Service Talks, thoughts and reflections April 2021

Good Friday 2nd April 2021

There is a green hill far away outside a city wall. Where the dear Lord was crucified, who died to save us all.  (Cecil Frances Alexander 1818-1895) CCLI Licence # 1084639

What was it like to be with Jesus during the days leading up to his death? How must it have felt for his followers having just experienced the exhilaration of Palm Sunday, to see all their hopes and dreams shattered as Jesus took the way not of a crown but a Cross? I’ve written the reflection below to try and get my head around these questions.

Last night in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus was arrested – betrayed by one of the disciples – Judas. What has happened since I can hardly believe but I have this need to understand why and how our hopes and dreams have been shattered. Jesus our hope for the future – our hope of freedom from our oppressors lies dead on a cross. The cross of horror – the punishment of criminals – but he wasn’t a criminal – he hadn’t done anything wrong.

What a difference a day makes – what a difference in a week. Last Sunday Jesus rode into Jerusalem triumphant on a donkey and we sang songs as we processed from Bethpage to Jerusalem. The crowds were happy – jubilant – filled with feelings of excitement and wellbeing. Jesus was coming to Jerusalem and he would be our king – setting us free from our oppressors – the Romans.

Ok so he let off a bit of steam in the temple, turning over tables – upsetting the money changers and the temple guards. I can’t believe he actually told them that they were making God’s house into a den of thieves instead of the house of prayer it was meant to be. I can tell you that didn’t really go down very well with the officials; but you know he healed many people, dined with them, told stories – warned people not to copy the scribes and the Pharisees way of living because they didn’t practice what they preached. I must admit he did get a bit confrontational when he talked about the destruction of the temple, they didn’t like that. Especially when he talked about the terrible time to come – the awful horror I think he called it. It made my blood run cold.

He spoke about how the son of man would come with God’s angels but when questioned wouldn’t say when or where just that we should be ready because when it happened it would be unexpected. He said there would be a final judgement something about sheep and goats. I didn’t understand a lot of what he said but that didn’t stop me trusting and believing him.

It was almost Passover – I like this time of year, it’s when we celebrate our ancestors being freed from slavery from the Egyptians by God through Moses, what a time that was. Anyway Jesus and his disciples celebrated Passover together, the meal as always was, lamb, bitter herbs etc including bread and wine; but as Jesus shared the bread and wine around he also gave these two items new meanings. He said that the bread was his body and the wine his blood and something about a new covenant with God. Can’t say I understand properly – very strange but there you are that was Jesus – strange sometimes. It probably has a deep meaning but I haven’t managed to work it out yet.

Also another funny thing, I mean a strange thing happened – Jesus talked about dying and Peter especially said that he would happily die with Jesus. In some sort of fight I suppose if it came to it. Anyway you know what Jesus said to him, Peter that is; he said that before the cock crowed twice that same day he would have denied Jesus three times. And I have been told that it did actually happen and that at the time Peter was beside himself and just wept.

There are many things that puzzle me and one of them is why they went to the garden of Gethsemane at all; why not just go home to bed, they’d had a good meal and obviously washed it down with wine, so why did Jesus take them on a late night stroll to the Mount of Olives?

Obviously there was a reason and when he got there he went off with Peter, James and John leaving the others a little way back. Then he told the three of them to stay awake and pray while he went on ahead into a clearing to pray. I’m sure they tried to stay awake but what with all that food and wine they just couldn’t. One time when Jesus came back to them he seemed a bit put out that they were sleeping but then just went off to pray again, I suppose he just wanted his friends to stand by him in his time of personal agony – we all like to have friends we can rely on, don’t we?

Then it happened – soldiers – guards, everywhere – all around them and Jesus was arrested, betrayed as I said before by his friend Judas. Trust those sneaky Pharisees and scribes to do it under cover of darkness – if it had been daylight it would probably have turned out differently. You see most of Jesus’ other supporters were back where they were staying, in their beds oblivious to what was going on and I believe that was just what the officials wanted. Not too many folk around to stand up for Jesus or fight on his side.

It pains me to think about what they did next – questioned him, whipped him, tortured him and when he did finally answer their question about was he the messiah – they accused him of blasphemy and sentenced him to death – only they didn’t have the authority to actually kill him so they sent him off to Pilate the governor, who was also in Jerusalem for the festival.

Pilate in all fairness couldn’t find anything – any charge that Jesus was actually guilty of; but he really was between a rock and a hard place. Give in to the Jewish officials and send an innocent man as he saw it to his death. Or release him and upset the crowd of people who had been rounded up and paid to shout for Jesus to be crucified. In the end he washed his hands of the whole situation but still sent Jesus off to his death on the cross by crucifixion. Crucifixion – this has got to be the worst way to die – painful and slow. I went along still hoping for a miracle – a reprieve – but it didn’t happen. And I sit here now lost and lonely, numb and pained.

He died like the Jesus I had come to know. He died with integrity, with humility and still oozing love – thinking about his mother as he asked John to take care of her. But for me now, the pain and sorrow engulfs me, and I don’t think I will ever be the same again and I’m not the only one to feel like this. It’s almost as if my world, my life has ended, it was snuffed out when he died. What I’m going to do now, I just don’t know, if seems that life has no meaning anymore and I am at a loss.

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, You gave your whole self for us. Not just a little, not simply part, but everything, offering your life for the life of the world. You took the way of the cross and endured the agony of death. You experienced the pain of betrayal, the hurt of denial, the sorrow of being abandoned by your closest friends. You suffered the awful isolation of separation from God as you took our sins on your shoulders. Forgive us that we find it so hard to offer anything in return. Forgive us that we hold back, giving only grudgingly of ourselves. You went the whole way for our sakes – help us to travel a little further towards you today. Amen

 When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride. Forbid it Lord that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God: all the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood. See from His head His hands His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down: did e’er such love and sorrow meet or thorns compose so rich a crown. Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small, Love so amazing so divine, demands my soul, my life my all. (Isaac Watts 1674-1748) CCLI  Licence # 1084639

God bless Rev Sue

Easter Sunday 4th April 2021

Come to the tomb with the women this morning, come and see for yourself that Jesus is no longer dead but alive. Come and begin to understand God’s plan for the world he created and its inhabitants. Come and be part of this amazing plan as it unfolds before us. Come and join the celebration – Jesus has conquered death – no longer can it have a hold over us – no longer should we be afraid – Jesus lives, so let us worship and praise the Lord our God. Hallelujah!

 Luke 24:1-12

 Very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, carrying the spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, so they went in; but they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. They stood there puzzled about this, when suddenly two men in bright shining clothes stood by them. Full of fear, the women bowed down to the ground, as the men said to them, “Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive? He is not here; he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and three days later rise to life.’”

Then the women remembered his words, returned from the tomb, and told all these things to the eleven disciples and all the rest. 10 The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; they and the other women with them told these things to the apostles. 11 But the apostles thought that what the women said was nonsense, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; he bent down and saw the grave cloths but nothing else. Then he went back home amazed at what had happened.

A woman’s story about that first Easter Sunday by Rev Sue

I don’t know where to begin, I am so full of joy – I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Why! You’re asking why! Don’t you know haven’t you heard the fantastic news about Jesus? O my goodness you don’t know, do you? Jesus is alive! Yes that’s what I said, He is alive. No I not being silly or stupid and yes I too saw him being crucified. I too saw him on the cross, his body bloodied and beaten so there was barely any flesh left on his bones and I got to a point where I just couldn’t look anymore; but I’m telling you the truth – Jesus is alive! – Just listen and I’ll tell you all about it.

It had been a terrible weekend because on Friday my world came to an end when they crucified Jesus. The Sabbath was a bit of a blur, I just couldn’t function properly. By Sunday morning I couldn’t sit doing nothing any longer and I wasn’t the only one to feel this way. Some of the other women felt like that too so although it was very early in morning some of us decided to go to the place where Jesus was buried to see if we could now honour his body by preparing it in the way it should have been prepared for burial on Friday. It couldn’t be done then because it was far too late and the Sabbath was beginning.

Well we pooled together our assortment of spices that we had prepared and set off. The thing was we weren’t even sure whether we could get into the tomb because of the heavy stone that had been rolled in front of the entrance. It took more than a couple of beefy men to move it in the first place so what could a handful of women do. However this didn’t deter us because we just had to be doing something and this was the something we could do.

However when we arrived at the tomb there was no need to move the stone as it was already rolled away from the entrance. I can tell you it sent a shiver down my spine seeing it like that and the other women were a bit taken aback too. Gingerly we crept up to the entrance and peeked in, then feeling a bit braver we went in but there was no sign of Jesus’ body. Totally flummoxed and perplexed, we just stood there looking. Looking at the empty space and at each other, saying nothing because words escaped us and then suddenly, seemingly from nowhere there were these two men. You couldn’t help but notice them because they were sort of shinning, yes that’s what I said shinning! It seems a bit surreal now but wow their clothes were bright, bright enough to nearly make your eyes hurt but not quite. You certainly couldn’t miss them and we were afraid so we sort of bowed down. Maybe in our sub conscious we thought it might make them go away but it didn’t instead they spoke to us and said, “Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive? He is not here; he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and three days later rise to life.’”

At that moment it seemed like all that Jesus had told us suddenly was in our minds and we remembered it all. So we immediately went to tell the apostles all about what we had just experienced. However just as usual we weren’t taken seriously, I don’t know what it is with men but they just don’t or won’t take us women seriously at times. Oh, I know it’s to do with the culture we live in but it can be really annoying at times, especially at an important time like this.

Then Peter, bless him, got up and decided to go to the tomb to see for himself, actually I saw him starting to run so obviously what we had said was sinking in. When he got back he told us that he had seen the grave clothes but nothing else and although he was totally amazed it seems he just needs time to process what has happened whereas for me and the other women we are just so happy that Jesus is alive. Now we are going round telling everyone we meet the amazing events we have experienced and how our sorrow has turned into joy because Jesus is alive! HALLELUJAH!

Jesus Christ is risen today, Hallelujah. Our triumphant holy day, Hallelujah. Who did once upon the cross. Hallelujah. Suffer to redeem our loss, Hallelujah

Hymns of praise then let us sing, Hallelujah. Unto Christ our heavenly King, Hallelujah. Who endured the cross and grave, Hallelujah. Sinners to redeem and save, Hallelujah

But the pains which He endured, Hallelujah. Our salvation have procured, Hallelujah. Now in heaven above He’s King, Hallelujah. Where the angels ever sing, Hallelujah

(Lyra Davidica 1708) CCLI Licence # 1084639

Prayer: Loving God, how can we ever thank you for all that you have done for us? Our prayers; praise and worship seem insignificant compared to your sacrifice and yet these are the things that please you. So help us especially at this Easter time to remember your love for us and to pass it on to others. Amen

God bless Rev Sue

Sunday 11th April 2021

This morning we come from a world confused about truth and with our own uncertainties.  So now is the time for us to bring the darkness of human understanding into the presence of God, who is light. Now is the time for us to bring the story of our search for truth and share with others the things we have heard and seen not only over this Easter weekend but throughout our lives as we have journeyed with the Lord.

 Luke 24:13-35

 On that same day two of Jesus’ followers were going to a village named Emmaus, about eleven kilometres from Jerusalem and they were talking to each other about all the things that had happened. As they talked and discussed, Jesus himself drew near and walked along with them; they saw him, but somehow did not recognise him. Jesus said to them, “What are you talking about to each other, as you walk along?”

 They stood still, with sad faces. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have been happening there these last few days?” “What things?” he asked. The things that happened to Jesus of Nazareth,” they answered. “This man was a prophet and was considered by God and by all the people to be powerful in everything he said and did. Our chief priests and rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and he was crucified.

 And we had hoped that he would be the one who was going to set Israel free! Besides all that, this is now the third day since it happened. Some of the women of our group surprised us; they went at dawn to the tomb, but could not find his body. They came back saying they had seen a vision of angels who told them that he is alive. Some of our group went to the tomb and found it exactly as the women had said, but they did not see him.

 Then Jesus said to them, “How foolish you are, how slow you are to believe everything the prophets said! Was it not necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and then to enter his glory?” And Jesus explained to them what was said about himself in all the Scriptures, beginning with the books of Moses and the writings of all the prophets.

 As they came near the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther, but they held him back, saying, “Stay with us; the day is almost over and it is getting dark.” So he went in to stay with them. He sat down to eat with them, took the bread, and said the blessing; then he broke the bread and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Wasn’t it like a fire burning in us when he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?”

 They got up at once and went back to Jerusalem, where they found the eleven disciples gathered together with the others and saying, “The Lord is risen indeed! He has appeared to Simon!” The two then explained to them what had happened on the road, and how they had recognised the Lord when he broke the bread.

Today we continue seeing the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead unfold as we journey with some of his followers along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, which is about seven miles. The scriptures tell us there were two of them walking along the road (remember this was the normal way of getting from one place to another if you were just an ordinary person). We often assume that they were two men however this is not necessarily so as it could have been a husband and wife going home, the theologian Tom Wright says it could have been Cleopas and his wife Mary but obviously we don’t know for sure. Whoever the person was with Cleopas as they walk along they are trying to make sense from what they had just experienced in Jerusalem. Malcolm (my husband) and I often discuss what we have read in our morning Bible reading especially if we find the message unclear because it is helpful to bounce ideas around with someone else.

Anyway into their conversation comes another traveller who is walking the same way and I wonder what their first reactions are when he questions them about their discussion. Would they have been a bit wary – understandable in the circumstances – Jesus their leader has just been executed and his followers dispersed. Did they think this may have been a spy sent out to track down disciples of Jesus? Were they fearful for their own safety? Or in their despair and sorrow were they past caring what happened to them. Who knows? But what we do know according to Luke is that they answered the strangers’ questions simply and honestly.

They then must have got the surprise of their life as the stranger explains to them, from their own Scriptures, that what has happened was foretold and meant to be and not only that but seems to take them to task for being slow to grasp it themselves.

Then they get to the point where they turn off into the village where they are living or staying and the stranger appears to be continuing further along the road to who knows where. At that point the couple must have felt more comfortable in his company and invite him to have supper with them and stay the night, which he agrees to do. As they sit down to eat, the stranger takes bread, blesses it and gives it to them and at that moment they know exactly who he is – it’s Jesus and with that recognition he disappears from their sight. Wow! I think I’d be sitting there slightly stunned, wouldn’t you? However they didn’t stay sitting long before they decided what they had experienced was too important to keep to themselves, so even though it was getting dark they decided to return to Jerusalem to tell the others. After another seven mile walk they’re in Jerusalem again in the place where the Apostles and other followers are and they have their own news to tell – Jesus has risen and Simon (Peter) has seen him. Isn’t it amazing how lives and moods can change from one moment to another as sorrow becomes joy and despondency becomes trust and faith?

I love the words of this song written over 200 years ago but still very valid for us today.

I know that my Redeemer lives! What joy the blest assurance gives! He lives, he lives, who once was dead; he lives, my everlasting Head!

He lives, to bless me with His love; he lives, to plead for me above; he lives, my hungry soul to feed; he lives, to help in time of need.

He lives, and grants me daily breath; he lives, and I shall conquer death: he lives, my mansion to prepare; he lives, to lead me safely there.

He lives, all glory to His name; he lives, my Saviour, still the same; what joy the blest assurance gives! I know that my Redeemer lives!

Written by Samuel Medley (1738-1799) CCLI Licence No. 1084639

Prayer: Thank you God for Easter, for your saving grace, for yourself giving love that is so undeserved by humanity, especially because we know without it we would all be lost forever in a sea of emptiness and pain.

God bless. Rev Sue

Sunday 18th April 2021

Prayer: Lord God, we come before you today knowing that your arms are always open to us and we give you our thanks for that. We come with hearts and minds that are open to receive your teaching and we ask that you help us to understand who you are and what you have done, as well as what it is that you require of us as your workers in the world today. Amen

Luke 24:36-53

 While the two were telling them this, suddenly the Lord himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were terrified, thinking that they were seeing a ghost. But he said to them, “Why are you alarmed? Why are these doubts coming up in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet, and see that it is I myself. Feel me, and you will know, for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones, as you can see I have.” He said this and showed them his hands and his feet. They still could not believe, they were so full of joy and wonder; so he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of cooked fish, which he took and ate in their presence.

 Then he said to them, “These are the very things I told you about while I was still with you; everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the writings of the Prophets, and the Psalms had to come true.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “This is what is written: the Messiah must suffer and must rise from death three days later, and in his name the message about repentance and the forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And I myself will send upon you what my Father has promised. But you must wait in the city until the power from above comes down upon you.”

 Then he led them out of the city as far as Bethany, where he raised his hands and blessed them. As he was blessing them, he departed from them and was taken up into heaven. They worshipped him and went back into Jerusalem, filled with great joy, and spent all their time in the Temple giving thanks to God.

 So last week Cleopas and his companion have walked all the way back to Jerusalem and can’t wait to tell the others what they had just experienced – that they had met with Jesus and what he had told them. However they discover they are not the only ones to have been in Jesus’ company because Simon (Peter) has seen him too and in the middle of their excited chatter Jesus appears again and stands among them. His first words are “Peace be with you” now this is a greeting often used when saying hello or goodbye to someone especially by folk of Jewish or Islamic culture and faith (Peace be upon you) but it is only after Jesus’ resurrection that he uses it when he meets with his disciples.

Now did he say this to try and put their minds at rest because let’s face it, they were seeing a man who only three days ago was dead and undeniably dead because no human being could have survived the torture and punishment he experienced. Even with the knowledge that he was the Son of God I don’t believe there was any way that they would have expected him to re-appear alive and well, after what his human body had gone through and Luke tells us that their first thoughts and emotions are of terror and that he is a ghost.

Jesus though asks them what all the fuss is about, why are they alarmed, why do they have doubts about who or what he is? He says look it’s me, can’t you see the evidence, come on look at my hands and feet, see the scars, touch me, I am real, ghosts don’t have flesh and bone like I do. Still that belief that he was alive was hard to grasp, they were full of joy and wonder, yes! But belief – not yet – so Jesus offers them more evidence when he asks for food and then takes and eats the cooked fish they give him.

According to the writings of John (20:24-29) Thomas wasn’t there with the other disciples the first time Jesus appeared to them and so was not convinced that Jesus was alive because he needed to see him with his own eyes. The next time Thomas is there and Jesus tells him to see for himself by putting his finger into the holes in his hands and his hand into the gap in Jesus’ side. Seems a bit like something from a sci-fi film doesn’t it but this was not manufactured by technology or clever imaginary, this was for real and Jesus asks Thomas, “Do you believe because you see me? How happy (the NIV translation of the Bible says blessed instead of happy, which I think is maybe a better translation for us to understand) are those who believe without seeing me!” The thought that entered my mind here is that I/we are those who Jesus spoke about, we believe although we haven’t seen Jesus in the flesh as his disciples did and I know that I am blessed because I can also accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour even though I wasn’t physically there at the time and that makes me happy and full of joy.

As we move on we find Jesus speaking to them again saying, I told you all about this, I told you what would happen to me and how it was all written in the Law of Moses and by the prophets and by the Psalmists and now it has happened, and it is all true.

In verse 45 it says – then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures just as he did for Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus. He helped them understand that the Messiah was meant to die and then rise from death three days later and that in his name the message about repentance and the forgiveness of sins must be told to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. He told them, “You are the witnesses – you have seen it for yourselves” and now they have a job to do, to continue sharing the message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

However they are going to get help because I think you will agree this is a very big assignment they have been given. Jesus is going to send them the helper that God the Father promised (the Holy Spirit) but he tells them you must wait in the city until the power from above comes to you. They can’t do this on their own, they need God’s help and that’s the same for us. We need God’s help to walk each day on the pathway that leads to Him, because it’s not easy living in this world by God’s rules and following His ways instead of the worlds. It is very easy to slip off the narrow path and onto the wide one so we need to allow the Holy Spirit to help us too.

Anyway the disciples are to be patient and wait, but Jesus is leaving, he’s going back to his Father. Now I’m not exactly sure how long it was before he left them, in Luke’s telling of events it seems like it was almost immediately however this is because it’s the next bit that he writes down. Whatever the timing (this year Ascension Sunday is celebrated on the 13th May) we do know that Jesus left and according to Luke it was after they had walked to Bethany and as he was giving them a blessing he was taken up into heaven. Mark also tells this bit of the story in Mark 16:19-20 and Luke tells it again in Acts 1:9-11adding a bit about the presence afterwards of two men dressed in white who ask the disciples why they were looking up into the sky and telling them that one day Jesus would return in the same way. We will be hearing about the coming of the Holy Spirit but not for some weeks yet when we celebrate Pentecost on Sunday 23rd May, therefore next week we will continue our journey in Acts 19 with Paul.

Prayer: Lord today we pray for the bereaved, for those whose loved ones have died and we especially pray for our Queen who in this past week has mourned for her husband Prince Philip. We thank you that the numbers of folk contracting Covid 19 is much lower than it was and for the immunisation programme that is beginning to offer protection from this terrible virus. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. Amen

God bless. Rev Sue