B lieve it or not!

Before most people were awake

Beside themselves with grief

Baffled about how they would move the stone

Bewildered about Friday

Bemused about the empty tomb

Bowled over by the angels*

Blurred vision through the tears

Blissful in recognition

Blessed by the impossible

Breathless with excitement

empty tomb

*Some later less reliable manuscripts include these words:

‘Behind you’ chuckled the angel

‘Boo!’

SYLOFTRK*

empty tombOn Easter Sunday evening we going to hold a service that we’re calling “Songs of Resurrection”. It is a sort of Easter Carol Service, where we will sing some of the great hymns and songs of Resurrection and retell the Easter Resurrection narratives to celebrate the fact of Jesus’ resurrection.

*I did toy with the idea of calling the service “Sing Your Lungs out for the Risen King” but decided that ‘Songs of Resurrection’ was a slightly less in your face name.

There are 2 main reasons to do this: one is that inevitably at Easter we will not be able to sing all of the amazing Easter songs and hymns in one service and this will give us an opportunity to sing and celebrate some more. The second is that there is something significant and powerful about retelling the narrative as a whole. Just as at Christmas we are familiar with the story and yet retell it each year to refresh and remind ourselves about it so it will be good to take a similar opportunity at Easter.

I wish I’d come up with this idea a lot sooner so that I could have given our musicians and singers more time to prepare. But I’m sure we will still make a joyful noise and it will lift our spirits.

At Easter I find it very difficult sometimes not to rush to the resurrection because it is such a spectacular event. In my first church I was asked to lead the service at the end of the Good Friday March of Witness. It was a big event with several hundred people gathered in the Market Square and I had arranged for young people from different churches to participate. Because it was such a public event I felt that I could not leave Jesus buried in the grave but we had to finish on a resurrection hymn so that the general public could hear that Good Friday was not the end.

I was fascinated by how many people complained about this. ‘This was Good Friday, Easter Sunday has no business being mentioned’ seems to be the general thrust of the complaints. Every single complaint was from a regular church goer.

Without Good Friday Easter Sunday makes no sense. Without Good Friday God’s gracious act of reconciliation is impossible. It is important that we pause and reflect on that and on the astonishing sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. But, a little like re-watching a favourite film that I have seen many times before, I know the ending and cannot help viewing Good Friday through the lens of the Resurrection. We know how it ends, or rather how it really begins.

Without Easter Sunday we follow a dead martyr. Without Easter Sunday death is not defeated. Without Easter Sunday Jesus was a liar and a fraud.

But Jesus is alive and that makes all the difference.

if you are in the vicinity of our church at six thirty on Easter Sunday evening you would be very welcome to join us for the ‘Songs of Resurrection’. Whether or not you are able to be with us, however, don’t neglect to reflect on the one that resurrects!

Be blessed, be a blessing

whether forecast

This is a whether forecast. I don’t know whether I will be posting as regularly over the next few days. I may well be preoccupied with a few other things so the bloggerel may be in short supply (stop cheering). However, I will leave you with a pre-Easter thought and the threat of possible random thoughts during next week…

The religious authorities and the crowd did not demand Jesus’ crucifixion because he was tame, boring, and quiet.

This Sunday I will mostly be speaking about…

Is it just me? I find myself increasingly irritated by the news in the morning. We are told what has happened overnight. That’s great. That’s important. We are told about some things that are happening today. That’s helpful, even if it is a bit like advertising (especially when the ‘news’ is about a TV programme that is on later!). But what irritates me is when we are told what someone will be saying in a speech later.

Why? Why do we need to be told what is in the speech? Why not wait for the speech and then tell us what was said? And if we know what will be in the speech, why bother making the speech at all? It all seems rather silly to me. It would be like me announcing what will be in my sermon later this week. Yes, I know I sometimes say what the theme will be, but that is usually because something I have read or considered feels important then, and is not an attempt at trailing the sermon in advance to gain publicity.

Trailer
Trailers… pah!

I reckon this trend could probably be linked to the growth in the numbers of publicists and ‘spin doctors’. I suspect that the thinking is that if you announce the theme of the speech before it happens you can show how important / relevant / in touch with public opinion / controversial the speech will be and generate interest in it. It has certainly happened today with an announcement of the theme of a speech by David Cameron being trailed on the morning news and then picked up in a radio phone-in. By the time of the speech it becomes the topic everyone is talking about on that day and so become even more relevant.

There is a sense in which Jesus did that. During his ministry his theme was often about ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand / near / coming’. It was breaking in as he preached, healed, taught, blessed, encouraged, rebuked, challenged and invited. But it came in more spectacularly at Easter. On the cross. In the tomb. Out of the tomb!

This Sunday morning (unsurprisingly) the theme is Palm Sunday. I am not going to tell you what aspect of the theme we are taking. But is it possible that Palm Sunday was a trailer for Easter week? We are participating in the Passion Experience at our church. If you join in you will be sent a series of texts or emails during Easter week that reflect the events and help you to consider what was happening. The tension rises. The action gets more vivid. The dramatic music swells.

If you want to join in text ‘cbc’ to 07797 803 730 or visit www.thepassionexperience.org.uk/cbc and you can sign up for free. Make it the thing you are talking and thinking about next week.

if only I could be in two places at once

Last night I was torn. Ipswich Town (my favourite team) were playing in the second leg of the League Cup Semi Final against Arsenal, and went into the match with a slender 1-0 lead. The possibility of them reaching a final at Wembley was dangling temptingly in front of me. And the match was being shown live on BBC TV.

I had also been invited to speak at the Essex University Christian Union last night, about Noah. I have spoken at their meetings before and enjoy the experience. But the meeting was at the same time as the match.

Because it was a prior engagement and because it would have been incredibly rude and (to put it simply) WRONG to cancel because of a football match on the telly I went to the CU. There was no contest. I stayed at home and watched the football.

No! Not really. Honest! I went to the CU meeting and I was blessed and encouraged by the experience (and hope they were too). I spoke about Noah, showed a clip from Evan Almighty (link to trailer here) which helped me try to imagine what it must have been like for Noah when God told him to build the ark and shared some thoughts about Noah and his faith in God – about what that tells us about our own faith in God. I was pleased that my thoughts did not turn to the football match until after the meeting had ended and I was heading back to the car. I checked on my phone and it said the score was still 0-0 and there were only about 15 minutes left. That meant Ipswich were nearly in the final!

When I got in the car and started the engine, the radio came on and the commentators revealed that the score was actually 2-0 to Arsenal, 2-1 on aggregate. The website my phone connected to was very slow to update. (Possibly a theme here about churches needing to keep up with culture to be relevant). Ipswich had played valiantly but were now being overwhelmed. The final score on the night was 3-0. Not a disgrace against one of the best (and richest) teams in the country.

What got to me was the range of emotions. Elation and anticipation of victory turned to disappointment and resignation to defeat in the matter of a couple of seconds. That’s a big mood swing! (I am all right now. Accepting defeat is all part of being a supporter of Ipswich). But how would it be if it was the other way around?

The Easter narratives have that sort of experience. One moment Jesus’ followers and friends are in despair because he has been executed and then his body had been taken from the grave (so they thought) and the next he was standing there in front of them. No wonder he had to tell them not to be afraid! Their poor brains would have found it almost impossible to assimilate, even though he had told them this is what would happen. I don’t blame them. After all nobody else in history has claimed to be coming back to life on the third day after they have been killed, and then has done it.

In my imagination I am trying to reverse my emotional experience from last night and trying to imagine a bit more of what it was like to be in the locked room when Jesus appeared. It sends a shiver down my spine!

That’s a great way of experiencing the Bible – put yourself in the shoes of someone who was there. Ask yourself how they were feeling, what they were doing, and then try to imagine that you are there doing and experiencing the same things. It brings familiar events to life!

If you are tempted to criticise someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way, you are a long way away when you do criticise them, and you have their shoes as a bonus!