Friday, 29 March 2013

Easter Sunday: 'They did not believe them ...'

 Luke 24: 1-12

I wonder how you feel about the response with which we began our worship: “Christ is risen”, "he is risen indeed, alleluia" ?
There’s a mum I know who says to her children, when she doesn't quite believe what they're saying 'really?'. It can be “we’re going on a school trip to the moon!” (“Really?”) or something as simple as “I’ve finished tidying my bedroom”. “Really?”.
Sometimes I feel like making that my response to the statement ‘Christ is risen”. “Really?”.

If you're not quite sure about the whole resurrection thing this morning you're in good company .
The women went to the disciples with the story of everything they had seen and heard... the stone had been rolled away, they’d seen the empty tomb, then there were two men in dazzling clothes, who reminded them of what Jesus had said  - that he would rise again – and these 2 angelic creatures had said 'why look for living among dead ?, he is not here he has risen'.
The women arrived, on what we would call Easter Sunday morning, with their breathless and amazing and wonderful story.

And the disciples' reaction?  "pfft".
They thought it was idle tales. In fact the Greek word used there, 'leros'  gives us our word delirious. They though the women were delirious. That they were talking rubbish, babble, nonsense.

Maybe it’s an ordinary human reaction to this extraordinary Easter story. Christ is risen. Really?

But the evidence mounts, others see the empty tomb, and even meet an angel. Mary sees Jesus in the garden, the disciples meet him in the upper room, Thomas sees and believes, they see Jesus on the beach and he cooks them breakfast, talks to them and forgives Peter. Christ is risen.

And so 2000 years on when we start our worship with the words "Christ is risen" we are expected to say ' he is risen indeed alleluia' and not “really?”.

But this gradual dawning of reality into the hearts and minds of Jesus’ disciples means 3 things;

Firstly, if we find it hard to believe.. It's ok. We’re not expected to get it all in one go. We’re only human, we may need to hear this extraordinary story many times before the truth starts to dawn on us. We may need our own proof, a realisation of where the risen Jesus can be seen and heard in our own lives, it may take time for us to move from ‘Really?’ to ‘he is risen indeed.’

And secondly, this story tells us that if we believe tell others but no-one believes us that’s ok too. The very first eye-witnesses to the resurrection, their hearts still pounding with the excitement of it, failed to ignite the interest of the remainder of Jesus’ friends.
Babble, nonsense – leros – was their first reaction.

This is hard to grasp. It isn’t obviously true on first hearing. It’s not our fault if it sounds a bit too good to be true because that’s just what it is – amazingly, eye-poppingly, strange – but true. Christ is risen.

And finally, if this whole story doesn't disturb us a bit , maybe we've become too used to the story and we're not listening.
There is something rather disturbing about this story of an empty tomb and a man raised from death.
I will admit right now that I am not at all happy with the current trend for zombie movies. I realise this is very damaging to my street cred, but I just don’t like the whole idea of dead people walking around attacking other people. In real life, the dead stay dead and I can’t cope with a story-line where the natural order of things is messed about with.

This Easter story has an element of that level of disturbance. Jesus who was dead has risen. That seems at first like it cannot be true. The dead stay dead.  But the women’s story – eventually accepted and experienced by all Jesus’ disciples – tells us that death is no longer the end. In God's new kingdom all the rules have changed and the Good news is that now it’s death that  is dead.

Jesus is alive, bringing the promise of new life to all people.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Passion Sunday

A short reflection on the Passion gospel (Luke 23: 1-49) - there will also be a short reflection on the Palm Gospel

What strikes me in this account of the Passion of Christ is how little Jesus has to say for himself.

Firstly, when Pilate asks him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ he answers, ‘You say so.’

Secondly he speaks to the women weeping on his way to crucifixion ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.’

Then finally, from the cross itself, Luke tells us Jesus says three things
 ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’
To the penitent thief he says ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’
And his final words are ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’.
You see how little Jesus says in this long account - yet what he does say is heavy with importance.

Jesus speaks words of sympathy or empathy
‘weep for yourselves'
'today you will be with me'
and words of forgiveness 'Father, forgive'.

His concern is not for his own fate but for the lives and souls of others. Jesus is truly the Messiah, the one who has come to save the people, not save his own life.

So instead of a spirited defence of himself, instead of giving reasons why Pilate should not have him crucified, he simply echoes the charge levelled against him. So when asked 'are you king?' he says 'you say so'

Jesus does not fight for his own survival, but allows the authorities to carry out their terrible torture, and then gives himself up, in trust, into God’s care 'Father into your hands I commend my spirit'.

Luke is clear that Jesus suffers a 'miscarriage of justice'. He is wrongly accused, he is innocent of these charges, he ought not, in a just world, have been crucified.

But Jesus speaks to show that he knows the world is not just, and that for precisely that reason he will not fight for his own rights, but instead give himself up in love & forgiveness. So we do not see merely an innocent man on the cross, we see a display of the extent of God’s love for us – to come and take flesh, to suffer and die, and all for love of us.

In this way Jesus offers the world, and the people in it, offers everyone of us, the love and forgiveness we need to change in order to become just and peaceful and loving.
Thanks be to God. Amen

Friday, 15 March 2013

Lent 5: Mary of Bethany, the "super-disciple"

Maybe I'm cheating, but this year I'm preaching on the Gospel reading from the lectionary, but also looking at other stories of Mary of Bethany, and her example of discipleship. I will preach in 3 sections.

John 12: 1-8.
As Anne was reminding the children at William Westley school this week, the gospels were written by piecing together what people could remember after the event – there was no-one jotting down all that Jesus said or did.

Each gospel writer then had to make decisions about how their gospel account was going to be pieced together.
Mark jumps straight into the gospel of Jesus with his baptism, as an adult, by John the Baptist ; Luke & Matthew begin with Jesus’ family tree.
But John begins with a prologue, putting Jesus into context as the eternal Word of God. More than any of the other gospel writers, John writes as if we know the whole story before we turn to the detail of what he writes. So Lazarus is described, in the story we’ve heard today, as the one “whom he has raised from the dead”. Judas Iscariot, meanwhile is “the one who was about to betray him”. Jesus, defending Mary looks forward and says “she bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial”. Earlier, at the start of the story of the raising of Lazarus, John has introduced Mary as “the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair”.
John wants us to know who all these people are, how they fit into the story of Jesus’ life, what each episode of Jesus’ life means in relation to the whole story.

John doesn’t tell us what Mary thought she was doing – perhaps she was simply trying to greet Jesus in the most lavish way possible, as a way of giving thanks for Lazarus being brought back to life – John wants us to know what he thinks Mary was doing.
Mary was preparing Jesus body for burial and also anointing him as king. She is telling the other disciples that serving Jesus is far more important than anything else, more important even than serving the poor. She is also warning everyone that Jesus’ hour has come – the hour of his death but also of his exaltation.
Mary is also anticipating the example that Jesus is about to give at the last supper, when he washes his disciples’ feet and tells them “I have set the example, and you should do for each other exactly what I have done for you”.

Mary is depicted almost as a ‘super-disciple’ – one who is so good at following Jesus that she has anticipated teaching he hasn’t even given yet ! But we don’t get a sense from John that she knew what she was doing, it seems she was acting on impulse, grabbing the moment to serve & celebrate Jesus, and only accidentally giving others insight into what was going to happen.

Mary teaches us that disciples are, primarily,  those who serve Jesus, falling at his feet to worship and giving all they have for their Lord.

But where else do we find Mary in the bigger picture? And what do we learn there? We’ll look in a moment at 2 more stories involving Mary – another one from John’s gospel and one from Luke.

John 11: 17 – 32.
So just 2 chapters before the reading we had first from John, we are introduced to Lazarus, Mary & Martha. This is where Mary is introduced as the one “who later anointed the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. Lazarus is sick and Jesus is sent a message telling him this. However, by the time Jesus gets to Bethany, Lazarus has been dead for 3 days.

Again, we find Mary at Jesus’ feet – this time asking for help, confident that Jesus is the one who could make a difference “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

And because we know the whole story, we know that Mary is right to believe in Jesus as the one who can help and heal. Jesus orders the stone to be rolled away, and commands Lazarus to rise from his grave.

Because we know the whole story, we know that Jesus himself will rise after 3 days, but no human hand will
need to roll away the stone for him, and no human voice will call him back to life.

Mary, the ‘super-disciple’, shows us that we can trust Jesus to hear our prayers and to answer them, because he is the Lord of Life and Death.

Luke 10: 38 - 42
Here we meet Mary & Martha, but not Lazarus. Martha is busy serving (as she was in the first reading) – serving the Lord and other guests as they eat. But where is Mary? At the Lord’s feet as she has been in each story. Whilst Martha worries and fusses, Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, listening to al he says.

And when Martha wants Jesus to tell Mary to help, he says “Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her”.

Mary, the super-disciple, knows that it is not enough only to worship and to pray, she also has to listen to what the Lord is teaching her.

So today we can all learn from Mary – who may not know the meaning of all that she does, but who stands as a true, loyal and loving disciple of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray for the strength to follow Christ as Mary does, to the glory of His name. Amen.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

John 19: 25-27: Mothering Sunday

Our Gospel reading encourages us to think about mothering beyond biological relationship. On one hand we could just read this as Jesus the good son looking after his mother, making sure that she will be looked after.

But there is more than that going on here or else why would John tell us  this story  - and he is the only gospel-writer who does.
Jesus is not just looking after Mary, but is encouraging John and Mary to enter into a new relationship. Not long before , Jesus has said to his disciples "love one another ".  This could be a concrete example of that. Jesus is (even from the cross) teaching his followers that his gospel of love is about more than the old ties of family.

And it is also interesting to see who is named as being present at foot of cross. Mary (mother) , Mary's sister,  Mary wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalen. At least one of those women is a witness to Jesus’ resurrection. In fact  Mary Magdalen will be named by John as the first witness to the resurrection.
I wondered if I was just being fanciful wondering if Clopas could be the same person who is named as Cleopas in Luke's account of the road to Emmaus, The writer of at least one commentary (Barnabas Lindars) agrees with me - so that may be 2 resurrection witnesses. Could it be that Jesus is founding a new community in which he wants his followers in his earthly life to hear the witness of his resurrection life and to continue to live in love but with new hope and new work ?

Then what starts as a mushy reading for Mothering Sunday turns out to be a challenge to live as people inspired by the new life of risen Christ to love others . Even mothers. In Jesus name. Amen.