Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!! Our waiting is over. The pain and devastation has been redeemed. Resurrection!
Our gospel reading this morning tells of Mary going early to the tomb. Seeking not resurrection, but solace. She believes that Jesus is dead and her first thought at the empty tomb is that even in death there is no peace for Jesus. that someone has taken his body from its final resting place.
And when she first meets the risen Christ she doesn't recognise him! She thinks he is the gardener! I wonder how often we meet Christ in those around us, yet fail to recognise him. We don't see him in the poor and the sick, in those who desperately need our help. If the tomb is empty, and Christ has risen, where can we look for Jesus now?
Easter Saturday is the 'nothing' day. The day of numbness and shock. I remember sitting with my brother the night he died in the ICU. And going downstairs at 7.00 am to get outside the hospital, to try to breathe fresh air again. And being shocked that, for everyone else, this was just another 'normal' day, while for me and my family, life would never be the same again.
And I have sat with other families in their times of numbness and shock. Arranging funerals, trying to get a feeling of who this person was, how we can celebrate their life and all they have meant to those they loved. And sometimes the funeral was of a child 'born sleeping', and we buried the families hopes and dreams for this child, along with the tiny white coffin.
All of this is part of life. We who are human will all die one day. Just as the only way for God to be human, to share our life completely, was to be born as a tiny baby, so death somehow was inevitable for Jesus. But the death of Good Friday? Beaten, tortured, mocked, humiliated and then nailed to a cross?
This death was also supposed to be a deterrent. It shouted "look what will happen to you' at those who would change the status quo, those who spend their time telling us that the Emporer has no clothes, those who want justice, and a fair, kind way of life for everyone. A life where there is no slavery, where people don't pass by on the other side. Where everyone is valued as an individual and loved. Yes, loved. As God loves us, passionately, to death itself.
"It's not my fault!!" how often have you heard that? We seem to have it built-in that bad things have to be caused by someone. It has to be someone's fault. And no one wants to take responsibility, not even when they have really done something wrong! So we look around for someone else to blame. The newspapers are good at reminding us who or what we should blame, the immigrant, migrant workers, politicians, the Russians, Brexit...
In the early Jewish religion two goats were prepared each year. One was sacrificed as part of the religious ritual, everyone laid hands on the other one, transferring their sins onto the scapegoat which was then driven into the wilderness.
Today is Good Friday, our sinless scapegoat has been prepared and we remember his death on the cross. In silence Jesus absorbs the pain and hatred. Even at the last he shows his love and concern for those around him, the thief crucified with him and his mother. Through his death we are given the opportunity to see the truth, we no longer need to pass the blame to someone else. God loves us so much that he has died that we might have LIFE. Our sins, even the deepest darkest ones we try to forget and deny, are forgiven.
So, Maundy Thursday, not the centre of most people's church year. I can't get excited by the washing of feet by the great and the good (think Archbishops, and Popes) because it seems to be less about reenacting what Jesus did, and more about being 'holier than thou'. And I don't think it really gets at the heart of what Jesus did.
In the Bible Jesus washing the disciples' feet is about service. About who we should be as followers of Christ and our attitudes to each other. It's about all of the disciples, their relationship with each other and with Jesus. It prepared them to be servants of the gospel.
We are all still servants of the Gospel, and our service to others at St Michael's is centred around the wonderful hospitality we offer to visitors, and everyone in our parish. So it feels appropriate, and inclusive of everyone, that we wash each others hands on Maundy Thursday. And tomorrow, Good Friday, you will all see that wonderful hospitality in action when we welcome everyone (from the babies to the very much more 'mature' church members) to our 'messy' Good Friday with clean hands and a loving heart.
Day 41: (I wonder if I have my counting wrong - Webmaster)
One thing that all the major world religions have in common is prayer. Yet this is probably the least understood spiritual practice. Misunderstandings of what prayer is and does are many. Too often we can seem to simply treat God as a slot machine where we put prayer in and get results out. And it's amazing how many atheists find themselves praying when the chips are down!
We often can't judge whether or not prayer has 'worked', usually because we have our own blinkered idea of what 'should' happen when we pray, rather than a God-view. But sometimes we know that things have changed because we prayed, and scientific studies of groups of hospital patients have shown that those who were being prayed for do better, even if they don't know the person praying for them.
One starting point for learning how to pray is to look at what Jesus did when his diciples asked him to teach them to pray. He taught them 'the Lord's prayer', which is still used in most services in churches. In fact, someone in my congregation even questioned the 'legality' of a harvest festival where it had been missed out!
The Lord's prayer follows a pattern that is very helpful for our own prayers. We too can recognise who God is, and praise him, pray for the world, and for what we need (which may be different from what we want! 🙂), ask for forgiveness and then recognise God's place, in our lives and in our world. But in this world we will still only ever see our own view of the results of our prayer. That is why we pray 'in faith'.
I sometimes wonder what image of God someone like Donald Trump has. I think it's probably very different from mine. His God seems to have a hierarchy of worth, with some people worth a lot more than others, I can't seem to find this in the Bible. And Trump really doesn't seem to have come across the Jesus who calls his people to love your neighbour as yourself...
It is difficult to see your own image of God, because you are too close to it. Sometimes you can sort of glimpse it out of the corner of your eye. For a long while I expected that anything God wanted me to do would be difficult, possibly dangerous and I really wouldn't enjoy it. Then I realised that this thinking was the product of a very distorted image of God. God calls me in love to be the person he has created me to be. Why would he want me to not enjoy and feel fulfilled in the life he has given me?
Who is the God you worship? What is it that you enjoy, that draws you to be yourself? That enables you to feel most alive. How do you live authentically as a beloved child of God?
What are you waiting for? I waited ("but I'm busy, we're getting married!") and waited ("I'll get round to it when I've had a few years in publishing") and waited ("There's no time while the children are so young". And then my brother died when he was 42. At his funeral someone said to me "He always did what he wanted to do".
He was right. And my brother had done a great many things. He umpired at Wimbledon, trained as a BASI ski instructor, and ran his own ski school. He'd also been ill most of his adult life, had a liver transplant at 39, and then won a medal skiing in Canada at the Transplant Games. He lived knowing his life would be short, and there wan't time to wait.
I realised I didn't want to get to the end of my life and regret that I hadn't done the one thing I knew I was called to do. So I stopped waiting for the perfect time and did it anyway. And here I am, a parish priest, and glad I didn't wait any longer!
The clocks will have gone forward by the time you read this. I'm, for once, taking full advantage of Facebook's ability to time when it publishes the posts, and writing this one on Saturday evening. My excuse being that my body will be thinking it's 7.00 am when I arrive at church tomorrow, and I don't think my brain will have been able to cope with posting before then! 😉
Time is a fascinating subject. It seems to rush by when you're enjoying yourself, and yet I once had a job with a publishing company in London where each hour crept by on leaden feet. On the whole though, the years seem to have flashed by ever faster. And I cannot believe the significant birthday I shall reach this year. I just don't feel wise enough, or grown-up enough to have a son who will be 30 this year!!!
But I think back on those who were my companions earlier in my life, Andrea, who was my daughter's godmother, but didn't live to become a mother herself, and Mac, whose wit and intelligence were both legendary, as was his Australian accent, and it seems too many others who have gone before me. I look forward to meeting them again. And know I can leave them safe in the hands of our timeless God.