EASTER REFLECTIONS

EASTER ACCORDING TO U2 - Pt 2 BLOOD WAS SPILLED

Cross5

“I want to go, to the foot of Mount Zion
To the foot of He who made me see
To the side of a hill blood was spilt
We were filled with a love
And we're going to be there again

Jerusalem
Jerusalem

Shout, shout, with a shout”

U2’s first lyric on the events of Good Friday are found here in With a Shout (Jerusalem) from their second record October. Six years later, on Joshua Tree, they are more grown up artistically and theologically. In I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, which came about when their producer Daniel Lanois encouraged Bono to write a Gospel Song they nailed the theology of Christ’s Passion as succinctly as any hymn writer ever has : -

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Oh my shame
You know I believe it

In a 2005 book Bono In Conversation with Michka Assayas we get a clarity of Bono’s beliefs when it comes to Jesus and the cross.  Assayas is not a fellow believer and constantly pushes Bono on faith matters. So he suggests to Bono that Christ might indeed be among the world’s great thinkers, but son of God might be a bit farfetched. Bono responds with a CS Lewis-like apologetic: “But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off the hook. Christ says: No I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me a teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: “I’m the Messiah.” I’m saying: “I am God incarnate.”… So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who he said he was – the Messiah – or a complete nutcase. I mean we’re talking nut case on the level of Charles Manson.”

From this identification of Christ, Bono then looks at the essence of, and critical need for, grace instead of karma much as he sang in the song Grace from U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind record released in 2000. Bono’s focus for all of this is on what Christ achieved on the cross. Bono says he loves the idea that God would warn us that the selfish outworking of our sinful nature has consequences but then goes on to open up salvation; “The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point it should keep us humbled…It’s not our own good works that gets us through the gates of Heaven.”

Perfect thoughts for Good Friday as we walk with Christ to the side of a hill outside Jerusalem where his blood was spilled to break the bonds and loose our chains.


A TOWEL

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On the eve of the greatest battle

The Colonel, the General, the Field Marshall

All in one

Not only of this motley crew before him

But of all of history

All of eternity

All of the Universe

Created and sustained.

 

Gathered in he gets down to tactics

And reaches for the weapon of choice

A towel

 

A towel

Flimsy 

Soft

 

A towel

He lifts it 

With intensity

Shapes it in his hand

Takes aim

Falls to his knees 

Pours water 

Triggering compassion

And washes his comrades feet

 

Taking the towel

He wipes them clean

Of the dust and grime

Of roads travelled

The world weariness

The inner pain

The personal guilt

The societal complicity 

 

So with a towel

Kneeling

Washing

Serving

He models revolution.


HOLY WEEK MONDAY - JESUS CLEARS THE TEMPLE

Turning Tables

 

READ: Matthew 21: 12-17

 

“Rise up shepherd, rise up

Your flock has roamed far from the hills

The stars have faded, the sky is still

The angels are shouting "Glory Hallelujah"


We've been traveling over rocky ground, rocky ground

We've been traveling over rocky ground, rocky ground


Forty days and nights of rain have washed this land

Jesus said the money changers in this temple will not stand

Find your flock, get them to higher ground

Flood waters rising and the kingdom's on fire”

-     From Rocky Ground by Bruce Springtseen

 

I loved Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball. It was a prophet’s blast at the consequences that unaccountable capitalism had brought on the ordinary person.

Song after song deals with the fall out of the Bankers and those who worshipped the bottom line of profit, gambling in greed for more and more, brought many people to their knees while the perpetrators continued to milk big fat bonuses.

The rich getting richer sticks in the throat whatever century or generation. I wasn't surprised that Springsteen, who has become more and more spiritual in his writing, saw a parallel with Jesus in the Temple, overturning the moneychangers who were cheating the common people for their own greed and profit. 

I draw our attention to this song on Easter Week as it was one of the things that Matthew records Jesus doing after he had ridden into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.

That revolutionary symbolism of the humility that Jesus was declaring as his way to reign is suddenly juxtaposed by Jesus most angry and, dare we say, violent act.

Righteous anger is how we have come to see it. Whatever the humility of the donkey image means it does not mean “meek and mild” when faced with injustice and the oppression of the common person by the wealthy money grabbers. 

How we respond to this contemporary issue is an Easter week issue but as I have meditated on this scene in the Temple this week I have looked into my own soul and asked, “what are the tables of idolatry in my own life?”

Jesus grace caresses and collides with my life. The Jesus who loves me as I am is at the very centre of the events ahead this week. Yet, Jesus collides with my own selfishness too.

Where would Jesus want to turn things over in my Temple of his presence? Where am I living for me at the cost of others? Where would his righteous anger burn? What rocky ground do I need to get dragged away from? Going back to Springsteen's song, what higher ground do I need the shepherd to lead me to?


EASTER - THE DONE AND STILL DOING

Jim Tomb

Cross and Empty Tomb - carvings in wood by Jim Deeds

 

I love U2’s song of resurrection - Window In The Skies. It’s a perfect play n Easter Sunday with its “The rule has been disproved, the stone it has been moved, The grave is now a groove, all debts are removed.” Succinct. Poetic. Theological. Joyous. 

I find most profound in its explanation of the Easter story. A number of years back I decided that I should quote it in my Easter Sunday sermon. 

I was using Bono’s “Interruptions of Grace” idea and I thought it would be appropriate to use his brilliant summation of Resurrection. As I scanned the final notes of that sermon a line kept repeating in my head - “Can’t you see what love has done/Can’t you see what love has done/Can’t you see what love has done/ And what it’s doing to me.” 

Sometimes in Fitzroy our Easter Day service begins with Communion remembering, as Jesus asked us to, his death. It is after that remembering that we get one of our women to declare the resurrection. 

And, in that particular juxtaposition of those two events, those words encapsulated it perfectly. During the sermon itself I walked over to the Communion Table and gestured to, “look what love has DONE…” but then added that the past tense was not the end of the story. 

On Friday Jesus had cried, “It is finished!” However, on Easter Sunday we declare, as I did in a post Communion poem, that the new life starts here. We must not lose the present tense of “what it’s DOING to me.”

Sometimes I get frustrated that Easter Sunday worship can inexplicably lack theological joy. Churches can still be filled with Good Friday’s doctrine of sins dealt with and heaven attained. 

Many of us actually seem to live between the Fall and The Cross. The God story is so much more eternal than that and much can be missed if we forget the Creation before the fall and then the resurrection and ongoing Kingdom after the cross. 

Paul understood this in Philippians 3 where he declares that he knows what love has DONE for him in his finding a “righteousness that is from God”. 

Yet, believing in what God has DONE for him is only a beginning for Paul. He adds that he wants “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.” 

Christ’s resurrection is not just a symbolic act to tell us that death is now dead. It is another grace interruption, a new impetus of power that Paul believes energises us to follow Jesus. 

It is what love is now DOING for our Kingdom living life. The old life is finished at the cross but the new creation is birthed at the empty tomb. The tomb is a womb for new birth. 

Like Jesus himself, we’ve got to get beyond the cross. It is not Friday that launches a whole new world. It is Sunday. The new life indeed starts here. 

“Can’t you see what love has done and what it’s doing to me.”


DISCOVERING SPY WEDNESDAY & THE JUDAS IN US ALL

Spy Wednesday

Spy Wednesday. Hands up I am a Protestant. I had never heard of it. My friend Pádraig Ó Tuama mentioned it on BBC Radio Ulster’s Thought For The Day and I was straight onto the phone to my Catholic Correspondent Fr Martin Magill to ask about it.

Spy Wednesday? My Catholic brothers and sisters it seems concentrate their Holy Week thoughts on Judas on the day he looked for a way to betray Jesus, rather than on the day he actually betrayed him with a kiss.

All these years I have been concentrating my Judas surmises on Maundy Thursday. I can now bring him a day earlier and I am very happy about that.

You see, Maundy Thursday has so much going on. We find the humble God on his knees washing the disciples feet and then breaking bread, pouring wine and suggesting that he will do the same for the redemption of the world.

Catholics do liturgy better. I guess to be truthful even Protestants do liturgy better that Irish Presbyterians. In fact other Presbyterians do it better that Irish Presbyterians! Our theological prejudices have a habit of throwing Biblical babies out with the bath water. Oh, and there was bathwater that should have been thrown out BUT too many babies!!

I love Holy Week. I love walking through it. Theology for me is lived. It has flesh and blood. Even when I hear it preached or read about it in books unless it breathes out of real life events I am suspicious. Following Jesus is never meant to be cerebral. The word becoming flesh was the key!

So, Holy Week is all this theology tied up in the drama of Jesus Passion. 

I gain a day of surmising with Spy Wednesday! I can interrogate this fascinating disciple at the heart of the drama. I can eek out where I might find myself in his attitudes and agendas.

I play U2’s Until The End of The World..The spark that lit Bono’s interest in Judas was a book of poems by Irish poet Brendan Kennelly called The Book of Judas. Kennelly’s work is quite a tome, eight years of poems, where profanity sits alongside Christ as he looks at the Judas of Gethsemane, the Judas in our culture and the Judas in us all. 

In his preface, he asks questions like: Was Judas A man whose vision of things was being throttled by another, more popular vision?” 

Kennelly asks if… Judas is a “spirit not confined to the man who bore the name Judas but one more alive and consequential now at the famined, bloated, trivialized, analytical, bomb-menaced, progressive, money-mad, reasonable end of the twentieth century than ever before?” 

Most of us see Judas as Satan incarnate who sold his soul for thirty pieces of silver. If only Judas’ story was that simple. Judas and his story were so complex that Bob Dylan had wondered if Judas Iscariot had God on his side? It’s a mighty question that like so many other things we want to ignore. 

Like Kennelly and Bono I use a day in Holy Week, from now on Spy Wednesday, looking into the heart of Judas, looking out for where he sneaks around in our society…

 

Judas, Judas

Are you there

In a society kissing God goodbye

As we write our agendas of more and more

Of building bigger barns to horde treasure on earth

 

Judas Judas

Are you there

In our wee country kissing God goodbye

As we fight for a land for ourselves

That we don’t want to share with others

Because others are different

And others might impinge on our traditions and our comfort

 

and then I ask God to search my own heart to see where the traces of Judas are in me.

 

Judas, Judas

I hear you cry from inside myself

When I get frustrated

That my prayers don’t get answered NOW

 

Was Judas just a guy trying to manipulate his agenda and push Jesus into doing it his way? What is my agenda that I want to manipulate Jesus into fulfilling; a political one; an economic one, a theological one? 

In the end my biggest question is about other whether I still cling to my thoughts and ambitions instead of the revolutionary upside down ones that Jesus reveals in this Holy Week.

 

 


THIS IS A BLEAK EASTER BUT...

Stocki in the dark

(this is an article that I wrote for the Belfast Telegraph on Easter Sunday 2020, right in the middle of Coronavirus Lockdown)

 

As Easter weekends go, this one is as bleak as they get. They say that the sun is going to shine but trips to the north coast or Newcastle or wherever are banned. The only day trip we are going to have is to the next room! Saving the world depends on us all suffering…  lockdown, social distancing and for some isolation. We sacrifice our own whims for neighbours and NHS staff.

It sounds a lot like that very first Easter. Jesus has sacrificed his own life, by his own decision to enter into the death of human suffering and save the world.

We called yesterday “Good” Friday. I prefer “Discomfortable Friday”. It all seems discordant and distorted. I prefer “Callous” Friday. It all seems confused and contorted.

Jesus is on a cross.  He is in agony. His friend shave left. The people around him are laughing at him. The very sky goes black.

Yet, notice Jesus’ poise. He is able to go face to face with the Roman Governor and keep is cool. He is able to take the beatings from the soldiers with dignity. He is able to look down from the cross and speak words of comfort to his mother.

How? I believe that Jesus knew that this was a moment and he was not stuck in it. It was going to pass. It was Callous Friday but he knew that Resurrection Sunday was coming.

The apostle Paul wrote about fixing our eyes “not on what is seen but on what is unseen because what is seen is temporary but things that are unseen are eternal”. Jesus poise was as a result of keeping his eyes on the bigger picture.

So, though on Easter Saturday, Jesus is dead, tomorrow the Christian Church will be celebrating resurrection. When Mary went to anoint the dead body of Jesus she found an empty tomb. When he turned to ask the gardener where the body was she realised that it was Jesus. Alive. Bring on Sunday!

Those of us who believe in Jesus are Sunday people. Resurrection people. However, we realise that we live in a Friday world. Everything around us seems like Callous Friday. There’s war and famine, injustice and poverty, racism and sectarianism, murder and crime, domestic violence and children’s abuse. There’s a Coronavirus pandemic killing 1.5 million people across the world.

Coronavirus is a tough moment. We can feel stuck in it. We are locked in our homes on the first spring Sunday Bank Holiday weekend.

It’s Friday.

But Sunday’s coming.

Jesus’ Easter story gives us hope that there is more to come. Resurrection conceives the possibility of brand new birth, launches the potential of a whole new earth, it sparks light to sneak through holes in the dark, it bursts hope into the depth of our souls.

Easter is a sequence of events that makes sense of what Paul told believers to do, “do not fix your eyes on what is seen but in what its unseen…”

Looking at what is the “seen” of Good Friday is bleak. Looking at the yet “unseen” of Resurrection Sunday changes it all. It breathes hope. 

As we head into a weekend where we cannot be at the north coast or our holiday homes in Donegal or filling the parks around Belfast let us this year more than any other weekend remember the first Easter.

It is Friday… It is Saturday… stay home… wash your hands… socially distance… love your neighbour and our NHS.

 

BUT… there is hope… look ahead… Sunday IS coming!


THE EMMAUS ROAD STORY IN CORONAVIRUS TIMES

Stocki and Marty Irish News

(this is an article that Fr Martin Magill and I wrote for the Irish News. It was published on April 9, 2020)

 

The script has been ripped apart. Nothing is as it was. The future is no longer easy to see. We are in Bono’s words - ‘Stuck In A Moment.’

It is a shock. We are thrown. How do we deal with this trauma? Everybody is talking about it.

We might be talking about the Coronavirus. Do you remember the days when people talked about the weather? Now we are consumed and obsessed with this pandemic.

Or… we might also be talking about two guys who were walking home after Jesus’s crucifixion. Luke records it in his account of the life of Jesus. One of them was called Cleopas and they were heading to Emmaus about seven miles from where all the action had been in Jerusalem.

Their script had been torn up too. They were sure Jesus was the Messiah. They had plans but everything was gone. Jesus had been crucified. They were consumed by it.

It was at the last 4 Corners Festival committee meeting when we were actually all in the same room, remember those old days? Jim Deeds who has become the unofficial spiritual director of the committee took us on this journey of Cleopas and his friend.

We quickly related it to in these Coronavirus Times. We all seem to be lost in the moment. The world we knew and hoped in seems gone. We are not sure what the future will be like or when it will come.

On that road to Emmaus, Jesus joined the two distraught disciples. They didn’t recognise him. He pretended he didn’t know what was going on. They invited him to rest with them and when he broke bread they realised who he was, the presence of God right there, present with them.

Finding Jesus in the middle of their confusion changed everything for our two lost souls. Firstly it made sense of their story. More important it made sense of the way the world is.

One of the names given to Jesus is Emmanuel. Emmanuel means God with us. Jesus was God with us. As John described it in his account of the life of Jesus - “The word became flesh and moved in among us”. God was a presence on earth.

There are so many places in the Bible where God talks about being with his people. The best known is Psalm 23 [22]. In the Hebrew language there are 26 words before and 26 words after the words “for you are with me”.

God with us is central to the most famous of all the Psalms. God with them was the centre of the new hope for the two disciples in Emmaus. God with us is key to how we cope with the Coronavirus.

There is nowhere in the entire Bible that God tells us that he will take away our troubles. In fact, the Bible is written by and for a people going through all kinds of troubles - slavery, famine, exile, war, oppression from Pharaohs, Herods and Caesars. God never promises to fix it but he does promise to be with us through it.

When the two guys in that house in Emmaus find themselves in the presence of Jesus everything changes; their mood, their posture, their actions. As soon as Jesus leaves them, they are up and running back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples all that they had experienced.

If you read the New Testament carefully you could imagine that these two guys run straight out of Luke’s Gospel into the Acts Of The Apostles. Luke also recorded the first activities of the Church after Jesus went back to heaven. These guys were in the vanguard of those things.

So, us? Well, we all have had our script ripped up. Time though in the presence of Jesus sends us off to do the things Jesus said for us to do.

What would Jesus do? It is an easier question to answer in Coronavirus Times. We can begin by sacrificing our own whims and desires in order to stop the spread of this virus, to protect ourselves, our loved ones and the NHS staff who are in constant danger treating those with the virus.

We are living right now in a world in isolation. Many people are anxious and lonely. All of our mental health is being stretched in far too many directions. Into such a world we all have to play our selfless part. As Jesus was a presence so it is vital that we become a presence to people even when we cannot be present with them.

It might be just the patience to help your family through this tough time, realising that we all deal with it differently. It might be that phone call or that shop for the next door neighbour. It might be an imaginative way to help a local business or musician or painter. It might be that you volunteer at a Foodbank.

For some of you it might mean being on the frontline, fighting this virus in hospitals, as doctors, nurses and yes, cleaning staff. For others it will mean looking after the children of NHS staff. There are many other necessary tasks that need done.

The script has indeed been shredded. There is a blank page laid out in front of us all. What is our story going to be? For those guys in Emmaus it was the Jesus story. Let us start writing that story all over these Coronavirus Times!


THE DAY BETWEEN (EASTER SATURDAY LAMENT)

THE DAY BETWEEN (EASTER SATURDAY)

Easter Saturday

 

 

 

 

 

Easter Saturday

The Saturday of Easter weekend has always intrigued me. Jesus is dead. The Kingdom defeated. The disciples are in denial. Interesting day!

We can find ourselves in such places in our lives. I used Easter Saturday to pastor some friends through dark places. Call it, my Easter lament!

 

The great idea is buried

We talk on the day between

What we watched on Friday

And a Sunday no one’s seen

The world switched off the light

And cracked the thin veneer

It all started very good

How did we end up here?

 

Now where is perseverance

The secret of slow burn

Should I focus on the not yet come

And be vowing not to turn

Should I be bedding in

I’m not going to go away

Yes I am hanging on

No matter how thin this frays

 

When did I go wrong

Where did I get lost

And all these things I gained

Were they worth this cost

For it wasn’t crazy living

Just an ordinary mistake

All it takes is one tiny slip

For a domino effect.

 

The great idea is buried

We talk on the day between

What we watched on Friday

And a Sunday no one’s seen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


PETER : HEAD FRAZZLED

Peter denies

Oh my head

Frazzled with fear

Everything

So quickly

The week

The donkey, palm branches and songs

The Temple, the tables, the doves fluttering in the shock

The basin, the towel, my feet, him washing

Me avoiding, arguing, surrendering to him 

Cleanse all of me then Lord

His disconcerting talk of betrayal, 

By one of us

The dipping of the bread

This is my body

This is my blood

What do you mean Lord

I’ll defend you

I’ll be there to the end

Denial? what do you mean denial?

Me 

No way

I’ll never leave your side

Gethsemane

Falling asleep

The soldiers, brutal

And Judas’s kiss

The confusion

The sword

The ear

The blood

The healing

The dispersing

The running

The hiding

My head 

Frazzled with fear

Uncertainty, unclear

Chaos, questions, denials

And then I hear

A cock crow. once, twice, thrice in my ear

Suddenly I stop

Everything utterly clear

He knew

He knew what was up ahead

he knew me better than I do

I turn

And there he is

Our eyes catch

Mine horrified

Rent with guilt

Squinting in shame

Hoping not to see

But I do see

His eyes

Disappointed

Hurt

Flint and focused

But still with his eyes crammed with all of that

Filled with grace

For them

For me

For everyone

My head is frazzled!


STOCKI'S EASTER PLAYLIST 2019

 

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Some songs to soundtrack and draw spiritual reflection from in the day around Easter...

 

Rick Elias - Man Of No Reputation

Bruce Springsteen - Rocky Ground

Patti Smith - Until The End Of The World

Sarah Masen - Let’s Kill Him

Duke Special - The Hours

Blind Boys Of Alabama - The Cross

The Choir - Beautiful Scandalous Night

Martyn Joseph - Sunday’s Coming

McIntosh Ross - Jesus Nailed My Sins Upon The Tree

Doug Gay - Saturday Train

U2 - Window In The Skies

Nick Cave - There Is A Kingdom

Ben Kyle - Mercy