24 March 2005

Easter Message from the President of Conference

The Revd Will Morrey, President of the Conference:

Friends advise me to confine my singing to the car, and preferably when there are no passengers! In recent days I've frequently been drawn to the couplet, 'Faith has still its Olivet and love its Galilee' in John Greenleaf Whittier's hymn, 'Immortal Love, forever full, forever flowing freeÉ'

Faith's Olivet. The Mount of Olives and there the faith of Peter knows rebuke:
"Even though they all fall away I will not."
"Truly I say to you this very night you will deny me three times."
"If I must die with you, I will not deny you." And they all said the same.
And they all left him and fled...

The Mount of Olives Ð and Jesus prays, "If it be, let this cup pass from me." There have been trying times, but few approach the intensity of this time of testing. Luke tells of his sweat falling like great drops of blood, as he wrestles in himself to come to an acceptance of that night and what must follow.

Then swiftly a kiss, the betrayer has come, the followers flee.

The Mount of Olives Ð rebuke, test, and betrayal.

Love's Galilee, Jesus words, "I will go before you into Galilee." Few resurrection appearances are recorded; but there by the lakeside the loving restoration of Peter. Three times "Do you love me." And the parallel with the three denials is obvious. "Then feed my sheep, tend my lambs" and Peter knows that love welcomes him back.

Such is the background, the bedrock of the couplet, but wait, "Faith still has its Olivet, and love its Galilee."
Not history alone. Still has.
Let us ponder further. Encounter with a wide range of people including Christians who face life and death choices daily causes me to question my own living and to sense the rebuke of me, and of my complacency. Faith which knows complacency, ease, indifference, will be rebuked. Faith which is hasty in word, extravagant in claim, and short on action, will be rebuked. Faith which flies from the realities of the world, cocooning itself in its own small corner, will be rebuked. Faith which lets us sit comfortably with our society, allowing us to not stand out as different; faith which never runs the risk of mockery, ridicule, or slander, will be rebuked. Faith which has scant sense of the judgment of God will be rebuked.

"Even though they all fall away I will not", said Peter. And when the chips were down, when it really counted, when words were not enough, what then? And you and me, here and now, how much for us does the crucified, risen, ascended, Christ matter? How different are we from them that say nothing about him? How thorough is your thinking about lifestyle because of him?

Faith still has its Olivet. With Peter know the rebuke.

I don't believe in faith in isolation. Faith is not only an individual matter, it is corporate, a body together Ð it was so for Jesus too.
The time spent with his followers was not one-way traffic. There was a real bond between them. There is nothing vaguely off-the-cuff, still less flippant, about the way Jesus speaks with those closest to him in that last week of his life. It is with measured voice that he speaks with Judas, Peter, James, John. The words are sure and weighty as they make their way to the Mount of Olvies, "You will all fall away; for it is written, "I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered."
The kiss that signals which one is Jesus is the kiss of a friend, not an enemy. Betrayal and desertion are by those closest to him. They cannot cease to be his friends because in Jesus there is an overpowering sadness for them.

There's a picture of Jesus painted by Herbert Beecroft. It shows head and shoulders, but everything is in the eyes. It's impossible to find the collection of words that describe the look in the eyes which seem to follow you as you look at the picture from different angles. The title of the picture is taken from the moment after Peter has denied knowing Jesus, when we read, "And the Lord turned and looked on Peter and Peter remembered." Whatever else is in those eyes there is an infinite sadness for the one on whom he looks.

Olivet's betrayal and desertion knows not bitterness or hatred, but a profound sadness. If for us faith still has its Olivet there will be times when we sense betrayal, or an awful sense of being let down by those who we thought trustworthy. To know that within the fellowship of the church can cut very deeply, but the key is in Jesus. The brokenness is turned, and becomes sadness for them.
That the sadness is there in Jesus, that he should thus look upon Peter in the firelight of the courtyard, is the first signal that the severe testing of Gethsemane has met with victory.
If faith still has its Olivet then faith is going to be tested.
To use the image of the letter of James, faith passes through the assayer's fire. Do no expect an easy passage, but the testing will not beyond endurance. The testing is not designed to destroy.

I had to turn down an invitation I would have very much liked to have accepted. It was to an act of renewal of marriage vows. I would dearly like to have gone because I know something of what the last six years have involved for the couple. Within the service love's Galilee was to be proclaimed, as there was expressed in the renewal of vows the restoration of the relationship.

Restoration is, I think, the right word, if we use it carefully. A building which is restored is one that is put back into shape, very much resembling the original form and appearance, but the careful observer will notice the differences between the present and the original parts of the building.

Restoration involves making whole as before, while also recognizing that the passing of time has played a part. In terms of restored relationships that means not that things are as they were (as though nothing had happened) but that things are as they were because a stage of the journey has been completed the bonds still bind, and indeed, may bind the more strongly.
Love's Galilee is essentially about providing for and welcoming restoration of relationships.
Love still has its Galilee.

Indeed, Olivet and Galilee belong together. Faith and love go hand in hand. Rebuke and the sadness for the betrayer look to restoration as their completion. Testing looks to the triumph of passing the test.
May we know and continue to explore Faith's Olivet and Love's Galilee.

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