A video that will make you marvel at the beauty of God’s creation. Utterly incredible.
A video that will make you marvel at the beauty of God’s creation. Utterly incredible.
I wonder, is this what mutual flourishing looks like?
This is well worth watching, it’s moving and challenging:
This year I preached for the first time on Easter day. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever thumped the pulpit!
Here is the text of my sermon on Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb (John 20:1-18). May you know the presence of the Risen Christ with you always!
I wonder if you’re any good in a crisis? Isn’t it horrible when you get an unexpected phone call that brings bad news? Even worse when it’s a phone call that requires you to act, and act immediately. When that happens it feels like all the breath has gone out of you. First you freeze and then you think, who can I call? Who will know what to do?
Well, very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene finds herself in just such a crisis. She has gone to the tomb and found it empty. Her only conclusion is that they have taken Jesus’ body somewhere else. They probably being the Roman guards on duty. So she thinks, ‘I must get Peter, he’ll know what to do’ and runs to find him. Peter comes along with John and they come with urgency running to the tomb. They look in and see that the body of Jesus has gone. And then, there is quite a devastating sentence in the gospel, devastating at least for Mary. Then the disciples returned to their homes. Mary is left by the empty tomb, all alone in her grief. She’s not content to leave like Peter and John, she’s not happy with their response to this crisis, she stays, weeping for all that has happened, perhaps weeping because Peter and John didn’t seem to have an answer. So she sits in her grief, but maybe, just maybe, in deciding to stay by the tomb, the first seed of hope is growing in her.
Did you notice in the reading that the angels that appear to Mary in the tomb do not have any effect on her. They don’t frighten her, they don’t stun her into silence. They ask Mary why she is weeping and she can only repeat the refrain ‘they have taken away my Lord’. Her grief is so overwhelming that she doesn’t even notice that they’re angels. Perhaps you have known grief or trouble as desperate as that? Such deep sorrow that you can’t connect with the things of God at all, you are just numb.
Jesus is already there with Mary in her grief, even before she knows it. Who knows how long he’s been standing there behind her. He knows what she’s going through. He’s experienced a similar deep sorrow in a different garden only three days before. Jesus is with Mary in her grief even when she doesn’t know it.
Then Mary turns around and sees someone, and like the angels, he asks the same question ‘why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?’ Mary repeats the same refrain, ‘they have taken away my Lord, they have taken away my Lord’. Mary doesn’t notice that it is Jesus, just as she didn’t notice the angels speaking to her. But Jesus recognises her. He doesn’t just recognise her, he knows her intimately, knows her troubled history more than anyone because he had freed her of seven demons. In saying her name, Jesus is reminding her how well he knows and loves her, one word, ‘Mary’ and she is jolted out of grief and into joy as she sees that it is Him.
Mary’s cry of ‘they’ve taken away my Lord’ is transformed into the joyful message ‘I have seen the Lord’! Mary becomes the first apostle, the apostle to the apostles, the one sent to the others to proclaim that Jesus is alive!
Mary’s story is also our story. When we are going through hard times, Jesus is with us, even when we don’t notice, even when we can’t feel it, Jesus is standing behind us, with us, patiently waiting for us to tell him what’s happened. Jesus knows pain, Isaiah describes God’s servant as a man of grief, acquainted with suffering. Because Jesus not only suffered and died but rose again, defeating death, he is always and especially present with us in times of sorrow, in the dark times of our lives.
When we baptise people we give them a special candle that has been lit from our beautiful Easter Candle – this light which is to us the light of the Risen Jesus. I always say to the families as I give them the candle that this means that Jesus will always be a light shining in that child’s life and most especially during those times that are the darkest. A candle shines most brightly, of course, in the dark. The Risen Christ is with us always.
Have you ever noticed that we always use the present tense when we talk about the resurrection? We say Jesus is risen, not Jesus has risen, because Jesus is alive, he is in the present, he is alive and with us now.
Not only is Mary’s story, our story, but Jesus’ story becomes our story. Our lives now reflect the pattern of Christ, we travel through the abandonment of Good Friday, the silence of Holy Saturday but our destination is always Easter Sunday and resurrection, new life, transformation. Because God raised Jesus from the dead, so too will we be raised! Paul writes to the Romans that the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is alive in each of you! So we, like Mary can say ‘I have seen the Lord!’ Alleluia!
Image attribution: Girolamo Savoldo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. On the Sunday morning after the Crucifixion, Mary Magdalene visited the tomb of Jesus, but found it empty. The story is recounted in the New Testament (John 20), and Mary Magdalene is here identified by the pot of ointment with which she anointed Christ’s body, and by the glimpse of her traditional red dress beneath a silver-grey cloak. She was the first person to see Christ after the Resurrection. Several other versions of this composition by Savoldo are known. The landscape background appears to represent Venice and its lagoon.
This year I once again was involved in the shortlisting for the Sandford Awards – awards for excellence in religious programming. The category that I was given was ‘Interview of the Year’ – all of the interviews were absolutely fascinating and every one could have been a winner. You can see the final shortlists here.
One interview that stayed with me was one based on a painting by the artist ID Campbell called Our Last Supper.
You can listen to the interview here: http://www.smallvoice.org.uk/a-thousand-words-iain-campbell/
Using this, I have created a meditative film that can be used in worship. Enjoy!
Iain Campbell is a portrait painter, and Artist in Residence at St George’s Tron Church of Scotland in Glasgow city centre. ‘Our Last Supper’ is on display in the Olive Tree Café in St George’s Tron Church right in the heart of Glasgow city centre.
My favourite blog, Brain Pickings, posted a wonderful article of 10 things learnt in 10 years of blogging at the end of 2016. I was very struck by the first lesson learned:
Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.
Today is the rich and beautiful feast of Epiphany, marking the beginning of the Epiphany season when we remember the visit of the Magi from the East, the Baptism of Jesus and the early miracle of Jesus’ ministry, the turning of water to wine at the wedding at Cana.
Thinking about those wise men, it occurred to me that their true wisdom was in recognising that their first guess of the palace of Jerusalem as the place to find this boy king was wrong. To use Maria Popova’s phrase, they allowed themselves the uncomfortable luxury of changing their mind. As I re-read the story of the visit of the magi I was struck by the response of Herod – one of fear and suspicion rather than what should have been a response of delight and hospitality. There are plenty of world leaders today whose response to difference, to strangers, to new ideas is one of fear and suspicion. Might we be more like the magi, ready to be open to a new way. They returned home by a new way, a different way, having had their eyes opened to something completely wonderfully new, a new hope perhaps.
This epiphany, this ‘revealing’ perhaps ultimately came to them quietly in their sleep, as they were nudged by an angel not to go back to Herod. This revelation came from outside, not from themselves, their own deliberations. This dream of the magi is depicted in a beautiful and arresting way in this carving at the Cathedral of Autun in France. Look at the gentle nudge by the angel using one finger, waking up one of the men. Might we be nudged awake to tread a new path in 2017 of hope, wisdom and adventure.
I like making lists. I thought I would have a look back over the films, books and music I enjoyed in 2016 so here are my top 5 of each:
I consume music so differently these days. I have a subscription to Spotify – the streaming service – and have enjoyed their weekly discover playlist – which is a list of music that they think I’ll like based on my listening history (old and new tracks). I have also enjoyed buying second hand vinyl to play on my record player. Most of my new discoveries have come from listening to BBC 6 Music in my car. I often use the Shazam app to find out what the track is and this automatically creates a playlist in Spotify for me.
To get an idea of what I’ve been listening to this year, here is my most listened to playlist:
My top 5 songs of 2016 (which are a mixture of vinyl discoveries and others) are:
Do you have any recommendations for me for 2017?
Tonight we had a beautiful 9 lessons and carols service. One of our readers, Ros, read this poem by Lisa Debney and it was so beautiful I wanted to share it with you along with my good wishes for Christmas and 2017.
Remember that we carry the light of Christ with us into this dark world – the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it!
Your eyes are open now.
Those eyes which will open the eyes of others.
You study my face and, just for the moment,
though you came for the world,
you are mine and mine alone.
I made you and you made me
and we gaze at each other in equal wonderment.
Your eyes are open now,
so dark-bright –
sent from a night full of light and stars –
that I could watch you for ever,
watch your chest rise and fall
as you breathe the cattle-soaked air.
I would like this moment to last for ever,
you are so wonderful to me,
so truly wonderful as you are.
But not my will, Lord, but yours be done.
I must hand you over for the world cries out for you,
though I cry out to let you go.
Just for tonight let the future leave us in peace.
Close your eyes, baby.
Close your bright eyes on the dusty darkness of the world.
There is majesty in you but for now let it hide,
let it hide like a gem while you sleep.