Monthly Archives: November 2020

Sunday Worship at MtE – 29 November 2020

The worship service for Sunday 29 November 2020 can be viewed by clicking on the image below.  The order of service can be viewed here.

Other worship services can be found in the list below or at the MtE YouTube channel

29 November – Remembering when God will come

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Advent 1

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80
Mark 13:24-37

In a sentence
Faith perceives that God is the heart of all we desire, and trusts that God will realise this God-shaped longing

With a passion strange to many of us, the prophet cries to God: Come, save, restore. ‘O that you would tear open the heavens and come down’ (64.1). ‘Save us, Lord, from our enemies’ (64.2), ‘save us from ourselves’ (64.5).o

The implication in that cry, of course, is that God is absent, or has turned away, or hidden Godself from the people (64.5,7). This being the case, we are alone. More than just alone, we are stalled until God should be revealed again, until the sky which divides heaven and earth is torn and not so much God’s will as our own desire for healing is met on earth, when heaven comes to restore us.

The prophet expresses deep longing, deep guilt, utter helplessness and confident hope in our text today. If we seek honesty in our own lives, we might learn from him here. For we are those for whom it is easy to shake off responsibility or take it on too seriously. We are those for whom it is easy to fall into despair or to entertain dreams and visions of utopian futures we can’t achieve but which we will at least pursue until they crush us or others. The prophet expresses the complexity of living into the next step when it cannot be the same as the step we have just taken and we can’t know it is the right step but doing the right thing is at stake.

This challenge is beginning to press in on us here at Mark the Evangelist as we come to the conclusion of a long period of reflection on what to do about the condition of some of our buildings here in North Melbourne. The conclusion to which the church council has come is that we cannot sustain our presence here and that, by implication, the sale of the property is the next big step in the life of the congregation. We might well pray at this point ‘O that you would tear open the heavens, Lord, and fix this all up for us.’

If we were ask of Isaiah what to do here, part of the answer would be that we understand our situation. The prophet knows what the people are able – and not able – to do. We too need to get our heads and our hearts around this. The work done over the last 7 years, in particular, has been oriented towards such an understanding. For those of us who prefer the future to be rather like the past, the outlook is not good. Yet, it is also seemingly unavoidable. We do ourselves no favours in denying this, in laying blame, or in simply ‘wishing’ it were not so and hiding ourselves away. We would trivialise the experience of those people in exile to whom Isaiah wrote if we compared our lot to theirs but it is similar at least in the sense that neither staying where we are nor going back are options for us.

In some respects, this aspect of our situation is easy: we can’t purchase what we can’t afford and so – to the extent that our future is about what we can afford – we must ‘buy’ something other than these buildings. There seems to be no decision required here as to whether we can extend our past at Curzon Street into a future at Curzon Street; that looks to be more or less determined for us by the balance sheets. We must ‘simply’ understand that this is the case and, by the grace of God, become reconciled to it.

There will be disappointment here but we mustn’t let it wither into cynicism. The cynic is frozen in her disappointment and in the dream which is now lost. In contrast, the prophet expresses no cynicism but rather hope – remembering the surprise God has been to the people in times past. He looks forward to God’s coming and a new future for the people by looking back to when God ‘did awesome deeds we did not expect’ (64.3). In the same way, the church looks forward to God’s future presence by looking back to God’s having already come. Advent is not about God still being on the way, as if God is now very, very much overdue. Advent is a season of Easter and so Advent remembers a coming of God which gathers up all divine arrivals, past and future.

How God comes to the world is shown in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This means that Isaiah’s prayer in our text today can be read as pointing towards Jesus, although not quite in the way of ‘foretelling’ something yet to come. For it is also the case that every prayer for the coming of God uttered since Jesus points back to him as a kind of ‘reverse prophecy’. It is, then, perhaps better to say that God’s presence to the world in Jesus points back to Isaiah, and forward to us, and beyond us into the future which awaits us. As Isaiah puts it – what we think we see and hear and perceive is always this God (64.4).

This shift – that God is the deepest desire in all our desires – shifts us radically in our perception of our situation. We can no longer allow that our circumstances dictate who we are; we are not our buildings, we are not the way-we-have-always-done-it; the church is more than her comfort zones, more than we have yet heard, perceived, seen.

This is to discover that there is nothing radically new in what confronts us now at Mark the Evangelist. It might be disappointing, it is certainly inconvenient and will most likely be more hard work but, in the light of the gospel, it is not new. We are reminded here that we are – and properly have always been – clay in the potter’s hand, the work of God, and not the work of our own hands, as much as we have come to love that work.

If this is the case – if there is nothing radically new in what confronts us – then we are not deciding to divest property with the sense of loss that might entail but deciding towards the God we do not yet perceive, have not yet seen or heard but who we believe to be the mystery of all that we are.

By the grace of God, it may perhaps become the case not so much that we ‘have to’ sell all our buildings but that we want to, for we long to see a little less darkly through the glass which obscures our vision of God, and of our true selves.

This is the God who shakes yesterday’s foundations – the foundations of good order – by raising from the dead a crucified blasphemer and identifying himself with one who had no place to rest his head except against God’s own heart.

It is the beating of that heart which raises the dead. It is the beating of that heart which, Isaiah has seen, causes mountains to shake (64.1-3). And it is the beating of God’s heart which causes also the shaking of the foundations of God’s own church(!). God has done this.

This means that what lies ahead of us at Mark the Evangelist is what was ahead of those who built this place right back at the start: an opportunity to see God tear open the heavens by tearing open us and our history, revealing where God has been among us and assuring us that God will be in our midst in whatever happens next.

It is simply for us, in a spirit of communion with God and with each other, to pray though our working together: come, Lord; excite, open up, tear heaven and earth and piece them together in a new creation, even us.

God can, and wills, to do this. And so we have nothing to fear.

MtE Update – November 26 2020

  1. The most recent Synod eNews (Nov 19)
  2. Worship update: Worship this Sunday November 29 will be our first fully-gathered service since the March shut-down. The service will also be live-streamed, with the links to this stream accessible from the congregational home page. We have sufficient space to accommodate those members of the congregation who would like to attend the service. VISITORS who would like to attend should register their interest and can be admitted only up to the maximum number allowed in the building. Visitors should register their interest prior to the service by contacting the minister via his email address on the contact page. We ask for your understanding should we not be able to admit you on the day.
  3. There will be a Congregational meeting on December 6 to consider the 2021 budget and mission and ministry focuses for next year.
  4. This Sunday November 29 we move into the season of Advent; details of the readings are available here; our focus text will be Isaiah 64

22 November – An end to radical uncertainty

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Reign of Christ

Daniel 12:1-4a
Psalm 100
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Sermon preached by Rev. Bruce Barber

It is fitting on this last Sunday in the Liturgical year that each of our readings should be about ‘endings’. But a warning. The nuances that the word ‘end’ throws up are crucial. One meaning of ‘end’ is that of a simple chronological termination. The parable of the sheep and the goats is certainly an end in just this sense, coming as it does for Matthew as the concluding words of the teaching of Jesus.

But there is another, and much more significant, sense of the word ‘end’. And that is, ‘end’ as the disclosure of ultimate meaning, a final illumination. Such is this parable. But we will soon discover that it will be only an apparent ultimate disclosure. We say ‘apparent’ because we will confront a dramatic reconfiguring of the precarious status of the sheep and the goats when the next three chapters unfold.

I fear that if your experience is anything like mine you will have heard in your lifetime any number of sermons on this text. Perhaps some were not as edifying as they might have been. This is a text much loved by preachers and even by secular humanists as a piece of ethical teaching urging concern for victims of famine and other oppression – food, drink, clothing, prison visits and the like.  We are at home here, and God forbid that we should deny their necessity for the needy, even though we surely do not need any persuasive text for such altruism.

But the problem is that this is not the real concern of the parable. Rather, its point is to establish that in the unlikely figure of Jesus, the accredited precursor of a final judgment of all history is being revealed. This is why we hear that “all the nations” shall be gathered before him, and “he will separate, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats…” We might take cheerful note in passing of what may well escape us: that it is the nations who are being separated, not individuals.

Perhaps it all becomes clearer when we take account of a text composed some two hundred years earlier than our parable – the book of Daniel, which is chronologically one of the last books of the Hebrew scriptures to be written. Since Matthew is writing a gospel for Jewish, not Gentile, Christians, he finds this text of Daniel to be inescapable, anticipating as it does the decisive end point of Israel’s chequered history. So, Daniel writes:

At the time of the end, many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt”. For Matthew, ‘sheep and goats’ puts an earthy spin on this ambiguous horizon.

Assisted by our parable, some later unrepentant Christian theology continued to endorse this original Old Testament ‘fall of the curtain’. It called this divisive allocation a ‘double predestination’: the ushering in of a final determination of those who are ‘in’ and those who are ‘out’. The point, however, is that although Matthew retains this dual destiny, he understands that this hitherto predicted time of the end is about to take place in a quite unanticipated way.

Matthew’s first modification of Daniel’s expectation is to assert that ‘the end’ will not be a separation beyond history; it will be decided in the present everyday time and place of mundane food, drink, clothing, visitation. To this end, the entire human community frolic in this apparently disarming rural sheep and goats environment. The imagery of the parable is seductive. During the daytime, sheep and goats are all mixed. But in the evening light, even though sheep are white and goats are black, they are indistinguishable to every onlooker – except of course to the Shepherd. The parable obviously intends to confuse all of us. We are all equally indistinguishable in the living of our lives. Which is why, incidentally, the same Matthew’s Jesus tells us to our healing: “Judge not that you be not judged”. The point is that, for Matthew, the bewildering fate of sheep and goats has become an illustration of Daniel’s life or death ‘last day awakening’.  But now there is a specific criterion: acceptance or rejection in the present of all that Jesus has been, and has taught, in his ministry.

The tragedy is that generations have turned all this into ‘a Last Judgement’ at the day of individual death. In Medieval times its accompanying grotesque imagery of flames and pitchforks has rightly ceased to be at all compelling. It is equally plausible that even ‘judgement’ as a concept has now met the same contemporary demise. At the very least, it is almost certain that, when we hear the word ‘judgement’, we are likely to have in mind imagery which takes its origin from the world of the ancient Greeks, by way of Egypt.  What did these ancients believe? They thought of judgement awaiting life’s end as a set of scales, weighing up the good and the bad.  So powerful is this image that it is difficult for us not to imagine that Jesus is offering the same fate at the end – pass or fail, sheep or goat. This is scarcely good news! Who knows which side of the balance will carry the day? Have I done enough? Am I a sheep or am I goat, or perhaps even more poignantly, is he or she a sheep or a goat?

Jesus certainly concludes his teaching with division.  But see how our notion of judgement is about to be transformed as the next three chapters unfold when, from this point on, we travel with this ‘teacher of the end’ on the way to his end at Golgotha.

And with just this emerging catastrophe, we come to the second and crucial modification of the end which Matthew employs. For it is in what is about to unfold in Jerusalem that true judgement will be enacted, remembering that the word Jerusalem means ‘vision of peace’. Not with the Greeks, at some uncertain human end, not even with our imperfect distribution of food, drink and clothing. But right there, and right now!

Who would have supposed that two planks of wood will replace a set of scales as the instrument of judgement? And that the One hanging on it will be the same Judge of the parable – who is now himself here being judged? And that means: judged in our place; a king of the nations crowned – with all their thorns – on a cross. A Son of man coming to sit on this throne; glory camouflaged as helplessness; an end, inaugurating a new beginning.

What is being revealed here is not only that shepherd and sheep have become one, but – even more inconceivable – that on this despicable ‘throne’, the Lamb of God has effectively been transformed into – of all things – a goat. And with this transformation, only here, and only now, will the word ‘judgement’ usher in a radically ‘other’ world – now not a dark, threatening, future world of an individual ‘in or out’ or ‘up or down’ destiny, but a shining world of cosmic forgiveness, the Easter of creation for all the nations, the final restoration of all things.

In a few minutes we will be invited to confess together these words in the Creed: “He will come in glory to judge the living and the dead”. What image will you entertain? Will you see a set of scales, or will it be two pieces of timber?  That is to say, will you have rejoiced that hanging there all double predestination weighed on a set of scales is over and done with? That in the crucified Christ this single judgement to life has already been enacted?

Centuries ago the French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, stretched out our history’s protracted interval between ‘then’ and ‘now’ when he proposed that “Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world”. This arresting declaration simply affirms this one predestination to life, now moved back from some insecure future beyond – precisely in order to hang everything for all time with the crucified One as the Judge judged in our place: on a death that brings life; forgiveness for the healing of all the nations; a crucified Lamb for the sake of all goats.

The truth is that most people today have no idea what it is to be Christian – not only because they stop reading at Chapter 25 with Jesus “the teacher”, but, even more disastrously, because the Greeks have won. So, let this last day of the Christian calendar speak to us all. It says simply this. The whole journey which began at Advent, now coming to a close, has been about getting rid of Greek judgement. To this end, and to mix the metaphor, let ‘scales’ literally fall from our eyes as we take today’s Epistle to heart. And as a prayer of the Church, may it become not simply a domestic petition, but a universal intercession on behalf of the fractured – already judged – nations of our world:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ will give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the (founded) hope to which he has called you.”

Sunday Worship at MtE – 22 November 2020

The worship service for Sunday 22 November 2020 can be viewed by clicking on the image below.  The order of service can be viewed here.

Other worship services can be found in the list below or at the MtE YouTube channel

MtE Update – November 19 2020

  1. TONIGHT NOVEMBER 17 — an online concert featuring Donald Nicolson: Details
  2. Worship update Worship this Sunday November 22 will be a live-streamed service. This means that the service will commence at 10.00 am on our YouTube channel; you’ll find the links on the MtE homepage and can arrive ‘early’, ready for the start. You will either need to tune in at that time, or wait until the service is finished, at which time you will be able to view the recording of that service. (And, as with normal gathered services, you can also ‘arrive late’ in the live version, and simply slip in at the point the live service is up to!). We presently expect that the November 29 service will be a gathered service in the church building, also live-streamed for those who cannot yet join us in the building.
  3. There will be a Congregational meeting on December 6 to consider the 2021 budget and mission and ministry focuses for next year.
  4. This Sunday November 22 we mark the festival of the Reign of Christ (Christ the King) with Bruce Barber as our preacher. We will hear most of the set readings in the weekly lectionary (Ezekiel 34 replaced by Daniel 12.1-4a); see here for more details. 
  5. A brief account of the ministry of the saint(s) commemorated this Sunday can be found here November 19 – Mechtild of Magdeburg

Lectionary Commentary – Sunday/Ordinary 34A; Proper 29A (November 20 -November 26)

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.

Series I: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 and Psalm 100 see also By the Well podcast on this text 

Series II:

Matthew 25:31-46 see also By the Well podcast on this text 

Ephesians 1:15-23

15 November – Talented

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Pentecost 24

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Psalm 123
Matthew 25:14-30

In a sentence
The ‘talent’ the church is given to exercise is grace, which is to yield grace-fullness in us

As over the last couple of weeks, so also today the basic lesson of our gospel reading is, ‘Be prepared’. The suggestion is that God has in some way been absent and will return unexpectedly, and with God’s return comes the day of reckoning, or judgement. The three slaves seem to represent our two basic options while the master is away – to be fruitful with what is left to us, or not to be fruitful.

Once again, then, a moral understanding of the parable is possible. Believers are called to the living of a good life. Where we have an abundance, we are to share. Where there is despair, we are to be sources of hope. Where there is doubt we are to bring faith; where there is hatred, love; where there is injury, we are to bring pardon. We are, then, to give away more, and to receive more, in God’s special economy of grace.

But those who are now accustomed to hearing my sermons will have noticed that I usually acknowledge and then set aside the moral dimensions of readings like this one. This is not because the moral dimensions are unimportant, but because the basic moral compass of the Scriptures is not usually that much different from the moral compass of any society. What the Scriptures value in generosity, honesty, forgiveness, kindness, gentleness, self-control and so on, are also valued in the wider society.

This is to say that, for the most part, we already know what is required of us morally – whether we are believers or not. ‘Don’t waste your talent’ is what the footy coach or the music teacher says to a gifted but lazy student, as much as God might say it so a distracted community of faith. Labouring the point in preaching would be too much a waste of an opportunity. For while anyone can read the parable in this way, the community of faith which gathers to read it is not ‘anyone’. We are Christians. This is not simply Jesus the wonderful teacher we hear addressing us in this parable, but Jesus the wonder – the Jesus who has died, who is risen, and who will come again as the means of the grace of God to us. Jesus is the one who makes sense for us of the kingdom of God, who embodies in his own experience our judgement by God, and so who is the key to our understanding of how we stand before God.

This requires another way of hearing these parables. And so, last week we heard the call to be ready but also saw that Jesus himself can be seen to be the wise bridesmaid who awaits the coming of the bridegroom, and can be seen even as the oil given to us to burn as we await the approach of God. This is what we might call a christological reading, which yields a very difficult result from the important but more narrowly moral reading. A christological reading is not a ‘natural’ or ‘ordinary’ reading; it is more like an allegory of an allegory. We can read these texts in this way because, with the coming of Jesus in death and resurrection, they cease to be texts like others – simple moral teaching – and become texts about Christ himself – a revealing of the means of grace.

So, what does a christological reading of this parable of the three servants look like? It helps to begin by noting a problem in translation. The translation of the central word we have heard this morning is ‘talent’. The Greek word is in fact ‘talanton’, and is simply transliterated into English. The original meaning, however, was not our contemporary sense of ‘skills’ or ‘gifts’ or ‘abilities’, but ‘a thing weighed’ and, by extension, a quantity of money (silver or gold being weighed out to the required amount). Our modern translation, then, as the ‘parable of the talents’, can distract us by suggesting that the parable is about what we know today to be ‘talents’. The parable, however, only suggests that each of the slaves is given a measure of something with which they are then to do something more. A moral reading considers that something to be our gifts and abilities, our intellect or our money, or whatever it seems that we have in some special measure.

But if we read this as the church, so that the parable is now specifically about believers, the question is: What is the specific ‘talent’ the church has? What is it which is given to us in some special measure? To this it must be answered: the gospel of the grace of God in Jesus Christ; or the intimate and childlike knowledge of God as Father, as Jesus himself knew God; or the gift of the Holy Spirit – all different ways of saying the same thing. And now the parable becomes something quite different from a simple reading about using our gifts and abilities wisely. Now it asks – in what measure have you been given grace, and what have you done specifically with this grace?

One possible reading of this parable, given its context of polemic between Jesus and the Pharisees and the way in which Jesus has charged the Pharisees with hypocrisy in various ways, is to see the Pharisees (and the religious establishment in general) as figured in the person of the third slave. That is, the grace which has been given them has yielded nothing – recall the charge Jesus makes that the Pharisees have received and rightly taught the law given to Moses, but have not themselves yielded the appropriate fruit of the grace in the gift of the law – humility and servanthood, as distinct from the self-exaltation which he names in their practice of righteousness (Matthew 23.1-12). The Pharisees’ response to God’s grace is contrasted in Matthew’s gospel with the response of others to grace – the meek, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (see Matthew 5.1-13). Those who would seem to be outside the reach of God have, because of that distance, received a greater abundance of grace and, Jesus suggests, have yielded even more grace in their now richly graced lives. This is in contrast to those who already had ‘enough’ of the grace of God and yet who have done nothing with it. They have not understood what they have been given and so neither recognise the gift of God or what it should yield when they receive it.

Now, if we don’t read these parables only as moral encouragement, we also don’t read them as history lessons. The story of Jesus and the Pharisees, and Jesus’ charges against the Pharisees, are only important if their story is also our story. As Gentiles, we are the first two slaves, given a particular abundance of grace, which yielded the further grace we see as the rise of the church with its gospel of God’s love for all. But, as now the religious establishment, we are also the third slave, prone to self-satisfaction, prone to mistake what is simply given as in fact a right, prone to mistake our election as God’s people as a sign of our specialness or righteousness.

It is to these dangers that the parable speaks: the talent you have is the grace which is Jesus Christ. In what way is that grace yielding grace in your lives? In what ways do we model the forgiveness which we claim is ours in Christ? In what ways is the abundance which is God’s for us reflected in our relationships with each other? These are rather abstract questions, but they will soon become very concrete for us here at Mark the Evangelist as we begin to ask about our property and our mission: what precisely have we been given, what its value is, and what might we be able to do with that? To think about these things as ‘grace to become yet more grace’ might free us up to imagine even greater possibilities than might otherwise have been the case.

We return here, in a sense, to the moral question, yet now it is not simply about doing the right thing but about the share we have in God’s work of grace. For we do not gather for worship to declare that we are good, but to be ‘made’ good by the gift of God’s grace, and then to take up a share in that work of making good in God’s ‘absence’. The proof of our right standing before God is not moral righteousness but that special kind of righteousness which comes with being adopted as the children of God, and then growing into our own particular God-likeness. This righteousness is not earned, it is given, and it is not then a possession but a thing to be used, a thing to affect the world, a thing to change relationships.

To receive grace is to become grace‑full – to become ‘gracing’ towards others; we might recall here the parable of the unforgiving servant – himself being forgiven an enormous debt but unable to forgive a friend a very small amount (Matthew 18.21-35). The grace of God is not ours it if does not make us the grace of God, make us those who do what God does, in such a way that it would be as if God were not ‘absent’ at all, as the parable of the master who goes abroad suggests.

What might the world – or even the just the church itself – be like if it did not think to wonder at the absence of God because God’s people were sufficient grace that God’s absence was not noted?

To be the people of God is to do as God does, to become a means of grace to each other and to the world around us. This is the proof (or the test) of our righteousness: whether or not it yields righteousness in others, the very thing God has given us.

By the grace of God, may we be found to pass that test in the day of reckoning, that the words ‘well done, good and faithful servant’ may be heard by our ears, and we may enter into the joy of God.

Sunday Worship at MtE – 15 November 2020

The worship service for Sunday 15 November 2020 can be viewed by clicking on the image below. Other worship services can be found in the list below or at the MtE YouTube channel

8 November – The life in God’s deathly approach

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Pentecost 23

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Psalm 78:1-7
Matthew 25:1-13

In a sentence
When God comes, it is to put to death death’s fearful hold on us and set us free for life


In the gospel today we hear an allegory of the arrival of God and the day of judgement. The bridegroom comes to collect his bride. The bridesmaids wait for him but he is delayed and some of them miss him because they are unprepared for the wait. The lesson is clear: ‘Be prepared, for you know neither the day nor the hour’ of God’s coming. Yet, whereas Jesus himself and certainly his early followers clearly expected an arrival of God somewhat analogous to the arrival of the bridegroom in the parable, we today have been waiting long enough now that we no longer expect God to arrive in this way.

We have not, however, quite dismissed the usefulness of parables like this one. For there is something else which approaches undeniably and unavoidably, and in a way quite like God’s approach. This thing is our biological death. As with the approach of God in the parable, so with our death: it is inevitable, but we know neither the day nor the hour (except, perhaps, in some cases of suicide). We can lay down certain probabilities at certain times, of course, but the angel of death is fickle and we just don’t know when she is going to come. Given that today God doesn’t seem likely to arrive like the bridegroom, but death does, there is an almost universal tendency in popular Christian thinking to equate our deaths with the moment of God’s judgement, such that in the instant that we fade from life here we appear before the throne of God for judgement. Whereas in the parable it is God who is moving, we are now the ones moving; by dying, we are brought to the day of judgement. Our parable then becomes a source of the familiar ‘hit-by-a-bus’ approach to evangelism: repent and believe, not because God is about to return but because you might be run over on the way home, and then have to face God, for it is when you die that God finally ‘gets’ you, when God unexpectedly but undeniably arrives in your life.

While we must reject this attempt to scare people into the fold, there is some truth in the idea that God and death come at the same moment. Yet it is not that God arrives with judgement when death comes. Rather, it is the other way around: when God arrives, death comes with him. This might seem surprising, for one thing ‘religion’ is supposed to be interested in is ‘life after death’, whether resurrection or re-incarnation. That is, ‘religion’ is held to equate an interest in God with the overcoming of death.

But there are two senses in which the arrival of God brings death.

The first sense is that, when God comes as God, when God comes as creator or, we might also say, when God reigns in our lives, we become truly the creatures we were intended to be. The simplest way of speaking of this is to say that we become truly God’s creatures when we acknowledge and live with God as creator. The important point here for our theme of death is that what distinguishes the divine creator and his creatures is mortality. Creatures ‘run out’ in a way that the creator does not. When God is truly God, we are truly mortal. So the coming of God is the coming of mortality.

Of course, we will die whether or not we acknowledge God. We have to say further, then, that when God comes God brings a revelation of our true mortality and a reconciliation to it: we are only creatures and not gods, and that’s OK.

The first sense in which we die when God comes is, then, that God’s presence makes us our true selves, which includes our mortality.

To fill this out, we have to turn to the second sense in which God’s arrival brings death. This has to do with the fact that the coming of God is not simply the arrival of an absent friend, but the arrival of the moment of judgement. This judgement is both a measuring and a setting right of what is found to be wrong. The judgement finds that we don’t much care simply to be creatures; mortality is painful, and we go to great lengths to keep it at bay, to deny this aspect of our true being. These lengths are the extent of our failures to love and serve. ‘Sin’ is the catch-all term for what we do to avoid death and the limitedness of being human.

These two senses in which God’s approach brings death are not limited to the moment of our biological death. We can become more creaturely and less constrained by death before we die, if it is the case that God has already approached us, and continues to.

And it is in the death of Jesus that we believe that God has come to us. Jesus’ life – including the way he died – was a kind of ‘death to death’ – a dying to the power which death exercises over most of us, in fear. Jesus’ life, then was the living of truly human, truly creaturely life. Of course, Jesus dies the death of any creature; one way or another he was always going to die if he was truly one of us. But he lives and dies without the fear of death. He lives in such a way as to deny death’s power over him, a power which robs the rest of us of our true freedom and our true humanity.

What might our lives look like if we did not fear rejection, being unsafe, dying young? Jesus lived reconciled to his humanity, seeing God and not his impending death as the thing to be feared. The way he lived, and so the way he died, denied death its fearful hold on us. In him, then, we have seen a perfected human life. ‘Perfection’ is now not ‘doing the right thing’ – in the sense of moralist achievement. Rather, perfection is living to the very end under God’s reign – which blesses our mortality – and not under the shadow of death, which curses it.

Returning to our parable of the coming of the bridegroom, Jesus is now himself the wise bridesmaid who properly awaits the groom’s arrival. He is the one who knows what is required, what the wait will be like, is prepared and so endures to the joyful moment when God comes.

The meaning of the parable, then, is not merely that we must – by ourselves – wait for the coming of God. Jesus is, rather, how we are to wait: looking not to our own efforts and securing our own survival but receiving the achievement of Jesus as our own. Jesus himself is the reserve of oil we are to burn as we await the approach of God and, with God, the fulfilment of our true selves.

To wait by the light of Jesus is to allow our experience of death to become like his by allowing our experience of God to become like his. This is just what we symbolise in our baptism – that what Jesus has endured and achieved is offered in God’s grace also to us. As he died, so do we die in our baptism that, as he now lives, so might we. As unprepared, imperfect and worthy of condemnation as we often might be, we are not left in the dark if Jesus himself is the inexhaustible fuel which burns in our lamps.

There is a moral dimension to the parable – that we are vigilant during the dark hours, that we are living in such a way that corresponds to the life of Jesus himself. Fearlessness in the face of death is the source of all acts of kindness and justice, advocacy and generosity. For such things call us to make a sacrifice of ourselves which we now can make because, by the grace of God, we are lamps filled with the oil which is Jesus, oil which never runs out.

Let us, then, seek this oil that we might keep burning, the light of Christ, and give thanks to God for the gift of such light and life.

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