Colour the sky …

Why is the sky blue?
Who cares?  is one answer.
It’s not always, is another.   Sometimes it’s grey, or red, or black.

Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight.  Blue sky at night, it’s morning.

In the Antarctic the sky is perpetual blue – day and night – from October till February, because the sun never sets in the summer months.

If the question is a serious one, the answer is, Because of sunlight scattering in the atmosphere: 

  • Sunlight (white light, made up of seven primary colours) hits the atmosphere and is scattered by atmospheric particles (nitrogen and oxygen molecules).
  • Blue light is scattered the most, due to its shorter wavelength, ‘colouring’ the sky we see.  The other colours pretty much come straight on through, still essentially combined as white, illuminating what we see all around us.
  • At sunset (and rise) the obliquely incident white light has much further to travel through the atmosphere. 
  • Now the blue wavelength is scattered over and over, and loses its intensity.
  • The reds and oranges, which scatter less, become the dominant hues, and the sky seems red/orange.  The effect is even more marked when there are larger scattering particles in the air like smoke or dust .

In 1815 the Indonesian mountain Tampora blew up.  A hundred thousand people were killed by the blast and associated tsunamis.  A similar thing happened in 1883 when Krakatoa blew (again, in longsuffering Indonesia).

In both events the smoke, dust and ash from a volcano on the opposite side of the world diffused into and through European and American skies – travelled right around the world, in fact, shielding much of the sunlight, cooling the planet, and portending what were termed ‘years without summer’ in 1816 and 1884.

In 1816 (Bill Bryson writes in his A Short History of Nearly Everything), “Crops everywhere failed to grow.  In Ireland a famine and associated typhoid epidemic killed sixty-five thousand people … In New England … morning frosts continued until June and almost no seed would grow … livestock died … .”  And so on (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_Without_a_Summer).

Imagine.

Similar consequences after Krakatoa.

The first Europe heard of the Tampora event was about seven months after, news being slow to travel in those times, but even by then, artists were using different pallets to colour their skies.  Browns and oranges more prevalent.  Without knowing why, artists recorded the changes before newspapers did. 

News travelled more quickly in 1883 (and, indeed, the Krakatoa eruption was heard up to three thousand miles away, and ‘barographs’ recorded the shock waves rippling around the earth four times), but European artists again painted their skies differently.  There were no colour cameras then, so no ‘hard’ record of the events, but even today we are able to ‘see’ them in paintings of the time.  Immerse yourself in the following paintings by William Ascroft, 1883, and feel the bloated, oppressive English sky.

Caspar David Friedrich, 1816

Nature, in all her awesome, sinister glory. 

So, why is the sky blue?  Well, sometimes it’s really not.

Ken F

Dangerous Memory

by Bishop Ross Bay

(Based on John 20:19-31)

On Wednesday evening just after Easter I joined the Auckland Jewish community for a memorial service for the Shoah, the Holocaust. During the service, the words “Never forget” were spoken many times. It is an exhortation to an active remembering with the purpose of ensuring that such an event can never occur again; and not just that there could be no such horror again, but that that the seed bed of hatred and discrimination that leads to such things cannot be allowed to be fostered in our society. A necessary exhortation, because ant-Semitic acts in New Zealand have doubled in recent years, and as we so vividly know from Christchurch those attitudes are not confined to Judaism.

The idea of memory is vital then. Memory is not just about holding on to moments of the past that in the recall of them help us to recapture feelings of joy or melancholy. Memory is an active thing that affects the present and the way we choose to act in the present. It’s what the Catholic theologian Johann Metz, who died at a great age just a couple of years ago, called “dangerous memory”. Metz was German and grew up through the years of the Second World War and thus the Holocaust. His theology is influenced by those early experiences and the loss of nerve of the Church in the face of National Socialism. He works his theology from the ground up, that is from the basis of human experience and understanding God in it, rather than starting from the transcendent notions of Almighty God coming down.
Metz understood that in the person of Jesus Christ we find the one in whom the human experience of God and the potential for God reaches its highest point. Jesus is the essential starting point for Christian faith. How can it be otherwise? The very definition of Christian is one who has taken the name of Christ, one who is a disciple of Jesus Christ. Metz placed a good deal of focus on solidarity. In Jesus Christ, God shows solidarity with a suffering world, and the followers of Jesus are called to do the same.

Notwithstanding the importance of the memory of the whole of salvation history, Christian faith finds its heart in the remembrance of Jesus. It is central to what we do in our weekly participation in the Eucharist: “Do this to remember me.” This is the clearest ritual form in which our remembering of Jesus occurs. We share bread and wine, remembering Jesus, the last supper with his friends, and the events of his passion and death to which that pointed.
In some church traditions that is all it is, a remembrance of past events. The bread and wine are symbols to remind us of the death of Jesus 2000 years ago, as a result of which we know salvation, an historical event which offers something to each generation. Anglican sacramental theology wants to take us a bit further than that. Certainly we remember the events, but more particularly we are remembering that Jesus is present now as we do these things. We know and serve the living God, the God of the present. So we say that in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, Christ is really present. We remember that God is with us, sustaining us with saving grace, and through the sacrament we are strengthened for the life and faith and discipleship to which God calls us.

A few years ago we published some new forms of service for the Eucharist which are particularly suitable for use with children. Instead of “Do this to remember me”, it says “Do this and know that I am with you.” I wasn’t too sure about that change at first because I thought it wasn’t being true to the biblical text. But the more I thought about it, the more wonderful I thought the interpretation was, because it reinforces this notion that our memory of Jesus is not about heroic tales of the founder of a movement that is still going. It is the memory for us that God in Christ is present in all things now – in the sacrament, in those I share it with, in the world around me – saving grace in action, calling me to join in with that grace.
Christian memory is about drawing on the past, the history of God’s saving acts, in order that we might remember that God dwells with us now. It is a memory of the present as much as a memory of the past.

That’s the meaning of Metz’s “dangerous memory.” Metz was strongly opposed to what he saw as “bourgeois religion”; by which he meant a religion that belonged to another time and that we remembered ritually, but which is removed from us and has no impact on our lives. Metz would say that, because to remember Jesus is to remember God who is actually present with us and calling to us; it is a dangerous memory, because it causes us to make choices.
For the early Christians there was a choice to be made between Jesus and the Roman Emperor. Though willing to accept the civil authority of the Emperor, many Christians would not ascribe divinity to him. Their choice of Jesus as Lord rather than the Emperor brought persecution and even death to some. In Metz’s generation some German Christians held a dangerous memory of Jesus and were among those who stood against the Nazi regime.

In our own context we might think of those who took a stand in the ’81 Tour, or who walked in the 1998 Hikoi of Hope. But what about now? It’s always harder to see in our own time just where the choices lie between Jesus and the evils present in our own generation. What do we think and have to say about the enormous income gap between rich and poor, the unaffordability of housing, or the climate crisis? What will we do to build a society that creates genuine inclusion of all, across the challenges of difference; that seeks not to pretend that difference does not exist, nor seeks to deal with difference by eradicating it, but faces the challenge of difference and, in the words of the late Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, offers dignity to it.

Jesus made a choice to live trustingly with God, and so the purposes of God are worked out in Jesus in ways which brought hope to all sorts of people he met in his own time. Jesus remembered God, and it is a dangerous memory for it involved choosing for God, and ultimately it led to the cross. Through that self-giving love, Jesus brings eternal life, fullness of life, to the whole of humanity. For cross and resurrection can never be separated from one another. The memory of one is the memory of the other, solidarity and hope linked together in the memory of Jesus crucified and risen.
Every week, but especially in this Easter season, we gather in thankful memory of Jesus, risen from the dead. It is a memory more than a melancholy one of a loved departed friend, a relationship which we hope might be restored in the afterlife. It is the memory of the God who is with us now, who reassures and gives hope, whose life and peace strengthen us for all we might have to face. But it is a dangerous memory, for once we know it, we are called to make choices. We must choose what we stand for and what we stand against. We must choose not to keep it as a religion which helps us feel good, but as a faith that calls us to speak and act with Jesus for God.

We remember Jesus, who died and rose again, and who is with us now, calling us to act as his people
and build God’s kingdom of justice and peace.

Easter Reflection 2021

by Sharon Marr

(Based on Mark 16:1-8)

With grateful thanks for excerpts from Debie Thomas – Journey with Jesus: Slow Easter.  I strongly recommend her wonderful sermon is read in its entirety.  

Friday’s gone and Sunday’s a-come! There is no greater story of God’s power and love than the story of Easter.   In this morning’s very exciting gospel reading, we find the three women disciples fleeing from the tomb in terror and amazement … The tomb was empty. 

Sometime in the predawn hours of a Sunday morning, two thousand years ago, a great mystery transpired in secret.  No sunlight illuminated the event.  No human being witnessed it.  And even now, centuries later, no human narrative can contain it.  The resurrection exceeds all of our attempts to pin it down, because it’s a mystery known only to God.

Whatever the raising was and is, its fullness lies in holy darkness, shielded from our eyes.  All we can know is that somehow, in an ancient tomb on a starry night, God worked in secret to bring life out of death.  Somehow, from the heart of loss and misery, God enacted salvation …. and thank goodness the truth of the resurrection doesn’t depend on us flailing human beings.  It doesn’t matter one bit if we believe on the spot or not.  The tomb is empty!  Death is vanquished.  Jesus lives.   We are not in charge of Easter: God is.  Sunday’s a-come!

We know from the four Gospels that the frightened silence of the women on Easter morning eventually gave way to proclamation.  Their alarm subsided, their courage deepened, their trauma healed, and their amazement grew. They learned how to choose hope.  They learned how to make the story their own, and as they did, the story blossomed and grew.  Joy came.  Faith came.  Peace came.  Love came.  And slowly, the glorious truth of a conquered grave and a risen Messiah made its way from their emboldened lips to every corner of the world.  The story didn’t depend on them.  But it changed them, and as they changed, the world around them changed, too.

God has, from all eternity, loved us so much he sent his son Jesus the Christ that we might have life.  We are anchored in that love; changed by that love. It does not protect us from harm, or from hard decisions, or from emotional ups and downs and profound grief, or anger at the pain of the world, or the frightening presence of Covid 19 . It simply assures us that there is … finally … no contest between God’s love, and the forces that bring loss of unity and turmoil, in the world and in the human spirit.

And that is the Good News for today: God’s great story. Easter love doesn’t end in defeat, sorrow or loss … or an empty tomb. It is full of hope, love and joy!  Christ is risen, the grave is empty, love is eternal, and death’s defeat is sure. Alleluia! Christ is risen.  Amen.

Do your own Research

The Coast FM presenter this morning drew me in when he announced he had done some research on Easter.  Oh, yes? I thought, let’s hear what you’ve discovered …
“Easter egg sales this year … ,” he began, and I thought, Oh, no.  Really?  Is that the best you could give us?  Easter research for you is about Easter eggs?

Josh McDowell was a law student who considered himself an agnostic, and who believed that Christianity was worthless.  He challenged some Christians on campus; they in turn challenged him – to make rigorous, intellectual examinations of the claims of Jesus Christ.  And McDowell decided to do a research paper that would examine the historical evidence of the Christian faith in order to disprove it. Especially the claimed yet improbable resurrection.
“Either a great fact of history, or a great lie forced upon us,” he has since written.  “There’s no in-between.  You want to refute Christianity?  Refute the resurrection!  Not many things in life come down to one thing for its proof …  The principles for evidence used [against] Christ’s resurrection are the same ‘laws of legal evidence’ that Courts of Justice use.”
Instead, McDowell found evidence for the resurrection, not against it, and converted to Christianity.  He has since written numerous books, including Evidence That Demands a Verdict and The Resurrection Factor.  Begin researching them for yourself at https://www.josh.org/.

Lee Strobel received a journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a Master of Studies in Law from Yale Law School, before becoming a journalist for the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers for a number of years.
Strobel was an atheist when he began investigating the biblical claims about Christ (after his wife’s conversion).   With his training as a newspaper legal-affairs reporter, he spent nearly two years investigating the claims, concluding that it boiled down to one central question: Did Jesus, or did He not, return from the dead?  His resulting book The Case for Christ summarizes his research, through to his conclusion that the case for was irrefutable.  [Strobel’s personal experience while encountering various scholars and their beliefs was portrayed in a 2017 drama film of the same name.]

He concluded, “If this stuff is true, it has huge implications for my life.”
Further, “I realized it would take more faith for me to remain an atheist than to become a Christian … To be an atheist I would have to swim upstream against this torrent of evidence pointing toward the truth of Jesus Christ. And I couldn’t do that. I was trained … to respond to truth.”
Begin researching the issue for yourself at https://leestrobel.com/about.

Do your own research.  Not into easter bunnies and eggs and chocolate.  That’s not the essence of Easter.  Now, as we approach the ‘festival’, it’s as good a time as ever.
Channelling Strobel once more, “If God says He loves you, check it out … if you don’t yet believe in God, that is perfectly ok, as long as you check it out. You owe it to yourself to investigate the evidence.” 

Ken F