Easter Day

Of all the theology books I have read the one which has had the most profound influence on me is probably The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

When I first read it at the age of 7 I had no idea of the Christian allegory behind it. But even without that knowledge it was clear that the heart of the story was Aslan’s death and coming to life again on the stone table. And I was always intrigued and mystified by this famous passage:

“You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch. Of course everyone present knew that she meant Edmund…

“Well,” said Aslan. “His offence was not against you.”

“Have you forgotten the Deep Magic?” asked the Witch.

“Let us say I have forgotten it,” answered Aslan gravely. “Tell us of this Deep Magic.”

“Tell you?” said the Witch, her voice growing suddenly shriller. “Tell you what is written on that very Table of Stone which stands beside us? Tell you what is written in letters deep as a spear is long on the firestones on the Secret Hill? Tell you what is engraved on the sceptre of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea? You at least know the Magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning. You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to a kill…that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property…”

“It is very true,” said Aslan, “I do not deny it…Fall back, all of you,” said Aslan, “and I will talk to the Witch alone…”

Then we skip a couple of chapters forward. Aslan has been put to death and Lucy and Susan have kept watch with his dead body during the night.

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It Is Finished

Each of the four gospels gives us a different picture of Christ on the cross.

In Mark and Matthew, Jesus’ last words are dark and questioning: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

In Luke, his last words are confident and trusting: ‘Father, in your hands I commend my spirit.’ 

In John’s gospel, Jesus’ last saying is a single Greek word: ‘tetelestai’. In English it can mean either ‘It is finished’ – it’s all over. Or ‘it is accomplished’ – it is fulfilled.

And that is typical of John’s gospel. It is as though two perspectives of the same story are going on at the same time – the world’s perspective, and God’s perspective. In John’s gospel, Jesus talks about being ‘lifted up’. On the one hand this refers to the crucifixion, a terrible thing done to him through the wickedness of humanity. On the other hand, it refers to his glorification, a work of grace and salvation by God, by means of which we ourselves are drawn into communion: ‘when I am lifted up from the earth’ he said, ‘I will draw all people to myself.’(1)John 12.32; see also John 3.14

This is what is called literary irony. There are two levels of meaning. The characters in the story can only see one level, but the reader is invited to see another, deeper level of understanding.

So when Pilate says to him, ‘Behold your king’(2)John 19.14 and when the soldiers dress Jesus in a purple robe and place a crown of thorns on his head, they think they are mocking him – but we know their words and actions carry a much deeper truth than they realise. For we know he is not merely the king of the Jews but king of the universe.

So there are two levels of meaning to Jesus’ final words: It is finished – it is accomplished.  

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References   [ + ]

1. John 12.32; see also John 3.14
2. John 19.14

Maundy Thursday

Today of all days is about communion. It is the day Jesus shared his last supper with his disciples which became the template for the Eucharist.

It is the day Jesus, knowing he was leaving his disciples, prayed for them: ‘Father, may they be one.’ And the unity they have with each other comes from communion with God: ‘even as you, Father are in me, and I in you, may they also be in us … that they may become perfectly one’

John 17.11,21

You could say that the whole of Jesus’ earthly ministry was about gathering people into communion. His first act was to gather disciples. He constantly sought out the excluded and the marginalised to bring them back in. So he lived out the parable of the shepherd and the lost sheep.

On one occasion when he healed a man who was blind and dumb he was criticised by the Pharisees. His reply is significant:

‘Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.’

Matthew 12.30
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To Love and Serve the Lord

It is a real privilege to be able to stand here and articulate some of the feelings in our midst this morning.

I guess one of my predecessor’s Fr Garrett had similar feelings when this building was finished in 1968.

Perhaps then it felt as it does today, a significant moment not just in the life of the church but of the wider community of Colton and Whitkirk in which St. Mary’s stands.

Over the years the doors of this building have been open for all sorts of events.

From parties to pantos.
From flower shows to funeral teas.

We hope and pray this will continue into the future and that alongside them new possibilities will be opened to us too, so that this will truly be a centre for our community.

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Risk it. God has, so should we.

The other day I came across a cartoon. It depicted a vicar stood by a font, holding a child and surrounded by the family. High above them, sat a lifeguard looking down. The caption read ‘He’s the result of our risk assessment survey.’

What comes to mind when you think about the greatest risk you’ve ever taken?
Perhaps when you launched a new business?
Perhaps when you made that charity parachute jump?
Perhaps when you set out to cross Selby Road?
These are all risks in one sense, however is not the greatest risk of our lives to love.

Hopefully we are born into this life knowing love from our first breath. The love of our parents, family and friends and this love shapes who we are and how we see the world. There’s nothing quite like the love a parent has for a child, and a child has for a parent.

But even this love isn’t risk free. Parents don’t live for ever and to have a child is to be well acquainted with risk, sometimes tragically so.

This parental love isn’t the only love we know though. We choose to love others too, friends, husbands and wives and partners.

Thank God we do, it is right and good to love another person. It’s what we’re here for but it comes with risk.
We risk that love not being returned.
We risk being vulnerable as we open our hearts to another.
We risk being hurt, when a relationship ends or when a loved one dies.

So for me the greatest risk we take in this life is to love. Yet this is a risk that’s worth taking, for without love we as St Paul wrote are ‘nothing’ .

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Unwrapping the Truth

Jesus said ‘Sanctify them in truth, your word is truth.’ The word truth is a word that we find frequently in the Gospel of St. John. Let me give you a few more examples than the words we have just heard in our Gospel this morning.

In chapter 1, we read that Jesus is ‘full of grace and truth’(1)John 1.18. In chapter four that we are to worship ‘in spirit and truth’(2)John 4.23. That Jesus testified to the ‘truth’ in chapter five(3)John 5.33. That the ‘truth will make you free’ in chapter eight(4)John 8.23. In chapter fourteen that Jesus is ‘the way, the truth the life’(5)John 14.6.
That we will be led ‘into all truth’ in chapter sixteen(6)John 16:13 and so it goes on.

The contrast with the other three Gospels couldn’t be greater. In Matthew’s Gospel the word truth is never heard. In Mark once and in Luke we hear it twice. So we could say that the fourth Gospel is one obsessed with talking about truth.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that when Jesus comes before a rather bewildered Pilate he asks ‘What is truth?’(7)John 18:37

It’s this question I want to explore a bit this morning, as we ponder the words we’ve heard in our Gospel when Jesus prays that his followers may be sanctified ‘in truth’.

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References   [ + ]

1. John 1.18
2. John 4.23
3. John 5.33
4. John 8.23
5. John 14.6
6. John 16:13
7. John 18:37

Brief Encounters

A friend of mine once wrote a series of plays based on memorable stories from the Bible. He called it ‘Brief Encounters.’ In these brief encounters he helped both actor and audience to see that these stories though centuries old, have an enduring quality to them.

These brief encounters came to mind because in these days of Easter, Jesus’ resurrection appearances are often brief encounters.They are mysterious and intriguing with an enduring quality that makes us stop and think time and again.

This evening is one example when Jesus meets some of the disciples through a brief encounter on the road to Emmaus. It’s a passage I know well, I chose it as the Gospel for when I began my ministry as a parish priest.

It spoke to me then and still does about how we might make Christ known.

How we should come along alongside people and listen, just as Jesus did.
How we should share our stories and talk to help make sense of this life, just as Jesus did.
Of how we meet Jesus the breaking of bread and of how ‘hearts’ are ‘burning within us’ when we meet Jesus along the way.

I could talk about any one of these this evening but instead I want to spend this time reflecting on some other words from the reading, ‘their eyes were kept from recognising him.’

I’ve always been puzzled by the mystery that surrounds the resurrection appearances. For in these brief encounters it’s clear that Jesus has changed.He is unrecognizable to people who knew him well. But then something happens, a word, an action and they know. Why though all this mystery?
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Goodbye and Hello with my Dad as guide

Alleluia Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

It will come as no surprise to you that these words have taken on fresh significance for me this year. Words that proclaim Christ’s victory over death.

Faced as I have been with the death of my Dad I’ve been left asking fresh questions about the resurrection. About what it means for me and what difference it makes as I say goodbye to someone who has helped shape the person I am today.

That saying goodbye has taken place over the last months of his life. Sometimes that goodbye was spoken of and at other times it was observed.

Though he was still Dad bit by bit, day by day we said goodbye; to conversations once had about all sorts of things, to his laughter and smile, to his mobility and appetite for both food and life.

It wasn’t easy journey but it never is, as so many of you know having walked alongside loved ones as they’ve come to their final days.

It is the hardest thing in life to say goodbye to those whom we love most something Mary, Jesus’ mother knew as she stood at the foot of the cross to say goodbye to her son.

We can only imagine her anguish and pain though we know something of it through goodbyes we have had to say.

Yet even if you’ve not said goodbye to a loved one recently, we all know there are times in our life when we say goodbye.

Perhaps to a relationship, to a child leaving home, to a job, to a school, to not being as young as we were, to hair in my case. Goodbye is part of life.

Yet what the story of my life has taught me thus far is that though there are goodbyes, the God in whom I believe in is one who offers us hellos too.
Indeed on this day we celebrate and give thanks for the God who reveals through the resurrection of Jesus Christ that goodbye is not the last word we shall say. For goodbye leads to hello.

And God’s hellos sometimes arrive in surprising ways. Scrapbooks for example, something that my Mum is a great compiler of. Through them I have remembered afresh the story of our life with Dad. They have been a hello amidst the goodbyes. Helping us rediscover the man who led such a rich and full life.

There are hellos amidst goodbyes in the Easter Story too. Mary Magdalene, and Mary head to the tomb of Jesus, it was part of their saying goodbye. Perhaps they chatted on the way, they remembered the good times their tears were tempered by laughter.

They arrive to ‘see the stone rolled back.’ The angel serves as God’s hello ‘He has been raised; he is not here.’ What were they to make of it ‘terror and amazement’ seizes them and they are ‘afraid.’

‘He is not here.’ My Dad has died. His body is still here, yet I believe, I know that ‘he is not here.’

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