Sunday, 24 April 2011
The picture is of the Easter Candle in St Magnus, decorated by Carol Wishart. (Thank you Carol.)
Jesus said, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it remains but a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit”
“if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”
Following Christ means death and life. It means dying daily and rising daily.
Throughout the gospels the talk of dying and rising, or death and life, are all about transformation, and Paul picks this up very strongly in his early epistles when he too speaks of being dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. The old order is gone, behold a new creation.
To follow Jesus all this way to Jerusalem is in fact to follow him to death and life. Jerusalem is the place of endings and beginnings, it is the place where we are asked, “can you drink of the cup that I am to drink?” Or otherwise can you die with me?
Easter therefore faces each of us with some pretty hard questions, these are somewhat lost of we choose just to think about the day being a day of rejoicing and alleluias.
We need to put ourselves into the story, we have to see ourselves at every turn of the page.
As we have seen many times our story and the story of Jesus push up against each other, and His story can significantly change our own.
What is more this transformation was not just personal, it also played itself out in community, the disciples drew others to them by being this transformed community, and Paul describes baptism as a means of dying and rising with Christ into a new community of Faith.
The Way of Christ is the way of dying and rising, it is the way of being born again. Dying and rising is the way to God.
The cross has become the enduring symbol of Christianity. But we miss the amazing point of this as it was an abhorrent symbol of execution and of everything oppressive with the world.
How did such a thing of horror get to be used as the symbol of a life giving faith? It was through the cross that life was revealed, it is through death that life is once again restored.
We are celebrating this today. The cross is the signpost for the way we should follow. The cross shows us the people we can become, it reveals the person loved by God, the person being called to be a new creation in God’s eyes.
This is the possibility for you and I today, and every day in Christ.
We need to be born again. To peel off the layers like an onion which we have and the world has layered upon us in our life.
I came across this lovely story recently of a three year old girl. She was the first born and only child in her family, until her parents had a new baby brother for her. Within a few hours of the new baby brother being brought home from hospital the little girl made a request to be alone with her new brother in his room with the door shut. Her insistence about being alone with the baby with the door shut made her parents a little uneasy, but then they remembered they had set up the baby monitor intercom so they realized they could be on call the moment they heard anything concerning happening. So they let the daughter spend time in the room with her baby brother, and they heard her saying to the brother “Tell me about God – I’ve almost forgotten”.
We so easily separate ourselves from God, we make him as a distant being, and in so doing also make him almost beyond our reach.
Jesus came to help us again realise that God is for us, that he is reachable, even touchable through the incarnation. The disciples learnt to see God in the Face of Jesus, they learnt what it was to walk with him the way of the cross. They sat down and ate with him, and we do the same through our Eucharist.
As we celebrate Easter once again, may we recognise the living God walking with us and breaking bread again with us.
May the new life surge through our souls too, that we may once more learn the closeness of God to us.
Alleluia Christ is Risen
He is risen indeed alleluia
Friday, 22 April 2011
X has always marked the spot hasn’t it?
When I was a young boy I used to help at the Church Summer Fete held on the field next to the church and I was often given the task of looking after the Buried treasure map, you know the one where people have to guess where it is buried and if they are right they win the prize. X has always marked the spot and people wrote their Xs on the map and all was revealed at the end of the afternoon.
Pirates with one wooden leg and a parrot on their shoulder always have a an old piece of parchment handed down the generations or stolen from some unsuspecting wayfarer, and on this parchment the X always marks the spot where the buried treasure is to be found after the struggles and battles of the story have unfolded.
Soon we will be putting our X on the spot to mark the person of choice.
In my registers in Cambridge many people wrote their X as their mark when signing the register for their marriage or witnessing the marriage.
X simply marks the spot.
Today we come to the X that might mark the spot for us. That cross that spans the gulf of our lives, or is it the gulf that our lives have made, or is it the gulf of time itself?
We gather on this day particularly because for some reason and the reasons may vary, the day of crucifixion or the sign of the cross and what it represents to us is important.
I was reading the other day a wonderful book by Robert Macfarlene called the wild places. He explores many wilderness places and writes about them eloquently, bringing such barren and “empty” places to life with meaning and life.
At one such place in Sutherland he describes the resting place of a young girl Elsa Danckwerts who died in 1902 as it stands at the scene of one of the darkest episodes in Scottish history. At the beginning of the 19th century 1,200 people were evicted to make way for a more lucrative use for the land. In one diary it is recorded by Donald Macleod that he “walked at eleven o clock at night to a hill above the strath, and looked back. In the darkness, he wrote, he could still hear the cries of women and children, the barking of dogs and the lowing of cattle. He could see, too, the buildings of that district, over two hundred of them, burning, either in full flame or collapsed into glowing timbers. ..”
This place, like many even today, was turned into a wilderness. Lives like many today were uprooted and made insecure to the point for thousands, that existence has become untenable.
Mental illness and distress is greater today than it has ever been, lives, families and homes, are still it seems at the mercy of modern society.
This cross around which we gather spans these many gulfs, and this cross becomes today the place where things meet. Somehow, we claim this cross has to make sense, or hold together, or solve the problem. Somehow this cross says that God is at the place of division, at the wilderness place, at the place of personal stress tension or at the place of breakup and destruction.
Robert Macfarlene writes of an experience soon after that place of human misery:
“As the day's light lessened, I walked back down to the river's mouth, and in the shallow waters of the estuary, where the salt and the fresh wove with one another, and the river lost itself gently into the increased space of the ocean, I swam briefly. Though I could not see how the two waters mingled, I could feel it all about me: the subtle jostle of currents, and the numberless small collisions of wave and ripple.” (Robert Macfarlene: The Wild Places)
The cross by which we stand today becomes this place where things are woven together. We cannot often live lives as if we were either disconnected with our own pasts or with previous generations. “Who do you think you are” is an interesting programme which sometimes highlights the need to see links, and today the tracing of family history is also bigger than it has ever been, simply because we have this innate desire to be connected, or at least… to know.
We also cannot see how the two mingle but we know we can feel it all about us, and the cross today marks this spot.
I was speaking with someone last week about how lives become fragmented and literally broken sometimes when something in the past has not been “worked through”. This is often most obviously seen in some cases of bereavement, when many years later problems may arise if some “trauma” has not been “worked through and dealt with” (the sweeping things under a carpet syndrome…. Or in modern parlance “walk away from it.)
For me the cross is the meeting place, the place where the mingling takes place the place where God can slip sometimes quietly into a space in my life and make sense of something my mind cannot. The cross marks the place..
We often hear said don’t we…”Caught between a rock and a hard place” perhaps another way of expressing this could be….. held between a rock and a hard place…… the cross marks the place.
There is a problem however, if we see this place as a place of destruction and as a place of annihilation. Good Friday as a day apart could for me only ever be an unbearable place, It would finish me off. I might feel trapped by the past, haunted by the wrongs either I had done or those that have been done to me. There would be no escape. Life would be unliveable, and I can certainly understand why those caught with that sense of humiliation and senselessness go on to commit suicide.
The Cross marks the spot today not because it pins us to it, not because it hold us there, but because it can mark the place of treasure. The X is the place where riches are found.
The pearl of great price is buried just beneath the surface, and we can give ourselves to obtain this.
Good Friday and Easter Day are essential to each other. One cannot be without the other, and though we find it hard to realise Pain and Joy are also bedfellows.
The Cross is the place where things meet and are made sense of today.
We adore you most holy Lord Jesus Christ because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
We adore you most holy Lord Jesus Christ because through your holy cross our life of deaths and lives are brought together and given meaning.
As we stand here we cannot see how it is happening but we can feel the collision of waves and ripples.