What does the Easter weekend remind you of? Chocolate eggs and rabbits wrapped up in coloured foil, hot cross buns, a dash to that favourite holiday or camping spot, a good rest and a bit of fun with the family?
If we look back in history to the events that Easter commemorates, we see a weekend that stands out as a beacon and it was no holiday!
Why the fuss?
The usual Christian emphasis at Easter is the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Christians celebrate Easter because it reveals the heart of Christianity—the story of a God determined to rescue a planet that is out of control.
We hardly need to be reminded that we live in a troubled world. You only have to watch the nightly television news to get a dose of the world’s woes. And so Easter speaks to us of rescue, of renewal and of the way to peace.
Dag Hammarskjöld, the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, said, “We’ve tried so hard and have failed so miserably that unless the world has a spiritual rebirth in the next few years civilisation is doomed.” And that’s what Easter is all about—spiritual rebirth.
God’s rescue mission
The Easter story tells of a God who made the world, saw it crumble and so proceeds to put it back in shape.
Christians believe that the ultimate result of sin is death and because we all have an inherent sinful nature, we have a pretty bleak ending. However, God is passionate about His creation and hatched a rescue plan to end sin and not destroy sinners—at an enormous cost to Himself. Someone with the highest position and greatest authority in the universe could pay the ransom for everyone else. So God sent a member of His own family—His Son, Jesus—to pay that price.
Many of you will know the story of Oscar Schindler. It’s a moving portrayal of one man’s attempt to rescue a doomed race of people.
Schindler had made an enormous amount of money in his enamel-ware factory in Kraków, Poland, providing plates, mugs, pots and pans for the German war machine. He used the money to buy the lives of hundreds of defenceless Jews with no other hope. To be on Schindler’s list was life. To be off the list was death!
The words of the old Rabbi, written in the Jewish Talmud, were quoted to him and he couldn’t get them out of his mind: “He who saves one life saves a nation.”
At the end of the movie, after the liberation of Czechoslovakia and having saved over 1200 lives from extermination in the death camps, Schlinder is about to escape in a shiny, black Adler car and leave his Jewish workers. He knows that as a German and a member of the Nazi party, he will be arrested and treated as a war criminal.
His workers present him with a ring made from the gold fillings from the teeth of the Jewish people he had protected. The words of the Talmud are inscribed on it, given in grateful thanks by the survivors.
We see him almost overcome with anguish and frustration that he was able to do so little, that he could have saved more Jews than just the ones he had rescued.
He takes his golden Nazi badge off the lapel of his well-tailored coat and in anguish realises that it would have been worth at least two lives.
“I could have done more,” he laments. “If only I’d done more.”
God who wishes to save all people. But part of that is our choice. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, all we need to do now is accept that He died for our sins to claim as our own the eternal life that God offers as a gift.
The first Easter
Some may think it strange that the hero of the Easter story is the One who dies. But it is a death with a purpose, a death to pay the penalty of sin, a death that leads to life and a death that covers and pays for all of our inadequacies and problems.
For the Christian world, Easter is a time to celebrate the love of God, as well as to acknowledge the debt that we owe to Jesus Christ. It calls us to revisit the scenes of Jesus’ crucifixion on that first “Good” Friday.
It calls us to recall the early morning stillness of the Sunday morning broken by the pounding of hobnail sandals on the cold, cobbled stones of the streets of Jerusalem, as the soldiers who guarded the dead body in the tomb rushed into the city with the unbelievable cry on their lips, “He’s alive! He’s alive!”
An angel of the Lord had come down in the darkness of that Sunday morning and tossed away the great stone in front of the tomb as if it were a pebble. Jesus walked out and nothing could stop Him.
So we have the vision of a risen Christ who is alive today, who is interested, who seeks His own and who wants to restore the broken relationship between God and humankind.
“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive,” it says in the Bible (in the First Book of Corinthians, chapter 15, verses 20-22).
God had accomplished His rescue mission, but it was through brokenness and suffering. And this is what Easter is all about.
This will be the last letter for which I will have the pleasure of writing. As many of you will know, I will be moving to the Forest of Dean in August to begin work in September. I will have pastoral charge of five churches – Aylburton, Clements End, Coleford, Lydney and Woolaston. I am excited about meeting the people that live and worship there, to hear about the mission that they are already undertaking and the new opportunities that lie ahead of us all. I know there will be many challenges that come with moving to a new town and making new friends, but based on the lovely welcome I had when I visited, then I am sure that this will not be half so difficult as it could have been.
One challenge will of course be that of moving on from old friends. The welcome and subsequent care and support that you have shown Mark and I over the past years have been truly wonderful. Your prayerful guidance, your correcting of mistakes along the way and your warm encouragement as we have tried new things together have enabled me to develop and become the presbyter that I am today. Thank you! Thank you so much!
So yes moving on will be challenging, however I praise God that Rev David Winstanley will form part of the circuit and be caring for you as a church. I am sure that you will welcome David as warmly as you did me.
God bless you in your future – I know there are great thing in store.
Rev Michelle Ireland
Today has been another sunny day, the first few signs of spring seem like they are here, there is a warmth in the sunshine and the spring flowers are starting to full bloom, the first blossoms and the leaf buds beginning to swell on the trees.
Recently I saw lambs in the field, what a gorgeous picture. All those signs of new life and renewal we associate with Easter time. The message of Easter is about just that – new life and renewal. But how to talk about it?
Well maybe like this - ‘Easter tells us that God loves us very, very much!’ Because that’s what Jesus death and resurrection are all about – a true demonstration of God’s ultimate love and the ultimate gift, a gift not to be earned but to be joyfully accepted! It’s summed up in a well-known Bible verse, John chapter 3 verse 16, ‘God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have a whole and everlasting life.’
As adults it can be so hard to comprehend God’s unconditional love. We have become so used to having to prove ourselves, we’ve had to pass exams to get where we are now, go through loads of job applications to get work, we’ve learned that there is always a catch to free gift offers. Perhaps we have had life experiences that make it difficult to accept love, or maybe we have had experiences that make it hard to believe that we could be loved. But God does love us unconditionally.
Brennan Manning in his book ‘the furious longing of God’ puts it so eloquently, ‘The God I’ve come to know by sheer grace…has furiously loved me regardless of my state - grace or disgrace. And why? For His love is never, never, never based on our performance, never conditioned by our moods - of elation or depression. The furious love of God knows no shadow of alteration or change. It is reliable. And always tender’.
The writer is using the word furious not in the sense of extreme anger but to signify intense energy. This intense, awesome love by God was made visible in his son Jesus who was filled with God’s enduring love.
For me, those words in John chapter 3 verse 16 are a truly awesome, life changing offer I can’t refuse. Easter tells us God loves us very, very much!
And that’s the same whether you get to read this before Easter happens or afterwards!
Rev Michelle Ireland
I wonder how you spend your weekends. For some people it can be just as busy as the weekdays. Rushing around doing the things that you didn’t get time to do.
Right at the beginning of time, God was busy, he created the world. We read in the first book of the bible that God created the world in 6 days. What did he do on the 7th day? He rested. Why did he do that? Well I believe he did that to set us a pattern to follow. Work and rest. Just today on the radio there was a report about sleep and how we all need to have enough. We can’t do without rest.
Many Christians endeavour to rest on a Sunday. They pull away from the everyday demands of life and rest as they worship, pray and enjoy time with other Christians. At times this is not easy for the tasks and challenges don’t disappear, but somehow strength and new energy is gained, in preparation for the new week head. The freedom to gather together, to bring our joys and concerns to the God who loves us, is a true privilege and we acknowledge that in various countries this is denied. We are thankful for the privilege that is ours.
So I return where I began, I wonder how you spend your weekend. If you do attend worship, then is there somebody you know who you could bring along? And if you don’t go to church, how about giving it a go…. I am sure that you will find much more than you imagined.
As God says “Come to me, all you who are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.”
See you very soon
Rev Michelle Ireland
Another year over,
a new one just begun…
…as John Lennon sang. And as such, many of us reflect on the year – or years – gone by and look ahead to what is before in 2017
So, 2016; Ten questions…
- What was the best thing that happened this past year?
- What was the most challenging thing that happened?
- What was an unexpected joy this past year?
- What was an unexpected obstacle?
- In what ways did you grow emotionally?
- In what ways did you grow spiritually?
- In what ways did you grow in your relationships with others?
- What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year?
- What was the best way you used your time this past year?
And finally –
- Where, for you, was God is all this?
The answer for Christians would be that God was in it all… in all the joys and in all the sorrows, in all the routines and in all the surprises.
When Jesus came as a baby, which we have just celebrated, we can understand that God knows what it is like to be human with all its challenges and opportunities. By trusting in His love and His compassion for each of us we can enjoy and cope with all that life throws at us, knowing that He cares, even when the moments maybe tragic and heartbreaking.
When this New Year ends how will we like to answer those questions about 2017?
As we stand at the beginning of this New Year, Lord, we confess our need of your presence and your guidance as we face the future. We each have our hopes and expectations for the year that is ahead of us—but you alone know what it holds for us, and only you can give us the strength and the wisdom we will need to meet its challenges. So help us to humbly put our hands into your hand, and to trust you and to seek your will for our lives during this coming year.
Rev Michelle Ireland