Even the elements of Creation paused in horror. How could this be happening? What measure of Love accepts crucifixion to redeem a lost world? What kind of people smash rough nails through ankles and hands, offer vinegar and insults, and mock the dying Man?
Darkness came upon the Land. Earth quaked. The dead, disturbed, disturbed the city.
A hardened executioner, expert in Death, trembled and murmured “Surely this was the Son of God.” So the skies grieved and the angels recoiled and the laughter of Hell reached a crescendo- then stopped, dead.
This corpse is like no other. Hell has no power; Greatest of Accusers, Satan, falls silent, dreading the next Battle. Already the smoky deceit of the Liar is being challenged, confronted by Christ. “Send guards to the tomb! Seal the stone, the biggest of Stones, over a gaping grave…” Jesus is dead… yet He refuses to bow down to the Deathmaster.
Let Caiaphas sweat, and Pilate dream nightmares of an Innocent, let Herod the Fox hear the Hounds of Heaven scenting the quarry. Even an Emperor, far off in Rome, cannot command the Christ. Though Jesus gave up his spirit, his story does not finish on the Hill of the Skull.
“For on the Third Day…” said Jesus, “I will Rise.”
I like to think I’d stay strong like Simon Peter. You know, recognising Jesus as God’s Messiah, walking on water, all that strong man stuff. A person of faith, bold- even brash- courage, answering questions and sticking with my excellent reasons for following Jesus. Who else has words of eternal life?
Hang on, though. It’s Thursday in a couple of hours: and that’s when it all went wrong…
Jesus mentioned being betrayed: well, it won’t be by Peter, that’s as sure as anything! I’m the strong, loyal one. But… didn’t Jesus say “Before the cockerel crows, Peter, you will deny Me three times.” Surely not, Lord, that’s as unlikely as Judas selling you out to the authorities! Must have misheard.
Peter, now in a cold sweat. So much happening, a cold garden, noisy soldiers, a slashing sword, and Jesus led away… “What are they doing to Him in there? I can’t go until I know… perhaps they’ll let Jesus go after all. Hot fire. I’ll just wait here. No, I don’t want to talk, just shut up. Leave me to my thoughts. Jesus? Did I hear His name? They’re talking about Him – Who me? NO, not me. Yes, the accent gives me away, I’m Galilean. No, I don’t know him. Will you just shut UP… For heaven’s sake… I never EVER knew Jesus!”
Talking Cockerel, stage left. “Pardon? O Peter, did you really… did you say you never knew him? Look at those flames, Peter. Burning like the garbage in Gehenna… bet you feel rubbish now, Peter. Hey, where are you going?”
Bystanders round the fire. “Yeah, he was a Galilean, I bet he did know him in there. Not got the guts to hang around, though! Not much of a friend… Where’s the Galilee man gone to, d’you think? That one in there, that Jesus, I heard he came to town like a king on a donkey… I heard him speaking once, seemed rather wonderful, but going against the establishment like that… wouldn’t want to be where he’s going…”
So I wonder. Would I have stayed by the fire? Would I have said “OH yes, I know Jesus, let I tell you what He’s like…”
Or just another betrayer doing a runner? Lord Jesus, forgive the feebleness of my heart… just as you forgave Peter…
Grey, dull miserable… that’s just the BBC. Outside: add drizzling, damp, cool, windy weather. What a start to Wednesday.
Then the display of orchids on my windowsill changed the way I perceived the day. A white one with yellow and pink; yellow and purple with two sprays of blooms; and the purple and white-spotted one. Immediately, my mind shifted gear: and I wrote a few lines trying to capture in words what I was feeling. The shape and colour fascinated and inspired heart and soul: such exotic beauty lifted my spirits and restored joy to life. So, go find a flower!
The WAY we see is as important as WHAT we see. Our perception of life is determined by our focus and choices.
“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” Henri Nouwen
So my view of today has been shaped by the vivid creative imagination of God, who thought about orchids- and I’m deeply grateful for living joy!
Even better than any poem, and even more wonderful than an orchid, as we get closer to Good Friday & Easter Sunday we can focus on Jesus. The story of his final journey is full of rich teaching and memorable moments and records his determination to fulfil his mission, whatever the personal cost. Reading this story will change the way we see life- because Jesus changed the ending. How then shall we live?
“Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
What am I photographing? Is it a famous Dartmoor bridge? Perhaps it’s the River Dart. Yes …. but… No. It’s the Sun.
“Eh?” I hear. “But the sun isn’t in the picture!”
Correct- but the Sun is too bright, too big, too awesome. No earth-bound camera can cope with that challenge. All we can do is record the effect of the Sun, showing how the light changes our perception of the world. Reflected by the stone and water inside the arch, light glows out. We just KNOW that if we looked through the arch, we’d see the sun (or be dazzled by it, anyway!).
When we say “What is God like?” we’re doing theology. Our problem is trying to explain and describe the gloriously indescribable- we lack the words to speak, and the mindpower to comprehend. Our best insight comes from the self-revelation of God’s true essence in the person of Jesus Christ. (Since it’s Lent, it is a great time to think about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.)
Imagine describing an elephant to someone who has never seen one. Ask two friends to draw a picture, one starting from above, and the second person working from the feet upwards.
The picture might look like the one below: and it’s a brain teaser! How many legs does an elephant have? Of course you know… but the drawing may make you rather confused.
Now, the conclusion of Christian theologians is that Jesus is the Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Three-in-One. How will you explain the Trinity? Tricky… our best efforts are incomplete. How do you “explain” Jesus as both human and divine? With difficulty. If you start from the top, the God-ness of Jesus, you will understand quite a lot. If you start from below, the human-ness of Jesus you will understand a whole lot more.
But the picture isn’t perfect, or without mystery. It’s like the “legs of an elephant” picture… and it’s the best we can do. So if someone understands a bit differently, perhaps it’s just because they’re seeing from a different angle. We can still be friends, and still follow the path of Jesus.
Jesus said “I am the Light of the world.” All our theology, and all our debates, are trying to describe the effect of Light in a world in shadow. Our God is too big, too strong and too Mighty to capture in our “brain-cam.”
He is LIGHT. In a dark time in a suffering world, it’s the Light that keeps us alive, still hoping, still trusting, May the Light shine on you!
Monday- the day after Resurrection Day. I wonder if John, the “beloved disciple”, started making notes? If John kept a diary…….
Dear Diary, I’m so happy I could burst! I hardly dared believe at first. Those dear, dear women, so excited, so scared, so certain. Then so out of breath, racing Peter to go and see for myself. I just couldn’t bring myself to go in. What if he was still there, dead? What if he wasn’t?
Not sure which thought was scarier!
Somehow, deep down, I knew it… and when Peter went in, his cry of astonishment gave me the courage to see for myself. Just the linens there, Jesus was gone. Such a strange day- what are you supposed to do when the dead friend isn’t there? Go for breakfast? Find some wine? Hide?
Mary of Magdala told us “I have SEEN the Lord!” She said Jesus spoke to her, I must check with her later exactly what Jesus talked about. Someone should write it all down so we don’t forget.
Anyway, we got together last night, the gang and me. Except Judas, of course… and Thomas. Don’t remember why Thomas was missing, I must ask him. He really missed out! We were all pretty jittery- so we locked ourselves in. Don’t suppose that would have stopped the guards if they turned up, but it felt a bit reassuring.
HE came in. No warning, door still locked, and looked at us- bunch of frightened rabbits that we were!
“Peace be with you.”
Immediately, the fear melted into the most wonderful joyous amazement! Laugh, cry, shout, fall down- I can’t really remember what I did- but it was glorious. The Marys all cried- there were tears of joy in my eyes, I can tell you. His Mum, well, sort of MY mother now, that’s going to take some getting used to! But I will look after her, I will, it’s the last thing Jesus asked of me. But if he’s alive again, erm, a dead man walking, no, no, a LIVE man talking! What happens next?
“Receive the Holy Spirit…”
I have a funny feeling feeling we haven’t heard the last of this.
How to explain this? A dead man taken down from that awful, hideous cross, hurriedly buried in solid rock, guards and all… now we don’t have a tomb to grieve at, the Cross is empty, and Jesus saying and doing stuff I can’t get my head round yet. How can I tell Thomas all this- what’s he going to think? Will he even believe us? I wish Jesus could have told him personally, Thomas will probably think we’re hysterical and imagining things.
Well, diary of mine, it’s getting late. I don’t know if I’ll get off to sleep tonight, but the oil in the lamp is pretty low, I’ve got some more, but I’m too tired.
It’s the eyes, you know. Those lovely eyes that look right inside and burn with a holy love. He looked right at me… he smiled, a little smile just for me, and he knew EVERYTHING I was thinking and feeling, and the sorrow and joy in his heart made me shiver and go hot all at once. All my worst fears, and my biggest hopes, they were reflected in his eyes. You know, it’s going to be alright.
There will be some shocked faces in Jerusalem in the morning. Will anyone believe us? “I have come that you may have life, REAL life…” That quote will be useful, I know it will. Real life.
REAL life. That’ll get me going in the morning. I wonder if Jesus will be back tomorrow… or the day after?
Some things speak for themselves. Few people seriously doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical figure- the evidence is too compelling. The crunch question has always been this: is Jesus still dead?
The closest eyewitnesses tell their stories plainly. Millions of lives have been changed for the better through faith in the one who came back from the dead. Those who had most to gain by disproving the Resurrection never succeeded. His body was gone from the tomb- and many witnesses risked their lives by testifying to meeting Jesus. And, honestly, who will die for a lie?
If Jesus has been raised from death, then at the very least he deserves a sincere investigation of the evidence.
I wish that Christians had always lived up to their beliefs and principles. But that is rather the point: we aren’t perfect- but we can be forgiven. We can live with a worthy purpose and a renewed love. We can live in healing communities of learning and accepting each other, and we can share in the task of mercy and rescue of the whole human race. Ultimately it isn’t about us. It is about Him.
So, is Jesus still dead?
Your answer to that question makes all the difference in the world.
But this bleak hill could tell a story… Uncounted years of sunshine and rain, stone cracking, wind blowing, history made and forgotten, footprints lost, memories murmured by melancholic men thinking of one hill, three crosses, and one Saviour.
God painted a canvas of mercy weaved into pain. Red blood, black flies, darkest sky and a crown with sharpest spikes on the head of the gentlest of Men, on the Hill they called the Place of the Skull. How apt indeed, place for solving inconvenient truth and inconvenient men!
Three victims there, and two deserved to die- the Other, here for a reason greater than the spite of conspiracies, jealousies, and fear.
We call it Good Friday, this saddest of days, when Death bit the bullet and swallowed itself. Hate did its worst- He breathed his last, the cry resounding from heaven to hell as Jesus tore open a doorway to Life.
The longest Friday. A few heroes, a broken hearted mother, rough soldiers, cruelly efficient, with onlookers weeping or carping- then gentle, sorrowful hands a cool palace of bedrock for the King of all Kings.
All hope seems suspended. The planet on pause- so much in the balance, who weighted the scales? Poets and prophets speak pictures and the critics complain, veiled hints and becomings unclear to their minds.
A red rose- the flower of romance. This little bud shows off the best quality of real love- resilience. Despite shocking weather for July (strong winds and heavy showers) it has blossomed boldly. The scarlet is intense, the fragrance delightful. Entirely suitable for a romantic gift to my sweetheart.
Yet if you look closely, you see the scars that it bears. The outer petals have been marked by the onslaught of the elements. Discolouration and ragged edges prove this rose is not just for a passing fancy. More than romance, this red rose speaks of true love.
Our constant flirting with romance and sensuality can cheapen our appreciation of real love. Lovers bear scars from the rough edges of life; lovers have learned to go through troubles and survive them. None of us can control the circumstances we will face over the years- but to be accompanied with true love means we face life with renewed gratitude for the good things, and shared sorrows for the sadness and loss that comes to us all.
For Juliet and I, a red rose brings back memories. We became acquainted through our church, and began the journey of discovery and joy that led us to our wedding. I wore a red rose in my lapel.
There is a deeper love that we have shared: it’s the Love we have discovered through Jesus Christ. It would take too long to tell our story; and some parts of it we will keep private. However, we can say that through our 33 years of marriage, there is a golden thread that binds us, and leads us to the Presence of the Christ that has been with us in joy, sorrow, confusion and uncertainty. Health issues have cropped up, and scared us silly. Believing in God, and trusting Him, is not a red carpet walk to dreamland! It’s about real life, real people, and continuing to trust whilst holding onto promises made and received.
When I was a kid, bumps and bruises could be sorted by getting Mum to “kiss it better.” Adults don’t qualify for that therapy! But sharing the best and worst of times, committed to holding each other up, and knowing that the greatest Love the world could ever know is a present Reality… well, there are scars but they are marks of triumph as well as suffering. The Christian good news is of a Saviour with scars, a Lord with the bruises of battle. Death and Resurrection… the first sounds so final, until you realise that Jesus defeated Death- and in His Resurrection, he triumphed for eternity.
To wonder if Jesus toyed with the idea of running away from the Cross… then to understand He embraced its cruel kiss. This is where the scars came from. If God were to sent you a red rose- would you reject it because its scarred marking, or rejoice in the resilience of True Love?
I wish I could give God a rose to say “Thank you.”
I don’t think He’d mind if it showed a few blemishes, some scars from the journey. I’m learning to be resilient, to keep on getting back to my feet after I stumble. I keep visualising an Arm across my shoulders, hearing an encouraging whisper in my ear, and picking up a fragrance that makes even the reddest rose seem not quite heavenly. Yet.
Thank You, Lord, for a resilient rosebud that taught me a valuable lesson today. Amen!
Easter Day was so different. We joined our local church family online: very grateful for technology, but missing the human contact. But YES – Jesus is Risen from the dead. Hallelujah!
What now? Imagine the disciples (minus the dead betrayer, Judas Iscariot) gathered together coming to terms with all that happened.”We saw Him… He spoke to us…” Fresh from their amazing encounter, the two from Emmaus rushed back to Jerusalem only to find the others already knew Jesus was alive!
Thomas speaks for many of us- he needs to be convinced… that’s a tale for another day. Jerusalem was in turmoil- rumours are circulating and the authorities are scared and furious.
Jesus has a timetable. His appearances continue to surprise, encourage and challenge. “Wait until Pentecost” – the next great feast-day. In the meantime, the disciples are supporting each other and learning to depend on the Risen Christ without His constant physical presence. They are also learning more of each other as they begin to consider the future. “Team Jesus” is being prepared.
Like the disciples, these days after the Resurrection present a challenge. What do we do with this astounding Good News?
Waiting on the Lord is a good start: we too need Pentecost power, and the annual reminder and refreshment is vital. Let’s seek Him now, wholeheartedly.
Some time back Juliet and I stayed in a hotel by the Thames. An early morning stroll beside the river was notable for a speedy pass by a racing rowing team. Smooth as silk, precise as a machine, their oars rose and dipped as the fragile boat sliced through the water.
Imagine the hassle if just one lost rhythm… if an oar clashed, or a backside slipped! Graceful and vigorous, this team was serious about their race. Their sheer committed energy was thrilling and exhausting to watch! They were preparing now so they could WIN when it counted.
In these days of lockdown we can’t do “team practice.” But we can use our time and the changed social patterns to prepare. Some of Christ’s followers are carrying the burden of the NHS, of food supplies, of caring, emergency services- these key workers will need a hero’s reception and a rest!
The rest of us? The stay-at-homes. How will the Kingdom of servant-witnesses emerge from the days of restriction? Will we crawl out, blinking like moles in the sudden sunlight? Or might we come out strengthened, built up, spiritually sharpened and Spirit-filled? Taking living Good News into a community that is finding out now that life is more than wealth or status. Discovering people eager to pray, to seek a reality beyond what we had in our fractured society.
The Kingdom of Christ spread from Jerusalem in a pandemic of LOVE, telling stories of grace, hope, and justice. Signs of the Kingdom followed as words and actions combined in Christ-like positivity. What will the history books say about the way church in our generation emerges from the darkness of Covid-19 fear and loss?
May they read Jesus in our eyes, ears, hands, and hearts- and words of everlasting life. The race is on…
So what am I supposed to do today? Yesterday was Good Friday. I reflected on and, as every Good Friday, remembered the horrifyingly cruel and unjust suffering of Jesus on the Cross. The worst that humankind could do to the One who loved us unconditionally with His arms stretched wide open. Deep grief with a strange sense of thankfulness: “It is finished” were words that declared the end of the beginning.
Tomorrow is Resurrection Sunday, Easter Day, when we will celebrate the Resurrection of Christ- dead, buried, cast aside, then gloriously vindicated through the death of Death, the outpouring of glory and the Beginning of new Beginnings. Wonder, gratitude, laughter, tears- He is Risen! Disciples coping with the unthinkable. “We have seen the Lord” the greeting that lit flames of hope in broken hearts.
Today? Holy Saturday. What am I supposed to do?
My photo today comes from a butterfly hatchery where assorted shapes and sizes of chrysalis hang silently on their frame. Just waiting. Inside, an astounding transformation is taking place. No longer caterpillar, not yet butterfly…
Waiting is essential. It takes as long as it takes. Any attempt to “help” them along will kill or maim- even when they begin to emerge, the actual physical struggle is vital to develop and strengthen their wings. Haste will destroy them or condemn to a land-bound crawling weakling existence, doomed to an early end. Just wait, and watch. The process cannot be hurried, the outcome more beautiful than we expect.
It begins… the new insect arrives, the shell is discarded. When out of their cradle, butterfly wings of beautiful pattern unfold. Brown, with exquisite “eyes” and coloured markings… the best is yet to come. At the right time, the wings open and a richly spectacular vibrant blue announces a joy-bringer has come to the world! Whoever sees this butterfly will be gifted with beauty beyond imagining. A brown “lump” has become a work of art!
Holy Saturday. Just WAIT.
I shall get on with my day. Whatever activities may require my attention, whatever pleasant distractions come my way, whatever pain or sadness is in “my” world, I am waiting.
Waiting for LIFE to be announced afresh. For a certainty of forgiveness, reconciliation, purpose. To echo the cry of nearly two thousand years- “Christ is risen- He is Risen indeed!”
God’s Love came down to Earth. Now He rises to open the gates of the New Creation and invite us within. For now… today…