Daily Reflection 26th April 2020 by the Rev'd Graham Young
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
1 Peter 1:17-23
Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.[b] 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For,
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.[b] 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth,[c] who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.[d] Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah[e] should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them . 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us[f] while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Have you heard the footprints poem? It is one of our favourites in our family, even if it can come across a little trite nowadays as it is seen in every Cathedral shop and beyond on various bits of art or nasty plastic decoration. If you have not heard it, it goes like this:
One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
"Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You'd walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don't understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me."
He whispered, "My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you."
It may have been heard a thousand times and seem very tired from overuse, but I do think it is profoundly true. I particularly like some of the humorous lines added by others which include ‘You see the trench, that’s when I dragged you’, or ‘yes they are just your footsteps over there, due to social distancing’.
Despite the humorous additions, that poem has clear similarities to our Gospel. Here we have Jesus, walking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. He is hidden but explains Himself through scripture to these two who had given up all hope, only to reveal Himself at the breaking of the bread. That whole account, the whole journey these disciples make, speaks powerfully to how we interact with Jesus today, as part of the Easter Church in a Good Friday world. We are, all of us, on a journey through this life. And all of us have the opportunity to interact with Jesus, even if we don’t know it.
So the question is, I think, where on that journey are you? Perhaps you are on the Emmaus Road, unable to see Jesus, unable to understand what has happened or is happening during this season of your life. Perhaps on your road, you are carrying the worries and weariness of modern life, carrying mistakes and mishaps, unable to shift sins or slip ups. Perhaps you are deeply mourning the loss of family or friend interactions in this time of profound challenge for ourselves, our community and our country. Or perhaps it is worse than that, you are on the Emmaus roundabout, not travelling anywhere. forever trapped in your troubles, unable to hear Jesus or progress on your journey towards the warm glow of familiar homes. Regardless, at those moment on the road of despair, Jesus is with you. He will interact with you if you want. He will respond to your heart if you ask. The disciples on the road received blessing because they were open to receiving them. God is always a gentleman and never forces His presence on people. I think it would have been entirely possible, even probable for the disciples to have said to Jesus, ‘leave us alone, we are grieving our friend’. Jesus would have and we would never have known about a little village called Emmaus. But they chose to interact, to listen and to allow their hearts to feel the presence of God. Perhaps you are travelling on the road of hardship, with Jesus by your side.
Perhaps, of course you have heard Jesus, your hearts have felt the burning love of God and He is about to carry on. Are you prepared to invite Him inside for fellowship? That is what it is to be a Christian, having heard of Jesus and His love, to invite Him in. This isn’t just a one-time deal. Over the course of our lives, there are many times when we will have to invite Him in having walked a road to Emmaus again. So much of church energy is spent on attracting new people, which is right, but how much energy do we spend as ‘mature’ Christians inviting Jesus in to our lives again and again and again, as we must continually strive to do? That is what it is to become a disciple. Each time we invite Him in, we understand a little more, we see a little clearer, we understand our calling. Having heard Him, will you invite Him into fellowship again?
Perhaps of course, you have walked with Him, you have invited Him in, and you have recognised Him. In those high moments of recognition, of miracle, what do we do? For many, we simply stay at home and continue to eat the meal as if nothing extraordinary had happened. Not so for our disciples. They rush back to Jerusalem and tell everyone about the risen Christ. Our job, as people who have met the living God, have recognised Him in the breaking of the bread or in prayer, should be to share that knowledge with the world. through our words, our actions and our lives. Through loving our neighbours and ourselves as God loves all of us. An encounter with God is amazing and is something to be shared. There are many out there who don’t know that Jesus is walking with them. We are tasked with making the introduction if we can, so that He can transform their lives.
We are all on a journey, at different stages and as the famous poem states, Jesus always walks besides us. The only thing we really need to do, is to decide how we respond to the King of the universe, risen to life, as He share our journey, whatever stage we find ourselves at. Stay safe this week and may God bless you on your journey.
Daily Reflection 20th April 2020 by the Rev'd Graham Young
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus[a] by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ 3 Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’[b] 4 Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ 5 Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c] 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You[d] must be born from above.”[e] 8 The wind[f] blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’
Have you ever noticed those adverts that you see on the telly just after New Years? Invariably, after the holiday period, having consumed many times my body weight in way of booze, turkey, Christmas pudding and chocolate I need a detox. I know, post-Christmas, that I need to get working if my bikini beach body isn’t going to resemble a beached beluga whale by the time we visit the coast in the summer. It is at that time that all over the media we see weight loss plans or gym membership offers. We are bombarded by point based diets systems that promise us model like proportions, happiness and a waist to die for. Sometimes we see sweeping shots of gyms full of post-fat slobs who now, having followed the adverts advice, have joined the gym and have the muscle definition of a classical Greek statue all for a simple monthly payment. If we follow their method, their system, their ways, then we will find success against the excess! I have been taken in by both these messages and so far this beluga body hasn’t gone anywhere. What I really need isn’t some system or action, but the motivation - money just can’t buy that.
Being a Christian can sometimes feel a bit like that too. If we pray using this method, we will be closer to God. If we read this book, we will guarantee our salvation. If we get theologically educated, we will get holier. Like dieting and gym membership, these things are good and fine in themselves, but they do not guarantee salvation or indeed a closeness to God, we don’t have the power to force that. When we don’t do these things we can feel guilt that we are letting God down.
Nicodemus came to Jesus, a leader of the Jews and a Pharisee. The Pharisees where the salvation by method champions at the time. For them it was all about following the rules and getting educated. Know the law, follow the law and you know God. It was all about your actions rather than your motivations. You get educated and you follow the rules and God will be with you. That isn’t how God operates or has ever operated. It is never is about what you do for God, it is always about why you do it, about what is going on in your heart and here in our reading Jesus takes Nicodemus to task.
Nicodemus, coming in the darkness, either for privacy or so his fellow Pharisees don’t know, acknowledges that Jesus is from God having seen His miracles. Knowing that as a Pharisee Nicodemus has spent a dedicated life trying to know God under his own power, Jesus cryptically says ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ In response, Nicodemus asks how can anyone be born again? Jesus replies with ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’
Nicodemus would not have understood much of what Jesus was speaking about at the time. By baptism and by the Spirit we are born again. For Nicodemus though it must have been hard to hear the second bit about the wind. Wind is the same word as Spirit in Hebrew and Greek and Jesus uses that to teach Nicodemus about how the Spirit operates. What Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus is that you need the Spirit of God to be in the Kingdom of God and the Spirit goes where it chooses, you can’t control it, you can’t force it. There is no method or amount of learning that will give you the Spirit of God. All the agency, all the will, all the power comes from God, not humans. This would have been hard for a Pharisee to hear, just as it is hard for us to hear. It is the grace of God, not our own practice or power that gives salvation. We do not ascend to God, God descended to mankind, died on a cross and rose again, so that we might be saved, not through our power but through His.
In lockdown, many may be feeling guilty about not praying as much as usual or being as involved in God’s work as much as we would like. We may feel we are letting God down. You are not – yes try to pray as much as you can or read as much of your Bible as you can, because those are good things to do, like dieting and going to the gym are. However, don’t feel guilty or worried about not managing sometimes – salvation is a gift and God gives it to all who want it, regardless of their education, rule following, or general righteousness. Those things are symptoms of being filled with the Spirit, not prerequisites! Remember Jesus when He said God would give the Spirit to all who asked for it as a gift? (Luke 11:13) Also do you remember when Paul says that nothing can separate us from the love of God? (Romans 8:38-39) We don’t need to do anything we just need to ask God for His gift and that gift is ours forever. No method, no simple monthly payments. No service or prayer or course is required. We don’t even have to understand. We just need to want the Spirit, to ask for it. Wouldn’t it be good if diets or going to the gym worked like that? Just want a beach body? Ask for it and its yours! This beluga is certainly pleased that my salvation doesn’t rest on my actions!
Lets therefore ask for God’s Spirit, as often as we can, regardless of our ways or understanding and see just how the Spirit of God living within us, changes us, saves us and allows us to be children of God through the love, sacrifice and rising of Christ Jesus. It isn’t down to us, thank goodness, but salvation and being filled with the Spirit is a gift of God. Let’s ask for that gift and see how God richly blesses us! Amen
Triduum: Good Friday Reflection by the Rev'd Graham Young
Isaiah 52:13-end of 53
See, my servant shall prosper;
he shall be exalted and lifted up,
and shall be very high.
14 Just as there were many who were astonished at him[b]
—so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of mortals—
15 so he shall startle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which had not been told them they shall see,
and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.
Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering[a] and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces[b]
he was despised, and we held him of no account.
4 Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
9 They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
11 Out of his anguish he shall see light;
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
‘This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds’,
17 he also adds,
‘I will remember[f] their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’
18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
John 18:1-end of 19
After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, ‘For whom are you looking?’ 5 They answered, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus replied, ‘I am he.’ Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he’, they stepped back and fell to the ground. 7 Again he asked them, ‘For whom are you looking?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ 8 Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.’ 9 This was to fulfil the word that he had spoken, ‘I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.’ 10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. 11 Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’
It was dark when they left the upper room. The darkness was only to increase for the end was beginning. The small band of followers, exhausted by their emotions pulling them both to joy and dread, fear and faith, followed behind their King on His way to the garden to pray. The traitor was gathering, the storm was arriving and the calm before the now certain storm was upon them. The disciples had accepted the new covenant, having celebrated the Passover in the presence of the true pascal lamb. The disciples didn’t yet fully realise that what happened to all pascal lambs would happen to their Pascal Lamb too, once for all as He sealed the New Covenant in His own blood. They were uplifted by the communion yet distraught at the dark prophesies and hints from their Lord. Their exhaustion would betray their tattered hearts.
Jesus prepared Himself in the garden. It was there, in this forgotten corner of Jerusalem, in the wilderness outside the walls that His giving of everything, His ultimate gift of love was to begin, and it was dark.
The darkness began to be punctuated by lights, but their light was not a comfort but simply made the darkness around them darker as the torches of the gang of guards, soldiers and pharisees came to arrest Jesus. The first loss, the loss of one so loved approached. The first loss, the loss of Judas happened with a kiss. The gang, after getting over their fear of arresting the Son of Man, the Man who had performed so many miracles, go to bind Him. Jesus is about to lose His liberty. Before they can, Peter cuts the ear off the High Priests slave. Jesus rebukes Peter. He tells Peter that He is choosing this, that He is volunteering to drink the cup His Father has given Him. The disciples desert Him. Jesus loses His friends. Having lost His friend to satan, His liberty and His followers, Jesus is marched to the High Priest to lose yet more in the darkness.
The High Priest questions Him, as He is bound, about His disciples and His teaching. Ever the Rabbi, Jesus answers the High Priest with His usual authority, ‘I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.’ However, the guard strikes Him. He has lost His authority among these men. In grief He questions the guard who struck Him, but He realises that the hearts of these men had been darkened.
He is sent to Caiaphas, where He loses His rock as Peter denies Him three times, and in the morning is sent to Pilate. There, outside Pilate’s headquarters, they ask for the death penalty for Jesus. Pilate,
Never wanting to cause more trouble in this restive province brings Jesus in to try and question Him and find a way out of this problem. Pilate does all he can to avoid crucifying Jesus – not for Jesus’ sake as an innocent victim but rather for his own sake, knowing the popularity of Jesus may lead to riots if He were to be killed. Pilate prefers the darkness to the light. Using his political cunning, Pilate tries to force them to free Jesus, by offering the crowd Barabbas or Jesus as a goodwill gesture at Passover. Jesus loses His people when they scream for Barabbas. The hearts of the crowd have been darkened.
Pilate has Jesus flogged and mocked by the soldiers. His clothes are taken, and in front of the braying soldiers He is beaten, skin torn, blood drenched in the early morning of a spring day. He is crowned in mockery of His reality, the thorns tearing through the flesh amid the scream and the laughter. Jesus has begun to lose His health, wellbeing and dignity that will only stop at the ninth hour. He is bought out once more and Pilate says to the crowd ‘Here is the man’ hoping that the beating and humiliation is enough. It isn’t. “Crucify Him, Crucify Him” they bray. Eventually, when Pilate sees that this crowd are the more important to please, relents. Jesus is handed over to the soldiers to be crucified.
Jesus’ dignity and health continue to be lost as He is forced to carry His own cross to the place of execution alongside others condemned to die. The mocking, the crying the screaming and the laughing mingle and Jesus is led off to His death. Although in a crowd Jesus is alone, darkness is descending even as the sun continues to rise in the sky. At the place of execution, large, rough, cheap nails pierce the body of the now naked Jesus, as He writhes and screams in agony. He has lost almost everything, but more is to be lost as His naked broken body is lifted by its wounds upon the tree. More than His body weighs Him down, as the darkness of countless betrayals from the apple to end, from all of humanity, from all over the world are heaped upon the broken Man. The true lamb is being slaughtered.
Hanging there, derided, shattered, broken, bleeding, burdened, cursed, the Son of God drinks God’s cup to the full. As the soldier’s gamble, as the people mock, as the darkness obscured the sun, Jesus gives His mother into the care of His friend. He having lost all dignity, has now lost His family.
Jesus, now dying has lost Judas, lost His friends, His liberty, His authority, His people, His dignity, His health, His wellbeing and His family; Jesus has nothing else to lose nothing else to give or to be taken except His life. He has given all, has given everything, has carried everything and has lost everything. Finally, saying ‘it is finished’ Jesus gives up His life. All for love. He bows His head and He is gone. The light is out, the darkness complete.
On that terrible day, foretold by the prophets, foretold by Jesus Himself, the sacrifice is complete. The price of our salvation more terrible than we could ever know. The cost of loving His creation cost God everything He had to give. And He gave it willingly for the sake of our humanity. The cost of love, of true love is always everything we are. Jesus had paid the tab.
His secret follower, Joseph of Arimathea goes to see the coward Pilate and gets permission for Jesus’ body to be removed. As the sun sank, the Son, broken, torn, beaten and dead was removed from the cross. As the darkness gathered Nicodemus, who had come to the Lord in darkness, helped prepare His body in haste, as they rushed to a nearby new tomb so as not to be working as the sabbath started at sunset. They lovingly wrap the broken body of Jesus in expensive perfumes and funeral cloth, according to their customs, the last thing they can do for the Lord. As the darkness encroaches, they seal the tomb, hurrying through the twilight. It is finished and all creation waits, breath held as night falls.
Triduum: Maundy Thursday Reflection by The Rev'd Graham Young
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbour in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgements: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
1 Cor 11:23-26
23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for[g] you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ 7 Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ 8 Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ 9 Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ 10 Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants[d] are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
The waiting for the beginning of the end, the point of no return towards a death is the most awful moment. The knowing and the not knowing at the same time. The piercing pain of hearts full of expectations of the agony to come. The fragile, the futile hope, the hope that perhaps this is all a bad dream, that the person is not really dying or about to die. The fervent prayers to come. The feelings of helplessness around the corner already approaching, already encroaching on our souls. These feelings will be known by all who have walked with a loved one towards their death. Moments of profound joy as you laugh with them. The moments of profound desolation as you and they realise the reality. This mixture of tearing emotion is familiar to many and it is the emotion of the upper room. Joy and sorrow, laughter and bitterness, destiny and doom.
This night, so many years ago, Jesus gathered with His disciples, who understood something terrible was to happen to Jesus. He had prophesied as much many times to them. He would prophesy again multiple times in His farewell discourse. They were being swept along, as driftwood in a river in flood, through events that would resonant throughout history. They were preparing to celebrate the Passover, not realising that the ultimate and final Passover lamb was before them. They had celebrated with all Jesus’ entry on palm Sunday yet they also knew that He had prophesied His own death. They were there right there in a place of joy and doubt, fear and faith, life and death. John tells us what Jesus will do with his last hours as He gathered with His friends. ‘Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.’
Even as His passion approaches, Jesus’ choses to love. Jesus gets up from the table where they are sharing that special meal, takes off His outer robe and tied a towel around Himself. The Passover tradition was that the least within the household would wash the feet of the guests. Yet here is the Lord doing it. Washing the feet of the disciples, all of whom will abandon Him, even washing the feet of Judas who in a few hours was to betray Him to His death. Loving even Judas to the end. Peter, horrified that His Lord, the Man he had proclaimed as the Messiah, the Son of God tries to stop Jesus loving Him, tries to stop Him washing his feet.
Jesus gently tells Peter that unless He washes Peter’s feet, Peter will have no share with Him of His salvation. He explains that Peter will understand one day. Peter goes from one extreme to another, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’. Jesus explains that only his feet need be washed.
Peter not understanding perhaps mirrors our misunderstanding of what Jesus does in the washing of the feet. Peter displays two extremes that often live in our hearts also, and both are unhelpful. They are self-conceit and self-disgust, and both must be given up if we are to accept being loved by Jesus. In the first instance, Peter had shown self-disgust. How could the Messiah, how could the Son of God, how could God wash my feet? Peter could not see how the glorious could come so low to wash someone so unclean, so sinful. But God loves Peter, everything about Peter, whom He had created in His own image. When you Love someone, it isn’t about worthiness, it is almost unconditional, the only condition being that true love never forces itself upon those who don’t wish to be loved. Peter’s self-disgust at his sinful nature, at his lowness compared to Jesus’ highness was only a barrier if Peter let it be. Peter didn’t understand, but he was invited to trust in Jesus’ love. We too must not let our own self-disgust get in the way of God washing our feet, of loving us.
Peter goes to the next extreme – if I am worthy Lord, he mistakenly says, then wash all of me! Here his self-conceit is getting in the way of Jesus loving him. His self-pity had turned to self-pride and he wants the maximum of what God is offering, over and above his fellow disciples. But Jesus doesn’t need to wash all of him, that had happened at Peter’s baptism, the washing away of the old for the new. The washing of the feet was to wash away the accumulated dust of sin that had happened since that day when Peter was symbolically and in reality made new. All that is required from Peter, is not a striving for a greater blessing, but to trust in what Jesus is doing in and for him. His understanding is not required, his effort is not required, his self-conceit is not required only his permission. Jesus simply wants to love Peter. He doesn’t require Peter to do anything except gain permission from him. We too must not let our self-conceit get in the way of God washing our feet of loving us.
After washing the disciples feet, Jesus points them towards the point of the washing, at this time of joy and anguish, as He prepares for the ultimate act of love. They have received His love. They were not required to do anything to receive that love, but as recipients of that love they must love one another. Jesus tells them plainly that where He is going, they cannot come, that their time together in this mode is coming to an end but that they have received love. Having received that love, now they have a task, a task that will consume the rest of their lives. They are to love one another and all, just as Jesus had loved them, even though they were about to abandon Him, even though Peter was to deny Him, even though Judas was to betray Him. That love of God planted in them at the washing of the feet, in the sharing of the last supper, in the years of ministry, miracle and teaching, must now bear fruit and they must go out to serve and love others in Jesus’ physical place. This is the love that we as Christians today must simply receive and endeavour to share, through our service and our sacrifice all the while staying as free as we can of self-disgust and self-conceit.
We, during this most unusual Holy Week, a time that seems so full of grief, of knowing and not-knowing, of uncertainty and discord, feelings the disciples experiencing the first Holy Week could sympathise with, must also walk the way of trust and love. We may not understand, but we will trust and love. We may not know how we can help, but we will trust and love. We may not be able to see each other or be aware of Him, but we will trust and love. As we walk this path of joy and grief, of sadness and hope let us commit ourselves once more to letting go of our self-disgust and self-conceit, accept the love Christ offers so that we can love one another as He loved us. Amen
Reflection on Genesis 17:3-9 & John 8:51-end by The Rev'd Graham Young
Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4 ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be Abram,[b] but your name shall be Abraham;[c] for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring[d] after you. 8 And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.’
9 God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations.
51 Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.’ 52 The Jews said to him, ‘Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, “Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.” 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?’ 54 Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, “He is our God”, 55 though you do not know him. But I know him; if I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.’ 57 Then the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’[k] 58 Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’ 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
When on an excursion to a museum or a tourist place, with kids there is one place it is vital you try and avoid, and it is also the place that many tourist attractions make sure you cannot escape. The dreaded ‘gift shop’, which invariably will have shiny things in, shiny things that cost too much money, shiny things that will never be picked up again. In these palaces of tat, there is almost always a stand with keyrings or mugs, explaining to you what your name means. It doesn’t matter if the meaning of your name is different on the mugs compared to the keyrings, they sell like hot potatoes. People are interested in what their name means even if that had no say in how they were named. For me, I know my mum simply liked the sound of my name, Graham and didn’t know that it apparently either means grey homestead or someone from the town of Grantham, to which our family has no connection. But we buy these things because names are important, they form, in a verbal sense, a core part of our being. When we hear someone’s name, we are not simply referring to a simple label, no something more profound is happening, we associate that name with everything that person is. This fact is one of the reasons that when we were naming our own children, we avoided names of people we ungenerously thought of as idiots, despite how appropriate or beautiful the name was. Names have power, and they speak to our very identity.
God of course knows this also, and a common theme in scripture is how God uses names and changes people’s names. We could spend many an hour investigating Simon becoming Peter, or Jacob becoming Israel, or the many examples of peoples names whose meaning tells us something about their story. But in our scripture readings today we have two name changes. In the first we have on one level God reaffirming His covenant promise with Abram by changing his name to Abraham. Abram meant exulted father, whereas Abraham meant father of a multitude. But by the name change given to Abraham, God is doing something much more fundamental – He is giving Abram a new identity, that won’t just be for him individually but will have cosmic and historic repercussions. When we sing ‘Father Abraham’ we are not being figurative but literal – Abraham is our spiritual ancestor, through the sacrifice of His descendant Jesus, by whose sacrifice which we celebrate next week we are bought into the family of God and become heirs. God’s promise that Abraham would become the father of nations is fulfilled through Jesus Christ. Abraham’s name change is not only about a new label, it is about a new reality.
We see the effect of names in the gospel reading today as well. Here Jesus is speaking to a crowd and winding them up. Read the whole of John 8 to see what I mean! In our passage we are right at the end of that conversation, and Jesus has told them many hard truths. He speaks about Abraham and about knowing Abraham. The crowd, up to this point had not acted aggressively or violently, although they of course were arguing against what Jesus said. It was when Jesus claimed a name that they went from argumentative to violent. Jesus said, when they questioned how He could have known Abraham, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’
This sentence doesn’t appear to make grammatical sense or have a name until you realise that when Jesus says, ‘I am’ He is claiming the same name God uses with Moses in the burning bush. You will remember in exodus when Moses asks God His name He replies “I am who I am” which we have shortened to Yahweh. Jesus here is explicitly claiming to be God. The power of that name causes the people to attempt to stone Him. Jesus uses the name not simply as a label, it is about the reality of who He is and the people respond to that reality not to the label.
For us today, as we come ever closer to Easter, let us remember the power in a name and in how we name people through our actions and thoughts about them. How we name others, how we treat others too often becomes more than a label to the person it becomes part of their reality. By naming people, by giving people labels, rightly or wrongly, we have the power to speak reality into their life and that can be profoundly damaging. When we have done that labelling badly we need to repent and when we label people in the future, let us strive to make those labels of love and support, as that will speak a loving reality into another’s life, and will do glory to the creation made in God’s image.
For ourselves at this Passiontide, let us take on the name prepared for us and fulfilled for us on the cross. God has a name He wishes to bestow on everyone and by accepting that name we are not simply getting a label but are profoundly changing our reality. That name is very simply daughter or son, to be a daughter or son of God. By accepting our new title, we become His children, through Jesus’ passion, with the Holy Spirit to His glory and for our good. Names have power and at Easter it is important to remember the name God has given us, to accept that name and point others towards the God who wishes to rename them too.
Reflection on John 8:21-30 by Susan Sweeting
Jesus Foretells His Death
21 Again he said to them, “I am going away, and you will search for me, but you will die in
your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” 22 Then the Jews said, “Is he going to kill
himself? Is that what he means by saying, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” 23 He said
to them, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.
24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe
that I am he.” [a] 25 They said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Why do I speak to
you at all? [ b ] 26 I have much to say about you and much to condemn; but the one who sent me
is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” 27 They did not understand
that he was speaking to them about the Father. 28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the
Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, [c] and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak
these things as the Father instructed me. 29 And the one who sent me is with me; he has not
left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.” 30 As he was saying these things, many
believed in him.
In this reading Jesus foretells his death. As he addresses those around him in the temple it is as if he
is giving them another chance to accept him as the Messiah. The Messiah that they were seeking
with such desire was there before them. If they were expecting another he would not come. If they
rejected him, the Messiah, there was no other Saviour and so they would die in their sins, die
unforgiven, while those who believed would be saved. Those who rejected him would perish as they
would not be able to go where he would go. Where Jesus would be would be heaven and where
Jesus wasn’t, would be hell.
As his Father had sent him, and not left him alone, so Jesus will never leave us alone. Over two
thousand years have passed since Jesus addressed those people. Today we are Good News people.
And we are pilgrim people. As we journey on toward Christ we tell the story, we live the story. As we
look to the Cross we know that we can believe in the Resurrection.
We are facing a cross of our own at the moment as we face the corona virus, but it is important that
we keep our eyes firmly fixed on our destination, firmly fixed on Christ, for he is and will be our
Saviour. There is no other, he told us that over two thousand years ago, so why would we look for
another, why would we look elsewhere?
We all have a part to play as this virus grips the world. We may be on the front line in some way,
part of the NHS fighting to save those who are ill, or part of the clergy of the Church of England
battling to tend to their parishes and communities, shop workers, delivery drivers, the emergency
services, or families, friends or neighbours striving to help those in need. But we do nothing on our
own. The Father who was with Jesus is in that reading is with us. The God who led his people out of
Egypt will deliver us from this cruel virus. The Bible is full of new beginnings, of nations building up
their cities again, of God’s people rising to new challenges, of people finding their strength in God
and as the virus dies and reaches its end so we will rise in new life with Christ. Amen
Sermon John 11:1-45, Sunday 29 th March 2020
by The Rev'd Dick Penman
The Death of Lazarus
11 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Jesus Comforts the Sisters of Lazarus
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles[b] from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
The Plot to Kill Jesus
45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
When Jesus heard that Lazarus, his friend, was sick, he wasn’t worried. He knew
what the outcome would be. So, he waited 2 days before announcing to his
disciples that they were going back to Judea to check on Lazarus. The disciples’
response? Was probably something like "Hang on Jesus; it isn’t very safe there at
the moment. It’s not that long since the last time we were there, and then the Jews
tried to stone you. Are you sure you know what you’re doing?" They didn’t really
show a lot of faith in him at that time, did they? So how far did their belief in him
go? Far enough to trust him to keep them safe. To even keep himself safe. It
doesn’t sound like it does it? In fact, when he tells them that Lazarus has fallen
asleep, they think of natural sleep and think this gives them an option. If he’s
sleeping then he’ll recover, so there’s no need to go back at all. But in fact, it isn’t
natural sleep that Jesus is talking about; it’s the sleep of death. So, Jesus tells them
plainly. "Lazarus is dead." Then he says what seems a strange thing. "And for your
sake I’m glad I was not there, so that you may believe."
How could anyone be glad that a friend has died? What about the pain that Mary
and Martha are feeling at that moment? Doesn’t Jesus care about that? Or is it that
all he cares about is making his point with the disciples? But really, he does care.
Twice we’re told how he’s moved with emotion, moved to tears, as he sees the
sadness of those who are there to mourn Lazarus. But still, he knows that there’s
more at issue here than their sadness and he knows what the outcome will be. He’s
already said that this illness won’t lead to death. Rather it will have the twofold
result of God being glorified and the disciples and Martha and Mary growing in
faith, in their belief in Jesus. And that’s what makes him glad.
Even though they’d spent all this time living with him, they still didn’t really
understand who he was. And when it came to the crunch their faith still wasn’t
enough to sustain them.
There’s an old Irish proverb which says, "Never doubt in the darkness, what you
believed in the light."
There’s an echo of John’s gospel there isn’t there? Look at v9: "Are there not
twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble,
because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night
stumble, because the light is not in them." Here the implication is that while you
walk under God’s direction, while you remain close to Jesus, the light of the world,
your path will be clear. Even when the darkness of opposition is a threat, if you
walk in the light, you’ll be safe. But there was a danger that the disciples would be
so overwhelmed by the darkness that they would forget what they had already
learnt as they walked in Jesus’ light. Again, this is why they need to grow in their
faith in Jesus.
Now imagine that you were Mary or Martha at that moment. You’ve sent a
message to Jesus to come urgently because Lazarus is sick, and you wait and wait
and nothing happens! What would you be thinking? Would you be wondering
whether Jesus cared? Would you begin to doubt whether maybe Jesus was
delaying because this case was too difficult? They could, quite easily, have been
forgiven for thinking like that?
Have you ever wondered why God takes so long to answer your prayers? Perhaps
there are things you’ve been praying about for weeks and weeks, or months and
months, or maybe even years and years, and still God seems to be delayed in
answering. What does that do to your faith in him? Do you start to doubt? Do you
ask yourself whether this prayer is maybe beyond him? Or whether you’re asking
the wrong thing? Or maybe you start to think that prayer is a waste of time. That in
the end it’s just wishful thinking. Well, it could be that you’ve been asking the
wrong thing or with the wrong motives. But it might also be that God is waiting for
something. Waiting for the time to be right, waiting for attitudes to change. You
see God’s delays aren’t signs of failure. In fact, when you think about the story of
the Bible, the theme of God’s plan being delayed runs right through it. But it’s
hard, isn’t it. To wait for God to act when our world seems to be disintegrating
around us, when the things we long for God to fix don’t get fixed. It’s at those
moments in our lives that we need to have a long view. At those moments of
darkness, we need to think back to the moments of light when we could see things
clearly. We need to remember the promises of God to be with us, even to the end
of the world. We need to look forward to the good things God has planned for us in
the future. And we need to continue to walk in God’s light, trusting him to keep
our feet secure.
We too can read this story and take away from it an assurance that Jesus has the
power to give us eternal life, to raise us up at the last day. We can be reassured that
when God seems to be delayed in answering our prayers, it isn’t a sign of failure
on his part, but it may be that he has other ends in mind to those that we’re
focussing on. But in the end, he is in control of all that happens to us. And we can
be encouraged to continue to walk in the light, even when darkness seems to
surround us, to continue to believe, in those dark moments, what we knew to be
true when we were in the light. AMEN
Daily Reflection on John 5:31-47 by the Rev'd Katherine Bagnall
John 5:31 - 47
‘If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true. You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.
‘You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?’
I’m sure you are familiar with the term ‘hidden in plain sight’. The question is what does it really mean and how does it apply to us while thinking through this piece of scripture? Well, Jesus is pointing out to those who are seeking God and wanting to see the promised Messiah arrive in their lifetime to bring them back to God, and yet they continually ignore him and indeed accuse him of being a charlatan rather than trusting his words and indeed his actions.
During his ministry, the people have heard the words and teachings of Jesus, many have come to believe he is the Son of God, as indeed we might when we hear his words and teachings in scripture. But imagine hearing them first hand. They have been amazed and astounded many times by his words and not only that but by his actions as many times they have seen the miraculous powers of Jesus which could only have come from God alone. Yet here we meet yet more who fail to believe him and want to condemn Jesus for proclaiming himself equal to God.
Jesus clearly indicates he is at one with God and is here at his behest to fulfil the Father’s will and purpose for his people. Jesus has come to bring them to a deeper understanding of God and to encounter the Messiah and the promise of eternal life in God for which they long. Even though he is addressing the faithful who trust the promise of God that he will send his Messiah to save them, still when he is front of their eyes, they fail to see and believe, simply seeking to question and contradict because it somehow doesn’t fit with their hopes and expectations. In reality, God couldn’t have made it any easier for them, yet somehow they cannot see and believe this to be true. Their faith in what they hope and believe an Almighty God will show as a Messiah doesn’t match what they are seeing, and so Jesus is hidden in plain sight. They have made their minds up about who God is and what the Messiah will be like, and it surely can’t be something as simple as one like themselves can it? Life just isn’t that simple.
Well at present for us, life also feels far from simple with the complications of this new way of life we must adhere to with the Coronavirus. We are in enforced lockdown and only allowed to leave our homes within strict and limited guidelines. People feel worried and aggrieved at this being imposed upon them. The Prime Minister clearly did not take those steps lightly to order us into lockdown, as he said, ‘no Prime Minister wants to impose this’, however we find ourselves in this position because there were those who simply refused to believe the truth that was in front of them. This is a virus which has swept throughout the whole world, taking many victims with it and leaving much agony and suffering in its wake, and yet in a radio interview when many were swarming to seaside resorts last weekend, one person said, ‘I don’t know what all the fuss is about, its only a cold’!
Sadly due to the actions and disbelief of those people, we have had to be forced to take drastic action under threat of prosecution, and simply to save ourselves and keep us in the safety we need to survive. All we are being asked to do is believe the information we are being given and trust the advice in order that we and others might be safe and well. It seems that the facts and news in front of us was insufficient and the virus which is entirely unprecedented in our lifetime became the threat hidden in plain sight for many.
What does it take for us to simply believe and trust in things which are often before our very eyes let alone believe in the God we cannot see? Well as Jesus points out to the people here, the reason they fail to see God or hear him is precisely because they fail to believe in him and in Jesus. We are so attuned to the premise of seeing is believing, and yet we often even find that hard when it doesn’t fit with what we want. But with God, it is turned on its head as much of life is in God. Its more a case of believing is seeing! When we believe in the God who created Heaven and earth we begin to see the wonders which can only be of God. We need to step out in faith in trust in the wonder of a living God who loves us and seeks a relationship with us. Only when we take that step of faith, then we will be able to see and be drawn into the love and joy of God. Believe and see, what could be easier!
Homily based on Luke 1:26-38 by The Rev'd Dick Penman
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’* But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’* The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born* will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.
In this time of difficulty as we are all put into self-isolation, of feeling on our own, it is time to take on board the human embrace of divine will
that Mary gave as she placed all of her trust in the Lord, willingly and without any reservation, even though she knew full well what the
difficulties that assent would likely produce. We are now living in times where we are very much being told what to do with our lives, on Monday I met up with my daughter and grandchildren in the park and it was heart-breaking not being able to greet them with a hug, but we do have the gift of free will, which means we have our own ideas about how our lives are to go. That is our gift from God, and the manner in which we are made in His image. As C. S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters, God does not want slaves to do His bidding under His command, but sons and daughters
who willingly and joyfully join in His work. But free will leaves us with constant choices about how we live our lives, and whether we live
them only for ourselves or for the Lord. We have our hopes, our dreams, and our plans, and we often put our trust in those and our own designs more than the Lord’s. (An old joke: Want to hear God laugh? Tell Him your plans.) When we have conflict between those designs and those of the
Lord’s, do we accept the change willingly? Or do we do so grudgingly, angrily, or refuse to accept it at all? We all know the story of the angel’s appearance to Mary, the message that was proclaimed to Mary, as well as Mary’s response. It is clear by her immediate response to the angel that Mary was a woman of deep faith and trust. Yet, being human, she also had to be puzzled, shocked, and uncertain about what the angel’s announcement would mean for her. What a model Mary is for us! Mary truly was an amazing and holy woman. Yet she was very human. Luke writes: “Mary was greatly troubled by the angel’s message.” What were the thoughts and emotions that raced through Mary’s mind and heart when she heard the angel’s words? Did she think she was going crazy? The whole situation was unbelievable. However, Mary was deeply rooted in God. Even though she was confused and most likely unnerved, Mary was open and receptive to God and to God’s call. Mary must have wondered what this would mean for her and her life, as well as for her betrothal to Joseph. How would this unfold? What was she to tell her parents? Yet Mary simply had complete faith and trust in God. She freely and willingly assented to God’s plan for her! Most likely, we will not have an angel appearing to us asking us to bear God’s child. However, even if an angel does not come to us, we also are called to be “Christ Bearers.” How will we respond to God’s call? Will we trust the God who is calling us? Will we believe that God will walk this road with us? When we are fearful, we can turn to
Mary. She will journey with us. And she will remind us that our God is a God who is completely trustworthy. Today and every day, may we ask Mary to journey with us!
Daily reflection by Fr Geoffrey Driver
Gospel Reading: John 5 :1-16
The Healing at the Pool
5 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda[a] and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.  [b] 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”
12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”
13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.
14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.
Jesus said “Do you want to be healed?” The man answered “Sir, I have no man to put me in the pool when the water is disturbed and another step in before me.”
Every time I read this Gospel I try to imagine the scene – a busy place, people entering and leaving the Temple, bringing their donations and sacrifices and coming in the hope of finding Healing of all their infirmities and other problems. Most of all though, a place of hope and love, although there is jealousy and greed by the Pharisees.
Jesus looks at the man and is immediately moved to help. This man, who has no one to care for him and look after him, touched Jesus so much that he asked him if he wanted to be healed. The man’s answer was to change his life.
What we see is that Jesus never imposes himself on anyone but if we ask him he always responds in the positive. He also goes back to see the man and see for himself how he is coping with this new life and, most importantly of all, how are the other people responding to his changed lifestyle. Jesus also reminds him that his new life demands new rules. Jesus emphasises this fact by saying “See you are well! Sin no more and nothing will befall you.” As Christians we have an obligation to help other people discover a new life especially at this difficult time in our country. As we, all of us, try to come to terms with having to live with the Corona Virus which can strike at any time and any place, we are reminded there is only one constant in our lives and his name is Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Daily reflection: by The Rev'd Graham Young
Gospel reading John 4:43-end
Jesus Returns to Galilee
When the two days were over, he went from that place to Galilee (for Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honour in the prophet’s own country). When he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the festival; for they too had gone to the festival.
Jesus Heals an Official’s Son
Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’ The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my little boy dies.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.’ The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ So he himself believed, along with his whole household. Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.
Recently, in these desperate times, two words have emerged which are the opposite of each other and both of which will profoundly affect how we survive this global tragedy. The first is faith and the second is fear. We see the effects of fear all around us at the minute. People stockpiling loo rolls, bread and pasta, in some vain attempt to outlast this outbreak. We see people sharing online remedies to beat the virus perhaps by gargling vinegar or sipping water or creating our own hand sanitizer. These online remedies are about as effective as tying a frog to one’s head as our medieval forebears did to ward off disease. Fear seeps out of our society in response to this viral crisis as people resort to violence even in shops over whatever product is deemed essential to keeping one safe and to hell with other people.
The other word, faith, is something that many are losing in the face of the growing fear. People are losing faith in humanity, losing faith in the government to control the spread of the disease. People are losing faith in the science of fighting disease as they follow every cracked Internet idea to protect themselves. We are living in a time of growing fear and diminishing faith.
In today’s Gospel reading we see someone coming face to face with fear and faith when he sought out Jesus. The man a royal official, whose son was on the point of death, sought Jesus and asked Him to come back to his house to heal his son. He must have hoped Jesus would come back, lay on hands, perform a miracle for the son. But Jesus simply says, ‘Go, your son will live’.
The Royal official was now presented with a choice. He could in fear insist or beg that Jesus come. Or he could in faith accept what Jesus said. He had to choose fear or faith. He puts all trust in Jesus and returns home a journey of several days. How tortured that time must have been! How full of doubt, wondering if he had done the right thing, wondering if having faith in Jesus had been well founded, wondering if he would get home to find his son already dead.
He is met by a servant who tell him of the miracle. Jesus had healed his boy the hour He had given the Father His word.
We face a similar choice. To fear or to have faith. If we live in fear, we will see more suffering, we will see social norms break down, we will see more people die. Yet if we have faith in our communities, in the kindness of others, in our ability to come together, in the God who calls us to love our neighbours as ourselves we will come through this crisis stronger for having fought side by side. People of faith run food banks. People of faith help the elderly. People of faith, let go of fear to stand together against whatever darkness awaits us. As Helen Keller once said “faith is the strength by which the shattered world shall emerge into the light”. People of faith will choose to trust God’s promises, just as the royal official did in our Gospel today.
We are living in dark times. Yet let us not fear the darkness, let us have faith in each other and in God so we can face the darkness with a little light, and as we all know, no amount of darkness can ever put out even the smallest light.
GOSPEL for Mothering Sunday - John 19:25-27
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
Sermon for today from Fr Dennis Skelton
Five people round a cross, one man and four women. Three of the women are confusingly named Mary. Let’s try and sort out those three Marys. One, Mary the wife of Clopas, we know little about, although she may be the ‘other Mary’ who ran to the tomb with Mary Magdalene on Easter Day.
There was Mary, Jesus’ mother. Mary did not clearly understand her Son, but Jesus was her son and she loved him and it was the most natural thing in the world that she should be there. He might be a criminal in the eyes of many of the others witnessing the scene but He was her Son and she was there trying to support, trying to comfort, trying to understand, trying to share the agony, trying to radiate the love to her son.
There was Mary Magdalene. All that we really know about her is that out of her Jesus cast seven devils. There is a tradition that she was the prostitute who, in the house of Simon the Pharisee, poured precious scent on Jesus and wiped his feet with her tears. Mary of Magdala could not forget what Jesus had done for her. It was pure love and gratitude that found her beneath the cross.
The other woman – here called Jesus’ aunt – can be identified from the other Gospel accounts as Salome, the mother of James and John. (Mk 15:40; Matt 27:56). The last time we heard of Salome was when she was given a strong rebuke from Jesus when she asked Jesus if James and John could have privileged places in heaven, and Jesus had indicated, in no uncertain terms that privilege and self-aggrandisement had no place in the Kingdom of Heaven. Clearly she bore no ill-will for the telling off because here she was, loyal to the last to her nephew who also happened to be the Son of God. It showed, too that Jesus’ love could shine through the rebuke.
The fifth person was John, Salome & Zebedee’s son – Jesus’ cousin, the disciple whom Jesus loved and the writer of the fourth gospel. What perhaps we don’t always take into account are the family connections here – Jesus’ mum, his auntie Salome and his cousin John. Noticeably absent were Jesus’ brothers – although his brother James became a convert after Jesus’ resurrection and rose rapidly to be an important figure in the early Church.
Families are funny things. At their best they are tremendously supportive and will accept all sorts of quirks and foibles and bad behaviour from each other. At their worst they can fall out over trifles and produce feuds that will last for years. In the case of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, they seem to have found him too much of an oddball to cope with. Even Mary, his mother, clearly found him difficult to fathom for most of the time, but still had the love and protectiveness that is at the heart of motherhood. The point about a family of course, is that, although mum chooses dad and vice versa, the offspring don’t choose either their parents or their siblings – they are stuck with them and have to like or lump them.
So, it is that within the family that we first learn the art of live and let live – the tolerance and acceptance of each other that becomes so important in our relationships with the wider world. That is why it is so important to have a recognised code of conduct within the family – rules which may never be overtly stated but are nevertheless recognised and adhered to. Each family has slightly or greatly different rules. But again, at its best, the family acknowledges that each family member, however young, has their own needs, their own insecurities, their own priorities, their own uniqueness and seeks to bring out the potential of each member.
Round the. Cross we have that segment of Jesus’ family – Mary, her sister Salome and Cousin John, together with two close family friends. And Jesus, even in his agony thinks about his family. He couldn’t commit his mother to the care of his brothers – they didn’t at present, believe in him. So, in a gesture of faith, he commits her to the care of his cousin, the disciple whom he loved. It is a double commitment because he also places John in the care of Mary. From henceforth they will be responsible for each other’s welfare – two people to give and receive comfort in the sad times ahead. It is very moving that, even dying agonisingly, our Lord never forgot the importance of relationships and the ordinary things of family life.
But let us not forget that when John includes an incident in his Gospel, it is there for a purpose. John, I think, is here setting up the first Christian Community – the first Christian family unit – the first ‘church’ and I think that it is apposite here to remind ourselves that ‘Mothering Sunday’ is not just about our mums at home, but about our mother the Church.
Like our secular family, the family of the Church also has its rules. Expressed shortly the rules are simple ‘Love God and love each other’. The more extensive rules, the Ten Commandments, cover most eventualities. Like our own families, we do not choose our brothers and sisters. Alright, you may think you do, but as Jesus said you have not chosen me, but I chose you. Again, we may choose to associate more with that part of the family that is more congenial to you, just as you might gravitate more to a brother or sister in your own family who shares your views or ideals or sense of humour or whatever, but we ARE all one big happy family, who have to try to get on with each other – Romans, Methodists, Calvinists, Salvationists, Baptists, Catholics, Evangelicals – the whole shebang. And here at St. Mary’s we are one happy family, trying to get on together, accepting each other, trying to understand each other, forgiving each other, caring for each other and, above all, loving each other.
The family is often trivial – the family that plays together stays together. The family generates affection without even noticing it. Our love for each other springs from the love of the Father for us. The family often shows its darker side – after all, we wouldn’t be here if we weren’t sinners – Christ came to call the sinners to repentance, but what we have and what we celebrate on Mother’s Day is our belonging to each other and our awareness of being part of something important and precious. The church possesses the secret of community which our generation craves. It does so because Our Lord said to John, Behold your Mother and to Mary, Behold your Son; because we meet week by week for the family meal; because we belong to Christ. Rejoice in that community and in your joy go out and serve the Lord.