One of the Christmas cards that struck my eye this year was one that has a picture of a Jesus figure on the front, accompanied by presents around their head, and the proclamation ‘It’s All About Me’. What do you think about that? I suspect that it is a gentle way of poking fun at both the tendency of some Christians to be somewhat sanctimonious about ‘possession’ of our end of year communal festivities, and also the way in which we often want Christmas to meet our own expectations. This often begins as children - doesn’t it? – when we human beings don’t quite receive the magical Christmas for which we were hoping: maybe when we don’t have quite the special present we were expecting; and/or when our Christmas meal, or worship, isn’t quite right, or too much; or when we, or others around us, aren’t able to maintain the proverbial spirit of peace and goodwill in all our interactions. Sometimes our expectations are just too much, or too unrealistic. Sometimes they are quite right, and we are let down by events or by others. Either way, we may feel a little betrayed, especially if hopes for ourselves are involved. Perhaps however, in the disappointments of our personal Christmases, we may still learn a little of the wisdom in the birth of Christ. Fresh light may then stream in, particularly when we start looking beyond ourselves – not simply to the Christ child, but to everything about them. This may be part of the learning of this Covid-19 year, in which many Christmases are not as the world as a whole would hope. For, like the first Christmas, pictured in various ways in the Gospels, we have had to learn that it is not ‘All About Me’. If God is among us – the central message of Christmas – then he/she/they are everywhere, but not as we expected, and all of us are, truly, ‘in this together’…
When you see an egg, do you see the risen Jesus? This is what Christians have done from the earliest times. There is an Armenian picture from the eleventh century that shows the angel and the women at the tomb with a huge egg inscribed with the words ‘He is not here. He is risen.’
So why an egg. Well firstly eggs are elliptical in shape – they are infinite, having no beginning or end, and so are symbolic for God. There is no end to God’s creativity, God’s love, God’s compassion.
Secondly an egg symbolizes the potential of new life. In some sense it is a microcosm, a miniature version of everything that is. It reminds us of the potential that each of us has for new life and a new beginning, today on Easter Day and every day.
Thirdly, for a chick to emerge from an egg, the shell must be broken. This symbolizes for Christians the rolling away of the stone from the front of the tomb, so that the risen Christ could emerge. It reminds us that for the new to come, the old has to be fractured and let go – an important message in these days, where so much of what is familiar to us has to be left behind.
Eggs tell us that God cannot be contained; that resurrection is possible and life is stronger than death. In recent memory Christians living under the severely repressive Albanian government, used to dye eggs red for the blood of Christ in the Orthodox fashion, and then take them out in the dark of Holy Saturday night and place them on the steps of town halls and places of government. By doing so they asserted the power of love over hate.
So, what do you see when you see an egg? Take a little time today to contemplate an egg and ask God to help you see there the reality of new life even in the midst of death. And look twice – for it can be a messenger of hope and resurrection to you today.
Penny Jones, for Easter Sunday 12 April 2020
Our Gospel reading today (John 11.1-45) is the extraordinary story of the raising of Lazarus – a story of resurrection not just for the future, but into every day, earthly material life. I want us to concentrate on the three commands that Jesus gives in this story. Over the coming week you might like to ponder each in turn for a couple of days, and see how God speaks to you and the circumstances of your life through each one.
The three commands are these:
Take away the stone
Unbind him and let him go...
Making a transition is rarely easy, is it? Currently I’m conscious of many changes in which I am involved, some of which will take much time, wisdom and energy to unfold. We are, of course, in the very midst of such a change this morning, as Penny and I lay down our callings here, and as all of us open ourselves to the new things that God will do with us in the future. As such, this is a special, and precious, moment, as all holy transitions are. For the test, and the fruit, of God’s love is often found where we experience change. After all, as we see again, strikingly, in our Gospel reading today, our God is a God of a new creation, always calling us forth into new life and growth. Like John the Baptist, some of us are called to let go and pass on the baton. Like the disciples we are all called to ‘come and see’ where Jesus is calling us. Like Simon, we may be called to new names and purposes. Don’t you agree Penny?...
Many years ago I ministered with a wonderful older couple. Let us call them Bill and Beryl. They were faithful Christians and stalwarts of our church, and, among other things, I remember their 60th wedding anniversary celebration which brought terrific joy to everyone. Like all of us however they had their quirks, some more endearing than others. As they grew older, for example, they grew less able to come to worship and I began to visit them to share holy communion at home. Each time I visited they would have created a huge feast of salad and salmon sandwiches, none of which they ate but all of which they felt I should consume. Such are the perils of pastoral visiting! Indeed, Beryl also had a huge cupboard which was full of massive quantities of tinned salmon, various assortments of which she always insist on giving me when I tried to leave. Was that an addictive practice, I wonder? Was her salmon hoarding perhaps also a reflection of growing up in days of scarcity and rationing on Tyneside, always, to this day, an economically poor an challenged region of England? I never quite found out, for what concerned me more was Beryl’s often unhealthy attachment to the physical and pyschological wounds in her life, and her frequent inability to respond – like the man in our Gospel story – to Jesus’ call to ‘stand up, take your mat, and walk’...
I want to speak about three things which jump out from our Gospel reading today. I want to speak about fish, faith and forgiveness: about how fish flow out from faith; about how faith flows from forgiveness; and about how forgiveness flows from being a fish. First of all however, let me ask a question: where do you picture today’s Gospel story happening? What kind of a boat is it that sets out fishing? What do the people in the boat and on the shore look like? And what does the beach look like to you? Let us close our eyes for a moment and see if we can picture those elements of our story in our mind’s eye. Maybe we can also hear the sounds, and the smells, of the beach and the sea, the movement of the boat and the waves, the crackle of the fire, the voices of Jesus and the disciples. Let us stop for a moment and try to see, and feel…
I have a good friend called Peter Millar who was recently diagnosed with bone cancer. Some of you may remember him, for he visited Toowoomba a few years ago and he is quite a tour de force! Some of you may also know him from his writings. For Peter Millar is a leading member of the Iona Community in Scotland and a former Warden of Iona Abbey and he has contributed prolifically to sharing contemporary faith and engaged spirituality through many books, articles, poems and prayers. Like many contemporary Celtic Christians, he has also woven together a deep life of prayer and faith with commitment to building community locally and across the world, especially with the poor and the marginalised, and the struggles of the wider environment. Most of all, I think, Peter is an amazing person and model of encouragement for so many people, So it is particularly sad to see such personal struggles afflict such a spiritual live-wire, aflame with the love of God. Yet perhaps this is where, as in the sufferings and cross of Jesus, the love of God really comes alive and shines forth its truth….
How do we respond to death? I don’t ask that as a negative question but because it is at the heart of our Gospel – our Good News – today, and throughout this Holy Week. It is an unavoidable question, however much we try to avoid it: for, as the old proverb has it, two things are certain in life: death and taxes. Yet, more meaningfully, Christians believe, how we respond to death is at the heart of how we find life in this world, which is the ultimate meaning of our Gospel and the culmination of this Holy Week in the Resurrection. So, as we hear today’s Gospel reading (the story of Christ’s Passion according to Luke) - in three parts - let us reflect upon the challenge of death, so that we may find life again more fully, as Jesus offers it to us…
by Jon Inkpin for Easter Sunday, 2015
I would like to ask three leading questions this morning.
The first question is: Does anyone here have a garden?...
What does it look like? What do you do with it?
Do you realise we have a special garden – called a Quiet Garden – at St Mark’s? You might like to check it out sometime…
Gardens are so often a delight, aren’t they? – not least in this ‘Garden City’ of Toowoomba.
My second leading question is: Have you ever done anything wrong, or had something done to you, which was wrong, and which maybe made you feel bad or ashamed?... All of us I suspect!
Have you ever felt afraid, or suspicious too? Have you ever felt betrayed, or been betrayed?
Again, all of us experience these things, don’t we?
This part of what Holy Week, and especially Good Friday, is all about, isn’t it? - facing up to our sin and shame, our fear, suspicion and betrayals. So what then is Easter about? – and what has it to do with a garden? The answer is: a whole heap of beans, running over and flowing everywhere! When we see that our whole life is transformed, just like Mary Magdalene in our Gospel reading today: which leads to my third, and the most important, leading question of all in a moment…
Jon Inkpin for River Sunday, 28 September 2014
What is the name of your river? This is among the first questions Maori in Aotearoa New Zealand will ask anyone they meet. For mihi – greeting and introduction – is very important in Maori culture and establishing relationship requires that people know where each otber comes from and what has shaped them. So what is the name of your river? Maybe, like me, several rivers have shaped you. However most, if not all of us, I suspect, have been shaped by one or more particular river. For, even in our modern world, rivers are fundamental to human existence and community...