Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Jesus of the Scars

This poem by Edward Shillito was first published in Jesus of the Scars, and Other Poems, a volume that appeared shortly after World War 1.
If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
      Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow;
      We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
      In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
      Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.

If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
      Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,
      Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
      They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds speak;
      And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

Cited in William Temple, Readings in St. John’s Gospel (London: Macmillan, 1949), 385; John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Leicester: IVP, 1986), 337; D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 170; Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 1175.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Ezekiel 37 and the ministry of Jesus

Ezekiel's famous vision of the dry bones can be read as anticipating that the ministry of the Son of Man would have two phases. In The Rhetorical Function of the Book of Ezekiel (SVT 76; Leiden: Brill, 1999) I argued that it is not merely for rhetorical effect that the bones are at first only re-constituted with a second act of prophesying required for the bodies to come to life and to stand up as a great army. Ezekiel 37 reflects the belief that it would take more than one generation for Ezekiel's prophecies to have their full effect. Within the first generation, during Ezekiel's oral ministry, the prophet gathers the community around him but without changing hearts and minds (see Ezekiel 33:31-32). This is not success; it is not failure either. It is a first step but more is required. In book form the prophetic word will give life to a future generation (see pages 199-209 for the detailed argument).

This can be related to different ways of hearing God's word. In many synagogues and churches today the reading and hearing of Scripture serves community cohesion, gathering people around a tradition. This is good but not the same as communities receiving life in the hearing of Scripture and so becoming a mighty force to be reckoned with.

Acts 1 tells us that during the forty days following his resurrection Jesus continued to speak with his disciples about the kingdom of God. His ministry prior to the ascension can be summed up as a re-constitution of the people of God, symbolised in the election of twelve disciples. This is completed by the replacement of Judas by Matthias. But the Gospels also show us that Jesus's disciples continually failed to "get it" and so they may remind us of bones coming together, bone to its bone, with flesh and sinews on them - but as yet without the breath of life.

The breath/Spirit is of course given at Pentecost which turns the disciples into a force to be reckoned with, no longer just gathered around Jesus but a people on fire with a mission. This time the major second step takes place within the same generation but similar to Ezekiel's, the ministry of Jesus can be divided in a first phase which focused on gathering and re-constituting God's people around the prophet and a second phase during which the wind/Spirit brings life to the people of God once the prophet has been taken out of sight.

Both movements, the gathering around Christ in word and sacrament, and the sending out to the ends of the earth, are still still important within the church. The second cannot truly happen without the first; the first is not enough without the second.

Monday, 15 May 2017

On St Matthias Day

O the promise of God’s presence
spurned as greed led to contempt
and to the great revocation
and to death.

One made God his chosen portion,
to do God’s will his daily bread.
Full of delight in all God’s people
he will not be held by death.

O the horror of being hurled away,
whirled round and round, thrust down,
vocation taken away.
Despair cuts out a tomb –

or is cut off on the holy hill,
pegged to the uncorrupt one
who fastened to the cross
draws all people to himself.

“The promise is for you,
for your children, and for all who are far away.”
It is for the fullness of God’s people,
as Matthias testifies today.

With Jesus from the beginning,
twice he saw him taken away,
now a witness of the resurrection,
and of the great re-vocation.

Called to abide in God’s presence,
called to remain faithful to the end,
called to be friends of Jesus,
and called to bear fruit that will last.

1 Samuel 2.27-35; Acts 2.37-47; Psalm 16; Isaiah 22.15-25; Psalm 15; Acts 1.15-26; John 15.9-17

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Martin Luther on Evening Wolves

From his Lectures on Habakkuk, discussing the translation of Habakkuk 1:8.

The Latin Text (1525)
There is a difference of opinion among the linguists whether it ought to be translated “evening wolves” or “wolves of the desert.” Jerome translated “evening wolves,” influenced by this line of reasoning: Since evening wolves have suffered hunger throughout the day, they attack a flock more viciously than other wolves do, and they do not leave until they have filled themselves. Who does not see that such an interpretation is weak? Therefore I prefer to adopt the other interpretation, so I translate “wolves of the desert,” that is, wolves that are fierce and untamed.

The German Text (1526)
“The Hebrew letters admit either...I believe that these are evening wolves. I think that this means to say that wolves, which are rapacious, ravenous, murderous beasts by nature, are far more so in the evening because they have not roamed about during the day and their hunger looks to the evening. Therefore the term “evening wolves” is practically synonymous with “hungry wolves” who have not eaten for a long time.

Luther's Works, Volume 19: Lectures on the Minor Prophets II (Jonah, Habakkuk), translated by Charles D. Froehlich, edited by Hilton C. Oswald (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1974), 112-113, 170.