Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Sunday - Jesus has called me to “fish for people”

The first thing that the followers of Jesus told about him was not where he was born, nor what he said and did, nor when and how he died, but that he was raised from the dead, that he appeared to many of his friends and that he was alive at that very moment.  Why do you suppose they began at that point? The reason is obvious, if given the choice of having a record of everything someone we loved and said and having the person, what would you choose?

It was Jesus himself that made the difference to his friends.  Not that they didn’t appreciate what he said or did, but it was his presence among them that transformed them.  When he made an appearance everything in the room was changed.  And it was Jesus who appeared to them, a few days after his death.  He appeared to Peter and James and John; to Mary in the garden; to a group of apostles who were meeting together; to some of them by the side of the lake; to some of them in the upper room; to two of them on the road to Emmaus, and to Paul, long after the resurrection appearances. 

In Galatians, Paul is recorded to have said: When it pleased God to reveal his son “in” me, not “to” me (the word reveal is exactly the same Greek word, as “appeared”).  So Paul felt that Christ was alive “in” him, strengthening him, enabling him to do all things. Others felt that he was in the room with them when they broke bread together, and they felt the power of his spirit enabling them to do the impossible when they prayed together, and some of them like Paul felt that he was alive in them.

This is what they wanted to tell the world about.  Their Lord was not dead but alive: his life was not over and done with as they had supposed it to be.  His words were not the remembered words of a dead person, but the words of a living spirit.  His deeds were not something to be stored in the archives of history; they were the actions of a living Person.  His presence that once stirred them out of death into life had itself become alive.

They never described what the presence was like in too great of detail.  To some it was a presence as real and material as flesh and blood, and breakfast by the lakeside; while to others his presence was more a spiritual thing that could come and go through locked doors; be in Jerusalem and Galilee at exactly the same time, and then vanish in thin air.  But to all it was a presence; and this was the point.  This is what they could not wait to tell people, and this is what people wanted to hear.

It’s perfectly easy to see why.  What is it that we need when we’re up against things, or when things are up against us?  We need a person, not a principle; we need love, not law.  And we need that love expressed in some tangible way.  That is why people all over the Mediterranean basin listened so intently to the preaching of the first Christians.  At this point, there is possibly in some minds a question beginning to shape.  Why don’t we begin with the resurrection?  Why do we begin with the historical records, rather than with the resurrection experience that can be sensed and felt here and now?

One of the reasons may be that people are uncomfortable with the empty tomb.  It brings up question they would rather not have to answer. It’s difficult for people to take in that the physical body of Jesus was at a certain point resurrected and then gathered itself together and walked out of the tomb in which it had been so lovingly laid.  It’s almost impossible for them to take that in seriously.  And the result is that they shy away from the resurrection experience because of this story that they can’t quite handle, with their contemporary instruments of thought.

Perhaps they might be content with a statement of infinitely smaller dimensions.  

And that is, that though the story of the empty tomb is repeated in various forms in all four of the gospels, thus showing that it was a part of the tradition of the earliest Christian community, nevertheless it is significant that the sermons and letters of the early Christian disciples from the Acts through the Epistles to the Revelation of John the Divine, never mention or refer to the empty tomb – they always talk about a man being alive.

Different people will draw different conclusions from this fact.  My conclusion is this: the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t depend on the story of the empty tomb, and we would do well to follow the example of the first Christians and began where they began with the fact of the presence alive and among us now!  Some have seen him in vivid and dramatic form.  Others of us have seen him with the eyes of our understanding.  We have seen suddenly, as we see a truth, that Christ is alive, real, strong, and present.

Our friends may tell us that this is the work of our imagination, and our response may be that of Joan of Arc, in Shaw’s play about her when her inquisitors said, that the voices she claimed came from God came from her imagination, Joan answered, “That’s how the messages of God come to us.”  Some of our Christian sisters and brothers will insist that this is not an objective experience that it all takes place within the four walls of our wishful thinking.  I wonder what they would say about Isaiah’s experience in the temple when he saw the Lord “high and lifted up”.  Was that purely a subjective experience, and if so, do subjective experiences, normally come to pass, with nothing from without to incite them?

Others who have not seen him in any sense like this have felt his presence when two or three are gathered together in his name.  Some may sense the Presence as they watch the rehabilitation of human lives that come to Christ for help: they see people who have left their future behind them take a new lease on life; they see people as hard as nails, softened by the love of Christ; they see people with apparently no sense of responsibility suddenly change their ways and grow up; and they see people whose life is all but lost gradually begin to open like a flower.

Now, this may be the work of some dead, lifeless force.  But it’s harder for me to believe that than it is for me to believe that Christ was raised from the dead.  And when in spite of my inadequacies and failures, I know that my own life has been used by the Christ spirit, used for purposes beyond anything I ever dreamed of then I know that Christ is alive.  It’s hard for me to picture it in physical terms, yet I keep an open mind about the story of the empty tomb.  It has spoken to generations of Christians and the chances are it will speak to countless yet to come.

A story that speaks powerfully to me is the story of how some friends of Jesus, discouraged, disappointed and defeated, decide to go back to their fishing.  They fish all night and catch nothing.  Jesus unrecognized stands on the shore.  He asks them if they’ve caught any fish.  When they answer No, he tells them what to do and they catch so many fish they are unable to haul them in.  Then John, probably remembering that Jesus had called them to fish for people “recognized the Lord!”

I’ve never seen the empty tomb, but in the night hours of my life when I’ve been discouraged, disappointed and defeated I’ve felt the presence of One coming to me “as day was breaking” and have remembered that Jesus has called me to “fish for people” and I have recognized the Risen Lord. 

Dr. John Sullivan <)))><

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Catholic Church and Holy Saturday

On Holy Saturday the earth waits in stillness for the Resurrection of the Lord.
Every time Catholics say the creed, they note that Jesus "descended into hell." Holy Saturday is the day that commemorates this event.
1. On earth, Jesus' disciples mourned his death and, since it was a sabbath day, they rested.
Luke notes that the women returned home "and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment" (Luke 23:56). At the tomb, the guards that had been stationed there kept watch over the place to make sure that the disciples did not steal Jesus' body.

2. What happened to Jesus while he was dead?
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, “hell” - Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek - because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God.

Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him. The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfillment. This is the last phase of Jesus' messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ's redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption.

3. How do we commemorate this day?
According to the main document governing the celebrations connected with Easter, Paschales Solemnitatis: Meditate on his passion and death, and on his descent into hell, and awaiting his resurrection with prayer and fasting.
It is highly recommended that on this day the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer be celebrated with the participation of the people (cf. n. 40).
Where this cannot be done, there should be some celebration of the Word of God, or some act of devotion suited to the mystery celebrated this day.

Fasting is also encouraged, but not required, on this day.

4. Are the sacraments celebrated?
On this day the Church abstains strictly from the celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass. Holy Communion may only be given in the form of Viaticum.
The celebration of marriages is forbidden, as also the celebration of other sacraments, except those of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick.
5. What is the Easter Vigil?
A vigil is the liturgical commemoration of a notable feast, held on the evening preceding the feast.
From the very outset the Church has celebrated that annual Pasch, which is the solemnity of solemnities, above all by means of a night vigil. The resurrection of Christ is the foundation of our faith and hope, and through Baptism and Confirmation we are inserted into the Paschal Mystery of Christ, dying, buried, and raised with him, and with him we shall also reign.
The full meaning of Vigil is a waiting for the coming of the Lord.

6. When should Easter Vigil be celebrated?
Paschales Solemnitatis explains: "The entire celebration of the Easter Vigil takes place at night. It should not begin before nightfall; it should end before daybreak on Sunday."

7. What happens at the Easter Vigil?
According to Paschales Solemnitatis:
81. The order for the Easter Vigil is arranged so that the Holy Church meditates on the wonderful works which the Lord God wrought for his people from the earliest times

8. What happens during the service of light?
According to Paschales Solemnitatis: In so far as possible, a suitable place should be prepared outside the church for the blessing of the new fire, whose flames should be such that they genuinely dispel the darkness and light up the night – and be of sufficiently large size so that it may evoke the truth that Christ is the light of the world.

9. What happens during the Easter Proclamation?
According to Paschales Solemnitatis: The deacon makes the Easter Proclamation which tells, by means of a great poetic text, the whole Easter mystery placed in the context of the economy of salvation.

10. What happens during the Scripture readings?
According to Paschales Solemnitatis: The readings from Sacred Scripture constitute the second part of the Vigil. They give an account of the outstanding deeds of the history of salvation, which the faithful are helped to meditate calmly upon by the singing of the responsorial psalm, by a silent pause and by the celebrant's prayer.

ADAPTED: Dr. Sven Ljungholm

Easter Sunday: Dr. John Sullivan

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

‘He is despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  Isaiah 53”:3

The most cutting word in that sentence is the word rejected.  It means to be turned down, dropped out, unaccepted; it implies that one is unfit, unusable.

When Michelangelo was twenty-three years old he was working on the figure of Bacchus.  Before he finished it Cardinal Groslaye asked him if he would make a monument to go in a niche in the chapel of the Kings of France in St. Peter’s Cathedral.  The young sculptor was more at home with pagan subjects but he immediately thought of the Pieta, the mother and her dead son on her knees. 

He went to look at the niche.  He searched the stone yards for a block seven feet wide, six feet tall, and three feet deep.  Block after block was rejected, either because it wasn’t the right size, or because it wasn’t pure enough, not white enough, not glistening enough for so noble a statue.

It’s one thing for a block of marble to be rejected; for a person it’s quite another thing.  To be acquainted with sorrow and grief is part of life; everyone has a share of it.  It’s not easy; it’s hard to take.  To be bitterly disliked, to be despised is harder still.  But to be rejected sent back as undesirable unfit, unwanted, is the hardest thing to take,

You may be wondering who this rejected man was.  I don’t know; as a matter of fact, no one knows.  Some think the writer had an individual in mind, and some have even gone so far as to suggest that it might be Jeremiah who lived not long before and who in many ways fits the picture. 

Most people, however, think that he was describing the nation as a whole, who in their exile and in the suffering which they encountered, were the people who were despised and rejected, intimately acquainted with sorrow and grief.

When we hear the words we instinctively think of Jesus.  Handel, I’m sure is responsible for that; his music in the Messiah is so much a part of our culture, that we can hardly hear the words without hearing the music.  “Despised” – “Rejected” – “Acquainted with sorrow and grief.”  Whoever the man was, whenever and wherever he lived, the experience of rejection is something we do know about.  

Different people know it in different ways. 

A parent, who does everything for a child, is rejected by the child.  The child doesn’t run away from home; she goes her own way.  She pays no attention to her parents and rejects everything that her parents have stood for.  And a child is sometimes rejected by his parents: it isn’t that he’s left on a doorstep.  That happens occasionally when a mother abandons her baby.  It’s just that he’s left out, not paid much attention to; lost in the busy activity of his father and mother.

A person in public life is often rejected by people one has served; not because the person hasn’t done the best one knew how, but because one doesn’t appeal to the people, or because another man or woman undercuts him or her.  They don’t like him or her; for reasons that may be good or bad; they don’t vote for him or her. And sometimes people have the feeling of being rejected when they really aren’t.  There are people, who for reasons which are too deeply buried for us to understand begin to say to themselves, nobody likes me; I’m going to the garden to eat worms.”

And the experience of rejection can go even deeper than this.  People are rejected not only by other people but by life itself.  There’s a young man who lives a good life and in a flash he’s paralyzed, rejected by life, and as far as anyone can see at the moment, unusable for any further activity.  Or less spectacularly, he simple doesn’t go anywhere.  Everything he tries to do fails, and as time goes on he feels like a piece of life’s excess baggage.  Or he’s too old to be of further use in the world.  There are a great many people like that.  They say: why is it that this young person is taken and I’m left behind? There may be some people who have never experienced anything like this.  I hope there are, but I fear they are few and far between. 

The important thing therefore, isn’t that we feel rejected.  The important thing is what it does to us and what we do with it.  Nine times out of ten we’re tempted to say: What’s the use?  A man or a woman who has put one’s life blood into one’s work and realizes that everything one stands for has been rejected by people is tempted to say, “What’s the use?  The person who is constantly plagued by pain and disease comes to the point, when he or she says: What’s the use of fighting the battle any longer?

Was there, do you suppose a moment when the question flashed through the mind of Jesus?  May this be what he meant when he said, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”  Did he, just for an instant, ask himself, if after all I’ve done and said it comes to nothing but this: What’s the use?  Yet, even though this kind of thought may have flashed through his mind he would be the first to tell you that rejection is part of the suffering woven into the fabric of life.  I don’t know why, but I know that it is, and I know that some people are embittered by it, and some are enlarged by it. And I believe that it’s true to say that in a figurative sense, every nail driven into the body of Jesus deepened his compassion, made him more understanding of humanity, more forgiving, more all-inclusive in his love, more perfect in his being.

What’s the secret of this?  Why is it that some are shrunken by rejection, while others are stretched by it? I can’t put my finger on it, but I think it’s to be found in that area where a person comes to the point where he or she can say, no matter how often people reject me, or how cruelly life rejects me, God never rejects me. What other people think of us or do to us, whether they accept us or reject us isn’t the decisive thing.  The decisive thing is what we do.  If we accept rejection as part of life’s strange, mysterious, creative way, we’ll be enlarged.  Gradually our feeling of rejection will be crowded out by the conviction that we can be useful as we are: young or old, success or failure, sick or well.  And remember how Jesus, most cruelly rejected, reminded the people of words written by the Psalmist that they had never heard before: “The stone which the builders rejected is become the head cornerstone.”

The marble block that Michelangelo used for the Pieta was one that was quarried out of the highest mountains of Carrara, the purest, whitest marble that could be found; it had been ordered by someone else but never paid for and so it was sent to Rome to be sold to anyone who could use it.  This was the stone out of which he made that incredible figure of the young mother holding her dead son.
The way that Jesus met his rejection is the very thing that makes it possible for you and me to take our rejection and let God use it in the grand design.  It makes it possible for one of the small stones that the builders rejected to be used somewhere in the structure of life.  And now in the silence, let us thank God for Jesus, who was despised and rejected and who died that we might live.

Dr. John Sullivan
Former Officer
Oshawa, Canada

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

THE SHADOW Part One (follows on Saturday March 30)

“I’ve a little shadow that goes in and out with me, and what can be the use of him is more than I can see.  He’s very much like me from the heels up to the head and I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.” So goes the opening stanza of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem, and we’re going to look at our shadow, for we all have one.  And to help us, we are going to turn to the story of Jesus being tempted by Satan.

In the New Testament Satan appears as a distinctive personality!  But, we don’t talk much about Satan any more do we?  The more sophisticated of us have gotten rid of the devil in favour of the abstraction evil.  But we still find ourselves describing some things as “devilish” or “satanic” do we not?

The idea of Jesus being tempted by Satan is disturbing to some people.  Yet according to the Gospel story he was thrown into a crisis in the wilderness and won his way through. “Tempting”, of course is a bigger word than we normally think.  It includes what we might call the idea of “Testing”.  This kind of temptation or testing isn’t designed to break us down, but to build us up, not designed to make us weak, but to make us strong.  It’s not just a testimony to our human vulnerability, but also to our glory.

The circumstances of Jesus’ temptation are worth noting.  For one thing the text says that Jesus was led into the wilderness.  That is, he didn’t go by choice. How many times we are moved into situations by a power over which we have no control?  Think of some of the situations that you have been in in which you did not and would never have chosen.  You were moved into them, you were driven.

And this temptation takes place in the wilderness.  It was a wasteland, barren, bleak, largely uninhabited.  And Jesus was alone without his normal means of support.  For you and me the wilderness isn’t a place, but a condition, a state of mind, a state of being; the feeling of isolation, of being cut off, even though we live in the midst of thousands of people, of being unrelated to them, a feeling of hopelessness, confusion, futility, a sense of bleakness, and above everything else, dryness.  We can be anywhere.  It may be a prolonged hospital stay. It may be a sustained period of business failure.  It may be a relationship that is painful.  It could be many things. We can stay right where we are and be in the wilderness that Jesus was in.  And it’s when we feel most alone that the test comes.

Also note that Jesus had just experienced an emotional peak at his baptism in the Jordan.  The Spirit had descended upon him.  God’s affirming voice had been heard.  “You are my beloved Son”.  And it’s with us as it was with Jesus.  After a moment of high elation, a moment of great success, the test comes.  For one moment, we’ve no fear of it; we’re equal to it, not in the sense that we’re proud of our ability, but we know we can do it.  Then almost in the next moment we’re sure of nothing, we don’t feel adequate to anything.  

The shadow – isn’t far from the light!

One thing more: Jesus is tempted to use his great Spirit-given powers wrongly.  Are we not tempted too, at the point of our gifts, our strengths, more than at the point of our weakness?   Tell me, what is your greatest strength?  That’s the thing to watch!  The person gifted with great charm and personal magnetism can be a terrific manipulator.  The person gifted with words, can, in his or her spellbinding, bounce words of the wall in such a manner that they mean anything and therefore nothing.  The person with a vivid imagination can flee from duty into fantasy, or project his or her untamed imaginings on other people.  Where we are gifted, we need to post a double watch.  Bright lights cast strong shadows.

It was Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist, and son of a reformed Church pastor, who helped us understand the shadow side of our personality.  “The contents of the shadow” says Jung, “come from our own personal unconscious.”  Early memories, forgotten experiences, are there.  The shadow is that part of us not easy to recognize.  It’s like the dark side of the moon, you know it’s there, it has to be there, but you never see it.  It’s a side of the personality that can affect us mightily without our being aware of it at all.

Recognizing the existence of the shadow is not a pleasant task.  It requires moral courage and serious effort.  The darker side of us is present and real in every one of us.  Because it is usually unconscious, it cannot be educated.  It’s strongly emotional, and these emotions have a kind of possessive quality.  The shadow is autonomous; it runs on its own engines.  Have you ever exploded in anger at someone you really love over an event that was really insignificant?  Later on, you would have said to yourself, “Why on earth did I react like that?”  Or have you done something unkind and later, stunned, have you said, “I can’t believe I did that”!  

Your shadow was pushing up through your conscious life the way a mountain in the sea builds up and finally appears at the surface through volcanic action.  The island that results may appear to be idyllic and beautiful, but don’t forget that it was hot lava, which built it.

Did Jesus have a shadow?  He was human.  He must have had a personal unconscious area of his experience.  He was a child.  He was a boy.  He was a teenager.  He must have had memories to deal with too.  Things could not have been all sweetness and light in the home of Nazareth.  We know that he had four brothers and at least two sisters who didn’t believe in him until later.  But in the wilderness temptation, he deals with the shadow and doesn’t yield to it; he wins the mastery over it.  However, the story in Luke ends with this remark: “Then Satan left him for a season.”  Why not for good: simply because his whole ministry included struggle with darkness.  As John’s Gospel says “Light was coming into the world and the darkness has not overcome it.”

End Part One

Dr. John Sullivan
Former Officer
Canada & Bermuda

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Palm Sunday 2013

Jesus made one last appeal to the people before he was crucified.  It was dramatic, not because he was a showman, but because he knew enough about people to know that if you want to reach them, you will do it not so much by a thought or a word as by a deed, something done, something they can see; and he also knew that the more deeply the deed is drenched in something that they are familiar with the deeper the impression will be. It was a decisive appeal in the sense that it demanded a decision.  People could listen to the Sermon on the Mount, or the Parables, but they could let it go in one ear and out the other.  But when he swept the Temple clean, something had to be done about that.

It was dramatic, it was decisive, and it was doomed.  And Jesus knew it was because once again he knew people.  He knew them inside out, their strength and their weakness. He knew that it was hard for people to change their patterns; that they like to run in the old, familiar well-worn ruts.  He knew that the average person did not have a vivid imagination or any great capacity to see things in the round.  So he made his appeal as dramatically and decisively as he could; doomed though he knew it was.

This was his last appeal to the people to follow him to accept him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  The people said No!  His appeal was turned down completely; his rejection was unanimous.  A very sobering thought is it not?  And it leads us to comment that we human beings have a strange way of rejecting goodness.  Not always, thank heaven for that!  We didn’t reject Mother Teresa, some people idolized her.  But she lived a long way off and didn’t bother us very much, and we could live vicariously on her spiritual energy.  So we accepted her, as we do hundreds of others who represent the good life.

Having said this, we must admit that the record of our rejections is a staggering one.  Socrates, I suppose, was one of the half dozen or so original thinkers who ever lived and he was rejected as a disturber of the peace!  Franz Schubert, who has been called the greatest song writer who ever lived, wrote over six hundred songs before he died at the age of thirty one, and most of them were rejected by the publishers.  Abraham Lincoln, towers above every other historical American.  The shot that killed him represented the poisoned arrows that came invisibly from the minds of thousands of Americans who rejected him because he was too gracious toward the South.  Galileo was rejected for saying that the sun was the centre of the solar system.  Columbus was rejected for thinking that the world was round.  And Martin Luther King was rejected because he wanted a fair deal for the blacks!

Most of these people were before our time, we may say.  Perhaps we are different.  I hope so, but I doubt it; and I doubt it because I know myself too well.  I know how tempted I am to reject the thing I know is good in favour of the thing that will pay the most immediate returns.  I may not reject it outright, but I reject it at least for the time being.  I don’t believe you are very different.  What is there about us that makes us do this?  Why do we reject greatness?  Why do we reject beauty and goodness and truth, when it comes to us?  Perhaps we can get some clue to the answer if we ask another question: Why was Jesus rejected?

He was rejected first of all because the bulk of the people didn’t want him.  They wanted his cures, but not his criticism.  They wanted him when he was healing the sick, but not when he was staking out the way toward the Cross; they wanted his help, but not his yoke.  To put it in a nutshell, they wanted Barabbas, and that is what they got.

I wonder if people today are very different.  The bulk of them don’t want to be committed to anything; they want to be free to come and go and do as they please, and they do.  I do not say this at all cynically, I say it because we are standing under the shadow of the Cross; the bulk of the people today don’t want Christ.  They want a “high”.  They want a house with two or three cars; they want social security; they want lower taxes and higher wages; they want a quick trip to Paradise for a down payment, the rest in ninety days and that’s just about what they’ve got.  One of the reasons therefore why Jesus was rejected is that the majority of the people didn’t want him.

The situation was made infinitely worse by the fact that the religious leaders couldn’t tolerate him and therefore encouraged the masses to reject him.  He was a threat to them personally; it’s easy to see that. If his ways were accepted, their ways would be rejected; if he came to power, they would go out of power, and leaders you know, have to look out for themselves whether they are in the government, or in the church!  And of course, they couldn’t tolerate him because he stood for things which they seriously believed were a threat to the nation.  Rome was their enemy, and their one aim in life was to be free from the Roman occupation and all the injustices that went with it.  Jesus said, “You can’t fight the Romans; you can only love them.”  They couldn’t run the affairs of state on that basis.  Who could?

Another issue between Jesus and the leaders was the Temple.  They said the Temple was the visible expression of God.  Jesus said that it was only a building, and in the end it would come down; just as the law was only the law and only a means to an end.  You he said: are the visible expressions of God, and it is you that have to be kept clean inside as well as outside.  It is what you are that counts. They couldn’t take that.  It made nonsense of their Temple ritual and it might put the priests of whom there were hundreds at the time out of a job.  So there was nothing but opposition from the leaders, and this aggravated the antagonism of the masses.

Wasn’t there anyone who wanted him then?  Nicodemus, we know he responded, and Joseph of Arimathea.  There must have been others.  But they kept still; they never said a word.  If they were for him, they never let anyone know it.  They might have turned the tide. And they, unfortunately, represent most of us.  We accept him; we don’t reject him.  We love him; at least, we admire him.  We hold him up as an ultimate ideal, but in so many crises, we never say so.  This is a deep-seated habit of ours, this keeping still, when we ought to speak out. We think the country is going mad for material things but we don’t say so.  We think that political leadership should aim at reconciliation above everything else, but we seldom say it in public.  We think that the Church should be a place for all people, but when an issue comes up in which the principal is involved not many of us say what we think.

Remember that Jesus went to the cross because people like you and me who should have been for him, and were for him, didn’t say a word.  They held their peace, and the stones cry out against them.  So Jesus went on his way to the cross.  The bulk of the people didn’t want him; the leaders couldn’t tolerate him, and the few people that did want him kept still.  What a familiar story, and what a sad, tragic tale! Let me close with a quote from Thomas Ashe which will be our prayer of commitment.  

“Christ, look upon us in this community and keep our sympathy
 and pity fresh and our faces heavenward lest we grow hard”.

Dr. John Sullivan
Former officer
Canada and Bermuda

Born in South Africa of missionary officer parents, John was an officer for four years, serving as a youth officer, and as a corps officer in four appointments. John Sullivan left the Army as an officer in ’57, over the issue of the sacraments and the doctrine of Holiness, and is a recent newcomer to the FSAOF.  After he left the SA he attended a Nazarene University followed by a Methodist University from which he graduated in English Literature in 1960. He married, and headed for the Fuller Theological Seminary. He was encouraged by the Founder and President to consider a ministry back in Canada with a mainline denomination.  John contacted a UCC minister with whom he had contact in his first Corps, shortly after having been commissioned.  At his encouragement he transferred to a United Church Seminary connected with the University of Toronto.  He graduated and  was ordained, and proceeded to Princeton for a post-graduate degree, and then later to The School of Theology at Claremont, associated with the University of Southern California, from which he received his doctorate.  For the past fifty years he has been a minister in the UCC, and though retired at age 65, for the past fifteen years he has been serving a rural congregation.

“I am still known my many in the Canadian SA who refer to me as “Dr. John.”

We welcome Dr. John as a contributor and look forward to many insightful and meditative spiritual offerings.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak

“I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as 'God on the cross.' In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was i mmune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in Godforsaken darkness. That is the God for me! 

He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross that symbolizes divine suffering. 

'The cross of Christ ... is God’s only self-justification in such a world” as ours....' 'The other gods were strong; but thou wast weak; they rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne; But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak, And not a god has wounds, but thou alone.”

John R.W. Stott