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Wednesday: living hope

If the purpose of the cross is that we might know and embrace the absolute gift of God’s saving love and forgiveness, then the purpose of the resurrection is that we might live – free and full of expectation at what God is longing to do in, with, and through a life devoted to love and to our Lord.

Consider these words from 1 Peter 3: 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! 

By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 

In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. 

Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Verses 3 to 9, New Revised Standard Version

If this living hope is the compass that keeps the resurrection community orientated towards the deep and eternal mystery of life with and within God, I can’t help but wonder why, then, so many of us find ourselves acting from a past that makes us feel guilty and ashamed or (maybe even worse) smug and self-righteous? Why are there patterns in relationships that we return to and re-enact even though we know that they were abusive and draining and destructive? Why are there critical thoughts and old, hurtful taunts that still undermine our choices and sense of belovedness?

One of the most vital truths that has been revealed over some 30 years of discipleship (through Bible study and silence and spiritual direction and, sometimes, just the stubborn and painful struggle between the sacred and the secular) is that life is not so neatly packaged into separate physical, emotional and psychological dimensions but is always intimately connected to the spiritual – that is, to God – at all times.

What I do with my body impacts how I feel about myself and how comfortably I enter into intimacy with God. 

What I fill my mind with in the books that I read, the programs I watch, the friends that I imitate alters my understanding of what is good and bad, right and wrong, God’s way and my own. 

How I am feeling in any particular moment has a profound impact on my choices, my relationships, my beliefs unless but my living hope in the One who is beyond this present time and circumstance can transform those emotions and give me a stable ground from which to act.

What are the constant, repetitive issues in your life that rob you of a sense of abundance and love and knowing God’s closeness?

Resurrection, for me, means moving out of an old and antiquated way of thinking that certain aspects of my life can be kept private, secret, hidden from God.

Resurrection, for me, means moving beyond the cross at Calvary to the empty tomb – not just saying over and over each year how sorry I am, how much I want to be different; but leaving behind the habits that bound me, the fears that imprisoned me, the words that defined me, the voices that drowned out the still, sweet sound of God’s Spirit.

Resurrection, for me, is the assurance that whatever trials or sorrows or worries this day might hold, God holds it all. 

What does resurrection mean to you?

Something new 
is growing inside you – 
a spilt seed you didn’t even know about.

Something unexpected 
is prising open the bars of your ribcage,
reaching beyond your notions of what is.

It needles you with possibilities.
Its roots unsettle your soil.
You find yourself breathing in an unfamiliar scent,
one that mystifies, tantalises, invites.

Marianne Musgrove, Abundant Grace Liberating Hope, 15th Assembly Worship Resource

Tuesday: take time to grieve

Today, I conducted my first funeral in this unsettling time of social isolation. It is a tough time to grieve. Both for the less than 10 who are able to gather together and for those unable to offer the comfort of physical presence and support. 

It felt appropriate for this time of excruciating grief to use the Gospel story from this past Sunday for the darkness of death and the hope of resurrection are central to the Christian faith. 

So just a few thoughts for those working through grief and loss at the moment ….

Unlike the other texts, in John’s Gospel (chapter 20, verses 1 to 18) it seems as though Mary is alone at the tomb – there in the dark of dawn and the deeper darkness of her heart ache and sorrow. 

She was one of the eye-witnesses to Jesus’s slow and agonising death on the cross and those images lie heavily upon her – along with the rawness of her grief and the empty unimagined future that lies ahead of her and, in fact, all of the disciples. 

When she discovers that the stone has been rolled away, she does not think immediately of all the promises and prophecies that Jesus would die and – in three days – rise again but simply that in this very broken and unfair world that she has experienced of late someone has hidden his body so that they cannot grieve, they cannot remember, they cannot worship as they would like.

When she goes to the room where the others are staying safe behind closed doors, looking for comfort, looking for help, Peter and John run off ahead of her. And, once they have discovered that what she has said is true – that the body is gone – they return to their sanctuary.

Mary, alone, stays in the cold and lifeless place, the empty place, overwhelmed by her tears.

In the immediacy of death, our sorrow often feels completely overwhelming as we wrestle with the loss of the physical presence of a person we loved dearly, process some of the unresolved emotions and brokenness of relationships that occur, and ask deep questions about the eternal. 

There will come a time when we will be able to remember and laugh at how a loved one brought life alive for us; when the tears do not blur our ability to look at the past and at the future and see clearly that they remain present with us in every moment.

But, on that first day of waking up to a new reality, it really hurts. It hurts to no longer hold on to the one we have lost. It hurts that his or her body no longer draws breath. It hurts that they, like so many of our hopes and dreams, have been turned to dust to be returned to the earth and the eternity of God.

As resurrection people, I believe that God would have us take time to acknowledge the darkness, to feel the loss of those loves and lights that have been of great significance in our lives, to let the tears come, and the questions weigh heavily upon us.

In our grief we can take the time that we need knowing that there is a change in this Scripture story when Jesus calls Mary by her name and Mary, in turn, names him by the essence of who he is and what he means to her: “Rabboni” or “Teacher.” 

Death cannot deny or destroy the intimacy of lives so long shared. 

It does not have the final word. 

The darkness will turn to dawn. 

The stone will be rolled away. 

The stories will change from the anguished, “I don’t know where they have put him” to “I have seen the Lord.” 

For those who are mourning in strange ways in this moment, 
may you know that the same arms which welcome your loved one 
into God’s eternal peace, 
bear you through the sorrows 
and the longings of the time to come. 
In your memories, 
may his or her life star always shine bright. 
In your hearts, 
may their love always be in full bloom.

With much love,
Yvonne

Monday’s mourning: Psalm 143

Before offering a prayer of lament and longing today, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge what many others have shared over the course of the last week: that underneath the excitement and opportunities of finding different ways to connect and worship with one another is a very real sense of loss that is exacerbated by simply not knowing when we will next gather in person. 

For me, the call to act decisively, in the interests of those most vulnerable and in solidarity with a world that is suffering, is what being Church is all about. My mind was quickly occupied with what might be possible given the ranging age and contexts of the congregations with whom I share life. And there is a very simple pleasure in, each day, offering something small – and, I hope, full of hope – to a Church far bigger than the boundaries we have held on to as we seek to offer a word of comfort and promise in a time of loneliness and anxiety. 

But, as I pinned up the notices on the closed doors of a sanctuary to let people know some of the ways in which we can enter fully into this season of prayer and care for another, I must admit that I was overwhelmed with grief as I pictured the faces of the people that I would normally see gathering in that place each Sunday, the children I would hold, the hands I would touch. 

Hence Monday’s mourning – a space to turn to God with our sorrow.

God of promise,
please pay attention to my prayers this day. 
Don’t judge me for how I’m feeling –
but acknowledge my cries.
I live in the darkness of death’s shadow.
My life is crushed into dust.
My heart is heavy with despair
and a deep depression settles into my soul.

I am nearly at the end of my rope.

Help me to pause in Your presence,
to stretch out my hands to You
as a thirsty desert waits for rain
to bring new life.

Let the dawning day bring me a revelation
of your tender, unfailing love. 
Remind me of the good old days
 –
of all the ways I have seen You at work –
that I might have light for this path
and trust in You
to lead me by Your blessed Spirit
into clear and level pastureland. 

Amen.

*based on the Passion Translation and the Message paraphrases*

Friday’s photo

A simple photo today, taken in the garden, in anticipation of our “grand plans” for what is normally our Sabbath rest. 

Neither mom nor myself are actually fans of “yellow” but the colour of sunshine, hope, and happiness is certainly what we want to plant into the world at the moment.

A bee box, some daffodil bulbs, and new plants for the pots by the front door … these are all signs of our hospitality and hope extended in different ways in this different time: 

  • to God’s good creation which, in various parts of the world, is showing signs of renewal and healing as pollution patterns shift, 
  • to the changing seasons and the lengthening nights which invite us to retreat and withdraw in the certain knowledge that the earth will thaw and the bulbs will grow and the blossoms will bloom come Spring,
  • and to the neighbours who now pass by our home more regularly in small groups or on solitary walks as they seek to keep moving in safe ways. 

May the bright light and the hope-filled love of God burst into your day in myriad ways!

Yours in Christ
Yvonne

A long time to wait

Sunday’s sermon at Pilgrim; also shared at liturgies4life.com

Today, we look at Jesus’s family tree from Matthew 1 against the backdrop of the prophecy in Isaiah 11 regarding the shoot that shall spring from the stump of Jesse. You’re welcome to read through the first half of the first chapter of that Gospel but for those who may be put off by all those names, here’s a handy little lyrical version that I found on youtube:

Isaiah’s hope-filled vision occurs, interestingly, in the context of the growing Assyrian threat, in a time when the legacy of King David is all but lost in spite of God’s promises that his house would endure forever.

In the midst of those first 39 chapters of the book, we hear the voice of first (or proto) Isaiah: a voice full of judgment and warning about the bad things that are about to happen because the people of God have not lived in right relationship with God nor with one another nor with their neighbours. 

It’s a countdown to conquest really; but, against all odds, a new shoot will grow from an old stump – the stump of Jesse who was David’s father and David was Israel’s first and greatest King. 

And this new King – the Messiah – will receive the fullness of God’s Spirit: wisdom and understanding, counsel and power, knowledge and reverence for God and delight in doing God’s will. Through him, the poor and the needy will find favour and all that are divided will find peace and harmony. There will be no harm, no hurt in his kingdom.

Isn’t that a beautiful image?
A hope to hold on to?

But what do words and pretty promises mean when your home is burning, your child is dying; when you have no freedom; when there is no peace or harmony – only harm and hurt, hurt and harm day after day, month after month, year after year after year? 

It was 700 years or so before the promised child was born – so full of Spirit; the Son of God. Born into the midst of Roman occupation and religious exploitation and poverty and need …

… for the more things change, the more they stay the same as we say so casually.

But when we step back a little further and look at Jesus’ family tree, we see, in fact, God’s promise to deliver, to rescue, to save spanning the fourteen generations from Jesus’ birth to the exile in Babylon. And fourteen generations before that between the tile and the reign of King David. And fourteen generations from David all the way back to Abraham, who is known as the father of our faith for God made a promise to him and he left all that he had known to follow God.

Forty-two generations! That’s a long time to wait for a promise; a long time to hold on to a hope when you’re hurting right now.

We will spend a lot of time with the Gospel of Matthew in Year A of the lectionary cycle, and you will see how often he draws attention to things happening in fulfilment of what the prophets said. The author wants us to know – in both head and heart – that God does what God says God will do.

But each person has a part, a place, in fulfilling these promises, including:

  • Tamar, who was nearly burned to death for being pregnant out of wedlock,
  • Ruth, the foreigner,
  • Rahab, the prostitute,
  • Bathsheba, who was so beautiful that King David had her husband killed so he could have her for himself,
  • and Mary, who was pretty much an insignificant little nobody until she was chosen to bear the Christ-child.

Everyone has a place – including those we deem unlikely, insignificant, and unworthy (hence my choice of women from Jesus’ family tree) – in the unfolding promises of God who is active in every generation.

As we hear again in this Advent season that familiar story of the Christ-child born in our midst who will come again one day to establish the perfect peace of his kingdom, once and for all, it would serve us well to wonder – and perhaps to talk about over the table:

  • what does that promise really mean?
  • what might it mean for those who are in the midst of drought, destruction, and despair right now?
  • do we walk with dread each day because of bad things happening?
  • do we set out into the world in anticipation that God will draw near to us?
  • do we offer hope through pretty words or through active participation in what we see God doing to bring comfort and healing and peace in the midst of harmful, hurtful situations?

My prayer as we travel the prophet’s path is that we will enter into each new day as if God is coming – not in 700 years’ time or 7000 – right here and right now, in the words that we speak, and the love that we share, and the space that we make at the table.