Sharing God's Love
Mary Magdalene discovers that Jesus is alive!
Reflection by Sarah Emanuel
After the agony and defeat of Jesus’ death, when she stayed beside him at the cross, Mary Magdalene comes in the dark of early morning to grieve by his side at the tomb. Jesus’ followers are scattered and in fear and hiding so she comes alone before daylight. Finding the stone rolled away she assumes that his body has been taken away and her loss and distress intensifies.
So far this is consistent with the old world order and with the pain of Good Friday. But something is about to change. As day dawns in the garden the old rules are about to be broken, death overcome, sorrow turned to joy and darkness to light. There is about to be a transformation – the beginning of God’s new creation!
Through her tears Mary doesn’t immediately recognise the figure of Jesus when he appears to her. It is only when he calls her by name that there is a glorious and thrilling moment of recognition: ‘Mary!’ ‘Rabboni!’ It is tender and familiar, the voice of a friend. It also contains a memory of the promise of God that he knows us by name, created us and loves us: ‘Do not fear for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.’
Presumably Mary embraces Jesus because he tells her not to hold onto him as he has not yet ascended. This is particularly poignant for us this Easter. We can see those we love on the screens of our phones and computers, as real and yet as intangible as Jesus was to Mary in the garden that day, our love for them deepened by worry and by our longing to be with them and to kiss, hug and hold them. The present loss of physical human contact is a real sadness. How we shall appreciate the handshake, the sympathetic touch on the arm, the sensation of having our hair cut! All the small physical expressions of being together. After all, when we exchange the Peace we recall Christ’s presence among us, his love and healing touch, and we express our love for one another. To love one another is to share Christ’s peace.
Mary is sent from this encounter with the risen Christ to share the good news. She goes with prompt obedience to tell the disciples with a simple confession of faith: ‘I have seen the Lord.’
Where shall we see the risen Jesus this Easter?
Wherever there is hope, joy, love; in every gesture of reconciliation; in all efforts to be his hands on earth, to heal and comfort one another. This is an unusual Easter Sunday, but even in our isolation we are part of a company of millions of Christians around the world sharing the good news that, for all of us, he is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Thomas does not believe that Jesus is alive – until he actually meets him!
Imagine the scene. Mary has passed on the news that Jesus is risen – yet here are some of the disciples, fearful and hiding behind a locked door. Suddenly Jesus appears with those special words “Peace be with you”.
Before the current crisis, when we (perhaps) took our Sunday mornings in church for granted, we would hear, and respond to those words at nearly every Communion service. Words can become wallpaper if we’re not careful. Personally, I am thrilled to be reminded that these words, “Peace be with you”, were the first words Jesus said to his disciples when he appeared to them after His resurrection. When we get back into church, they will have a new significance.
Even more thrilling is what comes next. The disciples receive the Holy Spirit, and are commanded to continue Jesus’ work – forgiving (or not) the sins of others. Jesus has empowered the disciples to continue his work, and has provided them with the resource they need – the Holy Spirit. What a glorious moment for those who were gathered that day!
But Thomas was missing. He’s told about Jesus appearing and (as sceptical as we might be) says – show me the evidence. Can you blame him? It sounds too fantastic. And after all of the pain and despair of the crucifixion – perhaps he didn’t dare hope that this could be true.
A week later, and now Thomas does see and he does believe. He goes further than any of the other disciples when he declares Jesus to be not just “Master” but also “my God”. It is a breathtaking statement of new-found faith.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t withhold the ‘evidence’ that Thomas needs but encourages him to take a good look, to make sure it really is him, Jesus, who suffered on the cross, now standing in front of him. Jesus doesn’t say that Thomas is any less a disciple just because he wanted to see the evidence. He knew what Thomas was like and knew what Thomas needed in order to make the final connection and to be able to declare Jesus as master and God.
For me, it’s a reminder that Jesus always meets us where we are. For Thomas, who knew Jesus well, it was physical evidence that his master had risen. What might it be for us?
We are living in strange times. Some of us are scared about becoming ill or anxious about jobs and money. Others are worried about how to protect vulnerable loved ones. As a church we could not gather to mourn Jesus on Good Friday, nor to celebrate his life-giving resurrection on Easter Day. The comfort of bread and wine as a sign of our membership of the body of Christ is no longer possible.
But Jesus is still with us. He meets us where we are today. He is still alongside as we work out how to ‘be’ in this new world. He is still listening to our prayers, even when we are struck dumb by the tragedies we hear about every day. He is still sitting beside us, as we weep.
The gospel today reminds us that Jesus said “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.
Our church building may be closed, but we can share this blessing with others through acts of love. Collecting shopping or making phone calls to the housebound may not feel like an adequate response to the current crisis – but these are ways that we can carry out Jesus’ command to love our neighbours. We can be a blessing in our community.
I have a simple prayer for this week, which is that we may we all know God’s blessing, today and always.
Two disciples meet Jesus on the road and at supper
Emmaus Road: From
downcast faces to burning hearts?
Reflection by Naomi Lumutenga
Unlike the two travellers walking to Emmaus on Easter Sunday, we have the benefit of hindsight; we know that it was Jesus walking alongside them. What if it were you and I walking, chatting about the bizarre events of the weekend and then this stranger joins us and asks what we are talking about; what would you/I have said? Speaking for myself I would have been thinking or saying exactly what Cleopas said, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there….?”
Given the sense of emptiness that Jesus’s friends were feeling after his Crucifixion, their hopes that he might have been the Messiah to (finally) redeem Israel, that had just been dashed, it is not surprising that the two travellers’ ‘faces were downcast’. No wonder they sound irritated by the stranger asking them what they were talking about!
It is intriguing that the irritated travellers seem to quickly warm up to the stranger and begin to describe the events and their dashed hopes;
‘The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning, but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive.'
It was as if the two travellers were saying to the stranger, ‘Can you now understand why we are miserable and confused by the crazy women’s explanation of his empty tomb? He is alive? How? This is what we’re talking about!’
At this point Jesus snaps and berates them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe..’ He quotes Scriptures, right from Moses, through to what He himself preached - about his death and resurrection, so where had these two travellers been? Actually they appear to have witnessed much of it, because they refer to him as ‘… powerful in word and deed before God and all the people...’ So, did they think that this was just stuff for ‘...all the people..’ except them?
Two questions emerge here–
1) Why are the travellers ‘kept from recognising Him?’
2) Why does Jesus play along and not reveal himself right away?
It may be that
Jesus wants them to learn: 1) that knowing about him is not the same as knowing
him. The travellers had heard about the resurrection from Jesus preaching and
from the women who had been to the empty tomb that morning. But Jesus’
Resurrection was (still is) beyond human comprehension so, they had not
2) about themselves, how they deal with fear and their level of faith.
Despite their fears Cleopas and his fellow traveller (thought by some scholars to be his wife, Mary) invite the stranger into their home and he obliges. BUT, when their guest turns host and performs the familiar act of breaking bread, giving thanks and giving it to them THEN, their eyes are opened! It is the invitation that transforms their lives. As he quickly departs, their hearts are still burning (had been burning from earlier when he rebuked them), they return to Jerusalem to share the great first-hand news of Jesus’s Resurrection which they had earlier dismissed.
I believe that the road to Emmaus could be renamed the Christian journey. As is sometimes the case, it starts with travellers going the wrong way (Emmaus instead of Jerusalem), sharing bits of Scripture that they know of but don’t necessarily believe; a bit frustrated by (possibly) anti-Christian events or phenomena they cannot explain and oblivious to the fact that Jesus can turn up anytime anywhere. They feel obliged to invite a stranger into their home (incidentally this is normal in African cultures). Often such hospitality can be a blessing.
I know I am often too foolish to recognise and slow to believe Jesus alongside me and I need berating; rings a bell?
Are you feeling downcast by the current Covid-19 news and events? Are you so downcast by a personal or family issue that you risk losing sight of the same Risen Jesus who still seeks you out and walks alongside you?
Try inviting him in, he knows why your face is downcast, but he has enough grace to leave you with a burning heart.
John 10, verses 1–10
Jesus tells his disciples that he is like the gate for the sheepfold.
This week’s reflection by Sarah Emanuel
Jesus talks in metaphorical language here, of shepherds and sheep, of gatekeepers and gates, of thieves and bandits. We make the connections that Jesus is the shepherd, one who leads in humility; he is the gateway that leads to life; and he is also the lamb that died for us. A mixture of metaphors perhaps, but John’s poetic and rich writing intentionally suggests many meanings.
Jesus tells us about who he is, and who we are in relationship with him and in community with one another. He tells us here his very purpose in coming to us: ‘I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.’
If Jesus is the Good Shepherd and we are his flock, what is it that a shepherd provides for his sheep?
Protection from wolves and bandits, shelter from harsh weather, belonging within a flock, pasture and clean water, freedom to live without fear or hardship. All this is said beautifully in Psalm 23. And in the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-7) we understand that the shepherd also knows every one of his sheep by name and values each one. If one is missing he will search until it is found. The role of the shepherd is to care for and protect and promote the life and health of his flock.
In the same way God knows and loves and values each of us and has our best interest at heart; he will search for the missing one, look after the injured one; he will never forsake us; he wants us all to come to safety within his care.
And what does the shepherd require of his flock?
We know him by his voice, we hear it within us, call it conscience or promptings of the heart or what you will, we read it, hear it, sing it, listen for it. In essence, whatever meets the criteria, love one another and love God, sounds like his voice.
He knows us by name and calls us to follow him, and hearing him we follow. It’s a relationship of trust and intimacy.
Jesus also says, 'I am the gate for the sheep’. There are other ‘I am ...’ sayings in John: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ and so on.
What is the purpose of the gate?
It is to keep the sheep safe, once they have all been gathered in, from wolves and thieves. It doesn’t divide them, it is the way in to sanctuary and it closes once they are all safely in. Jesus doesn’t say he is the gate for his sheep, but for the sheep, for all of them.
At the moment, when things are very much out of our control; when as a flock we are scattered, confused and isolated, these images have particular resonance. The coronavirus has threatened all aspects of community life that we enjoyed and accepted as natural. In isolation we recognise how much we love, value and need one another, and how much our daily rituals and the patterns of everyday life and of our worship life revolved around being together.
In times of crisis we look in hope and trust to our leaders. The bottom-line purpose of government is presumably, and always has been since biblical times, to provide protection and ensure its people are fed. This is the basic challenge governments around the world are facing now.
So what of our relationship with Jesus and with one another at this time?
Christopher Jamison, Abbot of Worth Abbey, whom you
may remember from the TV series, The Monastery, described sanctuary as being
like the windows of a building which both protect us from the elements and
allow us to see other people and their needs, letting in the light of their
presence and allowing us to communicate with them. We can let others in through
the door of our hearts, and we are finding ways of doing so. We may be behind
closed doors and only see one another through windows at the moment, but we can
still be community. We are beloved of God. We are offered sanctuary and peace
in him through community with others, whatever new forms that takes, and
invited to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Gospel reading: John 14, verses 1–14
Jesus tells Philip that 'He who has seen me has seen the Father'.
This week's reflection by Rev. Lesley Hardy
What a cry from the heart comes from Philip in today’s reading..... “Jesus, show us the Father and we’ll be content......show us what God is like.” Isn’t that a cry that lies deep within so many? Who is God? What is he like? I think there is a deep hunger around in our world, as people search for meaning. What or who is God? And if he’s there, does he care about me? Or am I too small and insignificant? And maybe there are even more questions as we come to terms with living in a world coping with Coronavirus.
I wonder what you would say if someone asked you? What is God like? Because I think often we say things about God that don’t match up with how we really feel. So, we may say, and know in our heads, God is love, but then feel and act as if he is a kind of Victorian headmaster, of the worst kind, out to catch us doing wrong, and make sure we are suitably punished.
This view of God feeds into our desire to prove ourselves better than others, because deep down we are uncertain that we ourselves are loved and accepted.
So today, I thought we’d explore those words of Jesus to Philip “If you have seen me you have seen the Father”. What a claim! It’s as if Jesus is saying, “You know what, Philip, everything you have seen me say and do, everything I am, is not just me, it’s God the father in me, revealing who he is, what he is like, and what he wants to be to you. Everything I have shown you is straight from his heart.
"Do you remember the feeding of the five thousand? Those people had been without food for almost three days. You saw how hungry they were. And you asked, 'How will we feed them?' So I broke the loaves and fishes and divided them up. And you saw how the people grabbed at the abundance of food. You remember all the baskets of leftovers? I was feeding the hungry. I was doing what the Father had told me.
"Do you remember the woman caught in adultery? She was going to be stoned to death. And I told her, 'Go your way. I don't condemn you. Go and sin no more.' Those were my father's words to his dear child. It was a glimpse into his mercy, his desire to forgive!"
And of course we could go on. Jesus demonstrated with everything in him the amazing and deep love of God. The Father who welcomes every lost child longing for home.
And then Jesus says to his disciples, “When I go to the Father, you will do greater works than me.” For me, the greatest thing Jesus did, was to bring people back into a relationship with God as their father, showing them love and giving their lives a meaning. That is truly wonderful. And that’s definitely the greater work that we can be part of today.
Once we know how much we are loved, then we can share that love with others, because we know deep within that no one is beyond his love. And we are called to show them, and watch that love transform their lives.
There are seven billion bits of God’s heart walking this earth, each one of infinite value. Let’s help those we meet to see how precious and loved they really are, to show them the Father’s heart. Amen.
Gospel reading: John
14, verses 15-21
Jesus promises the gift of his Holy Spirit.
This week’s reading follows on directly from last week’s and continues with Jesus preparing the disciples for the time when he will no longer be with them. Following the triumphant procession into Jerusalem the mood has changed dramatically and a sense of impending doom must by now have been descending upon the group around Jesus.
Jesus says, “if you love me, keep my commandments; and I will ask the Father and he will send you a helper.” The original word in Greek for this helper, which has variously been translated as comforter, helper or advocate, was parakletos. This has no direct translation in English but could be seen variously as someone who is called in to advocate or give witness, or alternatively as someone who is called in, for example, when a group were dispirited and needed to be lifted up, given a boost. At that time the disciples would not yet have understood about the gift of the Holy Spirit, so this idea of a helper, whilst encouraging may have been confusing to those assembled.
Jesus then goes on to say that the world is not able to receive this gift because they do not see him or know him. Why could it be that the world in general, i.e. the general population cannot see this parakletos? Imagine for a moment that you were an astronomer, if you looked at the night sky, would you see things that others, not so understanding of the universe, might not be able to see; or if you were an art expert, would you not see things in pieces of art that others might miss. It is the same with the Holy Spirit, those who do not know of its presence will not see that it is there to help and guide us and, so, will not seek it. But we, who know of this presence are able to seek it to give us strength and support and comfort.
Jesus then goes on to say that he will not leave his followers as orphans, that in a little while the world will not see him anymore, but they will see him. When Jesus died and rose again he did not appear to the Pharisees or the scribes, but, even though he appeared to three thousand on one occasion, he was only seen by his followers, not by those who were hostile to him.
Jesus then returns to the theme of love requiring obedience when he re-iterates that whoever keeps his commands are those who love him. For John love is the basis of everything. God loves Jesus, Jesus loves God, God loves us, Jesus loves us and we love God through Jesus. However, John argues that love is only shown by obedience and full obedience is proof of that love. Through this love we will be loved by God and Jesus will be revealed to us.
This passage tells us that if we love God and are obedient to him, then we have available to us the most wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit that we can call on to give us strength, to be a guide, a support and a comforter. We only have to ask and the Holy Spirit will be there for us.
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