There was a time when I feared the approach of Pentecost. Now it’s a forgotten festival as people pack up for school holidays and the Bank Holiday weekend.
I used to fear it because I felt caught between the self-appointed experts on the Spirit who would expect my congregation to turn back the clock and become Jerusalem AD 33. On the other hand, the rest would be checking whether or not I had become too charismatic. So instead of being enflamed by the Passionate Grace of God, worship was swept by the freezing winds of tension and wariness.
Perhaps that is why people went on holiday. I was left struggling to release the truth of Pentecost to those who couldn’t get away at that time of the year.
What people’s religious faith took indoors, their spiritual intuition discovered outdoors.
High above ancient city of Petra, the Nabataea people carved the windswept rock into a place to honour their gods. It was simply a High Place. An altar in the wind of the winds of the heavens.
Temples, cathedrals, churches and shrines have their altars too. But for all their drama and eye-catching splendour do they imprison the spirit as much as they may release it.
A boy was asked what he wanted to do in life.
He replied that he would sit on the river bank and fish.
He asked for more than he knew.
John 3: 1-10; 7: 45-52; 19: 38-20: 1
I am always known as the one who met him at night.
I am not making excuses but it was just better that way.
I was too well-known in Jerusalem.
If it was known I had met Jesus I would have lost my reputation.
I was known for my caution.
I did not take sides.
Jesus gave me a problem.
He created division.
He polarised opinion.
He made it difficult for others;
especially people like me.
I tried to be a voice of calm
In stormy times;
but it was not easy.
Al-Shabab militants deliberately found and killed Christian students at the Garissa University in Kenya it has been reported this week.
I wondered how they knew who were Christians. Student Reuben Mwavita described what he saw. Three female students knelt in prayer before the gunmen and Reuben commented: The mistake they made was to say ‘Jesus please save us’, because that is when they were shot.
I find this overwhelming. I am humbled and appalled. I know little about African Christianity but people whom I have met from that part of the world have impressed me with the intensity and directness of their faith in God. Prayer is not a few grunts at the beginning of the day. It is woven into the material of daily life.
Devotion to Christ has exacted a terrible price. Their voice is now silenced but they still speak. They speak into the prayers of people all over the world who mark Easter Day as a signal event for their faith. In the words of an unknown author:
Resurrection is the touch of God’s hand on my scars and the invitation to breath again.
Like their Lord they did not raise their voice against their slaughterers.
May they rest in peace to rise in the new earth and new heaven; and may those of us who are left who pray in the same name never take the gift of faith for granted.
Photo: Khalil Senosi/AP
Mark 15: 33-39
Do not put thoughts into my head which are not there.
I am no Christian.
I am not about to go off and become one of his followers.
As far as I am concerned his death was impressive;
you might even say unusual.
But whatever a Christian may mean by ‘God’s son’
all I am saying is he died like a child snuggling in his mother’s arms –
and that you don’t see when death by crucifixion gets to work.
I could hear what he was saying in between the gabbling of his tormentors.
They are bunch of idiots.
You couldn’t tell whether they were for him or against him.
It was almost as if they wanted to worship him.
But they weren’t listening.
They were too busy making their own noise to hear him.
It was the thud of nail through flesh
that convinced me there was no coming back for him.
It was the horror in his cries of pain
that convinced me that God would not descend to his holy mountain that day.
What Jesus had done for me would not be given to him.
For a while it was the occasion we expected.
It became an experience that I will not forget.
The Passover meal was all but over
when suddenly he said one of those
surprising things that we never saw coming.
‘One of you will betray me’!
It was like a knife to the heart.
Capture – yes.
Torture – yes.
Mockery – yes.
Murder – quite possibly.
But not betrayal, not by one of us.
And then I was involved in more than I wanted.
Over the last week I’ve been posting a series of reflections which seek to describe a possible response of some of the people who were intimately involved in the 24 hours before the death of Jesus. I first performed them as part of a Good Friday Service at Bath Abbey.
Each reflection is accompanied by suggestions for scripture reading and prayer.
You can catch up on the stories so far here:
Judas Iscariot, Caiaphas, Pontius Pilate, Barabbas and Simon of Cyrene
The conversations have also been published in The Baptist Times.
Still to come …
The Nameless Lover, Mary Magdalene, The Centurion, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus.
My family told me they could see something had happened.
All they needed to do was look at my face.
The boys told me later in life they were terrified.
I looked like I had stared into the pit of hell.
It wasn’t what they were expecting.
My wife had been preparing for the Sabbath.
She had expected me home early.
This was going to be a special time,
more special than usual;
we were not only back in Israel from years of exile,
but celebrating a Sabbath in Passover
and what’s more
within sight and sound of the sacrifices