What is an 'indecent' body to you? Marcella Althaus-Reid, one of the most stimulating of modern theologians, posed this question vibrantly. Her best known book, entitled Indecent Theology, challenged us to reconsider how we see and talk about bodies - especially female, sexually and gender diverse, poor and colonised bodies - all which have been treated as ‘indecent’. This, for me, is certainly at the heart of a healthy understanding of gender identity, and, crucially, affirms the gifts which gender diverse people have for the whole body of Christ and the whole body of society and our planet. It also takes us to the heart of 1 Corinthians chapter 12, where St Paul specifically commends us to honour the ‘weaker’, ‘less honourable’, ‘less respectable’ members of the Body of Christ. For, as Paul affirms, these ‘indecent’ members are ‘indispensable’, requiring ‘greater’ honour and respect...
Whenever we baptise someone, we give them a candle, lit from the great Paschal candle, the symbol of the resurrection. And we say, ‘shine as a light in the world to the glory of God’. Whenever we do that, I see them as joining the great river of light, that extends back into the past to all the lights that have shone, and into the future to all those who will follow after – the river of light that is another way of describing the ‘communion of saints’. Today on this All Saints Day we celebrate that river of light. In that river of light, there are some patches perhaps of greater intensity – the lights of some of those we acknowledge as the greatest ‘saints’, from Mary the mother of Christ, down through folk like St Francis whom we celebrate on this site, and others no doubt precious to each of us, who have shown what it is to shine as a light in the world...
Human beings can’t walk on water. This is fairly easily observable. However I was once told by no less a person than a church warden, that if I could build a labyrinth for meditative walking in the religiously conservative city of Toowoomba then I could walk on water. She was trying to tell me it was impossible. But the Toowoomba City Labyrinth was built and continues as a great tool for prayer. And – I can’t walk on water! Nor, I venture to suggest could Jesus.
If Jesus did walk on water, then we rid ourselves of one problem – the questioning of the historical accuracy of the Biblical account. But we create another - a Christ who only pretended to be human. Because humans can’t walk on water. We can of course protest that Jesus is the Son of God and can do anything, but the moment we do that we open up a whole other set of problems around why Jesus does not do a whole heap of other things that might be felt more useful, like ending wars or saving children’s lives. If we do not want to turn the human Jesus into a capricious divine figure masquerading as a human being, we might have to accept that he did not in fact walk on water.
So, what about this story then? How are we to read it? Well some scholars resolve the problem quite neatly by declaring it to be a misplaced resurrection story. This makes a lot of sense. This is why the disciples for examples are afraid and think they are seeing a ghost. However, I do not think that is the whole answer...
‘But he [Thomas] said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”’ (John 20.25b)
My father was a fine schoolmaster who came into his own when he performed as ‘Wizard Chiz’ at the annual school fete. Extraordinarily creative, he would demonstrate the miraculous realities of what we usually call ‘chemistry’. My father was also very knowledgeable about such things as the Periodic Table. Yet, it was sharing about chemistry’s wondrous mystery that really counted for him.
I recall this in reflecting on Thomas’ encounter with the resurrected Christ. For he approached Jesus like exploring science as mere practicality, consequently missing the mystery. Sadly, too many still approach God like this, seeking nailed-down ‘proofs’ that bolster misguided securities before we are willing to respond. This is the alarming commonality of both militant secularists and religious fundamentalists. Faith must indeed attend to reason, but its call is essentially an invitation to wonder and adventure.
As J.K Rowling suggested in the Harry Potter series, living into faith and love are like becoming a true wizard. In today’s Gospel, Thomas acted, as we often do, like a Muggle. However, as Indian Christians especially will remind us, there is much more to Thomas. As a remarkable faith adventurer, Thomas went on to grasp, and share with others, the Resurrection’s true reality, as the transforming mystery of unconquerable love.
We, too, may be inclined to dwell on repeated doubts or affirmations of unnecessary details. Yet God’s invitation is to live out the mystery. This is life’s true chemistry.
by Jo Inkpin, for Sunday 19 April 2020, 2nd Sunday after Easter
- also published in Anglican Focus here
When you see an egg, do you see the risen Jesus? This is what Christians have done from the earliest times. There is an Armenian picture from the eleventh century that shows the angel and the women at the tomb with a huge egg inscribed with the words ‘He is not here. He is risen.’
So why an egg. Well firstly eggs are elliptical in shape – they are infinite, having no beginning or end, and so are symbolic for God. There is no end to God’s creativity, God’s love, God’s compassion.
Secondly an egg symbolizes the potential of new life. In some sense it is a microcosm, a miniature version of everything that is. It reminds us of the potential that each of us has for new life and a new beginning, today on Easter Day and every day.
Thirdly, for a chick to emerge from an egg, the shell must be broken. This symbolizes for Christians the rolling away of the stone from the front of the tomb, so that the risen Christ could emerge. It reminds us that for the new to come, the old has to be fractured and let go – an important message in these days, where so much of what is familiar to us has to be left behind.
Eggs tell us that God cannot be contained; that resurrection is possible and life is stronger than death. In recent memory Christians living under the severely repressive Albanian government, used to dye eggs red for the blood of Christ in the Orthodox fashion, and then take them out in the dark of Holy Saturday night and place them on the steps of town halls and places of government. By doing so they asserted the power of love over hate.
So, what do you see when you see an egg? Take a little time today to contemplate an egg and ask God to help you see there the reality of new life even in the midst of death. And look twice – for it can be a messenger of hope and resurrection to you today.
Penny Jones, for Easter Sunday 12 April 2020
One of the great things about theology from the margins is how it brings the Bible alive in liberating ways. Therefore, as the young gay Sydney Anglican Joel Hollier puts it, for many queer folk like he and I, ‘we’re not queer despite the Bible. We’re queer because of the Bible.’ As we read the Bible ‘with queer eyes’, more and more sexually and gender diverse people are renewing the very elements which gave the Bible power in the first place: seeing and exploring the extraordinary diversity and dynamic of goodness in creation and human bodies; the central call to justice and infinite compassion for all; the redeeming power of love in the face of suffering and death; and the resurrection promise of new life and flourishing found in the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in the world. That is one reason why, personally, I’m so over the old arguments about sexuality and gender, not least the so-called ‘clobber texts’. Honestly, why on earth would we waste time on others’ hang-ups, when we’ve such good news to explore and share? In this, today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 9.36ff) is a striking example. For in Tabitha/Dorcas, we find a startling model of discipleship from the margins: truly, an evocative, entrepreneurial, exemplar…
What are your experiences of nativity plays? They can be extraordinary events, can’t they? At times they are full of bathos, clumsy and comic. At other moments they can be wondrous and moving, full of pathos. These days of course all kinds of characters can sometimes be found in them: space folk, aliens, rocket ships, and even Harry Potter. Mostly however we have the traditional cast: with the so-called ‘three kings’ perhaps the most striking of all. What do you make of them, I wonder? As we mark the feast of Epiphany, perhaps it is worth a closer look, not least at the often passed over gift of myrrh. For, in my view, much more than gold or frankincense, myrrh takes us to the heart of Christian discipleship and the love of God in Jesus, and certainly beyond 'conventional' gender, and other, nativity norms…
Have you ever felt silenced, not being heard, when you have shared your story and your truth? Have you ever been suppressed in some aspect of yourself, your love and understanding? Have you ever been stigmatised, misinterpreted, or presented as something you are not? If so, or if anyone you know has ever suffered any of these things, then this day – this feast of Mary Magdalene - is for you. This is your day, our day, everyone’s day: for every silenced, suppressed and stigmatised person who lives, or has ever lived. For though herself silenced, suppressed and stigmatised, throughout Christian history Mary Magdalene has always remained the foremost witness to the Resurrection, the ‘apostle to the apostles’, the first bearer of that astonishing hope which, through Christ, transforms all the silencing, the suppression, and the stigma of our world. In so far as we can identify with Mary Magdalene, we too are set free from our demons, and from our fear. We too can find our voices, step out of our tombs, and live the truth of God’s image, call and naming of us. So, rejoice my gorgeous siblings! This day – this Mary Magdalene Day - is such good news for all of us and all of God’s wider, wondrous, Creation…
If we ever need to show how important relationships are in nurturing love and faith, Gregory of Nyssa, Macrina the Younger, and their family must be high on the list of examples. For on 19 July we particularly remember Gregory and Macrina, but other members of their family are also notable official saints in the Christian calendar: not least their brother Basil the Great, their mother Emiliana, and grandmother Macrina the Elder. This is a powerful reminder of how the relational webs of our lives are so crucial to us. Not least those women's names are also highly significant, as they point us to the usually deeply buried history of so many women in Christian Tradition, and to the vital contributions they made to the growth of the Church. Sadly, of course, even these we almost always receive through the records of men, who have filtered, through their own perspectives, the full female story. So, on 19 July for example, in the Anglican lectionary, we are able to honour Macrina the Younger. Yet this is only alongside one of her brothers, Gregory, and essentially it is by his references to her, and not through her own work directly, that we know something of her at all. This a great shame. For Gregory wrote both a hagiography, entitled the Life of Macrina, and a profound reflection, entitled a Dialogue on the Soul and Resurrection, which he dedicated to Macrina, purportedly describing the deep conversation he had with her on her deathbed. These are wonderful, for they show to us a quite remarkable woman who was clearly a central spiritual influence and model for her family and the wider Church. Spiritually and intellectually, she shaped, in her brothers Gregory and Basil, two of the greatest Christian thinkers of all time. In addition, within the limits of her times, she created new space for women. Yet, we might then wonder, despite Gregory's fine tributes, how much more is there which we may never know about her and about other women of her day. What we do have remains an inspiration to us today. For Macrina shows us what it is to be an outstanding sister in the Faith...
If I were to ask 100 people to give me a nickname or adjective for the disciple Thomas, what do you think would be the most popular reply? I suspect it would be ‘Doubting’, don’t you? That is a shame. For there is much more to Thomas than an element of doubt. Ask any Indian Christian for example. They will tell you that Thomas was the great apostle of the ancient East, and that Indian Christianity traces its origins to him. In the very passage we have just read, we also heard Thomas confess Jesus Christ as ‘My Lord and My God’. What a powerful statement of faith! Historically many Christians have paid a great deal of attention to St Peter for saying something similar. Yet Thomas has been largely passed over. Makes you think, doesn’t it? I mean we don't go on talking about Betraying Peter do we? We might just as well do so. For Peter is manifestly more of a betrayer than Thomas is an iron-clad doubter. The fact is that Thomas is much much more than a doubter. You could even call him Affirming Thomas for that theological statement about Jesus as the Christ. However, I’d like to call Thomas something else altogether. Reflecting on today’s reading from John chapter 20, I’m inclined however to call him Bodily Thomas, or, maybe, as the Welsh might call him, Thomas the Body. For that name points us to some very important aspects of the Resurrection of Jesus…