Speak Lord: Disturb and renew us

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Seeing Jesus coming towards him, John said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. This is the one I spoke of when I said: A man is coming after me who ranks before me because he existed before me. I did not know him myself, and yet it was to reveal him to Israel that I came baptising with water.’

John also declared, ‘I saw the Spirit coming down on him from heaven like a dove and resting on him. I did not know him myself, but he who sent me to baptise with water had said to me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who is going to baptise with the Holy Spirit.” Yes, I have seen and I am the witness that he is the Chosen One of God.’

John 1:29-34

The Gospel on Sunday coming, the Sunday of the 2nd week in Ordinary Time, has John speak of his learning the ‘more’ about Jesus. The text wtih its direct address (To whom? Surely, now, to us!) and its repetitions expressed something of the overwhelming nature of the revelation he is grappling with , his confusion and his excitement.

For us, esepcially if we were raised as Christians, the ‘facts’ about Jesus – that he is Son of God and Son of Mary; fully human and fully divine; born of a virgin; anointed by the Holy SPirit; that he was crucified and that he was raised from the dead – are so familiar that we may no longer be startled by the way they challenge our regular ‘hold’ on reality. Yet when we do recognise the sometimes seeming absurdity of what the Church believes we are helped and not hindered.

God works, Jesus comes, to throw us off balance. Revelation helps us to acknowledge that the world is as God made it, not as we make it or wish it to be. There is a deeper reality for us to grapple with, a reality that is loving and nourishing, even as it causes us to realise that we cannot trust to ourselves alone; that we are not in control; or sole masters of our world and our destiny.

As the saying goes, we are to ‘let go and let God’.

  • How do you let God and the things of God into the picture?
  • Where do you try to manage alone?

Images of the Baptism of Jesus. Lichfield Almshouses. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Christmas

 

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After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’ When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. ‘At Bethlehem in Judaea,’ they told him ‘for this is what the prophet wrote: And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah, for out of you will come a leader who will shepherd my people Israel.’

Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them on to Bethlehem. ‘Go and find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’ Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward, and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.

Matthew 2:1-12

Yesterday is the feast of the Epiphany. And today is the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the last day of the Christmas Season.

Both feast have us look forward. The gifts of the wise men celebrate the divinity of Jesus and honour his mortality, and raise the question, ‘what next?’. The feast of the Baptism gives us the first glimpse of the adult Jesus ready to begin his public ministry.

And as Christmas ends weourselves move back into the more regular rhythms of life – at least until Lent begins (Ash Wednesday is 1st March this year).

  • How has Christmas touched you this year?
  • What have you learnt?
  • What will you do with that new knowledge/understanding?

Christmas Mysteries. Église Saint-Laurent, Paris. (C) 2017, Allen Morris

Taste and See: Christ in us

Baptism Liverpool

The Gospel yesterday, the last Sunday of Christmas and the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, set before us John’s call to recognise the more of the Lord’s Baptism: the more that Jesus experiences at his own baptism and the more we receive when baptised by the Lord.

A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Now when all the people had been baptised and while Jesus after his own baptism was at prayer, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily shape, like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’

Luke 3:15-16,21-22

John’s Baptism was a Baptism of Repentance. The Lord baptises, as he does when any priest or other minister baptises, with the Holy Spirit and fire. The Lord’s is a baptism that draws us into a new life, a new creation.

In the sacramental baptism we become a member of Jesus Christ, indeed other Christ’s. We become this, and we are still becoming this. – or at least that is the hope.

In Christ we are in a particular God God’s beloved children, and his favour rests on us.

But where do we conform to Christ? And where do we fall short?

  • What healing and help have we already received and benefited from and for which we can give thanks?
  • And what more healing and help do we know we need? What more might others say too?

Christ baptised. Detail of reredos of Lady Chapel in Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Beloved Lord

St Austell baptism of Christ

The Gospel on Sunday, the last Sunday of Christmas and the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, offers an account of the Baptism of Jesus.

A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Now when all the people had been baptised and while Jesus after his own baptism was at prayer, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily shape, like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’

Luke 3:15-16,21-22

The Baptist sets us good example. The Christ makes of himself our brother, he embraces us in love and calls us to newness of life. And yet we are far from his equal, and we are not fit to undo the strap of his sandals, not worthy to have him under our roof…

And yet he calls us, and cherishes us.

As we contemplate the Beloved, only-Begotten, let us also pause and know afresh God’s love for us.

Christ baptised. Catholic church in St Austell. (c) 2006, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Alone/Together

 

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The Gospel for this the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord gives explicit testimony about the humility of the Baptist, and about the love of the Father for the Son.

In the course of his preaching John the Baptist said, ‘Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’

It was at this time that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised in the Jordan by John. No sooner had he come up out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’

Mark 1:7-11

Salisbury

It is at least interesting that following the testimony of John about Jesus we then get the Father’s testimony.

John the Baptist speaks of Jesus and says that of the two of them Jesus is the more powerful.

 

In our culture, that fosters and prizes individualism, that might suggest Jesus as being the more powerful in and of himself  – a sort of superman, possessed of superhero powers.

In the culture of the time, much less preoccupied with the attributes of the individual and much more with the family one belongs too, the attention would be to the power and authority they command. If Jesus is strong and powerful it is because of his relationships, his family.

Salisbury 2Jesus seems to come alone to the Jordan – leaving behind the family of Nazareth. And seems isolated, vulnerable.

But he is then claimed by the Father, speaking from heaven. ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’

In Matthew’s  gospel the Father speaks to us: ‘This is my Son…’ Somehow it is more intimate and moving that in Mark (and Luke) we are privileged hearers, witnesses, to the Father’s speaking directly and personally to his Son.

The power of Jesus comes from his Father, from his relationship with him. It is a power to be exercised not over and against others, but for others, restoring them to health and life.

In our baptism we are incorporated into Christ. We become members of his body. Whatever our other relationships they are relativised, contextualised, by our relationship with him. And whatever our individual strengths they are as nothing compared to the strength we, together, share with him.

Photographs of the font at Salisbury Cathedral, shortly after its installation. (c) 2010, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Even to us

Baptism Piero della Francesca

The Gospel for this the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord gives explicit testimony about the humility of the Baptist, and about the love of the Father for the Son.

In the course of his preaching John the Baptist said, ‘Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’

It was at this time that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised in the Jordan by John. No sooner had he come up out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’

Mark 1:7-11

Implicit in this passage of the Gospel is testimony about the humility of Jesus. The greater comes to be baptised by the lesser; the more powerful by the weaker, the sinless one by the sinner.

The self-abasement of the Son was first noted, this Christmas season, in the mystery of the Word who created all things being born as a creature, as the babe of Bethlehem. That humility remained a characteristic of Jesus throughout his ministry on earth. It continues in his ministry to us today.

Give thanks for the love of the Lord and pray that you may imitate it in your daily life.

Detail from the Piero della Francesca painting of the Baptism of Jesus in the collection of the National Gallery, London. Photograph (c) 2015, Allen Morris.