Sunday, 21 April 2019

Easter Day: Gill Roberts

I don’t really do happy. 

The sort of films I take my friends to see are ‘Schindler’s List’ and ‘Shadowlands’ – serious, sober stuff!

I quite often find Easter Day disappointing – even depressing.
I can wake up and can’t help but sing,

Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
our triumphant holy day,
who did once upon the cross
suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!
Hymns of praise then let us sing Alleluia!
unto Christ our heavenly King!
who endured the cross and grave!
sinners to redeem and save. Alleluia!
It is glorious, that first moment of realisation of resurrection!  I’m thrilled.

I can start the day thrilled with the knowledge of the resurrection, go to church for breakfast and communion but somehow it can fail to capture the atmosphere of the Day and it deteriorates.  There is an anti-climax.  In fact, just the opposite of the way things were for the followers of Jesus on the first Easter Day.  Easter Day didn’t start off being happy for them, did it?

They must have spent the Sabbath in an agony of horror, anxiety about whether they too would end up on crosses.  Their Lord had gone.  The One who was to have saved the world was no longer with them.  They were leaderless, rudderless.  What would happen now?  The women couldn’t stop crying.  Things didn’t improve.  There was nothing they could do on the Sabbath.  It was a woman who started off the activity on Sunday and for her it was
·       the shock of the empty tomb.  The horror of someone having stolen the Lord’s body.
For the men the result was that Mary seemed to have lost the plot – thought she’d ‘seen the Lord’.

Then John & Peter, checking it out, to their utter disbelief found it exactly as she said – though John had an inkling of what might have happened.  But how could it have happened?  Even though they remembered He’d said something about ‘the third day’.
An emergency meeting of disciples was called – and HE comes!  “PEACE”, He says!  How can they have peace?!  He’s there – but He’s not as He was.  Their thoughts were in turmoil because things have changed.  After three fantastic years of following Him, going where He went, hearing what He said, taking it all in – now it seemed they were to go it alone.  How could He be with them always?

Meanwhile the Emmaus couple meet a stranger, eat with Him and discover Him to be ‘the Lord’.  With burning hearts they can’t help but run the whole way back to the upper room to discover He’s been there too – and that Thomas has had his own special meeting.
What a day!  Fears, doubts, strange happenings, questions, no real answers, yet excitement, anticipation.  What does the future hold?

“Blessed are those who have not seen but believe.”

“This really is ‘counter-culture’ – that the most reliable foundation for a human life is something we cannot see, or touch, or prove.  How amazing is that!” (Richard Kidd on BURG retreat)
But the pains which he endured, Alleluia!
our salvation have procured!

now above the sky he's King!

where the angels ever sing. Alleluia!

Friday, 19 April 2019

Good Friday: Pauline West

I have been attending a local Lent Group. We start as you might expect with coffee and biscuits, and carry on being fed with scripture and sharing our experiences and the book we are following.  It is a discipline to go every Monday morning, but the rewards are good. It led me to thinking of the disciple band that followed Jesus; the good times and the learning experiences they had together. They chose to follow; they chose to continue following when others left; they continued in the discipline and it was good. The disciple band exploded into crowds as Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday; excited expectant crowds, it was good. The week continued busy and noisy up to the start of the Sabbath on Friday, by that time nothing was good for the disciple band or Jesus.

As I thought of Jesus during his ministry; during that week; during that day I saw a lonely figure whose loneliness and isolation increased until that cry of “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” which resolves itself into the final words “Father into your hands I commend my Spirit”.
In this time of Lent when I am being fed in so many ways, I find myself haunted by the loneliness and isolation of Jesus. It is as if he stands among the beauty that surrounds me; the companionship of friends and neighbours and challenges me to understand the isolation of the discipline of discipleship. I need to ask myself in what way, if any, do I take up my cross. How do I tie in the comfort of the Lent group with that lonely, agonising walk to Golgotha?  

Some of the trees around me are already greening up for spring and the cherry; magnolia and camellia are brilliant with their flowers, but the older beech, ash and oak still stand with their bare dark branches. They call me to seek the wisdom of God who although surrounded by men and women made in his own image  chose to stand apart and die alone so that they and we may know what it means to forgive and be forgiven; to love and be loved as God does.
Perhaps I am called, as the sorrowing women and men finally did, just to stand by the cross and weep and wonder and trust him to lead me on.     

Friday, 12 April 2019

Palm Sunday:Christine Hutt

Luke 19 28-40

The story of the triumphal entry of Jesus to Jerusalem is so familiar to us as it is celebrated each year on Palm Sunday, but we need to stop and think what it was like for those who first experienced it. 
Here Jesus decides to enter the holy city, not quietly, but openly in a planned act of defiance, by riding on a young donkey, showing that he was a ‘king’ coming in peace;  he was acting out his message in a similar way to some of the Old Testament prophets. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book ‘The Last Week’ talk of two processions, the peasant procession led by Jesus entering Jerusalem by the East Gate and Pontius Pilate with his entourage entering by the West Gate, anxious to remind people who held true power and authority.  I imagine the people resented the presence of Pontius Pilate, reminding them of the domination of the Romans, in an occupied country. But did the people really welcome Jesus?  As Malcolm Guite says in his poem ‘a Sonnet for Palm Sunday’

The Saviour comes. But will I welcome Him?
Oh crowds of easy feelings make a start;
They raise their hands, get caught up in the singing
And think the battle won. Too soon they’ll find
The challenge, the reversal he is bringing
Changes their tune.

Jesus was not a king who lived in a palace, his kingdom was ‘not of this world’.  Besides two processions, there were two bowls of water in the last week of Jesus’ earthly life:  Pilate washed his hands to demonstrate he had no part in the decision to crucify Jesus, but Jesus took a bowl of water and knelt to wash his disciples’ feet.  We follow a king who came to serve, not to be served, a king who suffered and died, but who rose again.  He calls us to follow his way of peace, to bring justice to the oppressed, to be salt and light in the world, to demonstrate his love by the way we serve other people, especially those on the margins of our society.  Let us ask ourselves ‘The Saviour comes. But will I welcome Him?

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Lent 5: Jesus anointed: Ian Green

John 12.1-18

An uncomfortable juxtaposition between abundance and poverty dominates the gospel reading for this fifth Sunday of Lent.

Jesus is anointed with an ointment which probably cost up to a year's wages.  It was a devotion of extravagance.  Such anointings were deemed appropriate either at a coronation or funeral; so the deed rightly points us to Good Friday and the King upon the cross.

Yet, straight away it's criticised.  Would it not have been more Christ-like to spend that money on the poor?  Well, apparently not.

Most translations have Jesus responding to his critics by saying 'The poor are always with you.'  Implying that as he was only here for a limited time, such focused devotion was O.K.

One biblical linguist I read this week has another take on that verse.  She says although it's normally translated in the indicative it's just as correct to use the imperative.  Confused?  Well, if we did put Jesus' words in the imperative they would read something like this (as a command) 'Keep the poor always alongside you'.

I've found that such a helpful interpretation as there are surely times when we want our worship and devotion to have a sense of extravagance about it.  It's the rationale behind the building of great cathedrals.

Yet, at the same time, at one and the same moment, we need always to remember to 'keep the poor alongside us'.  To be open-hearted, kind and generous in the living out of our faith.

This Sunday's reading doesn't sideline the poor but places human compassion and the awareness of the needs of others constantly at the centre of all our worship and praise of God.