resurrection rollercoaster

Once again we are about to strap ourselves into the spiritual and emotional rollercoaster that is Easter. For me Easter starts with the long, slow Lent ascent towards Palm Sunday. The shouts of “Hosanna!” at the top begin to turn into shrieks when we swoop downwards as the authorities tell Jesus to quieten the crowd and we are thrown into a series of unexpected corkscrews as Jesus clears the Temple of the traders. 

From there we have a series of small undulations and curves as the authorities question and challenge Jesus and he tries one last time to prepare his followers for what is about to happen. 

Suddenly there’s another steep drop as Judas agrees to betray Jesus and then another slow ascent to a profound peak as we experience the Last Supper. From there we experience a stomach-churning maelstrom of emotion as Jesus is betrayed, arrested, abandoned, betrayed, tried, flogged, sentenced and condemned. 

And just when we think things can’t get any worse the rollercoaster plunges into a tunnel of pitch-black darkness with Jesus on the cross, his death and burial. At this point, in the darkness, we are disorientated and unaware that the rollercoaster is actually climbing again. 

On Easter Sunday it emerges triumphant into the glorious brightness of the new day of resurrection, restoration and recommissioning.

(I did wonder whether on Easter Sunday we should find that we have emerged from the darkness and find ourselves on a completely different rollercoaster, but that would be stretching the analogy too far!)

One of the miracles for me as a Minister at this time of year is that I have yet to run out of new things to learn and discover about Jesus. I was ordained 23 years ago and each Easter there is more for me to learn, understand, appreciate and experience and there are more reasons for me to worship the Risen Saviour. I find that it is easy to fall into the trap, however, of looking for that ‘new thing’ rather than simply stopping and reflecting on what I have already experienced and know to be true. Let me give you an example:

“Jesus is alive!” This phrase trips off our tongues so easily. Familiarity with that does not so much breed contempt as complacency. But stop for a moment. Think about it. Allow the words to sink into your heart and mind. Jesus was dead and now is alive! Don’t go off into the theological implications of that just yet – Jesus is alive!!!! The dead, executed, extinguished, disposed-of, rejected one is now the surprising, greeting, living, breathing, walking, locked-door ignoring, breakfast-eating, risen and very much resurrected ONE. Doesn’t that send a shiver down your spine?

My hope and prayer for each one of us is that Jesus will meet each one of us afresh this Easter in significant ways that will revive our faith, and through us and our churches so that the Good News is proclaimed loud and clear in our communities.

Be blessed, be a blessing 


(This is another ‘Thought for the week’ that is being shared with EBA Ministers today)

diaryYou may have heard or read Tony Campolo talking about how he was preached off the platform by an old Minister whose theme was “It’s Friday…. but Sunday’s coming!” Tomorrow that theme comes to life (and death). But today it’s Maundy Thursday… but Friday’s coming.

“Maundy” might be derived from Latin ‘Mandatum’ via Old English to mean ‘commandment’ as in ‘A new commandment I give to you: that you love one another as I have loved you.’ Or it might come from Latin ‘Mendicare’ meaning ‘to beg’ – relating to the alms given out by the King before Mass on the Thursday before Easter. The origins of the word are shrouded in mystery. Whatever the origins of the name, Maundy Thursday can seem like a poor relation to the brutal love shown on Good Friday and the resurrection joy of Easter Sunday. It’s can be seen as a prelude to the main event.

And yet…

It was the night when Jesus washed the feet of his friends – feet that had trodden on the palm branches and cloaks on the rode as the accompanied the King on a Donkey, but which were attached to people who were too proud to take the role of a servant (or just thought someone else ought to do it). A night of humility.

It was the night of the Last Supper when Jesus fulfilled and gave new meaning to the Passover – when unleavened bread and wine became a costly feast. A night of remembrance.

It was the night when he ate alongside those who would run away from him, deny knowing him and even betray him with a kiss. A night of fickleness.

It was the night when Jesus sang a hymn with his friends – maybe a setting of Psalm 22? A night of haunting melody.

It was the night when Jesus and his friends went to the Garden of Gethsemane – where he asked them to ‘watch and pray’ and they slept as he agonised. A night of blood, sweat and fears.

It was the night when Jesus prayed in the way that he had taught his friends – honestly, humbly, heroically: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” A night when the cost was counted.

It was the night when Jesus carried out another healing – repairing the damage Peter had caused with his sword in a valiant but misguided attempt to defend Jesus. A night of grace in the face of hate.

It was the night when he was arrested in secret for fear of the crowds, when the mockery of a trial process began and the trials of a mockery process began. A night of humiliation.

Today, whatever activities you and your churches have planned, don’t discount Maundy Thursday as the warm up act to the main event. It’s when Jesus began to show us how much he loves us and how much we are to love one another. It’s when the King of kings begins to extend his arms for us and to us and offers us his body and blood.

Be blessed, be a blessing

Friday 13th (bwah hah hah hah) [sinister laugh]

Dum dum daaaaah [spooky music]

CalendarToday is Friday 13th, 2013. Superstitious people are somewhat skittish today. What they will be like at 13:13 is anybody’s guess!

It seems to be accepted that Friday 13th is an unlucky day because there were 13 at the Last Supper and Jesus was crucified on a Friday. Some other theories are also available, and the exact origins are lost in the mists of time, but the Easter origins are as good as any.

Except that the idea that the Last Supper and Good Friday are unlucky is based on a very weak understanding of what was going on. The Last Supper is right up there as one of the most poignant moments in Jesus’ ministry. It is the moment when his predictions of his arrest and trial become realities. It is the moment when Jesus washes their feet (including Judas’s feet) to demonstrate servant leadership and humility. It is the moment when Judas leaves the band of disciples and prepares to lead the team of soldiers to arrest Jesus. It is the moment when Jesus took elements from the familiar Passover meal and used them to give us tangible reminders of who he was and what he was doing.

The bread which Jesus used may well have been the piece of unleavened bread that represented the priest or mediator between God and humanity. In the Passover Meal it is traditionally wrapped up and hidden away just as his body would be.

There are several ‘cups’ that are drunk during the meal. The one that is drunk ‘after supper’ is known as the ‘cup of redemption’ and reminds of the sacrificial death of the lambs on that first Passover and the blood that was daubed on the door frames to save the people. It was a cup that represented freedom bought at a price.

There’s no bad luck there. It was premeditated, planned and perfectly provided.

And yes Good Friday is the darkest day in human history. It’s the day when we tried to extinguish the Light of the World. But Jesus had been telling his friends that it was going to happen. He had been explaining that it was necessary to fulfil all that he was saying and doing. And he had been explaining that on the third day he would be raised to life again.

Jesus’ death was tragic. But it is not unlucky. It was planned, premeditated and perfectly provided. If anything it is the best news for humankind that we have ever had.

So instead of being trepidatious today try being confident that Friday 13th reminds you of the extent of God’s love and our reconciliation with him that Jesus achieved in his death.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A famous art collector is walking through the city when he notices a mangy cat lapping milk from a saucer in the doorway of a store and he does a double take.

He knows that the saucer is extremely old and very valuable, so he walks casually into the store and offers to buy the cat for two dollars.

The store owner replies, “I’m sorry, but the cat isn’t for sale.

The collector says, “Please, I need a hungry cat around the house to catch mice. I’ll pay you twenty dollars for that cat.” And the owner says “Sold,” and hands over the cat.

The collector continues, “Hey, for the twenty bucks I wonder if you could throw in that old saucer. The cat’s used to it and it’ll save me from having to get a dish.”

To which the owner says, “Sorry buddy, but that’s my lucky saucer. So far this week I’ve sold sixty-eight cats.”

still in secret?

>going anywhere nice for your holidays?He told me, “No one can enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit…”

He explained Scripture like no-one I have ever heard before.

He understood God.

He understood me.

I thought he was The One.

But he can’t be.

Look at what they have done to him.

He did not deserve that.

He never harmed anyone.

At least Joseph and I can give him a decent resting place.

That’s the least I can do for him.

(John 19:38-42)

Bully for you

>praying in anguishSticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me.

“The one I kiss is the man”

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me.

“Are you the King of the Jews?”

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me.

“I don’t *#@&%$ know the man!”

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me.

“Prophesy – who hit you?”

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me.

“I wash my hands of this man.”

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me.

“Crucify him, crucify him.”

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me.

“He saved others, but he can’t save himself.”

Nails and thorns may pierce my flesh but death can never hold me.

It is finished.

Crucify Hymns

>at the foot of the crossWere you there when they crucified my Lord?

Not really. I mean, I knew it was happening and I did watch from a distance. But it wasn’t like I was wielding a hammer or holding the nails. What’s that? Well, yes I did join in with the crowd but then everybody does don’t they? You can’t blame me for that surely.

When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died

If you had seen a crucifixion you would recognise that crosses are not that wondrous. It might be all poetic and worshipful but crosses are cruel. They are designed to kill. And they are designed to kill slowly and painfully.

Man of Sorrows, wondrous name

He looks rather forlorn, alone, wretched. He doesn’t look like the King of the Jews. Was that a cruel joke? The crowd are calling him plenty of names but none of them are wondrous. Even one of the thieves crucified next to him has a mouthful of abuse to hurl. Yet Jesus has words of peace for his partner in crime.

Shine Jesus Shine

Where’s the sun gone? Why is it so dark, it’s the middle of the day? There was no solar eclipse forecast for today and it’s not that cloudy. What is going on at this godforsaken place? What does Jesus think is finished?


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

the mother of all oxymorons

I’m back. I have been away at our church holiday at Sizewell Hall on the Suffolk coast, just next door to Sizewell Nuclear Power Station. I felt quite at home!

We were all quite tired when we got home so decided to order takeaway pizza for tea. I think everyone else in the church must have had the same thought because the delivery took a long time to arrive. While we were waiting I realised what a multilayered oxymoron ‘takeaway delivery’ is.

We did not take anything away from the place where the food was created. That must surely be the definition of ‘takeaway’ food. And the direction is all wrong. It was movement towards not away from that defined yesterday’s food. So in reality I think what we had was ‘requested delivery towards’ pizza.

That’s not the only oxymoron that is bothering me at the moment. Tomorrow is ‘Good Friday’. I have always struggled with that name for as long as I have been aware of what the day commemorates. I understand that ‘good’ in this sense refers to ‘holy’ but why couldn’t they have called it ‘Holy Friday’ if that’s the case? I can remember being told that it is ‘good’ because it is the day when because of Jesus’ death on the cross.

Both, or either, maybe true. There may be another explanation that one of you can offer. But regardless of the history I cannot easily reconcile ‘good’ with what happened. Here are some alternative names that occur to me:

travesty of justice Friday

cruel Friday

the darkest day in history Friday

how could they Friday

how could I Friday

how could he Friday

There are various hymns, poems and reflections that speak of it being love that held Jesus on the cross, not nails. That may be so but it was an unspeakably cruel way to kill somebody, particularly for political expediency and power, and especially someone who was completely innocent.

It reminds me of just how seriously God takes human sin. I think he takes it a lot more seriously than we do most of the time. Until we look at the cross on Good Friday we don’t understand the depths to which we have sunk. Nor do we fully understand the depths of God’s love for us.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

at the foot of the cross

Who is there at the foot of the cross?

Simon of Cyrene? A visitor to Jerusalem. He was not a follower of Jesus but somehow got caught up in the events and carried the cross for Jesus.

Women who were distraught about the execution of the one who had shown them dignity and honour. Who had spoken of a new kingdom based on love.

People who only a few days before had been singing and shouting, “Hosanna!” which had turned into screams of “Crucify him!”

Those who had schemed and engineered his death. Feeling vindicated. Mocking. Drunk on the surge of power that bullies feel over their victims.

A convicted criminal was there, next to him. He acted true to form and joined in the mockery of the hapless victim beside him. Why did he have no fight in him?

Another criminal, on the other side, who realised he was witnessing an injustice and sought reconciliation with Jesus… “remember me”

Soldiers who had crucified him, watching the effects of their morning’s work, and their commanding officer who, too late, realised they had killed an innocent man.

Those who had been secret followers of Jesus. Wondering whether they should have tried to stand up for him. Is it too late to do something for him now?

Perhaps, at a distance, not wanting to risk catching his eye, some of his closest friends who had abandoned him. Not able to look, unable to tear their eyes away.

You and I are there. Part of the crowd. Represented. How do you feel as you hear the cry, “It is finished!”


>To keep things fresh, this entry starts with lots of jokes rather than ending with one:

Q: Where do you find elephants?
A: It depends on where you lost them.

Q: Why do elephants wear blue tennis shoes?
A: Because the white ones get dirty too fast.

Q: Why do elephants live in herds?
A: To get a wholesale reduction on the blue tennis shoes.

Q: Why do elephants float on their backs?
A: So they don’t get their tennis shoes wet.

Q: How many elephants can you fit in a taxi?
A: Four. (One next to the driver and 3 in back)

Q: How many giraffes can you fit in a taxi?
A: None, it’s full of elephants.

Q: What sport do elephants play in a taxi?
A: Squash.

Q: How do you know when an elephant is visiting your house?
A: There’s a taxi outside with three elephants in it.

Q: How do you put an elephant into the refrigerator?
A: Open door, put elephant in, close door.

Q: How do you put a giraffe into refrigerator?
A: Open door, get elephant out, put giraffe in, close door.

Q: How can you tell when there’s been an elephant in your refrigerator?
A: Footprints in the butter.

Q: How can you tell when there is an elephant in your refrigerator?
A: Blue tennis shoes are left outside.

Q: How can you tell when there are two elephants in you refrigerator?
A: It’s rather hard to close the door.

Q: How can you tell when there are four elephants in your refrigerator?
A: There’s a taxi waiting outside.

Q: Why are there so many elephants running around free?
A: Your fridge is not large enough to hold them all.

I have anonymised the following true story to protect the identity of the main protagonist. A while ago a member of staff was leaving a Christian organisation (let’s call it the Baptist Onion of Little Britain for the sake of argument) to go on Maternity Leave. The tradition was that when a member of staff left the rest would gather together to give gifts, say goodbye and to offer a prayer. On this occasion the person who was leading the prayer (we’ll call him David Toffee) made a freudian slip.

The lady in question was very pregnant and in his prayer David Toffee meant to thank God for her ‘elegance’. However, what he actually thanked God for was her ‘elephants’!

Is it blasphemous to snigger in a prayer?

So why all the pachyderm references? Well, elephants are notorious for having a very long memory (so they can remember where they left their blue tennis shoes?). I find that my memory for names is poor, no matter how hard I try. It’s almost as bad as remembering where I left things.

God must have the best memory of all. Everything that has happened in time is known to him. When the Bible talks about him not remembering my sin any more when I have asked for forgiveness it is not because he forgets, it is because he actively chooses not to remember. It is as if it never existed as far as he is concerned. He no longer counts those things against me.

That’s what Jesus’ death can do for me. That’s always worth remembering.