Posted in Mental Health Awareness Week

A Thought for Mental Health Week 2021

10-16 May is Mental Health Awareness Week. In a couple of previous years I have spoken about my struggles with mental health. This year I’d like to celebrate the people who have helped me develop my mental health. My therapist; spiritual director; colleagues who have helped and prayed for me; a church community who watch out for me; those both whom I have met and have read who have helped me develop tools which have made me more resilient…

I’m a long way from perfect. I can be ‘high maintenance’ from time to time, and have good reason to be thankful to people who have shown me a lot more grace and mercy than I might have expected or returned. And a God who is extremely patient and a good news which is always ‘better than that.’

And well, as ever, my wife, Jools is a rock.

You’re all awesome.

This is neither a ‘woe is me’ or a ‘go, me!’ Let’s be honest, if you haven’t at least occasionally felt overwhelmed in the past year, 15 months, I’m not sure you’ve entirely grasped the gravity of the situation!

But if you are struggling, I want to say both that ‘it’s ok’ and that ‘it doesn’t have to be with this way forever.’ Just don’t try to battle alone. Ask for help. As Charlie Mackesy says it is the bravest thing to do. Over the last 5, 6 years I have discovered it is the best thing to do, and I don’t regret those times I have done so.

Posted in Growing Back Better

Growing Back Better 3: Into the Deep

Reading: Luke 5: 1-11

Video of sermon here

Audio of sermon here

A number of years ago I was chatting with a friend about football. In particular about problems at the club he supports, who had just sacked their manager. Football fans can be quite fickle and when things start to go wrong for the team, they can turn on the manager quite easily. But in fairness things had been going pretty badly for his club.

But I was more interested in the nature of his criticism. It wasn’t about tactics, team selection, transfer policy and the like.  the players he’d bought or who was left on the bench when they were 2-0 down. His complaint was that the manager was a Christian. That wasn’t bad of itself. No, the problem was he was ‘trying to bring God into the dressing room.’ I’ve looked and never found anything to back that up. But the nature of the complaint interested me. Then he added, and I quote Andrew, I’m sure even a God-squadder like you has to agree that there is no room for religion on the football field!

Sport’s not the only field where we get this kind of thinking. In 2003, then PM Tony Blair was being interviewed by Vanity Fair magazine to mark his 50th birthday. The conversation began to turn towards Blair’s religious beliefs and their impact on his political views, at which point the Downing Street spin doctor Alastair Campbell shut down the topic with a quote which has become famous in it’s own right. We don’t do God. Once Blair wanted to end a PM address with the words God bless Britain, and was talked out of it by aides. One civil servant apparently told him May I remind you, Prime Minister, this is not America.

From time to time I come across debates in the media about how, say, faith groups shouldn’t be involved in schools, Bibles should not be left on hotel rooms… It’s the same kind of argument. There’s no place for religion here. We don’t do God.

A significant feature of our culture is the way in which we compartmentalise different parts of our lives, and operate in the different spheres of work, home and church, with a different set of behaviours and values for each.

Now I’m not someone who has a lot of sympathy for talk of how Britain is a Christian country, or expecting Christianity to have a privileged place in society. The influence of Christianity on our society and culture is way more positive and far reaching than is ever recognised. I just don’t think it makes sense to apply the adjective Christian to anything other than a person or at most a faith community.

I’m a Baptist by conviction. From our earliest times we have been supporters of freedom of thought, faith and expression. We have historically been suspicious of state and church getting too close. With good reason – the one occasion when Baptists became a state church, it didn’t end well.

Yet when we declare Jesus is Lord we don’t set limits on that. It should shape how I approach all of life. But even as I say that, I ask myself, can I honestly say that I do live all of life aware of God and seeking and welcoming his involvement? Or does God come across ‘No Go’ areas in my life? Are there parts of my life with a bolt on the door and a big ‘Keep Out’ or ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign? Whatever we might say, does the way we live our lives suggest that we think there is ‘a time and a place’ for God and our faith? Are there places or arenas where we don’t do God? Because oddly even those who might say there’s no place for God here will notice and soon talk about us having principles when it suits us.

This is one lesson that I believe that Simon Peter, or Peter as I shall refer to him for the rest of this talk, learnt in today’s reading.

Often Peter’s call to follow Jesus is presented as an almost random or instantaneous event, where Jesus walks along a shore and calls Peter, Andrew, James and John to lay down their nets and follow this teacher that they’ve never met before. That’s how Matthew and Mark seem to tell it.

But in Luke’s account this is not the first time Jesus has met Peter. If we had started a few verses earlier, at the end of chapter 4, we’d have seen Jesus has already been to Peter’s house and healed Peter’s mother-in-law. This was the first of a series of healings in Capernaum.

These healings, along with his teaching, had the crowds flocking to him as we picked up the reading. It’s possible that Jesus wanted to preach without the distraction of being continually jostled by the crowd. Perhaps he just wants as many as possible to be able to see and hear what he’s got to say, so he feels the need to create some distance between him and the crowd.

Jesus comes across a couple of boats, one belonging to Peter. He, along with his colleagues were just in from a very unsuccessful night’s fishing, and were cleaning their nets, preparing them to out next night.

As Jesus steps onto Peter’s boat and asks him to put out a little from the shore so that he can preach, perhaps Peter is thinking that, well, one good turn deserves another. It’s the least he can do, after Jesus has just healed his mother-in-law. It’s no inconvenience to him. He’s going to be around for a while cleaning up. Even better, this Jesus is a super speaker, so he can have a listen whilst he finishes off his night’s work.

No, just as it was fine when Jesus came to his house as a healer, things are fine for as long as Jesus wants the boat as a pulpit. Preaching and healing – that’s Jesus’ business, just like fishing is Peter’s business.

But all that is about to change, as Jesus concludes his preaching for the day. As Peter finishes cleaning his nets, tidies up and prepares to go home for a disappointed but well-earned sleep, Jesus suggests that he go out again. Let’s pull out a bit further, let’s head into the deep water and let down the nets for another catch.

Be careful not to let hindsight add too much reverence to Peter’s answer. We know the end of the story. Peter doesn’t. So far as Peter is concerned, here we have the carpenter turned preacher telling an extremely tired fisherman how to fish. And we all know just how much we love someone coming along and telling us how to do our job. Those of you who work in health, social services, schools, doesn’t it just make your day when the government issue a whole range of directives, changing how you do everything?

It’s not even as if Jesus seems to give good advice. Fishing was something that was done in the dark. If they’d been out all night and caught nothing, chances were hardly going to be improved by going out in broad daylight!

Yet somehow, to Peter’s credit, he finds it within himself to obey, to make the one last effort, to take the chance that Jesus knows what he’s doing. And the results speak for themselves. In fact the resultant catch is nearly too good – it nearly sinks the boats, which itself wouldn’t have been good for business!

And having taken that first step out in faith, Peter realises this Jesus is someone with whom he can trust every part of him. Not just as a teacher or healer. Nor even just in his business – after all, he’s about to leave all of that behind.

No, he can trust Jesus with the whole lot. The whole shebang.

Peter’s story could have been so very different. The tired fisherman could have politely told Jesus to get lost. I’m grateful you healed my mother-in-law and you’re welcome to use my boat to teach any time. But Jesus, fishing’s my game.

He could have done. And his life would have been so different. He could have continued to be wowed by all the great stuff Jesus did in and around his village, without ever letting it affect him personally. He could even have passed the stories on to his children and grandchildren as Peter and Co went gone on to be a nice little earner.  He could have told them how this Jesus had invited him to follow him and learn from him, but, no, fishing was the life for him.

The road ahead wasn’t about to be easy. When Jesus invites him to come follow me, he doesn’t say where or why. But I’ll bet if you asked Peter in his final days, he’d have told you he was glad that he did drop everything and follow.

He could have kept Jesus on the fringes of life, appreciated what he had done for him, happy to help when it suited, allowed Jesus to take him a little out from shore. But all of life was transformed when he took Jesus at his word, trusted him and allowed Jesus to launch him out into the deep.

How far will we allow our involvement with Jesus to go? We too can keep him on the fringes of life. It’s possible for us to seek to assign Christ a specific role in our lives, perhaps filing him under S for Sunday morning. Or, to borrow a term from the science world, we can make him a ‘God of the gaps,’ the figure of last resort, to whom we turn to when all other options are exhausted and we can’t help ourselves.

It is possible to try and restrict God to what we think his job should be. It’s possible to give him a time and a place when we think he knows best, whilst all the time trying to maintain our independence in the rest of our lives. We can keep him close, might even be prepared to offer our help, whilst we potter about on the edges of the shore.

But what if Jesus wants us to trust him more? What if he wants us to launch out into the deep with him? Not just stick with what we know, what we’re comfortable with, not just keep him in the obviously ‘God-dy’ bits of life. But to trust him, even in those areas where we think we’ve got it sussed. Especially when it is shaking up our expectations?

Do we truly believe that Jesus’ teaching applies to our every day situations? Does the impact of God on our lives linger beyond the Benediction, into Monday and the week ahead, shaping how we approach our job, our relationships with partners and families and the way we use our leisure time?

I’m not saying there is a right answer to the question ‘How Would Jesus Vote?’ but how did the cross of Jesus influence the cross you put on a ballot paper this week?

Cos this is what Jesus wants to be for each one of us. Not because he wants to control us, making us into some kind of religious clone. Rather Christ longs to launch us out into the deep, to bring the fullness of his salvation to every aspect of our lives. He longs for us to acknowledge him and his Lordship in His daily gifts, of the sun and the rain, the food and clothing, the life and breath we possess – the blessings of the every day not just in the massive, obvious or even spiritual blessings.

As we live in the here and now he wants to shape each part of us so that what he has prepared for us might indeed by heaven for us.

Or perhaps you’re here and you are aware of what Jesus has done for others you know. A close friend or a family member.

You might even like one of the people on the shore that day seen it all from a distance, or even hung around the fringes for a long time, but not yet had Jesus affect your life personally. Perhaps today might be the day he wants to make that connection personal with you. To allow him to come out of the box and be with you in all of life. To take you from the shore and launch you out into the deep with him.

Will we as a church? As we emerge from this season when we have been separated, when so much of our activity has been put on hold, when we evaluate what God might want of us as we enter a new chapter of our life as a faith community. Will we stick to what we know, tried and tested, or are we prepared to trust him, to be launched into new ways of serving, trusting him for the results.

It won’t happen, if we won’t let him. I won’t lie to you – it’s not easy and I certainly can’t promise you instant results. I can’t even promise you the results that you think you need. It requires faith, sometimes even when faith seems to fly in the face of what we think we know. For Peter, to cast out his nets one more time, when sleep must have seemed the far more attractive and productive option, seemed like madness, yet in allowing himself to be launched into the deep, he found his life transformed.

For each of us that challenge will be different, the question is will our answer be the same?

I finish up with the prayer with which I started this morning’s service. Only I’ve changed one line…

This is the place

and this is the time;

here and now,

God waits to break into our experience:

to change our minds,

to change our lives,

to change our ways;

to make us see the world

and the whole of life

in a new light:

to fill us with hope,

joy and certainty

for the future.

This is the place, as are all places;

this is the time. as are all times.

Here and now let us follow Christ.

Posted in Growing Back Better

Growing Back Better 2: Letting Go

Cover pic by Максим Степаненко on Unsplash

Once upon a time there was a man who was born and raised on a beautiful island, with spectacular scenery and surrounded by crystal clear, blue sea. Throughout a long and happy life he lived on the island. He married there, fathered children and indeed became a grandfather, all on his beloved island. He never left and he loved it so much that his dying wish was that he should be buried with some of his native soil clutched in his hand.

Sure enough one day he died and he reached the gates of heaven. God welcomed him at the gates, but told him that to enter he must first let go of the soil clutched in his hand.

The man couldn’t do it. Years passed, his wife died and she too went up to heaven. There she found her husband still at the gate, clutching the soil. She tried to persuade her husband to let go, still he refused. She entered the joyful embrace of God, whilst he remained outside.

More years passed. One by one his children died. Each arrived at the gates of heaven to find their father still stood there, soil clutched firmly in his palm. Each child tried to talk him into letting go of the soil, but still he refused. They too were greeted with joy at the gates of heaven by God, whilst their father remained at the gate.

Many more years passed, and still the man stood at the gates of heaven with the soil in his hand. Then one day his granddaughter died. His first granddaughter. The one who had given him a new lease of life in middle to old age. The one who lit up his room simply by entering it. The one who gave him some of his most precious moments as she fell asleep on his lap, listening to his stories by the fireside.

In his enthusiasm to greet her, he ran to her, arms stretched out to enfold her in a great big hug…

…and as he did so he opened his hands and the soil fell from his palm.

And God rejoiced as the old man and his granddaughter entered heaven together.

Where, to the man’s immense surprise he found that heaven contained his entire native island, only even more radiant with the love of God.*

It’s a tragedy that all too often we can miss the good that come into our life, because we refuse to let go of what we already have. And the same can be true of what God has for us.

Anyone who tries to take Jesus seriously will, sooner of later, discover that we sometimes struggle to grasp, believe or follow Jesus. And the passage we shared today has got to be one of the hardest to get our heads around.

Maybe not so much the grain of wheat part. We kind of get that. I mentioned a few weeks ago some tomato seeds I planted. Well, now I’m tending little plants, willing them on, noticing every little change in them. What started out as a seed has become a plant and, in time, I trust will produce more tomatoes than I’ll know what to do with.  

In a few places in our house we have conkers. Supposedly they deter spiders. There’s no scientific basis for that, but hey… Or when I was a kid, I’d collect those conkers for a very different reason. To use them in battle against other people’s conkers. And if I got through the autumn with a conker intact then, wow, I had the best one.

But a conker sat in a corner in our living room will always be just that… a conker. Even on the end of a string, if I managed to smash everyone else’ conkers to smithereens it would still just be a conker.

But if it were to be planted in the ground, the seed would break open and in in time we’d see a tiny shoot, then a sapling and if left long enough it would grow into a tree. And for a conker to fulfil it’s true destiny doesn’t not simply to smash up other conkers or even repel spiders. Used that way it’ll always be a conker. No, it’s to become a tree. And for that, the seed has to be planted in the ground, where is breaks open for the new life within it to emerge and in time there will be playgrounds full of children battling it out with conkers from that tree.

So, no. We get the seed part.

It’s the next bit of what Jesus says that bothers us. The one who loves their life will lose it, whilst the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Eh, Jesus? Come again?

It just runs counter to all our instincts. We live in a society influenced by, or at the very least well described by Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Any of you who have done management, psychology, sociology may have come across this. It’s often presented as a triangle or pyramid, with several levels, and as someone climbs higher and higher up the pyramid, so, for the sake of simplicity their quality of life improves.

Source: Simply Psychology

We need our basic needs met. food, water, warmth, rest. Once we have secured these we want safety and security. Then level we yearn for belonging, love, friendship. As we continue to climb we have esteem needs – prestige, feelings of accomplishment. Then at the top we have self-actualisation. We achieve our full potential as people.

Self-actualisation. If Maslow was to be believed, that’s the pinnacle of what it means to be human.

So what would he have made of what Jesus says here?

And who do we find easier to believe?

Does Jesus really want us hate life? I know that sometimes the stereotype of the solemn, stern, judgmental killjoy might give that impression. But how does that sit with other sayings of Jesus like I have come that you might have life and have it to the full.  

Besides, why tell us to hate something with a promise that if we manage it we’ll get to keep it?

Forever?

And what have those two sayings got to do with each other anyway?

And let’s be honest, if we take the saying at face value, we’ve not exactly been very faithful to Jesus over the last 12 months or so, have we? We have taken some quite stringent measures to keep people safe, to preserve life. We’ve done that in the name of caring for one another, loving our neighbour, not being a source of disease spreading amongst our community. Is Jesus saying we were wrong to do that?

No. Of course not.

Yet something of our experience of the last year or so might speak of the wisdom of what Jesus says here. A few people have commented to me that when their birthday comes around they’re not adding the last year to their age cos they haven’t used it. But more seriously, we have taken steps to preserve life in the last year, but for many it’s been at great cost. Many of the things that brought the greatest joy to us. For many people life has all but come to a standstill. And for some the thought of starting it up again is pretty daunting. We’ve saved life, but we haven’t used it. We’ve spared life and I believe it’s been the right thing to do. But many will question whether it’s been living or just existing.

It’s worth pointing out some of the background to this kind of love/hate language. It said something about what you were committed to. Jesus said no-one could serve two masters. They would love one and hate the other. Yet you might well work for two people. But unless you are very lucky there will come a time when you have to make a choice. When they make competing demands. And you’ll have to decide which one takes priority. You might have all sorts of reasons why you make the choice you do. Maybe you like one better. Maybe one pays better. Maybe you’re more scared of one than the other. But within the language Jesus is using here, the one you prioritise will be said to be the one you love. The other will be the one you hate.

You will see it in the language of covenants of the period. A smaller power might pledge their allegiance to a bigger power in return for protection. They won’t look for support from the bigger power’s enemies. It’s that similar love/hate language that’s used.

Another side to it was that it was an idiom in Aramaic. We might use the expression hitting the books to describe studying. Normally, unless you get really frustrated with a difficult problem or concept, it doesn’t involve physical violence. We talk about someone being a bad apple or things going pear-shaped and someone who doesn’t really get English will wonder where the fruit bowl is!

Aramaic had similar ideas. Loving your life was about living very cautiously. Never taking risks. Desperately trying to keep everything exactly as it is. By contrast hating your life was about being open to the possibility of change, of newness, being prepared to risk what you’ve got in the hope that you might gain something better.

You can try to go through life desperately trying to keep everything just as it is. But the world will keep moving. It is the nature of life that things change, evolve, move on. You know that person who refuses to change their technology. They’re still using that Amstrad word processor from the 1980s. Eventually it goes wrong, they can’t fix it. You can’t get the parts. And 40 years of work just gone like that.

Life, whether we like it or not involves change. All change involves loss. And with loss comes great pain. And that’s why we can resist it. We can fight it, or we can be open to the change. To trust God with it. That though we may face the pain and may continue to bear the scars, something new can be born from it.

We pass through life’s various stages. Faculties come and go. Health, mobility, security, independence, relationships, all good, precious gifts. But all of them are transitory. All of them. That’s their nature.

And we can desperately try to cling to it. But when we do that there is a double tragedy. We’ll fail to appreciate the present moment; what we have now. And all the while, what we’ve got slips through our fingers.

Or we can hold it more loosely. We can trust God with it. Give thanks and appreciate the blessing he brings to us whilst we have it. But when the time is right, we release our grip, we let it go. And that can be painful. Let no-one deny that. But when we let it go, it frees us for the next stage in the journey. For the new life God has for us. Trusting that although we may struggle to see it, God can be at work in all things for our good.

Earlier I mentioned Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I did that for a reason. Because it has an interesting back story. It’s believed that, amongst other things, one of the influences for his understanding was time he spent on a Blackfoot reservation in Canada in the late 1930s. The Blackfoot conceive of reality in the form of a tipi, made up of different levels that converge into one another. It’s thought that could well have influenced the pyramid thing, though others argue that that had more to do with the way later writers described Maslow’s work.

However although he may have been influenced by the Blackfoot, it could be argued that he got the pyramid the wrong way round. Maslow himself noted that the Blackfoot were not motivated by many of the things that have driven modern ‘Western’ societies. In particular they did not consider wealth important, in terms of accumulating possessions and property. True status and prestige in their culture was in what you gave away. In their view we are born with a divine spark, what Jews and Christians would consider the image of God.

But we were born for something bigger than us. Rather than me just achieving everything I wanted for me, that was just the basis for my taking my place in my tribe achieving their sacred purpose. At the head was cultural perpetuity, where we pass on our wisdom, our way of being. Only if we were doing that were we fulfilling our true destiny.

That says something about this passage. How does Jesus begin. Now is the Son of Man to receive great glory. And when does Jesus say this? Right after the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, when people waved their branches, cheering Jesus on like a king and shouting Hosanna. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.  Now coming from anyone but Jesus, how would you hear those words about receiving great glory. In fact, even coming from Jesus, given what’s just happened and not knowing what is to come, how would you hear it? We’d probably hear it in a kind of Maslow-y type way.

But in the very next sentence Jesus turns that expectation on its head. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Jesus is describing himself as that grain of wheat. He is about to fall into the ground. He is about to be killed. He is about to be broken open. And through that new life will flow and be open to all.

Jesus flips those expectations because he knows he is part of a bigger story. That by taking his place in that story amongst us, he will be fulfilling his sacred purpose. And not just he, but all those who out their trust in him find our true destiny as children of God. But he goes further and adds Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. It’s not just for him. It’s the model for all of us. That by taking our place in that story we become all that God created us to be.

But that involves trusting him with what we have. And that can involve not clinging too tightly to what is transitory. Over the next weeks and months in so many areas of life we will move into some kind of new normal, whatever that comes to look like. But we might long for things to go back to how they were. But the world will have moved on. And whether we fully appreciate it right now, each of us has been changed. We can try to cling to what we had. But in that we may live out the double tragedy, that we fail to appreciate the present moment with all its opportunities, trying to cling to something which is already slipping through our fingers.

Laying hold of what God has for us may involve letting go of what we have. It can relaxing our grip, trusting that those seeds which fall will ultimately bloom into new life. It isn’t easy. All change involves loss, and all loss involves pain. But if we choose that path we do not walk it alone. We walk it with Jesus who has accompanied us in that journey of loss, even giving up his own life. And if we walk that road he will honour it. God won’t be our debtor. We can commit what has fallen to the ground trusting in him for resurrection.

*I got this from a daily devotion book, so long ago, I cannot remember the source.

Posted in Growing Back Better

Grow Back Better 1: Re-Centre/Re-Focus

Reading: Job 38: 1-11, 40: 3-5

A man called Jack was out running one day when he got too close to the edge of some cliffs. He stumbled and went over the edge, but managed to stop himself falling by grabbing hold of a passing branch.

At first he gave a great big sigh of relief, but this was short lived as the reality of his situation sunk in. It was a looooonngggg way down from the branch; he couldn’t see any way he could get from where he was back up the cliff face; and the branch he was desperately clinging to was already straining under his weight.

So he did the only thing he could do. He cried HEEEELLLLLPPPPP! IS ANYONE UP THERE?

To his amazement, almost instantly a voice came back.

Jack, can you hear me?

Jack was sure he heard the voice, but when he looked up, he couldn’t see anyone. So he cried out again I’M DOWN HERE! WHO’S THERE? I CAN’T SEE YOU!

The voice came back again. Well, yes, of course you can’t see me. I’m God. But it’s alright Jack, I can see you.

GOD, PLEASE HELP ME! I’LL DO ANYTHING! I PROMISE! I’LL STOP BETTING ON THE HORSES! I’LL CUT OUT THE BOOZE! I WON’T EVEN SNEAKILY NUDGE MY GOLF BALL TO A BETTER SPOT WHEN I’VE GOT A BAD LIE…

Woah, woah, woah there, Jack said God. Don’t go mad on the promises. Let’s get you down from there, before you think of how to change your ways.

Ok, God, said Jack. What do you want me to do?

Let go of the branch said God.

You WHAT??????

Trust me. Let go of the branch.

For a moment Jack considered what he’d been told. He looked up to the top of the cliffs. He looked down at the drop below.

Then he said HEEEEELLLLLPPPPPP! IS ANYONE ELSE UP THERE?

We like to live with the illusion that we have everything under control, or at the very least, if we work hard enough we can get everything under control. We talk of people having all their ducks in a row and maybe wish we were more like them, when most of the time we don’t even have a clue where our ducks are.

Interestingly if you were to tell such a person how much you admired them, it would probably come as news to them that they do have things as they would want them. But still we like the illusion that everything’s controllable.

In their book Invitation to a Journey, M Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley-Barton write this…

Almost from the moment of birth we engage in a struggle for control of that portion of the world we live in. Can we get our parents to provide for our needs and wants when we want and how we want? Can we get our playmates to play our way, or will they control us to play their way? Can we control situations and others to fulfil our agenda, or are we manipulated into serving others? Can we create enough of a security structure around our lives that we will be able to control life’s adversities?

Then they add…

If you do not believe that control is a major issue in your life, consider how you respond when someone or something disrupts your plan for the day.

In the last year or so we have become very aware of just how fragile our control over so much of life is. Particularly in the last of the list of areas I mentioned a moment ago. We’ve hit limits on our ability to create a security structure around our lives that can protect us in adversity.

It’s amazing. Something so tiny has had a massive impact on our world. You’ve probably become familiar with the image of the virus which causes Covid-19 over the last year. But when it is on screen on the news we can fail to appreciate just how small it is.  It is 0.1 microns, or 4 millionths of an inch in diameter. Yet it managed to bring so much of life to a standstill.

We’re now slowly starting to emerge from the lockdown and to re-establishing life at least something like we would recognise as normal. And yes there will be much we have missed and long to recover.

But also many things are different. Some things have fallen victim to the pandemic. We see that in our economy, when we look at the number of businesses that won’t re-open.

In other ways the pandemic has exposed weaknesses, fractures and divisions that already existed, but had gone unnoticed, or unresolved, brushed under the carpet. Many families, forced together under lockdown conditions, have seen frailties cruelly exposed.

On the other hand, its like we’ve been given permission to let go of some things that we may choose not to pick up again when normality returns.

When things are ticking along, going normally, we can easily drift through life and not really question too much. The power of disruption is that it forces us to rethink, to adjust, to do things differently, to question.

Which in turn opens us up to new possibilities.

That’s why transformation most often begins in the disruption. It begins most often at the bottom, not on the mountain top. That is when we are most open to doing it differently.

An idea that has come to prominence recently has been the idea of Building Back Better. Ironically enough this weas an idea aimed at reducing risk in the midst of things which were out of our control.

More recently it has become a slogan about how we might rebuild the economy after the pandemic. It was the name of a recent report by our own government. Not just go back to how things were before but, to quote the report, to learn the lessons of this awful pandemic and build back better.

It’s also the name for Joe Biden’s recovery plan for working families in America. His election website included the lines… this is no time to just build back to the way things were before, with the old economy’s structural weaknesses and inequalities still in place. This is the moment to imagine and build a new American economy for our families and the next generation.

Which prompts the question. Might the same be true for us, as disciples of Jesus? As a community seeking to express faith, hope and love? We will emerge changed, but will we recognise and embrace that change.

Over the next few weeks we will be beginning the process of coming back together for public worship. With the exception of a short spell in the autumn we’ve spent more than a year meeting like this, online.

But how we emerge is important. We were challenged last week by Jonathan Somerville about this. If you’ve not heard his talk I really encourage you to give it a listen. A couple of you shared how you thought there something prophetic in what he shared. Amongst those things was the temptation to just go back to what we knew and the danger of doing that.

But there is an alternative course for us. We can Grow Back Better. We can take lessons learned over the last year, good and bad, and use them to reshape the type of people and community we want to become going forward.

That’s what I want to focus on over the next few weeks. Not really just in the surface level stuff; what services will look like, what activities we’ll engage in, and so on.

But what type of people and community will we become?

We’ve been through the chaos and the whirlwind. Everything has been disrupted. Our illusions of what we can manage and control have been shattered. But disruption can be the birth pangs of new beginnings.

What new creation is God seeking to bring to birth in our midst?

But as the Spirit hovers over the chaos and darkness of 2020/21, what light, life and transformation can emerge?

But whether that happens will depend on what lessons we’ve learned. What we take forward from this season.

And the first I’ve called re-centring and re-focusing. Recognising our own limitations and our utter dependence on God.

We’re a relatively affluent society who have lived through a relatively peaceful period of our history. We’ve come to see advances and progress as the norm. And we’ve come to trust in ourselves. Or at the very least to trust the science.

And before I move on, I don’t want to sound remotely anti-science or progress. We are very blessed with the scientific minds we have. It saddens me when people who take the name of Jesus indulge themselves in half truths and conspiracy theories. The will and ability to stretch our capabilities and understanding is, I believe part of our God-given creativity.

But we also need to recognise that we are limited. We have lost perspective. We have lost the sense that creation does not exist merely to serve us, nor is it under control. And we’ve lost sight of our total dependence on God. That’s an essential message for those who want to live in relationship to God.

That’s the key message in the section of the Book of Job we read together. It’s one of the oldest parts of our Bible and deals with some of the most primal questions, of the guy who has it all and loses everything, not through folly or wickedness, but even though he is good and wise.

People often talk about the patience of Job and the faith with which he faced adversity. Whilst I do find real faith in it, it’s not of the kind often talked about, that makes we wonder if they stopped reading after Chapter 2. Job challenges God in all sorts of ways which we might find uncomfortable. It’s quite something that some of this is in our scriptures.

In a sense it’s a slightly inconvenient passage for people like me who advocate Christian Mindfulness. We love to take people to the story of Elijah at Horeb and how Elijah looks for God in the earthquake, wind and fire, but God is not there. Instead he’s in the still, small voice. In the stillness or the silence. Here we get the opposite. God speaking out of the storm or the whirlwind.

But when God speaks out of the whirlwind it’s not what Job, or perhaps we expect. God doesn’t explain what’s been going on. God doesn’t justify himself. God doesn’t even pass the blame on to the accuser from the opening scenes. Nor, at least at first, does he either accuse or vindicate Job which is what Job has been challenging God to do.

Rather God points Job to the limits of his understanding and to the wisdom which runs the earth. Job, you think the world is without meaning or foundation. Were you around when I set those foundations in place?

God answers Job’s questions of the previous 30-something chapters with a series of questions of his own. All of them point to one answer. That the world was the work of God, not of Job.

But by itself that might not be much of an answer. But there is something else going on in what God says, that becomes clearer in verses 8-11…

Who shut up the sea behind doors

When it burst forth from the womb?

When I made the clouds its garments

And wrapped it in thick darkness

When I fixed limits for it

And set its doors and bars in place?

When I said This far you may come and no further

Here is where your proud waves halt?

In the ancient Hebrew world the sea was an image of chaos. It was threatening, liable to blow up into dangerous storms, uncontrollable, untameable. Except God can stop it in its tracks. It is not beyond him.

I love how Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrases this section. He talks of God wrapping up the sea in soft clouds, tucked it in safely at night, then making a playpen for it, so it does run loose. Then he adds…

And said ‘stay here. This is your place. Your wild tantrums are confined to this place.’  To us the world seems dangerously out of control. To God it’s no more threatening than a toddler’s tantrum.

God speaks from within the whirlwind or the storm. And it’s to highlight that we do live in a world of light and dark; harshness and beauty; light and dark; they all coexist in a vast sea of complexity, paradox, goodness and struggle. We cannot get our heads around it.

But when our wisdom cannot penetrate the mysteries of life we can assume God has lost control. But if we can’t get our heads around it, it doesn’t mean that God’s thinking is deficient. Its that we are not up to the task. Just because life seems utterly chaotic and out of control to us, it doesn’t mean that it is to God. I suppose we could summarise it by saying yes, it can seem the world has descended into chaos, but even that chaos is only allowed to exist within the boundaries God sets for it.

And we may not understand it. But there is a freedom to be found in recognising our limitation. But by itself that could lead to despair. Until we realise there is one who is not overwhelmed by the chaos that engulfs us and we can lean on that God.

It’s here we could learn something from the wisdom of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 steps plan. Consider the first three steps…

We admitted that we are powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood God.

In the past year we have become very much aware of our limitations. Something so tiny, 4 millionths of an inch wide, stopped us in its tracks. I don’t for a single moment believe that God caused the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean that God can’t speak out of the whirlwind it brought to our lives. And perhaps a key message for those who wish to connect with God in the midst of all this, is that even in the midst of the chaos and confusion, we are not forgotten. God is not caught short, wondering how he got into this mess and how he’s going to get out of it. And that we can turn into and lean into him in the midst of it.

Which brings us to the guy hanging off the branch of the cliff. We can struggle to trust, even when we know we cannot control, because we fail to appreciate that God’s plans for us are good.

A God who merely can control things is no good, unless that God loves us, and cares for us. But we aren’t asked to turn ourselves over to any old God. God as we understand God has a face. The face of Jesus. We can re-centre and refocus on Jesus.

Jesus alone shows we are not alone and forgotten in the universe, but that God is with us and God is for us. In Jesus he embraced all of life… and death. But not even the darkness of death could keep him in its grip.

With Jesus we can re-centre and re-focus. We can accept our limitation and lean on the one who came to in love and has shown his love by giving himself for us. 

That doesn’t mean we become passive and utterly powerless. At the heart of those steps is Reinhold Niebuhr’s serenity prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

Courage to change the things I can

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Recognising our limitations does not mean taking no responsibility. Maturity demands we own what we can. But we recentre and refocus. Rather than relying entirely on our own reserves, we re-centre, we draw on the source of all light and life, and allow him to bring things into focus.

As we recognise the limits of our own wisdom, knowledge, understanding and capabilities, we can in genuine humility trust less in ourselves and open ourselves to the power and guidance of the Spirit. That opens up the possibilities of new life, the God life. Transformation becomes possible.

We have been through the whirlwind. It may have seem utterly chaotic. But God can speak through the whirlwind. But when we come as his people, he doesn’t give us the answer we seek. We might seek clarity, understanding, but instead God gives us himself.

We won’t escape the seeming chaos and confusion of life, but we don’t have to have all the answers. We can lean on one who does hold all things together. And he can bring new life, new hope, new possibilities out of all things. We can face the things we can control with courage, trusting in him for the things we can’t.

And if we do that, if we re-centre on him, and allow him to refocus our perspective, we’ll be taking an important, foundational step to growing back better.

Posted in Growing Back Better

Growing Back Better: An Introduction

Image by Lee Yan on Unsplash

Growing Back Better: Intro

John 1: 1-5

Well, it’s been one heck of a year, hasn’t it? It’s a word that’s been overused, but it still covers it pretty well – unprecedented. We have been stretched and challenged in all sorts of ways. We’ve had to embrace new ways of doing even some of the most basic things.

Now, thankfully, we are starting to emerge. In one sense we might feel we’ve been here before, back in the summer when we were eating out to help out and so on. We had a couple of brief spells of services in the church.

But there are perhaps greater grounds for hope this time, as more and more people are vaccinated, some of you twice, and we are finding that vaccination is having an effect on the seriousness with which people catch the virus, the numbers of hospitalisations, the numbers of the deaths etc…

So we are at a new stage in this journey. For many of us it will be hopes and dreams of a new beginning, the chance to meet up with family, to snuggle grandkids and so on. But for others there will be fears and troubles that we carry into this new season. Some of us might have got so used to being at home that we are nervous about venturing outside. Or we have got so used to being in small groups that the thought about being around lots of people makes us anxious. For some of us life has changed quite dramatically, so we will move into a quite different life and world than the one we left.

But all of us, whether we realise it or not will have been changed in some sense by the last year. Each of us will have faced challenges of one sort or another. Lots of things we have taken for granted have been shown to be far more fragile than we thought, or more precious than we realized.

Today we hear a lot of talk about getting back to normal. And in some sense we will. But, and you might remember we talking about this a while back, we want to question whether we really want to go back to all of it. You might remember I drew your attention to this quote from Sonya Renee Taylor…

We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.

You might struggle to remember the world pre-corona. But it was a season marked by climate protests, Extinction Rebellion and so on. And whatever you thought about Extinction Rebellion, their tactics or whatever, they were drawing attention to the fact that some aspects of our normal were actually destroying us.

So three words have gained prominence amongst politicians around our world. Rather than simply try to recover what was lost can we Build Back Better. They have been used by our own Prime Minister, Boris Johnson; by US President, Joe Biden; by New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern.

And they leaves us with a few questions…

Do we really want to just go back to how it was before?

Could we, even if we did want to?

Or might this be an opportunity to re-think, re-set some aspects and create something better? Not just in the economy and wider society, but within our faith community, our walk with God…

The last year there has been upheaval, but with God upheaval can be a catalyst for change. Indeed, disruption and upheaval is normally the pathway to change. It forces us to question stuff we might not otherwise have thought about.

The last year has seen its fair share of chaos, but our scriptures begin with the Spirit of God, hovering over the waters of chaos, and making new creation possible.

Much has changed in the last year, there may have been much lost. There is a place to mourn that. But we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that we are people of resurrection. Easter people in a Good Friday world.

Over the next few weeks, whilst I am with you, we will be considering how we might grow back better. I’m not specifically asking how much church services change, or what activities might we drop or not pick up or what new ideas might we explore…

That’ll be part of it. If it is to mean anything it will be rooted in a deeper question.

What is God asking of us in this place, time and circumstances in which we find ourselves?

What is God seeking to do in us and through us?

What type of people does God want us to become?

What new creation is God wanting to bring to birth in our midst?

How might this be reflected in the life we share together?

If you were to encounter Jesus and he were to ask what would you like me to do for you? how would you respond. What could you do to open yourself to that possibility? What first steps could you take it make it a reality? 

If we start with those kinds of questions and open ourselves to allow the Spirit to hover amongst us, to stir us, to open us to new opportunities, new possibilities, new light and life. And through him a new future for us can be built.

Posted in Easter

Joy Through the Tears (Easter Sunday 2021)

Cover Pic by Pisit Heng on Unsplash

Scripture: John 20: 1-18

Video of Easter Talk here

Audio of Easter Talk here

In a moment everything changed. In fact one word changed everything. Her name. Mary.

And she recognised. She knew. Jesus was alive.

Rabboni she exclaims.

She runs to throw her arms around him. To hold him. Like if she ever let go, this moment would slip through her fingers. He’d no longer be there. It would all have been an illusion.

Don’t hold on to me. For I am not yet gone to my Father. Go instead and tell the others…

That morning had gone nothing like it had been planned. Early that morning some women had gathered in Jerusalem with one thing in mind. To complete the burial rites of their Lord. They had carefully prepared the spices for just that purpose. Given the unjust indignity with which his life had been snuffed out, the least they could do was ensure he was afforded a proper burial, some respect in death he had not been afforded in life.

Doubtless they had been grateful for the intervention of a rich Judean, Joseph of Arimathea, who had ensured once Jesus was dead that he had access to the body. Otherwise Jesus might well have been dumped in a mass grave. That was the normal fate for those considered bad enough to have suffered crucifixion. We don’t know how long Joseph had been a follower of Jesus. There is no mention of him prior to Jesus’ death. Luke tells us he had been part of the council which had condemned Jesus, but he had not consented to their actions. Perhaps it was his failure to rescue Jesus at the hands of his colleagues that prompted him to act. Enough was enough. Like the women, he wanted to ensure Jesus was spared even this last indignity. And these women went with him, so that they would know, when the Sabbath was over, where they had to go.

John tells us that he and Nicodemus had prepared the body with a mix of myrrh and aloes, embalmed the body and wrapped it in the grave clothes. But the women who went to that tomb that morning wanted to pay this last respect.

Of course there was no guarantee that they’d be able to. A great stone had been rolled over the entrance of the tomb. It had been sealed, lest anyone try to steal the body and claim that Jesus was alive. Soldiers had been placed on guard over the tomb over the weekend. They might not agree to removed the stone and allow them to reach the body. But still, they had to try.

But it was as they approached that things started to go awry. The garden was strangely quiet and empty. There were no soldiers. There was no stone over the entrance to the tomb. It had been rolled back. And although John doesn’t tell us, I presume they looked in to check… there was no body.

No soldiers, no stone, no body. So far as Mary, and pretty much anyone else who’d have been there that morning, when you put these three together it could only mean one thing. No-one was thinking ah, he’s risen, just as we said. Silly us we should have believed him. No, the body had been moved.

And so she ran to Peter. He’d know what to do. When she found him he was with John and together straight away they set off running, leaving poor Mary trailing in their wake. John gets to the tomb first and looks in from outside. Why he doesn’t enter we’re not told. But whatever the reason, Peter has no such qualms. He’s straight in. Mary was right. The tomb was empty. John says that he went into the tomb and at that point he believed, but we’re not told what he believed. The more I reflect on it, the more mundane a belief it was. He believed that Mary was right. The tomb was empty. She wasn’t looking in the wrong place, she wasn’t imagining things. Cos John adds they still didn’t understand that Jesus had to rise from the dead.  At no point does he seem to have indicated to Mary that there might be a better explanation, a more positive one. That Jesus has risen, as he said he would.

Then the other disciples leave and go home.

But Mary doesn’t. She lingers by the grave. Then something catches her eye. She bends over to look into the tomb and sees two people there. Woman, why are you crying? An odd question to ask in a graveyard, especially by the grave of one so recently deceased. They’ve taken my Lord and I don’t know what they’ve done with him. She turns away, perhaps hiding her tears, when out of the corner of her eye she sees someone else. He says much the same thing. Woman, why are you weeping?  She thinks this must be the gardener. Maybe he was moved him. Maybe Joseph changed his mind. Maybe the authorities laid a bit of extra pressure…

If you’re the one who’s moved him, let me know where, and I will deal with this.

Then that one word. And everything turned and changed on that word, that moment.

Mary.

And the denarius drops. It’s him. Jesus. He’s alive!

We can think of Easter Sunday as the happy ending after the traumatic events of Holy Week and Good Friday. But actually it’s much deeper and more nuanced than that. It’s not just one joyous moment where everyone goes ah, yes, remember he told us he’d rise again, what are we like?

It takes time for the reality of it to sink in, for them to work out what it all means. They need to process it.

And I think there are a couple of reasons why Mary gets to be the first to witness the resurrection. They’re similar, but subtly different. One is quite simple. She is there. She lingers. Long after everyone else has gone.

That’s something about Mary. She stays with it. She’s probably one of the better known characters in the Gospels. But we actually know very little about her. And by far the majority of references to her are clustered around those days of the Easter weekend. She is one of the last by the cross. One of those who sees where he is buried. One of the first at the tomb. And now, here, when everyone else has gone home, thinking nothing more to see here, Mary still waits. She encounters Jesus because she lingers. She encounters the Risen Christ cos she is there. Even when she can’t get her head around it, when it doesn’t make sense, when maybe she doesn’t even know why…

So much of faith is about showing up, being there. I don’t just mean turning up at church services, online or in person, though that’s part of it. It’s more than that. The journey of faith isn’t easy. It doesn’t always make sense.  But actually if we want to catch a glimpse of God at work, of we want to encounter the divine, so much of it is just showing up, putting ourselves in the position where we can hear him, be open to him.

Some of you are ornithologists. You’ll hear of a sighting of rare bird and go to see it. And maybe you will get lucky and annoy all the others. But the ones most likely to see the bird are the ones who stick around, who stick with it. Yes God in his grace may answer our prayers, doubts, struggles, sorrows quickly. But there is something to the story of Jacob wrestling with God and saying I won’t let go til you bless me. At times faith is tough. And so much of it is hanging in there, putting ourselves in the position where we can see the answer. Showing up and sticking around.

But also Mary is prepared to engage with her sorrow. When all the others have gone, she still engages. She doesn’t run away from it, deny it, put a brave face on it, or hide from it.

During Lent we are encouraged to name and face the darker, more mysterious sides of faith. Then at Easter we are encouraged to embrace the hope of resurrection. But life very rarely neatly works according to such timelines. Perhaps you didn’t feel especially wilderness-like in Lent. Or perhaps you entered Lent with all sorts of struggles and doubts, and resurrection morning hasn’t brought relief. Those long-standing prayers and hope are still unanswered.

The hope of resurrection is not that we will somehow avoid pain and sorrow, or that we will never find ourselves weeping. It isn’t even just about the thought that it’ll be alright one fine day when we fly, fly away and rest on another shore. It’s about knowing wherever we are at this stage in our lives we are not alone. We are never beyond the reach of the love and care of God. That however dark and despairing we find ourselves, new life is possible.

But those who find it are those who are prepared to name and acknowledge where they are starting from. It’s one thing I come back to again and again with you. One thing God wants more than anything else from you is your honesty. Things don’t always work out as we planned. But we don’t have to run from that. We can name before him that wilderness you are facing, in whatever form it has come. But also to refuse to let go of the hope. It may mean wrestling like Jacob, or showing up and lingering like Mary, but be open to the possibility of new life, even if it comes in ways you don’t expect. If we do, one day the penny might drop, we might hear that one word, experience that one moment which changes everything. Because new life is possible. The tomb is empty. Christ is Risen. And he will never let us go.

Posted in Lent 2021

Lent Reflection #29: What Do You See? (Good Friday)

Image by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Reading: Mark 15: 21-39

Video of reflection here

Audio of reflection here

The centurion standing by the cross, as he watched Jesus breath his last and saw how he died declared Surely this man was the Son of God.

What did he see that no-one else saw that day?

Not the disciples who had fled in terror, betraying him, denying him, deserting him in his hour of need.

Not the religious leaders, who had devoted their lives to scouring the scriptures, waiting, longing, hoping, for God to send his promised Saviour into the world. If they had seen it, they’d have thrown their weight behind him, not clamoured for his crucifixion.

Not Herod, not Pilate, not those passing by hurling insults at him. Not even at least one of those dying beside him.

This centurion knew what Sons of God looked like. He’d heard the stories of the great Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus, who were said to have been such sons.

So what did he see?

Had it been his company who had first heard those words…

Illum duci ad crucem placet.’

 ‘This man should be taken to a cross.’ 

‘I, miles, expedi crucem’.

Go, soldier, prepare the cross.’

Someone set to work, preparing the sign that would announce to all who passed by just what this man’s crime was. THIS IS THE KING OF JEWS.

Had this centurion ever even heard of Jesus of Nazareth? Cos he can’t have looked much like a king, when he was scourged with a leather strap, studded with bone and lead so that his skin was left bloodied, raw and inflamed. Perhaps he tried to imagine it, as he looked on the one standing before him, in the hastily-fashioned crown of threaded-together briar thorns, wearing a cloak, holding a reed. But he’d have been hard pushed to see it.

So what did he see?

He didn’t look much like a son of God as he was passed amongst them, being spat at, punched, mocked. Nor when he had collapsed in exhaustion on the road and needed another random passer-by to carry the cross beam for him.

Was there a certain admiration for this Jesus, as he refused the wine mixed with myrrh, to deaden the pain of the nails being driven into his wrists and ankles? Or did he just think the guy must be crazy?

Oh, what did he see?

Maybe there was a moment’s raised eyebrow as he examined the clothes they had stripped from him. The inner robe, the sandals, the turban, or outer robe were nothing to write home about. But the main undergarment was pretty special. Seamless, woven in one piece. They didn’t want to tear that. So they cast lots for it. Still, he didn’t look so divine as he hung there being jeered at. Big claims about saving others and rebuilding a temple in three days seemed somewhat hollow as he was powerless to do anything for himself. Where was his God now, as he hung on that cross. It seemed not even this Jesus knew, as he uttered a loud, piercing, anguished scream…

Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me? He might have wondered if right now even this Jesus could see it?

So what did he see?

Was it as he breathed forgiveness over those who tortured, killed and mocked him? Was it a forgiveness he was even prepared to offer to one of those hanging there with him?

Whatever it was, he saw something that no-one else could see.

He didn’t just witness the events. He saw into them. He saw through them.

Perhaps later, when he heard of how the curtain in the temple, behind which God was said to dwell, ripped from top to bottom, it made sense. It was like he had somehow glimpsed right through it…

Whatever it was, he looked and saw what no-one else that day did. And despite all appearances to the contrary he declared what he saw Surely this was the Son of God.

Today, we have been invited to Come and See. During this Holy Week I have been inviting us to reflect with the senses. Today we turn to the sense of sight.

As we stand by the cross, what do we see?

Do we see a victim of great injustice? It’s never been popular amongst the powerful to claim that another higher power above them is worth your allegiance. It’s a road that’s been trod by many before and since, with death their ultimate sanction. Do we watch him climb towards the hill lone and friendless and see him as one worthy of our pity? A truly good man, brought to an untimely end through lies, deception, corruption and petty jealousy.

Or do we see into it and beyond it? Do we realise that this is not just a tragic event within our history? That it’s like eternity has converged on this moment, this place, and that what is happening on that cross has something to do with you, me, each one of us?

But if we do go there, do we struggle to look at all?

Do we hide our faces lest we catch his eye?

Year by year we come to these horrific, violent narratives, and we are reminded that this was for us. We sing how it was our sin that held him there or how it was our sins that pierced him. Because of that, our over-riding emotions can be guilt or shame.

Yet if that’s the case, we are in danger of missing the point. One of the key features of this story is that somehow Jesus has absorbed all the sin, guilt and shame into himself. That because of him or sin is dealt with. If that’s true, why insist on snatching it back?

For us to truly see to the heart of this story, we need to look forward to the Sunday morning. For if Jesus stays dead, we may be right to feel sorry for him. And if it he stays dead, and it has something to do with us, we may have reason to feel guilty.

But he doesn’t. Come Sunday morning the women watching on from a distance will look into an empty tomb and be greeted with the words He is not here. He is Risen!

That’s the news which will change everything. Resurrection declares that God can bring those who trust in him through whatever life has to throw at them.

Because each of us at some point in our lives have to take up our cross. It may come in various forms. It might be betrayal by those we’ve loved. It might be injustice or persecution. It could be loneliness, isolation, suffering and pain. Ultimately for each and every one of us that cross will come to us in death. We are invited to take up our cross.

But Jesus has not just given us an example to follow. If we look into this story and glimpse behind through the gap in that torn curtain, we see those crosses won’t get to speak the final word. In Jesus, God has entered into the worst that life can throw at us before us and overcome it. He has endured the worst we can do and spoken forgiveness. No matter what we face in life, and no matter how worthy or unworthy of his acceptance we feel, Jesus is stretching out to us to bring us through to Resurrection. He doesn’t just understand how we feel. He walks through it with us and will ultimately bring us through,

So what do you see? It’s true on Friday he has no beauty that we should desire him. His scourged, pierced, battered, bloodied body may want us to turn aside in horror. But he’s not just an innocent victim worthy of our pity. Don’t feel pity for one who’s seated at the right hand of God.

And if we truly see into and through it, we need not do so with guilt and shame. For he has already dealt with that.

Or can we see a God who loves us so much that he has given all he has to declare his love, and defeat anything that would keep us from the life God has for us?

And if so can you commit yourself into his hands, offering all that you have and all that you are to Jesus and his Father?  Accept their invitation to step through the tear in the curtain and into relationship with them. Do so in confidence that he is waiting to meet with you, will walk with you, and though the time will come when you too take up your cross, in whatever form it comes, he is capable of bringing at last to resurrection.