Monday, 12 August 2019

Communion Conversation

A sketch written for young people

It's after Pentecost.
Peter, James and John are trying to work out what it means to be followers of Jesus, now that he's gone. They have a meeting to discuss what he might have meant by sharing bread and wine, in what we call ‘Communion’...

Peter: So then, James, John, my mates - our team-task number one: ‘Have this bread and wine to remember me’, Jesus said. Simple - here we are: you two have the bread, I'll take the wine. Deal?

John [sadly]: Oh, that last supper with him - my eyes are welling up just remembering it. There he was about to die, and he knew it.

James [scornfully]: It’s all got to be touchy-feely for you, John, hasn't it? How many times have I got to tell you? you've gotta toughen up, mate!

Peter: Brothers! Stop arguing for just for one moment. Please!

John: Sorry, Peter. But it was tragic, wasn’t it? Yet Jesus seemed somehow… well, joyful too.

James: Yeah, I never did get him. He’s dancing towards death, yet loving and kind. Showed us all up - well, you especially, Peter!

Peter: You come outside and say that.

John: Just ignore him, Peter, I do... Anyway, now we know why he could stare death in the face: he was going to come back from the dead!

Peter: Ah, good, we’re making progress. Two points we've got so far, I reckon, about this bread-and-wine thing - I’ll scribble them down… 1: we’re remembering his death… 2: we’re remembering his resurrection…

James: Hey, we’re on a roll here. Not bad for guys without a single GCSE to scrape together between them.

John: And point 3?
The bread and wine's a taste of a glorious future.

James: Wine maybe, not this stinking stale bread we've got! Where did you pick this up, Peter - the leftovers from
last year's feeding of the 5,000?

Peter: As if I'm going to waste good food!
Anyway, gotta keep up my calorie intake to prepare for that banquet Jesus promised - mountains of food, oceans of wine! I'll be first in the queue.

John: You’ve got it - the bread-and-wine's a taster of heaven. A bit of heaven on earth. Isn’t that what we pray in Jesus's Prayer - ‘on earth as it is in heaven’?

James [to Peter]: Come on, Peter, keep up! Get let John's genius go to waste - get it down on paper.

Peter: OK, OK... 'looking.. to.. the.. future'… But all this past and future stuff: I’m for the moment. So what about now?

James [to John]: OK, bro’, you’re the clever one, what do you think?

John: ‘This is my body and my blood,' he said. But he isn't with us any more…

Peter [cutting in]: His Spirit's come off the subs' bench, though…

John: Not quite my theological way of putting it, Peter. But yes, our new friend the Holy Spirit - who goes wherever he wishes, remember - makes the bread and wine special, so it's like we’re eating Jesus. “You are what you eat,” as they say.

James: No! - eating a person?! Like cannibals?! Crunching into bone, knocking back the blood?

John: Mmm, I can see this may give us some bad press. But no, we're talking spiritual, not literal.

Peter: Hang on,
I don’t get this part at all. Just tell me what I'm meant to write down.

John: Ah, but that’s it, Peter. We don’t have to get it - we just have to do it.

James: And discover for ourselves that Jesus lives in us?

Peter: So let’s find the others and get started with this Communion-thing. As I said, bags I have the wine.


Alphaeus adds:
Sketch written for a primary school time of collective worship themed on Communion, Mar 2019.

Friday, 30 March 2018

The parables and the Cross

Jesus' parables
glimpsed through characters with Jesus
on the road to the Cross...
A reflection for Good Friday

Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane
They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’

The gardener
(the parable of the sower)

‘A farmer went out to sow,’ I once heard you say. I sit in the dark under my favourite tree in the old garden where I’ve sown and tended these long years - watching. Watching you wretch with sorrow, your friends inattentive and slumbering. They hardly look good soil. But I suppose some would say this patch of ground was unpromising, yet it brings peace enough to folk who come. You seemed the Good Farmer, scattering seeds of gentleness, care, wisdom. But now… The clouds part for a moment and a shaft of moonlight illuminates your face. You look straight at me, your eyes glistening with tears. I hear those ancient words, ‘those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.’ But how are you now going to reap, thirty-, sixty, a hundred-fold? A tear rolls down my own face.

Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested
Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.’ So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, ‘Rabbi!’ and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him.

 (the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids)

‘Be ready!’ you said. Well, here I am Jesus, as ready as can be. Like those bridesmaids you spoke about, my lamp is lit and stoked with spare oil. And the lamps of all these oh-so-friendly compatriots of mine: they’re ready too, to cart you away. Oh yes! I’m ready to cash in — on my investment in your friendship, on the chief priests’ fear, on your folly. And here I find you in the most predictable of places. You, ready? If you’d known you’d have run. Only… you hold my gaze like someone prepared, someone knowing — as someone one, well… ready. Are you, in fact, the wise one here? Am I the fool? I grip my lamp so my eyes may see. But my heart — you see its in darkness, don’t you? I never was ready for you. But  don’t shut the door


Jesus is judged by Pilate
Pilate asked them, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him!’ So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

(the parable of the rich fool)

I’m scared. Not that I’ll admit it, to you Jesus or anyone. Last night my wife had a dream, and woke screaming and wrenching my hair, ‘Don’t touch that man Jesus,’ she screeched; she’s scarcely let up. ‘Build up your wealth and power,’ they say, ‘then eat, drink and be merry,’ they say. I’ve done all that. Yet now I’m scared — scared of losing it all. Scared of death. Aren’t we all?… But you’re not, are you? — though this very night it’s your life being demanded of you, not mine. If not of wealth and power, what do our lives consist of? What is the truth? I’m scared, Jesus, I’m scared.

Jesus is scourged and led out to be crucified
And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him.
After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him

A soldier
(the parable of the Good Samaritan)

Take this right-hook, Jesus — mmmmph. And this whip on your back — whack. There’s nothing like a good roughing-up of a crufixee to get the adrenalin going. It’s almost as much fun as being on the Jerusalem-Jericho road. You’ll have walked it many a time, I’m sure mate, with much fear and trembling. The bandits, eh? You see, they’re OK — when you’re one of them. That was my apprenticeship, you see, before I got conscripted… Now, don’t give me that look. Like you care, or something. Like your my father — or my mother. Here, take another one — oooph. Blimey, you’re still standing, still… don’t give me that look. Maybe your own mummy will be by your cross, to peel you off afterwards and sling you over her donkey, to bandage you up in some nice hostelry. Oh, but the bandages will be burial cloths, won’t they, and the hostelry your grave — sorry mate… [agitated] Alright, so I’m evil scum… No, that’s not what you’re thinking, is it? [softening] Look, I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes (OK, so we’ve taken your shoes — sorry). You could be the guy next-door, and I’d care for my neighbour. I’m rota-ed to do the nails today. And I’ll try and do it right. You know, as painless as possible. OK, that’s not possible. But, I am on your side, you know…

A bystander carries the cross
As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.

Simon of Cyrene
(the parable of the lost sheep)

I’d lost my way. In life, in everything. Marriage a mess. My children: they never want to see me. My old business partners — my friends — now turn their backs. I’ll tell you the whole tale one day. But there I am, wandering into Jerusalem, one lost soul with thoughts only to drift and drink myself under the table at the festival. And then ‘Oi, you!’ from a Roman soldier, ‘carry this you lazy sod.’ I’m grabbed round the neck and thrust under this almighty wooden cross to drag up the hill. Then the criminal turns to look at me. And I know in an instant it’s that Jesus of Nazareth. It’s like the world stops, there’s just him and me. And though he’s bleeding like a sacrificial lamb, he smiles and nods and says, ‘Come on, Simon.’ How did he even know my name?! I was one in a hundred in this crowd, in a thousand even. I was lost, but now I’ve been found by Jesus. Like a lost sheep. Yes, like a lost sheep.

Jesus is crucified
And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

  A disciple 
(the parables of the pearl of great price and the treasure in a field)

You are the pearl of great price. Yet they’ve strung you up on a necklace in the sky. You are the treasure hidden in the field. Yet you will now be buried in the earth again. How can they do this? You were my pearl, my purpose, my point in life. You still are. Can you hear me? you must hear me: you still are. Your stories, oh your stories: they drew me in, they delighted me, they baffled me — and then finally I saw: they were all about you! So I threw away my shovel. I had dug and found the treasure… Can you hear me? you must hear me: you still are my treasure. You always will be.

Jesus on the cross: his mother and his friend 
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

Jesus’ mother
(the parable of the prodigal son)

You were always were a prodigal, my son. So good — yet free-spirited. Caring — yet such gay abandon. Saving so diligently,  then giving it all away. Working so faithfully for your father and me, then throwing it away for your nomadic lifestyle. ‘Come back,’ I cried (how many times?), but you never did. ‘These people are my mother and my brothers and sisters,’ you said. How could you, after all we’d done? Instead you fraternised with drunks and sluts and fraudsters, as if you were trying to make a point… Oh, Jesus my dear, what am I saying. I’m so sorry. I just love you so much. And I know you love me. I just understand so little… Your ‘heavenly’ Father: how often you spoke of him, and how lovingly. He will welcome you into his home, my darling. He’ll be standing with his arms open wide for you — he’ll be running to greet you, even now. Yes, he is, my darling — running to greet you…

Jesus dies on the cross
At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.

(the parable of the mustard seed)

One short life. Lived in one small place. That’s all it’s been. Will it matter for anything?… Those friends, all gone now, deserted — were they just poor soil after all?… I’m just one small seed. What was it I said? I can scarcely think. A mustard seed, that’s right. (Yes, I was pleased with that one.)… Ah, seeds, they take me back, right back to the beginning. The seed of Creation, where it all began. It was good, I can picture it so vividly… Is this now a second moment of Creation? A new Creation — a new type of Creation: Resurrection? ‘Unless a seed falls to the earth and dies, it will remain just a seed’ — those words feel familiar, did I say that once? How long ago it seems. ‘But if it dies it will bear much fruit’…  The earth looks such a long way down suspended up here. And everyone is so small, so very far away… I am just a small mustard seed, and it is my time to fall to earth… I’m falling, falling, into the darkness…

Alphaeus adds:
The Scripture passages are taken from the Gospels of Mark, Luke and John.

Clipart from Reverend Ally

Sunday, 3 December 2017

The PCC (Parochial Capernaum Council) meeting

A sketch

Jesus and three of his disciples — Peter, Judas and Mary Magdalene — are at Peter’s house. They are having a meeting.

Peter: So, welcome friends to our ’umble abode-by-the-sea for tonight’s meeting of the Parochial Capernaum Council. We seem a bit thin on the ground today. A nasty old night out there, I know.

Jesus: A big thank you to your mother-in-law, Peter, for her kind hospitality.

Peter: She’s been so grateful to you for making her better.

Jesus: I’m grateful she stayed better too. One of my first healings — so a bit of hinge moment. 

Judas: Mmmm… excellent biscuits she does, too.

Peter: Always the first with the hand in the tin, eh, Judas? So, Jesus, over to you, you’re in the chair. What’s today’s agenda?

Jesus: No, you lead, Peter.

Judas: Him?! It’s always him — or James and John. ‘The dream team’ indeed.

Peter: Some people’s stocks just can’t help rising, you see Judas. Jesus knows who’ll never let him down.

Mary: You men — why’s everything a competition?

Peter: You’d know a bit about men of course, eh Mary?

Jesus: My dear children… We’re here for some planning: part of our teaching programme.

Judas: Thought the teaching was your job, Jesus.

Peter: I’m up for it. So what do you want us to teach?

Jesus: That’s up to you. What do you think people need?

Judas: Good financial management. That’s the heart of things. Neglect your finances and the whole thing collapses. I could do a course. I’ve picked up good tips off the synagogue guys: how to get people to give, Roman-tax avoidance, that sort of thing.

Jesus: Money skills are certainly important, Judas. And you’re quite right, we should all use the talents we’ve got — we need you in the team. But let’s not start there.

Peter: Guerrilla resistance skills. We’ll need those to secure your kingdom, Master. I can see a great teaching plan: Part 1 — Verbal Subversion, or ‘How to pull the rug out from under your enemies whilst pretending to love them’. You’re a past master at it Jesus. Then Part 2 — Combat Skills. I’ve an old sword stashed away — bit rusty, never used it, but I’m going to need it one day I know. So guys, agreed? Great! Let’s go.

Mary: Oh put the male macho stuff away, Peter. This isn’t the bleeding Apprentice.

Judas: I’m with you, there, luv. Alpha males, eh?

Jesus: Mmm, ‘Alpha’… You could use that, if you wanted. Start people with the basics. Call it ‘the Alpha course’ perhaps. Just seeding a thought…

Peter: ‘In the beginning was the word, and the word was Alpha.’ Oh no, I’m starting to sound like John.

Judas: We could keep it going all the way to Omega. Franchise it. What a money-spinner that’d be.

Jesus: The Alpha and the Omega - mmm, powerful… But we shouldn’t encourage people to run before they can walk. Spiritual safeguarding’s central — we need to nurture good practice.

Judas: Mmm, compulsory pastoral modules then — a good income stream…

Jesus: Mary, you’re very quiet. What ideas have you got?

Peter: [uppity] I thought I was chairing this.

Mary: Thank you, Master. You hear what folk are crying out for. ‘Teach us to pray,’ they’re saying.

Judas: Prayer — excellent idea! The Pharisees have got some great materials. ‘Impress through Prayer’, they call it. Tips like standing in as public a place as possible — common sense, really.

Peter: I worry about you, mate… Mary, this was your idea — which means, according to the ancient tradition we would never wish to break: you’ll be doing it. What’s your big idea?

Mary: Sitting together on the beach.

Peter: The beach?! What’s that got to do with prayer? That’s the Lake. That’s work.

Mary: [ignoring him] That’s where I meet God. The calm, the stillness. Or in a storm — doesn’t matter. Gather some pebbles, meditate, listen to God together.

Peter: Wouldn’t float my fishing boat, I’m afraid. Though we could do a beach bar-b-q — that’d make it worthwhile.

Judas: And who’d be paying for that, then?

Peter: [sighs]… Jesus, you’re the one being quiet now. Prayer — surely this is you’re gig.

Jesus: Thanks for asking, Peter. As it happens, yes, I’ve got something brewing. ‘Our Father,’ it starts… Haven’t got further than that yet. I’m sure it’ll come, though.

Mary: You see, Master, you’re the centre of this, not us. All these big ideas, but the only thing that matters is you’re there.

Jesus: Thank you, Mary. Profound, as ever. I will always be with you. Even when I’m gone.

Peter: Gone?? Oh, of course, healing duty calls again. I wondered what all the racket was outside. You’d think your devoted fan club would give you a rest in this weather.

Jesus: Never a dull moment in the PCC, eh, Peter?

Peter: So, meeting closed. And the ball’s in your court with this prayer thing then, Master.

Jesus: The ball’s in all of our courts. Let’s go — and I hope you’ve been praying.

Alphaeus adds:
Sketch written for a discussion on church-based discipleship groups for the South West Ministry Training Course, Nov 2017.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

The Three Crosses
A sketch

 The two thieves crucified either side of Jesus...  
...are now in heaven.

They are sitting at a table outside 'The New Jerusalem Arms', enjoying a drink and the panoramic view over the Celestial City. 

Reuben: So, the New Jerusalem, eh? What an f-ing beautiful place! ‘F’ for flipping fantastic, of course.

Simeon: Isn’t our language smooth these days! And yes — sparkling crystals and jewels everywhere.

Reuben: I’d have grabbed them and ran, in our past life. Mind you, I wouldn’t know what half these precious stones even are.

Simeon: We should ask old St John to give us a tour. He seemed quite the jewel expert in his Revelation epic — cornelian, chrysolite, jacinth: I mean, what are they?

Reuben: All John’s stuff’s just Greek to me.

Simeon: Old Jerusalem — that seems another world now. It was quite some view of the city we had from our crosses, wasn’t it?

Reuben: There you were, greasing up to Jesus, going down in history as the goodie-goodie. And now you’re claiming you were admiring the view!

Simeon: That’s what I tell folk around here, anyway — got to keep up appearances. I might have been a thief, but at least I’m the respectable one.

Reuben: Status counts for nothing here, you know that!

Simeon: I know, I know. Look at James and John!

Reuben: Yeah, what a laugh, eh? They go pitching in to be at the left and right hands of Jesus. And look who it was?

Simeon: Us! Yeah, who would believed it. Top moment in human history, and look who’s in the photo frame with Jesus — Youtube hits and the rest? You and me, mate! 

Reuben: Proved a good bet, that crime, as it turned out! Only joking! You said we got what we deserved. Well, it turns out we’ve all got a whole lot more than we deserved...!

Simeon: Weird place, the Kingdom of God, eh?

Reuben: Anyway, do you know what the first thing Jesus said to me was when I arrived?

Simeon: What was that, then?

Reuben: ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘You’re thanking me?’ I say. ‘Yes,’ he says. ‘What for?’ I say, ‘foul-mouthing you?’ ‘Keeping me company,’ he says. My jaw fell out the sky.

Simeon: He said just the same to me. ‘Couldn’t have done it on my own,’ he says! I was flabbergasted.

Reuben: Me too. I was totally stumped what to say. So you know what I go and do? This tune comes to me, and I start humming, ‘always look on the bright side of life, eh, Jesus?’ And he just cracks up: ‘something like that,’ he says.

Simeon: And let me guess, he then goes all serious. 

Reuben: Yeah, how do you know? He says, ‘I mean it.’ And I look puzzled but have a stab: ‘because you were human?’ I say. And he says, ‘Yes.’ Then he looks like he’s going to add something but then hesitates and seems to change his mind, and goes on. ‘You accompanied me to the edge. That was a lonely place,’ he says. ‘What you did for the least of these, you did for me,’ he says. ‘What are you talking about, Jesus?’ I say. And he says, ‘you were with me in my pain and in my need. You were ministering to me.’

Simeon: Blimey, mate. Turns things upside down alright, doesn’t he? We were ministering to him?

Reuben: Well, I was, he said! Yeah, both of us, of course.

Simeon: You know, what he said about appreciating it being because he was human, and then he might have said something else? I think I know what it was.

Reuben: Just because you spotted he was the Son of God, you now think you know his thoughts, eh? 

Simeon: That’s just it, you see. To your question about whether he appreciated the company because he was human, I think he was going to say, ‘Yes. And No.’ And then he would add, ‘It’s also because I’m God.’ 

Reuben: You’re getting ahead of me there, mate!

Simeon: You see, I didn’t do much better with what I came out with, when Jesus thanked me. I blurted out, ‘Two’s company — but wasn’t three a bit of a crowd?’ — knowing you hadn’t shown him huge respect. I’m sorry, mate!

Reuben: Well, thanks a bundle. That’s our friendship gone! So what did he say?

Simeon: He said, ‘three was just perfect!’ And I thought, ‘doh, oh yes, it would be, wouldn’t it?’

Reuben: I’m still not following you.

Simeon: Look around you — it’s because there’s three of them here, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And there always was.

Reuben: Oh, I get it. No I don’t actually, this three-in-one thing, but I can see it, so that’ll do.

Simeon: Jesus hardly needed to say it then, but he still added, ‘having two for company, it made me feel at home’.

Reuben: What, like we were the Trinity?! Well, that’s a thing! So the Romans thought they were doing a three-for-the-price-of-one offer on punishment / entertainment / call it what you will, and they were really helping Jesus out…

Simeon: …and setting up a model of the Trinity. Profound, eh?

Reuben: So… that’s got me thinking. Which of us was which, then?

Simeon: The Father and the Spirit, you mean?

Reuben: Yeah. You’re the one who pretends to have some sense of responsibility. So you’ve got to be the Dad.

Simeon: And you’re the wild, unpredictable one — the Spirit, obviously!

Reuben: Looks like we’ve got it sussed. So, how do we make the most of this? — our celebrity status as Right- and Left-Hand companions for Jesus on the Cross — and now Father- and Spirit-substitutes too?

Simeon: Not quite the point, I think!

Reuben: But something to wind James and John up with.

Simeon: Alright — let’s have some fun. Come on….


Alphaeus adds:
The four Gospel writers each relate the men crucified with Jesus differently: see Luke 23 vv32,39-43 for the most well known account, but also by contrast Matthew 27 vv38,44 and Mark 15 vv25-32, and particularly that of John John 19 v18 who refrains from comment on the men's actions.
See Revelation 21 for John's vision of the celestial city.
Sketch written for a Biblical relection for South West Ministry Training Course, Mar 2017.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

The slaves

A mini-sketch

Two Roman slaves, characters in Jesus’ story of the wedding banquet, are in conversation...

(Gallio is confident and up-beat. Felicio is a somewhat depressive Eeyore-type character)       

Gallio: Fancy us starring in one Jesus’s stories, eh? Us!

Felicio: We’re hardly stars. We’re just part of the furniture - as ever. Always taken for granted.

Gallio: Of course! 'Go here’, ‘Run there’ - our life in a nutshell, eh?

Felicio: It’s a good story, though, I suppose. Fancy anyone turning down an offer to a feast like that! I would I have given anything to tuck into that succulent spread - and those flagons of wine. But it’s our lot again - serving: yes, gorging: no.

Gallio: Those arrogant, stuck-up folk - insulting our king like that, refusing his invitation. I wanted to punch them to pulp, to save him the job later.

Felicio: Glad you didn’t. Wouldn’t have been good for either of our careers.

Gallio: Yeah, I’m carefully clocking up the years of service and the gold stars. You’ve got to be strategic - I’ve got my sights set on earning my freedom, alright. 

Felicio: Mmm, freedom. Jesus tells a story about slaves, but is there a mention of freedom for us in it? No. We’re obviously just part of the furniture to him too. And I thought he would be our saviour.

Gallio: Ah, but think who’s he’s talking to. The walls have ears, you know - plus Roman officers patrolling everywhere these days, all with their own slaves. One hint of slave insurrection, and Jesus would be meat served up at their next banquet. They all remember Spartacus!

Felicio: ’suppose so…

Gallio: Plus look at who came to the banquet in the end!

Felicio: What do you mean?

Gallio: “Then the king said to his slaves, ‘go into the main streets, and invite everyone you find.’ ” Where are us slaves half the day, as we ‘go there’ and ‘run there’? On the streets. He meant slaves too.

Felicio: Slaves? Us? Invited to the great banquet?

Gallio: Yep! Us.

Felicio: Wow!

Gallio: So Jesus was preaching insurrection after all. It was buried in his story. Oh, that was clever!

Felicio: I’m so relieved. My faith is restored.

Gallio: It’ll take a while, though, freedom. In the meantime, do keep restraining me when I wanna throw a punch and kick-start the rebellion.

Felicio: And in the meantime now, look! We’ve got a taste of freedom - all those left-overs from the banquet we can scoff as we clear up. I’ve no problem picking up the crumbs from under this table.

Gallio: Our very own feast. Come on.


Alphaeus adds:
This conversation follows a story Jesus told about a wedding banquet (see Matthew 22 vv1-14).
The sketch was written for Freedom Sunday 2017 (linked to Anti-Slavery Day), which raises awareness of modern-day slavery.
With thanks to Marcus Sidonius Falx (alias Jerry Toner) for his informative and entertaining book about Roman slaves, How to Manage your Slaves.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

The Trinity trio

It’s after the festival of Pentecost in Jerusalem. Jesus' three close friends - Peter and brothers James and John - are having a drink in the Jerusalem Arms.                            A sketch

Peter: Well, who would have guessed it. From fish to fame. Pilchards to preachers… Cheers - to the future!

James: To the future! The trouble is, in this future the others are looking to us for a lead, aren’t they?

John: They’re never going to let us live that one down, James, about us bidding for the top spots in Jesus’ kingdom.

Peter: You’ve got to carry that cross now, John!

James: So why three of us? Oh I get it, you’re here, Peter, to keep the peace between us brothers.

Peter: No! It’s good management strategy - oh, I hadn’t told you, I’ve signed on for a management course at Jerusalem College. We’ve got some serious retraining to do! Three - it gives resilience. If one us drops dead - and, let’s be honest, the chances are pretty high of someone knocking us off, now we’re marked men - then there’s still two left. Bets for who’ll be first!

John: No, there’s something deeper about being three than that. I’ve been thinking…

James: You’re always thinking, bro. Lighten up! Cor, those interminable hours trapped on a boat with you with your philosophical ramblings. I felt like stuffing a dead fish in your mouth many a time.

John: And you’re always breaking my train of thought! Where was I?… Oh yes, three. Three of us, three of them.

Peter: You’ve lost me there, mate. Three of who?

John: Three of God.

James: Three of God? Keep your voice down! That’s blasphemy. We’ll be strung up before you can say ‘shalom’.

John: Well, for starters, Jesus clearly saw his Father as different to him. Whilst also the same. ‘I and the Father are one’, as he said. And then he talks about the Spirit, as if it makes up the party.

James: And wasn’t it a party he gave us at Pentecost! Don’t know if the ‘high’ was legal, but it was good!

John: There you go, trivialising things again!

Peter: I was always a bit envious of the Greeks and the Romans with all their different gods. They have such good stories about how the gods get on with one another - or don’t. It looks like they’re part-right, then. Thankfully our God seems to get on with himself rather better.

James: The Roman gods don’t seem to get on well with people, either. Zeus was my favourite at school. I loved the stories when the gods killed people. But what a travesty, given the truth…

John: …that it’s the other way round - people killed God…

Peter: [pause] And yet he doesn’t blame us. That beach bar-B-Q Jesus did. I was just relaxing after an all-nighter. Then the fish weren’t the only things being grilled, as Jesus turned the roaster on me. But I’ve never known love like it before.

James: It really did change you, didn't it, mate? The slushy love stuff is normally John’s territory.

John: Jesus was always talking about how much the Father loved him. Yet he allowed him to die. Not normally good for family dynamics. Yet it turns out they were suffering together - carrying the world’s grief.

Peter: One moment you’re talking about Jesus and his Father as separate, the next like they’re one God. This is where I struggle. I just can’t get how two can be one - let alone three!

James: Numbers never were your thing, eh Peter?! Those days at Capernaum Primary. It was always so good to know there'd be someone lower than you in the class, eh, ’Simple Simon’!

John: But that’s fine. Not understanding God as three, I mean. Jesus wasn't challenging us to understand. He was inviting us to participate.

Peter: Participation - absolutely. ‘Follow me’, he said. Action, my kind of man. If he’d meant to a theological college, I’d have stayed right on my boat. He was calling us to a life, a life like his. Mind you, if I’d known that life could mean an early grim death, I’d have stayed right on my boat too.

James: We’ve burned our boats now, though. Well, not literally - I’m getting some useful rental income on ours at the moment.

Peter: John, getting back to what you’re saying about Jesus inviting us to participate. I get the action bit. But I know you - I’m sure you’ve got something deeper.

John: As it happens, yes. Miss this one and we miss the whole point. God, as three, relate to one another. They always have, they always will. But in coming to earth, Jesus was like their ambassador, inviting us to join them - join the family as it were. 

James: You mean joining them in heaven.

John: Only heaven’s come to earth. Living with us, Jesus showed we can be part of the family now. We’re children of God, that’s the key. And children aren’t left outside in the cold - they’re in the house, the heart of the family.

Peter: So when Jesus said to us, ‘follow me’, he was sort of saying, ‘follow me into the company of the three-bits-of-God.’

John: Yes. We’ve scarcely scratched the surface of this one.

James: You’re ahead of me, bro. Meanwhile, back on planet earth - which is where Jesus came to, remember - we’ve got to have a plan to bring to the other guys (and girls - Jesus didn’t leave them out, I’m not going to - I’m a changed man too!). Peter, as the main man, over to you.

Peter: Well, what Jesus did was invite people, wasn’t it? To follow him. And I’m starting to get it: into the heart of God. So that’s now our job. Inviting people, into what we’ve already started to experience.

James: We need a slick term for this three-in-one-God thing. Bro, you’re our classics expert. What can you come up with?

John: mmm, ‘tri’ - three, ‘unity’ - as one. So, how about calling the three-in-one-God thing, as you call it, ‘trinity’?

Peter: Brilliant. I always knew it was worth staying friends with you at school. 

John: There’s three in God, three of us. Back to where we started.

James: Tell you what, for some fun getting this across to the others, we could do a sketch! Now, which of us should be the Father, the Son, and the Spirit?…

Peter: I’m staying out of your brotherly squabbles! We’ve got work to do - let’s get some more beers...

Alphaeus adds:
I apologise to theologians for the abuse in this conversation of the development of Christian understanding of God as Trinity. Many decades (even centuries) are contracted here into a short conversation.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Planning Pentecost

God the Father and God the Son discuss sending the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
A sketch for Pentecost

Father: Welcome back to heaven, son! You’ve kept in touch well, but I’ve still missed you.

Jesus: Good to see you too. Mind you, my head’s still spinning from the Ascension. That was quite some ride you gave me.

Father: Indeed, your once-in-a-lifetime experience of heavenly teleporting… Anyway, I’ve got two things on the agenda: reviewing how things went for you on earth; and the next stage, sending the Holy Spirit.

Jesus: Ah, so many stories to share about earth with you. We’ve eternity for that! Sending the Holy Spirit, though: I suggest we crack straight on. I told my friends to wait, and humans don’t find waiting easy. To be honest, those years plugging away as a carpenter: great to have had a normal job - but the patience was a challenge. A thousand years aren’t like a day to them, you know! 

Father: That’s something the Spirit can help them with, then - patience - add it to his list. By the way, I suggest we keep referring to our Spirit as ‘he’. It’ll keep things simple - and it makes writing up the minutes easier.

Jesus: There’ll be other PR problems too. Such as the name. ‘Holy’ sounds remote, when we’ll be with them - and even in them! And ‘Spirit’ - it’s a tougher concept for them than ‘Father’ or ‘Son’. Rather ethereal, hard to grasp.

Father: It’s hard to pin him down for these family chats, too! A threesome we may be, but hardly the tidy nuclear family with the Spirit! He’s always on the go. We’ve only got to have thought of something and he’s off doing it.

Jesus: I’ve seen him from the other side of the fence now, too. When you’re in creation, you know it’s him holding the whole thing together, giving you all your food, your air - breathing all life, in fact.

Father: He’s due for another long-service thank-you medal, don’t you think? How long is it now since we created everything?? - I lose track… Anyway, we now need to focus on this new stage. So what was it like for you, being filled with the Spirit?

Jesus: How did I put it? ‘The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.’ I was putting words to my experience…

Father: Mmmm, the ‘wind’ image - I like that. Let’s come back to it. But carry on.

Jesus: Each day, wrestling in prayer, knowing I was your Son, yet also being intensely human. And it is a very intense experience - as we meant it to be. There’s so much to see and feel, to enjoy and to suffer, so much that exalts the spirit, but so much too that is very hard to make sense of.

Father: Humbling for you - thank you. Tell you what, I could give you a medal for humility! No, perhaps that doesn't work…

Jesus: Anyway, through all that, each day the Spirit filled my capacity to love people - and, believe me, some of them aren’t that lovely! We could at least have chosen a period of history when personal cleanliness was more advanced…

Father: And what about healing people, how was that for you? 

Jesus: Quite extraordinary! I train as a carpenter, I work as a healer and teacher - how does that work?! The Spirit, he gifts you far beyond what you think you could do - and it’s as if it is you and it isn’t you at the same time.

Father: We will always be something of a mystery!

Jesus: Yes! But the wonderful part - and I say this with both my ‘God’ and ‘human’ hats on - is that all of this brought transformation to people. That’s the heart of the next stage too, of course - the Holy Spirit transforming people, through people. ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’. I was rather pleased with putting it that way.

Father: Blatant plagiarism of Isaiah, son!

Jesus: Of course, but I had to learn my Isaiah from scratch, don’t forget!

Father: And a job well done. Water’s a good image, in fact. I like it.

Jesus: And another one - sticking with Isaiah, describing his experience of us as being like fire. I felt that in me too - powerful, unquenchable. And what I was doing was like bringing fire.

Father: I sense another PR challenge.

Jesus: Too true! People see fire as destructive. The only thing we destroy is the bad, leaving the good purer and more beautiful. I saw the benefit in people when they were cleansed like this, it was deeply redemptive. So fire’s still a good image to work with.

Father: Excellent… I see a plan coming together.

Jesus: Well you’re the master!

Father: We’ve got these three images: water, wind, and fire. 

Jesus: Earth… wind… and fire… Very neat. Very elemental.

Father: But not all practical. Your friends, they’re gathered in a room, is that right?

Jesus: Yes - they’re expectant, but nervous.

Father: So, we do a launch event of the next stage, with them in the room. Wind - that’s the easy one. Fire, we’ll have to control for obvious health and safety reasons - we must give the Spirit strict boundaries! But water - no. We don’t want a flood. Bad associations - Noah and all that. Let’s keep it simple: wind and fire. Water will have its own moment, with baptism.

Jesus: Genius!

Father: Just good teamwork. And for timing - soon, you suggest? Pentecost is coming up. A festival, so lots of people will be there. And a great marketing hook for the birthday of the church too.

Jesus: I was very sad to leave my friends. But so exciting now we’re moving to the next stage.

Father: Which just leaves giving the instructions to the Holy Spirit. I’ll crack on and write up those minutes… Only kidding - I know he already knows! The only one for whom ‘being there in spirit’ actually means being there...

Jesus: The world awaits! Pentecost here we come.

Alphaeus adds:
OK, so I'm not party to conversations in heaven. I've brought my imagination to the inner workings of God. Maybe we have to create him in our image a little to have any chance of penetrating his mysteries... 
The story of the subsequent pivotal events of Pentecost can be found in Acts 2.