These ‘interesting times’ of great disruption and uncertainty provide no shortage of challenge and angst, and the church is by no means immune. However, even with these ongoing troubles we have a great hope that we can turn and cling to. Drawing upon this hope the faculty of Trinity College Theological School will be assembling a series of meditations and reflections, which will be added to each week. We pray that these will draw you closer into the hope which we have received.
Meditation 4: Confidence in Times of Uncertainty
Edvard Munch (1863–1944), The Scream, 1893
The Revd Dr Gary Heard (Thursday 2 April)
How’s your blood pressure?
COVID-19 is leading to lock-downs the likes of which we have not seen in generations.
The share market is taking everyone on a downward spiral that not even the scariest amusement park ride can emulate.
The economy seems to be seeking refuge in the subsoil.
Not only have spectators been locked out of AFL games, the season has been put on hold at least until the end of May, while almost all professional, amateur and social sport has been cancelled.
And… dare I ask how your toilet paper supplies are holding up?
Fear is a powerful emotion. It has the capacity to destroy rationality, destroying our ability to think clearly and make sensible decisions. In fact, fear is often scarier than reality, as the power of our imaginations is immense.
It is interesting then that the most common command in the Bible – both Testaments – is “Fear Not,” appearing over 200 times. The command is not a “stick your head in the sand” approach, but one which is attached to a promise: “For I am with you,” says the Lord.
Of course, there are pressures upon us that we have not seen before. The unknowns which attach the challenges do raise significant questions for different people. When the disciples (experienced fishermen) began to fear for their lives as waves swamped their boat on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus asked them, “Where is your faith?”
It is a good question… in what is our trust? When all was said and done, Job reached that point of acceptance and trust: “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2) Job knew that God’s purposes were good, and therefore could trust God in the midst of his difficulties. Can we?
Of course, this does not rule out the responsibility we have to be sensible in our actions and responses, which is why so many of us are now isolated at home. While we may be physically distanced, let’s work hard to keep connected with one another, to keep our spirits encouraged!
Meditation 3: Long-Distance Worship - An Idea From The Rabbis
Torah niche at Dura Dura Europos synagogue
The Revd Dr Fergus King (Monday 30 March)
Over the centuries, the logistical issues of participating in worship exercised the Jewish ancestors of our faith. Their understanding that accessible Scriptures were needed led to the translation of the Jewish Scriptures into Greek, so that those unfamiliar with Hebrew might hear the sacred texts. This habit would enter and remain within Christian missional practice.
Worship centred on the Temple was more problematic. It was difficult for Jews who lived far from Jerusalem to attend the feasts of the Calendar. How might they retain faithful observance? Some thought building other Temples was an alternative. This was seen in the division of Judah and Israel which led to the separation of Jewish and Samaritan practice. Others attempted to build Jewish Temples in Egypt at places like Elephantine and Leontopolis. Compared to the Jerusalem Temple, such places had relatively short lives. The extant Jewish writings tend also to portray them as irregularities.
More acceptable was the pattern which emerged within Judaism, and permitted the survival of the Jewish faith without a Temple, after its destruction by the Romans in 70CE. This pattern goes by two names: “spiritualisation” or “sacrificialisation”. It is basically this. Recognising that it was impossible to get to Jerusalem for every festival, and rejecting the possibility of alternative temples, Jews in the Diaspora were of a mind that gathering together to read the rituals for any given festival was as good as getting to the Temple itself. So, they would meet, read the relevant passages from the Torah, and so fulfil their obligations. This practice enabled Judaism to survive and evolve beyond the tragic events of history, and the continuation of devotion to God.
Whilst not facing the destruction of a Temple which will be permanent, we today face a situation when, like the Diaspora Jews of old, we may simply not be able to gather in our accustomed spaces and worship in our traditional ways. When this is our predicament, we might learn from their example. We might read the texts from our Scriptures which relate to the Eucharist which we are, for the moment, unable to celebrate, and in so doing have at least some “spiritualised” or “sacrificialised” time for God.
We might do worse than read one or more from the following:
- 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
- Mark 14:12-25
- Matthew 26:17-29
- Luke 22:7-38
- John 6:1-71
- John 13:1-17:26 (ironically, the Last Supper with little mention of the Supper)
- Hebrews 7:1-10:18
As we do so, we might usefully reflect on what we are missing, so that, when we gather again to break the bread, we will do so with a new appreciation and fresh sense of gratitude for what we have loved and missed.
Meditation 2: Eucharist and Absence
Caravaggio (1571-1610), The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, 1601-1602
Dr Scott Kirkland (Thursday 26 March)
COVID-19 has brought the frailty and vulnerability of the body into sharp relief. Some have suggested that in the wake of COVID-19 we should consider practices such as virtual Eucharists. I would like to suggest we resist that, and think a bit more about what bodily absence might symbolise.
COVID-19 provides occasion to think about the bodily absence of Christ in productive ways. There's something about the absence of the Eucharist which gives way to a realisation that it is always an act of hope, of anticipation. The Eucharist, however, can be something we take for granted, something we don’t miss until it is gone. The absence of the Eucharist is also indicative of the absence of an ability to meet together in, as, and through the body of Christ. That which binds us together as one body is taken away for a time.
Søren Kierkegaard tells a story of a lover watching the beloved disappear on a ship over the horizon. It is in that moment of absence that love is somehow brought to attention. This is more than not knowing what you have until it’s gone, it is a matter of not knowing what we don’t have in the first place. We don’t have Christ, his body has ascended and we await his coming. The Eucharist is an enactment of this hope.
Meditation 1: Love One Another
Paul Klee (1879-1940), The Lamb, 1920
The Revd Dr Chris Porter (Monday 23 March)
In a society which already experiences so much social isolation—that is only exacerbated by social media—the idea of churches being forced to cease to gather together can feel absolutely heart rending. In response some have clung to the encouragement of continuing to meet together in Hebrews 10:25. However, in doing so I fear the encouragement towards love for neighbour in 10:24 may be completely nullified.
Throughout the Gospels we see three commands from Jesus: Love God, Love Neighbour and Love One-another. These three loves derive from one another, an intertwined unity. We are called to love God, which flows out in love for neighbours and each other. Love of neighbour is only possible by loving God. Similarly, we are called to love one another, but we can only do that on the basis of loving God and neighbour. But in the Gospels only one of these would have been novel, the new commandment of John 13:34 – to love one another. In the upper room before the Passover of His passion Jesus is seeking to comfort his disciples in the light of his departure from them. So, in addition to loving God and loving neighbour, He makes explicit what we presume to be implicit: loving one another.
This love for each other is demonstrated by Jesus—as he makes clear in John 15—in laying down His life for His friends. But this is also what he calls his disciples to emulate, to obey his command of loving one another. This is the tension that we do, and should, feel. The tension of wanting to love and encourage each other in gathering together around Word and Sacrament but knowing that this is likely to actually be un-loving for members of our in-Christ family. Knowing that what encourages us in meeting and partaking of the sacraments together may be a source of sickness or a knell for others. Here we can follow Jesus’ command, and lay down our own desires in order that we can lift up each other’s life. Knowing throughout that others are doing the same for us.
Indeed, it is by this self-giving up that we can best love each other. By this self-denial we can uphold others who are vulnerable. By this self-limiting and eschewing our own preferences everyone will know that we are Jesus’ disciples; … if we have love for one another.