Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The servant girl at Emmaus

The Servant-Girl at Emmaus (A Painting by Velazquez)

She listens, listens, holdingher breath. 
Surely that voice
is his—the one
who had looked at her, once, 
across the crowd,as no one ever had looked?
Had seen her? 
Had spoken as if to her?
Surely those hands were his,
taking the platter of bread from hers just now?
Hands he’d laid on the dying and made them well?
Surely that face—?
The man they’d crucified for sedition and blasphemy.
The man whose body disappeared from its tomb.
The man it was rumored now some women had seen this morning, 
Those who had brought this stranger home to their table
don’t recognize yet with whom they sit.
But she in the kitchen, 
absently touching the wine jug she’s to take in,
a young Black servant intently listening,
swings round and sees
the light around him
and is sure.

-Denise Levertov

supper at Emmaus

I love this painting by Caravaggio of the moment when Jesus was recognised by the disciples in breaking bread. It captures a moment of surprise really well. It paints Jesus in a manner which is unfamiliar to us (what! no beard?) and so emphasises that the disciples were not stupid or blind when they were walking with him.

The Road to Emmaus

The disappearance

...Then there is the disappearance. Yet in the disappearance the disciples still know him fully with them. They now know a fuller meaning that the Christ travels with them in hope even in his absence. That though Christ is at God’s right hand, God’s right hand is with them.
          Arguably this is something that, if acknowledged, could transform our society into a more just and compassionate one. John Taylor has said ‘I believe, there is nothing more needed by humanity today ... than the recovery of a sense of beyond-ness in the whole of life to revive the springs of wonder and adoration.’
                 It is for us to treasure these encounters, but do not hoard them. We are very inclined to want to control God, to make God appear, as we want when we want. To feel the presence of God as and when we wish. But it seems that the nature of God is to be spontaneous. I know for myself that in the times of deepest despair is not necessarily when God breaks in. For me they can be the greatest times of the absence of God, though I long for it. If there is anything to be learned it is that it is just not possible to pin God down. Be grateful that you have been touched by the living God, and be open to the possibility of further encounters.
          Cs Lewis said that we have, ‘so to speak, a root in the Absolute, which is the utter reality. ... these experiences ... were the pointer to something outer and other. This is what the disciples were left with when Jesus left them. they were left with a profound sense of the fact that they had a root in the absolute. They knew that their lives had ultimate meaning, and therefore even in the absence of the Christ, they could go on in faith.

We also, are called to go on in faith, in all our faith or doubt, we are called to be sensitive to the times when our hearts burn within us and the transforming power of Christ in those times to give us strength to go into the future with hope.

Monday, April 28, 2014

But we had hoped

He wove skilfully his stories,
cleverly fashioning those tricky endings,
unexpectedly sharp and sticky,
that squeezed themselves
through religion’s carefully crafted defences,
and made us all squirm.

After a time we began,
in small ways,
to catch on.
Just glimpses at first, and then,
something more, remote but shining,
the merest of possibilities.

With every tale of forgiveness,
every word of grace and love,
and every hand reached out
in friendship and welcome,
it swelled into a nearly graspable thing
that we called hope.

Hope in the divine one’s goodness.
Hope that the world might be renewed.
Hope that freedom will be born,
justice might prevail and that peace should reign.
Hope that fighting would stop,
that fear might be vanquished,

and that the final word be love.

But we had hoped.

© Ken Rookes 2014

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Caravaggio: Doubting Thomas

Thomas labelled

Questioning Thomas?

It seems that many adults in the church have never had the benefit of an environment which encouraged searching faith. Some persons are forced out of the church during this state and, sadly, some never return; others remain in searching faith the rest of their lives. In any case, we must remember that persons with searching faith still need to have all the needs of experienced and dependent faith met, even though they may appear to have cast them aside. In spite of his questions, Thomas remained with the disciples. There he discovered the answers to his questions. 

Our congregations are filled with Thomases. Thomas’ faith reminds us that living in community in spite of our doubts is the only way we can find the truth that will sustain us. In such moments, we may lean on the faith of others, knowing that God’s love does not depend on our orthodoxy or certainty.

According to legend, “doubting Thomas” eventually traveled to India , sharing the good news in a very different religious environment. To this day, a group of Indian Christians refer to themselves as “Thomas Christians.” Truly, doubt gives birth to transformation and courage when we faithfully wait for the right moment, when God’s truth awakens us to a new vision of reality. Doubts will always remain and emerge from time to time, but we will know that doubt is itself a doorway to experiencing God’s presence in our life. Doubt may even be the space that makes room for resurrection faith.  In our faithful doubt, we will make room for the seekers in our community and the seeker in ourselves."

food for thought

Our society has become obsessed with food for our bodies. At the same time, we have become less interested in food for our souls and spirits. Many are morbidly obese from binging on materialism. Or have souls starving for the knowledge that they matter to a higher power. Their soul arteries clogged with the latest junk media.
One of the ideas of previous generations was that the sermon should provide spiritual food. People would say things like, “You have given us something to chew on,” or “I like enough in the sermon to keep me fed till next Sunday.”
The words of Scripture are food for thought, but may be prepared in different ways. What are we being fed and how is it being presented to us? Do we get to try all parts of the great smorgasbord or are we meat and three veg people; do we prefer what our mother church gave us to trying something new. Paul complained about those who still wanted to be fed milk when they should have matured to meat.
Most of us have heard the reading from John as a lesson not to have doubts. Is that the nourishment intended from this passage or is there more and different food here?
John said is that Jesus told Mary not to touch him as he had not yet ascended to the Father. In the evening he showed himself to the disciples and breathed on them and said “Received the Holy Spirit.” It probably was a momentous occasion for them. The issue of touching or not touching isn’t mentioned, but a week later, he had no problems in being touched.  Thomas was not there and not surprisingly, had trouble believing what the others told him. A week later, Jesus came to Thomas and offered his body to be touched as proof of who he was. So we know that by that day he had ascended to the Father and returned to earth whatever this means.

We don’t know whether this all literally happened as the writer of John said or as the writer of Luke/Acts said, with the day of Pentecost or in some other way. Which story feeds your soul and why? Is the idea of the humility of Christ with us, of God here present more to your taste, or do you prefer feasting Jesus seated at the right hand of God in heaven and why? Have you dared try the other, more basic, down to earth one?

Rev Julianne Parker 

Disciples of the outer-circle

Let me join you, Thomas,
out here in the outer-circle of disciples;
along with other questioners and doubters.
Here I shall make my home
among those for whom creedal recitations
and orthodox affirmations
seem increasingly less relevant.
(Discipleship, we all know, has only one test.)
Our wonderings will be loud,
and our speculations wild and free;
none shall be offended,
perhaps not even God.
In our outer-circle orbit, always at risk,
we will repeat the stories and tell new ones,
and do our best to love into reality
the kingdom of which the Master spoke.
Defying the sadness and the fear
we will announce in word and deed
the mysterious presence of He who died.
I like to think that we would do so
even if the tomb had not been emptied;
and, if, one day,
the Master’s earthly remains were to be found,
it would make no difference.

© Ken Rookes, 2014

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Crucifixion: Marc Chagall

The Last Supper by Rainer Maria Rilke

On seeing Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper", Milan 1904.
Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

They are assembled, astonished and disturbed
round him, who like a sage resolved his fate,
and now leaves those to whom he most belonged,
leaving and passing by them like a stranger.
The loneliness of old comes over him
which helped mature him for his deepest acts;
now will he once again walk through the olive grove,
and those who love him still will flee before his sight.

To this last supper he has summoned them,
and (like a shot that scatters birds from trees)
their hands draw back from reaching for the loaves
upon his word: they fly across to him;
they flutter, frightened, round the supper table
searching for an escape. But he is present
everywhere like an all-pervading twilight-hour.


God is present in the tomb of our waiting, creating the costly miracles of the victory of good, of love, of grace, of the restoration of all things.

In the centre of our waiting the seeds of our salvation are announced in small signs, in small kindnesses, in humble courage, in lives of fragile hope, in faithfulness.

God is not defeated. Life is more powerful than death. This we believe. From this will we live.
Rev Dorothy McCrae McMahon

Good Friday sermon

The Good Friday readings are about pain, not just Jesus’ pain. If the cross is about anything it is about the whole experience of creation’s suffering and about God entering into that suffering.
It is to me also about the silence of God, about, the death of God. If we fully enter into the experience of the disciples and followers of Jesus at this time we will find bewilderment, confusion and grief. Psalm 22 is a psalm about a person has been utterly cut off from God and the human community, yet who in the end, achieves some sense of peace. It has echoes to Jesus’ cry from the cross and in Gethsemane. He is feeling so bad that he no longer defines himself as human but rather as a worm. After having complained to God that God is not be found, the thought of the psalmist turns to the history of god’s people and the promises of God and in them he finds some hope and future, despite what he feels in the present.
          Psalm 22 gives expression to the unutterable despair felt by one whom circumstances have cast completely adrift from all the reference points in life and from all other persons who lend joy and hope. There is no glimmer of divine grace, except for that which memory can borrow from the past. God is gone, and God’s only presence is a distant flame.
          This is where I believe Good Friday calls us to sit. In the absence of God. It is where the disciples were. all that they believed and held dear was shattered. We usually undertake Good Friday with a real sense of the closeness of Easter and of hope and resurrection. In other words we don’t really give credibility to the crucifixion and to our pain.
For myself I am reflecting on the darkness of the cross this year. I am really conscious of the World situation.We are faced with macro dark issues like global warming but i am also deeply affected by the darkness in the kidnapping of more than 100 schoolgirls by armed militants in Nigeria. On Good Friday we are asked to put ourselves in the position of really facing the darkness as if we did not know the Easter Sunday was to come. Not to do so is to deny the reality of sorrow and pain in our world. We all live in it. We all know it in one form or another, and we all have, or have had a space in our lives when we knew at a gut level the reality of the crucifixion, without a sense of the coming resurrection. It is in this space that the disciples and followers of Jesus were in on Good Friday and Saturday. Can we allow ourselves to enter that same still sorrow and trust that it will be fruitful.

I have a peach tree in our yard that I have been giving up on for years. It has been dying back almost continually. Every year there seems more dead branches. If you looked at the tree even at the height of summer, you would see a grey gnarled old trunk with a sprout of green at a few points near the top. But in the strange way that nature works it is one of the most fruitful trees in my garden. To quote Charles Elliot … “ A spirituality that refuses to acknowledge the winter of the heart, the great sorrowfulness of human experience, is not only refusing to take seriously the life that people actually lead; it is in danger of encouraging too much leaf and too little fruit. … It is therefore important to be in touch with our sorrows, to recognise them, to honour them even. … they are the necessary period of die-back, perhaps the continuing process of die-back, which is a precondition of fruitfulness”
Rev Gordon Bannon

All they could do

All they could do, the gospel writers,
and those who crafted the stories before them
was to grope in wonder after some words.
Words to convey even a shining edge
of the full mystery.
So they wrote of angels shimmering with white,
and an earthquake that shook the very foundations
of both earth and heaven;
and of the surprise of a disappearing man
who could not be grasped
but who was strangely with them still.
Of the impossibly empty space
that death had once occupied.
They told of a stone,
the removal of which would have required a forklift,
that had apparently been flicked away by a divine finger.
They wrote of unsurpassed joy and of hope
that had been conjured ex nihilo.
They told of embracings,
of illuminating journeys and intimate dinings,
of unexpected recognitions
and equally bewildering disappearances.
Their stories included the elements of honest fear,
uncertainty, and disbelief;
as if to underline the wonder.
One who they had loved,
in whom the Divine One appeared to dwell,
and who, they all attested, had been killed;
was somehow present. Living. Decades on.
All they could do was grope in the diminished darkness,
and hope to find some words.

© Ken Rookes

Do not seek death

Do not seek death,
Death will find you.
But seek the road
That makes death a fulfilment.

Dag Hammarskjöld

Good Friday shame

On the first Good Friday,
so named some years later by people of faith;
the darkness was faced and defied;
and, in the days following, banished.
Well, not quite.
But a candle glimmer was ignited,
a hopeful something that later torrents of blackness
have never quite extinguished.
Otherwise women and men of faith
could never have survived.
Not the shame of religious wars,
diverse conquests and killing fields,
or clerical abuse of children.
And certainly not the off-shore detention camps
where human suffering and despair
are made the wretched by-product
of the vile and fearful politics
practised by some
for whom Good Friday pretends to be a sacred day.
And still women and men of faith survive
to maintain their outrageous claim:
that the darkness has somehow been diminished,
at least a little.

© Ken Rookes 2014

Monday, April 14, 2014

Resurrection life around us

I travel regularly along Maiden Gully Road, the initial path of the fire on Black Saturday. Not long after that a few new leaves sprouted on some trees. Some came straight out of the black trunks. But there looked to be little hope for many of the trees. Months passed before surprisingly, some started shooting from the base. Many that were surely dead sprang back to life. Some never made it, though. The damage had been too great. But in their place new trees are now growing. New life has come through-out the area in different ways. Sometimes species which had been crowded out, have a new chance of life after such an event.
Linda had a keen interest in nature and she also loved cross stitch. Even so, she was taken aback when Edna said, “I want to commission you to do a cross stitch picture for the new vestry when the church is redeveloped. The subject is to be “Resurrection Life”. It needs to have the cross with a dove flying above it but I’ll leave the actual design to you.”
Linda was overwhelmed. She had never worked out her own pattern and felt panic rising in her. She franticly searched through the many books of patterns she had to no avail. But, surprisingly, as the days passed thoughts came. She would do the cross as if it had taken root and started growing, a bit like trees did after fire. She found a heavily lopped tree in the Anglican churchyard and an espaliered one elsewhere that she could use to model the cross on. She found a dove in a book of embroidery for weddings. And she set these against a hill covered in wildflowers.
Edna and all who saw it were delighted with the results. Linda said that the funny thing was that in some way, it brought new life to her. It enabled her to be creative in a way she had never dreamt she could be. Edna had glimpsed the possibility of life for Linda and had dared to give her the opportunity for that life to spring up.
Today we are celebrating resurrection life. It is more than just repeating stories about what happened two thousand years ago. If that is all we can say and is all we are interested in, then the resurrection does not mean much. Its meaning is in the new life which has come in so many countless  ways through the centuries since and the relationships with Christ that have flourished in it.

The truth is, we can’t explain the resurrection and never will be able to know exactly what happened. To worry about how it happened for Jesus is to miss the point. The actual death had changed Jesus. He was not the same as before. His friends failed to recognise him. What matters now, as it did then, is for us to know that Christ is alive and active in our lives now and that we see the possibility of resurrection in life around us and encourage it in every possible way.
Julianne Parker

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


The prophet had him riding a donkey,
so, too, the gospel writers.
A sign, they say, of his humility,
that he was a normal bloke,
like the rest of us.
The god-man, entering the city in triumph
on the back of an ass.
If he came today, in triumph or otherwise,
perhaps he might look beyond the donkey.
Just maybe he might employ the pantomime horse;
in recognition of all the human madness,
and the apparent foolishness
of this strange divine plan.
Jesus the clown;
he’d laugh at himself,
choosing the rear end,
making Peter or James take the head.
Look, here is your God,
laugh at him / her;
and learn to laugh at yourselves while you are at it.
Remember, in laughter there are also tears;
in laughter there is truth.

© Ken Rookes 2014

Monday, April 7, 2014

Passion Sunday - ready for resurrection life!

Uniquely in our Lectionary, we have such a choice for this Sunday. We can celebrate this day as either Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday. We may prefer Palm Sunday because it is a happy day. Passion Sunday calls us to confront the pain and suffering of the Crucifixion and in the world.
We are not called to the pursuit of happiness in following Christ.  Joy is a Fruit of the Holy Spirit living in us. In the Good News Bible, an American interpretation, maybe influenced by their constitution, the word that is “blessed” for us is translated as happiness. But “blessed” and “happy” are not synonymous. We can still feel blessed even when we may be suffering. Suffering is part of the human condition. Some suffering comes in following God’s Way. It is usually a result of God’s Way colliding with powerful forces such as self-interest, greed and control. This is the type of suffering Jesus endured.
Some believe we should suffer as penance for our sins. Another form of suffering comes because choosing to do wrong robs us of life. There is pain in guilt and shame. Much suffering is the result of others doing wrong; in seeking power and wealth and failing to care or share, we hurt others. Much suffering is inexplicable and it is painful to live with this. Some comes from so called “acts of God”. We may try to avoid suffering by avoiding the suffering of others and pretending to ourselves it can’t be as bad as people say.
It can be a relief for those suffering to know that others have felt as they are feeling and that it is okay to cry out to God. In the reading from Isaiah 50, the writer has been disgraced, intimidated, bullied and insulted, but is still able to praise God because God helps and strengthens him. The Psalm [31] contains an incredible list. The psalmist laments that his eye, soul, bones and body have wasted away and strength failed because of his misery.  

God doesn't tell us very often to stop complaining. Nor does God tell us to pull our socks up when we are in pain. God is far more likely to invite us to rest and to be gentle with ourselves as God is gentle with us, or to offer us strength to persevere. Suffering shared with God is suffering halved. Let us be honest about agony; that of God, that of others and also that of ourselves. Then we too, can heal and help and ease burdens ready for resurrection life!
Rev Julianne Parker

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Bruce's story

This story of lazarus and the questions that surround it remind me of a friend I had back in my days in Collingwood. Bruce was a man who had Aids and who was angry and yet creative with his anger. I had heard tales of this man who had been a ballet dancer but who now spent his days taking his old falcon into Brunswick st in Fitzroy, and dancing on the roof of the car, stopping every now and then to chat with strangers. One day, out of the blue, he showed up at our little church. He had heard that we were a little different and more accepting than your average church, and he was checking us out. We passed, and he would come whenever he could. He would sit in the circle of our church and have a go at me during my sermon when he disagreed or didn’t understand. He became more and more ill, and at last was no longer able to come to church. I kept visiting him in his Fitzroy flat and watched his body deteriorate before me.
One afternoon I received a phone call from Bruce telling me he needed my help and could I come around. I went to his place and found him in a mess on the floor hardly able to move. I helped him clean up as much as I could, and stayed with him until the ambulance arrived and they took him to hospital for the last time.
He died the next day and I helped to plan his funeral. It was one of the best funerals I have ever been to. It was full of hope and his wonderful defiant story and we carried his coffin out to the rousing song “Spirit in the sky” and I cried, which I don’t do often at funerals or any time. I’m crying as I write, not for sadness, but from the sheer gutsiness of it all. For the hope that springs in surprise from despair and pain.

His resurrection began before he died and everyone around him saw it. When he set his cup down it was empty. There was nothing wasted, nothing left over to spill or lament. He died clean as a whistle, and several of the people who travelled with him on the difficult road of his illness had their view of death forever altered. Having watched him do it, they believe they can do it too.

God and grief

“Lord, I believe, but help thou my unbelief, because I still do not want to die. I believe Jesus has power to raise the dead, only I do not want him practicing on me. I want a God who will cut my losses and cushion my failures, a God who will grant me a life free from pain. I want a God who will rescue me from death, who will delete it from the human experience and find another way to operate.

What I, what all of us, have instead is a God who resurrects us from the dead, putting an end to it by working through it instead of around it--creating life in the midst of grief, creating love in the midst of loss, creating faith in the midst of despair--resurrecting us from our big and little deaths, showing us by his own example that the only road to Easter morning runs smack through Good Friday.”

 Barbara Brown Taylor

Doctor know best

There's an old irish tale that Paddy fell from the scaffolding on a construction job and was knocked unconscious. Mike ran for the doctor. The doctor came, he took one look at Paddy and said, "He's dead." Just then Paddy came to and heard what the doctor was saying. Bleary-eyed, he said, "I ain't dead." "Lay down, Paddy," said Mike. "Lay down. The doctor knows best."

The mystery of Lazarus

The story of Lazarus is a mystery. Whatever Jesus did for him, he was not mentioned again in Scripture. What they witnessed failed to prepare the disciples for the rising of Jesus. If they had already witnessed a literal bringing back to life of Lazarus, why were they so surprised by Jesus?
It is much easier to look at the reading from Ezekiel. Things seen in visions are more likely to be metaphoric. We are not expected to literally believe that a great army of dried bones became alive, only that this symbolises the promise of God for the future of the people. It encourages us.
I was angry with God for not doing for me what Jesus did for Mary and Martha. People said, “You have lost your husband.” I would answer, Oh No! He is not lost. I know exactly where he is in the Naracoorte Cemetery. It is ME who am lost. I don’t know who I am. I wish I could die.” Sure, Jesus wept, but how long for? I wept for years; sometimes from sadness, sometimes from frustration or in anger.
The surprising thing was that it was me who came back to life. From being certain my life had ended with Ed’s death, it has been an extraordinary journey to life. It is my dried up bones that have had flesh put back on them and life breathed into them. The variety of things I have experienced has been immense. The journey from being the wife of a farmer in the Bangham Scrub to Bendigo has been rich and varied, immensely sad and ecstatically happy, incredibly interesting, sometimes troubling and painful but never dull.
This has in no small part, been due to coming to see God differently and as that happened I began to see others and myself differently. And It is not over yet. Romans 8:11 says, “God who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through God’s Spirit that lives in you.” It is also about seeing the Bible and stories contained in it, differently. I no longer need to cling on to it being literally true with grim death. Expanded understandings have been humbling, exciting and not always clarifying. I have learnt it is okay to say, we really don’t know what happened. We can only speculate and pray that if we have it wrong, God will help us to see it differently.

So what happened that day back there, two thousand years ago in Judea? I have no idea. What I do know is that given the opportunity, God weeps for a chance put flesh on our dried out bones and breathe life into our aching bodies. But be aware. It will be an amazing experience as I am sure, many of you already know.
Rev Julianne Parker

The storm

Haiku of stillness After a long day telling stories, parables, Jesus needs a break. Suggests a boat trip. Let us cross the lake; ...