This week my training incumbent and other parish stalwarts are away on pilgrimage, and I’m left minding the ‘shop’. Our usual midweek Eucharist, of necessity therefore has to be Morning Prayer (as I’m still in my diaconal year), though some who number the regular congregation mid-week are away on this pilgrimage, so we are depleted in number. From this short time together in our chapel, I go to our local care home to share ‘Home Communion’ with a little group who will sing old familiar hymns and I use the same passage as at the service of Morning Prayer, by tradition in the parish, still the Gospel for Eucharist.
But when faced in the lectionary with the ‘old chestnut’ of the first of John’s “I am” sayings… “I am the bread of life”, what could I say that might be fresh to those, most of whom are in what might be styled their declining years, or in care towards the end of their lives?
So, in the absence of any further inspiration, I’ve written the following short reflection, which I’m hoping isn’t too heretical, though I am more than happy to be corrected if appropraite.
“It is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day”. (John 6:35-40)
I wonder what is the present that we have received that we treasure most? What is that would most break our hearts if we lost it, or it was stolen from us?
Or is our treasure something else? A relationship perhaps, or our eyesight, mobility or independence? Something or someone that makes us want to get up each morning and encounter the world afresh?
Perhaps, sadly we feel like we’ve already lost what we treasure most.
Are we regarded as a gift to someone else? Do we give them the encouragement, strength and motivation to do things that they might not otherwise consider themselves able to achieve? Who do we bring joy when we spend time with them?
Well for Jesus, each of us who have approached him in faith, and recognise him as the bread of life, our daily source of nourishment, is a gift. Yes, by God’s grace he is a gift to us, in his birth, death and resurrection, and that is something we’re quite used to considering I suspect. But how often do we remember that our recognition of and faith in Jesus are a gift to him?
I wonder if being given by God as a gift to Jesus changes the way we perceive ourselves?
It may be that the idea makes us feel special. We have been especially given into Jesus’s care, and as such it may make us feel our existence is more worthwhile as a spiritual gift to Jesus than our mundane earthly existence would suggest. It can give us a closeness to Jesus that makes the conversation piece of prayer one of the key-points of our lives.
It might be that the idea makes us feel unworthy. Many of us will have times when we feel, there is surely no way we are good enough to be a gift worthy of Jesus’ attention let alone his tone of celebration in this reading?! And yet, here he is saying that we are such a treasured gift from God that he will raise us up as a new creation at the culmination of God’s Kingdom.
That surely is what is so exciting about being God’s gift to Jesus? Not what we have been at whatever we might regard at the pinnacle of our achievements, or even the totality of what we have accomplished by the end our earthly life.
What is exciting about being God’s gift to Jesus should surely be to discover what God will have fashioned us into, from the raw materials of our lives now, when we reach our fulfilment in his presence. Our faith, our belief in the risen Jesus as the bread of life, at whatever stage it is and however we manage to live it out within the constrictions placed on us in this earthly life, is merely the embryo of what it will become when God brings us to completion in Christ, on the last day.
On Thursday, amid a certain disappointment among those departing the Ploughman’s lunch, the dead flowers were composted, the live ones given new homes, and the Easter Garden dismantled. I carefully wrapped Jesus in bubble-wrap and put him in a box, tucked away safely upstairs in the tower, with the empty tomb, the myrrh soaked bandages, and the empty cross. Out of sight and out of mind.
It’s actually beginning to feel like spring, and anyone who suffers from hay-fever is now bemoaning the pollen count. The kids are back at school tomorrow, and life can return to whatever passes for normal though perhaps a little emptier of excitement and relaxation than they have been over the last couple of weeks. In my house it’s a chance to tidy up a little, feed the bit of me that likes to have a place for everything, and everything in its place.
But out of the corner of my mind’s eye, there is an empty cross, an empty tomb, and Jesus is standing in the room.
In our Gospel this morning, the disciples are only just encountering the unbelievable excitement of Easter. They haven’t believed the women; the ladies without the body of their dear friend to lovingly tend; who had found merely an empty tomb and an angel directing them to remember his words.
The disciples had barely heard the story brought back in haste by friends from Emmaus, suggesting Jesus had eaten with them after journeying anonymously at their side, exploring the scriptures that referred to him. Even before they’ve had time to consider the possibilities suggested by this news, here he is, standing among them.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!…. He is risen indeed. Alleluia! (Expected a slightly uncertain response.)
Yes, exactly. They were too confused to take it in; to grasp what was going on.
Here was Jesus as they’d never encountered him before. Fully alive, asking to share food with them, but bearing the scars of his crucifixion and able to pass through walls and doors unimpeded. They definitely hadn’t imagined the horror, anguish and failure of the last few days, so how then could it be that Jesus was now standing among them?
This was Jesus, raised to new life. The culmination of God’s creative endeavours; the first example of life in God’s new world of life after death; sharing the very nature of God and therefore able to move between the dimensions of God’s world at will; as engaged and active on earth, as in heaven.
God, living and present in their midst, and sharing words from Hebrew scripture, with which they were familiar. ‘Thus it is written’, they are told by Jesus, ‘that the Messiah is to suffer and rise from the dead on the third day’, using words that seem to refer to Hosea 6 v2 which says “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.”
But, hang on, those words in Hosea aren’t about him, they refer to “us”! Jesus is making some sort of connection between the death of the disciples’ hopes and dreams, and his intimate presence among them as their risen Lord; between his sudden presence sharing meals with his friends, and their future life; a connection between this transformed body of his, and our own existence; what we have encountered of the risen Christ, and the life of the world to come.
So, whose resurrection is this?!
Of course it is “Christ [who] has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 15:20) If that were not so, as St. Paul points out in that same passage in 1 Cor 15, then our faith is futile. He that was crucified, an earthly man born of a woman though of God, is raised to new life as one with God. That is the source of the power of Jesus’ name.
But of course, that is not the whole story or purpose of Christ’s resurrection. Standing there among the confused thoughts and emotions of his friends, the risen Jesus makes one thing very clear: that his death and resurrection is not for his own benefit, but that “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed, in his name, to all nations.” The whole point of the resurrection was to bring a new hope and a new relationship with God into the world, a promise with no restrictions.
The cross by itself could not have proved beyond all doubt God’s love for the people of world – it had to be accompanied by the new life, hope and abundant grace of the resurrection. As the first-fruits of God’s completed Kingdom, God was making the full revelation of his promise that when that Kingdom is fully complete, we too will have that one-ness with God through our faith in the name and person of the risen Jesus.
There is no denying the darkness in which the world exists, we all see that in our news, both the truth of some incredibly grim situations, and the lies with which the causes and cures of those desperate truths are so often distorted in the name of power. Christ’s resurrection was God’s proof that he is the one with whom power ultimately rests, the promise of forgiveness for those who recognise this and seek to change their ways. It is the light in the darkness, the reason we symbolically carry a new Pascal Candle into the darkness of the world when we celebrate the resurrection.
So, whilst this Easter season is about Christ’s resurrection, it also signifies the hope of resurrection for the whole world; the possibility of the Peace with which Jesus proclaims his resurrection in every Gospel account.
So where does that leave “us”?
Christ is risen, and the world too has the opportunity to be one with God, and we?…
We “are witnesses of these things”, something that Luke above all of the Biblical authors, makes abundantly clear. For these concluding moments of the Gospel of Jesus are the introduction to the book of witness that is Luke’s ‘Acts of the Apostles’. Those confused disciples, so hard of believing and muddled in their understanding of what is happening in their midst, are within a few short weeks changed radically in the focus of their lives, the use of their skills, their desire to witness to the power of God with others. Empowered by the Holy Spirit they publicly unpack the prophesies of the Hebrew scriptures for themselves, and proclaim the repentance, forgiveness and healing that comes through faith in the name and resurrection of Jesus – exactly what Peter is doing in our reading from Acts 3 this morning.
This work of witness to the promises of the resurrection, does not stop with the era of scriptural history. The point of our Holy Week and Easter worship is to enable each of us to encounter Jesus afresh, both in his sacrifice and in his resurrection, so that we all stand shoulder to shoulder with the disciples, witnesses to these things, able to tell the story of how the resurrected Jesus is moulding our lives.
The holidays may be over, the return to the more mundane round of daily life may loom ahead if it hasn’t got us already. I may have put a plaster of paris model of Christ back in a box and tucked it out of the way. But, if we do the same thing with the living Jesus who has been raised to new life in our midst, if we dare to put him away out of sight and out of mind, then we are not living as those whose sins have encountered the truths of Good Friday and Easter.
There is still an empty cross, and an empty tomb, and Jesus IS still standing in our midst. Easter should have raised up our faith, revived us. His resurrection, is our resurrection, the chance to move forward into new lives, with new focus and a greater desire to understand of our faith, prepared to risk the use of our skills and gifts in new ways. For, as disciples of Christ, WE are the fulfilment of Jesus’ desire for “repentance and forgiveness of sins to be proclaimed in his name, to all nations.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!…. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Catching up with sharing some of what I got up to during Holy Week now I’m into a short break in Easter Week.
The most significant creative act of my Holy Week, which I actually prepared through Lent, was to write and read meditations on the Seven Last Words of Christ at the Cross. These were interspersed with music by the choir and hymns, in the middle hour of our Three Hours at the Cross on Good Friday. Writing them was a very difficult experience, sharing them equally so, but then the whole of that Good Friday experience (my first of this three hour format) was hugely challenging, as I also had to carry the cross and place the crucifix in the sepulcher during the final hour.
I’m not sure I’m going to share all seven of my meditations, leaving others to share if appropriate at other times, but if you think you could use the complete set (which decrease in length as they progress – roughly speaking), then do please contact me via the comments facility.
“Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.”
Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. Luke 23:32-34 (NRSV)
But I do!
I know it was them,
them what did it!
the Jewish leaders and Roman rulers,
they stitched him up,
then nailed him up. they did.
I know, they knew what they were doing.
The Jewish leaders were all too keen to get
this trouble maker off their hands. Their people,
all too easily led,
manipulated from adoration to crucification
by the gutter journalism of a whispering campaign; they might pass the buck and blame
mass hysteria or ignorance,
but surely they can’t be forgiven?
the Roman soldiers, they had seen it all before,
done it all before,
and were just
“followin’ orders, Sir!”
Brutalised by the society they brought with them
and imposed on others,
their cruelty a symptom of their desire for Empire,
their so-called education and philosophy.
Surely a whole sick, political agenda,
can’t be forgiven?
ridiculed and humiliated
by His people,
and His nations rulers,
is he looking,
when He talks
in that measured, patient,
to His so-called “Father”,
whoever or where-ever he might be,
is He looking
Why, do I need forgiving? I, who wasn’t there,
couldn’t have been,
so don’t need an alibi; I, who has only ever read
this scene in a story-book;
How can I need forgiving?
They do not know what they are doing.
But I do.
I can barely whisper his name in public
for fear of ridicule or worse.
I doubt peoples claims
to answered prayer,
a sense of calling,
the power of love –
most of all,
the lies hidden behind pews,
the false security of prayer books,
the walls that obscure the world from view.
King of the Jews.
where the “invisible” scars
are covered over,
bruises made to blend in,
hidden from the need to forgive.
Redeemer – Son of God.
I know… and He sees.
I whisper… and He answers.
I doubt… and He strengthens.
I hide… and He reveals.