Assembly Storytime

One of the sessions I attend at Spurgeon’s College is ‘chapel.’ This is basically an Assembly, just the same as every school used to hold at 10am each morning, the whole school gathered to sit on a cold hard floor for a bit of singing, a Bible-related talk and notices for the day. We don’t have to sit on the floor, and no one is glared at for whispering or removed for kicking the person in front, but other than that it’s identical.

One chapel service included a story, which is always my favourite thing. I believe the person leading chapel copied it from someone else, so you might know it already—but stories are meant to be copied and changed and passed on, so I will share it with you. Grab a coffee and settle back, and I will begin…

River Jordan near lake Kinneret Taken from Google Images, (c) copyright 2016 Land of the Bible

We are travelling way back in time, to where John the Baptist is baptising people in the river. Imagine a hot sun shining above, the waves lapping onto the beach, John up to his waist in water, busily baptising.

Hoards of people have come to see the weird-man-who-eats-locusts, they have heard him preach, they want to be dunked under the water to show that they believe what he has said, and they want to change, to be better people. Being baptised—dunked in the water—was not unusual in those days, it was a way to show you were changing something, ‘dying’ to the old way, and starting again. They were being baptised because they knew they were wrong. Try to imagine them, lounging against trees, some sitting on the ground watching, others jostling to a better position.

As I said, hoards of people had come, and there was a bit of pushing, a few mutterings of discontent, a bit of unfair queue-jumping. John is in the river, baptising, saying a few words to each person. The crowd of people waiting grows larger.

While we watch, a woman arrives. She’s an Human Resources manager, complete with clipboard and an officious attitude. She watches the chaos for a few minutes and decides to intervene. Marching to the front of the line, she waves her clipboard at John, and suggests a few changes. He’s a little taken aback, but he agrees she can try to improve things on the shore, while he gets on with baptising.

The woman sets up a table, and tells everyone to form an orderly queue. She then explains that before they are baptised, they will need to tell John they wish to repent of their sin, and it will speed things up considerably if instead of needing to ask, John can see their main sin clearly written on a badge. She places her badge-making kit on the table, and the first person approaches.

“What is your biggest sin?” asks Mrs H.R.

The man at the table hesitates, then confesses, “I had an affair.”

Mrs H.R. writes ADULTERER in large letters, hands him the badge, then calls the next person.

“What is your biggest sin?” she asks.

“I hate my mother-in-law,” whispers the woman in the queue.

Mrs H.R writes HATE on the badge, and the woman pins it to her clothes.

One after another, people arrive at the table, and their main sin is written on a badge, and they walk away, to await baptism. Some have ENVY, some have GOSSIP, some have SELFISH. When it’s their turn, they join John in the water, he checks the badge, asks if they want to repent, then baptises them. It is all very efficient.

Then Jesus arrives at the table.

“What is your biggest sin?” asks Mrs H.R.

“None,” says Jesus.

Mrs H.R. blinks, confused.

“Oh,” she says. “Then what is your smallest sin?”

“None,” says Jesus.

Mrs H.R. frowns, unsure how to proceed. She gestures for Jesus to pass her, and he goes to join the people waiting to be baptised.

“Here,” he says to a man wearing a badge saying MEANNESS. “Let me have your badge,” says Jesus. He takes the badge, and pins it to his tunic. Then he takes the badge saying THIEF from the woman next to him, and the badge saying CRUDE, and a badge saying CRITICAL. Jesus walks through the crowd, taking everyone’s badge, pinning them to his tunic.

Then Jesus walks down, into the water, and faces John, ready to be baptised.

John looks at Jesus. He looks at the badges that cover Jesus’ tunic, and then he says: “Behold, the Lamb of God…”

Anne E. Thompson
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Words in Despair

What did Jesus say on the cross?

I learnt something interesting recently. I think I am slightly behind the curve, and maybe you knew this already—when Jesus was dying on the cross, he was probably reciting Psalm 22.

I knew that the psalm links to the crucifixion, as it seems to describe exactly how Jesus would be feeling, and some of the actions listed (like gambling to see who would win his clothes) actually happened at the time. I have always thought it was a poem, written about 600 years earlier, to describe how Jesus felt (because God can write things before they happen). But it had never occurred to me that Jesus, in his darkest time, would have recited it.

I learnt about it in a Greek lesson, because the words of Jesus on the cross were recorded by the gospel writers. But here’s the thing: the gospels were written in Greek, and each writer added their own slant. So in the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke) they want to show how Jesus suffered on the cross and so they recite (but in Greek):

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (See Matthew 27 vs 46)

However, when John wrote his book, he wanted to show how everything about Jesus’ life was planned by God, and the crucifixion was part of that plan, and so he quotes the end of Jesus’ words:

“It is finished.” (See John 19 vs 30)

As I said, John was writing in Greek, and in Greek they are able to write in tense that shows something has happened in the past—but the consequences have not finished, it is on-going. In English we can do this with certain words, so if we say: “I became a vegetarian a year ago” it can be assumed we are still a vegetarian now (but not necessarily, because English doesn’t have the same clever tenses that Greek does).

John used this tense when he wrote the final words of Jesus. It was finished, in the past, but the consequences will continue.

Of course, Jesus wouldn’t have recited the Psalm in Greek, he spoke Hebrew/Aramaic. I don’t know enough Hebrew yet to tell you whether they have the same clever tenses that Koine Greek does, so I only know that he probably recited Psalm 22 when he was on the cross.

Does this knowledge make a difference?

Well, the stuff about the gospel writers using Greek to give an angle on what was said is interesting, but probably doesn’t affect me overly. But the idea that Jesus quoted scripture at his most difficult time makes me think that perhaps this is something I should aspire to do. If Jesus came to give us an example of how to live, maybe when life is hard for me, I should also recite scripture—perhaps it would comfort me and help me to focus on better things than the horrible situation I am coping with. I will probably never suffer anything on the same scale as being crucified, but everyone has dark times, don’t they? We all feel overwhelmed sometimes.

Of course, I can only recite scripture if I have previously learnt it. Which is not something that’s very fashionable these days. Perhaps it should be. I think I will try.

Psalm 22 is very long, so I won’t start with that one. I think it might be a good one to learn next year—perhaps as a discipline for Lent. Do you want to join me? We could learn a few lines every day, and by Easter we will know the whole Psalm. I will divide the Psalm into segments and post them on my blog (I can predate things now, so next year they will arrive in emails to my followers). It will be good for our brains if nothing else!

For now, I will try to learn Psalm 1 (because it’s short). It would be good for me to learn it in Hebrew, as that’s my current challenge—I will let you know how I get on.

Thanks for reading. I hope you find some interesting challenges this week.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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