Here are my thoughts for Easter morning.
There is something that often seems to be forgotten about the first Easter day. That is the confusion.
I think, maybe, we have become so used to hearing the story as people turn up at the empty tomb, believe Jesus has risen from the dead and go away rejoicing and singing hymns that we miss the reality of what actually happened. The reality of that day is very different if you read the accounts.
The first thing we might notice is that the accounts all tell a slightly different story. This has excited those who need an excuse not to believe but they have always made far too much of those differences. We all should understand that there is usually a difference in eyewitness accounts – indeed if they were all the same we would be suspicious that there was some deception taking place (I can only imagine the claims that would be made if the gospels all told the exact same story). However, apart from lending credibility, it tells us just how confused the disciples have become (I include the women when I talk about the disciples, by the way, we should not miss the point they were the first witnesses both of the empty tomb and of the risen Jesus). They don’t all arrive at the tomb and go away believing Jesus has risen. Some of the disciples now see what Jesus has meant and for them it is enough but for most it isn’t.
Then there are the various meetings with the risen Christ. Some have a little trouble recognising Jesus (to my mind not a strange thing when you have seen someone executed and then see them again – if I saw my mum walking around Bridgwater, she died a few years ago, then I would not believe it was her even if she looked and acted exactly the same). However, this inability to recognise Jesus leaves some of them with all kinds of questions.
Then there are those who have not seen the risen Jesus yet but everyone is telling them they have seen him. Thomas, no doubt, trusted the other disciples completely and yet what could he make of their assertions that they had seen a risen Jesus? There is, I think, a bit of Thomas in all of us.
Let’s be honest here, dead people do not rise from the dead. We know that today and people knew it in Jesus’ day. When someone had been crucified the body was usually thrown on the local rubbish dump – if executed people had any chance of surviving or even reviving then they would not just dump the body. Ancient people might have lacked our understanding of modern medicine but they were not stupid – dead people are always dead. So when reports come out that someone has risen from the dead – they have trouble believing it, for many they find Easter day to be very confusing.
We live in a confusing time. None of us really knows how to act or what to do in this time. There is uncertainty every day. Many of the routines that we relied on have been upset. In some ways it is a time of restoration but in others stress and confusion. So what help is there in Easter this year.
Let’s go back to Thomas.
He finds himself face to face with the risen Jesus. His doubt is challenged and all his confusion is understood by Jesus. Jesus offers him reassurance but at this moment Thomas’ faith is enough and he declares Jesus Lord and God (he is the first to realise the truth of Jesus).
My message is to keep trusting God despite the confusion. It doesn’t mean your confusion doesn’t matter, just as Thomas’ confusion mattered to Jesus so our confusion matters to God. Take that confusion to God but let your faith offer you something more. Put your faith in the one who stilled the waters, the one who walks on water, the one who gives his life for us all, the God who have up heaven to live with us. Easter tells us that nothing, not even death is the end. Keep trusting God.
There is a kind of Christian prayer that has always been important to Christians at times of crisis. We seldom talk about it but it remains one of the most powerful ways to pray – and even to worship.
Several Psalms and many other prayers in the Bible take on this form.
In essence it is acknowledging our pain and dismay to God. God wants us to express what is in our hearts and if that is confusion, anger, sadness, frustration, etc. then we bring those to God in prayer.
This doesn’t mean that we doubt God or that God has the ability to help – in fact far from it, a Lament usually includes an acknowledgement of God’s sovereign power.
This may be just the time for a Lament. If you feel pretty helpless and maybe not sure what to pray at the moment, then bring all of that to God. You may not get a simple answer but God will hear your prayer and answer it in the way we need the most.
A hymn in the form of a Lament is the hymn “it is well with my soul”, written by its author in a time of terrible personal loss when much of his family drowned in a terrible accident.
I think one of the things that this Covid-19 shutdown has challenged us on is, how do we worship? When we do not have others to sit with or even someone else to lead our thinking and doing, how do we worship?
Some are doing their best to reproduce what is normally done on a Sunday in a Church. Hymns, readings, prayers and a sermon. I’m not going to knock that approach – at least it is something.
However, is this really the limit of our worship?
Worship – it seems to me – is about acknowledging who God is. God is the only one worthy of our worship (it won’t go to God’s head and make God unbearable for a start), nothing we say or do can ever express the true greatness or perfection of God.
So, how do we worship?
Music can help – Christians have always known this and made good use of music and singing. But there is much more to music than hymns and maybe this is a chance to explore some of it.
Prayer – obviously. But do we really need someone to lead us in prayer? If we have never learnt to pray on our own, now is the time to learn. For worship, of course, it should not be just a list of wants but reflection on who God is and in turn what that means to you.
Readings? By all means, we can’t get enough of scripture in my opinion. But perhaps this is more about learning and responding than worship itself. Although some parts of scripture certainly do inspire worship in us.
My prayer is that something good comes out of this time of being forced to separate. Perhaps by learning how to worship for ourselves we will be better equipped when we can do it together again.
Please don’t just long for what we can’t have but seek new ways of expressing your faith in worship.
Here are some things you can use today (29th March) for a time with God on this Sunday.
I’ve been adding some prayer resources you might like to use to the Circuit Web Site here ….
Five minutes with Michael Ramsden from RZIM – always worth listening to.
I’m posting some non-sense on Facebook each day to keep my friends entertained. I will also post them here (on this post) from time to time so if you miss an instalment or are not my friend on Facebook you can still read them (please do not take them seriously!!).
Disclaimer: None of this is true and no animals were hurt during the writing of these thoughts. More to come another time (if you can stand it).
I’ve been trying hard to survive my time shut in the house due to Covid-19. Being a good Methodist I’m missing the endless business meetings, of course. So in an effort to stay sane I’ve formed a Covid Flourishing Committee. I’m having trouble finding members to join though. I tried persuading my family but they all have prior engagements, apparently. We meet on a Saturday evening which clashes with the Choir I started yesterday but sacrifices must be made (to be honest nobody wanted to join my Choir either). I have managed to persuade one person to attend the meetings. I tried all the usual things: flattery, encouragement, begging. But in the end I resorted to my old favourite guilt and so I’ve agreed to attend the meeting – on a temporary basis (I imagine that means I will be able to give up in 20 years or so).
First item on the agenda was to plan some means of entertainment. We all agreed to learn a musical instrument. I started with the drums but apparently we need all the pans for cooking! I then tried the bagpipes but the neighbours wanted their cat back and I couldn’t get the pipes I had available to fit anyway. I then bought up all the toilet roll in the town and tried to make an organ from the tubes but I had a great deal of trouble sticking it all together (and the crowd of angry protestors outside the house is distracting). If anyone has an idea for an instrument you can make from 500,000 tins of beans (I’m imagining some kind of wind instrument) perhaps you could let me know. Oh, good news is I finished my first bottle of hand sanitiser, only 394,999 more to go. It is a good job the Churches are shut, at least I have somewhere to store it all.
I’ve had to rearrange things to get everyone in for the meetings. I’ve set out chairs around my study – an achievement in itself given its diminutive size and lack of any carpet showing through the piles of books (yes they are all important and yes I will read them one day). I have put coloured sheets on each of the chairs to represent my various moods during the meeting: Red represents anger (I seem to be sitting on that one a great deal), Blue represents sadness, Green represents calm. But then I ran out of sheets so my paisley pyjamas represent when I’m sleepy, a plastic sheet represents when I’m feeling sick about something and I’ve spread some nails on one to represent when I feel uncomfortable (this one seems to be very effective but it is taking me 10 minutes each time to remove some of my discomfort). Now that is done it is back to business.
We have a plan to help with social distancing – the appropriate pole. This will be a pole 2 meters long that everyone must carry. If you meet someone when out for a walk you simply poke them with the stick to ensure they keep the appropriate distance. This stick might also be useful in the future should you encounter someone you don’t like the look of and want to keep your distance from (e.g. members of the clergy who wear cassocks everywhere, politicians, salespeople and relatives, etc) . We experimented with an exclusion hoop to wear around your middle but when walking down the pavement we kept pushing young children off the pavement and in front of cars (for some reason the Ambulance service didn’t like us doing this). You may consider wiring up the pole to the mains in case someone comes to your door and won’t keep their distance.
Good news, we have decided to do a live stream of our service at 11:00am every Sunday. Unfortunately, we will be having our service at 8:30am and so it is all over by 11:00am. However, you might be in time to watch me drinking my after service cup of coffee and talking about what is the matter with the world today and haven’t we had good weather. We will also be live streaming our prayer meeting on Mondays at 2pm (the meeting is at 4pm) and a time of fellowship will be at 8pm (we are meeting at 6pm). I hope you appreciate the careful planning that has gone in to this arrangement.
I’ve been closely following the experts on FaceComic (it has less pages and is easier to read) and am developing some ideas of how to avoid getting the virus. My first theory is that the virus seems to find its way up people’s noses, so perhaps if noses were turned the other way it would stop it. Apparently, pliers don’t work, I’m told the swelling will go down in a few days. Instead I’ve taken to going everywhere upside down. Lacing my shoes with my feet was a little tricky and reversing the car is difficult but I’ve only hit four other vehicles so far so things aren’t too bad, although the Police have been very obstructive.
I’ve been thinking about how we might celebrate Easter this year – during our shut-in.
Why not decorate your window for Easter? Put some flowers in it or a cross or something just to show some kind of celebration.
You can make use of a couple of posters I’ve produced. One for Holy Week (Palm Sunday to Good Friday, inclusive – in case you get confused) and one for Easter saying He is risen! You could print them off an put them in your window and you can download them in pdf format from here Holy Week Easter