Janet Bucquet McCully, former Board member of both the North American Regional Committee (NARC, now the North American Committee) and the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem (AFEDJ), died from complications of kidney disease in Seattle on July 1, 2018.  Janet attended the ten week course (The Bible and the Holy Land: Past and Present) at St. George’s College in Jerusalem in 1989 at the time when the College building was under renovation.  She was deeply moved by the experience and became instrumental in fundraising for the renovation and the addition of a third floor on the College building.

Dean of the College in 1989, Canon John L. Peterson, said, “Janet’s time at St. George’s College impacted her life until she took her last breath.  Next to her bed when she died was the 33 taper Resurrection candle that had been initially lit at the Empty Tomb in the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.”  Janet loved Jerusalem, its people, the Episcopal Diocese there and its humanitarian work. Janet worked tirelessly to connect us with our Christian brothers and sisters in our Holy Land.

A memorial service will be held at St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle, on Sunday, October 28, 2018 at 2:00 in the afternoon.  Janet’s family has requested in lieu of flowers, “please consider a contribution to the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem”.  

The Friends address is:

AFEDJ

25 Old King’s Highway North

Suite 13

Darien, CT  06820

USA

Saint George’s College and the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, the Right Reverend Suheil Dawani,  is pleased to announce the appointment of Revd Richard Sewell as our next Dean of the college.  

Richard comes from the Diocese of Southwark, United Kingdom.  He was ordained priest on the Feast of St Francis 2003 and has served in parishes in the Diocese of Southwark throughout his ministry. He trained for ministry at SEITE now St Augustine’s College. He also studied Theology at the University of Birmingham, following which he worked at the Church of Scotland Hospice in Tiberias as a volunteer. For three years he initiated and oversaw an Inter-Faith Project in East London. Most recently, Richard has been for the past seven years the Team Rector of Barnes Team Ministry in south London.  

Prior to ordination Richard worked for the Anglican Mission Agency, USPG, as a mission educator with additional responsibilities for USPG’s relationship with the Churches in Pakistan and Bangladesh. 

JulieAnn, his wife, a Primary School teacher and Counsellor, will be joining the college community whist their son, Nathaniel, and daughter, Eliana,  continue to pursue their careers and  studies in the UK. 

Asked to reflect on his forthcoming ministry and role here as Dean of Saint George’s College, Richard responded.

“I am so excited and feel very privileged to have been selected as the new Dean of St George’s College. This role brings together a lifetime’s interests and commitments in ministry and beyond. I am delighted to be able to join the staff team of the College and the Cathedral and to lead the College into what I pray will be a very positive future.”

Our expectation is that Richard will commence his position as Dean of St. George’s College Jerusalem in October 2018.  

The St. George’s College staff and community mourns the loss of the former Dean of St. George’s College,  the Revd. Canon Dr. John Wilkinson, who passed away on January 13.

John  began his career at  St. George’s College in 1961 as a tutor and subsequently became Dean of the college  from 1969-1974.

During his tenure at St. George’s College, John designed short courses and his format is still experienced today whereby our students visit holy sites, engage in theological reflection and experience worship and fellowship with the local Palestinian Christians. The Rev. Dr. Stephen Need, former dean of the College from 2005-2011,  reflected on the significant contribution of Revd. Wilkinson, calling John the “founding father of St. George’s College. His scholarship and love of Jerusalem and the Holy Land were legendary.” Stephen Need wrote:

During my time as Dean of St. George’s College when traveling around the land and in the Sinai with groups, John’s name would come up frequently because he had translated the famous Egeria’s Travels to the Holy Land (1971) and numerous other texts published in “Jerusalem Pilgrims Before the Crusades,” (1977) and “Jerusalem Pilgrimage 1099-1185 (1988). ” 

In addition to his Biblical scholarship and teaching excellence, John played a key role in supervising the construction and design of the college building that is used today. The cornerstone visible on the eastern facade of the building was designed and installed by John in 1962.

Besides his legacy in the role of Dean  and leader within the St. George’s Cathedral close community,  Revd. Wilkinson was awarded a Ph.D. from the University of London and the Courtauld Institute of Art for his research dissertation entitled, “ Interpretations of Church Buildings before 750.” Whilst serving as Dean and in the subsequent years when he frequented Jerusalem, becoming the Director of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem,  John was still a familiar presence in the worshipping life of the cathedral close; Revd. Wilkinson became a canon of St. George’s Cathedral in 1973.

Recently while visiting the cathedral close, The Revd. Canon John L Peterson,  dean of St. George’s College from 1983-1994, reflected on the legacy of John Wilkinson at the college:

Without a doubt, it was Canon John Wilkinson’s vision that laid the foundation on which St. George’s College is built today.  For those of us who knew John, we knew him as a scholar, educator and a dedicated priest who cared deeply about giving clergy and laity a profound appreciation for the bible, the land, the historic churches and the peoples of the land. Thank you John for being an inspiration to all the Deans (as well as College staff and course members) who have followed you.

The Revd. Canon Dr. John Wilkinson was preceded in death by his first wife, Alexandria McFarlane, and is survived by his widow, Mzia; the St. George’s College staff and community send our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends. John’s impact on the college academics, leadership and affection for the local Christian community will be remembered with  admiration and gratitude for his years of ministry herein.

 

__________________________________________________

We are grateful for the contributions of the following former deans and their permission to include them in this memoriam.

The  Revd. Dr. Stephen Need and The Revd. Canon John L. Peterson.
Photo from Church Times, 16 Feb. 2018.

From the Dean

St George’s College, Jerusalem

 

December 8, 2017

At a time when we are aware of your prayers for us and for Jerusalem, I offer the following.

The sun is shining today in Jerusalem though on an eerie silence. Stores are shut. The streets are virtually empty. A few cars pass the College gates. It is the silence of a gasp in mid-breath at the precipitous actions taken this week to redefine this city, their home and their lives once again. Once again decisions made far away by other powers seek to reshape this city. Jerusalem has seen actions to rename it, redefine it, reclaim it, retake it, repeatedly. The tragedy of this moment may yet be overturned and common sense prevail in recognition of two peoples and three faiths in one city holy to the world. One can hope.

Many centuries ago, at a time of political instability, St Augustine wrote, what is now a famous letter to a friend up the coast of North Africa. That friend was watching the tattered remains of a Roman empire come ashore after the sacking of their city. In his letter St. Augustine reminded his friend that there are always two cities. There is the earthly city that is always disintegrating even as it is being built, but there is also the heavenly city, the city of God. His advice to the younger friend was, the way to stay human and sane and alive to your time, is to remember that as you work and struggle in the earthly city, even as it is being shaken, and seek and serve the one who died and rose Jesus Christ, you are at the same time, mysteriously, serving in building the city of God. If you can remember that, and hold to that hope, then you can live in a crazy history.

Hope arises sometimes from the darkest circumstances where the light of Christ germinates an alternative stance.

In this Advent time, may the startling light of Christ illuminate all that darkens and ensnares this present age bringing true peace, justice and hope.

We pray for you as you hold this land in your prayers.

Warm regards,

Canon Dr. Richard LeSueur

Interim Dean, St. George’s College, Jerusalem

 

Photo: R. LeSueur

On Tuesday, 26 July 2016, our Palestine of Jesus program devoted an entire day to a very small area of the Old City.

We began with a visit to the Haram Al-Sharif (‘The Most Noble Sanctuary’). This is the third holiest site in the Islamic world and one of the cultural glories of Jerusalem. It is always a privilege for our students to be welcomed to the Haram as guests of the Waqf, the Islamic trust that cares for the site, and today was no exception. However, it was lovely to see the scaffolding in the Dome of the Rock had been removed following completion of the restoration work previously underway.

IMG_2389
[Inside the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem.]
Following our visit to the Haram we went back in time with a visit to the excavations under the ‘City of David’ which have revealed the advanced engineering achievements demonstrated in the complex water system developed by the Jebusite rulers of Canaanite Jerusalem in the middle of the second millennium BCE. We were also able to explore the modifications to that ancient system made in the time of the Jewish king, Hezekiah around 700 BCE. Many of the group took the opportunity to walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, which still conveys water from the ancient Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam.

IMG_2394
[The ancient Canaanite water cistern, Jerusalem.]
Finally, we visited the excavations below the Haram where the contours of Herod’s Jerusalem from the first century can still be seen. The day ended with reflections led by our Visiting Professor, Dr. Peter Walker, on the ancient steps leading to the great plaza of the Second Temple.

IMG_2395
[On the steps of the Herodian temple, Jerusalem.]

College Dean, Canon Gregory Jenks, has been on an extended visit to the United States since the middle of May. He left Jerusalem immediately after the conclusion of the May Introduction to the Bible Lands program, and will return to the College on June 8.

Boston-alumni-event

During his visit, the Dean participated in the ordination service for our Associate Dean. Susan Lukens, and had meetings with a number of people from the North American Committee and from Virginia Theological Seminary. He and Eve were also able to visit some nearby sites where the Jenks family has historical connections. As mentioned in a separate story, they also visited the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in Danville, VA.

Alumni events were held at VTS, in Boston, in Memphis and in Atlanta.

Memphis-workshop

Meetings were arranged with key figures in the Episcopal Church and in local academic institutions.

This was the first visit to the US for Dr Jenks since becoming Dean, but he expects to visit different parts of the States on a regular basis as we reinvigorate our alumni networks and our relationships with donors. He spent three weeks in the UK in April, and will be in Australia and New Zealand for an extended visit in August. Details of the ANZ itinerary will be available soon.

Atlanta-alumni-event

A special thanks to everyone who assisted with the arrangements, to those who traveled long distances to attend the alumni events, and to those who generously offered hospitality to Greg and Eve at various times during the trip.

SGC Dean SQ 151113During the Dean’s recent visit to the United Kingdom and his current visit in the United States, there have been opportunities to develop and explore some key questions around the mission of the College. These are questions that go to the heart of the issue of how we discern God’s purposes for the College.

The existing ‘mission statement’ nicely brings together several beautiful elements of our shared vision for the role of the College:

St. George’s College Jerusalem is an Anglican community of education, hospitality, pilgrimage, and reconciliation. Through study, site visits, engagement with the local Christian community, prayer and reflection, lives are transformed and faith renewed.

The College Foundation has also identified a small set of strategic directions for the College as we pursue this mission in the next five years:

  • Wider participation from the Anglican Communion worldwide
  • Targeting ordinands and younger clergy
  • Supporting the Diocese of Jerusalem, and connecting with the ‘living stones’ of the local Church
  • Developing inter-faith courses
  • Encouraging lay faith formation
  • Raising the scholarly profile of the College

Within the matrix created by our mission statement and our strategic directions, the Dean has been exploring the missional questions with alumni, church leaders, and theologians in both the UK and the USA. All of this grows out from—and feeds back—into the strategic planning process that is currently underway.

The strategic plan that will be considered by the Foundation in June will assist us to provide realistic but exciting answers to the following key missional questions:

What is our mission to (how can we best serve) the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem?

What is our mission to (how can we best serve) the wider Church in the Middle East, and also to churches in other societies with a Muslim majority?

What is our mission to (how can we best serve) the wider Anglican Communion, and especially at a time when its own sense of identity and mission is so problematic?

Those three questions have become central reflection points for us as we plan individual programs, as we review the overal suite of courses, as we consider the role of the College library, and as we discern how best to allocate our scholarship funds.

These questions remind us to look beyond the survival of the College as we plan our programs and manage our resources. They remind us to think locally, regionally, globally. They invite us to explore mission possibilities beyond the contours of our recent profile.

Most importantly, they invite us to dream God’s dream for the future of St George’s College as a mission agency of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, as a mission theology resource for the Church in multi-faith contexts, and as a center for Anglican reconciliation and renewal worldwide.

Please hold us in your prayers as we seek to discern the missional pathways opening up before us, and stand with us as we seek the resources needed to fulfill God’s purposes for this College.

The rural city of Danville in the western region of Virginia was a late addition to the itinerary for the Dean’s current program in the United States. Best known for its previous role as a center for the textile and tobacco industries, it also played a key role in the final days of the Civil War when Danville served as the last seat of government for the Confederated States of America.

What took the Dean to Danville was another historical link.

Following the recent round of scholarship grants, the Dean dropped a brief email to the Revd Becky Crites at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in Danville. He was writing to let them know that he had drawn on a fund created by a gift from their parish some years earlier. That gift allowed him to offer scholarships for several clergy from the Hmong community in Minnesota to participate in a program at St George’s College later this year.

danville-va-banner

danville-va-jenks-crites

This simple courtesy note triggered a set of connections, new and old. A brief visit to Danville was arranged when other changes to the Dean’s schedule created a free day in the program.

As well as meeting with the Revd Becky, who is serving as the Interim Rector of the Church of the Epiphany, there was an opportunity to meet with Fr Jim Mathieson, who was Rector of the Church at the time when the original gifts to St George’s College had been made. His own love for the College and his vision of clergy professional development, had continued to bear fruit many years later. Jim had also served for a period on the North American Committee of the College.
danville-va-matheison-jenksdanville-va-jenks-students

Following a light lunch with Becky and Jim, there was an opportunity for the Dean to speak with the children from Eighth Grade in the small school operated by the Parish. The class had recently completed a unit on the Middle East, so a visitor from Jerusalem was an unexpected addition to the curriculum resources. The children were joined by a few parishioners who were available in the middle of the week and at short notice.

The connecting ripples of our fellowship in the Gospel spread even farther afield since the Dean’s email had been copied to the Revd Letha Wilson-Barnard. Letha’s church in Minnesota includes the members of the Hmong community who had received the grants ultimately funded by this gift from the Church of the Epiphany in Danville. As it happened, both Becky and Letha are classmates from Virginia Theological Seminary; another key partner for St George’s College.

Written in thanksgiving for all these special connections!

A sermon for the Feast of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Cathedral Church of St George the Martyr, Jerusalem on Monday, 4 April 2016.

 


Today we celebrate the courage of a young woman who said YES to God.

Luke the master storyteller has crafted a beautiful story about the birth of Jesus.

He has woven together elements from Jewish tradition as well as the Roman world in which he lived. The world of his principal addressee, Theophilus.

Luke is celebrating the strange workings of God among us.

The strange workings of a God who calls Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees.

The strange workings of a God who speaks to Musa from the burning bush.

The strange workings of a God who calls the people of Israel into being in this land of promise.

The strange workings of a God who comes among us in the person of Jesus.

The strange workings of a God who calls the Jewish people back from Diaspora to renew their ancient connections with this land.

 

Luke begins with a story of two births.

Two women who find themselves pregnant in unusual circumstances. An elderly woman who has not conceived despite several decades of married life. And a maiden not yet married.

Two miraculous births.

At the heart of the story is a young Palestine Jewish woman from Nazareth who says YES to God.

This evening we are invited to imitate Mary by making our own YES to God.

God invites our YES.

 

That is amazing. Think about it. God waits for us to respond before acting. In creation we are called to collaborate with God, but in salvation God chooses to wait for us.

God comes to us. In the reading from Isaiah 52 just now, God says, “Here am I.” The words later found on the lips of Mary in Luke 1, and on the lips of Jesus in Hebrews 2, are also found on the lips of God. “Here am I.”

God waits for us.

God invites our response.

God chooses not to act until we are ready to say YES.

How shall we respond to the God who invites our response?

 

And to what might we be saying YES?

We will be saying YES to hope

We will be saying YES to trust

We will be saying YES to life

We will be saying YES to justice

We will be saying YES to compassion

We will be saying YES to freedom

We will be saying YES to joy

We will be saying YES to love

 

The world needs people who say YES to these things.

The world needs people who say YES to God.

We need to be people who say YES to the God who invites us to work with God to heal and save a broken world. AMEN

A sermon at the Cathedral Church of St George the Martyr, Jerusalem on Maundy Thursday, 24 March 2016.

 

Our paschal liturgies have commenced.

It is Maundy Thursday, and we stand at the beginning of the three holiest days in the year for Christians.

In the next few hours and during the next two days we shall follow the ancient observances of the paschal liturgies:

Tonight we join Jesus and the disciples in the upper room as they share a final meal, and as Jesus offers them a master class in spiritual leadership.

Later we shall walk to Gethsemane, as Jesus and those first disciples did here in this city on that first Maundy Thursday night so long ago.

Unlike them, we know the outcome of the story. We walk to the garden knowing about the betrayal and the imminent arrest. And we shall walk away from the garden with hearts that are not weighed down with confusion, fear and grief as theirs were on that first Maundy Thursday.

Tomorrow morning, we shall gather in the narrow streets of the Old City to walk and pray the traditional route of the Via dolorosa, the way of the cross.

The indifferent stares of the residents as yet another bunch of Christian pilgrims treads the flagstones of this ancient city will be but a pale echo of the rejection experienced by Jesus as he walked those streets on his way to Calvary.

At noon we shall gather here again for the solemn liturgy of Good Friday.

Our sadness at the cruel and undeserved death does not even begin to touch the depth of the grief of those who watched helpless from the sidelines as Jesus was executed under the noonday sun.

The silence of the following day will eventually surrender to the shouts of joy as the news of Easter spreads like a ripple in a sceptical and distracted world. Who cares what happened to this man? What difference does it make anyway?

Perhaps it makes all the difference in the world. At least, that is our faith!

That is the pathway that stretches out before us tonight, and now we begin that journey.

 

The eternal dance of love and fear

As I have reflected on these events and liturgies the past few days, I have found myself noting the interplay of love and fear.

Michael Leunig, an Australian cartoonist, poet and cultural commentator has observed as follows in his poem Love and Fear:

There are only two feelings.
Love and fear.
There are only two languages.
Love and fear.
There are only two activities.
Love and fear.
There are only two motives,
two procedures, two frameworks,
two results.
Love and fear.
Love and fear.

That poem offers a way to reflect on the significance of the events back then as well as the dynamics around us here and now.

 

Love and Fear Then

Was the death of Jesus an act of love, or the expression of a deep and deadly Fear?

Do we even need to ask?

Jesus was drawn to Jerusalem, and thus to his death, by love. His love of God. His love for the city of God, over which he wept as he considered what lay ahead. And his love for the people who gathered around him as disciples and fellow pilgrims.

It was love that made the preparations for the last supper in a borrowed upper room.

It was love that put Jesus on his knees washing the feet of his disciples.

It was love that broke the bread and blessed the cup.

It was fear that drove Judas to hand Jesus over to his enemies.

It was fear that persuaded the leaders to seek a way to eliminate Jesus.

It was fear that caused the crowd to call for his crucifixion.

 

Love and Fear Now

Here in this city these past several months, it has been fear that drives people to stab strangers and run them down with cars.

It is fear that causes armed soldiers to shoot dead attackers who are armed only with knives and scissors.

It is fear that causes extremists to vandalise and burn churches.

It is fear that surrounds illegal settlements on stolen land with barbed wire fences.

It is fear that erects a concrete wall through the heart of the land.

It is fear that attacks civilians in Paris, in Istanbul and in Brussels.

It is fear that turns away refugees seeking asylum.

It is fear that causes children to drown in the ocean in the quest for safety.

It is fear that rains death from the sky on Raqqa, on Homs, or on Damascus.

It is fear that traps 1.8 million people inside the fences that surround Gaza.

It is fear that threatens Christian minorities across the lands held by Daesh.

It is fear that can imagine no way for two peoples to share the one land.

It is fear that prefers the status quo to a just peace.

It is fear that divides, hates, and kills.

It is fear that blinds us so that we can see no partner for peace.

It is fear that distorts our vision so that we project our worst nightmare onto our neighbor, rather than seeing him as a human being just like our selves.

 

This city, this land, and this world is filled with fear.

Where is the love?

 

Fear has No Future

Fear seems so much stronger because it is so destructive.

But in the end – in the End – fear has no future, because fear does not sustain life.

Lives, corporations, and societies grounded in fear and defended by violence never last.

As the darkest night is split by a small flicker of light, so the empire of fear is doomed once love takes root and life begins to bloom once more.

This is the message of Easter, and it is the message of this first evening of the sacred triduum.

Fear seems so powerful, and it is indeed destructive. But in the end fear destroys even itself.

Love seems so fragile, and is often the victim of fear, but in the end love wins.

In his famous hymn to love, St Paul writes:

Love is patient;
love is kind;
love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. (1 Cor 13:4–8)

As we walk through the Paschal liturgies these next three days, let us never lose sight of the gentle power of love to overcome all obstacles, and of the ultimate impotence of fear. In the end, love prevails. Life wins.

 

With Mary we affirm:

[God is] casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.

 

And with the author of 1 John we proclaim:

There is no fear in love,
but perfect love casts out fear … (1 John 4:18)

Khalil BassaOur College community was saddened to hear last Friday morning of the death of our friend, Khalil Bassa, the previous evening.

Khalil commenced his role as the head of housekeeping services for the College on 1 May 1990. When I made my first visit to the College later that month, I did not know that he was such a recent appointment. It was not until I was sitting with his family and friends in his home at Bethany last Friday afternoon that I realised that I had known this gentle and loving man for the whole of his time at the College.

On every visit to Jerusalem in the years since then I made my own pilgrimage to the College to share coffee and a conversation with this man who embodied our community’s mission of hospitality.

It was special delight for me a couple of years ago to stumble across a beautiful account of Khalil’s unassuming ministry of hospitality in chapter six of Ruth Everhart’s book, Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land (Eerdmans, 2012). I went back to that passage after hearing of Khalil’s death, and then I contacted Ruth to see if she could contribute something to this online tribute to our mutual friend.

Ruth has written the following piece, which I am pleased to share with you:

Christians travel to St. George’s in Jerusalem for many reasons — perhaps hoping to return to their faith roots, or to refresh their acquaintance with Jesus, or to experience firsthand this sacred navel of the world, where the three Abrahamic faiths forever circle each other.
When I was at St. George’s, one of the most precious things I learned was not on my original agenda, and I learned it from Khalil Bassa. I learned to look for Christ in the face of the Other.
It was the first day of my pilgrimage and I was still addled by jet lag. I wandered into the garden to clear my head. Khalil was on the path, so I asked him about the trees around us. He answered my questions, then plucked a pomegranate from a branch. He told me that the early Christians regarded this fruit — so many seeds held together by one flesh — as a symbol for the church. 
Then he sliced the fruit open with a knife and I ate the seeds while he smoked a cigarette. We talked about our jobs and our families. He told me about Bethany, his generational home. We collided a bit over my career as an ordained pastor, and gender roles. It was clear that we inhabited different worlds. Still, Khalil invited me to his daughter’s upcoming wedding. For a moment I imagined attending the celebration, in the village where Jesus so often ate with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. That glimpse helped shift me from cerebral pastor to open-hearted pilgrim. Our talk did what we always hope interfaith conversation will do — it nudged our hearts toward greater openness. Our talk set the tone for a pilgrimage that transformed my faith, and I am grateful to him.
I am saddened to hear of Khalil’s passing. May his family and friends know the comfort of their faith. May Khalil rest in peace, and may he rise in glory.
We give thanks for the blessing that Khalil was to so many students and staff at St George’s College Jerusalem over more than twenty years, and we pray for his family and friends at this time of great loss.

This list of programs, arranged by program type, has been updated in early March 2016 to reflect some changes to dates and program offerings. It may be helpful for people thinking of coming with a group or as individuals during 2017.

Introduction to the Bible

February 6–13
May 1–8
June 19–26
November 23–30

Jordan Study Tour

January 24–28
May 9–13
July 10–14
September 19–23

Palestine of Jesus

February 28 – March 13 (Lent)
May 16–29 (Gospel of Matthew)
September 5–18 (Gospel of Mark)
November 7–20 (Gospel of Mark)
December 5–18 (Christmas)

Ministry Formation Program

January 10–23 (Ordinands)
July 18–31 (Ordinands)

Other Programs

Abraham and his Children (April 19–28)
Bible and Archaeology (Bethsaida Excavations Project) (June 18–July 7)
Easter Fire! (April 8–17)
Holy Land and the Arts (October 2–13)
OT Landscapes and Narratives (October 17–26)
Parables of Jesus (October 28–November 4)
Sharing Perspectives: Jews and Christians (February 3–12)
Sharing Perspectives: Muslims and Christians (March 16–23)
St Paul and the Early Church (Turkey) (September 13–26)
Ways in the Wilderness (October 2–13)
Women of the Bible (June 2–11)

For further details and for online registration, please click on the embedded links.

A sermon delivered at the Cathedral Church of St George the Martyr, Jerusalem on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, 6 March 2016.

 

Today we enter the second half of our Lenten journey.

Behind us lie the first three Sundays of Lent:

  • Lent 1 – Jesus is tempted in the wilderness by Satan (Luke 4:1-13)
  • Lent 2 – Jesus condemns Jerusalem for its treatment of the prophets (Luke 13:31-35)
  • Lent 3 – the parable of the barren fig tree (Luke 13:1-9)

Those are all fairly grim texts.

Ahead of us the two Sundays that especially focus on the Passion of Christ:

  • Lent 5 – a woman anoints Jesus for burial (John 12:1–8)
  • Lent 6 – Palm Sunday (Luke 22 & 23)

Today we have something of a respite.

In some Christian traditions today is known as ‘Refreshment Sunday’ because it offers a slight relaxation of the Lenten fast, and something of a respite from the penitential focus of this season.

Sometimes rose-colored vestments are worn, instead of the traditional purple. (You may recall a similar thing happens on the Third Sunday of Advent.)

In the UK and some parts of the Anglican Communion today is also observed as Mothering Sunday.

That observance has its origins in the tradition that servants and apprentices were released from regular duties to visit the church of their baptism and also to see their mothers, perhaps even taking them a gift from the place where they served.

Here in this land, Mothers’ Day is observed on March 21, so we can focus on today as the Fourth Sunday of Lent.

 

Reconciliation as the Mission of God in our Time

Given the themes of the NT readings for this Sunday, we could consider designating today as ‘Reconciliation Sunday’. That is not its official title, but it would certainly fit with the readings.

 

In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself … (2 Cor 5:19)

This is a powerful piece of very early Christology. The letters to the Corinthians preserve pastoral communications between Paul and the emerging Christian community in Corinth. They date from a time in the 50s, around 20 years after Easter.

In these letters, which predate the Gospels by several decades and perhaps 100 years in the case of Luke, we get the first evidence of how the followers of Jesus were already making sense of his death as something God did for our benefit.

Everybody in Corinth realised that crucifixion was something awful. It was the worst form of capital punishment used in the Roman Empire. It reflected final condemnation and exclusion from society. There was no honour attached to such a death. Nothing could be rescued from such a disaster.

But the followers of Jesus came to see the cross as an action in which God reconciled the world to himself.

It is a far richer concept than the medieval idea that someone had to pay for sin, so Jesus suffered in order to preserve the patriarchal honor of God.

Instead, here we have God taking the worst that Rome could inflict on Jesus, and making that very act the occasion for reconciliation.

Not merely the forgiveness of sins, but the reconciliation of a world gone awry.

 

The prodigal and the loving father (Luke 15)

The lectionary matches that Pauline text with one of the most confronting parables of Jesus, the so-called Prodigal Son.

Here we see reconciliation at work, and also its limits.

We all know the story. It has three main characters, as in many oral stories:

  • the ungrateful son
  • the generous father
  • the grumpy older brother

These are exaggerated caricatures, and that exaggeration invites us to reflect on those times when we are one or more of these characters.

The wealth of the father is matched by the selfishness of the younger son, which is in turn matched by the self-less love of the father, which itself is trumped by the self-righteous indignation of ‘Mr Perfect’, the elder brother.

Reconciliation is hard work, and not everyone will agree to be reconciled.

Yet it remains our work, because it is the mission of God.

 

… and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (2 Cor 5:19)

The divine mission of turning hatred, death and rejection into an act of cosmic reconciliation has been entrusted to us.

To us.

Of all people, to us.

Here.

Of all places, here in this conflicted city and divided land.

Not only here.

But especially here, because this is where the cross become Ground Zero for the divine mission of reconciliation.

As we come to the Table of the Lord this morning and stretch out our hands to receive the Body of Christ, we ask for grace to be ambassadors for Christ, spending our lives in the mission of reconciliation.

It is my privilege to welcome you to this first issue of our digital newsletter.

Changes in technology have offered us new opportunities for communication and online collaboration. Where once prospective students at St George’s College Jerusalem would write to the secretary of their regional committee and request a brochure to be sent to them by mail, now anyone with an Internet account can find all the information they need on the College web site.

Until now the College’s communication strategy has centered on people coming to our site, but now we are able to bring highlights from the web site direct to your digital mailbox.

The ‘push’ technologies that harvest our web site and prepare this digital newsletter, are supplemented by the diverse web of social media as we each share this news and information within our own circles of influence. By clicking on the share options at the bottom of each story you can multiply the impact of our communications, and assist us in making the College much better known.

The annual Christmas letter from the Dean will still be sent to those people who have attended a program at the College during the previous calendar year. Your regional committee will continue to mail out a printed magazine two or three times a year. When possible we shall offer regional events so that people can meet other alumni as well as the leadership team from the College. These traditional channels for communication will continue, but now we can reach out from Jerusalem with all the latest news and information on a more regular basis—and with greater immediacy.

The newsletter will be published just once each month. This will limit the electronic clutter that may otherwise overwhelm your email account. In between times you can always check the latest posts on our College blog site, join the conversations on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

We have some exciting times ahead of us at the College, and we want to share these developments with you so you can share the excitement and celebrate our success.

In this first issue we have a taste of the diverse developments already taking place in the life of the College:

  • We have welcomed our first Associate Dean, the Rev. Dr. Susan Lukens
  • We are preparing to farewell our Course Director, the Rev. Dr. Rodney Aist
  • We are honouring the passing of the late Canon John Emerton
  • We have a story about the many reasons why you might choose St George’s College Jerusalem for your next pilgrimage to the Holy Land
  • We have details of programs in the summer of 2016 and throughout 2017
  • We have the launch of SGC Online, our online learning center at St George’s College
  • We have news of a 10 year grant from the Porter Foundation to create a new partnership with Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University
  • We have an update on our arrangements for personal security and group safety
  • And we have a story about the Benshoof Cistern Museum with its wonderful collection of artefacts from the Tel Dothan excavations on the West Bank

I hope you enjoy this first issue of our newsletter, and that you will share it with family and friends.

Blessings from Jerusalem, the Holy!

Greg Jenks

Dean
St George’s College Jerusalem

 

emertonRecently we received news that a memorial service for Professor John A. Emerton is to be held at St John’s College, Cambridge on Saturday, 27 February 2016.

Professor Emerton was a leading Old Testament scholar, and a frequent visitor to St George’s College where he served repeated terms as an esteemed Scholar-in-Residence. He was made a canon of the Cathedral Church of St George the Martyr, Jerusalem in 1984.

John Adney Emerton was born on 5 June 1928 and died on 12 September 2015. He is survived by hjs wife, Dr Noma Emerton, and their three children.

He was Regius Professor of Hebrew at the University of Cambridge from 1968 to 1995, and played a leading role in Old Testament studies for several decades. St George’s College was enriched by his scholarship and his gracious manner.

Former Dean of the College, Canon John Peterson, has reflected on the contributions that Professor Emerton made to St George’s College:

When Dean Greg Jenks wrote and told me that John Emerton had died, wonderful memories came flooding into my mind as I recalled the important role that John played in the life of St. George’s College between 1983-1994.  If I am remembering correctly, during those 12 years when I was Dean, John was in residence at St. George’s each of those years and one year, he took his sabbatical at St. George’s, when he participated in the life of both the Cathedral and the College.

John was a gifted academician. His knowledge of the Hebrew language was surpassed by no one. Although John was an academic, he was also passionate about being a pilgrim. John helped me and the College staff to understand how the academic life and the life of a pilgrim mutually supported each other. John insisted on this point and his fingerprints touched every course member of the College during those 12 years.

During the Deanship of Ted Todd, John wrote his famous lecture, “The Languages of Jesus”. Every time John was in Jerusalem he would deliver that lecture in the College, although I must quickly add that he delivered many other lectures as well. After a careful analysis of all the languages Jesus could have spoken (Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic) John concluded that Jesus’ mother tongue was Aramaic because Jesus cried in agony from the cross, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani” (Matthew 27:46). John’s argument was that in pain and agony, one goes to the language in which one was raised.

St. George’s College was blessed by John Emerton. John’s imprint will continue for generations to come by all those who were touched by this humble and brilliant man. John truly loved every time he could come to Jerusalem to be on a course at St. George’s College.

We remember his faithful ministry as a Priest and scholar, and we especially give thanks for his many contributions to St George’s College in Jerusalem.

May he rest in peace, and rise in glory. Amen.

St George’s College Jerusalem now has our online learning environment up and running.

It went ‘live’, as they say, just yesterday.

We are using the MOODLE software, and you can find the site here.

The new online learning system allows us to share materials with students before they come to a program, while they are here, and also to continue giving them access to the materials long after the program has ended.

It extends the learning and reflection cycle to several weeks, and maybe longer.

And it sustains the community formed among pilgrims during their shared time here with us.

We shall now publish the program booklet in digital form around 4 weeks before the start of a program so that everyone has a good sense of what they will be doing. Paper copies of the programs will still be available when pilgrims arrive here, but having advance access to the information in digital form means you can print it off, leave a copy with family, or load it into your iPad or iPhone.

The system also provides a rich environment for interaction between our participants, and direct with the staff.

In future it also means we can offer some pre-program learning to assist people to arrive even better prepared for their time with us.

We shall create a user account for each new pilgrim, but if you would like us to create one for you retrospectively, just drop us an email.

Once your user account is created, the system will send you a message with your username and password. If you follow the instructions in that message, you will have immediate access to the learning materials and other information on the site.

Even if you never sign into the account after your user account is created, this system will allow us to share information with you since messages from the site go direct to your personal email address.

So you can hear from us, even if you do not sign in. But it will be a much richer online community if you do sign in; whether now or after you get home.

We look forward to seeing you online!

 


 

PS: Stay connected with the latest news and information from St George’s College Jerusalem, by subscribing for our digital newsletter. Just click on this link and add your basic contact information.

St George’s College is committed to the safety and security of our guests and our staff.

Since its establishment in 1920, St George’s College has been located at the epicenter of the political instability that followed the collapse of the Ottoman Empire two years earlier. After almost 100 years in this ‘tough neighborhood’ we have a good track record of caring for the personal safety of our guests, and the security of groups here for a course.

160113 Aquaduct GardenThe College is located within the Close of St George’s Cathedral in East Jerusalem, just a couple of hundred meters north of the Damascus Gate. The entire compound is enclosed to create a secure and pleasant environment, including the biblical garden that surrounds the College and the English garden that sits in the center of the Pilgrim Guest House.

Our immediate neighbors also add to the security of the College campus, even if not intentionally.

On the southern boundary of the College we have the Israeli Police headquarters for East Jerusalem. The District Court is directly across the street from the College gate. Trouble is rarely to be expected in our immediate vicinity.

When planning our courses we always give special attention to the anticipated trouble spots, which can vary from time to time. The local Palestinian staff draw on their contacts to keep us aware of any issues likely to affect College programs. With so many historical and religious sites available, it is easy to adjust our schedules to avoid any ‘hot spots’ while still offering a rich program for our students.DSC_1083

Keeping in touch with both official and unofficial information sources is one of the special responsibilities of Bishara Khoury, who has recently been appointed to the new role of Liaison and Logistics Officer. Bishara comes to this role after many years working in the logistics area with the UN, and he has a broad network of contacts across both the Israeli and Palestinian communities. In addition, with his skills in Arabic, Hebrew and English, Bishara is able to deal with any situations that may arise when groups are out in the field.

The experience of course members over the past few months mirrors the experiences of pilgrims who have come here over the past several decades. The Cathedral Close is an oasis of peace and security in a sometimes tense and disturbed city. Our programs are quietly adjusted to avoid known trouble spots and, when some unpredictable incident occurs, the College staff draw on their deep experience in this part of the world to ensure the comfort and safety of our guests.

 

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St George’s College in Jerusalem and the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University are pleased to announce a new partnership supported by a generous grant from the H. Boone and Violet M. Porter Foundation.

This partnership between St George’s College Jerusalem and the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University offers new opportunities for leadership and service.

The grant will support a recent graduate of Berkeley Divinity School to serve an extended period (typically 9 months) in residence at St George’s College, Jerusalem. The Foundation, a long-time supporter of both St. George’s College and the Berkeley Divinity School, has offered to fund this fellowship on an annual basis for ten (10) years.

“The H. Boone and Violet M. Porter Charitable Foundation is committed to promoting global peace-builders and leadership for the Episcopal Church.  We are delighted to fund the Porter Fellowship at St. George’s College in Jerusalem and the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale.  This will offer extraordinary Berkeley graduates valuable opportunities to learn from the witness of the College in the Holy Land, to participate in local peace-building and to strengthen their ministries with needed knowledge, experience, and relationships,” said Foundation President and Berkeley Board member, The Rev. Canon Nicholas T. Porter.

The Very Rev’d Andrew McGowan, Dean of Berkeley Divinity School has described the opportunities provided by this new partnership.

“This initiative from the Porter Foundation, together with the partnership of St George’s College, promises a new and remarkable opportunity for Berkeley at Yale graduates,” said Dr McGowan. “The historical and contemporary realities of Jerusalem invite learning about where the Church comes from, and also about where it needs to go. The Fellowship deepens our capacity to form and support leaders, even after formal seminary education, whose experience reflects not only the reality of the Episcopal Church but the challenges facing global Anglicanism. We are very grateful to both these partners for this important step.”

St George’s College Jerusalem is a center for study and reflection in the Holy Land. As a community of education, hospitality, pilgrimage, and reconciliation located in Jerusalem, it is a unique institution within the diverse Anglican Communion.

 

160110 Porter Dawani Jenks

From left to right: The Rev. Canon Nicholas T. Porter, President of the H. Boone and Violet M. Porter Charitable Foundation, The Most Rev. Suhail Dawani, Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, and The Very Rev. Canon Dr. Gregory Jenks, Dean of St. George’s College, Jerusalem; pictured while meeting in Jerusalem earlier this month to discuss the establishment of the Porter Fellowship.

The Dean of St George’s College, Canon Gregory Jenks, has welcomed this new partnership: “The Porter Fellowship will help forge a strategic partnership between one of the premier universities of the world and St George’s College in Jerusalem. This partnership will benefit the partners and the Fellowship recipients in various ways. Berkeley Divinity School will gain a unique opportunity to advance its global leadership program. SGC will benefit from the contributions of bright, theologically trained staff for ten years and systemic connections into The Episcopal Church. The Fellowship recipients will benefit through opportunities to live, work and grow in Jerusalem—the cradle of the Christian faith and a bellwether of our multicultural world.”

Further information abut the Porter Fellowship and the application process is available online.

The Dean of St. George’s College, Jerusalem has announced the appointment of The Revd Dr. Susan Lukens as Associate Dean of the College.

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Dean Gregory Jenks, said, that Dr. Lukens’ appointment as Associate Dean marks the first time a woman has been appointed to a senior leadership position in The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, and in particular at St. George’s College.

“Dr. Lukens brings a diverse set of gifts to this new leadership role at the College. Her background in higher education, her previous service to the College as Minister of Hospitality—and more recently as Communication and Marketing Officer—and her continuing roles as a trustee at Virginia Theological Seminary as well as an Adjunct Professor of Theology at Msalato Theological College at Dodoma in Tanzania, all converge to make Susan especially suited to the role of Associate Dean at St. George’s College. I very much look forward to working with Susan as we share the ministry of Dean to the College community here.”

Dr. Lukens’ new role takes effect immediately and is for an initial term of three years.

St George’s College in Jerusalem is an Anglican community of education, hospitality, pilgrimage, and reconciliation.

 

Contact information:

www.saintgeorgescollegejerusalem.com

Facebook: sgcjerusalem

Twitter: @sgcjerusalem

Email: dean@sgcjerursalem.org

Email: associatedean@sgcjerusalem.org

 

 

 

In this period between Christmas and Epiphany, as we reflect with gratitude on the gift of Jesus—Emmanuel, God with us—it may be of interest to share an extract from a recent book, Jesus Then and Jesus Now: Looking for Jesus, Finding Ourselves, in which I reflect on some aspects of the humanity of Jesus.

In view of the current controversy in Australia about the Palestinian identity of Jesus, this extract came to mind.

 


 

The humanity of Jesus is not to be considered as a philosophical puzzle and carefully dovetailed with his preexistent divinity, but observed in its ordinary expressions in everyday life. Taking the humanity of Jesus seriously means that we notice his ethnicity, his religion, his economic status, and his political situation. If such categories seem odd for a discussion of Jesus it may well be an indication of just how little significance we have attributed to the humanity of Jesus.

A Palestinian Jesus

This first attribute of the historical Jesus may come as a surprise since ‘Palestinian’ has largely become a pejorative term in recent Western discourse. I am, of course, using the term as a geographical descriptor, rather than an ethnic or a political identity. Jesus was indigenous to the land of Palestine,[1] and he lived there at a time when it was—once again—under the control of a foreign imperial power exercising its authority through local puppet rulers.

One of the continuing tragedies of our time is the theft not only of the Palestinians’ land, but also their culture and history, so essential for their identity.[2] In the struggle for possession of their historical lands, the Palestinians have been represented as violent extremists, while the systematic violence directed towards them is overlooked or excused.[3]

If we put aside the caricature of Palestinians as anti-Semitic terrorists, what might it mean to consider Jesus as a Palestinian? The first and most significant element may simply be to dislodge traditional assumptions and expectations. A ‘Palestinian Jesus’ is as incongruous to many people as the term ‘Palestinian Jew’ even though the latter term was not unusual prior to 1948.

Yet, as Naim Ateek reminds us,[4] Jesus the Palestinian was an oppressed and marginalized person, as well as a liberation theologian. There are few peoples in the world more marginalized than the Palestinians, and Jesus shares their experience both as someone indigenous to Palestine and as someone who suffered undeserved violence from the imperial powers of his own time.

Jesus the Palestinian is God doing theology from the bottom up, rather than from the top down. The imperial churches of Rome, Geneva, and Canterbury—to name just three historical expressions of Christianity—have always preferred to do their theology the other way around. The Palestinian Jesus challenges his followers to lay aside our inherited privileges and stand among the poor and the dispossessed, where God is more often to be found than in the cathedrals and chapels of Christendom.

A Jewish Jesus

Alongside the Palestinian Jesus we place the Jewish Jesus. They are the same person. Why does this surprise us? What assumptions and stereotypes continue to control our thinking if we find this a strange combination? Jesus was a Palestinian Jew. (Paul, on the other hand, was a Diaspora Jew.)

For almost two thousand years the Jews were the despised ‘other’. In the Christian West, the devotees of Jesus the Jew hated his people and subjected them to shameful discrimination and violence. The horror of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany was not so much an aberration as the most extreme example of Christian anti-Semitism. Jesus would have been sent to a Nazi death camp had he been found in occupied Europe during the 1940s. Jesus was sent to the death camps. He was crucified again and again in the gas chambers and the ovens.

The Jewish Jesus confronts our suspicion of the Jew, and of anyone who is different from us. The Jewish Jesus compels us to see that God’s mercy is more ancient than Christianity. The Jewish Jesus invites us to imagine a way of being religious that is not about orthodoxy, but service; forming communities that—in their best moments—live the covenant and provide a light to the nations.

Jesus was a particular person, with a distinctive culture and a religion that refused to be domesticated by the dominant cultural and political powers of his day. As a Jew, as someone who shared the Jewish historical experience of oppression and loathing, Jesus challenges his own followers to embrace their own religious tradition without rejecting, fearing, or persecuting those of other faiths.

Jesus the Jew resisted power and privilege, and that cost him his life. On Good Friday it seemed that privilege and power had won the contest, but three hundred years later the emperor of Rome was a devotee of Jesus. Exiled from their lands and dispersed among the nations, it seemed that the Jews were condemned to a destiny of diaspora and discrimination. Crucifixion was not the final word on Jesus, and dispersion was not the final word on the Jews.

As a Palestinian Jew, Jesus holds together two identities that many Palestinians and Jews today see as opposed. To his Palestinian brothers and sisters, Jesus offers hope and an invitation to nonviolent resistance in the cause of human liberation. To his Jewish sisters and brothers, Jesus presents a Palestinian child and invites them to see in her a daughter, a sister, a beloved, and a child of Abraham.

Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:36–37)

A Small-Town Jesus

Jesus of Nazareth was not a city person. In a world where so many people now live in cities,[5] with our toes touching concrete but rarely the bare earth, this makes him a stranger to us. Our unnatural lives also make us strangers to the earth. We are like caged chickens isolated in wire cells to make us more productive, and no longer able to follow our natural desire to scratch in the dirt.

As we have seen, there were cities in the world that Jesus inhabited. Close to hand were modest Jewish cities such as Sepphoris and Tiberias. Not much farther away were the cosmopolitan cities of the Decapolis, as well as Caesarea Maritima, Ako-Ptolemais, or Tyre. The only city Jesus seems to have visited was Jerusalem. He died there.

Back then, cities were places that promised opportunity, but delivered disease, exploitation, and poverty. Cities were the haunts of the powerful and the criminals. Cities were where the taxes went. Cities celebrated the international culture of the mobile and the privileged with their academies, their gymnasia, and their theatres. Cities offered palaces, temples, hippodromes, and the circus.

Lots of village people were drawn to the city. Like the prodigal son, they consumed their inheritance and sank into the crowd of expendables at the bottom of the social order. Few of them made it back home to the embrace of a loving parent. Even fewer were laid in a new tomb when their lives were cut short by disease and violence.

Soon after Easter, Christianity became—and has remained—a religion of the cities. From as early as the ministry of Paul, the centre of gravity for the Jesus movement shifted from the villages of Galilee to the cities of the Mediterranean rim. The word ‘pagan’ derives from the Latin paganus, a term for villager, rustic, or rural person. We have forgotten our roots. Jesus was a pagan, a rustic from an exceptionally small village. Yet we are so sophisticated, so at home in the city, so comfortable in the corridors of privilege.

Luke’s version of the beatitudes strikes us as harsh and extreme, but for the vast majority of the world’s population these words may sound like good news.

Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

A Third-World Jesus

From all that has been said so far, it is clear that Jesus seems to have more in common with the so-called ‘Third World’ (better said, the ‘Two-Thirds World’) than with either the big end of town or the aspirational suburbs of contemporary urban life. The kind of human being that Jesus seems to have been would be a beneficiary of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG),[6] rather than a celebrity using his ‘name’ to raise donations to assist the poor. Looking at Jesus through the lens of the MDG is a worthwhile exercise, employed below.

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Jesus seems to have understood God’s compassion as especially directed towards the poor and the hungry. His program included meals where all were fed regardless of status or assets. At the heart of the so-called Lord’s Prayer is a petition for bread, along with the forgiveness of debts.[7] In every Eucharist we break the bread and share the cup, but the agape meal of earliest Christianity has been reduced to a symbolic taste.

2. Achieve universal primary education. Growing up in a small village with no access to education, Jesus would have benefited from such a program. He seems to have been technically illiterate, as he read no books, cited no books, and wrote no books.[8] At the same time, he seems to have been a gifted oral poet.

3. Promote gender equality and empower women. As religious progressives we would like to imagine Jesus as an advocate of gender equality and opportunity for women. Such a Jesus would be most congenial to us. It is not clear to what extent Jesus encouraged the participation of women in his covenant renewal movement, but we see the legacy of his kingdom message in Paul’s assertion that “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).

4. Reduce child mortality. High rates of child mortality were sad realities for Jesus and his contemporaries. It has been estimated that half of all live births ended in death within the first twelve months, and that only half of those who survived the first year would live to see their fifth birthday.[9]

5. Improve maternal health. This goal is closely related to the previous one, and it is surely a gift to us that the NT Gospels represent Jesus as consistently respectful to women and concerned for the well-being of his own mother. Whether or not that reflects the historical reality,[10] Jesus can serve as a model for other men to be concerned for the women in our families and our communities.

6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. Jesus acquired a reputation as a healer.[11] As with a modern disease such as HIV/AIDS, the problems Jesus cured were as much psychosocial as medical. He declared people clean and restored them to their communities.

7. Ensure environmental sustainability. Jesus was not an environmental activist. However, he does seem to have lived close to nature. Poor people have little choice. A great many of his parables and aphorisms express his profound reflection on the natural world as a source of wisdom for the spiritual life. His underlying outlook of simple reliance on the generosity of the good father[12] suggests a relationship with the environment that rejected the dominion paradigms found in the Genesis creation myths.

8. Global partnerships for development. This goal would have been incomprehensible to Jesus, yet central to his vision of the kingdom of God was a community that transgressed the conventional boundaries of family, village and ethnicity. He imagined the kingdom as an experience of community to which many would come from East and West (Matt 8:11). The double accounts of the feeding of the multitude in Mark and Matthew suggest that his ‘good news’ was understood to embrace both Jews and Gentiles. In his encounter with the Canaanite woman (Mark 7:24–30 = Matt 15:21–28) Jesus seems to accept her instruction as he embraces the idea that God’s compassion extends even to those outside the covenant community. That is an insight many of his most enthusiastic followers have yet to grasp.

An Expendable Jesus

It is no surprise that a Jesus such as I am sketching here was also an expendable Jesus, like so many of his poor sisters and brothers back then and ever since. An expendable human is one whose worth—as perceived by those who are in a position to act upon it—is calculated on the basis the benefits that others can derive from them: economic production, consumer spending, military recruits, church growth statistics, and so on.

As an expendable person, Jesus was eventually a victim of the systemic violence that was embodied in the Roman Empire and its Herodian puppet regimes. From the perspective of power and honour in his own time and place, Jesus was a failure, while someone such as Herod Antipas was a success. Antipas had John the Baptist killed and may have done the same to Jesus had Pilate not preempted him. The crucified Jesus dies in profound solidarity with the poor and the expendables across human history.

The human Jesus is in many ways a forgotten Jesus. Recovering his legacy may be a precious gift that the Christian community can offer to a world that is in real need of spiritual wisdom about what it means to be authentically human.

 

[An extract from Gregory C. Jenks, Jesus Then and Jesus Now: Looking for Jesus, Finding Ourselves. Melbourne: Morning Star Publishing, 2014), pp. 124–30.]

Footnotes

[1] While it is sometimes asserted that the name ‘Palestine’ was only applied to these territories after Rome had suppressed the Bar-Kokba Revolt (132–35 c.e.), in fact the new Roman name for the former Jewish territories reflected ancient local practices going back to the Twentieth Dynasty of Egypt (ca. 1150 b.c.e.). Herodotus (ca. 484–425 b.c.e.) refers to a “district of Syria called Palaistine” (Hist. 2:89), while Aristotle refers to the Dead Sea as “a lake in Palestine” (Meteorology 2.3).
[2] For a recent attempt to reclaim the history of Palestine, see Whitelam, Rhythms of Time. See also his earlier work, Invention of Ancient Israel.
[3] Revisionist Israeli scholars such as Ilan Pappe are doing both Jews and Palestinians an immense service by bringing much of this suppressed history into the public domain. See Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.
[4] Ateek, “Jonah, the First Palestinian Liberation Theologian”.
[5] The UN Population Fund reports that in “2008, for the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population will be living in towns and cities. By 2030 this number will swell to almost 5 billion, with urban growth concentrated in Africa and Asia.” www.unfpa.org/pds/urbanization.htm
[6] See www.un.org/millenniumgoals/.
[7] For texts and discussion, see 120 The Lords Prayer in the Jesus Database online. The version in Matt 6:9–13 seems more spiritualized than the less familiar version found on Luke 11:2–4.
[8] In this observation I follow the general findings of the Jesus Seminar, which tended to see such literary elements in the Jesus traditions as evidence of a later phase of development.
[9] For a brief discussion of these demographics, see Meyers, Discovering Eve, 112–13.
[10] For a critical assessment of the enthusiasm to promote Jesus as sensitive to women’s issues, see Corley, Women and the Historical Jesus.
[11] See www.jesusdatabase.org/index.php?title=Jesus_as_Healer.
[12] See 082 Against Anxieties in the Jesus Database online.

 

150608 Bethlehem

Greetings from Jerusalem at this special time of the year.

When Mary and Joseph held the Christ Child in their arms, they could not have imagined the influence this child would have within their own land and far beyond its shores. Matthew’s story of the visiting Magi has proved to be a prophetic parable for the diverse company of humanity that now acknowledges Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us.

As we give thanks for the birth of Jesus, we pray for all those children born to refugees and displaced families in this region during the past year. Our TV screens have brought their tragedy to our living rooms, and to some extent this has triggered a generous humanitarian response from some countries, if not all. We pray for fewer tragedies and an increase in compassion.

This is not the time for me to ask for donations, but I do ask for your solidarity with us and with all the ‘living stones’ of the Christian community in this land. Check out our web site on a regular basis, share the news of what is happening here with friends, encourage them to come and take a course with us, and come back yourself some time soon.

Do keep us all in your prayers, and especially those whose lives have been touched by violence and fear these past few months.

Blessings from Jerusalem, the Holy!

SGC Dean SQ 151113

 

 

 

The Very Revd Canon Dr. Gregory C. Jenks

Dean

A lecture presented in the Cathedral Church of St George the Martyr, Jerusalem on Advent Sunday, 29 November 2015 by the Very Revd. Canon Dr Gregory C. Jenks, Dean of St George’s College, Jerusalem.


 

Introduction

This is the first of four lectures to be offered at the Cathedral during Advent, and it has fallen to me to offer the inaugural address. In turn, the following presentations will be by Canon Lawrence Hilditch, Canon David Longe, and the Dean.

Last Sunday many churches in the Western Church—whether in communion with Rome, protesting their independence, or assuming to occupy the middle way—will have observed the feast of Christ the King. In at least some of those places, the festival will have been described as ‘The Reign of Christ’. In my view that is a better option than the more common ‘Christ the King’.

The very concept of monarchy—and especially absolute monarchy with no constitutional balances in place—is problematic in our world. It reflects a pre-modern world order, a world of empire, and a world where might truly is right.

We may not have moved very far away from such a world even today, as this region reminds us so emphatically. But we aspire to live in a world where individuals and their families matter, where the powers of sovereigns and corporations are limited by constitution and convention, and where the democratic ideal is preeminent.

In such a world—incomplete and flawed as it currently may be—there is simply no place for a king with absolute powers.

The incompleteness of our democratic systems and their incapacity to cope with urgent human crises—whether they be climate change, seemingly intractable conflicts in many parts of the world, or the refugees that flee either or both—points to the need for something better yet to arrive. That might almost make the current context an Advent moment, but it is unlikely that many of us will be yearning for a tyrant, however benevolent, to sort out the mess.

There is a more serious theological point in these introductory observations than the relevance of royal language in contemporary liturgies. How are we to speak of the mysteries of God when the language of faith that we have inherited from the past is so mortgaged to a worldview that no longer holds true for any of us? How are we to engage the contemporary world if we keep offering them tired metaphors at best, and oftentimes broken myths as well?

I hope then, that in some small ways, this presentation will assist us to engage with the critical missional task of singing the Lord’s song in a strange (postmodern) world.

I shall pursue that objective by proceeding in a more or less systematic way through four different set of issues, asking in each case what ‘Christ the King’ may have to say to us in each instance.

 

Jesus of Nazareth

The first set of issues that I would like to explore with you concerns Jesus, the Jewish prophet from Nazareth in the Galilee. What does it mean to describe him as ‘Christ the King’ in the first century and in the twenty-first century?

In first-century terms, to ascribe kingship (basileia in Greek) to Jesus was to create a rival to Caesar. Caesars had many rivals, and many of them had themselves been rivals to a former Caesar before attaining the imperium themselves. So they understood rivals, and they viewed them all with suspicion. When an inscription such as ‘Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews’ was placed above the head of a crucified man, it was not so much a royal title as a charge of treason.

Today ‘Christ the King’ may evoke the comforting words of The King of Love My Shepherd Is derived—gleaned even—from Psalm 23 and John 10, but in the first century such a claim was highly political and a direct challenge to the legitimacy and the potency of the ruling sovereign.

Had Tiberius ever heard of Jesus, he may well have asked as Stalin is said to have asked of the Pope many centuries later, “How many legions does he have?” The dialogue between Pilate and Jesus in John 18:28–19:22 is really exploring exactly these issues.

So many of the terms of religious devotion that we now apply to Jesus derive from ancient politics. This should not be a surprise, since the ancient world in which Christianity was born really only had two domains: the family, and politics. When speaking God’s word to the public sphere, it was necessary to use categories and terminology appropriate to politics, the life of the polis.

In particular, terms such as ‘Son of God’, ‘Lord’ (kyrios in Greek and dominus in Latin), and ‘Savior’ (Soter in Greek) were royal titles. Such titles were to be found in massive inscriptions above city gates and on the tiny coins in a peasant’s pocket.

When used of Jesus by his earliest followers, these were not innocent terms of devotion. They were political declarations, and the emperors understood them as such.

Today marks the beginning of the Year of Luke in our three-year lectionary cycle, so it is especially fitting to pay careful attention to the way Luke began his Gospel. Note, first of all, the careful comments that serve as a prologue to his two-volume work, known to us as The Gospel of Luke and The Acts of the Apostles (‘Luke-Acts’):

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. (Luke 1:1–4 NRSV)

As Luke sets about the task of publishing his account of “the events that have been fulfilled among us”, he is very conscious that others have written on these topics before him. Those accounts—known to us as the Gospel according to Mark, the Gospel according to Matthew, and the Gospel according to John—were already in circulation by the time this opening paragraph of Luke-Acts was composed. Indeed, the Gospel according to Luke may itself be an enlarged edition of an even earlier Christian gospel known to scholars as the Q Gospel.

Be that as it may, our author knows he is not the first to attempt this task. But he considers his work to be the best available, and clearly wishes his audience not rely on the earlier examples of this genre. He will provide Theophilus—and us—with the definitive Jesus story. An ‘orderly account’. This is the version he would like us to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest”; as he doubtless would have said if given the opportunity to read Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer.

With those considerations in mind, now let’s observe how he begins his Gospel.

Luke begins with the tale of two boys, one of whom will become the Savior of World.

The two boys are close relatives (cousins), and both have mothers with unusual fertility challenges.

The first is called John, and his parents are aged and childless. Clearly one of them is sterile, but this just heightens the miraculous element. A child born to elderly parents who were unable to conceive when young and healthy is surely a child of promise. Watch this lad. He will count for something when he grows up.

The second boy is called, Jesus. His mother had a very different problem. She was not yet married. But she is also assured by an angel sent by God that she will bear a son, and the sign of the promise to her being true is that her aged and childless cousin is also pregnant.

The story of these two boys is woven into a series of seven scenes:

  • Scene 1 – John’s miraculous conception (Luke 1:5–25)
  • Scene 2 – Jesus’ miraculous conception (Luke 1:26–38)
  • Scene 3 – Mary visits Elizabeth (Luke 1:39–56)
  • Scene 4 – John’s birth and naming (Luke 1:57–80)
  • Scene 5 – Jesus’ birth and naming (Luke 2:1–21)
  • Scene 6 – Presentation in Temple (Luke 2:22–40)
  • Scene 7 – 12-year old Jesus in Temple (Luke 2:41–52)

The sequence of these episodes and the climatic scene in the Temple are carefully arranged to make a theological point. Perhaps several. By telling the story in this way, Luke has asserted the supremacy of Jesus over John; despite Jesus having been a disciple of John. But that was not the main point.

Luke was writing for Christians living in the Roman Empire about 100 years after the death of Jesus. They also knew a story about two boys, one of whom who found the city of Rome. Here is the account of that founding myth as told by Plutarch, ca 75 CE:

Some again say that Roma, from whom this city was so called, was daughter of Italus and Leucaria; or, by another account, of Telaphus, Hercules’s son, and that she was married to Aeneas, or, according to others again, to Ascanius, Aeneas’s son. Some tell us that Romanus, the son of Ulysses and Circe, built it; some, Romus, the son of Emathion, Diomede having sent him from Troy; and others, Romus, king of the Latins, after driving out the Tyrrhenians, who had come from Thessaly into Lydia, and from thence into Italy. Those very authors, too, who, in accordance with the safest account, make Romulus give the name of the city, yet differ concerning his birth and family. For some say, he was son to Aeneas and Dexithea, daughter of Phorbas, and was, with his brother Remus, in their infancy, carried into Italy, and being on the river when the waters came down in a flood, all the vessels were cast away except only that where the young children were, which being gently landed on a level bank of the river, they were both unexpectedly saved, and from them the place was called Rome. Some say, Roma, daughter of the Trojan lady above mentioned, was married to Latinus, Telemachus’s son, and became mother to Romulus; others that Aemilia, daughter of Aeneas and Lavinia, had him by the god Mars; and others give you mere fables of his origin. For to Tarchetius, they say, king of Alba, who was a most wicked and cruel man, there appeared in his own house a strange vision, a male figure that rose out of a hearth, and stayed there for many days. There was an oracle of Tethys in Tuscany which Tarchetius consulted, and received an answer that a virgin should give herself to the apparition, and that a son should be born of her, highly renowned, eminent for valour, good fortune, and strength of body. Tarchetius told the prophecy to one of his own daughters, and commanded her to do this thing; which she avoiding as an indignity, sent her handmaid. Tarchetius, hearing this, in great anger imprisoned them both, purposing to put them to death, but being deterred from murder by the goddess Vesta in a dream, enjoined them for their punishment the working a web of cloth, in their chains as they were, which when they finished, they should be suffered to marry; but whatever they worked by day, Tarchetius commanded others to unravel in the night.

In the meantime, the waiting-woman was delivered of two boys, whom Tarchetius gave into the hands of one Teratius, with command to destroy them; he, however, carried and laid them by the river side, where a wolf came and continued to suckle them, while birds of various sorts brought little morsels of food, which they put into their mouths; till a cowherd, spying them, was first strangely surprised, but, venturing to draw nearer, took the children up in his arms. Thus they were saved, and when they grew up, set upon Tarchetius and overcame him. This one Promathion says, who compiled a history of Italy.

When Luke chose to begin his account of Jesus with a story about two boys, he knew what he was doing. Not for him the Matthean infancy story with its echoes of Moses and the Exodus. He is ‘ordering’ his account so that his intended audience will get the point, right from the opening scenes.

For Luke, Jesus was the boy destined to be king. This ‘Good News’ will reach all the way to Rome, as it does by the last chapter of Acts.

 

The kingship of God in the Old Testament

The idea of the ‘kingdom of God’ (basileia tou theou) is deeply rooted in the Hebrew texts of the Christian Old Testament. The phrase is perhaps better translated as ‘reign of God’ since it refers to be rule of God as sovereign over creation, rather than the object of God’s authority. Indeed, in the first-century context, ‘empire of God’ would be a better translation, since basileia was the term used for the Roman Empire in the Greek-speaking East.

Even in the OT, the idea of kingship was problematic. It derives from the world of the city, not the village, and certainly not the world of the pastoral nomads such as Israel imagined her ancestors to have been. The ‘wandering Arameans’ of Deuteronomy 26 had no king, since there was almost other social domain apart from the family. Within the family, the patriarch was the supreme authority. Conflict tended to be between patriarchs, and between aspiring patriarchs.

When kings first appear in the OT story they are the rulers of cities in Canaan and—more particularly—the Pharaohs of Egypt. Such rulers are not agents of grace or foretastes of the messianic age. Yet in 1 Samuel 8 the people demand that they have a king to rule over them, because they wished to be like the other nations.

Such a request was a category error.

The covenant people are not to be like the other nations. The very essence of election, promise, and covenant is to be a special people, not a clone of the neighbors.

In time—despite the profound theological critique of kingship offered by 1 Samuel 8 & 12—kingship became the norm for both the northern kingdom and its more rustic southern cousin. Indeed, in the south the concept of kingship was embraced with even more vigor. The Davidic dynasty secured a theological mortgage on the throne, whereas at least in the north the Yahwistic tradition retained the divine prerogative to dismiss a king and choose a new dynasty.

Royal models for leadership within the covenant people remained unpopular in some 0f the circles from which we receive these sacred texts. The prophets were critical of the kings and their cadre of officials. Anti-royal sentiments are clearly preserved and promoted in some parts of Samuel and Kings. The Deuteronomist only wants a king who keeps a copy of the law beside his throne, and takes instruction from a Levitical priest. Ezekiel’s vision of the restored Israel has a prince, but no king.

Despite these reservations, or maybe because of them, the idea of divine kingship became both central to the worship life of the community and also nuanced in some interesting ways. The centrality of the kingship of God is expressed in the many Psalms that proclaim, YHWH melek (The LORD is king). The sovereignty of God over the nations and over creation is especially clear in prophetic texts such as Isaiah.

At the same time, we find that God’s kingship is described in more pastoral terms, even if the warrior God makes a re-appearance in the apocalyptic traditions that dominate the Jewish mindset in the late Second Temple period.

In Ezekiel 34 we find God portrayed as the good shepherd, in contrast to the unfaithful and self-serving clergy of the Temple:

The word of the LORD came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: As I live, says the Lord GOD, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: Thus says the Lord GOD, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.

For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord GOD: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?

Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken. (Ezek 34:1–24 NRSV)

For Christian readers of these ancient Jewish texts, this resonates with the depiction of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep, in John 10:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father. (John 10:11–18 NRSV)

When all the data for divine kingship in the OT is taken into account, we can see a nuancing of the concept from one of awesome power to one of divine care. The pastoral images of the Twenty-Third Psalm displace the warrior God of tribal religion.

The end result is an invitation to imagine power and leadership in very different terms than ‘kingship’ might suggest. If we imagine God to exercise divine power in ways that are primarily about bringing forth life and serving the vulnerable, then we may also discern an invitation to think differently—and act differently—when exercising power or leadership within the church, within the family, or within the wider society,

 

The View from Below

Having explored some of the issues relating to Jesus and God, it may be timely to think about the significant of this divine kingship language for our understanding of ourselves and our perspective(s) on reality.

I begin with the question of how we see Jesus. What kind of a ‘king’ do we imagine Jesus to be? If nothing else, the affirmation of ‘Christ the king’ invites us to understand the significance of Jesus in God’s cosmic purposes. But we need not trap Jesus or ourselves in a Byzantine imperial worldview.

‘Christ the king’ is also a statement about us, about humanity. It invites us to see that the Human One, the Son of Adam, can be the human face of God. While that may be especially true of Jesus, it is also true for each of us. We can be—and perhaps must be—the human face of God to our family, our neighbors, and even our enemies.

There is a parallel here to the role of Mary, Theotokos, Mother of God. Mary of Nazareth was uniquely the bearer of the Christ Child. But each of us has that calling as well. Similarly, we may see in Jesus the unique historical revelation of God, but each of us may find that we serve as icons of God for those around us.

The kingship that Christ embodies is compassionate and life-giving. It is our calling to embody that selfless love seen first in Jesus, as we make the words of 1 Corinthians 13 our personal charter:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Cor 13:4–8 NRSV)

In all of this, Christ the king is our model and our pioneer. No longer a source of fear, this ‘king’ encourages us to be all that God knows we can be.

Reflecting on the deeper significance of Christ the King can also invite us to see God differently. As Christ the King, Jesus is not a distant authority figure, but the God who is with us and among us; indeed, one of us: Emmanuel.

Another metaphor that I find attractive as I re-imagine the traditional concept of Christ the King, is the suggestion by Bishop John Taylor that we see God as the Go-Between God. This was the title of a book in which he explored the nature and activity of the Holy Spirit, but it comes to mind when I think about the kind of God revealed in Jesus, the one we celebrate now as Christ the King. In many ways, Jesus was the quintessential Spirit-person, and that shapes and reshapes my understanding of ‘Christ the King.

As Christ the King, Jesus has not peaked. He is not resting on his laurels and enjoying his cosmic retirement after a grueling term of service on the earth. The Spirit of Lord continues to be present and active in the life of the Church, and that is surely an important element of our affirmation that ‘Jesus is Lord’.

In the end, our reflection on Christ the King must also impact how we see ourselves. What does it mean to be a human being, if Jesus of Nazareth is somehow also the ultimate expression of God’s truth in the cosmos?

If the Human One can be proclaimed as Christ the King, then that is one big leap for human awareness. The Orthodox speak of divinization as the inner reality of salvation. That may be another way to approach this same mystery. God becomes a human, so that humans can become divine. Emmanuel is more radical and inclusive than perhaps we realized.

What does it mean for us to be alive and self-aware in this kind of world, where our God becomes one of us and one of us becomes ‘Christ the King’? What value do we place on human life, and always within the context of our own location within the web of creation?

Is being alive and ever engaged in a process of loving transformation into the character of Christ really what matters most to us? More than success? Than wealth? Than power? Than popularity?

Can we fashion lives, families, churches, and societies that practice that truth?

And how would this pan out in the harsh realities of Palestine and Israel now? Where is the kingship of Christ in the streets of the Old City this Advent?

 

In conclusion …

Finally, let me try to bring all this together with some brief reflections on the significance of ‘Christ the King’ for our world.

In the last week or so, there has been a controversy in the UK about some movie theatres banning the Lord’s Prayer as it was seen to be too ‘political’. This strikes me as an excellent example of how someone can be entirely correct and totally wrong all at the same time.

The movie chains may have misread the ever-shifting cultural dynamics, but I suspect they did not.

Given the growing lack of religious literacy in Western societies, a majority of younger people probably have no real sense of the cultural significance of the Lord’s Prayer in British life. But then they probably do not ‘get’ Shakespeare either. And it may be that the Authorized Version of the Bible—which has already lost its correct name to the more American ‘King James Bible’—is now part of our cultural past, rather than having any current cultural significance beyond the ever diminishing circle of practicing Christians. Among the discarded remnants of yesteryear’s religion, we shall find the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments.

On the other hand, and for reasons they may never understand, the movie chains probably got this absolutely correct.

The Lord’s Prayer is a political document. So is the Magnificat that we just sang during Evensong. These are subversive texts. They undermine the cultural assumptions of our pleasure-oriented society. If people took these ancient religious texts seriously they might change the way they vote, and choose to spend their disposable income in different ways. That would be bad for business. But good for the world.

In a sense, no-one who is doing well from the present world order should allow us to teach people the Lord’s Prayer or chant the Magnificat in our cathedrals. If Christ really is the ‘king’, then things had better change around here.

Christians—like our Jewish and Muslim cousins—have a higher loyalty than any corporation or any nation. The Roman emperors were on the money when they sensed that the devotees of Jesus were an existential threat to the Empire; to all empire and every empire. Then and now.

We are advance agents of eternity. We embody the truth that the kingdom of God is drawing nigh, and in some sense is already here among us. We are not content to sell fire insurance for the afterlife, or ring-side seats to Armageddon. We want to change the world now. We want to mortgage the present to God’s future which we glimpse in the affirmation that Christ is king.

This is exactly what those familiar words in the Lord’s Prayer invite us to imagine:

… your kingdom come
your will be done on earth
as in heaven …

 

©2015 Gregory C. Jenks