I killed Jesus

‘They’  (that collective, scholarly, holy group of people) say that when you read the Bible you should place yourself in the story,” young American writer Christina Mead explains as an introduction to her article below. 

Deciding to try the exercise while reading through the Easter events in Matthew, she asked  herself throughout:  “Which character am I? What is God trying to teach me?” Her insightful reflection and dramatic conclusions will, we believe, both inspire and give you pause to ponder your own walk with our Lord. 

I killed Jesus
by Christina Mead

I am an apostle, sleeping in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:40). I’m prone to and give in to laziness in the presence of holiness. I don’t put up a fight against the pull of distractions; sometimes I even sleep.

I am Judas. Jesus has every right to call me both 'friend' and 'betrayer' barely thirty seconds apart (Matt. 26:46, 50). My heart is fickle and weak and sometimes my commitment to being Jesus’ friend is blown off on the whim of an emotion.

I am Caiaphas, the high priest. I want Jesus to prove Himself to me (Matt. 26:63). I want signs and wonders to know that I really can trust Him. I want my prayers answered in my way. I want concrete proof over humble faith.

I am Peter. Sometimes I deny Jesus (Matt. 26:72). I deny Him in the face of the homeless when I chose to look away. I deny Him when I am afraid of being judged and condemned by those around me.

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I am in the crowd yelling: “Crucify Him!” (Matt. 27:21-23)  And I say it again and again every time I knowingly choose to sin.

I am Barabbas. I am chained in sin and holed up in the prison of my own pride. And instead of suffering the full punishment for my sins for which I am guilty, Christ takes my place (Matt. 27:26). And I often forget to thank Him.

I am Pilate. I want to give up when life is too challenging (Matt. 27:24). I’m ready to wash my hands of Christianity when being a follower of Jesus means pursuing virtue over mediocrity, a life of prayer over a life of pleasure.

I am Simon of Cyrene (Matt. 27:32). I suffer reluctantly. I will take the cross but I won’t seek it. I’ll only take it if it’s been placed on my shoulders … and I don’t love it.

I am a passer-by. These passers-by mocked Jesus while He was hanging on the cross (Matt. 27:30). How quickly they had forgotten all the good works He had done among their cities and towns. When popular opinion about Jesus changed, they followed suit. How quickly I forget the good He has done for me. In a brief moment of pain, all my gratitude is forgotten and replaced by resentment.

I am one of the Roman soldiers (Matt. 27:35). I killed Jesus. My sins were the reason He was nailed to that cross. It was my fault and I know it.

But sometimes …

I am the centurion. My eyes are opened to who Jesus is in my life (Matt. 27:54). My heart swells with the truth that God became man and died for me. And this knowledge brings me peace and a resignation to amend my life.

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I am one of the women standing by the cross (Matt. 27:55-56). When I’m open to God’s grace, I can be a faithful and constant Christian. In the midst of pain and suffering, I can stay close to the cross. Jesus, my beloved, is my strength and He’s all I need.

I am Joseph of Arimathea (Matt. 27:59). Again, only by God’s grace, I can be selflessly compassionate, putting others’ needs before my own. Moved by God, I will use what He has given me in the service of others. My time, talent, and treasure are all for Him.

I am every character in the story of the passion and death of Christ. And I think that’s the whole point. Why wouldn’t every dimension of the human heart be represented in the greatest story of all time? It only makes sense because the story is timeless. We have to apply it to our lives today because the reality of its events matter today.

This isn’t just a story in some history book. It’s the story of your salvation: how God saw the good and the bad in our humanity and He came anyway. He died anyway.

I killed Jesus. But I am also the reason He rose from the dead.

____________________
You can read Christina Mead’s whole piece here.

When Life burst from darkness: how the Big Bang echoes Easter

“Whatever happened here on an early morning very long ago unleashed from the unlikeliest of sources—a stiff corpse—an explosion of otherworldly power that today is still expanding (like the universe itself) and sweeping up souls in a wake of light.” [Ryan Gregg]

“Whatever happened here on an early morning very long ago unleashed from the unlikeliest of sources—a stiff corpse—an explosion of otherworldly power that today is still expanding (like the universe itself) and sweeping up souls in a wake of light.” [Ryan Gregg]

Did you know that a Belgian Catholic priest first proposed what we now call the Big Bang Theory back in 1927? Most scientists of his day outright rejected Georges Lemaître’s ‘cosmic egg’ proposal. How dare this upstart priest (who in fact was also an astronomer, physicist and mathematician) try to smuggle a biblical view into science!

The Vatican however, as Ryan Gregg writes in Christianity Today, “was so thrilled by Lemaître’s theory and its progressive verification in the scientific community that Lemaître himself had to contact the Vatican to plead that it desist from making scientific proclamations, a domain beyond its magisterium. The Vatican complied, and the attitude of global Christendom toward the Big Bang has been largely ambivalent ever since.”

If Harvard University PhD candidate Gregg keeps up his brilliant thinking and sharing, surely many more skeptical Christians will be converted to this beautiful Creation  story as being ‘merely’ a reflection of  Christ’s work on the Cross of Calvary.

You can read the entire article here: When Life burst from Death.

The wondrously prophetic line of Adam and Eve's third son, Seth

By the Rev. Ken McClure

After the fall of peace and the rise of the empire of Cain, a new hope is kindled when Adam and Eve come together and have a third son, Seth.

Chapter 5 of Genesis offers us an account of the line of Seth that parallels the one offered for his brother, but the development we see in it is not in contributions to civilization as with Seth's descendants, but by the connection to God that they establish and maintain. They do not assume the role of shepherd left vacant by the slaughter of Abel, but are instead marked by moments of interaction with God among their heritage: Seth's line offers us a prophetic line to parallel the ruling line of Cain.  

By the fifth generation, this divine connection is so deep that Enoch is said to have "walked with God" (Gen. 5:22). The traditions that this simple reference inspired in the ancient Jewish creative mind offer numerous treatments of what came to be regarded as Enoch's ascension, and his travels through the heavenly realms.

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While the details of the different treatments vary, depending on the creative ability of the author, the unifying feature of each of the different books attributed to Enoch is the reception of secret knowledge from God. Because of this, Enoch comes to be regarded as the prototype for the prophets generally, and he is specifically associated with Elijah, and even Jesus. While the fancy of these extra-canonical texts is engaging and their speculations captivating, the text of Genesis provides us with a simple statement that encapsulates everything every other text goes to great lengths to say: Enoch walked with God.  

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Enoch marks the height of the relationship between God and the children of Seth, in the same way that the patriarch of the fifth generation of the children of Cain, Lamech, marks the depths of that line's descent into depravity.

The line of Seth is fulfilled in its ninth generation when Noah answers the call of God to shepherd Creation through the storm to come. We see at last the role of prophet joined with the task of shepherd, the work of fallen Abel assumed by Seth, the brother he never knew. 

When we examine the line of Seth, our attention is primarily focused on its two greatest individuals, Enoch and Noah, but each link within the chain should be regarded as bearing the hope of the progenitor—if for no other reason than that the invocation of the name of God among mortals is connected to the foundation of their line (Gen. 4:26).

If we take this to be the case, then what we see in Genesis 5 is the prototype for the way that God will interact with the later Israel. A single family line follows a path of God in the world outside the Garden, and from that line emerges the prophets who will act as divine emissaries to their place and time.

The genealogies in chapters 4 and 5 of Genesis bear resemblance to the Kings lists of the ancient Sumerian cities, where we see seven kings from five cities ruling the land in the period before the flood, an event which is referred to in the lists.

Like the various descendants of Cain and Seth, these kings had exceptionally long reigns—far longer in fact than the longevity described in Genesis (the longest reign listed is 36,000 years). What I find interesting about these lists is the values they emphasize.

The connection to the pre-flood past made by the people of the Sumerian cities is through kingship, the power that unifies them within their cities. Their continuity is found through the line of kings that ruled them, while the biblical continuity is found through a line of prophets. The biblical story may recognize a city-building line of the world, but its focus is on the people/tribe/family who invoked God, who walked with God, who answered the call of God. 

Cain, Abel and the age-old urban-rural conflict

Cain and Abel , 1564. Woodcut, from  Die Gantze Bibel , printed in Germany by Christoph Froschauer. Courtesy of the Digital Image Archive, Pitts Theology Library, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.

Cain and Abel, 1564. Woodcut, from Die Gantze Bibel, printed in Germany by Christoph Froschauer. Courtesy of the Digital Image Archive, Pitts Theology Library, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.

In this post, Fr. Ken takes us on an exploration of the story of Cain and Abel. He reflects on how it resonates with Sumerian mythology the farmer-shepherd dichotomy, and the tension between city and country.

A little refresher course before reading: Cain, the firstborn son of the created Adam and Eve, grew up and became a farmer and his brother Abel, the second-born, became a shepherd. When the brothers made sacrifices of their ‘first fruits’ to God, God favored Abel’s over Cain’s. Cain didn’t take well to this, killed his brother Abel, lied about the murder to God, and as a result was cursed and ‘marked’ for life. His punishment was that of a fugitive and wanderer. He received a mark from God, commonly referred to as the ‘Mark of Cain’, representing God’s promise to protect Cain from being murdered (Gen. 4:1–16).

By the Rev. Ken McClure

The long arch of the biblical narrative takes us through many facets of the relationship between humanity and God, but when we consider where the story begins and where the story ends, we see that the tension of that relationship consistently manifests as a tension between the country and the city.  

In the beginning paradise is a garden; there is no city. The city is born when Cain sets off into the world bearing his mark: he has a son and founds a city in his name. What are we to make of this other than to conclude an association between the city and Sin by virtue of their shared founder, Cain. 

What's fascinating about the story of Cain and Abel is that originates from the city, or more specifically from the Sumerian culture: the culture of the cities Abram inhabited in his father's house before forever forsaking the city for a pastoral life.  

In the Sumerian story, the goddess Inanna is made to choose a husband between the farmer Enkimdu and the shepherd Dumuzi. Now, while our biblical tradition may condition us to expect that Inanna chose Dumuzi, she chose Enkimdu the farmer. Dumuzi the shepherd, in a fit of indignation listed all the ways that he stood as equal to the farmer, mocking Inanna for the vapidity of her choice. This aroused the passion of the goddess and she entered into a passionate romance with the shepherd, forsaking her initial choice. When Enkimdu was spotted by Dumuzi, he approached him aggressively prepared to engage, and once again our biblical conditioning has us assuming that blood was shed but it wasn't. Enkimdu supplicates himself and grants access to his pasturage for Dumuzi's flocks, demonstrating that the foundation of the city was built upon a compact between pastoralists and tillers. 

The biblical narrative assimilates this story, but views it through the realities of cosmopolitan domination. Both shepherd and farmer wish to please God, but the shepherd's offering is preferred, causing the farmer to rise up and kill him. The farmer suppresses his opponent and founds a city built upon his own dynasty. It is a pastoral perspective on the cosmopolitan foundation myth.

We see as the story advances through the line of Cain, that by the fifth generation there are not only the developed features of civilization (music/art, technological advancements) but also a prototype of what could be considered an imperial ethos in the person of Lamech, who gloats about his embrace of violence and connects it to that of his ancestor Cain (Gen. 4.23-24).  

When we view this narrative through our own lens, we must determine what constitutes the city? In the ancient world, cities were states unto themselves. So for our context, the city is the state: both the national reality of our own state, but also the very concept of the state.  

The city/state is the place where human power is centralized, and as we see in the narrative, it unlocks both the creative and destructive potential of the human being. It is not our ability to dominate or innovate that God values, but our ability to care for what God has made, including each other.

We see the mark of Cain on the actions and achievements of his dynasty. In an effort to fill the void left by his exile from the life he knew, Cain builds a wall, the distinguishing mark of the city. Within the confines of this barrier, he invests his energy in creating a sanctuary from the isolation from God he experienced bearing his mark, the mark of Sin, in the world.

While the biblical perspective on the nature and use of the city evolves over the course of the biblical story, leading eventually to the new creation being centered in the perfected city, we must never forget that the perfection of the city only occurs when it is re-founded not by the farmer who bears the mark of Sin, but by The Shepherd who washes it clean. Until he does, the city stands as the place where the path of Cain is trod most freely.

Adam and Eve and the problem of sin

By the Rev. Ken McClure

When we think of Adam and Eve eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, under the influence of the crafty equivocations of the serpent (Gen. 3), we tend to view this as the moment of the first sin; but is it?

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The primeval couple allow themselves to be duped into disobedience, and awaken from their innocence after their fruit bender with a shame hangover, and an urgent need to mask their exposure. They cannot help but hide from their nakedness and guilt, particularly when they first encounter God in the light of their new knowledge. 

The knowledge is important here, because sin is only possible through choice, and choice is dependent upon knowledge. The choice that Adam and Eve make to eat the fruit in disobedience of God is unlike any subsequent disobedience committed in the human experience, because it is done without the ability to comprehend the morality of the action. They have not eaten the fruit that gives the knowledge of right and wrong when they make the wrong choice. It is only after they have done it that they understand they shouldn't have. 

No other sin can be said to bear this unique signature: even when ignorance is at the root of a sin, it must be said to be committed with an elementary concept of right and wrong that the primeval couple did not possess ... until they did. 

With this in mind, we need to consider if this episode marks the first sin, or the instance that allows sin to enter the world?

Once they are able to discern good from evil, the actions of Adam and Eve and the actions of all that come after them are bound to elementary principles of right and wrong, and so the choice to do wrong is thereafter made with intention. If we consider this moment an entry point for sin, then the first sin, the sin that bears resemblance to every other sin that follows, is the slaying of Abel by Cain (Gen. 4). This is an act committed with the full knowledge that it is wrong: the first instance when the newly-gained human ability to discern between that which is good and evil is tested, and fails.

If we consider the function of the later Law as binding sin, and further consider Jesus' reduction of the Law as being ‘love God, and love neighbor as self,’ than asking how these commandments could serve as correctives for these instances can help us to discern what should be considered sin. 

While Adam and Eve fail to obey God, there is not a moment when their love of God seems to be in question. Without the ability to know what they are doing is wrong, their disobedience cannot be said to be connected to their affinity. The love for God is at the heart of the Cain and Abel tragedy, first seen when Cain takes the initiative to make an offering from his fields. However it's a love that becomes corrupted when it is not reciprocated to the degree that satisfies Cain's need of affirmation, and it drives him to jealously murder his brother. He is not willing to love God on any terms other than his own, and when those are inadequate, he lashes out. 

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Cain is the first human to fail to love God with his whole heart, and to love his neighbor as himself.  Furthermore, Cain receives a unique mark to demonstrate that his crimes are subject to God's judgement, not the judgement of humanity (Gen. 4:15); this is what points to this being the first appearance of Sin. God claims jurisdiction over the judgement of the act, and while subsequent acts that resemble Cain's crimes will fall under human jurisdictions of judgement, the root of Cain's crime, sin, will always fall to God alone to judge.

These two stories, like the two creations (The mystery of the two Creation stories: separating the HOW from the WHY), need to be read together to be fully understood. Not as a timeline of events, but as a model of understanding the human condition. Chapters 3 and 4 of Genesis demonstrate that knowledge is transformative, but mired in consequence; and if it is exercised without a love of God, and a love of neighbor, it allows sin to blossom and consume. 

The mystery of the two Creation stories: separating the HOW from the WHY

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By the Rev. Ken McClure

Peace and Love to you in Christ!

It's been some time since I last posted, largely because much has been happening here in the Parish of Haliburton! As the cold weather has firmly gripped hold, God has blessed and continues to bless this corner of the Kingdom, even while completely covering it with what can only be described as a mattress of snow.

One of the blessings has been our weekly Bible studies, where we have been entering into the text of Genesis, my favorite book of the Bible outside the Gospels (although it’s in a dead heat with Matthew, but that's another post). 

We began ... well, at the beginning, examining the dual creation accounts given in the first two chapters, and took note of the distinctions between the two creations. There is comfort to be had in reading these two chapters closely, particularly if one has anxiety reconciling a Biblical faith with the understanding of the unfolding of the universe and the development of life that science has provided us in our modern context. 

We need to take note of the conflicting sequences of creation in the two accounts, where the first (Gen. 1-2:4) has humanity created after everything else has been made, while the second (Gen. 2:4b-25) has Adam being formed "in the day that YHWH made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up". The conflict in sequence continues when we see every creature created as an attempt to find a partner for Adam (Gen. 2:18-19).

While traditional attempts to align these two narrative have sought to connect the events of the second creation to the events of the sixth day in the first creation (Gen. 1:26-30) when humanity is created, this explanation cannot be found in the text, and must deviate from substantial portions of the text to be accepted. The two creations simply do not sequentially align.

None of this is to attempt to poke holes in the Biblical story, but to actually read what it says. When we do, we must consider the degree to which precision in developing the sequence of creation—what we consider the ‘how’ or timeline of creation—is of little importance to the Biblical text: if it was, the sequence established in the first would be maintained in the second. 

All this is to say that we need not feel anxiety in opening ourselves up to scientific explanations for HOW the universe and life came into being, while affirming a Biblical faith. The Bible doesn't offer us a HOW: it offers us two HOWs, which means it's not about HOW, but WHY. When we look at the two creations for ‘why’, we see that they at last align! 

WHY did God create? 

Because God thought that it was good to create, and loved what was created, and created so that what was created could care for what was created. 

The WHY is love

Our understanding of the HOW has always been an unfolding process, a truth marked by the way the HOW changes in the first and second creations in Genesis. I have little doubt the understanding of the HOW we have now will seem just as limited tomorrow as yesterday's does today. 

What remains fixed, is the WHY. 

In the beginning, now, and evermore. 

An unsung Canadian saint worth more than her salt

[expanded from a recent  Monday talk by Fr. Ken]

Marguerite Bourgeoys may well be one of the most unknown saints (and an official one at that) in the worldwide Church. The remarkable French pioneer moved from France to the wilds of ‘New France’ in 1653 on a mission to serve in whatever way she could. She helped bring Christianity to the local population, initiated the building of the colony’s first permanent church, and founded the first public school in what would later be known as Canada.  Public education would not widely exist for another 150 years.

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The saintly Marguerite survived many threats during her years in the new colony. She lived through Iroquois attacks, a fire that destroyed her small village, plagues on the ships that she took back and forth to France. But nothing threatened her dreams and hopes more than what her own bishop said to her in 1679. He told her she had to join her teaching sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame (that she had established in Ville Marie, later to be Montreal) to a cloistered religious order of Ursulines. This was not the first time she'd been given such a command. Whether from a misplaced desire to protect the sisters, or from discomfort in dealing with an active religious order of women, bishops had long wanted to fit her into the usual mold of cloistered orders.

An educator at heart, she firmly believed faith should not be shut away, so refused all efforts by the French religious hierarchy to sequester her and the women who had joined her. The bishop finally gave in, saying, "I cannot doubt, Mother Bourgeoys, that you will succeed in moving heaven and earth as you have moved me!"  And so began one of one of the first uncloistered religious communities in the Catholic Church.

Yes, living in the Canadian wilderness meant hardship and danger, but the challenges only inspired Marguerite. Yet another prime obstacle existed in that there were no children to teach! High infant mortality rates meant few survived to an age old enough for school. So Marguerite went to work in the hospital. She aided Jeanne Mance, who ran the hospital, in helping children survive in the harsh New World.

As conditions for natives and settlers began improving, Marguerite went to the governor of Ville Marie, Paul de Chomeday de Maisonneuve, and convinced him to let her open a school. He provided her with a vacant stone stable in April 1658 which became a schoolhouse for her students, both native and settlers.

As one unknown writer puts it, Saint Marguerite “is rightly considered co-foundress of Montreal, with the nurse, Jeanne Mance, and the master designer, Monsieur de Maisonneuve.”

The school system and network of social services she initiated gradually extended through the whole country, leading to her also being referred to as ‘Mother of the Colony’.

Marvelling on how well Marguerite connected the life of the mind to the life of God, Fr. Ken engaged in a bit of ‘what-if-ism’. “If we had followed more of these wise woman instead of arrogant men, we would be in a far different place,” he mused.

Monday 1:00 p.m. services at St. George's are well-worth attending: full communion, prayer, and an always-fascinating short talk by Fr. Ken on relevant biblical or ecclesiastical history.

The very best Christmas gift: our hearts

By Fr. Ken McClure

"What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a wise man I would do my part; yet what I can, I give him—I give my heart." [from "In the Bleak Midwinter" by Christina Rossetti]

I like this verse. I like it because it effectively articulates the tension that exists between hoping that Christ will come and anxiously preparing for the inevitability of it. With all the ‘what do I get them’ nervousness that comes with the execution of the ‘perfect’ Christmas celebration rustling around in our brains, the sentiment of our verse provides us with the link that connects Jesus to each and every one of the other relationships represented on our Christmas shopping lists; demanding that as we wonder what we're doing for each of our friends, family, and obligatory gift recipients (we ALL have those), we also wonder what we're doing for Christ. 

We give our heart; but what is that? 

When I think of matters of the heart, I think of Love. 

The weekly themes of our Advent journey have demonstrated that this divine expression of Love is built upon a foundation. It begins with Hope, which makes Peace possible. Where there is peace, Joy follows, and joy felt within the peace that comes from hope opens our hearts to Love in its fullest sense. 

With this in mind, I offer that what we give to the Christ child when we give our hearts is a commitment to continue to ask our Advent questions: 

What is my Hope? Where do I find Peace? How do I feel Joy? When do I open myself up to the Love of God? 

These are questions of the Heart, and when we ask of the heart, we give of the heart!

So, as we continue to journey with our Lord through the coming year, let us ensure that the gift we have provided, and have been provided, doesn't get tucked into the back of the closet (or worse: returned). May each step we take with Christ hereafter, be taken with an Advent obligation to prepare for the next step, so that all our steps may be filled with Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, leading us always to the open arms of God.

Merry Christmas, and God Bless us Everyone!  

Dickens’ A Christmas Carol wows at St. George's

"Darkness is cheap ... and Scrooge liked it," Charles Dickens wrote in his famous A Christmas Carol 175 years ago this month and engaging audiences ever since.

Local performers brought the story to remarkable life this past week in their production of the version first produced by CBC in 1990. Near-capacity audiences filled the church both Wednesday evening and Saturday afternoon. .

Here, the Christmas Carol Choir sing the beautifully haunting ‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence’, recorded Saturday with Becca McClure as soloist.

Bells of remembrance and peace ring throughout the Highlands

As the sun set on Sunday, November 11, bells sounded out across the Highlands in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice to end World War 1. Many area churches rang their bells 100 times in an initiative supported by local Legion members, students at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School and the Haliburton Highlanders Pipes and Drums band.

St. Margaret’s bell-ringers

St. Margaret’s bell-ringers

Thousands of locals served in the war, and as the Rev. Ken McClure noted, it was a good way for churches to commemorate them and their families.

“It’s important for churches, around Remembrance Day especially to both stand as agents of peace while at the same time honouring and respecting and holding up those who have fallen because of the absence of peace,” he said.

It was a very moving event for us,” says St. Margaret’s church warden, Sandra Bramham. “We sang ‘Abide With’ me and  ‘The Day Now Ended’ when we were done.”