He is not here
When will it ever end? As I write this the Malvern Hills are
covered with snow and the temperature is below freezing.
We had to cancel our services on Palm Sunday because the snow had made
the car park unusable and the church path too treacherous.
Day after day we have woken to grey overcast skies and a biting wind.
It is hard to imagine that we might ever go outside in short-sleeved
shirts, shorts and sandals (try saying that when you’re walking on the Malvern
Hills in an Easterly wind that has come straight from the Russian steppes).
There are times when the weather is a reflection of the
circumstances we are encountering in life. Times
when we echo the psalmist’s words:
“How much longer, Lord, will you forget about me?
Will it be for ever?
How long will you hide?
How long must I be confused and miserable all day?”
Psalm 13 vs. 1,2
Times when we pray repeatedly but fail to see any change
taking place. Archbishop Justin
Welby described the time when his daughter was in hospital following a car
accident. Each day he and his wife
prayed that she might live. He
described the time when they prayed “O God where are you?” as “prayer
at its rawest”. The deepest moment, he said, was when he and his wife were
in a café outside the hospital on the day his daughter died.
As they were talking they offered a prayer based upon Jesus’ Gethsemane
“Father, if you will, please don’t make me suffer by
making me drink from this cup. But
do what you want, and not what I want.” (Luke
Ch. 22 vs. 42)
He described that as a handing over, absolutely agonising,
and yet they felt assured that God was at the centre of things.
They got the answer they didn’t want. The moment that the consultant
told them that there had been a sudden change and that his daughter was dying
the Archbishop said was a moment when there was an overwhelming sense of the
presence of Jesus in the room with them.
When Jesus made up his mind to travel to Jerusalem his
friends were in no doubt of the dangers he faced.
As they watched his confrontations with the Jewish Authorities in the
days before he was arrested, they must have been increasingly fearful not only
for his safety but also for their own. But
also they must have been wishing (praying) that what they foresaw would not
happen. They too would have been
praying the Gethsemane prayer but only the first part of it.
Then they were given their answer and it was the answer they feared most.
Jesus was arrested, tried, condemned and executed.
They scurried away into hiding. They
had lost everything. They had lost a
man they had come to love and admire but they had also lost their hope for the
future. Two of his disciples spoke
of their dashed hopes when they unknowingly encountered the risen Jesus as they
travelled to Emmaus.
“We had hoped that he would be the one to set Israel
free.” (Luke Ch. 24 vs.21)
We look for God where we expect to see him.
We try to find him where we want him to be.
But if our faith teaches us anything from the experiences we have it is
that He is the God of the unexpected, or as Gerard Hughes describes him in the
title of one of his books he is the “God of surprises”. Some women
went to look for him where he had been seen last ~ his tomb.
When they got there they met an angel who told them “I know you are
looking for Jesus, who was nailed to a cross.
He isn’t here! God has raised him to life” (Matthew Ch. 28 vs.5,6).
Peter and the other disciples found him when they hid themselves away in
a room on their own. St Paul found
him when he was travelling to Damascus. On
that occasion Paul’s thoughts were focused on the destruction of anyone who
believed that Jesus was the Son of God. His
heart was filled with hatred for the one he knew as Jesus of Nazareth.
Another time when he experienced the closeness of Jesus was when he was
in chains in prison. He and Silas
who was with him felt the sense of presence so great that they prayed and sang
in spite of the bleakness of their future and the suffering they were enduring.
As a rabbi St Paul would have been very familiar with the words of Psalm
13 but those were not ones he used. He
suffered greatly in his work as a missionary; beaten, stoned, shipwrecked,
sleepless nights, hungry, thirsty and threats on his life (2 Corinthians Ch. 11
vs. 23f ), but his faith in
the living Christ was like a flame burning inside him.
We look back over 2,000 years of the presence of the living
Christ in the world and at our own experience of life.
We look back to the times when we see only one set of footprints in the
sand and we can only rejoice as did the early disciples, and especially St Paul,
that the Crucifixion was not the end but the beginning of something
fantastically, unbelievably, miraculously new.
Something totally unexpected; a risen Christ who is alive and is ever present even
in our darkest hours. Thank God for
A happy and joyful
Eastertide to you Eric
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