Bible Readings and Reflection
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Bishop's Pastoral Letter - Easter 2022
When the Judean and Roman authorities set a seal on the stone securing the tomb of Jesus (Matthew 27.66), they must have felt the story was over. It was likely that the disciples thought the same thing. A troublesome prophet had made his bid for glory, entering Jerusalem in triumph, but now he had been arrested, tried, shown to be a fraud, executed and safely buried. It had happened before to Jewish rebel leaders, and that was that.
Yet the Christian claim is most astounding – on the third day he rose again. You can see the shock waves spreading out from the tomb. First, key disciples, who had intended to dress Jesus’ body for burial, are recorded as finding the tomb empty, then Jesus starts appearing to his immediate circle, but very quickly the early Church is blessed with enthusiasm and power to begin witnessing to Jesus as the conqueror of death and evil. Far from being defeated, Christians said, Jesus is alive, the victor and the author of eternal life.
The shock waves have reverberated across the world and down through the ages. Enemies of Christianity have been converted, the most surprising people have done the most surprising things because they believe in the resurrection: standing up to tyrants though it meant their death; standing with the outsider though it meant ridicule; standing with the weakest and poorest and most ill in society, though it meant partaking in suffering.
And for over two billion people today, myself among them, the Resurrection, rooted in historical experience, has become continuing inspiration to faith, and love and service. Fundamentally, the Christian good news is that evil does not have the last word, death is not the end, suffering is not without redemption, and no good thing is ever lost with God.
I believe that this is a message of hope that the world needs to hear. We have fought and struggled with Covid, the resurrection promises us that there is life beyond the pandemic – even that our loved ones who have died are somehow safe in God’s care. The horrors of war in Ukraine, and the dastardly deeds of warmongers are not the last word: there is the possibility of new life. War will end, regimes will collapse, new beginnings will come to pass.
Does this sound simplistic and is this hope the product of blind faith? Yes, it is my faith, it is my creed, but it is also my experience. I go back to the empty tomb in the Bible, and find it empty still. Christ is not there, he is risen. I see the lives of the apostles, Paul among them, transformed by God’s love, and the Church springing into life, and this speaks to me of a real experience of the living God. I listen to the testimony of the saints, and of friends and family, and they seem to have experienced what I experience – a thousand everyday resurrections, that keep life and hope and love alive, even in the darkest of situations.
One of the greatest of modern Welsh poets, Dylan Thomas, encouraged us “Do not go gentle into that good night”, and I suspect that for him, it was a war cry to live life to the full until its close. For me, however, the fact that the stone was rolled away tells me that night is never the end of the story, there will always be a morning.
The stones that can trap us in daily living, entombing us in disappointment, doubt, despair, or even spiritual death, are the stones that God’s angel seeks to roll away for us, and Christ is the first-born from the dead, the One who promises us that death and evil never has the last word.
Bishop's Pastoral Letter - February 2022
Bring a Christian involves a life of discipleship, following Jesus. I remember a preacher putting it very starkly in a sermon many years ago which had a great impact on me. “We are called”, he said, “to put Jesus first in our lives, but what does this mean?” “We should give him”, he continued, “the first day of the week in worship, the first part of every day in prayer, the first say in any decision, and the first part of our resources, talents and money.”
What a template for commitment! I know that I struggle to do this in my own Christian discipleship and ministry, and it does sound like a counsel of perfection, although that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a very good set of recommendations. I wonder how we’d mark ourselves out of ten.
At least two of these resolutions relate to the life of prayer, and yet I suppose that most of us would say that we find prayer difficult – difficult to find the time, difficult to know what to say, unsure of its effectiveness, and doubtful about its impact. Even the disciples came to Jesus begging “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11.1) After all, if God knows what we need before we ask him (Matthew 6.8), and is a God who seeks for the best in our lives (Luke 12.32), why bother in the first place? Well, I believe we should pray because Jesus tells us to pray (Luke 18.1), and in God’s plan, as a Father he delights to draw close to us in relationship. How strange a world it would be if we never spoke to each other in our homes, and passed like strangers through kitchen and living room, and yet, God, whom we believe to be in every place and every time, we sometimes forget and ignore.
So I believe we should as disciples regularly catch ourselves, and give God a moment to catch us, a moment when we stop and invite him to speak to us. We may have a regular slot, we may fit it in with the day’s schedule, but the important thing is not to let a day pass without making some time which is for him. A regular slot is better, of course, because we are creatures of habit, and the more habitual that we can make our prayer, the more naturally it will come to us. Some people tell me that they prefer to chat to God through the day, sending up short prayers like arrows before they start a new activity, or when they find themselves in need, and that is lovely – but I don’t think it can replace a sitting down, and giving God some intentional attention. It’s not for nothing that Rowan Williams once compared prayer with spiritual sunbathing.
So let our prayer begin with a putting down of our busyness, a stopping of other activities, and a quiet spot. Let it commence with a listening for God, in the beauty of our situation, or with a picture, sacred or special, or a piece of music that calms and puts a threshold between the world and our time with God. Perhaps the best thing to do is to read a brief passage of scripture – great chunks are not needed, a verse or two, perhaps from a study guide or a reading programme. Then, let us look for the movement of God in our lives, what blessings have come our way, what challenges may have distracted us. At the time of my confirmation, I was taught that prayer can be described as ACTS, a moment of Adoration, seeing what is beautiful in God; Confession, acknowledging where we’ve missed God; Thanksgiving, thanking God for where we’ve spotted him, and only then, Supplication, offering him our requests.
Only remember this, God delights in you, and when we put ourselves in his way, even if it is just breathing out a sigh, and letting our heart respond to his presence, it is a good starter for ten. Too often, I suspect, it is easy to let prayer be extra-curricular, something to be done when there’s a gap or an opportunity, rather like a school activity not part of the core curriculum, but for discipleship, prayer is and should be part of the core curriculum, something to invest in ahead of the rest of life, which helps to get all other things in proportion. Lord, teach us and help us to pray!
1 John 1:1-4
We are starting 2022 by looking at John's first letter on Sundays. It will expand on many of the themes of John's gospel, but its main message is one of assurance. How do we know that we are really Christians?
Assurance has been described as the cream of faith. Or in another way, faith as walking and assurance as running. The Roman Catholic church declares in its official teaching that a Christian cannot have assurance of salvation, and in fact this is even declared to be a sin. However, in John's first letter assurance is something that makes the joy of a Christian complete (1:4).
In this introduction to the letter in these first few verses John is very careful to declare that he has seen, looked at and touched Jesus. Jesus is real and more than just some kind of ghost, and more than just a good teacher. He was God in the flesh. John has seen him and now wants to testify and proclaim the good news about Jesus. The good news is that through Jesus, and only through him, a Christian can have fellowship with God the Father.
I hope you will join us as we journey through 1 John together until Easter.