Max Young writes

Barabbas—a Man of Mystery

In last month’s magazine, Peter Foot wrote, “seeing several films on the death and resurrection of Jesus, . . . apart from Jesus, two people, Pontius Pilate and Barabbas, stood out.”. Historians have found plenty of documentary evidence of Pilate and his life, but who was Barabbas?

There is a great deal of mystery about this man. There were some rather strange similarities between Barabbas and Jesus. It starts with their names. Early copies of Matthew’s gospel called the prisoner “Jesus bar Abbas”. The phrase “bar Abbas” can be translated as “son of the Father”, which we’ve heard of applied to Christ because he occasionally used the word “Abba” (father) in talking about or to God. So it’s quite a short step to the name Barabbas by dropping “Jesus” and joining the remaining names into one.

Evidence to support this name-changing involves the scholar, Origen, who felt that he didn’t want Christ’s name associated with a criminal for reverential reasons. He also suggested that the name could have been added in to Barabbas’ name by a heretic.

And another thing, one could say that they were both examples of rebel leaders. Mark has Barabbas imprisoned for taking part in a revolt, and his popularity with the crowd suggests that he had been one of its leaders. But if we look at these men through Roman eyes, Jesus could have looked like a rebel leader too. Plenty of people were calling him the Messiah. Surely this would involve the overthrow of the existing government, wouldn’t it? It wouldn’t take too much to get them to cause trouble, after all didn’t he stage a violent protest with his attack on the Temple merchants?

Are these similarities too close for comfort? Are there other explanations for these similarities? There is a theory that Jesus Christ was the imprisoned rebel leader with Barabbas invented so as to be a carbon-copy to cover the violent aspects. This could be to counter any story that Jesus Christ had tried to organise any anti-Roman activities for which he could have been crucified.

In my mind there’s a mite too much speculation in that theory to make it plausible. But Jesus was a common name in those days in Palestine and it could be quite likely to have two people of the same name arrested at the same time.

One of the strange things about the story of the Trial is what has been called the ‘Paschal Pardon; the ‘governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted’. Sadly, details of this pardon are only to be found in the four gospels with no supporting evidence in Jewish or Roman historical documents.

But what do the gospels say about this Barabbas? He is called a prisoner in all the gospels other than John who calls him a ‘bandit’. Was he: a convicted prisoner serving his sentence? Or: a criminal recently captured and bound awaiting trial? Matthew calls him a notorious prisoner. Mark and Luke say he was a prisoner who had committed murder during an insurrection. John’s ‘bandit’ is a term used at the time to cover revolutionaries.

There are a couple of points to note. First, if he had been convicted of being a murderer, insurrectionist or revolutionary he would have been summarily and swiftly executed after trial. Second, under Roman Law, the only person who could grant a pardon – a rare occurrence – was the Emperor. So, if Pilate reversed a court decision by pardoning Barabbas he would be, in effect, undermining the Emperor’s authority. From a Roman viewpoint, the whole story seems unlikely since it shows Roman authority (Pontius Pilate, backed by overwhelming military might) being bullied by a small crowd of unarmed civilians into releasing a prisoner condemned to death for insurrection against the Roman Empire. This would have made Pilate a candidate for execution. If Barabbas had merely been captured and was awaiting trial. Pilate could, technically, have released him without trial, but, in my opinion, the release of any murderous insurrectionist would have been considered by Rome as a fatal lack of good judgement.

Are we any farther forward in getting to know Barabbas? Possibly I’ve just muddied the water, anyway we’ve no idea about what happened to Barabbas after his release – I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that he had gone to watch Jesus’ crucifixion and there are apparently some sources to say he was killed later on in another revolt against the Romans.

Max Young

News from the Wisbeys

Dear Friends and Family.

Greetings from Gloucester, UK, where we continue to thank God for the place he has put us. In one of the courses I (Matt) teach as part of the Wycliffe training, I show a video about David Rudisha–the Kenyan long distance runner–and his (now ex) coach, an Irish Catholic priest. Towards the end of the documentary, reflecting on his life and the way he ended up training long distance runners when he originally intended to be a geography teacher, the coach shares this well known saying: “You bloom where you are planted.”

Many times I find myself coming back to this saying and reflecting on its depth, both as an encouragement and a challenge. It is an encouragement to me in the midst of the complex work we’re involved in, that ultimately we can only do what we can do. While at the same time it challenges me to make the most of the place that we’re in, and not waste the opportunities we have around us. I wonder what your reflections are?

Since our last newsletter, Matt has been very busy teaching two classes here in the UK and then travelling to Asia twice, once in May to help coordinate a community of practice workshop in Bangkok and then in June to the Philippines and Cambodia. There is so much we could say about any of these activities but we wanted to focus on the June trip to give a flavour of that time since it ended up being a real encouragement to us in our work.

The June trip had a different slant to usual Asia visits, mainly because on this occasion Matt (together with his colleagues) wasn’t primarily responsible for the activities taking place but instead was acting in much more of a supportive capacity. Firstly, in the Philippines, they were helping a group of NGOs and academic institutions to run a community of practice workshop on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (remember the event we also ran in 2016). It was such an honour to be invited to be a part of this exciting event, seeing such a range of participants come together from all over the country to learn together, building new relationships and strengthening existing ones. Coaching the team as they put on this event themselves, chipping in from our experiences last year, was a really rewarding experience and helped to cement some really special friendships in that context.

Then, after a week in Manila, Matt moved on to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. It has been nearly five years since Matt last visited Cambodia (which, interestingly, was one of the very first places he visited in Asia), and so it was lovely to be back and working again with the wonderful people there. This was made all the more special as he and a colleague were invited by a local NGO to deliver some training for their project management team, again on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Once again it was fantastic to be able to spend a couple of days with the team, exploring together how they might be able to benefit from engaging with the SDGs.

As we said, both these activities were a real encouragement in our work. While it is fantastic to see the way participants engage with the learning events we put on regularly in Thailand, one of the goals of these events has always been to see participants encouraged and equipped to take their knowledge back to their country of work and share it with others. We love to see ideas from the events in Bangkok localised into different contexts and our work multiplied and distributed further afield. Both the activities last month were examples of just this, and they encourage us that the work we are doing, while in many ways only a drop in the ocean of change that is needed, really is rippling out and having an impact. Please join us in giving thanks for this reminder.

In home news, we have been in our current house for almost a year and Levi is coming to the end of his first year of school! Where have the last 12 months gone? We are thankful that he has had a great year and generally loves going to school. Anya continues to love life, particularly when her big brother is around, and Liz is enjoying building new relationships through their various social activities.

We had a lovely week away with family over half term, with both kids LOVING the beach! In May Matt also attended some training with Citizens Advice, and has subsequently started volunteering a couple of days a month with the witness service at the Crown Court. It is great to be able to serve in the local community, even in a very small way. As a couple we have also stepped into a new responsibility with our church here in Gloucester, joining the leadership team. It is a real encouragement to us that despite only being in the city for a little over 3 years we’ve been able to be so involved with the life of the church, benefiting from and (hopefully) contributing to relationships in this place. We give thanks for this real privilege.

Of course, the trade-off for investing in one place is the lack of opportunities we’ve had to see many of you over the last few years. We think of you all often and love to hear your news when you get a chance to share .

Thank you for standing with us and supporting us in this work.

With much love,

Matt, Liz, Levi and Anya

http://wisbeys.blogspot.co.uk

JESUS . . . “Will come again in glory . . .” (2) (Exploring the Nicene Creed)

In this article we shall look again at the theme of Christ’s Return, thinking especially about the Glory, the Judgment, and briefly the final unending Kingdom. It is important to link glory and judgment together to see the latter in full meaning.

All through this series I have stressed the sheer magnitude and wonder of Divine Love, in Creation, in Redemption, and in the path of Christian living and holiness; all the collective amazingly generous work of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I haven’t once mentioned the word repentance because I believe the sheer impact of the message of this Divine Love-in-action must prompt change in us and growth in holiness. The repentance, which must be individual free response, will I believe follow almost instinctively. It can’t do any other, or we have simply failed to grasp the message. I think of those priests and others who at the Crucifixion event went away beating their breasts (Luke 23:48)!

The creed is concerned with essential doctrines based on the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” as the New Testament puts it (Jude:v3): not with personal response. Discipleship and Christian living, with trustful prayer, etc, is of course the next vital stage of the Christian Journey. The New Testament beliefs about Jesus, based on the experiences of his first followers, means victory in and through Christ; his, and his eternal Gospel’s triumph, over all sin, evil and death; and the fulfilment of all God’s good purposes for us all. This is the glory.

To give glory to God in prayer and liturgy is to acknowledge all that God is and all that he has done for us with the highest and best gratitude, love and worship that we are capable of. And to live out the glory in Christian loving discipleship. The Hebrew word for glory ‘kavod’ means the radiance of the divine being and nature; God’s kingship, grandeur, beauty and wonder; his very presence and actions; but most of all his saving rescue work for his people.

The Greek word ‘doxa’ lifts these Old Testament divine characteristics to a higher plane. In the New Testament it speaks of the glory of the Eternal Trinity, with supreme emphasis on the work of Christ, the far wider salvation victory he has won for us. So James 2:1 writes “Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory”. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1; Old Testament). “ The Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth and we have beheld his glory”. (John 1:14; New Testament). The final return of Jesus in glory will mean that all this will be seen and experienced with sheer delight, ecstatic happiness and joy, beyond words yet true in the heart of our glorious faith, and so in our hearts too.

The Judgment, essentially means I believe, the putting right by God of everything once wrong. It must involve recognition of human frailty and failure with full honest accountability; and with justice and full human restoration. However, at our level of understanding and our limited human concepts, we cannot fully comprehend the mind and decisions, and the merciful grace of God. In a previous article I wrote this about Christ’s life, teaching, and sacrifice for us: “It was both a rescue operation and a programme of teaching and re-education.

Above all it was to demonstrate, in the clearest possible way, that our Creator God is a God of unconditional, unlimited, generous forgiving Love, not that of a vengeful punishing Father. God’s true, full and best justice would be shown indeed, but in a way that turns upside down the way we see judgment and justice. God would take upon himself the consequences of what sin, evil and wrong can bring about. He would bear our sins and the due punishment himself! The incarnation was a risk of the highest order! It meant that God, out of his sheer infinite love for his world, and for each and every single one of us without exception, would take the risk that his Love might well be misunderstood, derided, rejected, or even worse, just disregarded by apathy or indifference.

All this was the exceedingly costly and high price of sin. And he was prepared to pay it, and did so to the uttermost. This was the price that blinded hearts and minds demanded! It was no purpose or pleasure of the Father to see his only beloved Son humiliated, tortured and crucified as a criminal; he the utterly innocent one, whose only desire and aim ever, was to bring healing and forgiveness, generous care wherever needed, and the highest good for all people”.

To say all this means we dare not treat lightly the sins and terrible wrong doings that we humans are sadly capable of. On the contrary, the more we grasp the fullness of the divine endlessly outpoured Love, the more we see the gravity and appalling consequences of sin, wrong doing and evil. And, that we must change. That we take seriously here and now our choices, responsibilities and actions; how in this present world we live and relate to each other; how we use our personal gifts, and the good world shared with us. For all this is truly to live out the first phase of the great final unending Kingdom; the very kingdom of God ushered in by Christ, and for which we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. We also know that when we do see Jesus at the end of our life’s journey we shall be finally and fully changed into the very likeness of Christ. Note the key passages 1 John 3:1-2, and 1 Corinthians 15:51-54.

So we must try to live as we know we should with Christ as our perfect example and sure aid, never losing sight of the infinite mercy of God, the availability of forgiveness at all times; and the glorious truth that in the end LOVE will triumph and that no one will be lost to the all embracing divine Love (John 6: 39). The story of the prodigal son shows us that the Father is forever looking out for us, receives us back graciously and tenderly, forgives and heals us; and re-clothes us with his own holiness (Luke 15:11-32). Apply this parable to the Judgment, for surely this is what it is all about.

To conclude: the new and final Kingdom will be inexpressibly perfect and wonderful; all beautiful and lovely, unfading and unending; and above all, close to and somehow within the very heavenly life of the Holy Trinity. It will indeed be fantastic, beyond our wildest dreams of happiness, joy and loving. We shall look at it again in the Creed’s closing words when we shall think about our own resurrection and “the life of the world to come”.

To the God of glory be all the glory! Alleluia. Amen.

George Abell

St Bartholomew’s Day

Bartholomew? Isn’t he something to do with hospitals? Look him up and you’ll find he’s mentioned in the New Testament, usually alongside Philip, and in John’s gospel he’s identified as Nathaniel. Legend has it that after the Ascension Bartholomew preached the gospel in India before moving to Greater Armenia (The area between the Caspian and Black Seas). He is said to have been martyred in Albanopolis in Armenia, now known as Kruje some 20 km north of Tirana. In some accounts he was beheaded, but the popular version is that he was flayed alive before being crucified, head downward.

His remains are said to have been given to one of the first churches in the city of Dura-Europos in Syria but later, miraculously, were washed ashore on Lipari a small island to the north of Sicily before being moved to Benevento, 50 km north-east of Naples. Some of the relics were given to Frankfurt, and Canterbury and some to Rome where they were preserved in the basilica of his name. The basilica at some stage inherited an old pagan medical centre, which, over time, made the link between Bartholomew, medicine and hospitals.

But there are other associations. His martyrdom is commemorated on 24th August. On the same day: in 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted killing 15,000; in 410 AD, Rome was overrun by the Visigoths, and in: 1349 AD, the Jews in Mainz were blamed for the Plague and 6,000 were killed.

In 1572, 223 years later, in France came the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre. It started with the murders of the leaders of the Huguenots (French Calvinistic Protestants) ordered by the King Charles IX, but quickly developed into a mob-led bloodbath which left 3,000 dead in Paris and a total of 70,000 killed in all France.

Although the universal Church was later very thankful for the 16th century Reformation, it brought about a horrifying fanaticism and cruelty, all perpetrated in the name of God. The Bartholomew Day Massacre shows some of the tensions that come at times of religious ‘excitement’ and though I can’t imagine any of us killing for our version of the faith, we need to learn from this event because it might affect our own attitudes to some of our more annoying fellow Christians.

We need to be very careful about generalising about people even if we know they are part of what might be a persecuting movement. One of the enemies of the Huguenots, the Duke of Guise, who personally organised the murder of members of their leadership opened his house to the families of local Protestants and gave orders that they were to be treated kindly when under his roof. Some other Catholic leaders enabled other families to escape the butchery, being horrified that what started as a plot to kill only the leaders had turned into wholesale massacre.

To those who planned the event, such lenience shown by leading Catholics was shocking. The Papal Nuncio is said to have reported to the Pope that, “the only one who had acted in the spirit of a Christian and refrained from mercy, was the King; while the other princes, who pretended to be good Catholics and to deserve the favour of the Pope, had striven, one and all, to save as many Huguenots as they could.”

As Vicar Steve told us, we are all involved in mission, and we should be aware that we are handling what is potentially a very dangerous weapon. Although political, social and ethnic elements also feature in the conflicts that trouble our world, we can’t ignore the fact that religious differences are also used as levers to keep the pot of discontent on the boil. This can cause some people to adopt a very uncompromising stance because they feel that what God wants of them must be adhered to at all costs. For this very reason many people are turned away from religious conviction of any kind because they feel that it only fosters division and lack of toleration.

We, who believe that God’s demands are supreme, must also see that convictions about the details of what those demands are, differ greatly among good people in all generations, and so there just has to be moderation in all things. Only so, surely, can the distinction between faith and fanaticism, conviction and bigotry be drawn. Don’t let anyone deride the “liberal values” of toleration, respect for other peoples’ views or the belief in the common humanity that binds us all together. These things can’t be portrayed as ‘wishy-washy’ and motivated only by the desire to have no conflict, and to compromise at all costs; No, that is misrepresentation, because to stand for these values often requires as much courage, and sometimes causes as much conflict, as a stand for any value, when confronted by selfishness or zealotry.

Remember how the commonly accepted association of leadership with domination was reversed in Luke (22: 25-27) by linking it with service?

Can we use the anniversary of one of the awful events of religious cruelty to strengthen our prayers that such events, which keep recurring in our world, do not turn us or others into partisans wanting vengeance or retribution on whole groups of people, or even into generalisers who tar every one of our enemies with the same brush?

Give us all, Father God, a sense of proportion and zeal of moderation!

Max Young

Unexpected Easter Stars

Since Easter, I have found Hollywood most enlightening. Thinking about the Passion, especially about the Resurrection and what it means, I dimly remembered that films tell the story in a variety of ways. Just as reading different versions of the Bible illuminates in ways that a single text version does not always do, so seeing several films on the death and resurrection of Jesus yielded surprises that have been most fruitful.

It has to be said that ‘Biblical’ films take liberties with the main story line: a Bible literalist might easily get annoyed with them but most of the additions just creatively fill the many gaps in the chronology that has come down to us, shedding a slanting light onto the familiar. In all cases, the respect shown for the truth of the story is very direct and real. Among the films I saw, the moral force of the tale lies with those who come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah – despite everything, often to the point of martyrdom.

The Robe (1953) tracks three such conversion experiences. The Greek slave ‘gets it’ immediately, on the first Palm Sunday; later, the high-born Roman lady, finally incensed with Nero’s evil, joins Marcellus, her Roman tribune fiancée, in willingly giving up her life; Marcellus’ personal transformation is accompanied by his own sequence of intelligent observations and questions, all challenging Christian faith.

It is a reminder, today, that apathy, scepticism or hostility towards our faith is not necessarily the product of ignorance or thoughtlessness – or even new. Why would an intelligent, well-educated Roman opt to follow what can easily be seen as a wandering band of illiterates who, with fantastical tales, threatened to negate centuries of success by turning away from the apparently proven gods of progress?

Risen (2016) perhaps does the sceptical questions best – and answers them in the best way possible.

Two people stood out for me in all of the films – Barabbas and Pontius Pilate. Barabbas is sometimes portrayed as a rebel leader of insurgents against Roman rule, a man to whom, one version has it, Judas is fatally drawn as more likely than Jesus to deliver the “messianic” victory over the Roman occupiers – hence the betrayal.

Another version has him killed off after a rumpus as Jesus is dying. But all versions have him personally wondering how it is that Jesus dies in his place. As in scripture, quite literally, Barabbas is the first person of whom it can be said, “Jesus died for him” – that alone makes him of timeless interest.

Perhaps the most thoughtful characterisation is by Antony Quinn in Barabbas (1961). Here, Barabbas starts out as popular, boorish hooligan figure who, as he is released from his dark cell, is confusingly dazzled by seeing Jesus under arrest across the square. He is bewildered and then journeys through spiritual rejection and doubt, finally accepting Jesus as his Saviour, dying in the mass crucifixions Nero orders after torching Rome. This is not the once-and-for-all certainty of conversion through a personal encounter with the risen Jesus, as in Risen, but a slow, painful and lonely pilgrimage, brought to a humble end on his personal cross. Precise biblical veracity it might lack but spiritual depth it has in abundance.

The path taken by Pontius Pilate is, of course, different. The various characterisations of him in the films all have value. Reading the Gospels yields no certainty as to his character or motivation; the films give an interesting range of possibilities:

In Barabbas, Pilate is a superbly confident administrator, unimpressed by either the mob or the temple leaders: · the issue at stake is simply too minor to waste time on. He is intellectually interested in the question of “What is truth?” but rather as a matter for philosophical reflection in the Graeco-Roman tradition.

  • In The Robe, Pilate is a weak and petty man – the supposedly untypical Roman, incompetently responsible for deicide so that “Rome” is not tarnished ever after – carried along by events rather than controlling them, envious of anyone better connected at the Imperial court than himself.
  • In King of Kings, he is a dry lawyer, interested only in definitions of kingdom, jurisdiction and authority, ‘truth’ being what a court determines it to be. Herod Antipas is more his real enemy than the wandering Galilean or Judean subversives.
  • In Risen, Pilate is at the end of his career and cynical; above all, he is frightened by the impending visit of the Emperor Tiberius to Palestine and all else is subsumed by that. Kill, suppress, imprison, cover up: anything for the appearance of order. The ‘missing’ body is of far greater threat to that order than the crucifixion and Pilate acts accordingly.

All these are legitimate interpretations of Pilate from scripture. And what unites them all, in the Gospel accounts and in the films, is the central irony that Pontius Pilate is the first man to proclaim who Jesus was and is. By insisting – from whatever motive – on the sign saying, ‘King of the Jews’ in Latin, Greek and Aramaic, he begins the necessary and never-ending task of global evangelisation.

Films are no kind of replacement for the Gospels, They cannot tell ‘the whole story’; they are a multi-layer filter of selective screenplay, direction and acting, based on Scripture. But in another sense they do tell a ‘whole’ story. In particular, the way the disciples visibly react to Jesus startlingly confirm his humanity. The way we see how the miracles amaze them suggest God working within him. The depiction of the Resurrection in Risen is marvellously well done. Because the films are stories of the story, we see somehow more clearly that his sacrificial coming – to save all humanity – is made possible by Pilate and Barabbas. They are the indispensable men in the Passion story. Judas was another – but that, as they say, is another story.

Peter Foot

Some Thoughts on Mission

The poem “Crossing the Bar” was read and sung at a funeral here in May and it got me thinking of many things, and particularly brought my mind back to when we lived in Branscombe, Devon. There, we used to enjoy sitting out in the garden on a warm summer night when the wind was from the South East because we could hear the sound of the sea on the shingle beach some half a mile away. It was a soothing sound – a kind of audio-massage – de-stressing at times when life was busy.

That sound was mentioned, too, in another poem, Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” where it says, “Listen! you hear the grating roar /Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,/At their return, up the high strand, /Begin, and cease, and then again begin, /With tremulous cadence slow, and bring /The eternal note of sadness in.”But I had forgotten that it goes on to say, “The Sea of Faith /Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore /Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled. /But now I only hear /Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, /Retreating, to the breath /Of the night-wind,/ down the vast edges drear /And naked shingles of the world.

Today we live as Christians in a world from which the tide of faith has withdrawn. So what can we do? Arnold’s lament at the passing of the full tide of religious faith was reflected by my grandson. He enjoys surfing, and for him the outgoing tide meant no more fun. He sat on the beach chuntering away. I told him to be patient and wait for the tide to turn. But for his sister, low tide opened up a fascinating new world in the rock pools – crabs, sea anemones, star fish, razor shells and many other wriggling delights. She was happy in this new world revealed to her and was absorbed for hours.

Thinking back, my grandchildren’s reactions to low tide were like a parable of how the church looks at today’s world.

Are we sitting in Faringdon waiting for the tide to turn, chuntering because the church and faith no longer have the status they once had? Are we hoping for a revival of the past, when it seemed from our full churches that everybody believed? Or, can we realise and recognise that the new world revealed by the retreating tide is just as full of God’s glory and presence as was the old world in which faith played a more overtly prominent part? People in today’s world aren’t the naturally religious animals they apparently once were. So should we stop trying to impose our faith upon people and agree that the Christian faith is a private world-view equally valid with all other world views?

Attractive as this idea may be, it is impossible to hold it and be true to the Gospel. God is present everywhere, already – if he was absent from anything it’d cease to exist. And it would be arrogance to think that it was the work of Christian mission that introduced God into a situation. But the witness of the New Testament is that we must grasp two things: the fact that God is king over all his creation and over his people, and; that we can enter into a loving relationship with him. So I see mission has a double task.

First we have to help people realise that they are loved and cared for by the God and Father of Jesus, and that the acknowledgement of the God who is present everywhere sets people free. The light which has dawned on the people who lived in darkness, is the new situation which has come about through the presence of Jesus. The kingdom of heaven is close at hand, Jesus proclaims that God rules over all. This doesn’t, of course, mean that Jesus thought that God had not always been king, but that, with his coming a new age was dawning in which the true nature of God’s Lordship could be understood and acknowledged.

Secondly, our mission task is to encourage people to enter into a saving relationship with God. Jesus challenged his disciples, and through them, challenges us to be ‘fishers of men’. One of our primary tasks as Christians is to share in the missionary work of the church. And that means not only supporting the work of those who are full-time missionaries, but also recognising that each of us is commissioned by Christ to proclaim the God who is present wherever we live.

But we can’t go on using past methods in today’s world. It is inescapable fact that the sea of faith has ebbed to a new low water mark that is probably unique in history. Just as in the past our overseas missionaries’ first priority was to learn the languages of the people to whom they went, so we must give time and effort to the job of learning. We must learn what makes western secular society tick. We must engage with the underlying philosophies by which our lives are unconsciously shaped, and measure them against the Gospel of Jesus.

As Paul struggled to interpret the Christian message for the Greek speaking world, so we must struggle to interpret the message for our culture.

Max Young

JESUS . . . “Will come again in glory . . .” (Exploring the Nicene Creed)

The Return or re-appearance of Jesus, with the subsequent Judgment and final new unending Kingdom is by far the most difficult section to grasp fully, i.e. with an understanding that accords with every aspect of our Faith, and makes sense of all that we have come to believe about the eternal God. In the next article we shall specially think about the Glory and the Judgment.

In this series we thought first about the One and only true God as Creator and Father. Next his unique and only Son Jesus Christ our Saviour and Redeemer, who lived amongst us giving all for us. Then the Holy Spirit of God who makes all this true and real in our lives just as he did for the very first Christians. That same divine Spirit also reveals the whole plan and purpose of God stretching across all time and eternity. So now we think about the great end goal; the glorious final purpose of God. To sum up: our first two articles dealt with the Christian doctrine of the Creation: “In the beginning God” (Genesis 1); now we look at the grand conclusion, or as we might briefly say, “in the end God”.

So let’s take a well-known verse from Scripture as our starting point. Writing to the Christians at Colossae St Paul makes this key statement of faith and hope: “Your life is hid with Christ in God [and] when Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col 3:3-4). This is short hand of course, and like many passages in the New Testament speaking about the second coming or ‘coming again’ of Jesus (the first of course being his birth), it has been interpreted in differing ways. Moreover it has often been completely misunderstood, and then taught as true doctrine by many people and groups within the church, and outside the church.

The New Testament itself does show development in the meaning of Christ’s teaching and promises about the end times, and with differing emphases. Like much of our holy Faith, it rings real and true in our innermost heart and feelings, yet makes full rational, thought-out understanding very difficult. We are wrestling with crucial truths of faith with limited human language and knowledge; with beliefs that relate to both our natural order and world and the supernatural at the same time. The things of time and eternity intertwine and overlap, so it is far from easy to find adequate words to express these important beliefs; yet are nevertheless totally real and true. We have to hold in balance two different but related perceptions and consciousness of life here and life hereafter.

Hence the important question we now have to consider is this. How far (especially in our scientific and rightly critical era) must we take literally these Second Coming passages in the Gospels and other writings? For plainly they do speak of the physical return of Jesus which every human eye at that time would see. (Matthew 24:30; Revelation 1:7; etc). Indeed, in the early years after Pentecost such a coming again was regarded by most Christians as imminent, even longed for, and might well actually happen in their own life time (Mark 9: 1; 2 Peter 3:8-10; etc). Note also that the Kingdom which Jesus would inaugurate at his return is sometimes expressed as a glorious transformation of this present world order, yet also and most emphatically, is also seen as totally other and beyond our created world. (Revelation 21:1-6; 7:9-17; John 14:1-6; etc).

Jesus did not return soon as first expected. And the church’s prayerful reflective thought in the New Testament era and the following centuries gradually lifted belief in his Return from purely physical and down-to-earth concepts, to something absolutely real, but spiritual; within time indeed, yet transcending time and this created order, linking it to the eternal world of heaven. The new Kingdom is also seen as inexpressibly wonderful and perfect; all beautiful and lovely, unfading and unending; and above all, close to and somehow within the very heavenly life of the Holy Trinity.

About all this, apart from symbolic picture language, we are given little further explanation. And though future in one sense, we are linked to it now by faith and anticipation, looking forward to its complete fulfilment. This is because we are forever “hid with Christ in God”. Our lives are indeed firmly placed in this good world with present urgent tasks of love, but our eyes are also focussed on a far far greater future.

To sum up, after the Ascension and Pentecost Jesus did return again and again in countless good and wonderful ways; and whenever he came all was put right. (We shall think about the final putting right and ultimate judgment in our next article). Supremely this coming again was experienced at its most real and deepest in the Christian Eucharist (1 Corinthians 10: 16-17), in the Fellowship and the Prayer (Acts 2:42; Matthew 18:20), and as God’s nurturing Word of Holy Scripture is opened up (Colossians 3:16-17). All this is the first phase of the great final unending Kingdom: the very Kingdom of God ushered in by Christ for which we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. To this very day Jesus still returns to us, again and again and again.

At some point in time there will be a final Return and a final putting right of all things, though actually when and how that will be, and just what it will be like, we have no detailed knowledge. It is pointless to speculate about it, because we do not know God’s timescale or his full detailed plan, nor the future path of our Universe, or the progress of the human race. We do know however, with firm confidence, that within the sovereignty and loving purposes of the Eternal God everything from the beginning to the end is securely and safely within his hands and power. Nothing but nothing, within the time and space of our great universe of infinite capacity, and everything beyond all this in the heavenly eternal world, is outside that great Saving Love revealed in Jesus. The Incarnation, and the Death and Resurrection of Jesus with the glorious Ascension, confirmed and sealed at Pentecost, are the sure proof and guarantee (Romans 8:31-39).

One day, in God’s good time and merciful purpose, when our human life here is ended, you and I will indeed be taken to our eternal home by Jesus (John 14:3;1 Thessalonians 4:14). We will truly share in the ecstatic mystery of the final glorious return of Christ our King, seeing our beloved Lord face to face in joy forever (1 John 3:2). We will share eternal joy too with countless Angels and Saints (Hebrews 12:22-24; etc); with our loved ones already there, and with Mary the blessed mother of our Incarnate Saviour who at incalculable cost gave himself for us so that all this might be so.

Praise be to him! Amen.

George Abell

The Revd Elizabeth Tyndall

27th June 1930 —13th April 2017

Elizabeth and her late husband, Nick Tyndall, came to live permanently in Faringdon in 1992 after they retired. Elizabeth had been in full-time ministry as a Parish Deacon in Feltham.

On Saturday 16th April 1994 at St Helen’s Church, Abingdon, she was Ordained and Licensed as priest to serve in the Vale of the White Horse. For Elizabeth this was indeed a ‘crowning moment’ and she was one of the first Anglican women priests. It was not the idea of being equal with men that made her rejoice, but rather she felt that women also have a vital role to play in God’s ministry. As a Non-Stipendiary Minister she soon became involved in church life – taking services in All Saints’ and also throughout the Vale. She was the first woman priest to preside at Eaton Hastings and Buscot and was a great help in putting together their first Deanery Review. Members of the church at Coleshill remember her with great affection.

When a group, which focused on contemplative worship and led by Father Leo of the Blessed Hugh, came to an end, Elizabeth re-formed another based on the style of Julian of Norwich.  A thriving Group continued for a number of years and continues today. Elizabeth was also a Committee Member of the National Julian Meetings and valued the experience of silent retreats and often led them.

Elizabeth will always be remembered as a calm, wise and well-loved friend, whose advice and support were always available. Having taken a problem to discuss with her meant there was a way forward after all.  She and Nick ran a welcoming home, with invitations to join them for coffee or a meal or simply to call in for a chat. Family gatherings or holidays were action-packed and always involved board games and, on one occasion, they even hired a horse-drawn caravan as transport!

When Nick died, in 2006, Elizabeth already had dementia; a Pilgrim Friends Society Nursing Home (Framland) in Wantage was chosen for her. Their care and compassion were no less than outstanding, a true Christian witness.  Indeed, they loved her and even quite recently one member of staff was able to make Elizabeth laugh.  It is good to know that Elizabeth still retained her sense of humour.

She is survived by their children, Simon, Sally, Rebecca and Daniel.

Joan Whittaker and Janet Deane

Never Volunteer

You would have thought that in my seven years in a Royal Naval school and over twenty years in the Army I’d have become inured to withstand requests to volunteer for anything. They say the Army teaches soldiers two things: “If in doubt, put down smoke and go left”; and “Never volunteer for anything”.

“Never volunteer” – when asked for volunteers, soldiers become poker-faced, apparently deaf, and learn to reply, without havering or putting up questionable excuses that they regretted their inability to volunteer for this very worthy task but, unfortunately they already had a commitment. (probably confidential – need to know and all that.)

I’m afraid, I failed not to volunteer on a number of occasions – sorry for the double negative! One of them was back in about June last year when Margaret Starr cornered me and said something to the effect that she needed my expertise (flattery) – she had heard me telling of my time as an Army caterer. Within a very short time I found I had accepted the responsibility of assisting to produce a supper meal for sixty in the Barber Rooms at the end of November. And what a production team it was! Margaret was boss with Jeni Summerfield running the kitchen and a goodly team of cooks and helpers. Then Margaret suggested that it made good sense that the diners were given something to take home after the feast and that I should conceive and organise this ‘gift’. But what gift could I give? A number of possibilities crossed my mind – a bottle of water from South West Uganda? a small pack of Cheese straws? a block of chocolate moulded into the WATSAN Logo?, . . . .  or what? It was, I suppose the word ’gift’ that made me think of our God-given gifts or Talents and a very short hop from there to the parable to be found in both Mark and Luke.

But who would put down the ‘seed money’ for this venture? There were a number of possibilities, and happily, the first person I approached said they thought that their contribution would be rather like handing out starters for sourdough loaves, part of it would be combined with more flour and water and made into a loaf – and so the YEAST PROJECT  was born. YE Are So Talented!

Unlike the recipients of the Talents in Mark and Luke’s version of the parable, the Yeast Project recipients were self- selected and as in Luke’s version given the same amount each. The other difference is that to reduce any pressure on recipients, no names or records were kept – the counting was done in the same way as the counting of the collection of envelopes is carried out each Sunday with complete confidentiality. We know there were some big bags of talents from a number of volunteers, including one of £500! We also know that we/they enjoyed the challenge and met it in a number of different ways – using the money to buy blank CD’s and selling recordings of their work – making marmalade, cakes and  biscuits – using the talent to buy sausages and selling ‘bangers and mash’ lunches – giving talks – making sacrifices by gathering funds from what would have been normal expenditure and putting it in the ‘yeast pot’ instead – Running a stall on a Saturday morning – perhaps the envelope fillers could let me know what they did to achieve what was, in the end, a magnificent result.

Yeast Project envelopes counted thus far raised £2,131 – so WATSAN and the fund for Parish Mission in Faringdon will each receive £1,065.

Many, many thanks to all involved in any way with the Yeast Project, your efforts have been magnificently successful. Here’s what we prayed when the Talents were received and blessed on Easter Sunday:

Heavenly Father, we offer these gifts, raised through the talents you have given us, to help with the work of WATSAN in South West Uganda and here in our Mission in this parish. Half these gifts will go where we cannot go and help those we cannot see or reach ourselves in Uganda and; half will be used here with those we can both see and reach. Through these gifts may the ignorant be taught, the thirsty for water and the knowledge of Jesus be satisfied, and your Kingdom increased. We ask your blessing on these gifts, on all those who accepted the challenge to grow their talents and those who supported them – and on the work of WATSAN and our Mission here.  We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Max Young

JESUS . . . Ascended into heaven . . . seated at the Father’s right hand

Exploring the Nicene Creed

The Ascension or return to heaven of Jesus marks the completion of the greatest life ever lived on this earth. There will never be a life like that again: indeed never again will there be need for such a life! Jesus, the eternal Son of God had for some 33 years shared our human life in all its fullness. He had adopted servant-hood for all our sakes, for all people and for all time (See Philippians 2: 5-11). Truly one of us, as the Son of Man, he had made possible the world’s salvation: that we might be “ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven” saved through Christ forever.

This was reconciliation desperately needed with our Father God: restoration of freedom and liberty, and the essential goodness of creation and humanity, marred and damaged by sin and evil. It was achieved only by the unlimited, unconditional, freely given, utterly generous love of Christ our Saviour.

The cost had been very high, nothing less than the shed blood of Jesus in Sacrifice on the Cross. And what seemed the most terrible tragedy ever turned out to be the greatest possible victory over all evil, sin and death. We celebrate that at Eastertide and in a special way at Ascensiontide, and every single day.

Now, having successfully completed the Salvation task Jesus would leave the disciple band he had loved and nurtured. He had patiently trained these men and women for worldwide mission to carry forward to every place the Good News of God’s Redemptive Love. He had left the throne of heaven to achieve all this. The day had come for him to say good bye to those loyal friends firmly promising his continued presence in a new and different dimension. They would have the very presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit; a charisma and dynamism that would continue century after century until the end of time and final second coming of Jesus. We shall think more about this in the next article.

The Ascension also meant the enthronement of Jesus or as this Creed expresses it: “seated at the Father’s right hand”. It’s an assertion of his divine Kingship; of his authority and power over all creation and all people; of his great High Priesthood, and his perpetual intercession for the Church, his body, bride and love. (See Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:8-11; Romans 8: 34; Hebrews 1:3-8; 4:14-16 & 7:25; Revelation 22:17).

The actual manner of that departure is beyond our full comprehension and so difficult to describe. As in the 40 days after his resurrection from death Jesus’ comings and goings though real and tangible were quite mysterious. One minute he was with them, the next he had vanished and was absent. In telling the story of those dramatic days the Gospel writers had only human language to speak of events which were both natural and supernatural at the same time.

In an earlier article I tried to explain how in the Nicene Creed some of its truths are expressed in a down to earth way, i.e. in a concrete or literal manner; but that some truths cannot be expressed that way at all. The statements then have to be much more that of symbol, metaphor or analogy. The Resurrection did happen. The Ascension did happen.

They are truths of sound and coherent faith built on actual events and circumstances seen and witnessed however hard to explain. They conveyed deep vital meaning and transforming power which those first followers of the Lord and countless millions since have experienced, and still do so. Jesus, my Lord and my God; ascended, glorified, reigning; my Saviour, my King and my all.

Again they give worthwhile purpose for living and new hope in an oft confused torn world, and they give greater love for our creator God and for each other. They also carry a very special meaning, pointing to and assuring us of our resurrection in Christ, of our ascension to be with him one day. For these we have real certain foretaste now. The Gospel Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion are real outward signs of this. Baptism confers the gift of new eternal life. Communion nurtures that gift, nourishing it throughout our lives until we see Christ in heaven, sharing also his final return in glory.

To sum up, the Ascension means the presence, not the absence of Jesus. The apostles firmly believed that he would still be with them by his Spirit. After the Ascension they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy”, not an emotion you feel if you have lost your best friend! (Luke 24:50-53). The Ascension meant gain not loss. Jesus would be closer to them than he ever was before. And he left Mount Olivet to be with us also, and in every human heart and place the world over, including Faringdon and Little Coxwell.

He was taken from human sight so that he might come to us wherever and however we are, as friend and brother, companion, guide and Saviour. He is as close as the quiet prayer we say in trustful faith, or the loving act we show to another person. Though we cannot see him we cannot lose him once we have opened our hearts to him (Revelation 3:20-21). Closed or barred doors still mean nothing to Jesus! He finds endless ways to break into those hearts that do not believe in him or would try to shut him out and reject him. In the end, I believe he will win every single soul without exception. (John 6:39). Such is his powerful Love and his infinite mercy.

A Litany of Praise to Jesus

For his holy Incarnation and victorious Cross: Blessed be Jesus our Lord and God.
For his triumphant Resurrection and glorious Ascension: Blessed be Jesus.
For the gift of his Spirit and the holy catholic Church: Blessed be Jesus.
For the gifts of grace in Word and Sacrament and Fellowship: Blessed be Jesus.
For the triumphs of his Gospel, the lives of his Saints, and yours and mine: Blessed be Jesus.
For joy or for sorrow, and in life and in death: Blessed be Jesus.
For the hope of eternal glory with him and with each other: Blessed be Jesus.
From now until the end of the ages: Blessed be Jesus our Lord and God.
Alleluia. Amen.

George Abell