Tag Archives: Easter

Still growing, still changing, still becoming (Easter 3B, 19 April 2015)

Readings
Acts 3.12–19
Luke 24.36b–48

In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. 1 Corinthians 5.19a

The way the religious authorities in Jerusalem saw things, it must have been an unfolding disaster, an accident happening in slow motion. They must have been tearing their hair out. And if the Romans got to hear, all hell could break loose…

They thought they’d succeeded in getting rid of that troublemaker Jesus of Nazareth for good. He’d been crucified by the Romans, but now his followers were blabbering that he had be raised from the dead! It didn’t help that no one knew where the body was. Heaven knows how they stole it.

(They must have stolen it! How else could the tomb be empty?)

The problem was, the people were believing their ridiculous story about Jesus being alive.

So they did what authoritarian people have always done: they squashed dissent wherever they saw it.

That was the way the authorities saw it.

The disciples saw it very differently.

Jesus had appeared to them. Not in a dream. He had appeared as a human but as a human beyond death. He wasn’t a ghost. Or a zombie, or a ghoul or a vampire. He had died, but he had beaten death. God had raised him.

The disciples had to make sense of how someone condemned by the law of God and condemned to the horrors of crucifixion could now be—as Peter proclaims in today’s reading from the Book of Acts—‘the Author of life’.  Continue reading

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Repairing the ‘hole in the fabric of things’  (Easter Sunday, Year B, 5 April 2015)

Reading
Mark 16.1–8

Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30.5)

The novelist and psychotherapist Salley Vickers opens her first novel, Miss Garnet’s Angel, with these words:

Death is outside life but it alters it: it leaves a hole in the fabric of things which those who are left behind try to repair.

When someone we love dies, there is a hole left in our life that often fills quite quickly with sadness, tears, fears, regrets and guilt.

It was just the same for those who loved Jesus.

The women returned to the tomb on the Sunday. Jesus had been crucified on Friday, but Saturday was the Sabbath, when no work could be done. They still had the task of anointing the body of Jesus. They had to finish the job. They couldn’t live with themselves if they just left him there. They had to repair the hole left by Jesus’ death.

Perhaps it was because they were still a bit numb, but they hadn’t thought it through. On the way, they wonder how they can roll away the stone so they might carry out their melancholy duty. But when they arrive, the stone has already been rolled away.

They go in—hearts a-thumping, I should imagine—not knowing what they might find.

In the Gospel According to Mark, they are met by a young man. He says:

Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.

Mark leaves the women fearful and mute, running from the tomb. The mysterious young man was offering them a new future, a future no longer preoccupied with fears of death, but they couldn’t accept it right away.

In the Gospel According to Mark, the women had stood at a distance watching while Jesus was crucified. They knew where the tomb was. But the men had cut and run. They had shown themselves as cowards—and the leader, Peter, was worse than most. Peter had a big hole to repair, big enough for him to fall into, and he didn’t know how to repair it.

Since the young man had named him specifically, let’s turn to the Apostle Peter.

Just a few days earlier, on the Thursday evening, Peter had denied knowing Jesus while warming himself beside the fire in the high priest’s courtyard. Three times. He had tried to be there, but in reality he had turned his back on Jesus in his hour of need.

Yet now Jesus is reaching out to Peter in love, in forgiveness. Jesus has no wish to punish, no desire for revenge.

Salley Vickers says that after a death, those who are left behind must try to repair the hole that is left; the risen Lord Jesus is seeking to do that work of repair in Peter’s soul. It’s what we call grace. It’s a gift, for us to receive. It brings to us hope for a new life, for a future that isn’t defined by the sins and mistakes of the past.

Peter had denied Jesus, but that didn’t define his future. The hole can be repaired. When Jesus pours his new life into Peter, Peter is set free for a new future, an open future.

Jesus is risen. Now. Present tense. He offers new life to all so that our future need not be defined by what we’ve done and who we’ve been.

The hole in the fabric of things is being repaired. It has been repaired by Jesus.

It doesn’t matter who we are, where we’re from, what we’ve done or what has been done to us. Jesus offers new life, risen life, life without end. And it starts now.

The women received it, in the end. Peter and the other disciples received it. Can you receive it?

The love, forgiveness, grace, mercy and peace of the risen Lord are a gift for us. Let us receive it today. Let us receive him today.

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Bright Sadness (A Holy Week sermon)

Readings
Isaiah 50.4–9a
Philippians 2.5–11
Matthew 27.27–61

 

This time last year, some of us were in Israel, walking streets that Jesus walked and gaining new inspiration for our journeys of faith.

I found one of the greatest places to be was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It’s a sprawling place, with surprises around every corner. It’s one of the sites associated with the crucifixion of Jesus. Perhaps it really is where he was put to death, and buried; perhaps not.

It was pretty crowded, and it was frustrating to navigate; so I think my report of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre might strike a note of disappointment if it wasn’t for one wall, a wall of mosaics. It is a more contemporary mosaic, which was placed by the Greek Orthodox Church.

I took a few photos …

This scene depicts ‘The Deposition from the Cross’. We have Mary the mother of the Lord and Joseph of Arimathea supporting Jesus’ body, Mary Magdalene and the Apostle John kissing his hands, and Nicodemus removing the nails while the other women stand, weeping.

Mosaic 1

 

In the next part of the mosaic, Jesus’ body is laid out on the burial cloth ready to be shrouded.

Mosaic 2

In the third and final scene, Jesus is being laid in the tomb.

Mosaic 3

This is a stunningly beautiful mosaic. I stood before it in speechless wonder for a long time.

Let me point out two things. The first is the sorrow. Just look at the faces.

Closeup 1

 

Closeup 2

 

Closeup 3

 

Even the angels weep!

Angels

 

The sorrow of Holy Week is profound. The loss is absolute, and it is felt even by the powers of heaven.

Jesus had healed the sick and brought sight to those who could not see.
But they crucified him.

He was the promised Messiah.
But they crucified him between two thieves.

He was going to bring in the kingdom of God.
But they crucified him on Golgotha, the Place of a Skull.

Now everything was gone. It had seemed so wonderful at the beginning of the week, but now it seemed a strange dream. What were all the palms for, all the cheers and the crowds and the shouts of ‘Hosanna, Save us Lord!’?

Save us? He couldn’t save himself.

The sorrow of Holy Week is profound, and we shouldn’t try to downplay it.

Remember I said I had two things to point out about this mosaic in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre? The deep sorrow is the first.

The second is this: the vibrant colours. This mosaic is a complete riot of colour. There are reds, blues, greens, oranges, purples. Oh, and lots and lots of gold.

Don’t you think it really should be more subdued?

I mean, come on, this is a scene of unrelenting sorrow, of cosmic sorrow. But it’s ablaze with colour!

What’s that about?

It’s about Easter. We can imagine that as Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, John and the others took Jesus’s lifeless corpse from the cross and laid it in the tomb that there was no light for them. Everything was grey. Perhaps Mary wondered if the sun would ever rise again.

Yet the dawn of Easter Day was just a few short hours away, it was just over the horizon.

What we see in this mosaic is no created light. It is Easter light, the light of the resurrected One. We see utter and inconsolable sadness, while the light of Easter shines upon the people without their being aware of it.

Some people speak of Lent as a time of ‘Bright Sadness’. Bright sadness.

It’s a time of sadness, which we should not try to diminish or avoid. Christ went to the cross to save his people. He died to being us back to God. He died on our behalf.

How can we minimise the death of God’s very Son? Well, we can try, by ignoring it, by commercialising Easter, by only going to Easter services if we feel like it. But we shouldn’t try to do that. And really, nothing we do or fail to do will ever truly minimise the horror of this week.

But Lent, and above all Holy Week, is a bright time too. Over it the light of Easter shines. Salvation is ours. Our sadness is illuminated by the joy of Christ’s resurrection.

Bright sadness is not optimism. It’s not about being a ‘glass half full’ kind of person. It’s not ‘looking on the bright side of life’, or ‘walking on the sunny side of the street’. Bright sadness is faith that the light of Easter shines in all situations. Bright sadness is faith that even death itself is not a full stop, but only a comma.

Bright sadness doesn’t avoid the sadness! It means that at this time of year above all others, we recognise the great price our Saviour paid, we acknowledge our shortcomings and sins, and we lift our voices in grateful praise. And this time of year reminds us to live to God at every time of the year.

This wall mural speaks to us of bright sadness. Can we embrace this bright sadness? We surely can, and we must. It is God’s gift to us, for the sake of Jesus our Lord and for the world that needs his peace, his justice and his reign as servant-Lord of all.

 

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Children of God (Easter 3, Year B, 22 April 2012)

Readings
1 John 3.12-19
Luke 24.36b-48 

I saw a poem in Eureka St magazine during the week called The problem with being an atheist. It was written by an Anglican priest in NSW called Jorie Ryan, and it begins in this way:

The problem with being an atheist
is the lack
of imagination.
no one to talk with
when we were first begun
to share the pain
of dying
the joy of living
to delight in our first words
our singing notes
our pictures on the walls.
The problem with being an atheist
is the lack of gratitude
having no one to thank for being here
nothing to join hands with
and dance the dance of life.

It stands in stark contrast to the way our reading from 1 John 3 starts today:

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

Jorie Ryan contends that atheism involves a lack of an ultimate reference for our joys and sorrows, a cosmic home to belong to; John proclaims that we have that ultimate reference and cosmic home, who is the Father who calls us children of God. The Father delights in the words we speak to tell our praise, the songs we sing as we serve others, the pictures we paint with our lives.

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Third Sunday of Easter (Easter 3)

Called and re-called

Let us pray:
Living God,
Christ is indeed worthy of all praise;
he died, and is risen from the dead.
Feed us with your grace,
that in times of success or failure
we may find life
in following you
for the sake of Jesus the Lord. Amen.

Reading
John 21.1-19

Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed!

The sun came up one day and shone on Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, the fishermen. It was an ordinary day. They set out in their boats and had fished all night. They caught nothing and came back to shore disappointed.

A teacher came and sat in Simon’s boat, and taught the people. Then he said to Simon,

Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.

Despite his better judgement, that’s just what Simon Peter did with his brother Andrew. There were so many fish that their nets threatened to break, so they called James and John, their partners, to come and help. And they brought the fish to shore.

The name of the teacher was Jesus; Simon wanted him to leave, because in the presence of Jesus he was made more aware of his shortcomings. But Jesus told Simon,

Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.

Their lives were never the same again.

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Second Sunday of Easter (Easter 2)

Show your resurrection

Let us pray:
You come into our midst, Lord Jesus;
you hold out your scarred hands
and surprise us with hope.
Help us to receive your word and your Spirit,
that in our woundedness
we may know you as our Life,
now and for ever. Amen.

Reading
John 20.19-31

Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed!

It’s the Sunday after Easter, and we’re getting reacquainted with the Apostle Thomas. ‘Doubting’ Thomas to his friends. Jesus has appeared to the frightened huddle of disciples on the evening of the first Easter Day, but Tom wasn’t there.

We don’t know why he wasn’t there. We only get a few tantalising glimpses of Thomas, but he seems to me like an all-or-nothing kind of bloke. When Jesus says he’s going to Jerusalem, Tom says Let’s go with him and die. Now, Jesus is dead and everything has gone. I wouldn’t be surprised if he were down the Jerusalem Arms or the King David pub drowning his sorrows and crying into his thirteenth beer.

Of course, Thomas didn’t believe what the others told him. How could it be true? Thomas would have known his Bible, and he would know that Deuteronomy 21.23 says

anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.

And a ‘tree’ included a cross. Jesus was under a curse from God. The dream turned out to be a nightmare. It was all over.
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Friday fragments — 9 April 2010

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Today, 9 April, is the day the Uniting Church remembers the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran pastor, theologian and martyr under the Nazis; this was the day of his birth into eternal life. Read about his life here and be inspired.

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Assembly Update

April Assembly Update is out — read it here to see the latest from the Uniting Church Assembly.

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‘Something Wondrous is Afoot’

Easter has fifty days, so here is an Easter reflection from the wonderful Kathleen Norris.

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A common date for Easter

Eastern and Western churches calculate Easter in basically the same way, yet the dates are often different. This is because the West uses the Gregorian calendar, while the East sticks to the older (and less accurate) Julian Calendar to date Easter.

Thirteen years ago, a consultation at Aleppo, Syria proposed a basis for a common date which would use the most accurate astronomical timing. Their hope was the the year 2000 would see it happen. We’re still waiting! This year and next, Easter falls on the same day for both East and West. Let’s pray for a common dates from now on!

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Dear Pope: Call me!

Not me, no, but Rev Dr Marie Fortune who has written perceptively on the change of heart needed in the light of the child abuse scandals rocking the Roman Catholic Church.

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