Jesus as King and Warrior

 

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 Ugolino di Nerio Panel from the Santa Croce Altarpiece c1324-5 National Gallery London

The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.  Revelation 1: 14-16

In the book of Revelation God shows us an aspect of His Son not shown to us in the gospels. In the gospels we see Him as Saviour, in Revelation we see Him as King. The one displays His love, the other His majesty. In the upper room Jesus girds Himself about His waist for service: at Patmos He is discovered girt about the breasts for war.  In the gospels His mild eyes melt Peter; in Revelation they are as a flame of fire. There His voice is gentle, calling His own sheep by name, and gracious words proceed out of His mouth; here His voice is terrible as the sound of many waters, and from His mouth a sharp two-edged sword strikes death to His foes. It is not enough that we know Jesus as Lamb of God and Saviour of the world; we must also know Him as God’s King, God’s Judge. When we see Him as Saviour we exclaim “How lovable!” and lean on his bosom. When we see Him as Monarch we cry “How terrible!” and fall prostrate at His feet.

Watchman Nee, A Table in the Wilderness, June 9th

Jesus pours out His love on us but He also fights our corner.

 

Ugolino di Nerio, Panel from the Santa Croce Altarpiece, c1324-5, National Gallery London

This panel comes from an altarpiece painted for the high altar of the Franciscan church of Santa Croce in Florence. The altarpiece was dismantled in the 16th century but its original appearance was recorded in an 18th century drawing. Many of the panels are now lost.

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Prayer From the Heart

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The Virgin and Child c.1488-90  Ambrogio Bergognone National Gallery London

Recently I heard a priest talking about a list of prayer requests that he keeps in his missal. He is often asked to pray for people and situations so he adds the requests to the list, prays them from time to time – the list is too long to pray them all every day – and every so often he reviews the list. I thought about this and there was something that didn’t seem right.

My experience is that God hears and answers prayers if they come directly from our heart, out of need, or compassion, inspiration or real necessity. Prayer isn’t about numbers – the more people praying the better – it is about clean, disinterested motives and fervour. Those are the prayers that go straight to Him and you only need one ordinary person who really cares about something to make a difference.

No matter how holy the person is who is praying, if he is praying from a list about people and situations he does not personally know, how are those prayers going to be anything other than lukewarm in reality?

A friend once told me an amazing story. She was a young nurse with two small children. One day she was on duty at the local hospital and she was giving a bed bath to a young mother who was in hospital with advanced breast cancer. As my friend was washing this woman she was suddenly overcome with compassion and sadness. She identified so strongly with her and her heart was sorrowful for the husband who was about to be widowed and the motherless children. It occurred to her that as she was washing the woman she was sort of laying her hands on her so, as she washed and touched her, she sent a little heartfelt prayer asking if it was possible that the woman could get better. She finished the bath and carried on with her tasks.

When she was next on shift she heard that the doctors had been mystified by a certain event. Apparently the latest tests on the woman with breast cancer had shown that the cancer had gone – completely – it just wasn’t there. The doctors were scratching their heads but put it down to one of those unexplained recoveries that sometimes happen.

But this is the amazing thing – my friend told me that she had been so happy to hear the news about the woman but that it was only several days later that she even remembered her prayer!

Her motives had been pure, heartfelt and disinteresed. She hadn’t needed a group of holy people praying from a list. All she needed was, at that moment, to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It may be that God had wanted to heal that woman but needed the right person in the right place at the right time.

We have to be that right person in the right place at the right time – whenever or wherever we are.

Then we become the prayer.

 

The Virgin and Child c.1488-90  Ambrogio Bergognone National Gallery London

The Christ child holds a rosary. The open prayer book is inscribed with verses in Latin from the psalms. The Virgin’s halo is inscribed with the prayer ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord (is with thee)’. In the background, Carthusian monks oversee the construction of the Charterhouse at Pavia

The Holy Spirit

 

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 Westminster Cathedral London

 

From the treatise On the Holy Spirit by Saint Basil the Great, bishop

The work of the Holy Spirit

The titles given to the Holy Spirit must surely stir the soul of anyone who hears them, and make him realize that they speak of nothing less than the supreme Being. Is he not called the Spirit of God, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, the steadfast Spirit, the guiding Spirit? But his principal and most personal title is the Holy Spirit.

To the Spirit all creatures turn in their need for sanctification; all living things seek him according to their ability. His breath empowers each to achieve its own natural end.

The Spirit is the source of holiness, a spiritual light, and he offers his own light to every mind to help it in its search for truth. By nature the Spirit is beyond the reach of our mind, but we can know him by his goodness. The power of the Spirit fills the whole universe, but he gives himself only to those who are worthy, acting in each according to the measure of his faith.

Simple in himself, the Spirit is manifold in his mighty works. The whole of his being is present to each individual; the whole of his being is present everywhere. Though shared in by many, he remains unchanged; his self-giving is no loss to himself. Like the sunshine, which permeates all the atmosphere, spreading over land and sea, and yet is enjoyed by each person as though it were for him alone, so the Spirit pours forth his grace in full measure, sufficient for all, and yet is present as though exclusively to everyone who can receive him. To all creatures that share in him he gives a delight limited only by their own nature, not by his ability to give.

The Spirit raises our hearts to heaven, guides the steps of the weak, and brings to perfection those who are making progress. He enlightens those who have been cleansed from every stain of sin and makes them spiritual by communion with himself.

As clear, transparent substances become very bright when sunlight falls on them and shine with a new radiance, so also souls in whom the Spirit dwells, and who are enlightened by the Spirit, become spiritual themselves and a source of grace for others.

From the Spirit comes foreknowledge of the future, understanding of the mysteries of faith, insight into the hidden meaning of Scripture, and other special gifts. Through the Spirit we become citizens of heaven, we enter into eternal happiness, and abide in God. Through the Spirit we acquire a likeness to God; indeed, we attain what is beyond our most sublime aspirations—we become God.

Lessons in Love from the Unloved

 

 

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A Lovely Saint Joseph in Corpus Christ london

I used to help with a club for people with learning disabilities. It met once a week in a room belonging to a Baptist church. The club was founded and run by a lovely man whose son had Downes Syndrome although his son didn’t live at home and only rarely visited. However, week after week, a small group of us met and, I can tell you, that the  helpers got as much out of it and perhaps more than the club members.

I originally decided to help because I felt called to do so but also because I thought it would be a good service. What a joke! The blessings I received from the club members far outweighed anything I contributed. The helpers took turns running the meeting and I’ll never forget one in particular. I realised that people with learning disabilities often have concrete thinking and abstract ideas can be difficult. We often talked about Jesus but how could he become real to our club members? So, I found lots of different images of Jesus from art on the internet, downloaded them, printed and laminated them. They were only small pictures but I had quite a pile of them. I spread them over a table and I remember the look of joy on faces as we looked at them and as each person got to choose their favourite to take home.

A simple example of a blessing I received. One of the club members came up to me at the end of a meeting, stood in front of me and said “I really like you!” I was so moved and it took me a while to work out why. I realised that it was something we never say. I would never think of going up to a friend and simply saying “I really like you!” I would just assume that the friend knows that and, anyway, it would feel strange to do it –  but the way this kind and genuine compliment made me feel was such a lovely lesson. I realised that I was learning how to love and appreciate others from our club members and that I was a novice compared to them.

There was no other support from the church although we were grateful for the room. However, once a year, some of the ladies organised a Christmas party. They decorated the church hall and we all brought in cakes and biscuits and mince pies as well as organising some games. It was always a lovely occasion.

During one particular Christmas party, one-by-one, individuals started to come into the hall, help themselves to chairs and then go out without acknowledging us or telling us what was happening. One of the helpers ascertained that there was a carol concert rehearsal in the church upstairs and that they were short of chairs. This went on for some time. People trooped in and out but not one of them acknowledged us. It was as if we weren’t there.

I felt very uneasy about this but couldn’t put my finger on why. Then it came to me why no one came up to explain or apologise or even to wish our club members a Happy Christmas – it was because they were learning disabled. For any other party or meeting, permission would have been asked and apologies given but, it seemed, that people with learning disabilities were not offered that common courtesy.

I have seen it over and over again, especially when I went on to work in learning disabilities. These lovely and special people are often not treated with even basic dignity. I thought Christian people would be different but I was wrong. What is wrong with us?

One last word. Whenever there was an open day or outreach at the church and a board of activities was put on display, which club do you think had pride of place? You guessed it and I use the word ‘pride’ on purpose. Our club members were ignored and forgotten by the church for 99% of the time but picked up when they were useful.

Don’t be like this.

“Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.”

Mother Teresa

Spirit Speaks to Spirit

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Probably by Lorenzo Monaco c1387-8 National Gallery London

 

 ‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5: 14-16

For those of us born of the Holy Spirit there is not I – there is only WE. Those who are carrying the Holy Spirit within them are in communion with all others who are also carrying the Holy Spirit – all baptised believers.

Spirit communes with Spirit – for there is only one Spirit. We are even more than brothers and sisters in the Lord. Whether or not you realise it or feel it, the Holy Spirit within you is constantly reaching out to others and your mere presence can be a magnificent blessing without any effort on your part.

The spirit within you is a light to the world and you are the lamp that contains it and carries it with you. Your only responsibility is to nurture the Holy Spirit within you and, by doing so, grow in holiness and that means resembling Christ more and more each day.

 

 

Jesus is the Way

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Giovanni Battista Cima Da Conegliano c1510 National Gallery London

 

The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up and the Lord said to him, ‘Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.’

 Moses said to the Lord, ‘The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, “Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.”’

The Lord replied, ‘Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the Lord, or he will break out against them.’ So Moses went down to the people and told them. Exodus 19: 20 -25

Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorised fire before the Lord, contrary to his command.  So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord spoke of when he said:

‘“Among those who approach me
    I will be proved holy;
in the sight of all the people
    I will be honoured.”’

Aaron remained silent.  Leviticus 10: 1-3

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The Trinity with Christ Crucified c1410 National Gallery London

Those who say they know God or have God are kidding themselves. God is so holy, so ‘other’ that we could not stand in His presence and survive. Our sin would destroy us. That is why Jesus came – to take our sin on himself so that we can stand in the presence of God and live.  Jesus explains this himself.   ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

When Jesus takes our sin onto himself it is so that we can approach our Holy Father and so that He can commune with us. God loves us but He also feels the burden and responsibility of our estrangement. Pure love in the form of Jesus was his answer – and what an answer!

 

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
in light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might:
thy justice, like mountains high soaring above,
thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all, life thou givest, to both great and small;
in all life thou livest, the true life of all;
we blossom and flourish like leaves on the tree,
then wither and perish, but naught changeth thee.

Thou reignest in glory, thou dwellest in light,
thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;
all praise we would render; O help us to see
’tis only the splendor of light hideth thee!

Help My Unbelief

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Noli me tangere – Master of the Lehman Crucifixion c1370-5 National Gallery London

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands towards your Most Holy Place.

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help.

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: here am I.

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

I lift up my eyes to the mountains –
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip –
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
 indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

 The Lord watches over you –
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
 the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

 The Lord will keep you from all harm –
    he will watch over your life;
 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and for evermore.

Mark 9:24 – Psalm5:2 – Psalm 18:6 – Psalm 28:2 – Psalm 72:12 – Isaiah 58: 9a – Psalm 121

Mary Magdalene first mistook the risen Christ for a gardener shown here holding a hoe. Mary kneels before him but he forbids her to touch him: ‘Noli me tangere’. This is an upper panel from an altarpiece by a Florentine master. Another pinnacle from the same work is in the Lehman Collection (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) hence the name given to the artist.