The Care of The Good Shepherd

A Reflection based on the discussion that was held during the online worship of
the Anglican Church of St Thomas, Kefalas,
in the regional municipality of Apokoronas, on the island of Crete, in Greece
on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 3, 2020, 11:00 am
in the Year of the Great Pandemic of 2020.

The readings we used were: Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, and John 10:1-10.

The-Good-Shepherd-A-Ancient-Greece-image-of-a-shepherd-carrying-a-sheep-over-his

Two ancient statues, one pagan, the other Christian. Left: Ancient Greek image of a shepherd carrying a sheep over his shoulders (3rd century BCE) Right: Statue from Rome, Italy, dated to the early period of Christianity, displaying the image of Jesus as the good shepherd.

Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2.42-47

Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. . . . I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. John 10.9-10

We gathered via the internet, and all told we were some sixteen souls gathered around by Zoom. We had an informal discussion about the texts, and these were some of the points made.

  • Sheep are a very common thing here on Crete, and we know by experience that different flocks will listen to the different voices of their shepherds and follow them.
  • In some places a shepherd will lie down at the opening to the fold, thereby becoming the “gate” to the fold, letting sheep in and keeping them in the pen.
  • Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who by his life and teaching, and especially in his death, demonstrates his care for all the people around him, for humanity, and for us.
  • The idea that God cares for us as a shepherd goes back ten centuries before Jesus, to the time of David, and the 23rd psalm.
  • As the Body of Christ, we in the church can be like the shepherd, caring for others.
  • This is shown in the passage from Acts, where Christians care for each other by sharing things in common. While this looks quite normal for us, this might be considered among the “many wonders and signs” in a society where such common concern was the exception rather than the norm.
  • While not intentional, this kind of care would have had an evangelistic result. Rodney Stark, in The Rise of Christianity, notes that the doctrine that Christians must care for each other and the stranger in need meant that in time of disease – such as a plague – Christians felt a divine moral obligation to do so; the traditional Greek and Roman temples and priesthoods did not have these teachings. Thus, in the time of a plague most non-Christians would get out of cities and take care of themselves but not others. Early Christian care – food, and very basic sanitation – appear to have increased (albeit, slightly) the survival rate of Christians and the non-Christians they cared for. This would have impressed the non-Christians , and increased the adherence of survivors to the Christian faith.
  • In the Fourth Century CE the Emperor Julian complained how Christians took care of all sick, regardless of religious adherence, and recommended that Roman and Greek priests begin to do the same. This did not happen, because the ancient religions had no dogmatic reason to teach such things.
  • This emphasis on care has been a part of Christian culture, and became a norm in our society, even when secularized. Medical care, especially for those who are not rich, was a central activity of churches through the medieval era and right into modern times.
  • Only since the rise of the national health care (in Britain in 1948; Canada in 1968; and in Greece, 1981) has there been an assumption that the whole of society has a care of duty towards the health of everybody, based on need and not ability to pay; while this is normal for us now, it was controversial in earlier times, and in the United States, still is.
  • Arguably, a modern Christian attitude must be concerned with the health of everybody, and whether by public or private means, or a combination of both, should consider how effectively medical care is provided, especially to the most vulnerable. This is part of what it means to “have life, and have it abundantly.

May we, then, follow in the way of the Good Shepherd. As we have been cared for protected, as we have been led to green pastures and quiet waters that refresh us, and as we have feasted at abundant tables, so may we do the same for others.

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Resources for the Fourth Sunday of Easter in the Year of the Great Pandemic 2020

These are resources meant mainly for The Anglican Church of St Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, on the island of Crete in Greece, but others may find them helpful!

flockofsheep760

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Starting this Sunday, May 3rd, 2020 we invite members and friends of the Anglican Church of St Thomas, to join us for a Service of the Word on Zoom.  Here is the information you need:

Join Zoom Meeting
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85044839927?pwd=TkQ1cHEzNUNjSjVCNTNJVUJwSkZaQT09
Meeting ID: 850 4483 9927
Password: 010209
 
To maintain some order, there will be a “waiting room” and a password is required to get in. Please make sure that you fill in the option for naming yourself, so that I can know who is in the waiting room. I will be online at 10:40 am, and I ask that you try to log on and be ready at least five minutes before 11:00 am.
The Order of Service can be downloaded here: An Order for Worship on Easter 4

Read

The Fourth Sunday of Easter always has as its gospel reading a portion from chapter ten of the Gospel according to John, in which Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd. As well, the psalm is always the 23rd, so shepherds abound. Thus, this Sunday is popularly known as Good Shepherd Sunday. The appointed readings according to the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A) are:

The Church of England allows one to omit the reading from 1 Peter, shift the reading from Acts to be the second reading, and have Genesis 7 as the first reading.

In our online worship tomorrow we will use Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, and John 10:1-10.

Reflect

I will be posting a brief homily after the online worship tomorrow, but in the meantime here is a link to last year’s sermon.

Pray

Collect
Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life:
raise us, who trust in him,
from the death of sin to the life of righteousness,
that we may seek those things which are above,
where he reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(or)

Risen Christ,
faithful shepherd of your Father’s sheep:
teach us to hear your voice and to follow your command,
that all your people may be gathered into one flock,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Intercessions
H1 (modified)     In joy and hope let us pray to the Father.

That our risen Saviour may fill us with the joy of his glorious and life-giving resurrection
we pray to the Father. Hear our prayer.

That isolated and persecuted churches
may find fresh strength in the good news of Easter,
remembering at this time to pray:
for the peoples and churches of India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka (World Council of Churches Cycle of Prayer);
for the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (The Anglican Communion in Japan) and The Most Revd Nathaniel Makoto Uematsu – Primate & Bishop of Hokkaido (Anglican Cycle of Prayer); our own bishops in Europe, Robert Innes and David Hamid,
and the Archbishops of the Church of EnglandJustin Welby and John Sentamu;
giving thanks for The Episcopal Church in Europe (TEC) and its bishop, Mark Edington, .
and grateful for our partnership with the ICS (“Intercontinental Church Society”):
we pray to the Father. Hear our prayer.

That the one who was a servant of all may grant us humility
to be subject to one another in Christian love
and we pray especially for those experiencing great stress as they stay at home,
we pray to the Father. Hear our prayer.

That the Good Shepherd may revives our souls,
and guide us along right pathways for his Name’s sake;
that the one who fed the multitudes
may provide for those who lack food, work or shelter,
remembering especially all those
who have been laid off or whose employment has been terminated,
and those who have little food security,
we pray to the Father. Hear our prayer.

That the one who did not strike back with violence may cause
wars and famines to cease through all the world,
remembering especially the peoples of Syria, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen,
we pray to the Father. Hear our prayer.

That the healer of the sick may reveal the light of his presence to the sick,
the weak and the dying, to comfort and strengthen them,
praying especially for those afflicted in this pandemic,
and for the nurses, physicians, and all health care staff who care for them;
though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death we shall fear no evil;
for the Lord is with us;
we pray to the Father. Hear our prayer.

That, according to his promises,
all who have died in the faith of the resurrection
may be raised on the last day,
and dwell in the house of the Lord for ever;
we pray to the Father. Hear our prayer.

That the fire of the Holy Spirit may descend upon us, his people,
so that we may bear faithful witness to the resurrection of Jesus,
we pray to the Father. Hear our prayer.

Heavenly Father,
you have delivered us from the power of darkness
and brought us into the kingdom of your Son:
grant that, as his death has recalled us to life,
so his continual presence in us may raise us to eternal joy;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sing

We are still in Easteride, so there is this modern hymn:

We must sing this one, of course:

and this one!

 

Then there is this chorus from Handel’s Messiah:
26. Chorus All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way. And the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53: 6)

 

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Resurrection, Sheol, and the Temple: A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter in the Year of the Great Pandemic 2020

A Sermon that was NOT preached at the Anglican Church of St Thomas, Kefalas,
in the regional municipality of Apokoronas, on the island of Crete, in Greece
on the Third Sunday of Easter, April 26, 2020, 11:00 am
because of the Great Pandemic of 2020.

The readings I would have used are: Zephaniah 3.14-20, Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17,
Acts 2:14a,36-41, and Luke 24:13-35 

Church 021

The Road to Emmaus, from the Church of the Redeemer, Toronto.

Resurrection, Sheol, and the Temple

I am reading a fascinating book I picked up years ago but never got around to reading. It is Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews (New Haven CT & London UK: Yale University Press, 2008) and is coauthored by Kevin J. Madigan and Jon D. Levinson, who are both professors at Harvard Divinity School (“HDS”). What is interesting about this book is that Madigan is a Christian and a professor of Christian history, whereas Levinson is a Jewish scholar of the Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic Midrash. I regret that I did not study with either of them when I was at HDS for a quick one year Master of Theology back in 2002-2003.

HDS is a strange place. It is interdenominational and interfaith, and so I studied with Jews, Buddhists, Later Day Saints, Episcopalians/ Anglicans, Methodists, Muslims, Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Unitarians, and many other varieties of religion. Many of the students are preparing for ordination, but not all. HDS is also a graduate centre for the study of religion, and does not require any faith commitment from its students. Thus, many were examining the various world religions from a purely sociological or historical perspective, and were quite sceptical or agnostic about the claims of various faiths. That said, I found is fascinating to have this interfaith context, and to study Christian texts and history besides people from Buddhism and Judaism.

In Resurrection Madigan and Levinson examine the Jewish roots of resurrection. Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday, but many of us forget that this event was unusual and unexpected. What was weird about the resurrection of Jesus was that it was just a single person. In the Judaisms of Jesus’s day most Jews believed in the Resurrection of the Dead, but understood it as something that would happen to all people of Israel at one time (as suggested in Ezekiel 37), or to the whole of humanity, followed by judgment by God (as in Daniel 12); the resurrection of a single person, as was the case with Jesus, was unexpected.

Madigan and Levinson discuss the older Jewish understanding and belief of שְׁאוֹל Šəʾōl Sheol. Sheol was a kind of shadowy after-life that came to those whose life was cut off early. In Sheol one was cut off from kith and kin, and one was not even able to raise the praise of God. Interestingly, the dividing line between life and Sheol was not so much death, but rather the beginning of a grave illness from which one does not usually recover, a kind of death in the midst of life. Our psalm today describes this situation; the word translated as “grave” here is, in fact, Sheol:

2 The cords of death entangled me;
the grip of the grave took hold of me; *
I came to grief and sorrow.
3 Then I called upon the Name of the Lord: *
“O Lord, I pray you, save my life.”   Psalm 116.2-3

What is the opposite of Sheol? The natural response for us today would probably be “heaven”, but this is a retroprojection of later ideas of heaven and hell on the Hebrew Bible understanding of Sheol. The Tanakh is vague on who goes to Sheol; some passages suggest everybody ends up in that shadowy existence, but more often it describes it as the fate of those who died early in life, or those who are gravely ill or wounded. Madigan and Levinson point out that Moses is not described as going to Sheol, and nor are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, or Solomon. Rather, they are “gathered to their ancestors”, and most of them, like Jacob/Israel, get to see their children’s children. A full life with many children would seem to be the opposite of Sheol. Of course, on occasion there are some particular individuals who are taken into the presence of God in the sky – Enoch and Elijah, being most prominent – but they are the exception.

Levinson and Madigan argue that the opposite (or antipode, in their language) of Sheol is a full life, and nowhere is that life more full than at the Temple in Jerusalem. Thus the psalm for today concludes,

14 O Lord, I am your servant; *
I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;
you have freed me from my bonds.
15 I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving *
and call upon the Name of the Lord.
16 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord *
in the presence of all his people,
17 In the courts of the Lord‘s house, *
in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.
Hallelujah!                                                 Psalm 116.14-17

Screenshot 2020-04-25 at 3.18.05 PM

A 1925 photogravure of the fountain on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel. Now, as then, there were trees on Temple Mount. Photograph by Karl Gršber.

The Temple in Jerusalem is an intimation of immortality. This explains a line in Psalm 84:

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
    to the living God.   . . .
10 For a day in your courts is better
    than a thousand elsewhere.
             Psalm 84.1-2, 10

The Temple was a place of sacrifice and the release of sins, feasting and of singing praise. It was where the people of God gathered, and where victory was celebrated. The courts of the Temple included gardens and trees, and it was intended to be an echo of Paradise, a recreation of Eden, and the closest thing to heaven on earth.

The Breaking of Bread

Where do we as Christians encounter the risen Jesus? When do we have our intimations of immortality, and receive our promises of heaven on earth? Our gospel reading today tells us:

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

We encounter Jesus when we gather, when the scriptures are opened to us, and he is made known to us in the breaking of bread. This is what we do in the Eucharist (Holy Communion, the Mass, the Liturgy, the Lord’s Supper). We do not have a Temple, but wherever we join together for the Eucharist, Christ is with us. It may be a home, it may be a field, it is perhaps in a cave, but more often it is in a building set aside for God’s people. And there we encounter the risen Christ, and there we have an echo of Paradise, a foretaste of God’s kingdom.

View from St Thomas's

The view from the Anglican Church of St Thomas, Kefalas, looking more or less south towards the Lefka Ori, the White Mountains of Crete.

Of course, here in Crete we of St Thomas’s have the Tabernacle – a permanent tent over a patio, with views of gardens, olive trees, and mountains beyond, with the bleating of sheep and goats not far away. It is perhaps one of the loveliest places on Earth, a reminder of the Garden of Eden. It is here we normally gather and where Jesus is made known to us in the breaking of the bread.

This is one reason (among many) why this time is so difficult for us. We are separated from the Body of Christ, the Church, even though we can talk to each other by phone and see each other over the internet. But that cannot replace the reality of being in the presence of each other, which allows us to know the presence of Jesus. We are cut off from the sacrament, a kind of fasting from the Divine. We might know Jesus through the scriptures and in prayer on our own, but it is not the same. It feels like we are in some kind of shadowy existence, closer to Sheol than the Temple.

This will end. We do not know when, and we do not know how. Things will not be exactly the same. My hope and prayer is that, when we gather again, we will experience the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, that our hearts will burn within us, and we will say, “Praise God – Hallelu Yah!”

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Resources for the Third Sunday of Easter in the Year of the Great Pandemic 2020

These are resources meant mainly for The Anglican Church of St Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, on the island of Crete in Greece, but others may find them helpful!

Church 021

The Road to Emmaus, from the Church of the Redeemer, Toronto.

Read

If a reading from the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament/Tanach is desired, it would be Zephaniah 3.14-20.

Reflect

A sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter is here.

Pray

Collects
Almighty Father,
who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples with the sight of the risen Lord:
give us such knowledge of his presence with us,
that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life
and serve you continually in righteousness and truth;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

or

Risen Christ,
you filled your disciples with boldness and fresh hope:
strengthen us to proclaim your risen life and fill us with your peace,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Intercessions
H3     Jesus, our exalted Lord, has been given all authority.
Let us seek his intercession that our prayers may be perfected by his prayer.

Jesus Christ, great high priest, living for ever to intercede for us,
pray for the Church, your broken body in the world.

Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

Jesus Christ, King of righteousness,
enthroned at the right hand of the majesty on high,
pray for the world, and make it subject to your gentle rule.

  • Στην Ελλάδα προσευχόμαστε Αικατερίνη Σακελλαροπούλου, Πρόεδρος, και Κυριάκος Μητσοτάκης, Πρωθυπουργός (In Greece we pray for Aihaterini Sakellaropoulou, President, and Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Prime Minister).
  • In the UK we remember our Sovereign Lady Elizabeth II, Governor of the Church of England, and her government led by the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.
  • In Canada we also pray for Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Excellency Julie Payette, the Governor General, and Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister.
  • In the European Union we pray for Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission; Charles Michel, President of the European Council; and Josep Borrell, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy.

Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

Jesus Christ, Son of Man,
drawing humanity into the life of God,
pray for your sisters and brothers in need, distress, or sorrow.

  • All those infected by the Coronavirus, and those in intensive care.
  • Health care workers, and all essential workers.
  • Those who are mourning the recently dead, in the midst of the lockdown.
  • Those who have been laid off and have lost income, and whose futures are in peril.
  • Teachers, students, and parents, struggling to learn from home.
  • Families overcome by stress.
  • Refugees, immigrants, migrants, the homeless, and other vulnerable populations.

Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

Jesus, pioneer of our salvation,
bringing us to glory through your death and resurrection,
surround with your saints and angels those who have died trusting your promises.

  •  the 200,000 who have died from the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Among the dead, the physicians, nurses, and health care workers.

Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

Jesus Christ, Lord over all things,
ascended far above the heavens and filling the universe,
pray for us who receive the gifts you give us for work in your service.

  • for the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11.1-2).
  • for the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.
  • for the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. (1 Corinthians 13.13).
  • spiritual gifts: prophecy, serving, teaching, exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy (Romans 12.6-8).

Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

Jesus Christ,
keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit and in the bond of peace,
and bring the whole created order to worship at your feet;
for you are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Hymns

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“Blind to Any Unexpected Act”: A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter

A Sermon that was NOT preached at the Anglican Church of St Thomas, Kefalas,
in the regional municipality of Apokoronas, on the island of Crete, in Greece
on the Second Sunday of Easter, April 19, 2020, 11:00 am
because of the Great Pandemic of 2020.

The readings I would have used are: Exodus 14.10-31; 15.20,21, Psalm 16, Acts 2:14a,22-32, and John 20:19-31.

st-thomas-icon-756

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” John 20.25b

The Valorization of Thomas the Sceptic

Thomas has become, I think, more popular in the past few centuries than he might have been before, and that is because he is seen a First Century sceptic (skeptic in the US spelling). “Sceptic” has several meanings, as the Oxford English Dictionary makes clear. The first is a reference to a philosophical school:

1. Philosophy. One who, like Pyrrho [365/360 BCE – 275/270 BCE] and his followers in Greek antiquity, doubts the possibility of real knowledge of any kind; one who holds that there are no adequate grounds for certainty as to the truth of any proposition whatever. Also, often applied in a historically less correct sense, to those who deny the competence of reason, or the existence of any justification for certitude, outside the limits of experience. Emphasis added.

However, it has a broader, more popular sense:

2. One who doubts the validity of what claims to be knowledge in some particular department of inquiry (e.g. metaphysics, theology, natural science, etc.); popularly, one who maintains a doubting attitude with reference to some particular question or statement. Also, one who is habitually inclined rather to doubt than to believe any assertion or apparent fact that comes before him; a person of sceptical temper. Emphasis added.

In discussions of Christian beliefs and teachings, it is used as the equivalent of an agnostic, or even an atheist:

 3. spec. One who doubts, without absolutely denying, the truth of the Christian religion or important parts of it; often loosely, an unbeliever in Christianity, an infidel. Emphasis added.

Since the Seventeenth Century we have viewed scepticism more positively thing than in earlier eras. It became a tool of the scientific method, in which physical evidence for facts was required and tested.

  • René Descartes (1596-1650)  his First Meditation decided to doubt everything he knew, and determined that the one thing he could not doubt was his own existence: cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am.” This approach to philosophy, emphasised pure reason and certainty over sensations and acting on common sense. This was a radical breach with medieval philosophy, and while Descartes in his Third Meditation concluded that there was a God, philosophers who followed afterwards felt no such need to do so.
  • The great Scottish Empiricist David Hume (1711-1776) was deeply sceptical about any claims to knowledge that went beyond experience and sensations, and so called into question miracles and all religious claims.
  • During the Age of Enlightenment many challenged the Church’s teachings and took refuge in Deism, believing in a God but not necessarily in anything like the Christian God.
  • New Testament scholars in 19th Century Germany began to treat Holy Scripture as if it was any other ancient text, and distinguished between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith, arguing that “the preacher became the preached.”
  • In the wake of the development of geology, archaeology, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, it became obvious to many that the narrative of the Bible could not be taken literally.
  • Whereas religion had been seen as necessary to political life, by the end of the 19th Century it was seen by many as irrelevant, and perhaps an impediment (at least by the ruling classes), something that had led to the Thirty Years War in Germany and the Civil War in England.
  • With the rise of individualism and personal economic power, religion was seen as a personal think, a kind of hobby, like gardening or stamp collecting.

Thomas, then, is sometimes held up as an Christian prototype of the sceptic among us. “You say you cannot believe in everything we teach in the Church? Well, that’s okay – neither did Thomas the Apostle!” But this is not what the story about doubting Thomas is about.

The Incredulity of Thomas

Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas

“The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” 1601–1602, by Caravaggio (1571-1610). From the Picture Gallery at Park Sanssouci, Potsdam, Brandenburg, Germany.

While researching the resources for the second Sunday of Easter I came across this hymn by Thomas Troeger (music is on the previous post):

These things did Thomas count as real:
The warmth of blood, the chill of steel,
The grain of wood, the heft of stone,
The last frail twitch of flesh and bone.

The vision of his skeptic mind
Was keen enough to make him blind
To any unexpected act
Too large for his small world of fact.

His reasoned certainties denied
That one could live when one had died,
Until his fingers read like Braille
The marking of the spear and nail.

May we, O God, by grace believe
And thus the risen Christ receive,
Whose raw, imprinted palms reached out
And beckoned Thomas from his doubt.

Both the painting above by Carravaggio and the hymn suggest that Thomas touched Jesus’s wounds, but I am not sure that he did so. The passage in John reads:

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” John 20:24-28.

The passage does not actually say that Thomas touched Jesus, much less put his hand in his side. Rather, upon being invited to do so by Jesus, Thomas realizes he was wrong, and was overcome by his presumption. His response is one of faith: “My Lord and my God” – an affirmation that bookends the beginning of the gospel which affirms Jesus as divine: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

The passage carries on:

Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. John 20:29-31

This would be a great place to end the gospel – the reader, who presumably has not seen the resurrected Jesus, has faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, and is living the life of Jesus in her or his own body by the power of the Holy Spirit. A blessing is given by Jesus: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” This is a blessing for the reader and those who hear the good news – and it suggests that they have greater faith than Thomas. From a reader response perspective, we are supposed to identify not with Thomas or the other Apostles who are witnesses, but with those in the community who have not seen Jesus. Presumably this was the situation when and where this gospel was written – which would be mainly second generation Christians, and not witnesses to Jesus in his risen state.

“Blind to Any Unexpected Act”

Even though I am not sure that Thomas’s fingers read like Braille / The marking of the spear and nail, I still like the hymn by Thomas Troeger. The earthly quality of the death of Jesus is caught masterfully in The warmth of blood, the chill of steel, /  The grain of wood, the heft of stone, / The last frail twitch of flesh and bone. There is an appeal to reasoned certainties that are so much a characteristic of the modern age in which we have lived.

But the old certainties are now not so solid. “Reason” itself has been pulled off of its pedestal. We live in a society where the GDP and the freedom of the markets was everything, but now as we suffer through a lockdown we know that some things – life, health care, friends –  are far more important. Covid-19 seems to hit people without warning, killing here on Crete a 48 year-old professor visiting from Germany, afflicting the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and several of his his aides, infecting the heir to the throne, and working its way, despite precautions, into vulnerable nursing staff and physicians, janitors and stock clerks. The usual reasoning around the economy no longer suffices, and years of austerity in health services are being questioned. What is most important to us?

In the midst of mourning, solitude, and boredom, some of us find ourselves turning to the divine, so that we, O God, by grace believe. Denied entry into churches, many find the Body of Christ over the internet and by quiet prayer. We may not have been to church during the past Holy Week, but Holy Week came to us by various media and in the silence of of the days and nights. We may not have certainty, but we have faith.

My hope and prayer is that in the midst of this strange time, you, by grace, may have belief, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

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Resources for the Second Sunday of Easter 2020

These are resources meant mainly for The Anglican Church of St Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, on the island of Crete in Greece, but others may find them helpful!

Thomas & Jesus.jpg

“Doubting Thomas” by an Unknown English Artist, about 1190–1200, Norfolk [perhaps] (written), East Anglia, England; York [perhaps] (illuminated), Northern, England (Place Created).Tempera colors and gold leaf on parchment.

Read

The readings appointed for the Second Sunday of Easter are:

The Church of England also allows for a reading from the Tanakh (Old Testament), and for this Sunday it is Exodus 14.10-31; 15.20,21. This reading would come first, and the Acts reading would become the second reading, and the reading from 1 Peter would not be used.

Reflect

I have written a sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter: “Blind to any Unexpected Act”

Fr Leonard Doolan of St Paul’s Athens has recorded a sermon:

Pray

Collect

Almighty Father, you have given your only Son to die for our sins
and to rise again for our justification:
grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness
that we may always serve you in pureness of living and truth;
through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(or)

Risen Christ, for whom no door is locked, no entrance barred:
open the doors of our hearts,
that we may seek the good of others
and walk the joyful road of sacrifice and peace,
to the praise of God the Father. Amen.

Intercessions

H2     We pray to Jesus who is present with us to eternity.
Jesus, light of the world,
bring the light and peace of your gospel to the nations …
Jesus, Lord of life, in your mercy, hear us.

Jesus, bread of life,
give food to the hungry …
and nourish us all with your word.
Jesus, Lord of life, in your mercy, hear us.

Jesus, our way, our truth, our life,
be with us and all who follow you in the way …
Deepen our appreciation of your truth and fill us with your life.
Jesus, Lord of life, in your mercy, hear us.

Jesus, Good Shepherd who gave your life for the sheep,
recover the straggler, bind up the injured, strengthen the sick
and lead the healthy and strong to new pastures.
Jesus, Lord of life, in your mercy, hear us.

Jesus, the resurrection and the life,
we give you thanks for all who have lived and believed in you …
Raise us with them to eternal life.
Jesus, Lord of life, in your mercy, hear us,
accept our prayers, and be with us always. Amen.

Cycles of Prayer

In the Prayer Diary of the Diocese in Europe:
Pray for the Lusitanian Church, Bishop Jorge Pina Cabral.
Pray for the Church of Denmark and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Estonia.
Pray for the Diocesan Office in London: Pray for the Operations and Finance functions: Diocesan Secretary (COO): Andrew Caspari; Office Manager: Bron Panter; Finance: Susan Stelfox, Nick Wraight; Board of Finance Chair: Mike Fegan. Pray for the financial needs of the Diocese (and give thanks for God’s provision).

In the Anglican Cycle of Prayer today:
Pray for the Church of Ireland, the clergy and people of its twelve dioceses, and its Primate, Michael Jackson, the Archbishop of Dublin and Bishop of Glendalough.

In the World Council of Churches prayer cycle, pray for the peoples and churches of:
Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.

Share

fb_img_1587118598770394475143.jpg

St Paul’s Athens invites you to a Zoom conference for Sunday worship. They ask that people sign in shortly after 10:00 am. The service itself begins at 10:15 am. Click on this link: https://zoom.us/j/227360090?pwd=eWY5bmp4SHU2T0VHQWhIalFkdDRLQT09.
Meeting ID: 227 360 090 Password: 422061

Hymns

A hymn from Tanzania. In translation the lyrics are:

Jesus is risen, alleluia!
Worship and praise him, alleluia!
Now our Redeemer bursts from the grave:
lost to the tomb, Christ rises to save.
Come let us worship him, endlessly sing;
Christ is alive and death loses its sting.
Sins are forgiven, alleluia!
Jesus is risen, alleluia!

There are not many hymns written about Thomas and his doubts – but this is one of them, by Thomas Troeger, one of my favourite modern Christian lyricists.

This is a good hymn about the power of faith.

Last night having been the Orthodox celebration of Easter, normally this Paschal Troparion would have been sung repeatedly by our Greek sisters and brothers, and especially as the the Holy Fire, the light of Christ, was given out.

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Resources for Easter Sunday 2020: The Sunday of the Resurrection in the Year of the Great Pandemic

These are resources meant mainly for The Anglican Church of St Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, on the island of Crete in Greece, but others may find them helpful!

P1020306

The Cross of Flowers 2020, decorated by David & Mary Hurley with flowers from Jan Lovell and Jo Cheslyn-Hall.

Read

The Bible readings appointed for Easter Sunday are:

If we had been meeting in the Tabernacle in Kefalas today we would have used the second set of readings, from Jeremiah, Psalm 118, Acts, and Matthew.

Here is the Gospel of the Resurrection according to Matthew:

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”

So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”                Matthew 28.1-10

Christ's tomb

A tomb near Nazareth, probably similar to the one in which Jesus was buried.

Reflect

I have posted the sermon I might have preached this year. You can find it here.

I have done a close reading of Psalm 118, our psalm for today, which I posted several months ago.

Remember

We are not gathering for a Sunrise Service this year, but perhaps this video from 2019 will have to do. Next year, in Kefalas!

Share

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, will lead an Easter Sunday service at 9:00 am BST, which is 11:00 am EEST here in Crete. You can find it here.

The Right Rev’d Dr Robert Innes, our Diocesan Bishop, will lead an Easter Sunday  service tomorrow morning at 10:00 am EEST here in Crete (9:00 am CEST); the video will be available on the Diocese in Europe YouTube Channel.

A Church Near You, a service of the Church of England, lists over a thousand possible live streams of services, including the ones provided by churches in the Diocese in Europe.

The Episcopal Church (“TEC”) based in the United States has a set of live streamed services, including an Easter Vigil. Grace Cathedral in San Francisco starts its Vigil at 9:00 PM PDT Saturday, which is 7:00 am EEST on Sunday morning here in Greece.

If you feel like braving Zoom, Father Leonard Doolan will hold an Easter Liturgy at 10:15 am EEST (but sign in around 10:00 am). You may need to download the Zoom app to your computer, tablet, or smartphone, and you will need to enable your microphone and camera. If this seems overwhelming, download A User’s Guide, prepared by the clever folk at the Diocese in Europe office: Zoom – A User Guide – Apr 2020
The service leaflet for St Paul’s Athens can be downloaded here: Easter Sunday 2020 Here are the details for logging in:

Leonard Doolan is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Please join us in Athens (God and technology willing) for our Easter Sunday worship. You can join the ‘meeting’ from 10.00am but the service will begin at 10.15 which is our normal service time here. Afterwards we can make a coffee and have a chat.

You will see that this facility is available each Sunday until the end of May by which time I hope we will be able to meet together in ‘social proximity’. Please also see attached the order of service that you might like to print out before Sunday.

Just click on Join Zoom Meeting which you will see just below, and follow a couple of easy clicks to join with us. Don’t worry about the other info, but if you have trouble joining you can find at the bottom of this message the meeting number and password. Hopefully you won’t need it.

Join Zoom Meeting

https://zoom.us/j/227360090?pwd=eWY5bmp4SHU2T0VHQWhIalFkdDRLQT09

Meeting ID: 227 360 090           Password: 422061

Pray

Collect

Lord of all life and power,
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in him:
grant that we, being dead to sin
and alive to you in Jesus Christ,
may reign with him in glory;
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be praise and honour, glory and might,
now and in all eternity. Amen.

(or)

God of glory,
by the raising of your Son
you have broken the chains of death and hell:
fill your Church with faith and hope;
for a new day has dawned
and the way to life stands open in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Intercessions

H1     In joy and hope let us pray to the Father.

That our risen Saviour may fill us with the joy of his glorious and life-giving resurrection
we pray to the Father. Hear our prayer.

That isolated and persecuted churches
may find fresh strength in the good news of Easter,
remembering at this time to pray:
for the Peace of Jerusalem and thepeoples of the Holy Land,
including the people of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem
and its Archbishop Suheil Dawani;
our own bishops in Europe, Robert Innes and David Hamid,
and the Archbishops of the Church of EnglandJustin Welby and John Sentamu;
giving thanks for the Lutheran Churches of the Porvoo Agreement in Europe;
and grateful for our partnership with the USPG (“United Society Partners in Gospel”):
we pray to the Father. Hear our prayer.

That the one who was a servant of all may grant us humility
to be subject to one another in Christian love
and we pray especially for those experiencing great stress as they stay at home,
we pray to the Father. Hear our prayer.

That the one who fed the multitudes
may provide for those who lack food, work or shelter,
remembering especially all those
who have been laid off or whose employment has been terminated,
and those who have little food security,
we pray to the Father. Hear our prayer.

That the one who did not strike back with violence may cause
wars and famines to cease through all the world,
remembering especially the peoples of Syria, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen,
we pray to the Father. Hear our prayer.

That the healer of the sick may reveal the light of his presence to the sick,
the weak and the dying, to comfort and strengthen them,
praying especially for those afflicted with Covid-19,
and for the nurses, physicians and all health care staff who care for them,
we pray to the Father. Hear our prayer.

That, according to his promises,
all who have died in the faith of the resurrection
may be raised on the last day,
we pray to the Father. Hear our prayer.

That the fire of the Holy Spirit may descend upon us, his people,
so that we may bear faithful witness to the resurrection of Jesus,
we pray to the Father. Hear our prayer.

Heavenly Father,
you have delivered us from the power of darkness
and brought us into the kingdom of your Son:
grant that, as his death has recalled us to life,
so his continual presence in us may raise us to eternal joy;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sing

And the premiere classical music radio station in the United States, WQXR in New York City, has the article “Top Choral Directors Share Their Favorite Easter Music” with links to even more music.

 

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