I’m writing this blog post from the beach at Narooma, where I’m staying with all the clergy of the Anglican Diocese of Canberra & Goulburn for our annual conference. It’s been a fascinating time getting to know brothers and sisters from a wide diversity of churches across our region, including our new bishop Mark.
I’ve been encouraged to hear Bishop Mark say that God’s vision for the future of the Diocese is something that we will all discern together over time, as we seek to see how God sees and feel how God feels. For Christians, authentic vision-setting does not begin with planning and strategy (though this is also important!), but with drawing close to God through spiritual disciplines leading to wise and patient discernment.
And this is a lesson that the psalms (which we’ve been studying all this month on Sunday mornings) can teach us too. They are a school of spiritual practice and a repository of wisdom, firmly based in the reality both of our messy lives and of God’s unchanging character. “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” (Ps 119:130).
So let’s pray that our church life will be a school of wisdom, and that our vision – for ourselves, our parish, and the whole church – will be God’s vision for us, as we get to know God better.
During the month of May, all of us at Holy Cross (adults and kids) are turning our attention to a book of the Bible which has had more of an impact on the church’s life of prayer and worship than any other: the book of Psalms.
The Psalms are a vital witness to the joys and challenges of the people of God, full of extraordinary poetry, great wisdom, and an extreme range of feelings. (Incidentally anyone who thinks that contemporary worship songs are too me-focused and too emotional to be good theology should take a look at a psalm or two!)
And crucially for us as Christians, the Psalms give us access to the worshipping life of Jesus himself. Born and raised as a pious Jew in a Jewish family, Jesus “grew in wisdom and divine favour” (Luke 2:52) by memorising these ancient texts. Indeed, some of the most ancient psalm chants (such as the Tonus Peregrinus) which are still sung today have their roots in 1st century synagogue worship. They are, literally, the words and music that Jesus would have sung.
So let’s take time this month to explore this mysterious, passionate, surprising book, and to let it form our hearts as we turn to God in worship. “If the psalm prays, you pray. If the psalm laments, you lament. If the psalm exalts, you rejoice. If it hopes, you hope. If it fears, you fear. Everything written here is a mirror for us.” (Augustine of Hippo)
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Without it, there would be no church today, and Jesus would be remembered (if at all) simply as a moral teacher who was unjustly killed. With it, the life and death of Jesus becomes bathed in a new light: it becomes a source of joy and hope in the midst of suffering, and not just for Jesus and his contemporaries – it becomes Good News for all of us.
But the Resurrection is such an unexpected event (literally a one-off!) that it’s not surprising even Jesus’s closest friends took a long time to come to terms with what it meant. And God is always gracious – God knows we also need time to adapt to this new, improbable reality which has opened up for us.
So today, now the season of Lent is over, we begin the season of Easter: fifty days for us to come to terms with this miraculous news, before we celebrate the coming of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Let’s take the time we need to welcome the Resurrection, and let’s ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the places in our hearts where God is longing to give us new life and hope.