Easter Sunday: Encounters


Isaiah 25:6-9
Acts 10:34-43
John 20:1-18

Risen Christ,
for whom no door is locked, no entrance barred:
open the doors of our hearts,
that we may seek the good of others
and walk the joyful road of sacrifice and peace,
to the praise of God the Father. Amen

There is an urban myth in the Church of England about a Curate who was asked to preach on his first Easter Sunday in the Parish. He got into the pulpit, announced that ‘Jesus is Risen. There is nothing more to say’ and promptly sat back down. While tempting as that may seem, I do have more to say than that.
Jesus is Risen. That is the message of today.

This morning we will look at the life changing encounters four people had with the Risen Jesus. If you have heard this story a thousand times, I urge you to approach the tomb with fresh eyes and ears this morning.

If we believe that on the cross of Good Friday Jesus took on all our sin, shame, fear, anxiety, doubt, loneliness, grief, disappointment and everything else that is wrong, and it died with him, then what does the empty tomb of Easter Sunday look like for us?

In the other Gospel accounts there are a variety of Marys and other women at the tomb that first day. Only Mary Magdalene is named in all of them. John records her as being the first one there while it was still dark. Darkness in John’s Gospel was his way of indicating confusion, misunderstanding and unbelief. The first trip she only got close enough to see that the stone had been removed.

Mary had come to know Jesus and the disciples; it appears that she travelled with them, spent time with them. Mary Magdalene was at the cross when the others had gone. Mary has seen all that has happened in the last few days; yet she doesn’t understand it and she is emotionally overwhelmed.

Mary goes back to the tomb a second time after she gets Peter and John. She is still weeping; still not understanding. So disturbed is she that the two angels do not phase her. Everyone else who encounters angels in the NT reacts with fear; even Mary and Joseph. Not Mary Magdalene.

Mary is so distressed that she does not even recognise Jesus when he appears to her and He is the one she is looking for! Until He says her name. Mary. Then it all clicks. She heard the voice of the good shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep, who knows and calls them by name.

Mary has not been abandoned. Jesus is alive. She is still looking for the body and calls Jesus ‘rabbouni’ – teacher. Jesus is more than that. He sends her away with the gift of new sight; being able to see the old with the new. Jesus then sends her back to the disciples to explain to them what has happened.

Then we have John, the disciple whom Jesus loved and also the disciple that wrote this account. He tells us twice that he got to the tomb before Peter. Yet John stops short too as he hesitates. John goes further than Mary. He at least looks in the tomb even though he does not enter.

John’s struggle is a deep disappointment. John was loyal, faithful and obedient to the end; he being the only male disciple left at the foot of the cross. All that loyalty, all that faithful service, was it all for nothing? Maybe John could not face one more disappointment. Maybe John got as far as he could but not one more step.

Maybe like John you keep praying, serving, doing the stuff but maybe there are not as many victories as you would like. Not willing to risk any more disappointment with life, with people.

John’s encounter with the Risen Jesus is to believe in Jesus’ resurrection, believe that a new creation had begun and believe that the world had turned a corner. The placement of the grave clothes for John was all the proof he needed. Why is this important?

If you remember the story of the raising of Lazarus, he needed someone to untie him; a bit like a mummy needing to be unbound. Lazarus came back into the world and would have died again. When Jesus came out of the tomb, his strips of linen remained on the bench where he was laid as though his body passed through.

Jesus has gone on through death into a new world, a new creation, a new beyond where death had been defeated and life in fullness could begin at last. This meant that John could leave his disappointment behind, all that he had done, all the loyalty, faithfulness was all for something, someone.

In keeping with his personality Peter runs right into the tomb. Got there second but the first one in. Peter goes further than Mary and John. Peter is spurred on by guilt and shame. Peter is hoping that it is all true because he needs one more chance, needs to be redeemed and start again.

Peter loved Jesus but when it really really mattered Peter failed Jesus in his denial. We all have had Peter moments. Guilt and shame is exhausting to carry around. While Peter’s ‘big’ encounter with the Risen Jesus happened on the beach a few days later, his restoration and redemption starts today. He needed the tomb to be empty and for Jesus to have been raised as he said he would be.

Peter comes away from the tomb and it is a new day, a fresh start for him. He could leave his guilt and shame behind. Peter takes this fresh start and founded the church, he speaks boldly and passionately that Jesus is the Lord of all, the healer and the helper. Peter was an original witness who never again denied Jesus.

Mary gets to the tomb overwhelmed by grief and emotion, looking for the dead body. She encounters Jesus and goes away knowing that she has not been abandoned and she now needs to tell the others about Him.

John comes disappointed and goes away believing in the Resurrection and who Jesus is. Everything that he had done had meant something, been worth it.

Peter comes burdened by shame and guilt and goes away with a fresh start. In the Acts reading we see what Peter went on and did with his fresh start. He told people about Jesus with power and purpose and persuasion. He did it for the rest of his life and was eventually crucified for it; upside down on a cross.

The empty tomb proved once and for all that death has been defeated – there is hope beyond the grave. There is Risen life with Jesus for us all. Whatever condition you find yourself in at the tomb this morning an encounter with Jesus can change you, heal you, restore, redeem and release you. This is what today is about.

Good Friday: An Hour at the Cross

March 29, 2024

Hymn: Praise to the Holiest in the Heights 

The First Word: Forgiveness
‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’

Luke 23:26-27, 32-34

As they led Jesus away to be crucified, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him.

Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots to divide his clothing.

Silent Reflection


‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’

Father, we give you thanks, because while we were yet sinners, you sent your Son to die for our forgiveness.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you

Because, by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

The Second Word: Salvation
‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise’ 

Luke 23:35-43

The people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

Silent Reflection

‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

Father, we give you thanks, that through Christ’s death on the cross, you welcome us into your presence and open the way to eternal life with you.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you

Because, by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

Hymn: When I survey the wondrous cross 

The Third Word: Relationship
‘Woman, here is your son.’
John 19:25-27

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

Silent Reflection

As Jesus is dying, his mother is among those who remain with him. Most of the male disciples have fled, with the exception of one called “the disciple he loved.” Many interpreters believe he is John, the writer of this Gospel. Here Jesus forges a relationship of mutual caring between this disciple and his mother; he wants to make sure she will be in good hands after his death.

The presence of Mary at the cross adds both humanity and horror to the scene. We are reminded that Jesus was a real human being, a man who had once been a boy and who had once been carried in the womb of his mother. Even as he was dying on the cross as the Saviour of the World, Jesus was also a son and a friend.

When we think of the crucifixion of Jesus from the perspective of his mother, its horror increases greatly. The death of a child is one of the most painful of all experiences. We’re reminded of the prophecy of Simeon shortly after Jesus’ birth, when he said to Mary: “And a sword will pierce your very soul” (Luke 2:35).


‘Woman, here is your son.’

Father, we give you thanks, that through Christ you invite us into a relationship of love with you and all your world.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you

Because, by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

The Fourth Word: Abandonment
‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

Mark 15:33-35 

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’

Silent Reflection

As Jesus is dying on the cross, he echoes the beginning of Psalm 22:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief. 

In the words of the psalmist Jesus finds a way to express the cry of his heart: Why has God abandoned him? Why does his Father turn his back on him in his moment of greatest agony?

We will never fully know what Jesus was experiencing at this moment. Was he asking this question because, in the mystery of his incarnational suffering, he didn’t know why God had abandoned him? Or was his cry not so much a question as an expression of profound agony? Or was it both?

In that excruciating moment, Jesus experiences something far more terrible than physical pain. The beloved Son of God knows what it is like to be rejected by his Father. As we read in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”.

We can hardly grasp the mystery and the majesty of this truth. As Martin Luther once said, “God forsaking God. Who can understand it?” Yet even a tiny glimpse of this reality calls us to confession, to humility, to worship, to adoration.


‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

Father, we give you thanks, that Jesus was willing to experience abandonment, so that we might not need ever to be abandoned.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you

   Because, by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

Hymn: There is a green hill 

The Fifth Word: Distress
‘I am thirsty.’

John 19:28-29

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 

Silent Reflection

John records that Jesus said “I am thirsty,” not only as a statement of physical reality, but also in order to fulfil the Scripture. Perhaps John was thinking of Psalm 69, which includes this passage:

Their insults have broken my heart, and I am in despair.
If only one person would show some pity;
if only one would turn and comfort me.
But instead, they give me poison for food;
they offer me sour wine for my thirst.

As he suffers, Jesus embodies the pain of the people of Israel, that had been captured in the Psalms. Jesus is suffering for the sin of Israel, even as he takes upon himself the sin of the world.

Our own thirst is nothing like that of Jesus. Rather, we are thirsty for him; our souls yearn for the living water that Jesus supplies. We rejoice in the fact that he suffered physical thirst on the cross – and so much more – so that our thirst for the water of life might be quenched.


‘I am thirsty.’

Father, we give you thanks, that through Jesus all our thirsts are satisfied. May we cry out to you in our distress and may our thirst be for you alone.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you

Because, by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

Hymn: The head that once was crowned with thorns 

The Sixth Word: Triumph
‘It is finished!’

John 19:30  

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ 

Silent Reflection

When Jesus says this word, perhaps he is expressing relief that his suffering is over. But the Greek verb translated as “It is finished” (tetelestai) means more than just this. Eugene Peterson captures its full sense in The Message: “It’s done . . . complete.” Jesus has accomplished his mission; this is a cry of triumph. He announced and inaugurated the kingdom of God. He revealed the love and grace of God. And now he embodies that love and grace by dying for the sin of the world, thus opening up the way for all to live under the reign of God.

Jesus accomplishes what we never could, taking our sin upon himself and giving us his life in return. Jesus finishes that for which he was sent, and we are the beneficiaries of his unique effort. We have hope for this life and for the next. We know that nothing can separate us from God’s love. One day what God has begun in us will also be finished, by his grace. Until that day, we live in the confidence of Jesus’ cry of victory: “It is finished!”


‘It is finished!’

Father, we give you thanks, for Jesus’ faithfulness and obedience to your will, so that his death on the cross is no defeat but a great triumph for your love.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you

Because, by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

The Seventh Word: Reunion
‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’

Luke 23:44-46 

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.

Silent Reflection

Earlier Jesus uses Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” to express his anguish. Now he borrows from Psalm 31, in this final word: “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands.”

But when we look further at this psalm, we see more than what at first meets our eyes. Psalm 31 begins with a cry for divine help:

O Lord, I have come to you for protection; don’t let me be disgraced.
Save me, for you do what is right. (v. 1)

But then it mixes asking for God’s deliverance with a confession of God’s strength and faithfulness:

I entrust my spirit into your hand.
Rescue me, LORD, for you are a faithful God. (v. 5)

By the end, Psalm 31 offers praise of God’s salvation:

Praise the LORD, for he has shown me the wonders of his unfailing love.
He kept me safe when my city was under attack. (v. 21)

In quoting a portion of Psalm 31, therefore, Jesus not only entrusts his future to his Father, but also expresses faith that he will be delivered and exonerated. No, God does not deliver him from death by crucifixion. But beyond this horrific death lies something marvellous. Here Jesus points forward to the resurrection.


‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’

Father, we give you thanks, that in his death Jesus was reunited with you in perfect union with the Holy Spirit. May we place ourselves wholly into your hands, and trust in your gift of new life.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you

Because, by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

Hymn: There is a Redeemer 

Closing Prayer 

Most merciful God, who, by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus, delivered and saved the world: grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross, we may triumph in the power of his victory; through Jesus Christ. 

Reflections adapted from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/

Maundy Thursday: Hands & Feet

St Nicholas
Maundy Thursday

Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 116;1, 10-end
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31-35

I would like to spend a few minutes looking at the hands and feet in the readings this evening. There are over 560 Biblical references to hands and some 260 mentions of feet. These numbers aren’t significant other than that is a lot of hands and feet!

In Exodus, God gives specific instructions to Moses and Aaron about how the Passover meal is to be prepared. Hands were needed to prepare the lambs and make the arrangements. Sandals were to be on feet, staff in hand and the food eaten quickly. The lamb’s blood needed to be painted over the doorposts.
They were to be ready! Things had to be done.

Maundy Thursday is a day of preparation. There are physical as well as spiritual preparations to be made as we move into Good Friday. In a few minutes we will invite you to come forward to have your hands washed. Following on from this we will celebrate our last communion before Easter Sunday. At the end of the service we will strip the altar and then sit in silence to keep watch. All of these actions, however ceremonial we make them, should help us to turn our hearts, hands and feet to Jesus as he goes to Gethsemane and then onto the cross.

Paul is reminding the Corinthians about how they are to celebrate the Eucharist. Seriously, simply and holding to the words of Jesus. Paul says he received this from the Lord and is handing it on. What we have received from the Lord needs to be handed on too. This is not a passive passing on of only words but of action. The actions of Jesus and his hands: taking the bread, lifting it to give thanks and then breaking it to be shared. This is the new Passover meal.

Jesus’ breaking the bread is a violent action. Jesus is breaking his own body. Jesus’ body is broken for us on the cross. Not because of anything that He did – NO. But for what we have done. This is the drama that is played out on the altar each time we take communion together. Do this in remembrance of me, he says. Remember my broken body and my blood spilled for you. You. Remember me.

There is so much that we want to forget. The news, the weather, those things that have gone wrong. There are things, I am sure, that we want other people to forget we have done or not done. Then we forget the easy things and seem to never forget the things that should be forgotten.
What then should we know and remember?

Verse 3 – Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God.’

Amen! Jesus knows what is going on. As we read again the accounts of the Last Supper and Good Friday, Jesus has been given all things. Not only that, Jesus remembers and knows. Whatever it is, is in his hands! The relief this has brought me time and again has been amazing and transformational. Even in the darker and difficult times and I forget; Jesus has not. It’s in His hands. I’m in his hands; You are in his hands.

Because it is in his hands, we can get our feet (okay hands) washed. That is what John is telling us. Jesus knew he was going to God, so he got up from the table (verse 4), tied a towel, poured the water, and began to wash the disciples’ feet.
Jesus’ foot washing is an act of service and of love. The ultimate victory is knowing that Jesus was going to God. He can then do the menial job; the job of a slave. This foot washing shows us what humble service and true greatness are.

Maybe we have a Peter or two in the congregation tonight. You want all of yourself to be washed: feet, hands and head. Maybe there are a few anti-Peters who are saying ‘No. I will not be washed!’ Our hearts and hands pick up stuff along the way that they really should not or lead to where we do not want to go. Our feet can step in it sometimes too.

If we believe, deep down, that it is really in His hands then hand washing is not that big of a deal. It is a sign of humble acceptance of all that has been done for you. Jesus has set us an example as he has washed our feet, we are to wash the feet of others. We can do this in our acts of love and service to each other however unglamorous or menial they might be.

Tonight, though, is about the literal washing of hands as an outward sign that we believe we are in His hands.
The hands that healed the blind and raised the dead.
The hands that broke the bread and poured the wine.
The hands that have our names written on them.
The hands that were nailed to the cross for the dirt on ours.
The feet that walked thousands of miles to heal and teach the least, the lost and the last.
The feet that brought the Good News.
The feet that walked up the hill under the weight of the cross.
Will you let the things that have been picked up in your heart, hands and feet be washed away tonight?

Loving Lord, you served your disciples in washing their feet: serve us often, serve us daily, in washing our motives, our ambitions, our actions; that we may share with you in your mission to the world and serve others gladly for your sake. (based on a prayer by Michael Ramsey)

Passiontide: Knowing and Seeing

Lent 5

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

O God, we give you thanks because,
in the carnation of the Word,
a new light has dawned upon the world,
that all the nations and peoples may be brought out of darkness to see the radiance of your glory.

How has Lent been treating you? Has it been a time of learning new things about yourself and God? At this point in Lent, I think that many people get tempted to give up on the whole thing. Others may think it does not make any difference so carry on as normal.

Whichever way we are marking it (or not) this season of Lent is moving on rapidly. If we take a brief look back at the Gospel readings of the last few Sundays we can see how far we have come.

We began on Ash Wednesday with Jesus’ encounter with the woman caught in adultery and the offer to those without sin to cast the first stone. Then Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the wilderness immediately after his baptism. The third Sunday saw Jesus beginning to teach his disciples that he was to undergo great suffering, be killed and rise again in three days. This was followed by Jesus’ rant in the temple and the turning over of tables. We lightened up a bit last week for Mothering Sunday!

This Sunday, the fifth Sunday, begins the final push towards Easter. The churchy name is Passiontide and it runs these next two weeks until Easter Sunday. There is a turning in the Gospel reading this morning as Jesus narrows down the time frame with ‘the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified’. In the previous Gospel readings there has been no time specified. This threw the disciples and the Jewish authorities into confusion over when things were to happen.

In these last hours there are two serious questions to be considered in the prophecy of Jeremiah and in the Gospel of John. The first question from Jeremiah is: Do you know God?

Jeremiah is speaking to a group of broken, disillusioned people who are far from home and suffering. This happened in the sixth century when the Israelites (God’s chosen people) had been run out of Judah and Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon. Jeremiah had faithfully and persistently spoken to the people and they would not listen.

The exile largely resulted from the Israelites disobedience to God. This in turn made God angry and out they went. A fair follow up question is why would I want to know a God like that?

Knowing God is a choice that each of us have to make and something that needs to be worked out. Like any relationship, it does not just happen. Nor can it be done on our behalf by another person. Sadly many people disregard God completely when He does not act in the way they/we think He should.

God requires very little from those who choose not to follow or believe in Him. There are of course consequences. The ultimate consequence is separation from God when this life is over. This is what Jesus came to save us from.

Life is difficult for many people, too many people. Hardship, war, famine, financial and relationship troubles, health issues, poverty, lack of opportunity, lack of love. Name your own difficulty. It is hard to comprehend that change or improvement will come.

Jeremiah was telling the exiled Israelites that better times were coming; the Lord will make a new covenant with them. God will put his law within them and they will be his people. The new covenant was needed because the old had been broken. The previous law had been written on stone tablets when Moses was on the mountain with God as written in the book of Exodus.

Rather than on stone tablets, the new law would be written in people’s hearts. They would not be compelled to follow that law; but would desire to follow the law. The Israelites were to become a community that knows God intimately and shared the knowledge of him together. This leads to them becoming a faithful community and the Lord will put the former sins behind them. This is the God that I want to know. This is the kind of community I want to be a part of. We have to desire it and want to stay around long enough to see it through.

The second question is: Do you want to see Jesus? The Greeks that appeared at the festival asked to see Jesus; there is no indication of why. Are they curious about his message and his parables? Are they chasing spectacle and hoping to see Jesus walk on water or heal a blind man? Maybe they are sceptics or troublemakers, looking to pick a fight. There is no way to know. All we can do is guess. I believe that one day everyone will meet him face to face.

Do you want to see Jesus?

If yes, which Jesus do we wish to see? The teacher? The healer? The peacemaker? The troublemaker? Why are we interested? Or if we are not asking and seeking, then the question shifts, and we have to ask it differently: why do I not want to see Jesus? What has been lost?

Many people may not want his presence, his guidance, his example or his companionship but still want things from him. Like safety, health, wealth, immunity from suffering or a life of ease. If we want to see Jesus then we have to see it all. The death, the suffering, the difficult teaching, the call to die to ourselves, to love Him first and everything else second. Those who serve him must follow him.

My heart for Jesus expands and constricts; my desire to see him waxes and wanes, and my motives for seeking him grow purer and coarser by turns.
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” On its face, it is such a simple request, but it cuts to the heart of so many kinds of spiritual growth, stagnation, and defeat. If we, like the Greek Gentiles, want to see Jesus, the place to look is to the cross. Jesus was and is many things: teacher, healer, companion, and Lord, and it is essential that we experience him in all of these ways.

The centre, the heart of who he is, is revealed at the cross. The cross makes true sight possible. Jesus is the one who draws and gathers all people to himself. He is the one who allows himself to be lifted up, so that what is unclear or overwhelming or frightening becomes visible. Jesus wishes to see us far more urgently than we will ever wish to see him. This is not a rebuke. We love because he loves first. We love because the cross draws us towards love; its power is as compelling as it is mysterious.

The cross pulls us towards God and towards each other. Whether or not I want to see Jesus, here he is, drawing me. Whether or not you want to see Jesus too.
In the next two weeks of Passiontide, we are drawn into the drama of the final days of Jesus’ life. We should be drawn to Him; we should want to be drawn to Him. We can be drawn in by reading the accounts of what happened and paying attention to the details and praying. The Hebrews reading this morning tells us that Jesus prayed. Jesus prayed with loud cries and tears, the messy, snotty kind. No stiff upper lip here. Jesus became the source of eternal salvation for all who listen and follow him. This is worth saying a few prayers for and some messy crying.

The waiting of Lent is speeding up; the hour is coming. Those who love their life will lose it. Fruit is born through death. This waiting will come to an end on the cross when Jesus is lifted up. The time is coming when we will see him face to face. Better days are coming to those who follow. Let’s be ready.

Lent 3: Health & Safety

17th Century Ethiopian found in the British Library.
Jesus cleansing of the temple –

Lent 3

Exodus 20:1-17
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

O God, we give you thanks because,
in the carnation of the Word,
a new light has dawned upon the world,
that all the nations and peoples may be brought out of darkness to see the radiance of your glory.

Disorder, disruption and chaos! How do you cope with it? It is everywhere at the moment and it always has been. Take your pick; the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, climate change and its consequences, the Northern Runway Project examination hearings happening in Crawley, the state of the UK government with huge amounts of uncertainty and mistrust in politicians. These are of course the public issues. Many people have health issues (physical and mental), family problems, relationship breakdown and financial worries that never make the headlines or even the village gossip.

In any of the above events there are times when we may want to turnover the tables and upend everything. We want to cause disorder and disrupt and bring chaos; maybe to change things, to vent our own anger and acknowledge a sense of powerlessness or injustice. Try to make things right again.

There can also be temptation to harken back to the days of old, the good old days to find some comfort or at least distraction from the worries of the day. Some people may look to their faith to find guidance or encouragement to carry on. Today’s readings remind us that the world is not as it should be and has not really ever been. They also nudge us to look towards God, Jesus, be mindful of the stumbling blocks and the foolishness of ourselves and the world.

Jesus’ cleansing of the temple appears in all four Gospels, indicating that this is a significant moment. Matthew, Mark and Luke place this event much later in the life of Jesus as he enters Jerusalem for the last time. John places it right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. In John’s timeline, Jesus and the disciples have left Cana after the wedding and have arrived in Jerusalem, they go directly to the Temple and Jesus turns over the tables. Miracles to mayhem.

The Temple was the beating heart of Judaism. For those of you who have been to Jerusalem, you can appreciate the size and scale of the Temple in the centre of Jerusalem. It was the centre of worship, music, the focal point of politics and Jewish society, a place of national celebration and mourning. Westminster Abbey or St Paul’s Cathedral are somewhat a parallel in terms of significance to the people. The Temple was the place where YHWH, God has promised to live in the midst of his people.

What was so wrong with it that an unknown prophet from Galilee disrupts and disorders the Temple?

Jesus and the disciples arrived in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover. Passover is a time to remember what God had done in the past when he saved the Jewish . It was also a celebration of liberation, freedom and rescue from slavery. John has already told us that Jesus is the new Passover Lamb. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Now, the people in the Temple that day would not have known that. The Temple had over time become more of a market-place and a corrupt one. It is now under God’s judgement. Those who were selling the animals for sacrifice and the money-changers did need to be there. Jewish law required the right sacrifices to be offered. Yet unfair, dodgy practices had corrupted the Temple. People were being cheated out of money by their own people. This is what Jesus was raging against.

The idea of Jesus getting angry and violent can be hard to picture. According to John, he took the time to stop and make a whip of cords. Imagine Jesus sitting down, getting the materials together and then making it all while watching the goings on. Instead of calming down in the pause, Jesus gets more worked up. We do not know if any one was injured, impossible to imagine Jesus whipping anyone but He certainly disrupted their livelihoods and work.

We see Jesus on the side of those being cheated, devalued and treated badly. Jesus certainly had zeal; both for the Temple as his Father’s house and for people. The Temple had been made into something it was never supposed to be. Jesus is correcting a serious wrong by showing that He will restore things to the way they should be and not in a predictable way.

Jesus is doing two things: He is reminding the Jews of the Ten Commandments. There were a few being broken: the making of idols (money) and stealing. He is also referring to himself in the remark about the destroyed Temple rising up in three days. Jesus is the true temple, the word made flesh and cannot be corrupted.

So which is it?!

The Ten Commandments and all Jewish laws were given to the Israelities to be followed. They believed that by following the law to its letter the Messiah would come. Obedience would make God happy and inclined to do things for them. Jesus, the Messiah, appears and seems to be breaking all the laws and disrupting the Temple. Paul is writing to the new church at Corinth about a God who is incomprehensible and seems to want everyone to know God through the cross of Jesus.

Many of the new Corinthian converts considered themselves wise and intelligent. Paul is talking about God as unpredictable, one who overturns convention and includes everyone; the wise and the fools together. God who loves the least, the lost and the last, who prefers to the poor and the powerless. The God who demands loyalty and worship, not for His sake but for ours.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis reminds us that the meaning of Jesus is neither tidy nor tame but that it is nonetheless one that we can embrace with confidence. Susan and Lucy ask Mr. and Mrs. Beaver to describe Aslan (Lewis’s representation of Jesus). They ask if Aslan is a man. Mr. Beaver replies.

“Aslan a man? Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion — the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he — quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about being safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

We are left with Jesus whose cleansing of the temple should warn us of every false sense of security and belief. We can hold a lot of them alongside misplaced allegiances, presumptions and assumptions, spiritual complacency, political idolatry and financial greed. These are some of the tables Jesus would overturn today. We may not understand, in fact Jesus does not call us to understand him, He calls us to follow him.

To follow Jesus is a far more radical thing to do. He will feed us in the desert, tend to our wounded souls. He will lead and guide us and upend the stalls we have set up. Jesus will dismantle our false routines and comforts to show us what true and abundant life is. We can find our safety in the one who is not safe but good.