Friday, 26 March 2021

Lent Blog: 28th March 2021: Characters around the Cross: Palm Sunday Crowds: Heather Andrews

 

Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is recorded in all four gospels (Matt.21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19: 29-38; John 12:12-19).

Jesus meets with the crowds, as he passes from Bethany over the Mount of Olives borrowing a donkey en route, and on into the city, into Jerusalem, the next day.



Picture from Fay Rowlands – Reflectionary

One of those kids’ pictures, with Jesus on the donkey and crowds waving Palm branches.  Our subliminal picture of the Palm Sunday Crowd.

Was it a grey day?  Was it a blue day?  Blustery or still?  Were you there?  Were you there when they welcomed Jesus in? Were you there when they all ‘Hosannahed’ him?  Ooooh, sometimes, it causes me to wonder, Was I there when they welcomed Jesus in?

Along the dusty roadside, as the population swells to 100,000 to celebrate the start of the barley harvest and commemorate Passover, crowds jostle for position, camp on the roadsides, eat a snack, chat to their neighbour, crane their ears for clues, wonder and joke, blaspheme and drop litter…

Roads approaching Jerusalem and the temple courts are crowded, folk travelling from all over, taking up space, making it smell, finding the opportunity to make a profit, looking forward to celebrating, being with family, meeting with friends, catching up. 

But there are rumours in the air… Jesus of Nazareth is on his way in, with his followers…  the miracle maker, peace-preacher, God-botherer!  Is he really coming in on horseback?  Some say he could even be the Messiah…  really??  Will the sparks of revolution be ignited into a conflagration…?  What will the scribes and pharisees say…  the powers that be…   the Roman soldiers gathered in quiet cohorts on street corners and back alleyways…

There’s a ripple through the crowd, a buzz, like the rising beat of a drum, like a riff running through, touching the excitement deep within… lifting, carrying…  Hosannah, Hosannah, tossed from voice to voice… carried on the air, the strains of insurgency flitting and touching, evaporating, taking root here and there…  in Aramaic … ‘Save, Rescue, Saviour…’ .  It’s the voice of the people, raised in hope… a cry for help…  addressed to the man on … on… the donkey…? 

Some in the crowd treat Jesus like a King, their main man,  their last hope.  They pull branches from the trees, palm branches as a sign of national fervour, or  lay their coats in the dirt under the feet of the patient animal, to ease his way forward.  Jesus sometimes reaches out an arm in greeting to those he knows.  There are chats, catcalls, some draw alongside to accompany him, smiles and kindness like an aura as the King comes… on the borrowed donkey.  Gentle, bearing the gift of Life.

He’s near us now… ‘There he is!’  ‘That’s the man who gave me sight, praise God!’  ‘There’s the man who healed the lepers’.  ‘Better than that – last week he raised Lazarus from the DEAD!’ ‘The trouble maker’   ‘Son of Mary’  The Nazarene… what good thing come out of Nazareth!’  Locals and strangers, all wanted to see him…Jews, Greeks and Galileans… other scattered children of God… the cacophony of variety…  Jesus’ mission at this very point has moved beyond Jerusalem to encompass the whole created world…the uproar was huge, was there a voice from heaven… the crisis is upon us.

Sometimes he seems so lost in thought, within himself, focussing…As he closes in on the city they see He is weeping…The very stones seemed to be crying out…  What’s that he said –‘I, as I am lifted up from the earth, will attract everyone to me, and gather them around me’…Jesus knew the crisis, the crux, the cross-point had come.  He would need to withdraw from the tension to gather himself, if he was to fulfil God’s purposes… The time had come.

Hosannah, Hosannah…

But some turn aside whispering: ‘Not what we expected’  ‘Disappointing’  ‘What good is He?’  Some sneak off to inform the nearest authorities, of trouble brewing…priests and scholars were looking for a way they could seize Jesus by stealth and kill him.  The political fervour is at boiling point, the plot was afoot… someone or several primed for the task…  spies ready and watching, harassing his known friends…anger roiled just under the surface…there was a price on Jesus’ head.  Would they find a Judas sufficiently disillusioned, to step up?

The crowd’s voice is raised:  Psalm 118:25 is echoed.   ‘Blessed is he who comes, the King in God’s name!  All’s well in heaven!  Glory in the High places!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’

Can you put yourself into that crowd, and if so, what is in your speech bubble?  Make a choice, make it quickly, while there is still light!

Saturday, 20 March 2021

Lent Blog: 21st March 2021: Characters around the Cross: The Penitent Thief: Christine Hutt

 

Luke 23: 39-43

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Jesus ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us! But the other criminal rebuked him ‘Don’t you fear God, he said, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong’ Then he said ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’. Jesus answered him ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise’.

The penitent thief is known as St Dismas, the patron saint of those condemned to death. He recognised that Jesus did not deserve to die and asked Jesus to remember him ‘when you come into your kingdom’. Jesus is the source of unlimited salvation. Even at the point of his own deepest need, he can still offer salvation to someone totally undeserving, the lowest of the low. (Luke is the only gospel to feature the account of the penitent thief on the cross.)

 But Jesus’ answer is rather puzzling: he says ‘today you will be with me in Paradise’. Paradise means a legendary place, such as the Garden of Eden and restoration of primeval bliss. While the details of the future life are unclear, it is characteristic of the Christ-centred New Testament faith that its confidence in life beyond death is based on Christ’s resurrection and further that this future life is most frequently described as life with Christ. Paul in Romans 8 v 38-39 says ‘I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord’.  These are wonderful words of reassurance.  As Christ has been with us in life, so he will continue to be with us in death and beyond.

Friday, 12 March 2021

Lent Blog: 14th March 2021: Characters around the Cross: The Women at the Cross: Gill Roberts

 

Matthew 27: 55-56; Luke 23: 48-49; John 19: 24-27


Who were they, these shadowy background figures who stood watching from a distance?

Were they all women? 

Certainly John was nearby.  Were there other disciples in the crowd?  Fearful. Despairing.  Hopes and dreams all shattered.

These women had cared for the Lord’s needs and must have wondered what they could do now to help Him.  Standing powerless, at a distance from fear perhaps and horror, were a group including Mary Magdalene, whose life had been changed – freed from demons, Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, and Salome, the mother of Zebedee’s sons.  They were loyal; wouldn’t consider leaving Him to His fate alone.  They had expected so much.  But oh, the heartbreak of standing there, seeing His anguish and hearing His tormentors.  Deserted and betrayed by His friends, rejected and condemned by the nation’s leaders, taunted by passers-by – experiencing utter desolation, even God had forsaken Him.  He was made sin - become a curse – He, their Jesus – the Son of God.

What were they all waiting for?

Did they think that something miraculous might happen even now?

When the cry came out from the crowd, “Save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross”, did their hearts miss a beat?  Would He – could He do it?  They’d seen so much, heard so much.  He’d changed the lives of so many – given them new life.  He’d literally raised Lazarus from death.  Could He not come down?  The crowds had welcomed Him into Jerusalem. The scene was set for victory.  Surely something would happen now…..

Nothing.  

All those who had come to see a spectacle departed, disappointed.   

This was the truth then.  It was to be the end.  The soldiers were looking after themselves – dividing the spoils.  Was it then that His mother and John were able to get closer to the cross and hear Him speak?

He said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.”


Then to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”

He only had eyes for her…

Final words. 

It had come to this.  He was no longer her Son. She was not His mother. He had given her away.  Not heartlessly but for her protection.

This action was so final.  His mother was cared for.  His clothes belonged to others – Roman soldiers!  He had no need for them anymore.

And when the spear was plunged into His side – was that when Mary remembered Simeon’s words, “And a sword shall pierce your own soul too.”?


Darkness.

 

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

 

Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where He was laid.

Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes.  Their last gift to their Lord. That would be the end.

Saturday, 6 March 2021

Lent Blog: 7th March 2021: Characters around the Cross: Peter: Tim Mountain

 

Fireside and Lakeside (Mark 14:66-72; John 21:15-19)



Never judge a book by its cover, they say.  If all you were to read about Peter comprised what was reported of his behaviour and denials at the fireside you might conclude he was a weak, lily-livered follower of Jesus, and look elsewhere for inspiring examples of discipleship. But of course, this isnt all we know about Peter. It isnt the whole book. Like any life, his is an amalgam of the praiseworthy and the shameful.  Elsewhere in the Gospels we hear him blurting out that he believes Jesus to be Messiah; in the next moment he is in danger of being a stumbling block to Jesusministry. We hear him vow never to abandon his master, as we might similarly promise at our baptism, and fail miserably.  We read about his restoration by Jesus on the shores of Lake Galilee after the resurrection (I think of the opportunity for reconciliation and renewal offered us by God, for example each time we take bread and wine). We see him preach boldly at Pentecost and at other times; we see him falter as he gives way to the legalists in the church over eating with Gentiles (I wonder how often we have given way to law rather than sought to foster grace). We browse his pastoral letters and see his maturer understanding of who Jesus is - I wonder how your understanding of Jesus has changed, has deepened, over the years.

Peter, like all of us – like I am – is someone who shows at different times good intentions, mixed motives, shameful behaviour, cowardice, courage. Todays cancel culture, especially prevalent over the internet, and some sections of the press characteristically show little tolerance or mercy for wrongdoing, failure or misjudgement. I wonder if Peter would have been cancelled for his hypocritical stance towards the Gentiles. His cowardice by the fireside would probably feature more prominently in any media story than his restoration by Jesus on the lakeside and subsequent ministry.

I am grateful that God hasnt cancelled me out, nor holds me under condemnation because of my past and present failures and shortcomings. Some days if you were to look at the cover of my book youd be horrified. Take it from me that I am too – and like Peter, I weep. But, hopefully, on other days you might be heartened by signs of Gods love and grace.

The Lord says to Peter, and he says to us:  You are loved. Not because you are a shining example of a human being, but because of who I am. Love.

You are loved.  You are forgiven and restored.  Follow me.

Saturday, 27 February 2021

Lent Blog: Sunday 28th February 2021:Characters around the Cross: Pilate: PaulineWest


Pilate: Hero? Villain? Victim? Your choice.

The world as a whole would probably never have heard of him if he had not been the Roman governor of Judea who ordered the crucifixion of Jesus. That act would not have warranted any attention had it not become central to the Christian faith and recorded in detail in the gospels, those accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus. Stories retold of three years living with Jesus; years of intimate exposure to the outlook, attitude and desires of God as portrayed in Jesus’ teaching and actions. Years that ended in the fearful bewilderment of the crucifixion of Jesus; that exploded in the power of the resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Stories to be committed to writing for the sake of the growing church and in which Pilate was seen as a major player.

Mark in his direct and economical way sets the scene for the pressures that are on Pilate. He is caught up in the web of intrigue that the religious authorities have woven. They need Pilate to authorise the crucifixion of Jesus so they manipulate his weaknesses; his love of power; his arrogance; the necessity of not giving Rome any reason to take note of him by upsetting the status quo. Pilate’s interest in keeping the peace is centred on keeping his own position secure. Yet he struggles with the dilemma of condemning a man he knows is innocent and as much a pawn as he is.

Pilate twists and turns in his attempts to evade the responsibility of his office. We have the story of the hand washing in Matthew and in Luke the story of sending Jesus to Herod. Let Herod find a way out of this situation whilst Pilate turns a blind eye; let the crowds be seen as a lynch mob, better to satisfy them with one crucifixion than to send in his own troops and create a major insurrection.

As Pilate struggles with his political tight rope; his defences are split open by the conversations with Jesus in John’s gospel. The question hangs in the air “What is Truth” and a new fear grips Pilate as another accusation is added “He claimed to be the Son of God”. Pilate already senses Jesus is different but is now confronted with divinity with the realm of the gods, unknown and powerful beyond understanding. For Pilate fear was a destructive force; fear of Rome, fear of the Jewish authorities and the crowd and now fear of the gods.

It is easy to stand outside, observe and analyse Pilate’s role in the story of the crucifixion. But stand in his shoes and let his conflicts hold a mirror up to our own actions and motives; our own inner struggles with who we are; what is faith; who is God. Pilate has the power and the responsibility of his office. We have the power of the Holy Spirit and the responsibility of the call to discipleship. How in God’s eyes do we measure up? Eyes full of grace and mercy and love shinning down from a cross.

Pilate ordered the crucifixion and perhaps as a way of redemption he allowed Jesus’ body to be buried with care and honour in a tomb, rather than thrown away. A last compromise to his troubled soul.

Pauline West

Lent 2021

Saturday, 20 February 2021

Lent Blog: Sunday 21st February 2021: Characters around the Cross: Judas Iscariot: Ian Green

 Judas divides people.  Well, that was my experience over the cornflakes this morning!  Let me explain.

I was talking about writing this blog over the breakfast table earlier on.  I said that I find Judas impulsive, wedded to ingrained ideas about Messiahip, someone who spent three years hearing Jesus teach but not truly listening to his message.  Judas seems to think there is just one way to bring in the Kingdom and it's his way.  Of course, in all of this, he is probably reminding me of someone very close to home - myself!! 

As I said all this there came a grunt from the other side of the weetabix!  My wife said she thought I was being far too harsh and before the marmalade was on the toast I was told why!!

Her take is that Judas was intensly sincere and that he was passionate about the freedom and liberty he saw at the centre of Jesus' message.  And that what he was doing was no more than 'pushing' Jesus forward.  The fact that he was so remorseful in the end shows a heartbroken man who realised he'd let his best friend down.  This Judas deserves our compassion.

When we lived in Yeovil we'd sometimes go into St John's Church and look at the Apostles' window.  Eleven had white halos above their heads, Judas had a black one.  Did he deserve it and what colour would be above ours - if there was one there at all?

Yes, Judas divides opinion.  Yet come to think of it, Jesus did too and even today the question still lingers as to what exactly is this 'Kingdom' of which he talked.

So, welcome to Lent - to travelling with Jesus and living once more in the footsteps of these Characters around the Cross.

Thursday, 24 December 2020

Christmas Day: Isaiah 9.2-7, Luke 2.1-14: Christine Hutt

 


The people walking in darkness have seen a great light . . . For to us a child is born . . .the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

There appears to be such a contrast between Isaiah’s prophecy and Luke’s account of the arrival of the Messiah. He should be born in a palace or at least a big house.  Instead there was no room for them in the inn – maybe the guest room was already taken and they had to share space with the animals as well as the family, maybe they were in an outhouse of an inn – this idea comes from Malcolm Guite’s poem ‘Christmas on the Edge’.  ‘No crib for a bed’, but a manger.

But let us reflect on the story so far:   Mary’s encounter with the Angel Gabriel, her journey (on her own presumably) to visit Elizabeth, which was not an easy one in an occupied country, then the journey of 80 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census with Joseph when Mary was in the later stages of her pregnancy, not an ideal time for travelling. Apart from the actual journey, Mary was on that inner journey from pregnancy to birth, an unknown journey especially with a first baby, she was on the journey from the Annunciation to the fulfilment of the prophecy. (These thoughts might help us to reflect on our own faith journey through the pandemic.)

‘To us a child is born’ – we are reminded of the vulnerability of a new-born baby, needing to be swaddled or wrapped, utterly dependent on the care and protection of parents. (When I had my first baby I was shown how to wrap her in a sheet to keep her warm and make her feel safe.)

Rowan Williams in his poem ‘Advent Calendar’ has these words in the last verse:

‘He…..will come like crying in the night,

Like blood, like breaking,

As the earth writhes to toss him free,

He will come like child.’

 

This is the wonder of the incarnation, the Mighty God, become one of us, one with us.

 

The first visitors were shepherds, summoned by an angel who said to them ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’  Shepherds were people living on the edge, unable to take part in temple worship, due to their contact with animals. They were told ‘this will be a sign to you. You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger’.  They would be allowed in and would not feel out of place. The shepherds were included – the good news was first given to them – people on the margins of society.

Let us on this Christmas Day (the one day to celebrate in the middle of the pandemic) remember the coming of the Christ Child and receive Him with great joy and wonder.

‘Who would think, despite derision, that a child should lead the way?

God surprises earth with heaven, coming here on Christmas Day.’

 

May your Christmas be blessed with the joy and wonder of the Christ Child!