Tag Archives: Cross

“Has the Lord’s arm been shortened?”

Numbers 11 verses 11-23

John 3 verses 12-21

 

In May 1944, the American 442nd Regimental Combat Team landed in the Italian port of Naples.

Soon a kitchen and supply tent were set up.

A short while afterwards, a dozen or so locals were spotted lurking near the facility, watching with hungry eyes.

One of them approached the mess sergeant and offered his and his family’s services to help clean and keep the place in good order.

The American asked him how much he wanted…

The man shook his head. “No lire – there is nothing left here to buy – just give us your garbage, your left-overs.”

Thinking that the Italians might be farmers, and wanted the rubbish as fertiliser, or to feed their pigs and hens, the Sergeant said, “OK, go ahead, help yourself”

At that, the Italians surged forward to the rubbish bins, cramming the slops into their mouths – potato peelings, congealed stew, coffee grounds – anything that they could get hold off…..

“STOP!” shouted the American, “you can’t do that. You can’t eat that garbage!”

“But you PROMISED!” wailed the hollow-eyed Italian, “we will work for it…”

Now THAT is real hunger…hunger as the soldier had never seen before.

And, we have seen real hunger too – not just the poor, starving children in these far-off countries blighted by drought or civil war……but increasingly here… in this country.

Who would have imagined even just a decade ago that many thousands of our fellow citizens rely on food banks and soup kitchens.

I saw on Border News on Friday – the day that English schools finished for the summer holidays, that a charity in Cumbria is handing hundreds of food parcels to families – in order that their children get something to eat; there being no free school lunches over the next couple of months or thereabouts, the schools, of course, being closed.

This is the 21st century…..not Victorian times, with ill-fed and undernourished poor kids and adults

How often have we ourselves said something like, “I’m starving” or “I’m dying of hunger” when we’re a bit late having our lunch?

That’s not hunger; that’s not starvation. How blessed we are; indeed sometimes spoiled for choice.

And, let’s say this – we live in a society where there is so much waste. I read a week ago about how much uneaten food we throw away – added up, it amounts to hundreds of pounds a year.

It illustrates our abuse and also our taking for granted the bounty that God has blessed us with.

Let’s turn now to our Old Testament reading. The Book of Numbers over many chapters tell of the wanderings of the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land.

Over and over again, three stark words stand out: “Hunger” “Thirst” and Weariness”

Only those who have experienced such a plight.

Those who were prisoners of war in the last war, those incarcerated in Belsen and Auschwitz, those who slaved on the Burma railway in the 1940s, those on the hunger marches of the ‘30s – they knew, they felt, they understood – yes, they and such as they suffered.

In the Authorised translation of the Bible, Moses addressed the hungry and weary children of Israel who doubted if any relief would be given to them.

He says, “Has the Lord’s arm been shortened?”

In other words, “Is there no limit to God’s power – to his providing for you?”

“Is God deliberately withdrawing his favour?”

If we truly believe, if we have a faith that is strong enough, the answer is a resounding “NO!” even in the bad times, the appalling situations.

In one of James Herriot’s books, his fictional alter ego is called out one Sunday night to look at a couple’s dog – a ten mile drive….and he’s not happy about it.

A woman invites him into a shabby living room, one end of which is curtained off.

Behind the curtain, in bed, is a desperately ill looking man -her husband.

A little dog is lying there, his legs not functioning and he can’t walk.

The vet can barely keep his temper – surely this could have waited for another day or so, and a visit to the surgery.

Then the man spoke. “I was a miner, but the roof fell in on me. I got a broken back. The doctor says I’ll never walk again”

A pause…then in a hoarse voice, “I count my blessings. I suffer very little and I’ve got the best wife in the world”

The vet wondered what these blessings could be – his wife, certainly; the dog who was a faithful companion; the wonderful views across the Yorkshire Dales….and that was about it.

His irritation seeped away. Driving the ten miles back home across the Dales, he felt very humble.

Forgetting to be thankful is very easy; we enjoy a lifestyle – even a simple one without much in the way of material possessions – which many would envy.

Let us be thankful – not just for the good things of life, but for life itself.

And to the Israelites’ question about God abandoning them, or, at best limiting his care for them…. he was to provide manna in the wilderness, water out of a rock, resting places by the way, and even means of healing when they were bitten by serpents.

Take the snake bites….Moses acted somewhat strangely. He fashioned a bronze serpent, fixed it to a pole, and held it up so that everybody who wanted could see it.

They were told that those who did look, would be cured. God would provide healing.

Did anyone question then whether there was a limit to God’s power?

Some answered “No” and looked and were cured.

Others answered “Yes, there is a cut-off and He can do nothing for us in this our condition …. take that bronze snake away!” And they buried their heads in their hands.

Doesn’t this imply that our loving God can provide for us, his children, even when we find ourselves in our own personal wilderness?

In John’s Gospel, reference is made to this story from the Hebrew Scriptures.

A well known verse. Here it is in the traditional translation:

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Has God’s arm been shortened? Is there a limit to God’s power?

Apparently, it could be….. but the limit is not on His side; it is on OURS

God offers us his gifts, but he does not force our hand open to receive them.

Such is the reality of free will that God, who has implemented it, will not infringe it. If he did, we would be no more than puppets in his hands, manipulated at his whim.

All this applies to the greatest gift of all that God has provided in the wilderness of our human folly, willfulness and failure – Christ lifted up on the Cross for the world to see…..

…….that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life”

Here is healing. Here is power. Here is hope. Without limit………….

PROVIDED we respond.

A postscript – in November I will be visiting the River Kwai where the notorious railway was constructed. Despite the lush tropical scenery and the heat of the sun, this place is no paradise. It was hell with palm trees for the prisoners of war who laboured there – exhausted, starving, on the point of collapse.

Then on the 31st December, I shall be visiting Auschwitz – a bleak place of death and desolation, where, as we know, horror was piled upon horror.

How will I respond when seeing these two places? I don’t know. But, of one thing I’m certain, I will be thankful to the God whom we worship that – in comparison – our petty problems are nothing.

And, generally speaking, for all of us, comes the realisation of just how blessed we are – and then perhaps….just perhaps….. we may acknowledge that we are God’s hands in this world of his creation.

May our hands be open to give as generously as we can.

And may we never allow our arms to be “shortened”

 

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Sermon – the Third of Easter, Year C

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Raphael – “Miraculous Draft of Fishes”

 

John 21 verses 1-19

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.

21:2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.

21:3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

21:4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.

21:5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.”

21:6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.

21:7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.

21:8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

21:9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.

21:10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.”

21:11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.

21:12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord.

21:13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

21:14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

21:15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

21:16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

21:17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

21:18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”

21:19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

 

THE SIGN OF THE FISH

I’m off on holiday – yes AGAIN! – next Saturday: to Rhodes this time.

Usually, I just throw an assortment of mismatched clothes in a suitcase about an hour before I leave. But the one constant that I take is a pair of Nike sneakers…. you know: the trainers with the “swoosh” symbol.

It’s a logo that is recognised world-wide – a sort of tick shaped emblem.

Actually, it is supposed to represent the wing from the legendary statue of the Greek goddess of victory, who was called Nike (not “Nyk” as many folk pronounce it)

It is supposed to bring to mind victory on today’s so-called “battlefields” like gyms, and running tracks.

The most I’ll be running next week will likely be a bath! So out of condition – but I like my red Nikes.

Nike’s legendary Swoosh logo is probably one of the most recognisable in the sports industry, enabling us to see swift movement in its simple design.

That’s the way with so many signs and symbols these days – simple but effective.

Think of a golden “M” shaped arch – you don’t have to guess for even a couple of seconds to work out that one.

A three pointed star in a circle – Mercedes Benz

An apple with a bite out of it – iPhones, iPads, iPods…. and I (sic) don’t know what else.

However, the most famous and instantly recognisable symbol of all is ……. the Cross.

Although the Cross is displayed in endless varieties – plain, crucifix, Celtic, wooden, metal, palm (as we often have in church on Palm Sunday), as jewelry, tattoos, atop church spires ….. it is immediately recognisable as a symbol of Christianity.

Yet, when the Church began, it would have been more likely that our forebears in the Faith would have been recognised by fellow believers through the sign of the FISH.

Sorry to return to talking about holidays again, but a few years ago, my late wife and I spent an amazing few hours at the wonderful site at Ephesus.

{Incidentally, there is there an ancient piece of graffito scratched into a rock with the Greek name “Nike”

The tour guide asked if anyone knew who Nike was, and an American in our group answered “Say, isn’t “he” (!) the god of sportswear?”}

Anyhow, in many other places, in the ancient walls and pavements, there are etched into the stone tiny simple cross shapes, as well as more elaborate chiselled almost Maltese-style ones.

But …. as common were engravings of the word ICHTHUS – the Greek for “fish”

For the early Church the fish logo was very prominent indeed. It appeared frequently in the early Christian world up until the end of the fourth century.

It would be logical at this point to explain why the fish symbol was important, but I’m going to put it to one side just now, and come back to it later.

I want us to think about this instead just now:

Have you noticed how many times there are references to fish in the Gospels?

Right at the beginning of the story, we find Jesus among fishermen, and from them he selects his first disciples…… to be “fishers of men”

When Christ wants to feed the crowd in the desert – through Andrew, a fisherman, of course – he finds a boy with five loaves and two fishes.

And the fish, along with bread, was associated with communion in the early days of the Faith.

(The symbol can be seen in the Sacraments Chapel of the Catacombs of St. Callistus. Because of the story of the miracle of the feeding of the 5000, the fish also symbolized the Eucharist.)

When Christ tells his disciples to have some trust in the Heavenly Father, he asks them, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?”

In addition, in Mediterranean countries, the fish was seen as the symbol of good luck, and it still is in some New Year customs.

Christ, of course, ushered in a New Age – would not the fish be an appropriate sign for what he represented?

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Let’s now look at our Resurrection narrative for this Sunday. It’s about fish and fishing.

Here are the disciples back to the old business – fishing. They’ve been out all night and have caught nothing. On the shore is someone whom they don’t recognise. He instructs them to cast out the net again starboard-side. And there follows an incredible catch.

Jesus, then, takes bread and fish, and – sacramentally? – feeds them.

Is it any wonder that the fish became an emblem of faith for these first believers?

Before we take this any further, let’s ask if the sign of the fish can speak to us in this day and age.

How about this? Perhaps it’s indicative of the sheer earthiness and practicality of the Gospel.

Fish was a vital part of the economy of Christ’s society. Jesus didn’t go down to the lakeside to find as his followers some romantic sportsmen. He went right into the heart of the community – right to the centre of local industry. He walked straight into the practicalities of life.

After the highs of Easter Day, we’re back to normality now; back to the everyday stuff of normal life.

But…. Christ is STILL with us – with us in all the experiences of life.

He’s with us in the hungry who need to be fed, with the homeless who need shelter, the sick and the marginalised who need our compassion. “as you did it for the least of these my brethren” he says, “you did it unto me”
Let’s think of this too – the fish represents vitality. Have you ever watched a trout, for example, darting from stone to stone in a rippling stream?

It’s so alive – in its natural environment. Could that not be an image of the Christian living in the grace of God?

New Christians were plunged into the waters of baptism, and they began to see their life from then on as one sustained and supported by this symbol of God’s grace.

{note: the Latin word for a baptismal font is “piscina” – literally a fish pond. Converts to the Faith were called “little fish” (Latin: “pisculi”)}

May we always live as if we are alive in God’s environment of love.

Now, to the main reason for Christianity and the symbol of the fish. Something, I guess, all of you have heard about before.

And, when I attended Church in February in Port of Spain in Trinidad, the minister preached for almost half an hour on the meaning and symbolism of the fish…… oh, dear – perhaps twenty minutes too long.

 

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But, fear not! This is it in condensed form:

In Greek, the word for “fish” is ICHTHUS. – it can be an acronym – each Greek initial letter spells out the word – translated – “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour”

{Iesus Christos, Theou Uios Soter}

A powerful and secret symbol shared between believers – and a reminder of their Creed.

This is the faith by which Christ’s Church has lived for some two thousand years.

Yet Jesus is never referred to as “The Great Fisherman”; rather as “The Shepherd of the Sheep”

And in today’s passage the Book of Revelation, he is called the Lamb.

And Peter, the big fisherman, is charged (in the second part of today’s Gospel passage) to be a pastor, to feed the sheep.

Peter, like Paul (in today’s Scripture Reading from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles) is changed by Christ into a new man. Both are given a new task and a new opportunity.

This was only possible because of the Cross, and the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

The fish may be a fascinating sign, but the Cross is a much more potent symbol.

It speaks to us of grace, of love, of sacrifice, of forgiveness.

It is not in the symbol of the fish we glory, but in the Cross of Christ – towering o’er the wrecks of time.

Do we believe enough to identify with Christ’s Cross – through what we believe and do and say?

So that those with whom we interact, will not need any secret sign or veiled clue as to whose we are and whom we serve and who we are ………

……. followers and disciples of the great Shepherd of the Sheep, the Lamb of God, and the one who is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life

 

 

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Two Nuns meet Dracula

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Two nuns, Sister Catherine and Sister Helen, are travelling through Europe in their car. They get to Transylvania and are stopped at a traffic light.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a tiny, little Dracula jumps on the hood of the car and hisses through the windshield.

“Quick, quick!” shouts Sister Catherine. “What shall we do?”

“Turn the windscreen wipers on. That will get rid of the abomination”, says Sister Helen.

Sister Catherine switches them on, knocking Dracula about, but he clings on and continues hissing at the nuns. “What shall I do now?” she shouts.

“Switch on the windscreen  washer. I filled it up with Holy Water at the Vatican,” says Sister Helen.

Sister Catherine turns on the windscreen washer. Dracula screams as the water burns his skin, but he clings on and continues hissing at the nuns. “NOW what?” shouts Sister Catherine?

“Show him your cross,” says Sister Helen, quickly.

“Now you’re talking,” says Sister Catherine. She opens the window and shouts,
“Get the f*!# off the car, you f*!#ing little **** !”

She turns to Sister Helen, and asks “Was that cross enough?!”

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Compassion  (Proper 8B)

Mark 5, verses 21-43

I remember reading of a man who was once involved in a terrible car accident.  When he was cut from the wreckage, there was so little life left in him that the paramedics and then the doctors gave little hope of survival.

However, after the surgeons had done their work, he did survive – but at what cost: both legs were gone, his left arm was missing together with part of the collarbone.  Only a finger and thumb remained on his right hand.

However, he still possessed a brilliant mind, enriched by a good education and broadened with world travel.

And it all was wasted.  There seemed to be nothing he could do in his helplessness.

A thought then came to him.  It is always a delight to receive letters, but why not write them.  He could still use his right hand with some difficulty.  But to whom could he write?

Was there anyone shut in and incapacitated as he was, and whom his letters would encourage?  He thought of’ men in prison.  They did have some hope of release, unlike him, but it was a try

He wrote to a Christian organisation concerned with prison ministry.  He was told that his letters could not be answered, as this was against prison rules.  However, he decided to start on this one-sided correspondence.

He wrote twice a week and it taxed his strength to the limit.  But into these letters, he put his whole soul, all his experience, all his faith, all his wit, and all his Christian optimism.

It was hard writing these letters, often doing so in pain, and especially since there was no chance of’ a reply There were times when he got discouraged and was tempted to give it up.  But he carried on.

At last, he got a letter.  It was a very short note written on prison stationery by the officer whose duty it was to censor the mail.

All it said was ‘Please write on the best paper you can afford.  Your letters are passed from cell to cell, until they literally fall to pieces’

I bring that rather moving story to your attention because it tells us something of the nature of’ compassion.

Compassion is about giving. It is about giving unconditionally, without thought of reward or acknowledgement.  It is about going on giving even it’ sometimes it hurts.

It’s about DOING rather than just talking.  Words are cheap; actions cost.

Look at our Bible story for today.  Here is Jesus, being jostled by the crowd, as he tried to get on his way to see a little girl who was terminally ill.  It would be noisy, frenetic, and, no doubt, frustrating.

Yet, Jesus gave up precious time for the woman who wanted to be healed.  He gave all of his time and attention to this poor anonymous woman in the crowd.  Jesus had time for her, because compassion always has time for everyone, even the apparently hopeless and worthless of folk.

It cost him time, and, more importantly, it cost him something of himself.  He felt his power ebb out of him, when she touched him.  No real help can ever be given except at the cost of something of oneself.

There must have been days when from morning to night, Christ was surrounded by people begging him for help, and he freely gave it.  Every time he gave, it cost him something.  All the time, he was using himself up.

It was not simply wisdom that Christ gave to people; it was not simply healing; it was Himself.

Supremely, he gave of himself on the Cross.

Look at that Cross – beneath it, all the cruelty, apathy and self-centredness that lack within humanity was on display.

But from it, flowed all the love, forgiveness and compassion that God has for us, his errant children.

With the sign of the Cross in our hearts, with the divine compassion alive within us, let us start today with a burning desire to practice the same compassion with a new humility, a new liberality, and a new joy

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Seven Last Words – Seven Incarcerated Women (via Huffpost)

Incarcerated Women Reflect On Jesus’ Seven Last Words On The Cross
HuffPost Religion Editors The Huffington Post

Posted: 04/03/15 10:06 AM ET Updated: 04/03/15 12:59 PM ET
On Good Friday, many Christians reflect on what are known as the seven last words — the final statements Jesus Christ said while on the cross, as recorded by the canonical gospels. For some people in prison, these words can be particularly affecting.

David Carr, a professor at Union Theological Seminary, teaches a course called “Trauma and the Bible” to female inmates at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, New York state’s only maximum security prison for women. Half of the students in the course are prisoners finishing degrees in sociology in the Marymount Manhattan College Bedford Hills College program, while the other half of the students in the class are enrolled at Union Seminary.

Although Carr has spent years studying, teaching and writing about the Bible and trauma, he said teaching the course at Bedford Hills has been illuminating for him.

“Each week these students, many of whom have experienced traumas of their own and been incarcerated for years, have taught me,” he said.

Some of Carr’s students — six prisoners and one Union Seminary student — wrote reflections on Jesus’ seven last words, offering a glimpse at how life experience and circumstances can influence the impact Jesus’ words can have on people.

Read the students’ reflections:

“Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34

As a practicing Jew, with very little knowledge of the New Testament, I am surprised by how often I use this phrase “Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” I say it aloud to others or silently to myself. I say it lightly, with humor at times and at other times, far more earnestly, when I need to remind myself, in the face of the daily indignities of life in prison and the larger destructive forces in our world, to focus on our common humanity, rather than resorting to anger and judgment against others. This phrase slips so easily off my tongue that I can overlook its deeper wisdom, and the poignancy of imagining it as Jesus’s last words.

I picture the scene of Jesus, a rebel, on the cross, and the cries for blood from the crowd, so caught up that they are blind to their own situations under Roman rule. And I ponder this last utterance: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” As someone who participated in a robbery in which three people were killed, I acknowledge my identification with that mob. I too have felt the fever that took hold of them and how it is to lose myself in the group, to allow my political passions to be distorted by the allure of violence, to dissociate myself from my own fear and healthy inhibitions in order to prove myself: to willfully not know. Coming to terms with my crime and the harm I caused to so many, began with choosing to wake up — to land in my reality — to become aware, no matter how painful that was.

Working with other women in here, I see how many of them responded to terrible traumas by shutting down. Yet we are most dangerous to others and ourselves when we are in that dissociated state, of refusing to know or care. I urge them to land in their reality and I admire their courage to risk all the feelings that arise when they face their truths. It is worth it, I say to them. For I know the restorative energy that comes from feeling remorse and taking responsibility.

This brings me back to Jesus’ words: “Forgive them.” The power of those words! Here he is, bereft, in agony, ridiculed. By his choice to forgive, he raises himself up from the abyss of victimization. He takes back the power, by knowing the truth — his, theirs, ours, all of it.

Reflection by Judith Clark, Marymount Manhattan College Bedford Hills College Program

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

The interpretation I’ve always heard of these words is that Jesus was promised Paradise for sacrificing his life for humanity’s sins. I disagree with this concept because it’s vague in various ways. It depicts a paradox where God is kind and merciful, yet he allows an innocent man to suffer for every man’s sin. But every man is endowed free will and thus, is responsible for his own actions.

The paradox continues because God is held as an all-powerful entity; this verse also refers to the concept of Jesus as an intercessor to salvation with God when Jesus sacrifices himself and ascends to Paradise. Why would an all-powerful God need to create a son and sacrifice him viciously to provide a way for communication with his own creation?

God is depicted throughout the entire Bible as a God who is powerful, loving to his creation, and most importantly an entity beyond the human imagination — who clearly does not have human traits. If in fact, he did have a son, or needed help to give salvation to his creation, is this a God we can imagine? The God that people usually imagine here is a less-powerful, dependent entity who is unjust for allowing an innocent, pious man to suffer for what he did not do.

My reflection on these last verses is one of disagreement. Realistically, although God could, God did not need to sacrifice a righteous man to preserve humanity. Clearly, humanity is still in sin, and that would mean that God’s “sacrifice” here was futile, an unacceptable theory since God wouldn’t make futile decisions. In my opinion, these words from God to Jesus are improbable and lean towards blasphemy more than anything.

Reflection by Tallulah Gillespie, Marymount Manhattan College Bedford Hills College Program

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. John 19:26-27

Tortured, humiliated, and dying on a cross, Jesus manages to tell his mother and his beloved disciple to take care of one another … to fill a void within each other who suffer the trauma of his death.

These words struck me because, as Jesus is dying, he still manages to consider his mother’s pain. It is hard to imagine what new relationships, forged from traumatic events, will be like. His disciple can never take his place in his mother’s heart. There will always be an emptiness in her hollowed by memory. It is hard for me to believe that anyone can ease the pain of watching someone you love be murdered right in front of you. But the thought of being given comfort and a sense of security during such cruel times, the idea that you should not and will not be alone to cope with your pain … moves me.

It brought up the idea of surrogate families for me — the ones where someone steps into your life and fills in the absence of someone else. My life has been filled with incredible strangers who stepped into my life and, today, love me more than any family can compare. The image of “beloved disciple” however, someone so faithful to God and trustworthy to care for Jesus’ mother, it makes me think of my sister, Pauline. She is no “substitute” though — she really is my sister — but prior to the tragedy that surrounds my incarceration, we barely knew each other. She has every reason to justify hatred towards me. She has every right to shun and abandon me as the rest our family has. But she doesn’t. I know her outspoken love and loyalty for me comes at a high cost to her. Pauline is the bravest woman I know. She was the first person to step into my life when I was stripped of everything that made me human and had the courage to still love “something” like me.

Trauma brought us together and although we cannot forget or change the past, we carry each other forward. There is something about having someone by your side when you are suffering that saves you. Even when life seems so dark, this person stands there in that same darkness, waiting for you. It is a gift to know you don’t have to suffer alone.

Reflection by Connie Leung, Marymount Manhattan College Bedford Hills College Program

Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani? Which means “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34

I have heard the Crucifixion narrative every year in church and we are usually instructed to leave service, go home and “sit with it” — sit with what Christ did on our behalf, sit with what he said, sit with how he must have felt. I always intended to do as my pastor instructed but I allowed life to get in the way — the phone rang, my mother needed help cleaning the house, there was food to prepare for Easter dinner, or last-minute shopping needed to be done.

However, when you are in prison, there is no excuse for not “sitting with it.” After my first Good Friday service here at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, I had no choice but to go back to my cell and reflect on Christ’s words. The cell doors closed and I was utterly alone. It was then that His last words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46/ Mark 15:34) took on a whole new meaning for me and maybe for the first time, I was able to grasp the extreme desolation, rejection, and abandonment Christ must have experienced on the cross.

Everywhere you turn in prison, you see women who have been abandoned and are truly alone. Phone calls go unanswered, visits do not show, the mail starts to dwindle, your friends change, and the pictures taped to the peach-colored cinder block wall start to fade. Even if you have a wonderful and strong support system, there is an unconscious fear that by the end of your sentence you will be left completely and totally alone. But who could fault them? I was sentenced to prison not them. It seems that everyday my family bares the burden of my mistakes.

These feelings are overwhelming and I am sure there are many others who have experienced or witnessed a depth of loneliness, abandonment, and rejection far worse than anything I have seen or felt. I know my Savior has. Being nailed to the cross, Jesus already knew what it meant to be forsaken — he was intimately acquainted with rejection, abandonment, and mockery. As Christ cries out in torment and rejection, not only is he fulfilling the messianic psalm, but more than that, he is experiencing the full and furious wrath of God. The theologian R. C. Sproul states: “This cry represents the most agonizing protest ever uttered on this planet. It burst forth in a moment of unparalleled pain. It is the scream of the damned — for us.” I alone deserve it but do not feel it. He does not deserve it yet took the full wrath for me. He was forsaken so I may be forgiven. The Roman cross was meant to humiliate, dehumanize, and destroy Jesus, as well as his followers. However, the cross of Christ, for me, is a symbol of hope, change, restoration, and a second chance.

Reflection by Sarah Cushman, Marymount Manhattan College Bedford Hills College Program

“I thirst.” John 19:28

Reflecting on the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross in order to cleanse us from our sins fills me with joy and inspiration as “I” too take a step forward and commit to walk in newness of life through the symbolic act of baptism. On Saturday, April 4, I will finally get to undergo the holy Christian sacrament of Baptism.

As Jesus exclaimed these ordinary, yet powerful words, “I thirst,” he yearned for the culmination of his mission on earth, as well as the fulfillment of scriptures. However, he exposed his vulnerability, as his innate humanity enveloped the magnitude of his sacrifice.

Through an act of surrender and a hunger for a deeper connection with God I declare, too, that “I Thirst.” Being thirsty places me in the right place, at the right time, stirring within me a yearning to the point of physical need; I need, I want; I desire to quench my thirst.

I have waited for years for this Saturday. I claim the time is right, the moment is now, my eyes have been opened, and my heart has been readied, similar to the Samaritan woman at the well to whom Jesus gave “living water” (John 4). I search for spiritual maturity that can only be achieved through an earnest and diligent relationship with God the creator.

As I sacrifice a weekend visit with my children in order to partake in this holy celebration, I rid myself of any thoughts of insecurity, inadequacy, and fear, and confidently immerse in the foundation of living water; leaving behind old things and embracing all that is new, and as Jesus once did, I accept in faith the path laid out before me.

This Easter not only will I celebrate the triumphant resurrection of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I will rejoice with great conviction in the authenticity of my commitment towards a fulfilling new chapter of my life, and as I bury my heart in his hands and submit to his will, I’m baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Reflection by Assia Serrano, Marymount Manhattan College Bedford Hills College Program

“It is finished.” John 19:30

This verse is powerful and gives me hope that there is an end to suffering. I chose this verse because it signifies that nothing is permanent and an individual’s suffering is only temporary. Just as there is a beginning, there is an end to everything. When I first began the sentence issued to me of 25 years to life, I did not have hope and I did not believe I would ever say it is finished. As a 19-year-old, I could not imagine what my life would be like. Now that I am 42 years old and at the end of this prison sentence, I have a hope restored that I did not have before. I can finally see the end of not only this prison sentence, but of my suffering.

When Jesus spoke these last words, “It is finished,” His time on earth ended. Many see it as a time of sorrow or sadness, and yes, His pain and suffering did warrant sadness, however, His time on this earth was only temporary; just as our time here on earth is temporary. Jesus experienced betrayal, violence, and abuse as a human. All these are things that we ourselves have experienced. When Jesus died on the cross, His life as we know ended, but in truth, His life began and He was free. He was beginning a new chapter in a better place.

When an individual sees the words spoken by Jesus, “It is finished,” they may see the words as negative. After serving 23 plus years in prison, I can look at the words that Jesus spoke in a positive light and find comfort in them; knowing that nothing lasts forever and the end to suffering is near. The words give me hope and strength to get to the ‘end’ of this chapter of my life. I know that once I am released from prison, I too can speak the words, “It is finished” and begin my life anew; in a better place.

Reflection by Claude Millery, Marymount Manhattan College Bedford Hills College Program

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Luke 23:46

At 9:55 p.m., on June 13, 1985, I took a deep breath, gathered the last of my waning strength and pushed, delivering my firstborn. While pushing, I screamed with excitement, relief and gratitude. I will never forget the pain or the shout. In enormous pain and discomfort, I yelled like a banshee. My yell, however, was not one of fear or anguish. I yelled for sheer joy. After 9 months and 12 hours of labor, the moment had arrived: my baby was here. It was time to welcome her.

On the cross, in the midst of pain and suffering, Jesus musters his last ounce of strength to cry in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” thereby delivering humankind from their sin. Jesus’s last action on the cross was one of deliverance and hope. In pain and suffering, Jesus reminds us of his humanity and steadfast love. He also minds us that he does not belong here on earth and returns to his Father.

The cross is a symbol of everlasting life and deliverance. Out of pain and suffering comes hope and everlasting life.

Reflection by Lorna Woolham, Union Theological Seminary in New York

Prof. David Carr is author of Holy Resilience: The Bible’s Traumatic Origins

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Santa Cross

Just read about a Western businessman who went to Japan in the middle of the 19th century.

His hosts wanted to make him feel at home and knew he was of the Christian tradition.

He was surprised to see an effigy in the hall of Santa Claus nailed to a cross!

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A Christian Country?

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CAHAL MILMO Monday 21 April 2014 – the Independent

For 50 years a council-run crematorium in Bath displayed a 4ft cross etched into one of its panoramic windows. Recently it was replaced with a “removable cross” to be displayed or concealed according to the departed’s wishes.

 

The new cross, printed on an acrylic sheet, was not part of the original plans for the £140,000 refurbishment of Haycombe Chapel (which despite its name is not a consecrated space). Instead it was a compromise after a petition objecting to the removal of the cross gathered 4,000 signatures.

The battle of Haycombe Chapel’s cross encapsulates Britain’s increasingly fractious relationship with its Christian heritage and the tension between those who seek a proudly areligious society and those, including the Prime Minister, who believe we should be more outspoken about our foundation faith.

On Monday, David Cameron found himself under attack from a coalition of 55 leading liberal voices, including author Philip Pullman and philosopher AC Grayling, for fostering “alienation” across the UK by insisting that Britons should be “more confident about our status as a Christian country”.

Behind the row lie wider questions about just how Christian Britain is in 2014.

The statistics are both for and against Mr Cameron and his detractors. When the 2011 census was taken, 59 per cent of those in England and Wales described themselves as Christian. But the 2001 census found 72 per cent were nominally Christian.

The net loss of 4.1 million Christians would have been significantly worse had it not been for an influx of 1.2 million foreign-born believers – many from more strongly religious countries such as Poland and Nigeria – coming to Britain.

Research by the House of Commons Library in 2012 found that the number of non-believers – the nation’s atheists and agnostics are growing by nearly 750,000 a year – will overtake Christians by 2030.

The result, according to those who believe religion should be expunged from politics, is a disproportionate influence for the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, which critics say are out of step with those to whom they preach.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “If you put forward the idea that this is a Christian country with the implicit idea that Christians are somehow superior to other citizens then its leads down a dangerous path of prioritising one group’s belief ahead of others.

“Church of England attendance now stands at around 800,000 on a typical Sunday. It becomes increasingly difficult, therefore, to justify its privileged position, particularly when it espouses views on subjects such as gay marriage, which the rest of society has long since left behind.”

One senior cleric rejected the criticism, accusing Mr Cameron’s critics of propagating an “intolerant secularism” that ignores a country imbued with Christian culture, history and values.

The Right Reverend Mark Davies, the Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury, who has said that Christians might soon become “strangers in our own land”, told The Independent: “Christianity is the single most important element in England’s history. From our legal system to our constitution, it is at the very foundations of national identity.

“There is a danger of airbrushing this from our memory and the intolerant secularism that we are seeing expressed does not allow for acknowledgement of that contribution and its importance to our present life.”

Perhaps optimistically, some church leaders have insisted that while the “soft faith” of values and upbringing that once meant many Britons would declare themselves “Christian” without ever crossing the threshold of a church has fallen away, those who now volunteer their faith represent a core of wholehearted belief.

As the Roman Catholic Bishop’ Conference of England and Wales put it: “Christianity is no longer a religion of culture but a religion of decision and commitment.”

Rather like Haycombe Chapel and its movable cross, the reality of Christian Britain is probably more complex, with Britons increasingly adopting a “pick and mix” approach to faith.

Meanwhile, both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope have recently made conciliatory statements on homosexuality.

Nevertheless, the ability of religion to enflame debate is undimmed. As Billy Connolly once put it: “It seems to me that Islam and Christianity and Judaism all have the same God, and he’s telling them all different things.”

 

COMMENT:

The UK Census results are somewhat misleading as the census form ask what religion do you belong to.
Many who put down “Christian” do so to distinguish between Muslim or Buddhism etc.
If a qualifying question asked…….”Are you a religious person (I.e you pray and you go church/mosques/temples on a regular basis) then many would say “No”……..and this would skip the question regarding which religion they belong to.
So 59% who put down Christian is a gross over estimation of those who truly were religious let alone “Christian”.
If the 59% were truly accurate then that would mean that every other person you meet should be a Bible reading, church going worshiper….. but that clearly is not the case, in truth “Christians” probably struggle to reach 1/6 of the populace…….So no Mr.Cameron……we are NOT a Christian nation……and that is no bad thing…..religion has for too long had a hold on not just this country but all counties in the world.

 

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April 23, 2014 · 11:51

The Cross

The Cross

Of course, we’ve all heard the story of the young woman who goes into a jewellery store to buy a cross on a chain; the sales assistant asks, “do you want one with the wee man on it – or just plain?”

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April 10, 2014 · 08:31

The Cross (George Macleod)

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George Macleod:  The cross must be raised again at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am claiming that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap, at a crossroads so cosmopolitan they had to write His title in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble, because that is where He died and that is what he died about and that is where churchmen ought to be and what churchmen should be about.

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Wilson’s Nail Factory

Wilson runs a nail factory and decides his business needs a bit of advertising. He has a chat with a friend who works in marketing, and he offers to make a television ad for Wilson’s Nails. “Give me a week,” says the friend, “and I’ll be back with a tape.” A week goes by and the marketing executive comes to see Wilson. He puts a cassette in the video and presses play. A Roman soldier is busy nailing Jesus to the cross. He turns to face the camera and says with a grin, “Use Wilson’s Nails, they’ll hold anything.” Wilson goes mad, shouting, “What is the matter with you? They’ll never show that on television. Give it another try, but no more Romans crucifying Jesus!” Another week goes by and the marketing man comes back to see Wilson with another tape. He puts it in the machine and hits play. This time the camera pans out from a Roman standing with his arms folded to show Jesus on the cross. The Roman looks up at him and says, “Wilson’s Nails, they’ll hold anything.” Wilson is beside himself. “You don’t understand. I don’t want anything with Jesus on the cross! Now listen, I’ll give you one last chance. Come back in a week with an advertisement that I can broadcast.” A week passes and Wilson waits impatiently. The marketing executive arrives and puts on the new video. A naked man with long hair, gasping for breath, is running across a field. About a dozen Roman soldiers come over the hill, hot on his trail. One of them turns to the camera and says, “If only we had used Wilson’s Nails!”

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