Every Easter we may come to this time of the year with our understanding firm. We know why Jesus died, what it means to us. 

Easter isn’t just one day but a climax to everything central in our faith. But was it then? for those first disciples, what was it like?

I invite you to take off our 21st Century glasses, those Raybans, those Specsavers of today, and look at what it was like through what we perceive are our 1st century glasses, to see the perspective of those disciples.

Jesus, born in Galilee, as a peasant not a ruler, poor not rich, was able to see at first hand the ways that the Roman rulers, or more accurately the local rulers appointed by Rome, frittered away money on large scale building projects such as Temples to the Roman Emperors or palaces for themselves. Jesus would have seen that dilemma between dominion power and the poorer class. What would God want?

Jesus’ first years were spent wandering around Galilee, according to Mark, Luke and Matthew, eventually making to Jerusalem for the passover festival. John’s Gospel noted that he had visited Jerusalem a number of times.

The disciples were ones who never really caught on – I can associate with that. Yes those disciples saw the miracles, heard the parables, the messages, but they struggled. The women, not always mentioned, were always there, in the background, a number of them were the ones funding this work. Let’s not forgot that: this was equality in action even if not recorded as such in those times.

Even as Jesus arrives into Jerusalem we find the disciples confused, again, looking to support Jesus in what they think he’s up to.

Is he leading a revolt? Do we want to be on his left hand and right hand, his trusty lieutenants? 

There are those that deny him, those who are portrayed as betraying him even. What must these disciples have felt on Friday when their leader was crucified? If it had been up to the Jewish authorities, punishment would have been stoning – that was the normal way, but as he had been handed over to the Romans, they sought to punish the usual way for them, crucifixion. To the Jews this was the worst ever way of dying, a scandal, for in Deuteronomy it speaks of the curse of dying on a tree. How could Jesus, the one who would lead them to freedom, the Messiah, be cursed? 

The women, the three Mary’s, and Joseph of Arimethea, and Nicodemus carrying such a huge amount of spices, ensured that the body was prepared as per Jewish requirements. 

John 20:1-18 (given at the bottom of the blog post)

If you get chance I would encourage you to read Matthew’s version of this day (Matthew 28:1-10) Compare the main character, no it’s not Jesus either, the presence or lack of an earthquake, and for that matter the presence of guards, whether the angel or angels plural speak. 

In John’s account Mary is so confused. Mary checks inside the tomb to find it’s empty but the burial clothes.. they are still there, albeit folded. Please let us not go on too fast, what was she thinking? Was it that clear that Jesus had risen? Those clothes were all that was left behind, or so see thought.

What are we leaving behind in the tomb, this Easter, as Jesus left behind the clothes?

Those old arguments which keep reappearing, we thought we had buried them but they resurface. Those bad practices or soul-draining habits which sap our time, our energy, aspects of our life – why can’t we put them behind us? And those old mindsets, where we have not attempted to ‘move with the times’ but keep a tight hold of what we are comfortable with, like an old cushion which smells and has lost its padding. What are we leaving behind in the tomb as Jesus left behind the clothes?

Mary speaks to the angel “where have you taken him”, and then repeats that same question to the gardener. She appears so inwardly focussed, her whole thought process so tightly pinpointed that she fails to recognise the difference between an angel and … but when he says her name, Mary, she turns to see and recognises. Now her mind is running fast, everything has changed, changing, she must tell the others. 

They are, no doubt, just wondering what has happened, perhaps they felt isolated. Their leader had been taken from them, they were leaderless.

In recent days we have had our leader, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, isolated from us, he was isolating in his flat above No 11 Downing Street and in hospital. How did that make us feel?

The point is that for some, operating without a leader can be debilitating. Currently what we might see as our Church may also be leaderless, in that for many today, people’s connection to church has been severed – those with internat access to a church live stream are perhaps fortunate by having a link to communal fellowship, but for many it is just not there. Their understanding of attending a service every Sunday, a minister or preacher being there, someone to read the Bible, to lead the prayers…and now…does Songs of Praise really satisfy what they are missing? And to us who have this facility, kindly provided by Roomfield Baptist through John, where is our understanding coming from in-between times?

Jesus came back, and as we will hear in the weeks to come, people were re-energised and came together – but they were individuals recharged, this was not a church but individuals ablaze.

What are we going to do to ensure that in this time of isolation that we will be recharged daily as individuals?

Where are we going to get our daily inspiration?

That could be on your #BorisWalk, our daily permitted exercise. Perhaps in the garden, or in a nearby park. I (did) go down the Halifax Road in Todmorden and recently heard a woodpecker near to Eastwood, pecking away, repeatedly cycling thorough an activity, needing to get into a routine, so it could live and flourish.

What routine will we seek to help us spiritually flourish? This is a time, like the disciples when they had to focus, they had to build a routine, a rhythm into their life so they could entwine and build their understanding of God, of the ways of Jesus into their lives, so they would flourish. I do not believe that God wants us to stagnate, to just get by, but be encouraged by what we read in the Bible and from others who comment on those words. 

So how might we individually extend our knowledge, not resting upon a weekly sermon or talk, but by our desire to know more? 

We could start a fresh way to read the Bible, perhaps Pray as you go, something available on line which reads the Bible to you every day, or order some Bible Notes from UCB or the Methodist web site (they are all free) – what time might we set aside for this every day?

Pray-As-You-Go https://pray-as-you-go.org  UCB https://www.ucb.co.uk/read Resources to help understand our relationship with God

I have heard of people who after years of not finding interest in reading the Bible have started in books – not Leviticus or Numbers but one of the Gospels, and found great delight. Read it like a novel, not limited by the Chapters and verses – they were added far later anyway.  The Jewish way to read the parables as they were intended was through discussion – so you are allowed to disagree, you are allowed to ask questions – it’s not wrong to disagree but a way of grappling with the message – the Jews would even go as far as to say masticate, to chew over the text. 

We could find a book in your book case perhaps, or Google a book on line, or download one that we can listen to, or even buy one online which could stimulate our thoughts. We could meet virtually at the moment not to listen to one person but to share our thoughts our opinions, for we all are valued, on what that parable means. Allow that discussion to flow, to possibly even think the unlikely – ask the disciples if they thought Jesus returning to life would ever happen? Don’t be constrained with 21st Century vision but look at it from their perspective, when it was written, to whom, by whom, for what reason.

We could sing a hymn as one person mentioned to me on one recent call. Not one to go to church, he found great solace in singing a hymn, which reminded him of the words once cherished but until recently forgotten.

We could pray as you walk, not using set words or if you want using set words. Don’t be constrained but let God live in you. Many of us may have lit a candle at 7pm a few weeks ago as this crisis started.

How do you feel lighting a candle once a day and, as you focus upon the flame, speak to God about your day, your concerns. I believe prayer isn’t a list of requests but a conversation where we connect to God in such a wonderful intimate way.

Check out later this minister’s perspective on prayer

Easter

The first disciples didn’t say wow that was an Easter to remember. The Gospels record what was remembered, the important stories, the pivotal moments such as that passover festival, the death of Jesus and his resurrection.

It wasn’t key for some time, but it dawned. In this period of lockdown, of isolation or cocooning, may we see this as a pivotal moment: one where the ‘church’ as a building becomes less important, but as we continue to contact people, in and out of church, we create a relationship focussed life, one where that love shown to us by God, through Jesus, is seen by all.

Don’t let this Easter be another we can tick off as celebrated, but one which is life changing, for us as individuals.

I invite you know to listen to some music which tells the story of Easter to a familiar tune, perhaps we can join in with the Hallelujahs

Hallelujah (Easter Version)


John 20:1-18 NRSV (from Bible Gateway)

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

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