Trinity 1: Being fed on our journey

Ben O’Neill, a student of Peterhouse, Cambridge, who has been serving as Ministry Experience Scheme intern of Christ Church Vienna since August 2018 as part of a year abroad, draws on the Old Testament lectionary reading, 1 Kings 19.1-4, [5-7], 8-15a.

‘Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire, o still small voice of calm, o still small voice of calm.’ These words from the hymn ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’ describe something of a moment of tranquillity in the midst of stressful life. Our 1 Kings reading on which they are based is an encounter of calm in such circumstances. Elijah is on a difficult journey as he flees from Jezebel who is after his life. The previous chapter has been very exciting for Elijah, but he is now feeling a great sense of despair. Elijah has had, in the previous chapter, a stand-off on Mount Carmel. The prophets of the cult of the pagan god Baal join him on the top of the mountain. Elijah and the pagan prophets build altars for sacrifice. Both ‘teams’ pray for fire to be sent from above to perform the sacrifice, and it is Yahweh who sends down fire from heaven. Elijah, having ordered for the pagan priests and prophets to be put to death, is goes on the run from Queen Jezebel.

This whole section of 1 Kings is framed as this journey, his journey from Mount Carmel to Mount Horeb. It’s a journey that Elijah cannot make in his own strength, but rather it must be made in the strength of God. God reaches out to him in two separate encounters to give him that strength, reaching into that frailty, in that time of need, so that he can continue on his journey: ‘Arise and eat, because otherwise the journey will be too difficult for you.’

In the first encounter, God feeds Elijah; in the second encounter, God speaks to Elijah. God feeds and speaks to us. These two ways of encountering God: through food and nourishment, and through his word, are expressed in the perfect balance between Word and Sacrament that has shaped Anglican liturgy since its inception. We gather Sunday by Sunday in our respective church buildings across the diocese, in these sacred spaces, in order to encounter God in these two ways – by food and by his holy word – to be nurtured and sustained on our own journeys both as individuals and as a community. We gather to be fed.

God reaches out to us in the most holy sacrament of Holy Communion to nurture us, to feed us, to strengthen us so that we can be given the grace to persevere and continue on our journey with him. As it has been referred to in both hymns and liturgy, it is the food of pilgrims.

God also speaks to us, as he spoke to Elijah. This isn’t the first encounter with God that has happened on Mount Horeb. It was also the mountain on which Moses encountered the burning bush, the mountain on which Moses received the Ten Commandments. The angel tells Elijah to ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ I wonder if we try too hard to find God in exciting, grand places… Elijah looks for God in the earthquake, the thunder, the strong wind, the fire, all features of Moses’ vision of God on the same mountain, in the giving of the Ten Commandments and the burning bush… But it is in the silence, the moment of calm, that Elijah discovers the presence of God. We too, with Elijah, may want to experience our faith in miraculous, unexpected ways. But sometimes, we need the reminder to look for God in the ordinary, in our everyday relationships, in creation, in the world around us, prompted of course by the Eucharist, in which God gives himself fully to us in the most mundane elements of bread and wine.

So, when we gather on a Sunday, let us ask ourselves: for what have we come here today? To be healed and fed? To hear God’s Word? To experience his healing presence, to sustain us? God feeds us with bread and wine, his body and blood. God speaks to us through his Word faithfully treasured and passed on down the centuries. And so, let us recognise our dependence on God, that we can’t make the journey of life in our own strength – and open our hearts and minds to listen and to be fed. And let us, having been fed ourselves, go out into the world to invite others to make this life-giving journey with us.

Trinity Sunday: The Generous Love of God

This week’s reflection draws on the lectionary Gospel for Trinity Sunday John 16.12-15, to reflect on what the Christian understanding of God as Trinity might mean for us today. It is written by Dr Clare Amos, Diocesan Director of Lay Discipleship and administrator of this blog.

In 2011 I moved to Geneva to work at the World Council of Churches. I quickly discovered that though Geneva is in many ways now a very secular city, the figure of John Calvin still looms large in the cultural landscape. There is even a brand of local beer named after him!

Over the years I have lived there I have come to appreciate Calvin’s work – especially in biblical exegesis. His description of the Book of Psalms as ‘an anatomy of all parts of the soul’ is unforgettable. However I have also become aware of what is perhaps the major blot on Calvin’s name – his support in 1553 of the execution by burning of Michael Servetus, primarily because Servetus did not hold to Orthodox trinitarian theology. Whether fairly or not Servetus has been considered the ‘father’ of unitarian forms of Christianity – and of free-thinking more widely. There is a statue of Servetus in Annemasse (a French town just across the border from Swiss Geneva). It had originally been intended to place it in Geneva (at the place of Servetus’ execution) but when it was sculpted in 1908 religious opposition in Geneva meant that it had to be located in nearby Annemasse[1].

Centenaire statue Michel Servet

Perhaps it may seem strange to begin a reflection for Trinity Sunday by referring to Servetus, such a notable anti-Trinitarian. Like a number of others, Servetus’ opposition was largely due to the fact that it is difficult (though not totally impossible) to draw a fully-fledged understanding of the classical understanding of the Trinity from the pages of the New Testament. There are of course threads that are there, such as Matthew 28.19-20, and the Farewell Discourses of the Gospel of John (chapters 13-17), which have appeared in our lectionary over the last few weeks, that can be drawn on – and were developed by the Christians of the 3rd and 4th centuries. And there are also those telling sentences which begin this week’s Gospel reading. ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth’ (John 16.12-15). These verses have been drawn on to validate the major developments in Christian theology and ethical practice which have taken place over the last 2000 years. It is partly due to them that, for example, Christians eventually campaigned for the end of slavery. And they also, I believe, can be used to legitimate the development of Christian understanding of God as Trinity – which is certainly a central thread of my own faith.[2]

Why is that that the majority of Christians eventually came to feel that it was important to speak of God as Trinity? There are a wealth of answers that we could give to this question. I want to focus very briefly on three words. They are ‘mystery’, ‘diversity’ and ‘love’.

To name God as Trinity is to acknowledge the ‘mystery’ that is at the heart of Christian faith. There’s a wonderful modern hymn by the New Zealand Anglican hymnwriter Marnie Barrell which begins with the line, ‘Maker of mystery, dreamer of what will be’[3] If we could know, and understand, everything about God then God would be less than the gracious ‘I am who I am’ who begins the story of our salvation (Exodus 3.1-15). It is a vital reminder that we cannot tame God, or have a monopoly on him.

To name God as Trinity is to affirm the importance of diversity. We need to celebrate our differences rather than fear them. ‘Goodness, to be goodness, needs contrast and tension, not perfect uniformity.’(Richard Rohr). This can apply in the life of the church, in which increasingly it is realised that unity does not necessarily mean uniformity. It is also an important message to hold before our wider societies at the present time, certainly in many parts of Europe, with the steady growth of nationalistic movements in many countries.

To name God as Trinity is to express that the intrinsic nature of God is love. It is a reminder that Love is essentially relational. Love cannot exist in isolation. Although the word ‘love’ does not actually appear in the few verses of this week’s Gospel, it is repeated over and over again in the surrounding verses and chapters of the Gospel of John. The love that marks out the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit is beautifully depicted in the icon of Andre Roublev, which links the divine community to the three angels who visited Abraham (Genesis 18.1-15) and which is often referred to as the Icon of the Trinity. The icon also makes clear that there is an empty seat at this divine table – to which, you, and you and I are being invited.

roublev trinity

A number of years ago my husband Alan Amos wrote a short prayer/poem reflecting on this icon:

Three in one, in closest harmony

Circled by love, in tender symmetry

Offering up the Lamb who is to be

Life for the world.

Angels are they, yet hold in meaning more

Than angels visiting at Sarah’s door:

God’s life itself, ready for us to pour

Grace on this world.

Help us then this circle now to join,

Our lives in newborn harmony entwine

In action mirroring the life divine

Revealed in our world.

What took me to Geneva in 2011 was my work for and commitment to interreligious dialogue, a field in which I have been working professionally since 2000. A few years earlier, along with a group of Anglican friends and colleagues I had helped to write a report on an Anglican theology of interfaith relations: Generous Love: the Truth of the Gospel and the Call to Dialogue[4]. This report took the Christian assertion of the trinitarian nature of God as a foundation for Anglican interreligious engagement. It was, I believe, an inspired starting point. This brief reflection began with a tale of religiously inspired violence – the brutal execution of Michael Servetus in Geneva over five centuries ago. We are all too aware of more recent examples of religiously inspired violence – by people of many different faiths and religions, which regrettably has at times included those who call themselves Christians. Yet if we take seriously the nature of God as Trinity, a God of mystery, of diversity and love, we cannot be combative in our attitudes and actions to those who are religiously ‘Other’. Our encounters must lead us deeper into the very heart of God and strengthen our resolve for inter faith engagement.

 

 

[1] More recently a copy of the Annemasse statue has been placed in Geneva at the place where Servetus was burned to death.

[2] Indeed the recently adopted diocesan Rule of Life states as its purpose, ‘To enable us to share in glorifying God the Holy Trinity.

[3] http://www.oremus.org/hymnal/barrell/mb08.html

[4] https://nifcon.anglicancommunion.org/media/18910/generous_love_a4_with_foreward.pdf

Pentecost: The New Creation Sealed by the Spirit

 

Drawing particularly on Acts 2.1-21, the Revd Dr Mark Barwick, the Priest-in-Charge of St Alban’s Church in Strasbourg, France, invites us to see the Spirit’s outpouring at Pentecost as the sign that God is ever bringing forth something new.

In Luke’s narrative of the early Christian movement, the outpouring of the Spirit upon all flesh (Acts 2.17) is appropriately framed as occurring at the Jewish festival of Shavuot. Shavuot was called ‘Pentecost’ by the Hellenistic Jews, because it fell fifty days after Passover. It was a time of great rejoicing and celebrated two important events. First, it was the occasion to give thanks for the new grain of the harvest (Leviticus 23.15-21). Coming fifty days after the feast of unleavened bread, which recalled their years of bondage in Egypt, the people now marked something altogether new. The grain which sprang forth from the land that God had given was now offered back to him with thanks.

Secondly, Shavuot marked the occasion that the Torah was given to Israel as the people gathered at Mount Sinai. This was the moment when Israel became a nation, united in the covenant that God made with the people of his choosing. This, too, signified that God was doing something new and wonderful in their midst.

fire

And now the  powerful winds and fire of the Spirit have swept over the people once more, bringing signs and wonders that herald the ‘great and glorious day of the Lord’ (Acts 2.16-21). Peter picks up the apocalyptic language of Joel (2.28-32) to underscore the universality of his message. God is doing something new alright – and not just with Israel! ‘All flesh’ has been changed forever. God’s mighty deeds are now proclaimed in every language (Acts 2.11) and not just in the ‘language’ of the Jews.

Because Pentecost was an important time of pilgrimage, ‘devout Jews from every nation under heaven’ (Acts 2.5) had gathered in Jerusalem. This would be the right moment to announce the start of a new era – and this is why Luke places the Spirit’s outpouring in this time and place. Yes, the Holy Spirit had been present long before Pentecost! But now that same Spirit would be known to everyone. And that same Spirit is as present in our time as it was on that day.

Those of us at St Alban’s Church in Strasbourg have a ringside seat to witness this on a regular basis. Like many of our congregations in the Diocese in Europe, there is tremendous diversity in our membership, sometimes seeming like we, too, come ‘from every nation under heaven!’ Of course, this would be as much of an exaggeration as it was in Luke’s narrative. Even still, Strasbourg itself has been an important crossroads for many centuries (thus the name Straßburg, the town at the crossroads). The city has been a prominent cultural, intellectual and commercial centre in Europe. It is also the seat of a number of European institutions and bodies.

Throughout its history, St Alban’s has, in many ways, mirrored the diverse and expansive environment which surrounds it. And yet no church exists only for the sake of diversity. You can find that in the many political and cultural associations sprinkled throughout the city. St Alban’s is above all a company of those who have heard echoed within their hearts the cry of ‘the spirit of adoption’ (Romans 8.14-17), bearing witness to the call to become children of God.

This is the same spirit that sang out with rushing wind and fiery tongues on the day of Pentecost. A new people – new creation – was being birthed. And births are usually a messy and painful affair. This is as true today as it was then – just have a look at all the messiness in the succeeding chapters of Acts! The witness of the Spirit does indeed bring assurance; it also brings its share of upheaval within and conflicts without. Anyone hoping for a gentle ride should take note.

It is the outworking of this new creation that is the challenge. The new always brings resistance from the old. Even the liberated Israelites wanted to return to the fleshpots of Egypt! And yet God is ever yearning to bring forth something new and more beautiful than we had ever imagined.

Sunday after Ascension Day: Glorious Unity

This week Helen Harding, a musician who moved to beautiful Switzerland two years ago with her husband and two children, and is a Reader in Training at La Cöte Anglican Church, reflects on John 17.20-26 the lectionary Gospel reading for the Sunday after Ascension.

This passage comes at the end of Jesus’ Great Prayer. He entrusts his disciples, those through the ages as well as those in front of him, to the Father, who will continue the work of keeping them safe. It is a prayer for unity, and not just outward, head nodding, superficial agreement over whichever issue is up for debate, but a genuine unity, mirroring the unity between the Father and the Son.

Such an image of perfect unity is at odds with our current situation in Europe, where one commentator suggested that ‘the most prominent takeaway from the results of the elections for the European Parliament are fragmentation and polarization.’[1] The situation for British ex-pats, like myself, is tense as we watch the seemingly ever widening splits in UK politics, wondering what the impact will be on ourselves and communities back in the UK.

Amidst these divisions, we are reminded that Jesus’ prayer for unity is not for our own benefit, although life is more pleasant without bickering and wrangling, but ‘so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me’. To demonstrate unity in a divided world is radically counter-cultural and should resonate with those who witness it.

The word ‘Glory’ in verse 22, given to Jesus, and passed on to us, does not to me indicate a vanilla flavour, one size fits all, uniform unity. I am not sure what ‘glorious unity’ would look like but looking out at a wild flower meadow with the Alps as a backdrop, I am never far from a reminder of the infinite creativity of our infinite creator God. How are we able to mirror this unity, in which each is allowed to flourish in their own way, while remembering that we are all equally, and infinitely loved and cared for by the Creator?visser tapestry

The tapestry in the Visser t’Hooft Hall at the Ecumenical Centre, Geneva, Switzerland. This tapestry at the home of the World Council of Churches includes, in Greek, Jesus’ vision ‘that they may all be one’, drawn from this week’s lectionary Gospel.

Jesus’ prayer for unity among his followers is not an instruction, an order to fall into step, but an invitation to join in the perfect relationship between Father and Son, with, in the words of Jesuit Richard Hauser, the ‘Holy Spirit… as the bond of love between them.’[2] Between Ascension and Pentecost thousands of Christians, globally and across denominations, will be praying using the Archbishop of Canterbury’s ‘Thy kingdom come’ material. Global movements such as this remind us of an already existing truth – that unity of purpose far out-weighs the unity of opinion. In the words of Episcopalian Bishop Charles Henry Brent: ‘The unity of Christendom is not a luxury, but a necessity. The World will go limping until Christ’s prayer that all may be one is answered. We must have unity, not at all costs, but at all risks. A unified Church is the only offering we dare present to the coming Christ, for in it alone will He find room to dwell.’

We are one in the spirit; we are one in the Lord,
We are one in the spirit; we one in the Lord,
And we pray that our unity might someday be restored,
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love[3].Amen

[1] Article New York Times 27/05/19

[2] Quoted in Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation 21/05/19

[3] Peter Scholtes 1966

Easter 6: Breaking in beyond illusion

Priest and painter, Rev Adam Boulter, who is currently chaplain in Poitou-Charentes, France, reflects on the lectionary readings for this Sunday, especially focusing on Ezekiel 37.1-14 and Revelation 21.10, 22—22.5.

The book of Revelation is rife with references to the book of Ezekiel, and yet they have some important differences. They both have wonderfully rich visions, that simply do not make sense if taken out of context, and so they have both produced strange interpretations. Rather, for both, we have to see the whole picture, what is sometimes called the ‘gestalt’ – we need to grasp the entire text and its myriad of images all at once.

When we read Ezekiel and Revelation in this way we see something much more coherent. Ezekiel spends much of the first two thirds of the book remembering his warnings to the people of Israel that they have deserted God and disaster is coming. The book then pivots around the fall of Jerusalem and the story of the valley of dry bones, and  changes tone and direction. From then onwards we have a message of hope in the rebirth of the people of Israel restored to their land and flourishing in worship of God. This narrative arc is summed up in the story of the valley of dry bones: God can resurrect out of utter demolition. This is a story of how God re-creates out of a vandalised and annihilated situation. This is a deeply powerful message for those Christians who have seen their loved ones killed for their faith, but it is not the situation for most Christians in Europe.

ezekiel valley of dry bones

The valley of dry bones, from the ‘wilderness’ series of paintings by Adam Boulter.

In Europe we do not generally have active attempts to kill us for what we believe. Rather we suffer under a kind of cultural sterilisation, the culture we live in has its values and virtues, and these are all pervasive to the extent that it is hard for the Christian Virtues to take hold and flourish. This is more like the kind of situation that the author of Revelation is writing into, for although it was not adverse to violent suppression from time to time the Roman Empire’s main hold over the people it subjugated was via its all-pervasive culture.  This culture was defined by their virtues: Strength, Wealth, and Respectability, which were unquestionably upheld. Our society here in Europe is steadily adopting those Roman virtues, and doing so in a way that makes it seem ridiculous to hold to the Christian faith, partially because Christian virtues are so different: Faith, Hope and Love. That Roman culture was sterilising the situation that the early Christians were living in, and Revelation is about how God recreates out of a situation where the Truth is ignored or ridiculed, as well as attacked and killed. For us who do not face the violence of Rome, but only ridicule and irrelevance, in some ways this is an easier situation to live in, but in some ways it is harder, as it wears our faith down and corrodes our confidence in God.

Revelation gives us, a model of how God deals with this sterilised situation. In a nutshell that is: God does not work like this world appears to work, in fact even this world does not work as it appears to. We are being told that Power, Money and Status matter, but God is what matters. As Christians we will be told we are being unrealistic, but in truth we are the realistic ones, because we accept what God is and what God is up to.

In Revelation we have an amazing image of God as the lamb, the powerless one who rather than having money is itself a commodity to be bought and sold, who has no status, nor respect. We are told that this lamb is the all-powerful God which everything comes from and must bow to; that the virtues the Romans are upholding are false virtues, that their culture is built on a lie, the real culture belongs to God. So Revelation calls us to live by Christian virtues and build a Christian Culture of Faith, Hope and Love, that was dangerous and radical then, and it still is now. To really live by Faith, Hope and Love, is deeply countercultural. If you doubt this ask yourself: how do I decide what job to take? What to do with my money? Do we do these in the light of the Gospel? Which virtues do we as a Church live by? When it comes to difficult discussion does our institution seek Faith, Hope, and Love, or power, money and respectability? These are not easy or comfortable questions, but Revelation demands them of us, because God’s rule is breaking in and the ways of this world are an illusion.

Easter 5: Love and Sacrifice

This week’s contribution to our lectionary blog is offered by Celia Paterson, Reader in St George’s Church, Madrid. Celia draws on the Old Testament reading, Genesis 22.1-18, and the Gospel, John 13.31-35, set for this Sunday. 

‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac – and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him as a burnt offering on a mountain that I will show you.’ (Genesis 22.2)

God asks Abraham to kill the son he and Sarah had waited for, for so long. God had asked him to leave his country, his people and his home to travel to an unknown land (Genesis 12.1) and he had obeyed. God promised him offspring like the dust of the earth, but he and Sarah were old. How could they have a child after all those barren years? God told him that he would be the father of many nations (Genesis 17.4), but he was 99 years old and Sarah well past child-bearing age. Yet, the impossible happened, Sarah bore a son, Isaac.

Now God was commanding Abraham to kill that much desired, much loved and long-awaited son. Isaac was not Abraham’s only son. Ishmael, was his first son, but Isaac was the first born of his wife. It was Isaac that would give him the grandchildren who would be the foundation of the family of nations, the family that would become Israel.

How could God be breaking those promises?

However, Abraham obeys God’s command without questioning it. He gets up early to prepare for the journey and they set off.

The three days must have been torture for Abraham, an unimaginable situation. Three days knowing what you must do at the end of the journey. Three days walking beside the son you must kill. Yet Abraham never wavers. And what must Isaac have thought? They carried all the necessities for a sacrifice, but no lamb. He was obviously puzzled when he asked his father where the lamb was. He must have been truly horrified when he realises he is the sacrifice.

God stops Abraham from killing his son and provides a ram, but I wonder what Isaac’s feelings were towards his father on the journey home.

Abraham has proved to God his tremendous love and obedience and is told that he would have as many descendants as stars in the sky and grains of sand on the seashore, but did his family understand the great sacrifice that he had been prepared to make? For the Jews the first-born always belonged to God, so God was asking for his own, but that would not have made it any easier for Abraham or his family.

Would we be able to love and obey God to that extent?

If what God asks of Abraham could appear cruel, with the sacrifice of his own Son, God’s love for humanity is beyond doubt.

In the Gospel of John (13.31-35) we are again reminded of the importance of love.

At the Last Supper, Jesus gives the disciples a new commandment:

‘Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.’ (John 13.34)

Leviticus (19.18) tells us to love our neighbour as ourselves, but this new commandment is much more. Jesus is about to be betrayed. He knows what is about to happen. God sacrifices his only Son for all of us. There is no last minute reprieve as there was for Abraham and Isaac. Jesus Christ’s death will glorify God as it will the Son, but first that horrendous death must be suffered. Jesus was asking his disciples for a completely sacrificial love.cenáculo

The traditional location of the site of Jesus’ Last Supper, Jerusalem  (José Andrés Sánchez Abarrio)

If only we could all love as deeply and sacrificially as this.

What could God ask us to sacrifice today?

Perhaps in Europe we are too attached to our comfort, resulting in fear of the other, those different. We see a rise in racism and intolerance, as refugees seek shelter in our countries. Brexit has resulted in a wave of xenophobia and reportedly in Germany there is a high level of violence in extreme right-wing groups. Bishop Philip Mounstephen, once chaplain in Paris, has reported on the persecution of Christians bordering on genocide in some areas of the world.

So much hatred.

However, in Sri Lanka a mosque offered their premises to Roman Catholics after their church had been bombed. A sign of hope, but most of us have a very long way to go.

 

Easter 4: Held in his hand

 

This week’s contribution is offered by Clare Amos, Diocesan Director of lay discipleship and administrator of this blog. She focuses on the lectionary Gospel for this week, John 10.22-30.

As I write this reflection on next Sunday’s readings it has been an abnormally cold and changeable period, both in Switzerland and in several other parts of Europe. Last Saturday evening snow fell quite low on the Saleve – the mini-mountain which towers over Geneva, and a few spots of it still linger. Snow – in May! What is the weather coming to! So I was struck by the opening of this week’s Gospel reading, ‘It was winter’ (John 10.22). It certainly feels like winter here. John’s note about the season acts as a sort of interpretative frame for exploring the passage. Indeed it is fascinating to look at the link between the seasons and key episodes of the Gospel of John: spring/Passover (John 2; 6 and 12 – end); summer (John 4); autumn/Tabernacles (John 7-9) – and here winter. The reality of winter somehow affects the mood of the passage – there is a contentiousness and a seriousness about Jesus’ words. The passage looks towards the discussion about the close relationship between Jesus and his Father which will dominate the Farewell Discourses.

It is not only winter but, we are told, it is the Feast of Dedication. That is the Jewish festival – these days often known as Hannukah (which is basically a Hebrew word meaning ‘Dedication’) which commemorates the re-consecration of the Temple in Jerusalem during the time of Judas Maccabeus, (2nd century BC) after its desecration by the Seleucid (Greek) ruler Antiochus Epiphanes. Symbolic allusions to these events run through these verses, and the following section (till the end of chapter 10). In verse 36 Jesus’ self-description as the one who is ‘sanctified’ or ‘consecrated’ by the Father is intended once again as a reminder that he has replaced the Temple as the primary location where human beings can meet God. But more profoundly the passage teases out the question of Jesus’ personal identity. There were those who were wondering if Jesus was the Messiah (10.24) In the thinking of the time the military leader Judas Maccabeus was seen as a sort of proto-type of the Messiah, who was often understood as a military or political figure. That view was – as we know – something that Jesus’ himself sought to challenge. However the Messiah was seen as human – rather than divine. So the title did not say quite enough about who Jesus fully was. The passage therefore also highlights Jesus’ intimate identity with God the Father, ‘The Father and I are one’. (John 10.30) The Feast of Dedication gave added resonance to this claim – for two centuries earlier one thing that had scandalised the Jewish community was the claim by Antiochus Epiphanes to be ‘equal with God’ – which is in fact a claim linked to Jesus in John 5.18. Jesus’ words therefore would have been very difficult for at least some of his audience to hear.

anchor stone

It is not an easy passage: it does feel ‘wintry’ in terms of human dynamics. Perhaps what we need to hold on to most of all however is the fact that we are ‘held’ by Jesus. The assertion that ‘No one will snatch them out of my hand’ (10.28) which has provided comfort for Jesus’ followers in many difficult places and times. The intriguing picture of a sculpture by the Tongan artist Filipe Tohi, on display in New Zealand links the hand of Christ to an anchor stone which holds a canoe safely.