Articles

A reflection for Easter V Sunday 15th May 2022 by Canon Dean Fostekew

Acts 11:1-18

The Book of Acts reads a bit like a ‘Boy’s own’ adventure story. It is fast moving and contains accounts of journeys, arguments, debates, conversions and ship-wrecks. It is an exciting read. Try reading it through sometime and you will see what I mean. The Book of Acts is also radical, in fact very radical if not ‘dangerously radical’. It is radical in the sense that it suggests that God, the God of the Hebrews, the chosen people is not just for them but for all people both Jew and gentile.

What was St.Luke, the Book of Acts probable author thinking of to imply such things?

In first century Jewish society to suggest that God was for all people would have been heresy. It felt like heresy to those first Jewish Christians too. Jesus was a Jew and he never changed his religion or established a new one either – it was his followers who did that. At first those Jews who were followers of Jesus continued to worship in the temple as normal but with a devotion to Jesus and a desire to repent as he had encouraged them to do. This was fine until Peter, one of Jesus’ closest followers decided otherwise.

Following Jesus’ ascension his followers  continued with all the Jewish traditions and practices including as this passage tells us – circumcision of males. It was circumcision that singled the Jews out from others in their society. Remember too, at this time, women were not seen as being part of the chosen people, it was only men. Yet Peter tells these God fearing Jerusalem Jews that the Holy Spirit has told him not to make a distinction between Jew and Greek, circumcised or uncircumcised and by extension between men and women! To those Jewish Christians this would have been almost too shocking to contemplate. Peter obviously had his work cut out to convince them otherwise. He must have put up a good argument, however, as he did convince the Jerusalem party that no one was outside God’s favour and love and that Christ’s message was for all God’s people not just the chosen ones. I particularly like his comment at verse 18:

“Who was I that I could hinder God?”

This for me says it all. God’s spirit, God’s love cannot be stopped. It flows where it will and not where humankind thinks it should or might want it to go. It is inclusive and it should encourage all of us to be inclusive in our attitudes as well. For who are we to decide who is or who is not out with the bounds of God’s love and acceptance?

A reflection for Easter III Sunday 1st May 2022 by the Rev'd David Warnes

John 21:1-19

Today’s Gospel is one of my favourite passages in the New Testament. I remember that years ago a somewhat irreverent fellow ordinand described it as “the barbecue on the beach.” I rather like that description. It tells of seven disciples doing what for some of them had been routine work in the years before they were called to follow Jesus and having that everyday routine transformed by their encounter with the Risen Christ. I also like it because the sharing of bread and fish hints at the Eucharistic sharing to which Christ the host invites us as his guests. But the main importance of this passage is the encounter between Jesus and Peter.

St John’s Gospel includes the story of Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus. The next time we see him, he and the beloved disciple are racing towards the tomb on the first Easter morning. The Beloved Disciple gets there ahead of him, but it is Peter who goes into the tomb first and examines the folded graveclothes. Peter is not mentioned by name in the accounts of Jesus’ first two appearances to the disciples, so the issue of his denial of Jesus remains unresolved until the final chapter of the Gospel and the verses which we have just shared.

The resolution happens in surroundings which, for Peter, were familiar and workaday. After a long and unsuccessful night’s fishing, a stranger calls out to them from the shore, and suggests that they cast their nets in a different place.      It is only after their net is full of fish that the Beloved Disciple realizes that the stranger is Jesus, and Peter hastily puts on some clothes and leaps into the water to wade ashore.

We can infer a great deal about Peter, and about his experience of the Resurrection, from this behaviour. He had denied Jesus and therefore had plenty to be ashamed of, yet there was no question of his hiding from Jesus. He already understood that he was forgiven. His confidence and enthusiasm were restored, as was his characteristic impetuosity. He had been the first to enter the empty tomb, and now he was determined to be the first on shore to greet Jesus.

After breakfast, Jesus questions Peter closely, and questions him three times. It must have been a challenging experience for Peter, for the threefold questioning was surely a reminder of his threefold denial of Jesus. The English language cannot convey the subtleties of this passage, for in translation Jesus appears to ask exactly the same question – “Do you love me?” – three times – and Peter appears to give the same answer three times.

But there’s more to this question-and-answer session than English translations suggest. On the first two occasions when Jesus asks: “Do you love me?” the Greek verb that the Gospel writer uses is the same one that Jesus used when he said to the disciples: “This is my new commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus is not talking about affection or friendship, he is talking about unreserved, unconditional, and unwavering love – the kind of love that involves complete commitment to the needs of another person.

And when Peter replies, he uses a different word for love. A literal translation of their first exchange would be:

“Jesus said to Simon Peter “Are you more fully devoted and committed to me than these people”. He said to him: “Yes, Lord, you know that I am your friend.”

So his answer sounds rather lame; it lacks the level of commitment for which Jesus seems to be calling.

At the second asking, Jesus slightly lowers the stakes. The second question is simply:

“Are you fully devoted and committed to me.” And once again Peter replies: “I am your friend.” For Jesus, that answer, although it fell short, is sufficient. On the third time of asking, he rephrases the question and simply says:                “Are you my friend?” and when Peter says that he is, gives him the Apostolic commission: “Feed my sheep.”

It is possible – I think it is likely - that Jesus was testing Peter. The first two questions offered Peter the opportunity to assert a degree of love and commitment which he did not yet have. Peter passed the test – he remembered how on the last night of Jesus’ life he had boldly declared that he would lay down his life for Jesus, only to deny all knowledge of him a few hours later. He therefore did not claim more than he honestly could claim at that moment, and the friendship he was able to offer was a foundation on which his Apostleship and the martyrdom to which Jesus obliquely refers at the end of today’s Gospel were built.

For us it is an encouraging story.  It shows us that God is with us in the everyday, and that God welcomes us to share in the Eucharistic celebration of the Resurrection. Most encouraging of all, it shows God’s willingness to accept what we have to offer, however limited that may be, and to work with it and with us and draw out more from us.

When preaching on John’s Gospel, once I have worked through the scholarly commentaries, I always turn to Archbishop William Temple’s Readings in St John’s Gospel. Of today’s passage, Archbishop Temple wrote these words:

“Peter is an unfailing spring of encouragement to all of us. The example of Paul is of little use to me; I am not a hero. The example of John is of but little more use; my love is so feeble. But Peter is source of constant encouragement, for his weakness is so manifest, yet because he was truly the friend of his Lord, he became the Prince of the Apostles and glorified God by his death.”

Reflection for Easter II Sunday 24th April 2022 by the Rev'd David Warnes

Easter 2 Year C 2022

I would guess that most of you have played the game known as Chinese Whispers, a game in which a message is passed on in whispers and gets seriously distorted by the time it reaches the last person in the line. The whole enjoyment comes from the comical distortions that result. There’s a famous example, which will only make complete sense to those of you who remember pre-decimal currency, in which the original message was “Send reinforcements, I’m going to advance” and the final version was “Send three and fourpence, I’m going to a dance.”

Today’s Gospel tells of what is almost certainly the first example of the Chinese Whispers effect in the history of the Christian Church – the failure of the other disciples to convey to Thomas, who was absent on that first Easter Sunday evening, the full nature and meaning of their encounter with the Risen Christ.

To understand what got lost in transmission to Thomas, we need to look closely at what the other disciples experienced when Jesus mysteriously appeared in a locked room on the evening of the first Easter Day and spoke words of peace. St John adds something that you won’t find in the other three Gospels. It comes in verse 22:

“When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

He breathed on them – it’s the only place in the whole New Testament where you will find that Greek verb. Jesus breathing on his disciples is a clear echo of a very important verse in Chapter 2 of Genesis:

“then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”

The encounter that the disciples, other than Thomas, had with the Risen Jesus that evening was, for them, a renewal of creation, a life-changing encounter. At its very heart was the experience of being forgiven and loved. Jesus did not reproach them for letting him down, running away or denying him. He greeted them with the words: “Peace be with you” and he commissioned them to exercise a ministry of forgiveness.

“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

The essence of the good news of Easter seems to have got lost in the very first telling. Thomas was not present that evening, and when you look at what the other disciples said to him about their encounter with the Risen Jesus, you find no mention of peace, forgiveness or a ministry of forgiveness. They simply said: “We have seen the Lord”. And Thomas understandably refused to believe them. They made a simple assertion of fact, and he responded in the way that we all respond when someone asserts as a fact something that contradicts all our knowledge and experience. Over two thousand years many others have responded to the idea of the Resurrection of Jesus in exactly that way.

Perhaps Thomas would have reacted in a different way if he had been told by his friends “We have seen the Lord, and he spoke words of peace and forgiveness, and empowered us to preach peace and forgiveness.” We cannot know, but we do know that he had his own personal encounter with the Risen Jesus a week later, and that he then heard and experienced the message of peace and forgiveness. Jesus invited him to touch his wounds, but the Gospel does not say that Thomas did so. He had no more need of proof; he understood that he was encountering the love and forgiveness of God and that he was called to spread the good news of that love and forgiveness.

The certainty that you are loved and forgiven by God, that you are within God’s peace, is not a certainty towards which you can reason your way. It has to be encountered, experienced, lived and shared. The encountering, the experiencing, the living and the sharing require that we look beyond ourselves and our limited resources, that we receive the Grace of God, that new life is breathed into us and that we are created anew.

Amen.

A reflection for Easter Sunday 17th April 2022 by the Rev'd Russell Duncan

Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has arisen (Luke 24: 5).

Many years ago - when credit cards and mobile phones were uncommon - I travelled with a friend from Cairo to Jerusalem by bus. We wanted to be there in time for Easter. It was an adventure. A trip into the unknown.  I still remember the excitement of getting up at early dawn and walking to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Easter Day where many other pilgrims and tourists had gathered. The memory of the empty tomb, the clanging of ancient bells, the lingering of incense, the candles flickering in the dark, the singing, the sharing of the peace along with the partaking of bread and wine still remain.  A connection had been made which was real. You will have your own stories about Easter and your encounter with the risen Christ. Think about them this week.

Imagine however, for a moment, that first Easter. We are told that the women were perplexed, terrified and bowed down. Sometimes we feel that way too. Only afterwards did they remember what Jesus had told them. They returned with their story to the rest of the disciples but they refused to believe it.  They called it an idle tale. Only Peter went out to see if it might be true. He was amazed. He went away wondering at what had happened. How like us.   The very fact that Peter was there says much about him. His earlier denial was not a thing that could be kept silent. Yet he had the moral courage to face those who knew his shame. There was something of the hero in Peter, as well as something of the coward. The man who was a fluttering dove is on the way to becoming a rock.

That first Easter, those who were there, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and Peter, all experienced something that turned their lives around.  Despite their initial unbelief, their questions and their doubt, something life changing had happened.  What do we think happened?

Professor William Barclay comments that “Many of us still look for Jesus among the dead.  Jesus is not dead; he is alive. He is not merely a hero of the past; he is a living reality of the present. He is not a figure in a book; he is someone to be met and lived with every day. He helps us and guides us and strengthens us to follow his pattern and example. He is not simply a model for life; he is a living presence”.

Recently I  listened to the homily for a priest who had died.  She had a terminal illness. A close friend, who was also a bishop, visited her at Christmas in the hospice. He asked her  “Do you ever wonder where God is?” She replied “He is here with me” as she tapped the side of her bed. Despite the uncertainly of what might happen and the nature of her illness I expect she had her own story about encountering the risen Christ.  She trusted him in life and also with what the future held.

On this Easter Sunday, may we allow the risen Christ to come afresh and touch our lives too. However we are feeling, whatever challenges we may be facing or questions which remain unanswered may we hear again those life changing words:-

“Why do you look for him among the dead? He is not here, but has risen”.

10th April 2022 Palm Sunday The Passion Gospel

The Passion Gospel: Luke 22:14-23:56

The Institution of the Lord’s Supper

14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ 17Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ 19Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 20And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. 22For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!’ 23Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.

The Dispute about Greatness

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

28 ‘You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

31 ‘Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, 32but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ 33And he said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!’ 34Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.’

Purse, Bag, and Sword

35 He said to them, ‘When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?’ They said, ‘No, not a thing.’ 36He said to them, ‘But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. 37For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, “And he was counted among the lawless”; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.’ 38They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ He replied, ‘It is enough.’

Jesus Prays on the Mount of Olives

39 He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. 40When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ 41Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, 42‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ [[ 43Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. 44In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.]] 45When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, 46and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’

The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus

47 While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; 48but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?’ 49When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, ‘Lord, should we strike with the sword?’ 50Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him. 52Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? 53When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!’

Peter Denies Jesus

54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. 55When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. 56Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, ‘This man also was with him.’ 57But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him.’ 58A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, ‘You also are one of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not!’ 59Then about an hour later yet another kept insisting, ‘Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.’ 60But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about!’ At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. 61The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ 62And he went out and wept bitterly.

The Mocking and Beating of Jesus

63 Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; 64they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, ‘Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?’ 65They kept heaping many other insults on him.

Jesus before the Council

66 When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. 67They said, ‘If you are the Messiah, tell us.’ He replied, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe; 68and if I question you, you will not answer. 69But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.’ 70All of them asked, ‘Are you, then, the Son of God?’ He said to them, ‘You say that I am.’ 71Then they said, ‘What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!’

Jesus before Pilate

23

Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. 2They began to accuse him, saying, ‘We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.’ 3Then Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ He answered, ‘You say so.’ 4Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, ‘I find no basis for an accusation against this man.’ 5But they were insistent and said, ‘He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.’

Jesus before Herod

6 When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. 9He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. 12That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.

Jesus Sentenced to Death

13 Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16I will therefore have him flogged and release him.’

18 Then they all shouted out together, ‘Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!’ 19(This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) 20Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; 21but they kept shouting, ‘Crucify, crucify him!’ 22A third time he said to them, ‘Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.’ 23But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. 24So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. 25He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.

The Crucifixion of Jesus

26 As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For the days are surely coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.” 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us”; and to the hills, “Cover us.” 31For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’

32 Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [[ 34Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’]] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ 38There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ 40But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ 43He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

The Death of Jesus

44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. 47When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’ 48And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

The Burial of Jesus

50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, 51had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. 52This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. 54It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. 55The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.

On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.