Times like these remind us that there is a fine line between life and death, and that sometimes there is no rhyme or reason as to why one person lives and another dies, why some people live lives seemingly unfettered by grief or disaster and others live lives of quiet desperation, burdened by pain, sorrow or misfortune.

This side of the grave there are no easy answers. Life as we know it is vulnerable and fragile – susceptible to disease and constantly exposed to hazards and dangers – known and unknown. At the same time, humans are complex beings – capable of acts of great selflessness but also of unfathomable depravity, capable of great love, but also of immense hatred. We live in a world in which the good do die young, and the bad sometimes escape unpunished, in which only chance determines the country of our birth or the quality of our parenting, whether we stop for coffee or go straight to the departure gate. In this life, nothing is certain. We cannot predict what joys or heartache lie ahead.

There are two possible responses to this awful uncertainty – we can resist with all our might, refuse to take risks and try to force the world to conform to our expectations. This road will lead to frustration and disappointment, anger and bitterness. Our lives will be narrow and constrained and there will be no guarantee that we will be spared the pain of suffering and loss.

Alternately, we can willingly surrender. We can accept that life is filled with risk and uncertainty and choose to live boldly, courageously and confidently – no matter in what circumstances we find ourselves. This road will not be free of pain, but it will leave us open to joy and laughter, to adventure and hope. We will be able to ride out the bad times because we know that they will come to an end and that it is the good and the bad together that make life worth living.

Jesus chose the latter course. He willingly gave in to the future that was his. He surrendered himself completely to what life had in store. He submitted himself to the humiliation of a kangaroo court, the indignity of a flogging and the certainty of death of the cross. He did not ask: “Why?” or “Why me?” He simply walked the path that was his to walk, believing that somehow, in some way, God would give him both courage and strength in the present and that in the future, it would all begin to make sense. Jesus faced the cross not knowing what lay on the other side. As a consequence he learnt that through death comes life, that joy can be wrought from sorrow and victory from defeat.

Life is filled with uncertainty. The best that we can do is to place ourselves entirely in God’s hands and trust that in this life God will give us courage to face whatever it is that life throws at us and that in death, God will raise us to life eternal.


An abandoned God;

a dying God

confronts our sense of decency

and at the same time opens us to new possibilities –

to new ways of understanding God and ourselves.




Holy God,

who teaches us that this day

which is so bad, is good.

Help us to live with incongruity

to know how much we do not know,

that understanding our limitations,

we may be open to the wisdom that comes from you alone. Amen.


Ministry of the Word

Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

Hear the word of the Lord,

Thanks be to God.

Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me:

            why are you so far from helping me

            and from the words of my groaning?

My God, I cry to you by day, but you do not answer:

            and by night also I take no rest.

But you continue holy;

            you that are the praise of Israel.

In you our forebears trusted:

            they trusted and you delivered them.

To you they cried and they were saved:

            they put their trust in you and were not confounded.

But as for me, I am a worm and no man:

            the scorn of all and despised by the people.

Those that see me laugh me to scorn:

            they shoot out their lips at me

            and wag their heads, saying,

“He trusted in the Lord – let him deliver him:

            let him deliver him, if he delights in him.”

But you are he that took me out of the womb:

            that brought me to lie at peace on my mother’s breast.

On you have I been cast since my birth:

            you are my God, even from my mother’s womb.

O go not from me, for trouble is hard at hand:

            and there is none to help.

Many oxen surround me:

            fat bulls of Bashan close me in on every side.

They gape wide their mouths at me:

            like lions that roar and rend.

I am poured out like water,

and all my bones are out of joint:

            my heart within my breast is like melting wax.

My mouth is dried up like a potsherd:

            and my tongue clings to my gums.

My hands and my feet are withered:

            and you lay me in the dust of death.

For many dogs are come about me:

            and a band of evildoers hem me in.

I can count all my bones:

            they stand staring and gazing upon me.

They part my garments among them:

            and cast lots for my clothing.

O Lord, do not stand far off:

            you are my helper, hasten to my aid.

Deliver my body from the sword:

            my life from the power of the dogs;

O save me from the lion’s mouth:

            and my afflicted soul from the horns of the wild oxen.

I will tell of your name to my companions:

            in the midst of the congregation will I praise you.

O praise the Lord, all you that fear him:

            hold him in honour, O seed of Jacob,

            and let the seed of Israel stand in awe of him.

For he has not despised nor abhorred

the poor man in his misery:

            nor did he hide his face from him,

            but heard him when he cried.

The meek shall eat of the sacrifice and be satisfied:

            and those who seek the Lord shall praise him –

            may their hearts rejoice forever!

Let all the ends of the earth remember

and turn to the Lord:

            and let all the families of the nations worship before him.

For the kingdom is the Lord’s:

            and he shall be ruler over the nations.

How can those who sleep in the earth do him homage:

            or those that descend to the dust bow down before him?

But he has saved my life for himself:

            and my posterity shall serve him.

This shall be told of my Lord to a future generation:

         and his righteousness declared to a people yet unborn,

         that he has done it.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Hear the word of the Lord,

Thanks be to God.


Hymn: 339 O sacred head sore wounded


The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John Chapter 18 beginning
at verse 1.

Glory to you Lord Jesus Christ.

For the Gospel of the Lord.

Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ.


Hymn: 341 My Song is love unknown.

(During the hymn a collection will be taken up for the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem)



Living, loving God, help us to relinquish our confidence in ourselves and our desire to go it alone;

to accept the vagaries of life and to let go of our need to be in control;

to recognise that we do not and cannot have all the answers and to understand that our knowledge is only partial and our insights limited by our humanity.

God when our hearts are aching,

Help us to find you in and among the suffering of the world.

Give us grace to acknowledge that life consists of the good and the bad and that our lives are enriched as a result;

to admit that hatred and fear only limit and bind and that love frees us to be fully alive

and to learn that it is only in your that true peace and joy are to be found.

God when our hearts are aching,

Help us to find you in and among the suffering of the world.


Be with all those whose lives are marred by violence, terror and war,

and with those who perpetrate acts of cruelty against others.

God when our hearts are aching,
Help us to find you in and among the suffering of the world

Support and encourage those whose lives are restricted by poverty, ill-health and disability,

and challenge those who have the means to help but do not.

God when our hearts are aching,
Help us to find you in and among the suffering of the world

Be a friend to those who are overlooked and discounted

and open our eyes to the suffering of those around us.

God when our hearts are aching,
Help us to find you in and among the suffering of the world.

Help us all to reevaluate our lives in the light of the cross and take our place among those who live life to the full and who make a difference in the lives of others.

God when our hearts are aching,
Help us to find you in and among the suffering of the world.


Lord’s Prayer: Accept our prayers through Jesus Christ our Lord,

who taught us to pray.

            Our Father in heaven,

                        hallowed be your name,

                        your kingdom come,

                        your will be done,

                        on earth as in heaven.

            Give us today our daily bread.

            Forgive us our sins

                        as we forgive those who sin against us.

            Save us from the time of trial

                        and deliver us from evil,

            for the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours

                        now and forever. Amen.


Our God whose love knows no bounds

comes to you – naked, weak and bleeding,

holding out holey hands, holy hands and asking only for your love in return.


Let us offer our hearts to God, confessing our sins – the barriers that separate us from each other and from God.

Suffering God,

who gave everything for us

forgive us our arrogance and presumption,

our greed and self absorption,

our neglect of the vulnerable,

our carelessness with the world’s resources,

our unwillingness to trust in you

and our failure to accept and to share your love and compassion. Amen



God whose love knows no bounds

forgives you and sets you free

to love God and to love one another.

Forgive others,

Forgive yourself. Amen.

Recognition of the cross:

730 Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.

(Recognition of the cross – you may like to place a flower at the foot of the cross, as a reminder that today is a day of contradiction, a reminder that God continually overturns our expectations so that we might rely on God and not ourselves. Alternately you are welcome to sit or stand in quiet reflection.)

Blessing: May the God who died for you, inspire you to live for God,

and the blessing of God almighty, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier be with you now and always. Amen.


Hymn: 262 When pain and terror


Please leave the church in silence



Copyright: Marian Free , 2014 (revised, 2016)














There will be a service to commemorate Anzac Day

Monday 25th April – 8:00am


(If there is anyone for whom you would like us to pray,

Please add their name to the list at the back of the church.)



















Rector:          The Rev’d Marian Free: m) 0402 985 593

  1. e)


Curate:                 The Rev’d Professor Rodney Wolff,

  1. e), 0426 287 283



Parish Office:       3268 3935 / Fax 3268 4245

Office Hours:       Monday, Thursday & Jumble Wednesdays

                               9.30am – 12.30pm


Sermons:            If you would like to read the weekly sermon,

                                 go to the home page and click on sermon.


            St Augustines Anglican Church




Music Director:      Lesley de Voil: 0418 561 663 or



Service Times:      Sunday 7:30am & 9:30am

                               Tuesday & Thursday 7:00am

Wednesday 10:00am


Columbarium:      Robin Loan: 0417 799 400 or


Columbarium Service: First Saturday of the month 7:30am




[1] “For hope would be hope for the wrong thing.” “In order to arrive at what you do not know you must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.” T.S. Elliot from “East Coker, The Four Quartets”

Food for the soul

August 1, 2015

Pentecost 10 – 2015

John 6:26-35 (Some thoughts)

Marian Free

In the name of God who feeds our hearts, minds and souls with words of life. Amen.

Bread comes in many forms

Bread comes in many forms

In our Western society in which we have access to supermarkets twenty four hours a day it is difficult to imagine being totally dependent on what we are able to grow for ourselves and, except for the inconvenience of increased prices, we have no real idea how vulnerable food producers are to changes in the weather patterns, to drought and flood. Except in times of natural disaster – when people strip the supermarket shelves of bread, milk and other staples – we have no shortage of bread. Even then, most Australian suburbs boast more than one bakery that even in times of crisis can usually produce fresh bread each morning.

Today, in the West, we have a huge range of foods available to us and we know far more about nutrition than any generation before us, yet we still speak of bread as the “staff of life”. When we stock up on basics we still include quantities of bread because bread is filling and can be used in a variety of ways. Sandwiches can be built on simple spreads or extravagant fillings. Bread comes in a huge variety of forms, shapes and sizes. It fills lunch boxes, accompanies hearty soups, it is eaten on its own or as a accompaniment to a meal, it can be dipped in oil or smeared with honey, it can be toasted or fresh and used to make deserts as well as savoury dishes. The possibilities that a simple loaf of bread provides are seemingly endless.

The ability to grow rather than gather one’s food changed society from one that was always on the move to one that could settle down. Settling down in turn meant not only a need for more social controls but also to the stratification of society. Generally speaking, the vast majority of people existed at a subsistence level in order to feed the rich and powerful who made up a very small percentage of the population. Land was appropriated to feed the growing populations of the cities. This in turn, created a group of people who lacked the means to grow food for themselves and who were forced to hire themselves out as day-labourers, entirely dependent on others for their “daily bread”.

In the Palestine of Jesus’ day most people, including those with a trade, barely earned enough to keep starvation from the door. Their diet would have been limited to what they could grow, the animals they could afford to keep and the fish they were able to catch. Those whom Jesus has just fed with five barley loaves and two small fish, know only too well how dependent they are on the vagaries of the weather and how vulnerable they are should the harvest fail. Full stomachs and food for which they have not had to struggle is a miracle in itself, let alone the fact that Jesus has fed so many with so little.

It is no wonder that they seek Jesus. But Jesus is not impressed. He understands that they see only the superficial and that in seeking him, they are after physical, not spiritual sustenance. In other words, they have not understood the deeper meaning of the miracle that reveals who Jesus is and what he represents. No matter how much bread they have to eat today, they will still need to find bread to eat tomorrow and the following day. Jesus urges them to see beyond the external sign of the multiplication of the loaves to what the miracle is trying to tell them. He is trying to open their eyes to the presence of God in their midst. He wants to direct them away from their physical needs and encourage them to focus not only on their spiritual needs, but also on their eternal salvation.

Jesus points out that like bread the things of this world will perish. It is only those things that are not of this world that will endure forever. The things that are required to meet physical needs constantly have to be replenished, but the food for the soul – that which is required for spiritual well being, in the present and in the future – will be so satisfying that it will never have to be refilled or restocked. Jesus claims to be that bread, that source of nourishment and life that will so completely meet their need for fulfillment and meaning that they will never again hunger or thirst for peace and contentment.

For us, as for Jesus’ listeners, the pressures and demands of our day-to-day life can crowd out our need for spiritual refreshment and rest. The expectations placed on us by family, work and even church can claim our full attention and make us forget the needs of our soul. It is so easy for us to be distracted by the world around us – the world that we can see and feel and touch – that we can forget that for all the pleasure it gives us, this material world is limited in time and space. When it comes to an end or when our time in this world is over, what will we have?

While we are in this world, we will of course be caught up in it. Our physical bodies will require nourishment; our families and other commitments will make claims on our time, as indeed they should.

Today’s gospel reminds us that however much we gain from the things of this world, however much pleasure they give us and however much they meet our needs for achievement and pleasure – there will always be something wanting, we will continue to hunger and thirst for something more.

Jesus claims to be that something more, the source of a deep and lasting sense of fullness and satisfaction that will bring an end to all our striving and discontent in the present and assure us of life forever in the world to come.

BUT ….

March 30, 2013


Easter Day 2013

Luke 24:1-12

Marian Free

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

I don’t know if it still happens, but I know that people in workplaces were taught that when they were giving feedback to staff it was important to begin with an affirmation. That sounds all very well – emphasising the positive rather than the negative. However, the whole point of feedback is to let someone know how well they have been doing and if they haven’t been doing so well in their work at some point in the process this has to be pointed out to them. What happened was that those being reviewed came to expect the “but”. “Your telephone manner is very good but …”, “You have good attention to detaiL but ….. and so on.

The problem with “but” is that it has the effect of negating everything that has come before it. All the positive sentiments are seen in a different light when followed by “but”. A common response to positive feedback was “Yes, but?” as the expectation was that any affirmation would be followed by a criticism.

In Greek it is often the small words that you have to look out for. “Νυνι δε”, “μη γενοιτω”, “μεν”, “but now”, “no indeed”, “rather”. These words often carry a lot of weight which may or may not be obvious in translation. So it is in the 24th chapter of Luke’s gospel. Chapter 23 concludes the traumatic events of the Friday. The women observe where Jesus has been laid, go home to prepare the spices and to rest according to the law, because it is the Sabbath. To all intents and purposes that is the end of the story. Jesus, whom many had followed and supported all the way from Galilee to Jerusalem was dead as were all the hopes and dreams that his teaching and presence had fostered. All that remained was to see that his body was treated respectfully according to the tradition of the Jews and that part of the disciples’ lives would be over.

BUT – “on the first of the sabbath at deep dawn”, “BUT when they went in”, “BUT the men said to them”, ‘BUT these words seemed to them an idle tale”, “BUT Peter got up and ran to the tomb.” At least six times in twelve verses “but” contradicts what has come before – Jesus is laid in the tomb .. but. The women find the stone rolled away .. but. The women are terrified, but the angels said to them .. but he has risen. .. The women tell the apostles but …. The eleven do not believe the women, but still Peter got up and ran to the tomb. Everything that has happened has been negated, nothing is as was expected – a tomb is opened, a body has disappeared, terrified women are reminded of Jesus’ teaching and told he has risen, even so, no one believes the women and yet Peter goes to the tomb.

On the Friday the story had come to an end. Their leader dead, the disciples were frightened and confused. They had no hope or expectation for the future. Then all that changed and a new story began. The “BUT” at the beginning of  chapter 24 stands in defiance of all that has previously happened, it turns the impossible into the possible. In the midst of terror and confusion there is hope. Jesus’ body is not in the tomb, heavenly messengers speak to the women and Peter, against all his cultural conditioning, cannot help but go to see if what the women said was true.

Despair is turned into expectation, resignation to hope. Perhaps the end of the story will have to be re-written. In fact, the end of the story is nothing more than the beginning of a new story.

Jesus’ resurrection contradicts all that we know about life and death. It explodes the natural order of things, expands our horizons and opens our eyes to a different way of being. The resurrection demonstrates that evil and violence do not have the last word – goodness can and does triumph even though it may appear to have been defeated. It exposes our timidity, our cowardice and fear and replaces them with boldness, courage and confidence. The resurrection stands in defiance of all that is wrong in this world, by showing us what can go right. It thumbs the nose at the brutality, hatred and greed which tear people apart and points to a different way of being. We do not have to resign ourselves to terror, to poverty, to war and oppression. We can hope for and expect compassion, peace, equality and encouragement. We need no longer be held captive by death but can embrace life for ourselves and struggle to bring life to others.

The story doesn’t end with the tomb. Jesus is risen and nothing will ever be the same. Jesus is risen and our lives are charged with the power of the resurrection. Nothing is impossible. We have no more excuses. All our “maybe’s” are turned to “yes”, all our “buts” are exposed as procrastination – a failure to trust in Jesus’ presence and strength with us and in us.

Our story begins with the resurrection and our sharing with Jesus in the resurrection life. It is a story full of contradictions. A story in which death is overcome. A story that has no end but is full of new beginnings as again and again we die with Christ only to discover that it is in dying to the things of this world that we become more truly alive.

Jesus died – BUT he rose from the dead. That is our story – a story of new beginnings, fresh starts, opportunities to make good. Our story is the story of new life. So no more “buts” – let us embrace the life that God has given us and the new life that Jesus has won for us, that through us God may bring life to the world.

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