Let us pray! Lord, you make all things new, and see the potential within each of us. Open our hearts and our minds to hear and rest within your Word. – Amen
What a mixed bunch of readings today. That is partly my fault , as I wanted to remember Mary Magdalene the apostle to the apostles, whose feast day was on Thursday. But taking the chance to remember the resurrection when it isn’t even Easter -that’s not the problem. For honestly, honestly, -how do you put anything next to a story of power, greed, seduction and murder, and then lightly turn to talk of God’s saving love?
But we know in our lives, just like walking under a tree in the Summer, there are spots of pure clear light, and patches of shadow where the light has been blocked. All of us have a story where the darkness threatened to overwhelm us and it is our faith – as thin or as tenuous as it may seem some days – it is our faith that brings us out of the shadow and into the light of Christ. What is it the Gospel of John says in its opening passage? (verse 5)‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.’
The shadows must have been deep and seemingly endless when David raped Bathsheba, killed her honourable husband, forced her to marry him and ultimately watched her first son die. Truly these are the dark moments when we must . . . . when we need…. to talk of God and his grace to us all.
So, with that on our mind, perhaps we can start a conversation with the writer to the believers at Ephesus? He wrote in the name of St Paul – not as a fake or forgery – but as a way of continuing the inspired teaching of Paul. The unknown writer sent a message that was both a prayer for the listeners’ future and encouragement for the journey already travelled. He prayed that they would be filled with the strength and blessings of the Holy Spirit. But the letter doesn’t just talk to some long dead Turkish believers. It is talking to you – to us today!
It encourages us to remember that God can do anything, and on dark days believing just that might be as far as we can go. As the Message Bible puts it… “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.”
And in case you need reminding of God’s immense power – The gospel today provides perfect evidence of that power – through the Resurrection!
Brave Mary from the fishing town of Magdala believed that Jesus, her friend and teacher was special, blessed by God, and could be The Messiah. She had remained with him in his darkest hour of his death. Just like the male disciples, though, she did not fully understand Jesus when he told them that he would die and rise again. Frankly, how could they ? It was so far from their understanding. -And that is why, or perhaps how, Mary, intending to care for Jesus’ corpse, instead found the tomb all empty and dark, save for the curiously arranged grave clothes.
The different responses to this surprising news reminds me of the parable of the sower in some ways. After being told that the tomb was empty, the 2 disciples – key and close disciples – race each other to the burial ground, put their heads inside the tomb and checked it out. They saw the folded graveclothes, and believed (tell me, WHAT did they believe? That he wasn’t there?-For the text tells us that they didn’t recognise the Resurrection) Then they rushed home again.
Perhaps Peter and John were afraid of being arrested, but the rushing ,the competition and perhaps the fear made them unable to wait for or even sense the presence of God. Mary did not follow them. Her grief in that dark moment made her remain standing in that place, and she had the chance to look carefully into the tomb. Her waiting was rewarded.
For Surprise! There were 2 angels in the tomb.They saw her crying but seemed puzzled or curious – is that because they are already full of the knowledge that Jesus had risen? Were they just waiting for the world to catch up and accept that God can do anything, even defeat death? Sometimes, I think we need to take a moment to catch up too – for it is such a mind blowing thought. That God can do anything, even raise his son from the dead.
But standing right there in the garden was a man that she did not recognise. Not immediately, anyway.
My question for this week is how often do WE fail to see the face of Christ in others around us? How can we be so blind to God’s presence in nature and in those around us? It is disappointing how often we fail to stop, to pause, and therefore miss that golden glimpse of God working within and around us all.
That’s what Ephesians is all about this week, praying that we are not seduced by earthly wisdom that tells us not to trust our emotions or our spirit. It prays that we will be able to see God despite the temptation to be distracted by those who shout loudest, that our sight of God will not clouded by the ambitious, greedy and grasping actions of some unfortunate others. But rather, friends, that through prayer, reflection and immersing ourselves in God’s word that we can develop a deep, deep sense of God’s love that will uphold us in good and even moreso on bad days.
We talk in our parish of growing fruit– even when it seems to be the wrong season to others, to produce fruit all the time for God’s Kingdom. Well here is the prayer for that, but instead of talking of love as the fruit of our prayerful efforts, it turns our thoughts on their heads. To be strong enough to face difficult days, even truamatic ones as difficult and damaging as those experienced by Bathsheba or Mary. We are confident that our starting point in trusting God, in believeing in Jesus, must be love.
The love of God and our neighbours. Some people begin this process by talking of honouring and respecting those that they find hard to like for whatever reason. In time, having welcomed Christ into our hearts, I am certain that love, like a growing tree that grows and envelopes obstacles, will fill us with the colour and joy of God everyday.
This love is of so much more value than all the cleverness of people put together. Through love, we find peace within ourselves and in the world. Through peace, we can end hatrid and violence and war. When we stop wasting our time on fighting each other and ourselves, we will indeed bear fruit of all kinds to the glory of God.
Now, wouldn’t that be good?!
So let us pray ….
Lord, I pray that God will strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I pray that with both feet planted firmly on love, you will be able to take in the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.. – Amen – and the Lord be with you.