Christ’s Second Coming at the end of the world is sometimes called the Parousia, and the New Testament writers identify it as the final triumph of Jesus in the establishment of His kingdom. Jesus is expected to return, bringing history to its close, and ushering in the ‘last day’ and bringing the world to judgment. Some New Testament writings appeared to expect this return of Christ to take place in their lifetime (for instance 1 and 2 Thessalonians), but others treat it as something future, with present implications. On that last day, all human beings from the dawn of history until the end of time will be judged by Christ. He will not just be passing negative judgment on sinners, but here will be shown the universal manifestation of God’s mercy and of humanity’s cooperation with divine grace. Thus Christ will glorify the virtues of the saints no less than testify to the sinful conduct of the wicked. In both cases, however, the last judgement will glorify God, His infinite justice no less than His infinite mercy. The advent of the Kingdom of God will be transformative and renewing, breaking into human history in order to redeem it from its present inadequacies.
By saying that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, we acknowledge the beginning of the Messiah’s kingdom, the fulfilment of the vision of the prophet Daniel about the Son of man: “To him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7.14)
The Ascension of Jesus is recorded in Luke’s and Mark’s gospels, with a more detailed account in the Acts of the Apostles. It is the moment of departure when Jesus’ risen, glorious body is transferred into heaven. The apostles are witnesses of the “kingdom that will have no end”, but they are also confronted with their responsibility to continue the task started by Jesus, and the promise of his return.
The Ascension implies that Jesus’ humanity has been taken into heaven. Jesus glorifies our fallen and sinful humanity when He returns to the Father. Through Christ, humanity becomes a “partaker of the divine nature”.
This wording is borrowed from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15.4), and at this point the Creed moves from the earthly life of Jesus to His glorified state.
Jesus dies on Friday afternoon and is laid in the tomb before dark. According to Jewish time, a day was calculated from nightfall to nightfall. Since Jesus was buried on Friday afternoon and rose from the dead on Sunday, He was in the tomb some part of three days.
The mystery of Jesus’ resurrection is the core of our Christian faith. The Scriptures describe the astonishment of the disciples as they find the empty tomb, and how the Risen Christ visits His disciples on a number of occasions. He speaks with them, eats with them, and shows them his wounds. In short, he is fully human again.
The wonder of this event changed everything. It becomes the centre of the Apostles preaching. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, death is not what it seems to be. It is not the end, but the beginning of a new life for those who follow in His footsteps. In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he reminds us that, “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.” (Rm. 6:8)
There are many mornings when, saying the Daily Office, I wonder what God’s purpose may be as we read the long descriptions of bloody battles of the Old Testament. Is this really the ‘Word of the Lord’? How can these tales of death and destruction be relevant to the image and knowledge of a God who loves us unconditionally, as embodied in the person of Jesus? Yet, we continue to read them, because they are part of our heritage, they tell us of other facets of God.
From early days, I have found the Bible fascinating. The well known stories, the challenging parables, the story of this man who is also a God. But with age and growing knowledge, I also became aware of different ways of reading the Bible. Critically, using feminist models for instance, looking to see who is missing in the stories, written in a way that helped to perpetuate structures of patriarchy and oppression. Looking for the challenge – for instance, there is so much more in the Bible about our use of money and resources than there is about sex, so much so that if all references to money were removed, the Bible would fall apart.
But also, in prayer, following the model of Ignatian guided meditations, I am able to place myself in the context of the stories and see, hear, feel what happens as I interact with the protagonists. And in Lectio Divina, a Benedictine meditative reading of the Bible which allows for the Holy Spirit to bring about new revelations for me, for us, in our lives today.
At All Hallows by the Tower, in the midst of the busy City, we strive to provide a place of stillness, a space for the imagination, a springboard for the soul to soar, a place where scripture and silence come together that our souls may be fed on our Christian journey as followers of Jesus Christ. On Wednesday evenings at 6 pm, our service based on the tradition of the Taizé community is one of those key moments when we can rest in the arms of God and, in chant, in scripture, and in silence, be restored spiritually and refreshed in body and mind.
The Rev’d Bertrand Olivier
Vicar, All Hallows by the Tower
For the Old Testament writers, mere factual knowledge is a secular matter and something quite different from wisdom. Wisdom for them is closely allied to religion: ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’. (Psalm 111,10) Furthermore in Proverbs 8, 22-31 Wisdom is personified, and speaks of herself as God’s agent in his work of creation. One of the books in the Apocrypha is called Wisdom, and in this (9, 17f.) ‘wisdom’ is placed in parallel with ‘holy spirit’ and men are said to be ‘saved’ by it. This is the background to St. Paul’s designation of Christ as ‘the Wisdom of God.’ (I Corinthians 1, 24)
Much of what we find about wisdom in the Old Testament appears rather commonplace and uninspiring. However, it is material of this kind that helps us to realise that religion for us Christians must not be thought of as something separate from the ordinary duties of our daily life. God is no less concerned with how we behave on Monday morning than with how we worship on Sunday.
John Keble’s typically Anglican lines fit in very well much of what the Old Testament has to teach us about wisdom, and we can use them this week as a prayer:
The trivial round, the common task,
Will furnish all we need to ask,
Room to deny ourselves, as road,
To bring us daily nearer God.
Only, O Lord, in thy dear love
Fit us for perfect rest above;
And help us, this and every day,
To live more nearly as we pray.
‘But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place understanding? Job 28: 12
Job was a prosperous and blameless man who suddenly fell on hard times. Three friends try to comfort him, but in vain. Job struggles to maintain his belief in God, and reflects on the source of true wisdom. Where is wisdom to be found?
Wisdom is an unfashionable word today. Successful people are called clever, astute, dynamic, but rarely is the word wise used. And yet wise advice is what we all need at various points in our lives. Wisdom isn’t intellectual ability or achievement. It is the ability to cope with the things life throws at us and to be able to see the bigger picture. We probably all know someone who is wise in that sense, able to see that little bit further, to reckon with consequences that may be just over the horizon, and to be a good judge of people.
When I think of wisdom I remember my father, who had seen life in the Welsh coal-mining valleys, who had coped with adversity, who had read widely and lived through the rigours of wartime London. He was, too, a man of quiet but deep faith, who loved the English church, the seasons of the churches year, and the cadences of the Book of Common Prayer.
Wisdom in the Bible is about reaching for intellectual, aesthetic and religious unity as a means of making sense of the mystery of human existence. It is the recognition that man is made for better things than just getting and spending. We have a divine quality implanted within us, and we are restless beings until we find that place of spiritual rest.
‘Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding.’ Job 28: 28
The Venerable David Meara
Archdeacon of London
The Old Testament prophets were not soothsayers or fortune tellers; they did not foretell events in the sense of giving advance information. As Amos said, God told them what he intended to do to nations, classes, or individuals who disobeyed his law and failed to live the way he required men and women to live, and the prophets then proclaimed God’s message. The conditions of human life have of course changed enormously since the days of the prophets, but God’s requirements have not altered, and Micah’s words are still relevant for individuals and for governments in the twenty-first century. We may sometimes feel that God does not react to instances of human wickedness as speedily as we might expect or wish. Nevertheless, to quote Longfellow, ‘Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience he stands waiting, with exactness grinds he all.’ There are also occasions when we may genuinely feel uncertain as to what God is wanting us to do in some particular matter; moreover there will probably be other times when we shall feel that we know what he wants us to do, but are pretty certain that we shall find it unpleasant. At such times, but not only then, we can use the Prayer Book Collect for the First Sunday after Epiphany:
O Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy people which call upon thee; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Ten Commandments, whether we like them or not, are an important part of the revelation given by God to his people and preserved for us in the Old Testament. It is worth looking at the Catechism in the Prayer Book and seeing how they are there explained. Notice, incidentally, that it speaks of ‘that state of life, unto which it shall please God to call me’; it does not prohibit attempts to better our social standing, though it has often been mistakenly accused of doing that. The importance of the Commandments is that they demonstrate that from early times God has been giving his people basic teaching about the right way to live in this world, which is really his, and not primarily ours. In the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament Our Lord shows us how the Commandments are to be interpreted by us Christians so that we can use them as rules not applying merely to our outward actions, but also to our inward dispositions.
Some verses in Psalm 19 bear on this subject of the Ten Commandments:
The law of the Lord is an undefiled law, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is pure,and giveth light unto the eyes.
Who can tell how of he offendeth: O cleanse thou me from my secret faults.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart: be always acceptable in thy sight,
O Lord: my strength and my redeemer.
Why do we try to keep Lent ? Because it’s a custom ? Because we feel better by givng up sweets, alcohol, or second helpings ? Because our church provides special activities, and we feel obliged to take part in them ? There are likely to be a whole host of reasons that operate inside us and lead us to attempt to make Lent a special time ? but should we not ask God to help us keep Lent for the right reason ? And surely the right reason is to be found if we combine the Prayer Book Collect for Quinquagesima, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, with I Corinthians 13. Here is the Collect:
O Lord, who hast taught us that all our doings without charity are nothing worth: Send thy Holy Ghost, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before thee:Grant this for thine only Son Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.
Let us try to think about St. Paul’s words and those of the Collect, and ask God to help us absorb them, so that they really motivate us. Don’t let us think of Lent as a gloomy time, but as a time of opportunity for making some advance along the path that God has planned for each of us to walk in. Happy Lent !
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Today marks the end of many journeys. The culmination of the journey of the people of God in Exodus from Egypt to the promised land; the climax of the journey of a band of ill assorted men following an unlikely leader, Jesus, through his own journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, from the status of star preacher and healer to that of condemned criminal, and then back again. And the end of our own shared lenten journey as we have together reflected and heard of the wilderness experiences of many, and the hope that pierced through, sustained us through darkness, and the ongoing faith in a God who died for us and rose again which feeds us daily. Today is a day of great joy and it is the events of this day, the resurrection of Jesus – son of God – which is for Christians the cornerstone on which their faith is built and sustained, and which allows them, allows us, to keep striving to be lights in a world which is often dark, to keep going in times of deep distress.
We hope that you have enjoyed the journey with us. Please let us have any comments to help us for the future.
May you experience a joyful Easter.
Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia.