The Gospel reading set for today is from Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel. In this reading, Jesus declared himself to be the bread of life and that all who come to him in faith would never be hungry and that those who believed in him would never be thirsty. But it was clear that the disciples still doubted, despite the fact that they had only just witnessed Jesus both walking on the water and feeding the five thousand with five small loaves and two fish.
I think that if I had personally witnessed just these two miracles, I’m not sure whether I would have had doubts. But that’s with the benefit of 2,000 years of Christianity and thousands, if not millions of stories and studies into the New Testament. I wonder if we today are less sceptical than the original disciples? We are all very familiar with the stories surrounding Jesus both during his lifetime and also in the immediate aftermath of his crucifixion. But does that make us nowadays greater believers than the original disciples?
Christians today have so much academic study to guide us in our faith. But I also think that if today we were to witness these miracles, we would almost certainly be sceptical that there were some magic tricks being sprung on us, similar to the acts of stage magicians. I wonder if that is why the disciples just couldn’t take in the enormity of the reality of these miracles and, perhaps, had doubts about Jesus’ actions and whether they were being tricked in some way.
I think that we today need to faithfully believe in what Jesus did when he was performing miracles and prayerfully try to overcome any doubts that we may have that what took place was no ‘magic’ trick but demonstrated that Jesus was indeed the Son of God and had power given to him by his Father. If we can overcome any nagging doubts about the reality of these miracles, I believe that we will then become more faithful Christians.
Our Gospel reading is from John’s Gospel, Chapter 20, Verses 1-18.
This Gospel reading tells the story of the discovery of Christ’s resurrection. After his crucifixion, Christ had been placed in the tomb and a large stone had been rolled in front of the entrance. At the time, this was quite a common way of burying people, particularly those who were well off and could afford to buy a tomb such as had been donated for Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph had donated what was to have been his own tomb to Jesus.
But this reading is the story of Jesus’ miraculous reincarnation. Once Jesus had been buried, the disciples and all those who witnessed the crucifixion must have thought “Well, that’s the end of that” and went about their normal business as much as they could in the circumstances. The Apostles must have wondered what was going to happen next, having followed Jesus and been taught by him for more than two years.
We have been to the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, to what is widely believed to be the tomb from which Jesus arose. It is now in a very pretty garden – next to a main bus station! But it gives a sense of what, first, Mary Magdalene and then the Apostles would have encountered on the day of Jesus’ resurrection. It would have been quite a feat of strength to have rolled away the stone that stood in front of the tomb and, clearly, the Apostles didn’t at first believe Mary Magdalene when she told them that Jesus’ body was not there, but only his grave clothes remained in the tomb.
The Apostles must have been as amazed as Mary Magdalene was. She had also had the amazing encounter with the two angels seated in the tomb where Jesus had been laid. What a shock that must have been to her – I think that it’s pretty rare to meet with angels! But then the situation became even more amazing when Mary Magdalene met Jesus and at first didn’t recognise him. It was only when Jesus called her by name that she cottoned-on to who he was and, although she must have wanted to hug him, he declined and told her instead to give the news to the Apostles.
What a message of hope this is. At what must have been the darkest time in the Apostles lives, they were given the hope that Jesus had not just died, but had risen from the dead to come back to them. This message of hope is still with us today, 2,000 years later and it is absolutely right that we celebrate this incredible story on this most holy day of the Christian year. May we all have a happy Easter and rejoice in remembering that Jesus is the risen Christ.
‘Unsettled’…’confusing’ … ‘strange’. All words we’ve heard to describe these weeks of COVID-19. Yet, there begins to be talk of the possibility of the pandemic having perhaps peaked here in Cyprus; rumours of hope; glimmers of light in the darkness.
This morning felt a little strange, as I received greetings from friends elsewhere celebrating Easter Day, in line with the western calendar. For this year, in solidarity with the Orthodox Church in Cyprus, we celebrate Easter next week, and so Palm Sunday today.
Today, about the time that Easter dawn services were taking place online in the UK, Christopher and I said Morning Prayer for Palm Sunday. We prayed in bright sunshine. The veranda door was open and I became aware of three things: the quiet of stilled traffic; the sound of birdsong; and the lovely chanting of the Orthodox priest from our village church. It felt good to be in prayer together on Palm Sunday.
9.30am approached and we sat together to watch our pre-recorded Palm Sunday service – another strange experience, particularly as there was no sound initially! But the hitch did give us an opportunity to enjoy Zoom coffee and conversation both before and after the service! And I’m so grateful for the technology and for Richard’s expertise, which enabled us to worship and to come together as a community in these strange times. Opportunities for love shown and love shared; glimmers of light in the darkness.
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, when we journey with Christ ever closer to the cross. It’s that week when Jesus did things that were so very extraordinary – that seemed so strange and unsettling to his friends. The week he rides into Jerusalem on a donkey; overturns the moneylenders’ tables in the temple; eats with the wrong kind of people yet again; allows a woman to anoint his feet with oil; washes his disciples’ feet; dries them with a towel; prays with passion in the garden; and permits himself to be arrested. Strange and unsettling times indeed.
As we share in the strange events of this week with Jesus and his disciples we will find, amid suffering, that there is love shown and love shared. There are glimmers of light in the darkness. For we journey through the confusions of this week as Easter people, in the certain knowledge of the resurrection that is to come.
I am finding it interesting how often now I see people signing off from a message not simply with their love, good wishes or regards, but with ‘stay safe’.
We have been used to threats to our safety coming in the form of violence, whether by aggression or accident, that attacks us. So our thought for others is that they will be as careful as possible to avoid injury and stay safe from harm. We try ourselves to minimise risk by avoiding areas known for trouble, by driving carefully, by looking both ways before crossing the road, by using the appropriate safety equipment for any activity. This is commonplace in our lives.
The ending of a message may become formulaic, words we have been taught that are correct and polite to put at the end of a letter, or in finishing a conversation. I always find it odd and a little untrue that phone calls in films and on television don’t end with good wishes and proper goodbyes, they just stop.
I try to choose these words for ending carefully. I do want to be polite in a general way, but I also want to try to be genuine with that person, so that I am expressing my hope for them.
I think that is what we are doing currently when we write or say, ‘stay safe’. We are giving voice to our hope, that this person will continue to experience safety from harm.
May our hopes be not a matter of form or politeness. May our hopes be also our prayers.