1 April 2015
There is no other day to compare with Easter Day. It is a time of great joy, the climax to weeks of meditation and prayer and self-denial. The long theme of preparation in Lent comes to an end. All our hopes and happiness come from what happened on that first Easter morning. The stone was rolled back, the grave was opened and the tomb was found to be empty. Jesus Christ had risen from the dead and nothing would ever be the same again. Early on the first Easter morning the power of God was revealed to a disbelieving world. Death is conquered. It was an event which not only altered the past but also shaped the future. It would be a mistake to think of the resurrection as an event in the past. Nothing can ever be the same again. God reverses our expectations, the impossible becomes possible. As a time of celebration, Easter stands out from all the conflicts and turmoil of our broken world. This is what makes Easter the greatest occasion for the Church and for the world. All our hopes for the future stem from this one event in our history. Easter announces that there is a way forward out of darkness. Easter announces that transformation is possible and that change can take place in our lives.
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead affirms that death is not the end for us. There is a life beyond our mortal life in this world. Our existence is not limited by the cycle of birth to death. Easter is a turning point which invites us to live in an entirely new way that goes beyond the limitations of this world. We are challenged to become part of a new creation, inspired by the life of God. But, life depends on how we look at it. It can be seen as an empty tomb, full of bitterness and confusion or it can be seen as full of joy and hope. The gospel captures the excitement of the disciples on that first Easter morning. It gives us a glimpse into their new found happiness as they hurried to spread the Good News. Easter has burst into our world, the world of space, time and matter, the world of real history, real people, and real life.
All our hopes and happiness come from what happened on that first Easter morning. By God’s power, the stone which sealed the tomb where Jesus was laid is rolled back, and the grave found to be empty. Jesus Christ has risen triumphant from the dead and, because of this, nothing could ever be the same again. Pain, despair, and misery, were pushed into second place as a whole new future, a future full of hope and the happiness of eternal life, was opened up for us beyond the grave. By Jesus’s victory over death for humankind, God has made his love for us absolutely clear.
The disciples’ hearts were full of happiness at being God’s people. Let us too feel this sense of joy in our lives. Easter life is about the joy of new life with God. Let us rejoice as we realise that we are not walking along the path of life alone. God is us with us at every point of our journey. Through Jesus he is there assisting us, encouraging us, and strengthening us for every task in life.
Easter is all about newness of life in Christ. The challenge for us is to appreciate God and all that he has done for us. It is to see his plan in the ordinary everyday events which surround us, and to place our faith and trust in the ultimate goodness of his purposes. The challenge is to open our hearts and minds to the risen Christ by allowing ourselves to be sent into the world to proclaim the Good News of this new life and new creation to all people.
God our Father, may the joy of Easter penetrate our hearts and minds and bring us closer to you. We make this prayer through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
With every blessing this Eastertide.
1 March 2015
In St Andrew's we have just started a sermon series on the epistle of St James. Although James was writing 2000 years ago, he might easily have been writing directly to the 21st Century church. Grumbling, gossiping, lack of commitment. Very contemporary issues! Tom Wright, in the introduction his book "Early Christian Letters for everyone", writes: They are realistic in facing the dangers a Christian world around, trying to squash the church into its own ways of life and to stifle the rumour that the living God might be on the loose. And they are equally realistic in highlighting difficulties which may arise within the community itself. Last Sunday I commented that James is a bit like a Yorkshire man. Where other writers hint at difficult truths, James just comes right out and says it. James has a great deal to teach us today. I am writing this piece hoping to whet our appetites for private study, to read James for ourselves. Perhaps even to read a Christian book, like Tom Wright's, alongside the epistle. In this short piece, let us pick up on just two extracts from James chapter one.
(1) We ask "why does God allow such in such an unpleasant thing to happen to me/ someone I love?" James wrote: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. How can this be? What does it mean? Is God unmoved by our suffering? The key is to look at ourselves as parents or at our own parents:
When toddlers learn to walk, we know that they are going to fall over, bump into things and bruise themselves. Are we bad parents to encourage them to walk? Rather, we would be bad parents if we stopped them, wouldn't we?
When I was 8 years old, my parents sent me to boarding school 5,200 miles away. I have to tell you I was not happy to do so. I was nervous and homesick. But my parents also suffered. They missed me too. Nevertheless they sent me back to school in the UK because it was the only way I could I get a first class education. Good parents! God also wants us to grow up in Christian Faith and discipleship so that we will develop steadfastness and so that we may become perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. As the perfect parent, He suffers as He sees us suffer. But God wants the very best for us and knows that we need to work through these experiences.
And (2) I am afraid that many of us, today's churchgoers, suffer from the 21st Century disease. Bishop Robert alerted the clergy to this problem when he said: "Today’s society regards churchgoing as a lifestyle choice. They say, “You go to church, I play golf. What's the problem?" We Christians have taken on some of that outlook as if by osmosis. We say "I did not enjoy that service." Or "I enjoyed the sermon last Sunday." But the service and the sermon are not meant to be entertainment. They are our worshipful response to God's love and sacrifice for us. They are giving God his due. They are a part of our Discipleship. James wrote: But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. This amusing illustration is meant to jolt us into looking again at our approach to God’s Word; the scriptures. The picture this conjures up is of a middle aged man looking at himself in the mirror. "Aah!” he says. “That is what I look like." Then he puts the mirror down and goes away imagining that he looks like Ben Affleck. As the younger generation would say, "How sad is that?" Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
May God bless us all as we seek to grow in our love and service of Jesus Christ and His church here in Tavistock and the surrounding villages.
With every blessing,