Easter Day

Seeing Differently through (Re)membering

There is a Samoan saying: “Aua ne’i galo Afi’a i si ona vao.” (Do not forget about Afi’a who is in the forest). It comes from the Samoan village of Falealupo, where a woman named Sina went searching for her son Tautonu who had not returned from sea. As she embarked on her quest, her husband Afi’a, who was also the village high chief, gave her parting words, to remember him as he remained back in the forest as her tapuaiga (support). 

For Samoans, the tapuaiga is sacred and revered — the tapuaiga can be individuals such as parents, or the collective of family and village which include the high chief and village elders who support and will on a person or team — the tapuaiga inspires them to perform great deeds. In Samoa, the tapuaiga is a key part of any quest, as expressed by the Samoan proverb: “E le sili le ta’i nai lo le tapua’i.” (The quest is never greater than the support). Sina doesn’t simply remember. The tapuaiga of Afi’a motivates and gives Sina the strength and will to search for her son Tautonu, whom she later finds many villages away. In the same vein, Samoans in their remembrance of the tapuaiga also find inspiration. Their remembrance moves them to action.

Reading through the resurrection of Jesus and the empty tomb in Luke 24:1-12 and the story of these extraordinary women, what strikes me from their experience occurs in verse 8: “Then they remembered his words,” (NRSV).

In these simple words, I am reminded of Sina’s remembering of Afi’a and how it inspires her to move. Similarly, this draws me to the “remembering” in the Old Testament, in particular, when God remembers. 

A number of references in the Pentateuch articulate a notion of remembering that is intriguing. For instance, God remembers people, such as Noah (Gen 8:1); Abraham (19:29); Rachel (30:22). God also remembers covenants, such as that which God makes with creation (Gen 9:15-16) and the covenants with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exod 2:24). In these instances, God doesn’t just remember, God also acts. Indeed, remembering without action, isn’t really remembering at all.

Like God, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of Jesus and the other women in Luke 24 remembered. Like Sina remembering Afi’a’s words, they also remembered Jesus’ words, and this moved them to action. Returning to the disciples and telling them the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, while Jesus waits as their tapuaiga!

This Easter, Jesus calls us to see differently: by remembering and re-member-ing! 

Not a passive type of remembering, but an active form, as revealed to us by Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of Jesus and the other women; by Sina, and by God! A remembering that inspires us to move to action, to use our initiative for the wellbeing of others (re-member-ing), to drive others to pursue social justice. Remembering this way, is also re-member-ing; that is, bringing the marginalised outsider into membership with the rest of humanity.

This Easter, this remembering/re-member-ing couldn’t have come at a more apt time, as we reflect on the events around us, here and all over the world.

Remembering victims of floods, should move us to the call for urgent climate action (Re-member-ing the Environment). Remembering injustice against Indigenous peoples, should encourage us towards a meaningful process of healing and treaty (Re-member-ing Indigenous Peoples). Remembering the war in Ukraine, should drive us to also fight for justice for West Papua, Palestine, and other refugees whose search for peace and self-determination begun many decades ago and still unfulfilled today (Re-member-ing Native Peoples and Refugees). Remembering that we are in a global pandemic, should prompt us to love our neighbour, to protect them, and to act selflessly (Re-member-ing the Vulnerable).

Today, on Easter Sunday, we’re invited to see differently as we reflect on how Jesus remembered/re-member-ed us, when he gave his life on the cross for the suffering world, out of a love that was searching and unconditional (John 3:16).


Rev Dr Brian Kolia's reflection engages with Luke 24.1-12, a reading set out by the Revised Common Lectionary for Easter. 


Discussion Questions

What is it that makes us forget? Maybe it is human nature. For some it may be a condition. For others, could it be a failure to prioritise what matters most? Or is it a result of anxiety and fear of things that haunt us, leading us to set aside our traumatic realities? How then can we find the energy to remember? Perhaps we need a tapuaiga, or we can be tapuaiga for others.

How can we actively remember/re-member in our communities/society today?

Are we quick to remember catastrophes occurring thousands of kilometres away when forgetting and ignoring the tragedies happening at our doorsteps?


Prayer

Lord, 

we pray that we remember and re-member with action like the women you called to preach your Good News; 

may this inspire us to not just think and reflect on the plight of the suffering and marginalised, but to rise up in solidarity with them and fight for justice. 

In your Holy Name we pray, 

Amen. 


Rev Dr Brian Kolia is a second-generation Australian-Samoan. He’s a lecturer at Malua Theological College, and is passionate about the Hebrew Bible, islander and decolonising readings of the biblical text. He’s an ordained minister of the Congregational Christian Church Samoa. More importantly, he is a husband to Tanaria and father to Elichai.

 


Easter Saturday

Seeing Differently through Jesus’ suffering and vulnerability

Holy Saturday is the period between Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection. It’s a period of darkness, struggle, uncertainty, and suffering. So much seems to have been lost, and the resurrection has not yet occurred. 

The Lent passage of 1 Peter 4:1–11 reminds us that this period of suffering, vulnerability, and uncertainty is an opportunity to see differently, with humility and character. 

“Since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin” (4:1). This period of struggle and suffering is an opportunity to submit to God, live holy lives, pursue prayer, love others deeply, and show hospitality. This moment is a chance to serve the church and world, speak truthfully, act courageously, embody mercy, serve in God’s strength, and do all things for the praise and glory of God (4:2–11).

When the church has failed to witness to Jesus and his Gospel well, the reason has almost always been pride, greed, division, grasping for power, and lack of character or integrity. Churches that imitate and glorify Jesus are humble, embracing, and vulnerable. They are known by who they include, not who they exclude. Christianity is radical because of who it embraces, not who it rejects. These churches seek to be the new humanity in Jesus Christ. They welcome all people, pursue love and unity in the Spirit and reject division, antagonism, and hostility.

We practice and reveal Holy Saturday’s character and humility through loving service. Humility isn’t an abstract or idealised love. It’s concrete and embodied and tangible love. It’s costly and self-sacrificing. Humility is putting our theology of the Cross into practice as we live cruciform lives. Humility is choosing to lower yourself for the sake of others. It’s choosing to humble yourself before the weak, the poor, the broken, the marginalised, the despised, the silenced, the oppressed, and all those Jesus loved, honoured, and died for. Only then can we say that we love as Jesus loved and that we are humble as Jesus was humble. Such humble, loving service is costly. You cannot practice loving-kindness without heartbreak and suffering and loss. Humility is much harder than pride and ego. But our eternal joy is more incredible. Humility and character live in the imitation of Jesus Christ, which is the message of Holy Saturday.

Holy Saturday helps us see differently, reminding us that we follow a suffering and vulnerable Messiah, and we can know the power of God in our grief and vulnerability.

Sure, Jesus is mighty, glorious, victorious, and exalted. Still, he’s also the God who made himself weak, humble, pierced, crushed, and vulnerable.

We’re often tempted to minister out of strength and capacity and avoid opening ourselves up to ridicule, loss, or pain. But Jesus helps us see a different way. Jesus served among the poor and the powerful, among sinners and saints. Among the exalted and the marginalised, he served in meekness, openness, woundedness, and humility uniquely and consistently. But, as the disciples of Jesus have discovered through the ages, there’s power in vulnerability with others and submission to God. We see this in the lives of people who have decided to follow the way of Jesus, like Sojourner Truth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Nelson Mandela, Catherine Booth, Harriet Tubman, Ajith Fernando, Jayakumar Christian, Aunty Jean Phillips, Rosa Parks, Amy Carmichael, and more. Jesus went with weakness and vulnerability to the poor, exploited, and marginalised and championed their freedom, dignity, and worth. 

Vulnerability is risky and dangerous. Making ourselves vulnerable to God, to others, and to the Gospel will cause us to suffer. It was true for Jesus, Paul, the apostles, and the early church—so why wouldn’t we suffer too?

To serve is to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to suffer. 

But the message of Holy Saturday is that when we choose vulnerability with others, embrace the suffering of Jesus, and imitate the humility of Christ; we find that our witness to the Gospel is not just enhanced; it’s magnified beyond what we might ever have dreamed or imagined. 

Being vulnerable opens us up to love, divine and human. In suffering and vulnerability, we learn humility and character.

Holy Saturday encourages actions and character traits that enable us “to act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).


Dr Graham Joseph Hill's reflection engages with 1 Peter 4.1-11, a reading set out by the Revised Common Lectionary for Holy Saturday


Discussion Questions

How does suffering shape character and humility?

Why is God’s power and wisdom found in vulnerability, weakness, foolishness, and suffering?

How do these themes enable us to live as people of justice and mercy?


Prayer

Lord Jesus, 

enable us to be disciples and churches that embrace service, vulnerability, integrity, and peacemaking. 

May we hold power in the service of others, reject selfish ambition and vain conceit, and value the interests of others above our interests. 

Please give us the courage to embrace Holy Saturday discipleship by embracing the suffering and vulnerability of Christ. 

May we imitate the love and humility of Jesus, which moved him to become obedient to death—even death on a cross! 

Give us the grace to find the power of God in vulnerability, weakness, foolishness, and suffering — the power of the Cross of Christ.

Please help us follow a vulnerable Messiah and imitate his humility and character. 

Your grace is sufficient for us, for your power is perfected in our weakness. 

May we be Holy Saturday Christians, finding God’s power between the Cross and resurrection – in our suffering and hope. 

Amen.


Dr Graham Joseph Hill is the Western Australia State Leader for Baptist Mission Australia. He is Associate Professor of Global Christianity at the University of Divinity and the Founding Director of The Global Church Project. Graham is the author of eleven books, including Healing Our Broken Humanity (co-authored with Grace Ji‑Sun Kim).

 


Lent 6

Content warning: This reflection includes a discussion of violence and abuse. Please take care as you read.
  ________

Seeing Differently through Jesus sacrificial love in action. 

“The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”

Whose heart did not thrill to hear President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declare that he did not choose to be airlifted out of the Ukraine, but to remain and lead his people? “This might be the last time you see me alive,” said Zelenskyy, acknowledging that he was the #1 assassination target in the war. Such identification with his people, at great personal risk, is giving heart to Ukrainians as they defend their homeland. 

Identification

Our Scripture text for today, Psalm 22, also reveals deep identification, as Jesus takes its opening words on his lips: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1). Jesus, who was human and also God, had no need to go to the cross for his own sake. He was sinless and did not need to die.

As we look towards Good Friday, and Jesus’ death on the cross, we are reminded how Jesus saw things differently.

He was determined to suffer everything that we suffer, and to be tempted, so that he could help us in our suffering and temptation (Hebrews 2:18). Jesus could have called for an airlift of 12 legions of angels (Matthew 26:53, each Roman legion had 6,000 soldiers), yet he did not call for rescue, as he had chosen to lay down his life for our sake (John 10:18).

Suffering

Many will resonate with the experience of the Psalmist, who cried to God “by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but find no rest” (Psalm 22:2): Ukrainian patients and doctors in maternity hospitals, refugees fleeing by car or on foot. Anyone who is mocked, scorned, or despised. Anyone threatened with physical or emotional abuse, who feels surrounded by a pack of evil dogs, strong bulls, or ravening lions. Anyone whose mouth has dried up in fear, whose heart has turned to wax, who is fading away in the gaze of someone who seeks to harm them (Psalm 22:6–8; 12–18).

Dinah Garadji, a Warrndarrang-Marra-Yugul elder (born 1921) spoke to historian Murray Seiffert about her early memories, “They [the stockmen] were killing my people” (Seiffert, pg13). Barnabas Roberts, an Alawa man (born around 1898), told John Harris of the shooting of his father in the massacres along the Roper River (Harris, pg11). He told Margaret Sharp, “White people hunt us out from there ... shootim people like kangaroo, like bird” (Seiffert, pg14). Journalist Jess Hill has raised awareness of the epidemic of domestic abuse in Australia in her book, See What You Made Me Do, and recent church news has put the focus on spiritual abuse, defined by Dr Lisa Oakley as “characterized by a systemic pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour in a religious context” (White, pg3).

Victory

Early in the psalm, the Psalmist expresses his trust alongside his suffering (Psalm 22:3–5; 9–11; 19–21). Then he experiences rescue and turns to exultation: “He did not turn his face from me” (Psalm 22:24). The effect of this deliverance is monumental and world-wide, “all the nations will worship before him ... for he has done it” (Psalm 22:27, 31).

Jesus, too, trusted God. We can assume that Jesus knew the whole of Psalm 22, and the surrounding psalms. Psalms 15–24 are a structured group of psalms, including Psalm 16 which uses the same Hebrew word as in Psalm 22:1 to assure the Psalmist that “you do not forsake (azav) my soul to Sheol” (Psalm 16:10, see Acts 2:31). Psalm 22 is located between psalms of assurance of royal victory (Psalms 18–21) and trust (Psalm 23). 

This Lent as we reflect on Jesus’ death, his sacrificial love in action helps us see differently - Jesus the Messiah reigns from the cross, bringing about “the renewal of all things” as he gives his life “as a ransom for many” (Matthew 19.28–29; 20:28).


Rev Dr Jill Firth's reflection engages with Psalm 22, a reading set out by the Revised Common Lectionary for Good Friday. 


Discussion Questions

How can we see Jesus differently? How does Jesus see differently and what can we learn from Him about how to see differently? 

How does Jesus’ identification with our suffering and sin help us to draw near to him?

How does Psalm 22 help us to pray for others who are suffering?

What can we learn from Psalm 22 about proclaiming Jesus’ victory over sin and death?


Prayer

Lord Jesus,

You reign from the tree:

identifying with us, suffering with us, bringing healing and victory over sin and death.

In your sacrifice, draw us to yourself.

In your suffering, draw us near to all who suffer.

In your victory, bring healing to the nations.

Help us to trust you, to join in the fellowship of your sufferings, and to share your good news with people everywhere.

Amen.


Rev Dr Jill Firth is Lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament at Ridley College, Melbourne, and editor of Grounded in the Body, in Time and Place, in Scripture: Papers by Australian Women Scholars in the Evangelical Tradition (with Denise Cooper-Clarke).

 


Lent 5

Seeing Differently through Jesus’ word of forgiveness from the Cross.

Then Jesus said, ‘Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’. (Luke 23:34)

The context for Jesus’ poignant word from the Cross is of humankind behaving at our worst: callous cruelty, mean words and actions, a banal indifference to the suffering of another, a lack of kindness and justice.

In this context Jesus offers beautiful forgiveness. His first word from the Cross is consistent with the prayer gifted to us when the disciples saw Jesus praying and asked for help with their praying.

..“forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us"..( Luke 11:2-4).

It is consistent too with Jesus’ poetic encouragement to Peter about always forgiving - seventy times seven! (Matthew 18:21-22)

Consistently Jesus gives and forgives, inviting us to live in this way and see others differently, with love and compassion.

It is always an invitation. As St Ignatius reminds us, there is no coercion in God.

This invitation sits before us as we consider our lives as an Easter people.

Shouldn’t we know by now what it is we do?

The context in which Jesus spoke from the Cross is not our context.

Those mocking and those co-opted into cruelty as soldiers may not have known then that this truly was and is the incarnate God; the “one in whom all things hold together” (Colossians 1); the Resurrection and the Life .

Their behaviour was before the Resurrection.

But for us, isn’t it different?

Yes and No!

‘No’ in the sense that there is this same encouragement to live a giving and forgiving life, including in the complicated matter of self - forgiveness!

In fact, some friends and I have recently published a Study Guide on Forgiveness to help with this, as a matter of love. My motivations came from both concern about the unloving way we are treating God’s creation and thus causing the climate to change, but also from years of pastoral work and seeing the damage done when resentment and hatred shape toxic cultures. (“Cultures”, be it the culture of a family, an organisation, or even a nation are, after all, just the history of relationships in that place.)

Our Studies, with meditations and spiritual exercises, invite each of us to consider what we might let go of, in a giving and forgiving spirit.

One can but imagine that some of those present when Jesus forgave from the Cross may have been prompted to see differently, asking for and offering forgiveness when they later heard of Jesus’ resurrection!

But, ’yes’ too! For us now, shouldn’t things be different?

It sometimes seems that appreciating the Gospel is a journey the human family have only just begun, rather than being a reality of some 2,000 years!

Lately I have been involved in further advocacy on behalf of people seeking refuge and asylum, including those who have spent harsh years in indefinite detention (#SetThemFree). The cruelty of this destroys people. We know this. We know what we as a nation have done and are doing to those seeking refuge. We know from our First Nations people something of the cost of separation from loved ones as it now impacts these folk, long separated from family, without hope of perhaps ever seeing parents and grandparents again, this side of eternity. That is, unless federal policies change and become kinder.

In the last weeks we’ve had some welcome answers to our prayers and advocacy - the Government's announcements of an additional intake of 16,500 Afghan refugees as well as the news that New Zealand will resettle 450 refugees from Australia’s detention system. However, in our rejoicing we must continue with our prayer and advocacy until everyone has been set free from indefinite detention, whether offshore or within Australia.

‘Yes’, things should be different after so long seeing the Easter truth - “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

So, on Palm Sunday (10 April), we reflect on Jesus’ poignant and beautiful word of forgiveness from the Cross. As disciples we seek to follow; giving and forgiving.

Relatedly, as regards to refugees and other vulnerable beings, let us help shape together an Australia with policies which always seek to heal and never to harm. 

Wouldn’t that be wonderful!


Bishop Philip Huggins reflection engages with Luke 23:1-49, a reading set out by the Revised Common Lectionary for the sixth Sunday in Lent


Discussion Questions

What is the story of your ‘forgiveness’ journey?

Can you reflect on a work of forgiveness that you have accomplished in the past? If there is a matter with which you are struggling now, remembering that forgiveness from the heart can take a while, what might help?

What is your response to the “Yes and No” nature of Jesus’ word from the Cross for us now? Shouldn’t things be different now - kinder, more loving, compassionate and forgiving?

How can we help Australia be a place with policies only to heal, never to harm?


Prayer

Gracious God

You create this beautiful universe, make us in your own image and likeness, then gift us with this life.

Incarnate in Jesus, you make it plain that we are to love one another, even to love our enemies.

Poetically, you say we are to forgive one another, even seventy times seven.

We hear again the poignancy of your word from the Cross and so must ask afresh for grace and pray for peace.

How can it be that there is still so much sadness and cruelty?

Amidst a pandemic and a climate changing and already more than 80 million people forcibly displaced by catastrophic wars and violence, how can it be that even the simple and obvious things are hard to achieve?

How can this be?

And everyone of those forcibly displaced, those indefinitely detained, those hoping for safety - everyone of them is someone whose story you know.

Someone you love.

Gracious God, our words run out but you are our peace and you invite us to pray for what we need.

In our communion with you, we hear and see afresh your word from the Cross and pray for a just peace. You know what this is. You know what this takes.

Jesus have mercy, we pray.

Amen.


 

Bishop Philip Huggins has served as a Bishop since 1995 after initially training and working as an economist before preparing for Ordination as a priest in the Anglican Church. Bishop Philip Huggins is currently focused on the contribution of a contemplative heart for a more giving and forgiving culture as well as faith-based advocacy to prevent climate change and to ease the suffering of vulnerable people, including people seeking asylum and refugees.

Lent 4

Seeing Differently as we see ourselves in others shoes

Content warning: This reflection includes a discussion of war-related abuses. Please take care as you read.

How do you go seeing yourself in someone else’s shoes?

Many of us probably tried on a pair of our parent’s shoes as a child, picturing ourselves “all grown up” by seeking to walk in their footsteps, pretending to be them.

Perhaps the most haunting Holocaust memorial I’ve ever seen is in Budapest, called Shoes on the Danube. Sixty pairs of 1940s-style shoes, sculpted in iron, mark the place where hundreds of Jews were executed, forced to remove their shoes before they were shot into the river. The memorial is a stark and confronting invitation to picture the terror and despair of standing in their place.

Imagining ourselves in another person’s situation is an invitation to empathy and compassion. I trust spending time in lockdown during quarantine has brought a new appreciation for those held in detention year after year after year.

Our Lenten reading, Psalm 126, opens with an invitation to see ourselves in someone else’s shoes. A prayer in three movements, it envisages the joy of those who experienced restoration in the past, cries out for such intervention in our present need, and shares wisdom about restoration as future hope for all. It’s a prayer we can echo today as we pursue justice for those seeking asylum.

We are invited to identify ourselves with the generation who experienced return from exile (v 1), evoking what it felt like to have the very thing they had dreamed and longed for actually happen. Imagine being in those shoes! After 70 long years in a foreign land, God’s people have returned to Zion. They are welcomed home. Think of those currently dreaming of a release from detention, and how they will feel when the day of their long-hoped-for permanent settlement finally comes.

Envisaging restoration puts laughter in our mouths and songs on our tongues!

Then, we picture the surrounding nations, observing bemusedly that the Lord has done a mighty thing for a seemingly insignificant people (v 2). God’s heart for His people is seen, even by those who have been against them. His reputation for justice is declared, just as we long for it to be declared today.

The words they have imagined other nations asserting become the people’s own cry of praise as their new reality sinks in (v 3). They marvel at the goodness of God, at work through the actions of people, in securing their freedom. We can only anticipate the testimonies to be shared by those currently living in arbitrary detention when they finally experience welcome. How does seeing that hoped-for future fuel our action for justice?

In the Psalm, it becomes the prayer of a new generation, asking God to again restore and redeem His people, stepping into the desert of their experience to flood it with unexpected streams of life (v 4). We find the same image in the Lenten reading from the Prophets, Isaiah 43:16-21. Nothing is too difficult for God. We continue to cry out for His justice even where it seems far off or unlikely.

The concluding imagery in the Psalm is grounded in the concrete daily realities of life for an agricultural people, the demonstration of God’s faithfulness and provision through the seasons. Our prayer becomes a declaration of truth about the way God seeks to work in all situations: turning mourning into rejoicing (v 5-6). We have confidence that those who now weep will one day sing songs of joy. 

Through this season of Lent, as we reflect on how Jesus calls us to see differently, we are reminded of the invitation we each have to participate in seeing this reality come now.

As followers of Jesus, we don’t just long for His kingdom to break in; we actively pursue and practise it. We don’t just imagine ourselves in the other’s shoes … we walk toward and with them in the footsteps of our King.


Rev Dr Melinda Cousins reflection engages with Isaiah 43:16-21 and Psalm 126 readings set out by the Revised Common Lectionary for the fifth Sunday in Lent


Discussion Questions

What is the role of your imagination in seeking justice and holding on to hope? How does the imagery of the psalms invite you to empathy and compassion?

Australia continues to hold asylum seekers against their will, detained in hotels and immigration detention facilities or living with no certainty about their visa status. How can we hope, pray, and act in ways that seek justice for and with them?

In what ways is this journey through Lent prompting you to see differently and shaping your desire for justice, compassion and truth? What actions can you take this week?


Prayer

Redeeming Creator, make us like the dreamers

Awaken our imaginations

to see hope for the future

Your Kingdom breaking in

with justice, compassion, and truth.

 

Renewing Spirit, flood us with streams in the desert

Evoke our emotions

to feel the pain of our sisters and brothers

Crying out in lament

for release, freedom, and welcome.

 

Restoring King, send us out to bring change

Enliven our hands and feet

to sow seeds of justice

Walking together in new paths

of righteousness, blessing and rejoicing.

Amen.


Rev Dr Melinda Cousins is Director of Ministries for Baptist Churches SA. She has taught Biblical Studies at Tabor in Adelaide as well as colleges in the majority world. Her PhD was on the Psalms of Ascent and she loves exploring how the biblical narrative shapes our imagination for life and community.

 


Lent 3

Friend --

Welcome to our fourth reflection in the 2022 Common Grace Lent Series, Seeing Differently. This week, Dr Mick Pope reflects on Luke 15:11-32 encouraging us to see there is no justice without Jesus, and no us and them.

________

Seeing Differently as we pursue Jesus and justice

In the past I have found Lent too easy to trivialise, as an occasion to give up good things for no good reason.  I have been too busy and too lazy to follow the lectionary.

This season I need Lent. I write, not as a theologian, so much as Luther’s ‘simul justus et peccator’ (righteous and sinner at the same time). I write for myself; hopefully in a way helpful for you.

This parable Jesus tells of the Lost Son in Luke 15:11-32 is so well known to us, but it has treasures both new and old. As those who pursue Jesus and justice, we need to always do the former before the latter. It is too easy to get so tied up in justice that we forget it is Jesus’ justice we are pursuing, not our own.

This parable was told against the Pharisees and scribes, not because they were against sinners coming back to God, but because they wanted them to do so by obeying the whole law of Moses. Jesus offered grace freely. How often do we, in pursuit of the justice issues we hold so dear, look down on those who do not share our convictions? Rightly we might be disappointed, but do we complain to God that they receive too much blessing, when we have worked so hard for God’s cause, and suffered for it (v. 29)? 

Lent is the time to radically pursue God in Christ. We need to confess when we become the older brother, losing sight of access to divine grace we have. We need to chase after God like the younger, knowing our faults and failures.

Jesus’ teaching in this parable helps us to see that our excuses won’t do, and aren’t needed. There’s a journey to be made, and Lent can take us through that. But before we reach the expected end of our longings, God has compassion on us (v. 20) and will meet us on that journey. Whatever our unworthiness (v. 21), forgiveness is available. 

Ultimately, to pursue Jesus is to pursue justice, for that is the kind of world Christ brings into being, a fulfilment of all the Pharisees and scribes looked forward to. Not as a cage - a Lent of giving up what we enjoy - but a way of being, a Lent where we put on. For me this began with putting on ashes, putting back on a daily devotion, an extra service at church. It could also mean putting a justice issue on your heart and taking action in response.

Not only does this parable give us a way of seeing ourselves differently, but also others.

If in Christ, the world is being renewed, then the injustices Common Grace stands for are to be made right through the work and witness of the church. All of us who work in these spaces feel frustration and anger where churches are complicit in racism against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples or asylum seekers, whose theologies protect abusers, who mock climate science. They might be older siblings, but God yearns to welcome them like younger siblings. 

No one is righteous on their own terms, no one sees the world as God sees it. The work is hard, but when we feel superior to other Christians in our pursuit of justice, we risk losing sight of Jesus.

Likewise, to those outside of the church, our pursuit of justice has to be our pursuit of Jesus. To be sure, we work alongside those of good faith to accomplish the thing that God desires. However, if we converge on some kind of cause driven pragmatism, it will divide itself from a living faith. The world doesn’t need more do-gooders, it needs Christians to live out their kingdom conviction that the prodigal Father, who generously and lavishly gives us His grace, welcomes all into His kingdom of justice.

 


Dr Mick Pope's reflection engages with Luke 15:11-32, a reading set out by the Revised Common Lectionary for the fourth Sunday in Lent


Discussion Questions

How are you going with your own personal spiritual disciplines? Have you been pursuing justice without pursuing Jesus?

God is a God of compassion (v. 20). How does God’s compassion for the world shape how we pursue justice?

What does it mean to share Christian community with “older brothers” who might not value “social justice issues” as we do? How does this parable shape the way we see them?


Prayer

Loving prodigal Father, 

Turn our paths back to you this Lent, that we would pursue you with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. 

Come to meet us on our journey. 

Help us to see others as pilgrims in need of forgiveness, worthy of your love. 

In our local meetings, let us celebrate the grace you show to all.  

Relight within us the desire for this world to reflect your glory as a world of peace and justice. 

Help us to pursue Jesus and justice. 

Amen.

 


Dr Mick Pope has a PhD in Meteorology from Monash University and a Masters degree in Theology from the University of Divinity. He has written three books and a number of book chapters and journal articles in ecotheology. Mick partners with various Christian groups and theological institutions to help Christians draw a connection between their faith on environmental and justice issues. Mick hosts the podcast ‘The Natural Philosopher’.


 

Lent 2

Content warning: This reflection includes a discussion of domestic violence and abuse. Please take care as you read.

________

Chocolate and Psalm 63

I didn’t grow up in the church. When I found faith as an adult, it was in a Baptist bible college, and Baptists aren’t big on tradition.

So, I’m not exactly well versed when it comes to Lent, Liturgy, and Lazarus Saturday. The first time I learnt of anything Lenten was watching the movie Chocolat as a kid.

In Chocolat—based on Joanne Harris’ delectable book of the same name—bohemian Vianne arrives in a small, devout French community on Shrove Tuesday. She dares to open a chocolate shop during Lent, et naturellement she is met with suspicion and opprobrium.

Chocolat is also my first memory of seeing domestic violence depicted on screen. Vianne befriends Josephine, a seemingly odd and slatternly woman, but it becomes increasingly apparent that Josephine’s husband is abusive, controlling and physically violent.

I didn’t understand back then, but now I know that Josephine’s fears are the same fears felt by too many women in too many churches. If I leave my abusive husband, will he become more dangerous? Will my church support me?

Research, being conducted in and by our churches, is showing us that not only is domestic abuse poorly understood in our church communities, it’s also disturbingly prevalent.

Advocates have been telling us for decades how Christian teachings—precepts that could be life-giving, healing, and freely chosen, like forgiveness and mutual submission—have been used to abuse women.

Scholars have also been working for decades to redeem the biblical texts used to hurt women. I’ve spent my whole adult life studying history, theology, and literature, so it grieves me that the sublimely crafted, inspired, historical and revelatory scriptures of our faith have been (mis)interpreted and (mis)applied in harmful, controlling and violent ways.

Part of the work I do is exploring how biblical texts can help us to prevent and appropriately respond to domestic abuse. The Psalms are stunning poems, which run the gamut of human experience, and can help us to reflect on the terror of domestic abuse.

Our Lenten reading, Psalm 63, graciously lends itself to this kind of reflection. The Psalm is one of prayer and praise without petition. The writer—the Psalmist—sincerely seeks and longs for God, emphatically declares their trust in God, and—amazingly—doesn’t ask for anything.

The Psalmist trusts God because of what God has done: provided help and refuge. And because of who God is. The Psalmist has personally experienced God’s steadfast love. The Hebrew word for ‘love’ is hesed, which can be translated as ‘loving kindness,’ (near to) perfectly encapsulating that love is both being and doing.

God is. And God acts in the world—in our lives—with loving kindness because of it.

During Lent, we are reminded how ‘loving kindness’—being and doing—is exemplified in Jesus’ life, ministry and death, helping us see differently, more clearly, God’s enduring love and care for God’s world.  

We don’t know what happened to the Psalmist, causing them to write this Psalm. But we know they have clung to God. They know what it’s like to experience lies. And they know there are people who want to kill them.

For those of us who’ve been abused, reading a Psalm about someone who knows the dense fog of sorting lies from reality, and who has experienced the heart-piercing realisation that someone wants them dead, is comforting in its inclusion, and in its familiarity and solidarity.

Both Chocolat and Psalm 63 help us to see differently. They each tell the story of a person who has been wronged and harmed (by people who should have loved them). And they both portray people who remember the strength of their faith, and who long for God and for justice.

This Lent, may we too remember the strength and hope of our faith, and to see differently not only the people experiencing abuse, but also the power structures and systems that enable abuse. May we seek to be ‘loving kindness’ in action: creating communities of protection and care, pursuing peace, and longing for Jesus and for justice.

 


Erin Sessions' reflection engages with Psalm 63, a reading set out by the Revised Common Lectionary for the third Sunday in Lent


Discussion Questions

Walking alongside someone who is being abused isn’t easy. We need to actively listen, carefully empathise, and not act without their consent. How can you be present, and reflect God’s loving kindness, with someone experiencing abuse?

Sometimes well-meaning folk can re-traumatise people who have been/are being abused. What steps can you take to make sure you (and people in your community) are better trauma-informed in their care?

Observing the season of Lent can help us to see things differently, to shape and reorient our thoughts and practices towards God. As you spend time with God—whatever that looks like for you: prayer, devotion, reading scripture, experiencing tradition (or exploring a new one), community and communion—could you reflect on how Christianity, the church, and the bible can be genuinely good news for people experiencing abuse?


Prayer

O God, you are our God. 

We seek you. 

We thirst for you. 

You are refreshing like streams in the desert. And we find refuge under your wings.

Because of your loving kindness, we know that sometimes we don’t have to ask, we can expect you to act. And may those of us who have been wronged, harmed and abused know your comfort, healing, and justice.

Amen.


 

Erin Martine Sessions is a disordered creative who bends time and space to binge-watch The Witcher. She works at the Australian College of Theology, is completing her PhD on Song of Songs and DFV, has delusions of being a poet-laureate, and is Mu-um! Mum! Mamma!!! to two small humans.

Lent 1

Stories that challenge us to See Differently

Some stories never grow old. For me, the scenes in C.S Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Eustace becomes a dragon, and is subsequently ‘undragoned’, remain as evocative today as when I first read them when I was in Year 5.

Eustace finds himself in a dragon’s lair. After being immersed in the treasure and visions of the life that the treasure will afford him, he is turned into a dragon.

His transformation to being human begins as he sees himself and his behaviour more clearly. It continues as he connects with others, rather than being tiresome and aloof.

His transformation is complete when Aslan helps him to shed his dragon skin. This passage evokes allusions to baptism for the very reason that Eustace cannot complete his transformation on his own. His encounter with Aslan and his reconnection with the community are both crucial elements.

Eustace’s transformation is also a great image with which to begin our Lenten journey. As Eustace attempts to explain what has happened to his cousin Edmund, he reaches the limits of language. 

The season of Lent prepares us to come close to the mystery of Easter, all the while knowing that what God has done in Christ is something we are invited into but cannot possess or fully comprehend.

The ritual that many of us have undertaken today on Ash Wednesday, where oil and ash become the symbol of both frailty and hope, and scriptures set down for this week are rich in meaning and anticipation.

Luke’s account of the temptation in the desert is an evocative read and an example of how Jesus helps us see differently (Luke 4:1-5). Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit and is led by the Holy Spirit into the desert.

On the surface the desert is a place of scarcity and danger, but for those with eyes to see it is also a place of revelation and blessing.

The temptation that Jesus faces to literally ‘do a deal with the devil’, centres around Jesus putting his power, the devil’s power, and God’s power to the test. At each point Jesus upholds God’s provision and not a counterfeit version of security.

The season of Lent is an invitation to see more clearly and live more fully attuned to God’s reality. To be less concerned with counterfeit versions but rather open to the leading of the Spirit who promises to be our companion in every time and place.

The reading from the Hebrew Scriptures also reminds us of God’s provision and desire for mercy and justice. For the people of Israel, a new land is promised. The memory of trauma, slavery, and redemption remains part of their story. There is a tension in the narrative, a silence in this text (Deut 26: 1-11). As has been noted, the promised land is already inhabited. Jesus demonstrated that Scripture requires careful engagement lest we use a word that is designed to liberate, to oppress others. A situation we see played out in the processes of colonisation in multiple locations where texts such as this one can justify the acquisition of land.

I recently finished reading After Story by Larissa Behrendt. It is a poignant story about the power of story, both Indigenous stories and stories from the Western canon. It is also a meditation on family, grief, individual and collective histories, and the places that redemption can be found. This novel is another story that I suspect I’ll be thinking about for some time to come.

I wonder what stories from Scripture, from your life and the lives of others will inspire, convict, and help you to see differently this Lent?

 

Prayer

Loving and Holy God,

we turn to you again in

this Season of Lent.

 

We come to you in need of

your grace, your forgiveness, your wisdom.

 

We thank you for the gift of stories 

that enliven our imaginations 

and challenge us to see differently.

 

May your word dwell in us and lead 

us to a greater understanding of 

who you are.

 

We pray for our world. 

Bless all peacemakers and those

who work for justice.

Help us to play our part.

 

In the name of Jesus we pray,

Amen

 


Rev. Dr Katherine Rainger currently serves as Senior Chaplain at Radford College in the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn. Her research interests include Australian film and theology, the Book of Lamentations and Palestinian Christian theology. She loves a good book, a strong cup of tea and a beach to sit on – preferably all at once!