5th Sunday of Lent 2017

The Raising of Lazarus
Brian Reader
John 11, 1-45.

Today, the fifth Sunday of Lent, is also called Passion Sunday, and we had a long reading about Jesus’ friend, Lazarus and his two sisters. What did you make of it? We all get disappointed in this life when we think that friends have let us down, and if you are like me, then you too may show your annoyance. Did you feel annoyed like Martha that Jesus did not come immediately he got the message about his friend’s illness? Why did Jesus delay? Perhaps he was delaying so he could then do an even greater miracle of healing? I don’t believe that for a second.

When I have difficulty trying to unravel a passage from the bible, as well as praying, I also read a commentary by Bishop Tom Wright on the subject which usually gives a different point of focus. The bishop believes that the story gives us an insight into prayer. We pray for justice and peace, for prosperity and harmony between nations and races, and still it hasn’t happened. Why?

God doesn’t play games with us. His ways are not our ways. His timing is not our timing.

One of the most striking reminders of this is in verse 6 of the passage. When Jesus got the message from the two sisters, the cry for help,
the emergency-come-quickly appeal, he stayed where he was for two days. He didn’t even mention it to the disciples. He didn’t make preparations to go. He didn’t send messages back to say “We’re on our way”: He just stayed there. And Mary and Martha, in Bethany, watched their beloved brother die. What could be harder than that?

So what was Jesus doing? If we think about the rest of the story we can find the answer. He was praying. He was seeking to find the will of his father. He wanted to do what was right.

The disciples were right: the Judaeans had been wanting to stone him, so surely he wouldn’t think of going back just yet? Bethany was, and is, a small town just two miles or so from Jerusalem, on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives. Once you’re there, you’re within easy reach of the holy city, and who knows what would happen this time if he had returned.

It’s important to realize that this wonderful story about Lazarus, one of the most powerful and moving in the whole Bible, is not just about Lazarus. It’s also about Jesus. And when Jesus thanks the father that he has heard his prayer, I think he’s referring to the prayers he prayed during those two strange, silent days in the wilderness across the Jordan. He was praying for Lazarus, but he was also praying for wisdom and guidance as to his own plans and movements. Somehow the two were bound up together. What Jesus was going to do for Lazarus would be, on the one hand, a principal reason why the authorities would want him out of the way. But it would be, on the other hand, the most powerful sign yet, in the sequence of ‘signs’ that marks our progression through this gospel, of what Jesus’ life and work was all about, and of how in particular it would reach its climactic resolution.

The time of waiting, therefore, was vital. As so often, Jesus needed to be in prayer exploring the father’s will in that intimacy and union of which he often spoke. Only then would he act – not in the way Mary and Martha had wanted him to do, but in a manner beyond their wildest dreams.

This story is all about the ways in which Jesus surprises people and overturns their expectations. He didn’t go when the sisters asked him.
But he did eventually go, although the disciples warned him not to. He spoke about ‘sleep’; meaning death, and the disciples thought he meant ordinary sleep. And, in the middle of the passage, he told them in a strange little saying that people who walk in the daytime don’t trip up, but people who walk around in the darkness do. What did he mean? He seems to have meant that the only way to know where you were going was to follow him. If you try to steer your course by your own under- standing, you’ll trip up, because you’ll be in the dark. But if you stick close to him, and see the situation from his point of view, then, even if it means days and perhaps years of puzzlement, wondering why nothing seems to be happening, you will come out at the right place in the end.

There is a great deal that we don’t understand, and our hopes and plans often get thwarted. But if we go with Jesus, even if it’s into the jaws of death, we will be walking in the light. The prayer of Jesus at the grave begins with thanksgiving as all prayer should; we take too much for granted. But if, like the Psalmists or Job, you have a complaint about arbitrary injustice or the unfairness of it all, it is right to tell him so. Martha certainly spoke her mind, and, feeling neglected, bluntly reproached Jesus.

A prayer of protest is quite proper. Prayer is a dialogue of learning; in the stillness you learn more about yourself, and God, and the way things really are. You may come to understand ‘Why should it happen to me?’ is answered ‘Why should it not?’ and ‘Why me?’ becomes ‘Why not me?’

‘Jesus wept’ is not an oath; it expresses his grief at the death of his friend and the distress of his sisters; for John it stresses the reality of the Incarnation. This man is truly flesh and blood, who understands a cry of pain and anguish, and shares the pain and hurt of bereavement; if ever you are almost overwhelmed by grief, he understands and shares; and comes to you as he came to Martha and Mary.

The long story about Lazarus whose name so aptly means ‘blessed by God’ is the crowning sign of victory over death. Here Lazarus is dead and buried and decaying, and this resuscitated corpse is a further sign. Jesus not only speaks of the word of life but he himself is the Resurrection. Often we hear a voice that reminds us that in the midst of life we are in death; but Jesus’ commanding voice insists: In the midst of death we are in life. Don’t worry about what happens when you die for he is Resurrection. And there is more to come.

Offering you a chalice, a minister may say: ‘The blood of Christ keep you in eternal life.’ – in other words – keep you where you already are. That’s John’s new theology and understanding after sixty years of prayer and meditation.

Eternal life is here and now; we have passed from death to life already. Yet sometimes you may feel half-dead through bereavement or despair, divorce, or disappointment, redundancy or being told about a life threatening illness and yet you find a new lease of life
that seems like resurrection, a life that is fuller and richer, more satisfying and fulfilling, eternal in quality as well as quantity, here and now. I certainly found that when working in the hospice.

As Easter makes plain, God is in the business of raising the dead. Life is a succession of deaths and resurrections; and when you come to the end of your days and he holds you through death into Life, it will be but one more in a whole series of resurrections.

May we pray. Lord Jesus, give us the courage and strength to follow you, especially when times are hard, so that we may experience your love and help through all our days. Amen

2nd Sunday of Advent 2016

Brian Reader

Isaiah 11: 1-10; Ps 72: 1-7, 18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

Today is the second Sunday of Advent. Some 10 days ago someone asked me “Why don’t we have flowers in Church during Advent?” I gave an answer but it raised other issues, and it set me thinking.

What is Advent, and what do we know about it?

Advent is so much more than a delicious chocolate calendar counting down the days until Christmas. In fact, the Advent calendar gives a wrong idea about Advent, as it assumes that Advent starts on the 1st December, when we all know that this year it started last Sunday on 27th November, and next year it will start on the 3rd December.  I therefore decided to speak this morning about Advent and I make no apology for using some of an article by Justin Holcomb which I found on Christianity.com.

For some of us there may be some confusion surrounding the meaning of the Advent season. The word “Advent” just means “coming”. So it is reasonable to assume that the Advent season focuses on expectation and to think that it serves as an anticipation of Christ’s birth in the season leading up to Christmas. This is part of the story, but as Anne explained last Sunday there’s more to Advent than just that.

We should also understand that Christmas, the “Christ Mass”, was not celebrated until 350 to 400 AD. Scholars believe that during the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain and Gaul, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany, the celebration of God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus. During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for their baptism; in a similar way that some new Christians today use Lent as a time of preparation for their baptism at Easter.

So originally, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas. By the 6th century, however, Roman Christians had tied Advent to the coming of Christ. But the “coming” they had in mind was not Christ’s first coming in the manger in Bethlehem, but his second coming in the clouds in Glory as the judge of the world. So Advent was a season that focused on waiting.

It was not until the Middle Ages that the Advent season was also explicitly linked to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.

Advent is now the period of four Sundays leading up to Christmas, and each Sunday is commemorated by the lighting of one of four coloured candles in the Advent wreath, with a fifth white candle being lit on Christmas day. Advent symbolizes the present situation of the church in these “last days”, that we read about in Acts and Hebrews: as God’s people wait for the return of Christ in glory to consummate his eternal kingdom.

The church is in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament: in exile, waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. Israel looked back to God’s past gracious actions on their behalf in leading them out of Egypt in the Exodus, and on this basis they called for God once again to act for them. In the same way, the church, during Advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration, while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people.

In this light, the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” perfectly represents the church’s cry during the Advent season. While Israel would have sung the song in expectation of Christ’s first coming, the church now sings the song in commemoration of that first coming and in expectation of the second coming in the future.

But the world we live in seems to take an Advent-free leap straight from All Saints Day to Christmas Eve? WHY?

Perhaps because Christmas is about celebration, and celebrations can be a time to move products off the shelves. Advent is about waiting, and waiting is considered a waste of time in a materialistic world.

In the Western religious setting, new believers seek to use Jesus to provide them with their most convenient lives in the here and now, and Advent is a particularly awkward intrusion.

Advent links our hearts with those of ancient prophets who pined for a long-promised Messiah but who passed away long before his arrival. In the process, Advent reminds us that we too are waiting.

Even on this side of Good Friday and the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, there is brokenness in our world that no shopping trolley full of Christmas bargains can fix; there is hunger in our souls that no plateful of Christmas pudding and brandy butter can fill; there is twistedness in our hearts that no terrestrial hand can touch.

As the apostle Paul declared, “The whole of creation, has been groaning together for redemption.” In Advent, Christians embrace the groaning and recognize it not as hopeless whimpering over the failings of the present moment but as an expectant yearning for a divine banquet that Jesus is preparing for us even now.

In Advent, the church admits, as poet R.S. Thomas has put it, that “the meaning is in the waiting.” And what we await is a final Advent that is yet to come. In Advent, believers confess that the infant who drew his first ragged breath between a virgin’s knees has yet to speak his final word.

Advent was intended to be a season much like Lent, a time of fasting, and reflection and there are a variety of ways that this time of mourning works itself out in the season. That is the reason that traditionally we have no flowers in Church during Advent, and why some Churches delay their carol services until after Christmas.

Today it is difficult to keep in mind the true meaning of Advent in the midst of parties, shopping, lights and decorations that we see all around us. Some may view Advent like the season of Lent, where you can celebrate it or skip it, waiting instead for the big holidays like Christmas or Easter. I can’t help but feel, that when we skip over these waiting periods in anticipation of the real meaning of the holiday, we come up a little empty when the big day arrives.

So what should we do?

Reflection on the violence and evil in the world cause us to cry out to God to make things right -to put death’s dark shadows to flight. One catechism describes the spirituality of Advent beautifully:

“When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviour’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’

It is only in the shadow of Advent that the miracle of Christmas can be fully understood and appreciated; and it is only in the light of Christmas that the Christian life makes any sense.

We are between the fulfilled promise of Christ’s first coming and the yet-to-be-fulfilled promise of his second coming. It is precisely in the light of the coming of Christ that faith has become Advent faith, the expectation of future revelation.

Faith knows for whom and for what it is waiting. The promise for Israel and the promise for the church is Jesus Christ; He has come, and He will come again.

So Advent reminds us to listen for the message that God is speaking, even in the waiting. This is the essence of Advent.

Are you listening for God speaking to you, through the Bible, or prayer or quiet meditation? Are you giving yourself space to hear what God is saying to you in this busy world?

What better time to start than this Advent?

And the winner is…

eggwinnerIn early Lent, the Rotary Club of Macclesfield Castle obtained 20 very large chocolate Easter Eggs; one was raffled at St. Oswald, with the proceeds shared between Rotary charities and Church funds. The last ticket was sold after the Palm Sunday Service and the draw was made at the Faith Hour on 23rd March.

 

Judi (who never wins anything) was delighted to have won the Easter Egg competition with ticket no 43.

Some of the non-winners expressed concern about the calorie content of the prize.


The Rotary Club of Macclesfield Castle raises funds to help charities both locally and abroad. You may have heard of ‘Shelter Boxes’ which are sent out to disaster areas, and ‘Water Aid’ which delivers clean drinking water, and also ‘Polio Plus’ which aims to eradicate polio in the world, all funded by Rotary Charities. Locally the club has supported a Youth Speaking Competition, organized a Swimathon here in Macclesfield and recently sponsored a residential weekend for Secondary school students to help them develop their leadership skills.

Remembrance Sunday 2014

Brian Reader

I would like to thank Veronica for letting me speak to you today on this Remembrance Sunday; it also gives me an opportunity to thank all of you for making me feel so welcome since I moved to Bollington. My dear wife Jean has told some of her friends that I “will bore the pants off you”! Perhaps that is better than being told that “I will bore you all to death”! So I will be brief.

Now Remembrance Day awakens different memories and feelings in all of us. As a school boy some 75 years ago I had no idea what war entailed, and as no family members had been killed in the First World War I couldn’t think of anyone to remember. On looking at some notes I made in 1995, I could say then that no one under the age of fifty would have remembered the country at total war. At that time some believed that with the end of the cold war, all threats of war had been removed and that a day for Remembrance no longer served any useful purpose; saying that it glorified war and anyway, it was all too long ago.

People would not say that today. Not only has television brought home the horrors of all the recent wars, but there has also been much publicity about the centenary of the start of the First World War in all the media.

Now Remembrance Day is a time set aside when we remember the dead of the 1914 and all subsequent wars, but, as I will explain later, I believe it should be much more than just that.

What does remembrance mean to us?
The dictionary says that remembrance is “the power or the process, of reproducing or recalling what we have learnt.”

What have we learnt?
That war is wrong, that war is bloody, that war is wasteful and that war should be avoided, not at all costs, but certainly whenever possible. As I believe Churchill once said Jaw, Jaw, is always better than War, War.

Did you know that since the end of the 2nd world war in 1945, there has only been one year when no British soldier has been killed on active service?

Recently our troops have been withdrawn from Afghanistan. When asked about their service out there, they did not glorify war; they had a simple pride in what they had done and they remembered their colleagues who did not come back, as well as those who had returned with appalling injuries.

I don’t believe in jingoistic nationalism which says that we must die for our country right or wrong, but I do believe that we have a duty to protect ourselves and our country from evil, both from within and from without.

Peace is not something that just happens; we must strive and work for peace, just as much today, as our forefathers have always had to in the past. We must remember that we too have a duty to oppose evil and that it may be necessary for us, either individually, or as a nation, to stand and fight against the evil we see all around us.

I am old enough to remember the last war, and I am also proud to have served in the Royal Air Force and seen active service around the world. It was round about Remembrance day in 1966, when I was tasked to fly my helicopter to a forward hill fort in Borneo to pick up a casualty, a young Royal Marine Lieutenant. Only he died just before we got there, nothing could have saved him, he bled to death, he just bled to death! What a waste. A few weeks later, confrontation was over, and the border of Borneo was intact.

Christ opposes all evil. He was always talking about the evil he saw about him, not to condemn those who were doing evil, but to get them to change their ways.

Yes, as well as remembering those who gave their lives, on the land or sea or in the air, we also have to remember the sacrifice made by their loved ones, the children without fathers, the widows, perhaps denied children, the mothers and sisters, and the fiancées and girlfriends who never married. Today we also have to remember the families of the service women who have recently died.

And so as we remember all those who made sacrifices for us, we have to ask ourselves “What would they have require of us?”. To ensure that all those who were injured were well looked after? Yes, but more than that. I think that they would want us to live in peace and protect the rights of all to freedom and justice, and I believe that only by obeying Christ’s command to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves can we achieve that.

We also have to bring Christian hope to a materialistic world which has lost its purpose and direction. In our reading from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he gives hope to those who are grieving, and you may have recognized the reading as it is sometimes used in funeral services. Paul did not know, as we still don’t know, exactly what happens to us when we die, but he did know that Christ was crucified for all of us and that he rose from the dead. Paul therefore has a sure belief and faith that Christians too will be raised from the dead at the end of time.

So let us reflect on our own lives to ensure that not only are we striving to defeat evil in the world, but that we also spread the good Christian message of love, hope, forgiveness and peace, so that our children, and our children’s children, will be able to share those freedoms which we, through the sacrifice of many, and God’s abundant mercy have all enjoyed.

Amen


remembrance2

1 Thess. 4: 13-18

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.