Sunday, 31 March 2013

He is risen? I'm confused

I remember when I first started going to church in my early twenties and I decided to visit the church where I had been baptised as a baby on what happened to be Easter Sunday. I entered the church and all the lights were turned off. After navigating the whole 'this is my pew' minefield I sat down somewhere unoccupied and waited for the service to begin.

The vicar processed in and lead the congregation, whom I followed behind dutifully, outside of the church where the he lit a candle and said 'He is risen!' to which everyone replied 'He is risen indeed!' I look around the garden, wondering if I had missed something and half expecting to see the risen Jesus amongst the shrubbery. That service left me utterly baffled as a church newbie and I can quite understand how all the pronouncements of 'He is risen' leaves much of the population equally baffled today.

The thing about the resurrection is that it all sounds rather barmy. We all know people don't rise from the dead so it must be a fairy story, right? Well for me, no. It's become the most important story I've ever heard. I'll say it once again, I am no theologian, but these are the thoughts that I bring to Easter Sunday and how I have made sense of 'He is risen' for myself.
Day 40 - The final of the Lent Photo Diary. Light breaks in.

I studied Biology as an undergraduate and, perhaps rather oddly given most people's idea of science and religion as utterly divided, it really set me up for eventually developing a belief in God. In what I saw in the natural world resurrection made perfect sense. The natural world is full of examples of things needing to die to truly come to life. Many Mediterranean ecosystems require fire to release health, vitality and new life into the plant life. The land looks utterly destroyed but the fire sets long dormant seeds into action and it springs back stronger than before. There is something irrepressible about life that I learned about while studying Biology. It is constantly evolving, constantly finding a way. I never found the Easter story to be that far from what I was seeing around me.

The disciples

The second reason I believe in the resurrection is the story of the early disciples and it grows more and more as I study the history of Christianity. Those early days were just remarkable. In the first instance the disciples of Jesus fled the scene and yet within a few weeks they were wandering the land telling a very peculiar story about Jesus having risen from the dead. Lots of reasons have been given for what might have lead to this intense and fast emerging movement. Perhaps they were just unwilling to let the whole movement go after Jesus died, perhaps they had a mass delusion.
The question is, if created, where did such a strange belief emerge from? There had been plenty of 'Messiahs' before who has been dispatched and whose followers simply moved on and found a new person to follow. In the Jewish context and religion into which Jesus came people were certainly anticipating a Messiah but not one that would suffer and die and certainly not one that would rise from the dead. It seems a strange belief to create and to have emerged as quickly as it did.

When it did emerged it raised A LOT of conflict. Nearly all of the first disciples were executed for the claims they made about Jesus. That seems an awfully long way to go for something you cooked up together from nothing rather than simply finding another 'Messiah-to-be' on which to pin your hopes.


My last reason comes from my own experience of living a resurrection life through this maddening and wonderful faith I've found. Through it I have found joy, purpose and a depth of life that I never imagined let alone thought possible. The Apostle Paul in one of his letters writes of the resurrection, 'Where, O Death, is your sting?' In my life this isn't just a nice thought, it is a reality that allows me to face up to the darkest places with the firmest hope. The resurrection is utterly central for me and at the heart of everything I believe and do.

So that's my resurrection story and what it means to me, I hope it adds some thoughts into your own mix.

Wishing you a very Happy Easter for you and yours.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Good Friday - worth it?

This Easter week has been dominated for me by thoughts of Syria. I found myself in the Good Friday service looking up at a large wooden cross in the centre of the chapel and full of the most intense anger. Anger at all the things I had been reading and writing about. Too frustrated to pray one more prayer for the world in the face of such inexplicable suffering. Angry even at the symbol before me. The barbarity and pain of it, of this event that stands at the centre of my faith. Perhaps that's not the right thing to say, even less so to God as I did this Good Friday, but I am of the school of saying it as it is (have you noticed?!) and no more so than to the Almighty. I reckon he can handle it, don't you? At the heart of my plea this Easter was, is there no other way than this?

When I read the gospel accounts I find myself drawn to Peter. He is simultaneously fiercely devoted to Jesus, and clearly they are great personal friends, as well as getting it so very wrong so very often to the point of denying his friend. I see a kindred spirit in him. He is described as the first to really understand who Jesus is but he is also the one who, when trying to prevent Jesus from going to Jerusalem where he was so clearly in danger, is told by Jesus to 'Get behind me, Satan'. Peter speaks his mind and sometimes he gets it so perfectly right and other times so monumentally wrong. Oh yes, I know that feeling.

The incident where Jesus rebukes Peter for trying to prevent him going to Jerusalem, and ultimately to his death, has stuck with me this week. If I had of been there I think I would have said the same thing. How can you see your friend, your companion, go to their death without protest? Even believing what I do about Jesus, that here was God in human form, and believing what I do about his death, that he was gathering us to himself by paying the penalty for the things we have done wrong, for that level of human destructiveness that has lead to conflicts like Syria, even knowing this - I still want to drag him back from his fate. I still want there to be another way, any other way than this.

But through it all this Cross, the heartbreaking, overwhelming, brutal love of God is the only answer to the kind of suffering I see in the world that has ever compelled me. I can't ignore suffering, or transcend it, or say it's just the way it is. It shakes me to my core and I always want to respond that way. When I railed against God in that chapel I heard a gentle whisper say, 'They are worth it'. I opened my eyes and looked around me at the faces of all my friends and colleagues all so free, so unique, so wonderfully and intensely worth creating and saving. That God is willing to come himself, to take on the worst that humanity can do, frames my question in a new light. And the love that I feel that cries out for any answer but this finds itself so enlarged and overwhelmed by his love that I find myself this Easter standing at the foot of that cross and echoing back what to him what I hear him saying to me. That you, my God, are worth it.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Lent Photo Diary - Part 10

Day 34: John 18 :1-12 Jesus' Arrest

Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, ‘For whom are you looking?’ They answered, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’Jesus replied, ‘I am he.’

This window seemed cell like to me and made me think of those hours Jesus waited to be put on trial after his arrest.

Day 35: John 18:12-25 Peter denies Jesus

'Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, ‘You are not also one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’ One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.'

By the warmth of the fire Peter denies knowing Jesus just as he has promised he would never do. It is all the more amazing to read this knowing that Peter went on to be one of the most important founders in the early church so soon after this incident.

Day 36: John 18:28-40 Jesus is sentenced to death

'After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, ‘I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ They shouted in reply, ‘Not this man, but Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas was a bandit.'

This window of people carrying planks of wood reminded me that we all have a part in this moment. 

Day 37: John 19: 1-16 Jesus is beaten

'Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and striking him on the face.'

 Day 38: John 19: 19-37 Jesus is crucified

'There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them......he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.'

Monday, 25 March 2013

Lent Photo Diary - Part 9

Day 27: John 14: 1-16 God's house has many rooms

'Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?'

One of the biggest revelations for me in the early days of my journey of faith was that rather than sitting on a cloud somewhere silently seething against me God was actually welcoming me in to everything I was looking for.
Day 28: John 14:15-31 The Spirit of Truth
'Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.'
In this passage Jesus promises that he will send the Holy Spirit to be with his followers, his friends, when he is gone. The Holy Spirit is often depicted as a dove. This passage describes this intimate connection with God through his Spirit as an indwelling of peace.
Day 29: John 15: 1-12 Jesus, the Vine
'I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.'
There are two things that strike me here. One if that we are all connected by virtue of being connected to the one vine from which we are branches. Second that a branch broken off does nothing but fall to the ground. It is only by being part of the whole that it draws the strength and sustenance that it needs to survive and it is only by being connected to God that it has any life at all. According to this passage no man really is an island!
Day 30: John 15:12-27 Love One Another
‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.'
We've heard this before in John's Gospel which makes me think it is kind of important! We have heard that we are one, branches from the same vine and this is how we are to live together. Easy Peasy! Errr.....
Day 31: John 16:1-16 Guidance from above comes within
'When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.'
This picture of the Holy Spirit reminds me of one of my favourite poems by Emily Bronte called The Visionary. It reads, 'The little lamp burns straight, its rays shoot strong and far: I trim it well, to be the wanderer's guiding star.' I don't know about you but I'm a bit of a wanderer and I'm thankful to have the guidance described here.
Day 32: John 16: 16-33 Sorrow into Joy
'So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.'
Jesus talks about his death and the grief and sorrow that will overtake his friends. What a terrible conversation to have to have. But he also promises new joy, new hope, greater than anything they have ever felt before. Like bright yellow daffodils opening after the darkness of winter.
Day 33: John 17: 1-4 To Know God
'And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God'
I'm going slightly off the brief for this last entry by not posting a photo in a photo diary! But here's the thing: there is no image I can put here to really show God. Anything I do post will be one tiny angle on what is essentially uncapturable. So I'm leaving it blank and saying along with this passage - Go and know God for yourself, this is eternal life.
Back tomorrow for the last few days of the diary! x


Friday, 15 March 2013

Lent Photo Diary - Part 8

Day 23: John 12: 12-19 Jesus enters Jerusalem to celebration and acclaim
'The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!’

John's story now moves into the final events in Jesus' life. He is cheered into Jerusalem but even while this is happening he is warning his disciples of the things that are to come.
Day 24: John 12: 20-50 From death comes life
'Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.'
This time of year always reminds me of this truth. Even though the trees have been barren and seemed dead they burst into life again.
Day 25: John 13:1-34 Love one another
'I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
How often do we get this one wrong, eh? This is my college community where I am trying to love. How about yours?

Day 26: John 13:36-8 Jesus predicts that Peter will betray him

‘Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.'

Poor Peter. He has such good intentions here but deny his friend he does. His is a great lesson to us though. We all mess up, we can all be forgiven - and forgive one another.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Lent Photo Diary - Part 7

Day 19: John 11:1-27 The Death of Jesus' friend Lazarus

Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.'

These words are so raw and it is exactly how we respond when terrible, inexplicable things happen. 'If you were really there God then this would never have happened.' I took a photo of pins because that is what grief feels like to me. Sharp.
Day 20: John 11: 27-44 Jesus weeps
'They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’  Jesus began to weep.'
Pretty much my whole theology of suffering comes from this verse. When he saw his friend had died, Jesus wept. By this I know God understands my suffering and supports me in my tears. And so I took a self portrait on a sad day.
Day 21: John 11: 45 - end It is better for one man to die...
But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.’

This passage is fascinating as it is thought that this is a historical reason that Jesus was executed. His behaviour, particularly his reputation as a miracle worker, lead to concerns that he was leading the people astray and would draw the attentions of the Roman authorities. The globe makes me think of all those empires that have risen and fallen and all those who have fallen because of it.
Day 22: John 12: 1-11 A big ol' vat of perfume is poured on Jesus!
'Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.'
It is thought that Mary did this sensing the growing tension around Jesus and fearing for his life. Whatever her reasoning she lavished him with love. It would be like pouring a hundred bottles of Chanel over him!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Lent Photo Diary - Part 6

Day 16: John 9:1-12 A muddy episode!

‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’

I love how many of the signs in John's account involve ordinary things. Bread, water and now mud. God in the everyday, even in a muddy field.

Day 17: John 9:13-end Now I see

'He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’

What a story. This photo was taken shortly after dawn which is how I image the man in this story feeling. There is just darkness and then suddenly the dawn. I was blind but now I see.
Day 18: John 10:1-21 The good shepherd
'The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.'
Following anyone is a risk. Following through a narrow gate, even more so. Who knows what is on the other side? Being called on by the voice of one you trust is a different matter however, that is the voice of the good shepherd.


Sunday, 3 March 2013

Lent Photo Diary - Part 5

Day 13: John 7: 25-end Where on earth is this chap from?!

"Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee."

Yes, I'm using a Hanson album cover to illustrate the life of Jesus, God in everything remember?! In the last section we learnt that one of the question marks over Jesus was that he was an extraordinary teacher but had never been taught. Now his family background is questioned. Jesus, it seems, was from the 'Middle of Nowhere' and no one, particularly the authorities, seemed quite sure what to make of him.
Day 14: John 8:1-11 The woman caught in adultery
 "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."
What a story this is. A woman is dragged out into the street, condemned and on the road to execution. In a single line Jesus pulls the rug out from under her accusers, from under all of us when we look at another and judge or condemn. Extraordinary.
Day 15: John 8:12-end Light of the World
 "Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life."

Brilliant light, bright light, perfect light.
Back in a few days!