Dear Brothers and Sisters
I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling the burden of our social isolation, especially when it means that we’re not able to worship in fellowship in church. But I’m sure that God has lessons for us to learn if we will only keep our spiritual eyes and ears open, some personal and some corporate, some spiritual and some socially.
For me these last two weeks have probably been the toughest in my ministry and certainly the hardest run up to Easter I’ve ever experienced: Adding the virus and resulting lockdown, with all the attendant extra information and sudden and rapid developments of new ways of being a church that continues to worship in and witness to and serves our community has made the normal timescale to prepare and deliver Easter celebrations almost impossible.
I love Easter, it celebrates the greatest moment in history and offers the greatest hope and joy in life, but this year the extra challenges led a part of me to just not want to be bothered, to retreat into myself and just look after my own faith in my own way. But I praise God for you my brothers and sisters here in Weaverham, for your prayers, encouraging emails and cards and especially your patience, it has been invaluable in helping me to keep going.
So my apologies that there is no service this Good Friday, I just couldn’t get there, but there are real opportunities to celebrate the resurrection and to share a remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice for us. I will detail them briefly here and then get on with my reflection.
Easter Sunday morning, if you’re up for it (pardon the pun).
10:00am:- Churches together in Britain and Ireland are asking Christians across the country to “Sing the Resurrection”. Inspired by the Italian’s singing during their lockdown Premier Radio will play two classic resurrection hymns “Thine Be the Glory” and “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” and we are invited to stand in our gardens or on our porches and sing those two hymns.
10:30am:- I will lead a “communion” service over Zoom. During that service we will reflect on the wonder of Jesus’ offering of Himself on the cross, the joyful hope of His resurrection and the New eternal life that we can enjoy with God forever. We cannot celebrate Holy Communion, but we can celebrate our Lord’s last supper, which after all is what He actually asked us to do. So please have some form of bread and wine or fruit juice or grape with you if you are able to join the meeting.
It seems to me that we are living a prolonged period of Easter Saturday. For the first disciples it must have been crushing and disorientating making sense of what happened and the way they had been robbed of their Lord, teacher and friend. But they had each other for company and whilst we may be physically separate we do still have each other, this is one of the reasons why I have been happier about using Zoom for a service and not something like YouTube. There are plenty of churches offering services but Zoom enables us to be with each other.
Another way I have been “with” people is in the way they have stepped up and supported the life of our church, I keep starting to write a thank you at this point but the list keeps growing and then I worry that I’ll miss someone out, so I’ll just say thank you to everyone.
This week Chris has written an excellent Easter reflection building on the psalm I referenced last week and Sue has helped us in our reflections this week and Stephen and Sue will have reflections for us over the next two weeks.
So I will end here with a verse that sums up all this supportive fellowship and encourages us to keep on in the faith.
Ephesians 5:1, 18b-20
“1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. … but be filled with the Spirit, 19speaking to]one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, …”
God will show us the path of life: in His presence is the fullness of joy: and at His right hand there is pleasure for evermore. So may God give you His comfort and His peace, His light and His joy, in this world and the next;
and the blessing of God almighty the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be with you and remain with you always.
A Reflection for Holy Week and Easter Sunday
As you start this reflection can I ask you to find a space where you can relax? Take a moment to breathe slowly and deeply as you try to focus on God rather than the other demands on your time.
Be still and know that I am God,
Be still and know that I am God,
Be still and know that I am God.
There is a huge range of emotions shown in the story of Holy Week and Easter. We begin with the joy and excitement of Palm Sunday. This year I really missed the shouts of hosanna that normally begin our Palm Sunday services. Then as Holy Week develops we come to the Last Supper although the meal begins in happiness as the Passover is celebrated it ends with a sombre feel as Jesus talks about betrayal and denial.
We then move to the Garden of Gethsemane where there is a moment of high drama as Judas arrives to betray Jesus. “Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him. ”Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.”” I can’t really imagine what Jesus felt at that moment in time, he may have been saddened by Judas and fearful of what was to come. What about the disciples what would be running through their minds I wonder? At this point most of the men disappear.
Jesus is dragged away and put on trial; eventually he is condemned to death and Matthew pick up the story again. “3 They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 34There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. 35When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 36And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. 37Above his head they placed the written charge against him: This is Jesus, the king of the Jews.
45From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
50And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.”
Just listen to that cry of Jesus it seems to carry with it a world of pain and anguish. To me it is horrifying to think that Jesus himself at that moment in time felt lost and forsaken. We are told that “Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs.” Imagine the grief and pain of those women who stood looking on at these events. Some of his closest friend watched helplessly as Jesus was killed. They were completely helpless.
I don’t really want to compare the death of Jesus with our present day realities but these are difficult and for some painful times. We hear of people who seemed to be fit and healthy being struck down by a terrible disease and we fear the worse. Some people at the moment really do feel the pain of bereavement and they don’t always get to be with their loved ones to see them at the end.
Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and with very little ceremony he was buried and a stone cut tomb and that felt like the end of a great story.
But as a friend of mind said to me recently “the worst things are never the last things.” That is certainly the message of Easter.
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
8So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Our hope is not in a dead man, it is in the risen Christ and in him we find hope and even joy in the darkest of times. We believe that death is followed but resurrection.
As we come to the end of this reflection pause for a moment and recognise your own feelings. You may be concerned or saddened by things you see and hear or you may feel angry at the way things are, do you see any signs of hope? Offer all these feeling to God. Pray too for anyone you know who is struggling and especially those who have been bereaved.
May the hope of the risen Christ be with you and all whom you love,
Today and forever more