Monthly Archives: March 2016

Easter Day – 27th March 2016 – John 20:1-18

Mary Magdalene is in the Garden of the Tomb – mourning the loss of the person who turned her life around. The one who loved her when no one else did. The one who brought her healing when she was filled with demons and mentally disturbed. The one who gave her dignity. The one who made her feel loved and accepted. But now he was gone, Jesus is gone, he is dead. Nothing can bring him back.

And what makes it worse for Mary is that someone has removed his body, stolen his body. She no longer has somewhere to go, somewhere to express her grief, somewhere to place her memories. For her, this theft, this desecration, is the greatest of cruelty – it brings despair.

At Easter we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. So easily, we rush past Good Friday and the long hours of Saturday, we rush past the pain of death and mourning and move as quickly as possible to the resurrection. It is uncomfortable to stay too long with death, with the cross – we prefer to think about new life, new hope – about resurrection.

The story of Mary in the Garden of the Tomb reminds us of the pain of grief, but it also of the need to allow grief to run its course. However much we long for the darkness to pass, for the feelings of anger, of guilt, of despair to go away, we cannot just brush them under a carpet of false hope. Nor can we talk glibly of the Christian hope of resurrection without experiencing the reality of loss.

If we are not careful, as Christians, we become so concerned to emphasise resurrection hope that we forget that it has always been a hope borne through the pain of death and loss. Resurrection can only follow death and loss – just as it did on that first Easter morning. Our resurrection hope is not just a general hope of resurrection, nor is it just about heaven, nor is it a denial of the reality and power of death,.

Christian hope of resurrection is specific and personal it relates to me and those I love. It is not an abstract, general, hope of resurrection.

Christian resurrection hope does not deny the reality and power of death. It is, in fact, is born in the midst of death, Calvary precedes Easter, and in a very real sense over this Easter season we are called to feel something of the power of death, to struggle with the disciples through death, through the uncertainty and fear for the future that Jesus’ death left them with. It is, in a very real way, intended to be a struggle for us to move through Good Friday into Easter Saturday and then on to Easter Day and ultimately, finally, resurrection hope. Hope born out of death.

Christian hope is for now as much as for the future, the impossible is possible with God, new things can be born out of the shell of the old, new things can spring to life, the phoenix can rise from the ashes of despair. We can be renewed, made new, have new life now, as individuals and as communities. This too is resurrection hope.

Mary Magdalene discovered resurrection hope not through dismissing her grief and putting on a brave face, but rather in her grief – Jesus himself drew alongside her, he reached out to her with one word of comfort – “Mary.” Hope, real hope, was born from the darkness of despair. This was no false dawn that would fade, this was a new day in which the brightness of the sun would warm Mary’s heart.

In some words that have at times been very special for Jo and me. Isaiah promised Israel:

“When you pass through the waters I will be with you, and through rivers they shall not overwhelm you.” ‘I will stand with you’ says Isaiah, speaking for God, ‘I will stand with you in the pain, … you are not alone’.

For Mary, resurrection still meant loss – Mary could never have Jesus back as she had known him. “Do not hold on to me,” he says. “Do not keep clinging onto me.”    Mourning and grief are about letting go – letting go because we have confidence that we can trust our loved ones to God – letting go because we cannot hold on to them, letting go because we also trust in God’s love for us.

Jesus resurrection does not deny death, it fulfils it. Jesus resurrection assures us of all God=s promises not to leave us or forsake us – neither in life nor in death will he let us go. He draws near to us in darkness and despair, he speaks our name and gently draws us to himself where true hope begins.

Go With the Flow!

Isaiah 43:16-21, Philippians 3:4b-14 & John 12:1-8

Passion Sunday – 13th March 2016

I don’t know whether anyone has ever told you to just “Go with the flow!” To sit back, accept that you’re not in control of circumstances and see what happens. The idea of doing this is for many of us quite scarey. Like being on the big-dipper or the Pepsi-Max (The Big One) at Blackpool. Or like those who this next weekend on Sport Relief have agreed to be part of a sketch, or part of a choir.

article-2692601-1FA7A8C600000578-551_634x379On ‘The Big One’, riders are trapped. In for the ride … no escape. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that I don’t like going on rides like ‘The Big One’ – I’m not in control and, partly because of that, I’m scared stiff.

Those celebrities who agree to take part on Sport Relief must feel in a very similar situation. They just have to ‘go with the flow’.

The bible readings set for Passion Sunday this year seem suggest that we should see the Christian life this way. ….

Listen to Isaiah speaking on God’s behalf: “God is doing a New Thing. Don’t remember the former things, or consider the things of old – the way it has always been. I am about to do a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

“I’m setting aside all your normal terms of reference,” says God. “I am going to do something completely new, completely different. It will be scarey, but I want you to trust me! It’ll be just as though the desert has become a fertile river valley – you won’t know what to make of it.”

Can you imagine the response of Isaiah’s listeners – looking sideways at each other. “Phew, what are we letting ourselves in for?”

Now listen to Paul speaking in Philippians: “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. … I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

If Isaiah was talking about a New Thing, Paul is talking about an Overwhelming Thing. He has been so bowled over by his encounter with Jesus that he is prepared for anything to happen to him, willing to do anything for the sake of the Gospel. He has been overwhelmed by the love of God and that is now at the centre of who he is. Nothing else matters compared to knowing Christ. And how do we respond when we hear Paul talking like this? How do you respond?

“Well, if that is what being a Christian is all about it’s not for me!”

“Don’t get too enthusiastic about this Roger, just remember that we are British, we don’t go overboard about anything.”

And hey, you’re right we are not all like St. Paul! We must be ourselves.

But Paul isn’t asking us to be like him. … He is, though, suggesting that we should be ‘overwhelmed’ by the Gospel. Paul longs that God’s love will overwhelm us to the point that we place relationship with God first in our lives – not because nothing else matters, but because we will only have a right perspective, on the other things that matter so much to us, if we engage with them knowing that we are fully loved and accepted by God.

Mary-Anoints-Jesus-81788_186x186.jpgA New Thing. An Overwhelming Thing. And then we come to look at out Gospel reading.
Mary does something so completely over the top. An Extravagant Thing. She blows ten months wages’ worth of perfume in one extravagant act of worship. In a poignant act of love which reflects on Jesus suffering and death. Not only does she blow her wealth on Jesus, but she’s just not worried what others will think of her actions. She did something a prostitute might do (we know that this because of the way the story is reported in other Gospels). An extravagant, overwhelming response to the love of God shown to Mary in Jesus.

Our readings call on us to “Go with the Flow” – to abandon ourselves to God’s love – to let him do a new thing in us and with us. To be overwhelmed by his love and then to respond extravagantly in love to God – just like Mary did.

What might this mean for us now?

These are challenging passages – just three reflections.

Firstly, Church of England churches (perhaps other denominations too) are approaching the time of Annual Meetings. A time when we think both about the past and what the future might hold. Perhaps we need at this time to commit ourselves to watch out for what God is doing. To expect that it will be different from the past. Something completely new – just like the passage in Isaiah suggested. Perhaps we need to agree  at our Annual General Meetings that we won’t just insist on things being the way that they always have been. That we will welcome whatever the new thing is that God is doing.

Secondly: perhaps we need to give time to our faith, to listening to what God says in his Word. To hearing and feeling the depth of his love for us. To allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by his love. There is an opportunity to do this in Holy Week and Easter Services. But perhaps this needs to be something that is on-going in our lives.

And finally, Mary’s extravagant response, gives us real cause for reflection. How generous are we as churches or as individuals. Could the way we give to God ever be described as extravagant, risky or overwhelming? …. If the answer is, ‘No!’ Then we have to allow Mary’s extravagant actions to challenge us.

How much does God’s love for us mean to us? What might we risk for it? Our reputations? Our savings? People’s approval? Mary seems to risk everything. Might we consider giving a little more of ourselves, our time, our energy, our resources. Might we do a little more than we think we can, might we slip just outside our comfort zone, might we give only just a little more than we can afford?

It might feel as though we are out of control. We may be afraid that it will be like The Big One (Pepsi-max), or it might feel like we have just committed ourselves to do something outrageous for Sport Relief.

What we actually discover is that, as we release ourselves to follow Jesus, we are swept up in the arms of God. For as we give of ourselves to God, God gives so much more of himself to us.