Barabbas. Pilate and Jesus

Max Young was right to explore the figure of Barabbas more closely – and he is surely correct to conclude that this shadowy man has but a short moment in the glare – playing a crucial but, for him, entirely unintended role in the Passion of Christ, before retreating back into the recesses of the forgotten past.

This scene with Barabbas figures strongly in a new book, Pontius Pilate: Deciphering Memory by Aldo Schiavone*, a distinguished commentator on imperial Roman law. According to this interpretation, the appearance of Barabbas is part of an off-the-cuff attempt by the Roman prefect to set Jesus free (John’s Gospel makes this general intention quite clear: 19:12). Given a choice between Jesus (still without a charge against him) and Barabbas, the already-condemned subversive of Roman authority, the Sanhedrin would surely not free the latter for fear of insulting Rome.

But Pontius Pilate underestimates the Sanhedrin’s hostility to Jesus because of the claim that he was the Son of God, a view that would not have exercised the average Roman officer one way or another. Barabbas is chosen for release on religious grounds, despite the evident lack of political logic.

But Schiavone’s case is that Pilate was not an average Roman. Perhaps he needed to be special to play his part in what is arguably the most portentous meeting in human history. ‘Where are you from?’, Pilate asks. Clearly, ‘Nazareth’ is not the answer he is looking for or needs. The argument of this book, based on a very close and entertaining reading, mostly of the account in John’s Gospel, is that Pilate is shown to have reached a remarkable awareness of the extraordinary person before him.

As the exchange of questions and answers proceeds after the release of Barabbas, Pilate ‘put all the pieces together into a single picture, fully grasped the prisoner’s attitude, and became persuaded not to oppose his design’. In sum, Pilate came to acknowledge the end that Jesus, following his Father’s will, wanted to achieve.

The man who facilitates this is not deserving of the conventional reputation for being weak, vacillating, pushed and pulled by a crowd of the Sanhedrin, translators and hangers-on.  This brief summary does insufficient credit to the subtlety and power of the story that Schiavone perceives but two points after the events can be recalled usefully.

The first is that Pilate – none other – forcefully insists on the three-language sign to be raised over Jesus on the cross saying ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews’. Pilate almost certainly did not know fully what that implied but the internationalist and evangelising display of the title illuminates the serious nature of Pilate’s understanding.

Secondly, when the Nicene Creed was revised at the end of the 4th century to produce the version we use, Pontius Pilate is brought back into the text without any blame being attached to him. It is as though the truth lying behind John’s text was more fully appreciated by the early Fathers than in Christianity’s subsequent centuries.

Jesus and Pilate: as Schiavone puts it, ‘Those names had to go together, as on that morning when everything unfolded. Forever’.

*New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2017 (ISBN 9781631492358).

Peter has a copy to lend for anybody interested.

Peter Foot

News from All Saints’ PCC

All Saints’ has been successful in gaining a Grant from the Templeton Trust which will be used to stage a series of talks, over the winter months, by eminent speakers, entitled ‘Science and Faith: Big Questions’. The first will be on Thursday 12th October in the Corn Exchange, commencing at 7.30pm, Sharon Dirckx, from the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics will speak on ‘Has Science killed God’.  The lecture on 3rd November will be ‘Creation or Evolution – do we have to choose’. There will follow further lectures on 11thJanuary and 8th February  (see the advert elsewhere in the magazine for details). There are free refreshments each evening and the chance to ask a question of the speaker. All evenings are free of charge and suitable for everyone, whether or not they have any science background. We are encouraged to bring friends along and make the events widely known. It is hoped we may be able to establish an annual Science and Faith lecture in the town.

As a PCC we are anxious to keep up to date with the needs and opinions of our young families, and with this in mind, have organised an event for young parents in September, when they will be able to enjoy a meal and a quiz but also tell us how we can help them and their children in their spiritual lives.

A working group will also be reviewing our monthly pattern of Sunday worship. It is hoped that we will be able to run an Alpha course this Autumn. And, a monthly Church Prayer Meeting will start on Wednesday 4th October  at 7.30pm in the Barber Rooms, and thereafter on the first Wednesday of each month.

On a Saturday morning in November, the PCC will be meeting with members of our Lead Academy group who are attending a group for churches from market Towns. The aim is to help us set a vision for All Saints’ in the coming year.

The Fabric Working Group, recently set up, are now prioritising, and working their way through the jobs needed to keep our church building in good repair, and implementing any improvements too. You will notice the results of their endeavours over the comings months.

Finally, don’t forget to put 8th December at 6.00pm in your diary when our town Nativity will get the Christmas period off to a lovely start.

Quarter Peal of All Saints’ Bells in memory of George Haynes

George Haynes was a bell ringer at All Saints’ who learned to ring when Queen Victoria was still on the throne. He lived at Elm Tree Cottages in London Street with his wife Fanny and their five children. George was nearly 40 when war broke out but he enlisted with the Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry to serve his king and country. He was killed at the battle of Passchendaele on 22nd August 1917 and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Wall (see picture below) which means that his body was never recovered.

The bell ringers of Great Britain commissioned Roll-of-Honour books. These are kept at St Paul’s Cathedral, and the Custodian alerted us to the centenary of George’s death. On 15th August we rang a quarter peal in his memory and were very pleased to welcome three generations of his descendants to the belfry before we began.

We placed the following notice in the Ringing World, the bell ringers’ newspaper:

Tuesday, 15th August 2017

1288 Grandsire Triples

1    Kay Chamberlain (Faringdon)
2    Elaine Baber (Uffington)
3    Paul Coad (Uffington)
4    Cheryl Watson (Faringdon)
5    Alison Merryweather-Clarke (North Leigh)
6    Andrew Baxter (Uffington)
7    Jon Chamberlain (C) (Faringdon)
8    Julian Watson (Faringdon)

In grateful memory of George Haynes, a ringer at this tower, killed at Passchendaele, 22nd August 1917

Jon Chamberlain

Introduction to the Fabric Group

The Fabric Group was formed a few months ago to help manage the range of building matters facing the church. The group is chaired by Bruce Garfield, with the other members being Andrew Sargent, Geoff Edgington, Jon Chamberlain and myself.

One of our first tasks was to list all the ongoing building issues (including those raised in our last Quinquennial inspection) and arrange them in priority order, with our intention being to focus on the top six or seven – other topics will be added when we’ve completed some of the highest priority items.

We’ve outlined this approach to the PCC and we’ve agreed that the high priority areas that we will focus on are as follows (with the highest priority at the top):

  • Additional screen on pillar (to increase visibility for Music Group)
  • Adapting Barber Rooms store area into Church Office
  • Roof / rainwater goods repairs (with work phased over a couple of years)
  • Installation of wifi in Church & Barber Rooms
  • Extension of Pye Chapel dais
  • Additional lighting on main platform (under tower crossing)
  • Installation of speakers in Barber Rooms

Even this list of “high priority” items is a long list!  Some of this work will require approval by the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) – which is effectively a dedicated “planning permission” system for the Church of England, but some of the more minor items can be done without this consultation process – which should enable us to achieve some quick wins.

Thank you for your ongoing support and if you have any questions or comments about building matters in the Church over the coming months, please speak to myself or any of the other members of the Fabric Group.

Jim McGowan

“We believe in the Holy Spirit . . .” (Exploring the Nicene Creed)

We now come to the closing sections of the Creed expressing our faith in how God has revealed himself, his very nature and purposes, through his Holy Spirit; and continues to work through him. Next we look at the nature of the Church itself; and finally the fulfilment of all in the life of heaven.

In several earlier articles we saw how the Holy Spirit led and guided the Apostles and first Christians of the New Testament Church, making clear the full implications of Christ’s life and teaching. When explaining the origin of the Nicene Creed I wrote “The Bishops in Council believed that the Holy Spirit would guide them, just as Jesus had promised, to lead his Church, and so us also, to a better understanding of saving truth in Christ (John 16:13). They followed the pattern of those first Apostles who had wrestled with major issues concerning the very existence, meaning and purpose of Christianity (Acts 15:28). They believed God would speak through them and confirm their conclusions”.

Writing about Jesus’ Ascension to heaven I wrote “The day had now come for Jesus to say good bye to his 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…”. Hence our strong belief is that the Holy Spirit gives and confirms to believers, a new baptismal life in Christ, one which he also makes truly real, by the very presence of Jesus as we receive the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. That he still guides his Church into the fullness of truth in Christ, empowering us for Christian living and witness with the Fruit of the Spirit and the Gifts of the Spirit. He is, I believe, the inspiration and source of all that is genuinely good, beautiful and true, in all peoples of all faiths. The Creedal statement “the Lord the giver of life” sums all this up. (John 14:25-26; Galatians 5:22-23; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11).

The Holy Spirit has of course been at work from the very beginning of Creation, and through all the Old Testament centuries, steadily patiently preparing the way for Christ’s Incarnation in God’s chosen appropriate time. (Genesis 1:1-2; etc.)  It meant unfolding to several prophets, priests  and kings (and many others), a growing understanding of the very nature and being and loving purposes of the One Eternal God. “Who has spoken through the prophets” is how the Creed sums up this first phase of the work of Revelation; a glorious Creative-Redemptive task of divine Love, fully and finally completed in Christ Jesus. (Hebrews 1:1-2; Romans 15:4).

And each one of us, in the personal journey of faith and common life together in Christ, must never forget that the Holy Spirit’s life-giving guidance and empowering is forever ongoing and unfailing. That in the confusions and divisions of today’s world and church he does not leave us; and that a greater fullness of truth, unity, harmony, love and peace, is close at hand.

Our daily prayer to Him should be to keep us faithful to the task, truly grateful for our dear Saviour’s sake. Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God! In all his good creative work and gifts the Holy Spirit never ceases to bring comfort and consolation, forgiveness and healing, enlightenment and renewal, warmth and light and fire of love. He is the One who in all situations and needs ‘stands by us’, the Paraclete, a Greek word for this. It’s a name for the Holy Spirit used by the Church over many centuries.

The Creed also stresses the Unity of the Father with Jesus the Son, and with the Holy Spirit. The word “Trinity” is not used. That name is not found in the New Testament. In all of its books however, its truth in essence is clearly evident. It was not until the 3rd or 4th Centuries that the One Supreme God, who is also three distinct Persons, is actually called The Holy and Undivided Trinity. The Creed affirms that we worship and give glory to the One and Only God who has actually made himself known to us at our human level, as the Father our Creator, the Son our Redeemer, and the Spirit who brings divine life and holiness to us. In using these expressions the first Christians were employing ordinary language and everyday human concepts (for they had no other) to convey the mystery of eternal truths, gleaned by real living experience, and understood within the mind and the heart by faith.

Worship and prayer is always of course to the Father, through Our Lord Jesus Christ his Son, and in the very life of the Holy Spirit. This is its liturgical or theological order. But it doesn’t matter whether we actually pray to God the Father direct, to Jesus direct, or to the Spirit direct, for they are always together and always One. It’s largely a matter of upbringing, local church custom or personal choice. And I want to emphasize that the Holy Spirit is not an ‘It’ but a He’, or a ‘She’ if you prefer. The Holy Spirit is personal and real just as the Father and Jesus are personal and real to us. All that we have come to learn about the sheer mind-blowing mystery and wonder, greatness and majesty of the Eternal God does not make our personal communion with him any less real or important. The essential nature and power of God is Divine Eternal Love. It means breathtaking living relationship, warm, personal and wonderful, with and within the very life of the Trinity, and with each one of us. (1 John 4:16).

In his earthly ministry Jesus patiently explained to the disciples that he would pray to the Father to send the Spirit (John 14:16 & 26). He kept that promise fully. And the Creed affirms it by the statement “who proceeds from the Father and the Son”.  The words “and the Son” did not occur in the original Nicene Creed. They were added many years later by the Western Latin part of the Church. The Eastern Greek part of the Church continued to follow the original wording, as do the Orthodox Churches to this day. This line of the Creed asserts how the Persons of the Trinity always work together in love, unity and harmony. It also means that the prayer and promise of Jesus is fulfilled now and everyday and forever, in the ongoing saving and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Praise be to God.

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us.
Melt us, mould us, fill us, use us.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us. Amen. (D. Iverson)

George Abell

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

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