Party People still?

If we were to undertake a survey to try and discover what people have missed most since we began this journey we are on. I imagine the answers would include, seeing friends and family, having a hug, family celebrations like christenings and weddings and anniversaries and birthdays and so on.

And we miss these things so because fundamentally we are made not to live isolated lives (as I am at the moment having tested positive for the virus on Wednesday last week) distanced from one another but to be together. To be in communion.

In the story of creation as we have it in Genesis we read that ‘the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone;(1) We are meant to be together. 

And whilst the Gospel for today often comes round at this time of year, it feels a bit as though its rubbing salt into our wounds at the moment. For we have not been together, we have not had a party to celebrate for ages, birthdays of note have passed, anniversaries celebrated differently.

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1 Genesis 2.18

Experiencing God

Why are we here? What’s the point of life? These big questions have been around since our beginnings and we all ask them at some point in our life.

Whether it’s the child becoming an adult, or the adult confronted by the cruelty of life as they grieve a loved one – why are we here is a question that persists.

In the ancient world the Greek culture was one in which these kinds of philosophical questions were discussed.

Learned men (as they were then) gathered at the Areopagus in Athens to engage in dialogue and it is where we find Paul in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

I imagine him to have listened to the different discussions learning about the different strands of Greek culture and belief. And yet he is there not just to listen but to speak and so is asked ‘May we know what this new teaching is you are presenting.’

Paul’s speech begins by identifying their devotion to the search for meaning. He directs them to consider an altar he has seen dedicated to an unknown God declaring that ‘what therefore you worship as unknown. This I proclaim to you.’ At the end some scoff but some want to know more.

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Troubled hearts? Maybe, but…

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’ Jesus says things like that. Says things knowing that we do have troubled hearts.

Says things like ‘Consider the Lilies of the field.’ That we should stop worrying, as if we can stop it just like we turn off a light switch.

But beyond our immediate sense of inadequacy perhaps these words are more of an invitation than a command for Jesus knew what it was to be human.

He spent time with people like you and me. People who were worried, who were troubled by big things and small things. None of us want to be troubled or worried but we are.

At the moment we are troubled by this virus that has limited and changed our lives. Troubled too perhaps by what life will look like in the future.

Thomas words from the Gospel this morning find echoes in our current situation ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going.’
Part of what makes this time troubling is that we do not know where we are going. We are learning to live with uncertainty.
And so, we need to hear the words.
Words that comfort us. Words that give us hope.
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’ says Jesus ‘believe in God, believe also in me.’

But at times like this Philip’s words in that Gospel may be ours too. He demands a sign of Jesus ‘Show us the Father’ he says ‘And we shall be satisfied’ as if Jesus were a conjurer.

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The voice of Jesus calling us into community

If someone says they’ve been hearing voices we most likely look at them strangely.

We’d probably think they were a bit mad.

And yet if we think about it for a moment don’t we all hear voices.

That little voice that says “Go on have another biscuit.”

That says “I should go and help that old lady cross the road.”

That says “That was a cruel thing to say” and so on and so on.

And then there are those voices we hear when we dream. Those vivid moments in our sleeping when our unconscious mind comes to the forefront.

So perhaps we do hear voices and with that in mind hear again words from the Gospel this morning ‘the sheep hear his voice.’ Jesus was likely recalling the 23rd psalm that begins ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ a psalm I reflected a bit on in the midweek musing last week.

He is of course using it as a metaphor, as he does when he also talks of the narrow gate. This image connects this Gospel with the first reading in which we get a glimpse of the shared life of the first Christians.

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It’s all over. No not coronavirus – Masterchef.

Last Friday we learned that Thomas Frake who specialised in English classics, despite a soggy bottom on his last cheesecake was the winner.

I really enjoy Masterchef and thanks to lockdown I watched most of the episodes – a rare treat.
The food cooked is interesting. John Torode and Greg Wallace make for a lively double act of judges.
But most of all I enjoy it because its about passion and transformation.

Passion in that those who succeed really love making food, and making people happy through their food.
Transformation because we share the journey some of the contestants go on as they learn new things as they are opened to new possibilities and ways of cooking.

If they’re successful the contestants get the chance to meet famous chefs who teach them new skills and give them ideas.

It’s always interesting to watch this and see how different chefs interact with people. There are those who are demanding, critical and pushy. There are others who show them the way, guide them and encourage them.

Both are valid ways of learning though I suspect most of us would thrive more in one than the other.

But what has this got to do with Easter and the reading’s we’ve just heard? Well, both readings speak a bit about transformation.

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The way of love: The victory of love

So, there’s this garden. In it we see a woman crying. She’s blinded by grief.

She has stumbled her way there. She hadn’t slept.

So, she doesn’t notice the signs of beauty and newness around her. Like the dew on the grass, or the flowers reaching for the sun.

She knows only sadness.

So, her gaze is downward when she hears footsteps through her veil of tears, a question stumbles out.

A question that mingles, sadness and anger.

The voice of love replies.

A voice that she cherished more than any other.

A voice she longed to hear and would know anywhere.

A voice that calls her by name.

The love song of God that have we recalled over the last few days has sung a new song of life into the lifeless body of Jesus.

The faith and trust that Jesus placed in the way of love on Friday has been fulfilled.

He is risen!

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The way of love: The cost of love

Jesus is alone. Last night Jesus girded himself with a towel and told his followers that if they were to follow him they were to love one another.

Then he broke bread and shared wine, his body and blood. Gifts of love to sustain those whom he loved then and those whom he loves now.

The way of love then took us to the garden. We kept watch with him as the way before him was revealed.

From there came his arrest. The steps from the garden to the prison made, then trial, sentence and onto Golgotha. Each step costly along the way costly.

Those who said they would never leave him have fled they have taken a different path leaving Jesus alone. Alone to face his end.

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The way of love: The showing of love

They’d sat at the feet of Jesus.

They had listened on hill sides, on sea shores. In houses without a roof. In holy places and whilst walking along.

Time and again they missed the point, they heard but didn’t understand. Now his words were to take on even more depth of meaning because they were to be enacted.

They weren’t to be words of an instruction manual rather they were words embodied in action.

His talk of love was to find expression as he wrapped a towel around his waist and washed their feet, as he broke bread and shared wine symbols of his message, of his self-giving, life giving love.

These actions embodied those too easily spoken words – ‘I love you.’

A few years ago, the priest I worked with then came to his last celebration of Holy Week and Easter as a parish priest where we worked.

He approached these three days keen to share what he believed about what it was all about.

I cannot remember much of what he said but the sense of wanting to define what these days are all about is a question I return to each year.

This year, of course, things feel very different for us all yet the answer to the question for me remains the same the death and resurrection of Jesus is all about love.

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