Monthly Archives: March 2018

30 March – Seeing that we are blind

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Good Friday

Isaiah 52:13-53:8
Psalm 22
Mark 15:1-15

In the light of Easter, Good Friday lays bare the mystery at the heart of Christian confession.

And yet, what is laid bare is a confounding thing. What we come to see clearly is that we are blind when it comes to God. It is the burden of today’s (rather short!) sermon to make some sense of such revealed blindness.

We begin with the affirmation that, for the church, the story of Good Friday reveals something; we come to the story in order to see. The trial narratives of the gospels relate a struggle over the identity of Jesus. The who of Jesus – his name – is clear enough but the what is not, which is why such titles as ‘king’, ‘son of God’ and ‘son of man’ feature at this point in the story.

As later readers, and most of us already being of Christian conviction, we read the gospel accounts with the knowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, the Son of Man, the King of the Jews. And so it might seem that our eyes have been opened, that we are at least quantitatively different from those in the passion narrative, that we have had added to us knowledge of what they only hoped for, or flatly denied. From this distance, it seems that we see and know as they did not.

To imagine this, however, is find ourselves outside of the passion narrative. The story of those people’s struggle with Jesus is not, now, our story. If that struggle is not ours, then neither is the blessing ours, which at least some of them finally received.

For the story to be good news – for it reveals to us that Jesus is the Christ – it must also reveal that we are those in the story who do not recognise this. We come to see and yet at the same time we see that we do not see, that we are blind. The revelation of something about the identity of Jesus himself is not a sufficient outcome of the passion narratives, if they are to be good news for us. There is bad news which comes with the good. Jesus is only Christ to sinners; the recognition of who Jesus is brings the recognition of how we are. For Jesus is always only Christ as the crucified one – crucified by the likes of us.

Perhaps this sounds like hopeless pessimism and a radical denigration of the human. It is, in fact, precisely the opposite. It has been said that there is blessedness in knowing that, before God, I am always in the wrong (Kierkegaard, Either/Or II). The blessedness is that there is nothing upon which I can depend but God’s loving grace. This would be a cause for great anxiety if we then had to wait for that grace, wondering whether in fact it would ever come. But it has already come. The grace of God, in the form of the risen Jesus’ return in love to his disciples, is precisely what reveals that I am in the wrong in the first place. To know myself to be wrong before God is to know myself to be forgiven, for it is the light of forgiveness which cast the shadows of sin.

If Jesus is Lord – which is what the resurrection shows – then I am blind to the fact, and that is good news because the resurrection which reveals the catastrophe of Good Friday is not a random nature miracle but an affective moral one. There is no justifying the cry, ‘Crucify him,’ which will be found on the lips of all whom God approaches too closely. But, thanks be to God, God is not just: sinners will be forgiven.

What a difference it would make, were we to believe that.

MtE Update – March 29 2018


  1. Some background to the the icons over Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Day

Maundy Thursday [TONIGHT]

Thursday March 29, 7.30pm

Good Friday

Friday March 30, 10.00am

Easter Vigil

Saturday March 31, 8.00pm

Easter Day

Sunday April 1, 10.00am

  1. Our congregational AGM will follow morning tea on Sunday April 15; papers will be available shortly. There will also be an opportunity after this (short) meeting to share reflections on the experience of the icons in worship during Lent.
Other things potentially of interest
Prayers around the Cross on Good Friday at Trinity College

Please feel welcome to attend a Taizé prayer this Friday at Trinity College Chapel, Royal Parade, Parkville, 3pm. This is a Good Friday service, which will include prayers around the cross. There will be an opportunity to reflect, sing, connect and pray.
On Easter Saturday there is a vigil at Trinity College, 7:30pm, including some Taizé music.
As usual, there will be the regular monthly service the following week,Saturday the 7th of April beginning at 5:30pm.
We hope to see you there! Have a blessed Easter.

A Dialogue on Death: Atheism and Christianity

Tuesday, 3 April 2018, 7 – 8.30pm

Mercy Lecture Theatre, ACU Melbourne Campus, 115 Victoria Parade, Fitzroy

Death confronts us all. But what is death – and how do we live knowing that we will die?

Join us for a conversation as we consider a range of perspectives on these questions, in order to develop a dialogue between atheism and Christianity that can shed light on how all of us might think about our own mortality.

Our presenters are Denys Turner (Yale University and ACU), Mark Kelly (Western Sydney University), Robyn Whitaker (University of Divinity), and Jon Roffe (University of New South Wales).

This event is hosted by ACU’s Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry.

Easter Day: Rejoice!

Easter Day Icons – Chairete (‘be full of joy’)

The icon on the front easel relates to Matthew 28: 8 – 10. “Mary and Mary Magdalene left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy. … Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ (Chairete), and they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him.” “Chairete” is a term of salutation. It is linked to the verb “Chairo” meaning “Rejoice” or “Be full of joy”.

The inscription at the top of the original of this icon reads: “Christ, raised from the dead appears to the Holy Women,” and below, the women are named as “Martha and Mary, sisters of Lazarus.” The original is a Russian manuscript icon, painted around 1300. It was placed at the beginning of a collection of Psalms known as the Khludov Psalter. The main features are the enormous figure of Christ compared with the women, and the way the symbols of new life, the trees, seem to grow out of the women.

On the easel on the west side of the church is a Resurrection icon (Anastasis). In this case, the original is a crusader icon, which means it displays Venetian influences. Venice captured Constantinople during the 4th Crusade in 1204 and ruled there until 1261. The Venetian rulers influenced the art work. Hence the bold reds, the lavish clothes and cross, and the western phylactery on Aaron. The risen Christ is lifting Adam and Eve from their graves as he tramples on the gates of Hell. Of the many other features in this very rich icon, note how the colour deepens in the almond shaped Mandorla that surrounds Jesus. As a believer journeys ever deeper into the presence of God, the light becomes dimmer, not brighter, as if entering a cloud, the cloud of the presence in the Old Testament and the cloud of unknowing in medieval spirituality.



You greet us with great joy, risen Lord Jesus, and we respond with ‘Hallelujah!”

                   “Your is the glory, risen conquering Son,

                   Endless is the victory you o’er dear have won.”

Raise us to new life with you, and with all the saints and martyrs.

Take us with you on the journey into the presence of the Father.

         “The Spirit and the bride say ‘Come’,

         And let everyone who hears say ‘Come’,

         And let everyone who is thirsty come.

         Let anyone who wishes, take the water of life as a gift. ….

         Amen. Come Lord Jesus.

Holy Saturday: The Lamenation or Desposition from the Cross

The story which follows the crucifixion of Jesus appears in several Gospels.

Matthew (27: 55-61) tells of the many women who were there. They had followed Jesus from Galilee, and had provided for him. Among these were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. (Mark adds Salome.)


When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimethea, named Joseph. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus, and Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there. Luke adds: It was the day of preparation and the Sabbath was beginning. The women prepared spices and ointments.

John adds: Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about one hundred pounds.

The Lamentation of Christ is a very common subject in Christian art from the Middle Ages to the Baroque.

The model for this icon comes from Ethiopia. Several parts of the story are included in the one icon – the women looking on at the empty crosses (left corner), – The wrapping of Jesus by Joseph of Arimethea while the head of Jesus rested in the lap of Mary, and Mary Magdalene looks on, – and finally the wrapped body is placed in the tomb (right top). The tree which is central may depict the new life which will come with the Resurrection.



Almighty God, whose precious Son, Jesus Christ, ministered to the spiritual needs of Nicodemus under cover of darkness, and was himself, in turn, cared for quietly on the dark night of his death; we thank you that the reverberation of such actions continues until the present time, and offers impetus and encouragement to all who seek to meet the “night” needs of people everywhere.          (From John Carden: A Procession of Prayers)

Merciful God, whose servant, Joseph Arimethea, with reverence and godly fear, prepared the body of our Lord and Saviour for burial, and laid it in his own tomb; Grant us, your faithful people, grace and courage to love and serve Jesus with sincere devotion all the days of our lives.                                       (USA. Feast of Joseph of Arimethea, 31 July)


Good Friday: Crucifixion

In the Eastern Church, the Crucifixion is primarily understood as a prelude to the Resurrection. In the monastery church of Daphne, Athens, for example, the Crucifixion icon is on the left (north) of the altar and the Resurrection icon is on the right (south) of the altar. The sequence is read from left to right, so the table represents the tomb. In the Eucharist, the body and blood of the dead Christ are taken from the “tomb” to become alive in the people, who are the living body of Christ.

While we live through the events of Easter one at a time, they should not be separated, but at each stage we see the whole story of salvation.

This large crucifixion is original, though the mother of Jesus and the Beloved Disciple have been borrowed from the icon displayed earlier.

PRAYER: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Maundy Thursday: The Last Supper

The icon is faithful the narrative, which is told in all four Gospels, though with some variations. It captures the moment when Judas reaches out to dip his bread into the bowl with Jesus. Judas has no halo, and is presented in profile. In iconography, if a person’s face is turned away, i.e. in profile, it indicates that that person is unworthy. Jesus is aware of both the betrayer and the deny-er when he speaks of the forgiveness of sins, a phrase that is picked up in the Eucharistic liturgy in the words of institution.

This icon is a Greek, Byzantine icon. The date is not known, but it looks like a modern version of an old, traditional icon.

Also on display tonight is an Ethiopian Foot Washing. It is still practiced in Ethiopia as in the New Testament.

An icon of Jesus before Pilate can also be seen. This icon has been developed from the Mosaics in St Mark’s in Venice, which was built around 1,000 AD.


PRAYER: Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.

MtE Update – March 21 2018


  1. Some background to the the icons for this Sunday, March 25: Palm/Annunciation
  2. Worship this coming Sunday March 25 will be a reading through the Passion narrative of Mark’s gospel.
  3. A CrossLight report on the recent visit of Br Peter Bray to MtE
  4. For those interested in some background commentary to the readings for this Sunday March 25, see the links here. We will be hearing Mark 14.1-15.39 throughout the service.


Lectionary Commentary – Palm/Passion B

The following links are to the Revised Common Lectionary commentary pages of Howard Wallace and Bill Loader, and are suggested as preparation for hearing the readings in worship for the Sunday indicated above.

Two sets of readings are suggested today: one for Palm Sunday, and one for Passion Sunday

Isaiah 50:4-9a and

Psalm 31:9-16 (for Passion Sunday)

or Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 (for Palm Sunday) see also By the Well podcast on this text

Passion and Palm Sunday:  Philippians 2:5-11

Passion Sunday: Mark 15:1-39 (40-47) (or 14:1 – 15:47)
or Palm  Sunday: John 12:12-16

Lent 6 March 18: Entry into Jerusalem and the Annunciation

ICON 1 – Entry into Jerusalem

While the icon is faithful to the narrative as presented in all four Gospels, there are many additional aspects which bring out deeper meaning. The disciples and the crowd are welded into unified groups, with Christ in between, framed by a mountain and a tree. The crowd and the disciples, like the walls of Jerusalem are upright, but the tree, the mountain and the Christ figure make three parallel lines on the diagonal. If the mountain is Sinai, the old covenant, and the tree is Calvary, (as well as the tree of life in the garden of Eden and the tree in Revelation that heals the nations) then Christ is part to the Biblical message that differs from human culture, then and now. In the crowd a man points to his eyes, which Jesus healed. If it is Lazarus next to him then we have signs of the kingdom, where the blind see and the dead are raised. The turrets and pinnacles of the city are highly coloured, representing the heavenly Jerusalem, while the windows and doorways below are black, indicating the evil Jesus must endure on the way to glory. Note also that the words “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest” have been included in the liturgy of the Eucharist at least since the Didache was written in 100 AD.

This icon is modelled on a Russian icon from the 16th century


ICON 2 – The Annunciation

March 25, is 9 months before 25th December. Since the date of the birth of Jesus was settled, about 330 AD, the date of his conception has been back dated from that. Since the Council of Chalcedon, 451 AD, the Church has affirmed that Jesus was both divine and human from conception. This countered views such as his birth was normal and he became divine when the Holy Spirit descended on him at his baptism, or that he wasn’t really human at all, he only seemed to be. That the Annunciation should fall in Lent links the coming of Jesus to his departure. He was born that the glory of God might be seen.

The original of this icon is a contemporary Coptic one, actually photographed in the new Cathedral in Aswan where Egyptian iconographer, Ashraf Gerges, was working before the Cathedral was open to the public.


Today, Lord Jesus, we honour your entry into the city and your entry into the world.

We welcome you into our city. Give us a vison of the heavenly Jerusalem in our broad, brown land.

 We welcome you into our world. Come, renew the whole creation.

Blessed are you, Holy One, you come in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.


18 March – Forgiveness as good as innocence

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Lent 5

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51
John 12:20-33

…this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

This is surely a prophecy most beautiful. It is perhaps surprising, then, given how moving Jeremiah’s account of the new covenant is, that the New Testament makes little use of Jeremiah’s saying. There is a reference to a new covenant in some of the sayings of Jesus around the last supper but this would make perfect sense if Jeremiah had never spoken of a new covenant. And the whole passage we have heard from Jeremiah today is quoted in the New Testament letter to the Hebrews, but there it is used for the letter’s own particular polemical purposes.

This is not to say Jeremiah’s prophecy is not known, or is largely forgotten by the New Testament, but to say that it is not necessary for the New Testament. Rather, the New Testament’s understanding of what happens with Jesus as much interprets Jeremiah, as Jeremiah might help to interpret Jesus. Put differently, Christians don’t get to God on the basis of the promise in Jeremiah alone; we have to read Jeremiah here through the cross.

Jeremiah promises a new covenant ‘unlike’ the first. The ‘unlikeness’ is that the first covenant was broken but this one will not be. The sign of the unbreakability of the new covenant is that the law will be written within the being of the covenant people: ‘I will write it on their hearts’. Alongside this we hear, ‘no longer shall they say to each other, “Know the Lord,”’ for all shall already know the Lord, because God will have forgiven ‘their iniquity, and [will] remember their sin no more.’

Jeremiah piles up a new covenant, an interior covenant, a heart covenant, a new kind of knowledge of God, and binds this up with forgiveness of sin. If we are to comprehend this, and find ourselves comprehended by it, then each element must carry its full weight: new, interior, heart, knowledge, forgiveness of sin.

We could tease out each of these elements one at a time, but instead we’ll come at Jeremiah’s new covenant from the angle of its unbreakability. How can the covenant be unbreakable when there is nothing new about the human covenant partners themselves?

The unbreakability is not in that the covenant is made of very tough stuff – a diamond standard covenant. The covenant cannot be broken because it is made of brokenness, of what is already broken. Jeremiah’s prophecy is not a utopic vision. It is spoken into the devastating fall of Jerusalem, interpreted as the cost of breaking the covenant with God. ‘I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more’ is the basis of the heart-covenant God promises. These are broken hearts, restored. And so the knowledge of God promised here is not immediate, direct-line awareness of God without reference to world or history. This intimate knowledge comes through the agony of the broken covenant. The heart which knows God in this way knows forgiveness, knows itself as a heart which has been torn apart but is now restored. Jeremiah does not speak a word of comfort to hurting people; he proclaims forgiveness to sinners.

The unbreakable covenant is unbreakable because it is made of such brokenness. This is the interiority of the new covenant; this is how the new covenant gets inside of us.

It is here the cross becomes important because, if nothing else, it stands for the harsh realities of human being. But this harsh reality is not the physical suffering of crucifixion. It is, rather, precisely the kind of covenant-breaking against which Jeremiah and the other prophets preached. The resurrection of Jesus presents to us that Jesus was the embodiment of the covenant, the presence of God actively reigning in a human life. The resurrection opens our eyes to the fact that the cross was sheer catastrophe: the rejection of the covenant embodied in Jesus. The fall of Jerusalem and the cross of Jesus are the same kind of thing: signs of the broken covenant.

In what way is the new covenant ‘in Jesus’ blood’ made from brokenness? Here the liturgy helps, and the breaking of bread and blessing of a cup in particular. In the distribution of the elements of bread and wine, we hear that they are the body and the blood of Christ broken and poured out ‘for you’ in a new covenant. In its own way, this is quite right. But it doesn’t mean that the body and the blood are a kind of ‘price’ God pays for us to be reconciled: ‘God did this for you’. If this were what it meant then we would be right to object to the cross and the body-and-blood language, although not for the reason many do.

We typically object to the notion that God might have killed someone on our behalf – particularly God’s own ‘Son’, and then to the ‘icky-ness’ of the implied cannibalism. But these are secondary distractions which arise from a more fundamental misunderstanding, which is to imagine that what happens between us and God is in fact external to us, a transaction between God and we’re-not-sure-who that doesn’t quite involve us even though we are the beneficiaries. This is the problem with the ‘for you’ language: it suggests that we are beneficiaries of a third-party exchange.

But if Jeremiah is right – if God does go to the heart of the matter in dealing with us – then the body and blood of Jesus are broken ‘for’ us only if they are also broken by us. Here is the ‘interiority’ of the new covenant. Our failure in our relationship with God – the cross, of which the bread and the wine is the sign – is the stuff out of which God builds a new relationship, a new “Body of Christ”. The new covenant is made of the broken shards of the old covenant.

This can be so only because this is the kind of God we are dealing with here. God is most God when creating something out of nothing. The nothing in Jeremiah’s preaching is the broken people of Judah. The nothing in the resurrection is the broken body of Jesus. The something created is the new covenant, the Body of Christ made again from the broken body of Christ.

To receive bread and wine at the Lord’s Table is to participate in an act of forgiveness. It is to be forgiven for what the bread and the wine represent – rejection of the law of love and the freedom of God.

Two thousand years later, of course, it is not possible for us to be personally accountable for the crucifixion of Jesus. But the demands of the law of love remain and we cannot be confident that we have lived, loved, given ‘enough’. (Even this way of putting the problem creates the problem again – as if there could be ‘enough’ love). And the terrifying freedom of God continues to rampage, asking more than we want to give, seemingly even breaking God’s own commandments.

The bread and the cup are all bodies broken by anger or neglect, all denied requests for love, all refusals of mercy. The bread and the cup are all fallings-short of the law of love.

But the bread and the cup are also employed in this space as the sign of God’s freedom to forgive – that most fundamental violation of demands of justice and the point at which love breaks free of law and is just love: God inside us, we inside God.

This prophecy most beautiful of Jeremiah is no sentimental longing to be over it all. It knows that we are caught up in ‘it all’ – as much perpetrators as victims. This being the case, it declares that forgiveness is as good as innocence and it invites us, then, to be forgiven, and to forgive.

This is the new covenant Jesus brings.

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