Now that I’m of a certain age I wear glasses all day every day, only taking them off to sleep. Without them on life is vague, unclear, and frustrating. I spend most of my time guessing. But when wearing them everything is just fine. Things make sense. I can see things as they really are. They have changed my life.
I am so grateful for the sabbatical that I have been able to take. In so many ways, but especially the three R’s of rest, relationships and reading. It has been like putting on glasses again.
Firstly, and perhaps underlying the others, I have so much appreciated the rest it gave me. Stepping back from holding responsibility and responding to the constant challenge of others’ expectations has been wonderful. I realised just how much I was carrying and how this was impacting so much of my life, rhythm, and relationships, especially with Tory and my children, but also with my dad, siblings, and wider friends.
The sabbatical was so timely as it gave me the opportunity to support and hang out with Hebe, Angus, and Tory at just the right time, as Hebe (28) was home after university and about to get married to Sam (in May), and Angus (30) was moving out of home to set up life in St Leonards. These were important and happy days and after Hebe’s wedding Tory and I were able to take a two-week holiday (Cotswolds and Croatia) and this was a wonderful time of rest and reflection together.
This took us to about halfway through the sabbatical and given that Tory was working 3 days a week I had extended times for retreat, reading, reflection and study which totally engaged and animated me. I am so grateful for this time which has stretched and expanded me, while refreshing my spiritual life and renewing my relationship with God so much. It’s as if I was given a completely new set of glasses, not only bringing everything into focus, but also making everything come alive again.
Now that I have the glasses, I never want to take them off!
Seeing the story afresh
The glasses of my sabbatical, that have brought so much into focus faith wise, has been learning how to read the New Testament from a Jewish, first century perspective, seeing how the everyday Jewish expectations of the ‘Kingdom of God’, the ‘Day of the Lord’, the ‘resurrection of the dead’, and the ‘coming of the Messiah’, are confirmed and completed not only in the life of Jesus, his teaching, healing, miracles and prophetic parables and actions, but also his sacrificial death, his resurrection, his ascension and his awaited return.
It is now relatively uncontested among scholars that Jews in Jesus’ day had certain expectations and hopes for how the God of Israel would work in their lives and in their nation and also that these expectations were normative for Jesus, the apostles, and the early apostolic church. These are called ‘apocalyptic’ expectations because of the ‘apocalyptic’ literature we find them most in – Jewish apocalyptic literature of the time.
Reading these, it is possible to see that ‘Second Temple Jews’ understood time divided into two ages – the present age and the age to come – and they longed for ‘the day’ when YHWH would send his anointed Messiah to execute both God’s judgement of the wicked and his justification of the righteous. This ‘day of Christ’ (or the ‘day of the Messiah’ as ‘Christ’ is just a Greek word for Messiah) was synonymous with the arrival of God’s kingdom.
The Jewish story and expectation of salvation was not complicated, and it was very down to earth. They simply were waiting for God to act – for him to send his anointed Messiah who would carry out God’s mission to restore Israel, to re-establish the temple, to heal the land, to raise the dead, to bring God’s kingdom on earth as it was in heaven, and to enable God’s glory to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
Reading the scripture again with these simple ideas in mind has been totally refreshing for me, confirming, and yet clarifying the mission of God, the calling of Israel, and the passion, ethics, witness, and endurance of the early church, a community that was made up of both Jews and Gentiles and struggling to work out what this meant both theologically and practically. It’s as if I am reading everything afresh and the stories, encouragements, and warnings are popping off the page with a fresh life and energy. Notoriously knotty theological concepts such as atonement, justification, salving faith, eternal life, the kingdom of God, and the gospel, are finding a simple coherence and unifying consistency.
Many of us will know that once you see something it is impossible not to see it. In fact we often see it cropping up everywhere. I remember a while ago, when I was doing up my campervan, just how many more campervans I saw on the road at the time. And once I saw one, I saw them everywhere.
It has been the same with my new glasses. Now that I have seen this ‘apocalyptic’ gospel I can’t stop seeing it everywhere in the New Testament. So much so, that I thought I’d start underlining every passage where these themes emerged with a new pink pen so that it would stand out.
My bible now has pink on almost every page.
The term ahead
With my new glasses on I have been wondering how best I could share them with everyone else, or how I could reproduce the glasses and give them away to as many as possible. As a communicator and a teacher, I was thinking through the possibility of running sessions, or holding bible studies, or producing short videos, and the like.
And then, as I was reading the lectionary passages that are set for this year and I realised that all I needed to do was to highlight the pink in every passage – and let the bible do the work each Sunday.
So that’s what we are going to do. We are simply going to enjoy re-reading the same passages we have read many times before, but I will do my best to share my glasses with you all – so that you can see what I can see.
I am so looking forward to this term’s teaching and learning together as a community where we will be following the Lectionary Readings for the season leading us up to Advent and Christmas. It’s going to be so exciting for me to share these things with you.
The word ‘apocalypse’ comes from the Greek work for ‘reveal’ or ‘revelation’. Over my sabbatical I guess I have been able to see things afresh, see them more clearly, and better make sense of it all. I am excited about sharing it all with you and us learning and seeing things together.