Faith Meets World

Reflections on faith in a messed-up but beautiful world

Category: Narrative (Page 1 of 2)

Repost: A new day

This post was first published in April 2014. It is the concluding part in a three-part series. You can find the first two parts here and here.

New dayIt is another morning, this time far from the hustle and bustle of the city. Uncertain of what the future held, we had gravitated back to the comfortable familiarity of Galilee. Once here, not knowing what else to do, it had not been long before we were back in our boats.

We spent the whole of last night trawling the lake, and came up with nothing to show for it. And then, just as we were drawing in the nets and preparing to come in, he called out from the shore and told us to try the other side of the boat. Now, the bulging net lies on the ground beside the boat, and we have just finished a hearty breakfast of fish and bread. A breakfast cooked and served to us by him.

Having got up to begin cleaning away the remains of breakfast, I find myself alone with him, a few yards away from the others. This is the third time I’ve seen him since he rose, but the first time we’ve been face to face. Although I am close enough that I could reach out my hand and touch him, something holds me back – there is a distance between us that cannot be bridged by mere touch. There is no doubt in my mind that this Jesus who stands before me now is the very same man I saw die a criminal’s death; God has raised him to new life, just as he said would happen. Which means I cannot escape the conclusion that everything he said about himself is true, that he really is the Messiah, the chosen one, the Son of Man who is Son of God. This – though it defies all logic and human experience – this I can accept, for there are no alternatives that remotely explain the facts.

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Repost: Everything has changed – An Easter Sunday meditation

[This post was first published in April 2014. It is the second post in a three-part series. You can find the first part here; the concluding part will follow in a few days.]

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo much has happened in the past week. It seems like only yesterday that we walked triumphantly into Jerusalem on a carpet of palm leaves, our emotions high as the crowd chanted “Hosanna!” None of us could have predicted what would unfold only a few hours later. And yet, looking back, it all seems so clear, and I wonder how I could have failed to see everything he so carefully explained and warned us about. I suppose there are some things you have to experience before you can really understand them. I tried so hard to understand – I wanted to be the one who understood better than anyone – but, as so often, it was in my head that I tried to work it all out and put it all together; it took the furnace of experience to shatter my delusions and finally allow my stubborn, wavering heart to see what had been in front of me all along.

*  *  *  *  *

Never has a sabbath night been so long and so bleak. After he finally let go of life – from the set of his jaw and the look in his eyes, it was almost as though he and he alone decided exactly when it should end – I could not bring myself to stay and watch the morbid proceedings that would inevitably follow. I left that hill in a daze, not knowing who or where I was any more, and not even thinking about where I was going. I stumbled in the darkness of my thoughts even as the sky blackened and the heavens opened; it was as if heaven itself was appalled at the events of that day, and the great drops that fell to the baked earth were the very tears of God.

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Repost: The morning after – a Holy Saturday meditation

[This post was first published in April 2014.]

Dead JesusDeath.

Death hangs heavy in the air. I can smell it, I can feel its oppressive weight, I can taste its cloying, bitter taste in my throat. At this moment, I can see and feel little else; death is everything and everywhere.

The night has seemed to last forever, the agony of regret my only companion. Now, from the shadowy corner where I sit, my knees drawn up to my chest and my head down, I hear stirrings of life as people begin to wake and prepare to go about a new day. The city cares nothing for yesterday or for my sorrow; it presses ahead, resolute and impassive. Life goes on, but not for me. Death is the place I now inhabit.

Yesterday…

No. I try to keep my mind wrapped in the relative safety of today, where all is dark and numb. Yet at the same time some awful compulsion drives me to relive those terrible hours, the way that a high, exposed cliff dares you to peer over the edge, knowing you could plunge to your doom but unable to resist the magnetic draw of the yawning chasm beneath.

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Repost: A new day

This post was first published in April 2014. It follows on from previous posts here and here.

New day

It is another morning, this time far from the hustle and bustle of the city. Uncertain of what the future held, we had gravitated back to the comfortable familiarity of Galilee. Once here, not knowing what else to do, it had not been long before we were back in our boats.

We spent the whole of last night trawling the lake, and came up with nothing to show for it. And then, just as we were drawing in the nets and preparing to come in, he called out from the shore and told us to try the other side of the boat. Now, the bulging net lies on the ground beside the boat, and we have just finished a hearty breakfast of fish and bread. A breakfast cooked and served to us by him.

Having got up to begin cleaning away the remains of breakfast, I find myself alone with him, a few yards away from the others. This is the third time I’ve seen him since he rose, but the first time we’ve been face to face. Although I am close enough that I could reach out my hand and touch him, something holds me back – there is a distance between us that cannot be bridged by mere touch. There is no doubt in my mind that this Jesus who stands before me now is the very same man I saw die a criminal’s death; God has raised him to new life, just as he said would happen. Which means I cannot escape the conclusion that everything he said about himself is true, that he really is the Messiah, the chosen one, the Son of Man who is Son of God. This – though it defies all logic and human experience – this I can accept, for there are no alternatives that remotely explain the facts.

But there is something I cannot accept, something I cannot bring myself to consider. Whatever this risen king has in store, whatever the next chapter in this strange story might be, I cannot see how I could possibly deserve a place in it. I am glad he is alive, I am glad to know he is the chosen one of God, but I know I have surely disqualified myself from any further role in his plans. He may have triumphed over the grave, but I am left undone by my pride, my cowardice and my sin, forever condemned to look on from the sidelines. What further use could he have for me, now that I’ve shown him and everyone else that all my gallant words were nothing but empty rhetoric?

He looks over at the others, then back at me. “Simon”, he says, and his use of the name my father gave me somehow cuts through my pretence, “Simon, do you love me more than these?” I shuffle my feet, wanting to look away, but his eyes will not release me. I try to sound as earnest as I can: “Yes, Master, you know I love you”. “Feed my lambs”, comes the reply.

I stand there awkwardly, trying to make some sense of this last comment, when he again looks me in the eye and asks, “Simon, do you love me?” A sudden stab of anger and pain rises up inside me: the anger of his not believing me and the pain of knowing that I am a liar, that I denied him when he needed me most; how can I expect him to believe me now? Yet, still wanting to play the part and save face, I repeat my answer: “Yes, Master, you know I love you”. This time, he tells me to feed his sheep.

By now I am teetering on the edge of a precipice, my emotions threatening to wrest control from me. I am desperately trying to mask my inner turmoil, concentrating on hiding the trembling in my hands. But he has seen it, and he reaches out and gently takes my hand in his. As he once more looks me in the eyes, everything else fades and the whole world is reduced to this moment, this place, the two of us. “Simon”, he asks again, his voice tender, and it is as though his eyes reach deep into my soul, “Simon, do you love me?”

Before I can answer, the wall I have built around my emotions begins to crack, and I feel the hot sting of tears on my cheek. “Master”, I reply, and this time my eyes are pleading with his, I am begging him to believe me, “Master, you know everything there is to know. You have to know that I love you”.

Without warning, it all comes flooding back, everything I did that fateful night, and with it my anger, my fear and my wretchedness. I remember my hurt and my offence when he told me I would deny him, and I feel the burning shame of my failure. Then suddenly, with bell-like clarity, I hear again the words he spoke to me at the table earlier that same evening: “I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail. So when you’ve repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”

“Feed my sheep”, he says again, gently squeezing my hand. And in that moment, something passes between us and I know that he foresaw even this, that he knew all along that I, his strongest supporter and staunchest ally, would fail him utterly. It dawns on me that, just as I denied him three times, I have now told him three times that I love him; it is as though he was determined to prove to me that the final word about me was not spoken on that dreadful night.

We remain there a few moments longer, and as we talk, I realise that the chasm between us has gone and I have nothing to hide. He does not have to tell me I am forgiven; I simply know that my guilt has been washed away, buried with him in that cold tomb and left there when he rose again. And I understand for the first time this freedom of which he has so often spoken: the freedom of knowing that none of this depends on me, that it has all been done and taken care of in spite of me, and that I no longer have to run from him, from God, from others, or from myself.

I breathe in the cool, fresh morning air as we walk back to the others. A new day has begun.

[ Image: Sean MacEntee ]

Everything has changed: an Easter Sunday meditation

This post was first published on Easter Sunday 2013. It follows on from my Holy Saturday meditation here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo much has happened in the past week. It seems like only yesterday that we walked triumphantly into Jerusalem on a carpet of palm leaves, our emotions high as the crowd chanted “Hosanna!” None of us could have predicted what would unfold only a few hours later. And yet, looking back, it all seems so clear, and I wonder how I could have failed to see everything he so carefully explained and warned us about. I suppose there are some things you have to experience before you can really understand them. I tried so hard to understand – I wanted to be the one who understood better than anyone – but, as so often, it was in my head that I tried to work it all out and put it all together; it took the furnace of experience to shatter my delusions and finally allow my stubborn, wavering heart to see what had been in front of me all along.

*  *  *  *  *

Never has a sabbath night been so long and so bleak. After he finally let go of life – from the set of his jaw and the look in his eyes, it was almost as though he and he alone decided exactly when it should end – I could not bring myself to stay and watch the morbid proceedings that would inevitably follow. I left that hill in a daze, not knowing who or where I was any more, and not even thinking about where I was going. I stumbled in the darkness of my thoughts even as the sky blackened and the heavens opened; it was as if heaven itself was appalled at the events of that day, and the great drops that fell to the baked earth were the very tears of God.

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The morning after – A Holy Saturday meditation

(This post was first published on Holy Saturday 2014.)

Dead JesusDeath.

Death hangs heavy in the air. I can smell it, I can feel its oppressive weight, I can taste its cloying, bitter taste in my throat. At this moment, I can see and feel little else; death is everything and everywhere.

The night has seemed to last forever, the agony of regret my only companion. Now, from the shadowy corner where I sit, my knees drawn up to my chest and my head down, I hear stirrings of life as people begin to wake and prepare to go about a new day. The city cares nothing for yesterday or for my sorrow; it presses ahead, resolute and impassive. Life goes on, but not for me. Death is the place I now inhabit.

Yesterday…

No. I try to keep my mind wrapped in the relative safety of today, where all is dark and numb. Yet at the same time some awful compulsion drives me to relive those terrible hours, the way that a high, exposed cliff dares you to peer over the edge, knowing you could plunge to your doom but unable to resist the magnetic draw of the yawning chasm beneath.

How could so much come to pass in one day? And how could so much – so many hopes, dreams and expectations – be undone in a few short hours? My mind screams that it can’t be true, there must be some mistake, you need to wake up and maybe then this nightmare will end. And yet, in some dark corner of my consciousness, another voice taunts, You should have known this was coming. It was clear enough for those who had eyes to see and ears to hear. But I only saw and heard what I wanted to; even when the inevitable truth was staring me in the face, I would not, could not let myself see it. And now… now everything lies in ruins, every flicker of hope and light snuffed out by the cold hand of Death. I can almost hear him cackling faintly, somewhere off in the gloom beyond the edge of sight, amused that anyone could think this might end any other way, that anyone could forget that he always has the final say.

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Justice?

JusticeToday I thought I’d try a little thought experiment. Imagine with me…

———————————-

A man had two sons. The first was an ideal son – the kind of son any parent might want to have. I don’t mean in terms of appearance or academic achievement; I mean in temperament and behaviour. Right from being a toddler, he was even-tempered and easy-going. His parents couldn’t remember ever having to raise their voices to him or discipline him. Everyone agreed that he was always a pleasure to be around and a credit to his family. In short, the perfect son.

The second son, however, was a very different kettle of fish. As soon as he was old enough to be mobile, he seemed to find ways to get into mischief and make mayhem. At school, he quickly gained a reputation for rabble-rousing, fighting and generally being obnoxious. His parents showed him just as much love and affection as they did his older brother, but for some reason he just seemed to throw it back in their faces. At some point he began to do drugs, and from there moved into petty theft. The downward spiral continued, and he ended up spending a year in prison after being caught breaking and entering.

The contrast between these two sons could not have been more stark. Both came from the same loving family, both were given the same benefits and opportunities; yet while one grew in wisdom and stature, the other veered off the rails and seemed determined to blow up his life. And it seemed that the more the parents tried to reach out and help their wayward younger son, the more he resented them and their affection. By the time he received his prison sentence, he could barely stand speaking to them or even being in the same room with them.

At last came the day when the reckless younger son was released from prison. He had had plenty of time to think about his many sins, and was sincerely sorry. With no money, no friends and nowhere else to go, he returned to his parents’ house, hoping against hope that he might be able to convince his father to give him another chance.

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