It’s been 4 years, 7 months and 11 days since you came into this world. Pink, fleshy, craving warmth and human touch.
Since then you’ve become loud, energetic and confident. Sometimes we say you’re sassy. Sometimes you seem like a teenager, full of mood, eye rolls and attitude. But, mostly, you are, I tell people, a delight. You are a joy-bringer.
You make up your own songs. You sing your own tunes. You dance and pirouette with great seriousness. And you never stop talking.
It’s wonderful. The soundtrack of our lives together. You and me. In the car. Or the supermarket. Or the living room. Or the park. Or church. Or in bed on our lazy mornings. Chattering and laughing and (sometimes) crying. My days will certainly be quieter without you around.
My darling daughter, I will miss you as you step out into this brave new world. As others mould you and listen to you, as they become a bigger part of your world and my influence on you lessens, my prayer for you is simple.
That you would always be close to Jesus.
That you would know his infinite love for you, and your infinite worth to Him.
And I pray, oh I pray, you’ll come home each day, full of the same joie de vivre you started school with. And full of chatter for me to drink in. And when the days come (and they will come) when the joy is gone and school makes you sad, or sick, or anxious, I pray you’ll crawl into my arms and seek comfort where it’s safe.
Never forget how incredible you are, my dear girl. And never, ever, ever let anyone tell you you’re “too much”. Because, my dear, dear daughter, you are effortlessly brilliant and you’re going to set the world on fire.
I so look forward to seeing how this new adventure of yours goes.
“They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, “Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians”? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!’ Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.’” (Exodus 14:11-14)
The Hebrew people are terrified. Their lives are in great danger, as the Egyptian armies close in on them. They’re supposed to be being brought out of captivity and into freedom, yet here they are, about to die in the desert. Or so they think. This reading from scripture is often read at Easter, as it marks the point when God’s goodness and faithfulness deliver his people out of captivity, through water and into freedom. What does Moses say to them? What do they need to do?
Stand firm. Be still.
Isn’t that what the women did the day after Jesus’ crucifixion? The day before Jesus’ resurrection? They stood firm in God’s faithfulness, in the story of the exodus. They were still. How could they not be? It was the Sabbath. And then? What came next? What came after standing firm and being still?
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28: 1-10)
In the same way that God stepped into the fear of the Hebrew people and delivered them from their captivity, so Jesus steps into the darkness of all people and delivers us from our own captivity; from our own sin. That’s what we are celebrating today.
So we have these similarities in the two pieces of scripture: an urge to stand fast in God’s faithfulness, and a need to be still. But there is a third. First Moses, then the angel, and finally Jesus say the words, “Do not be afraid.” This Easter there is so much that we could be afraid of and yet God’s faithfulness throughout scripture shows us we need not be afraid… of anything.
John Mark Comer writes, “People all over the world are looking for an escape, a way out from under the crushing weight to life this side of Eden. But there is no escaping it. The best the world can offer is a temporary distraction to delay the inevitable or deny the inescapable. That’s why Jesus doesn’t offer us an escape. He offers us something far better: a whole new way to bear the weight of our humanity, with ease. With Jesus doing the heavy lifting. At his pace. Slow, unhurried.” In his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, Comer goes on to say that the only way to have a spiritually healthy life is to “ruthlessly eliminate the hurry from your life”. This is because hurrying is at odds to a life spent with Jesus.
The angel tells the women to not be afraid, to tell the disciples. And they go. But they hurry. Matthew makes a point of telling us that it is in their hurry that Jesus stops them in their tracks and repeats what they’ve already been told: do not be afraid. Go and tell my disciples.
If we let him, Jesus stops us in our tracks. He pulls us out of the darkness, out of the hurry of the world, and into new life with him. We don’t need to be afraid. We need to stand fast in his faithfulness. We need to be still.
“The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” (Luke 23:55-56, NIVUK)
They rested. But was it Sabbath rest? Or the rest of grief? The tiredness of grief that must have consumed them immediately after the brutal death of their friend and teacher, Jesus. This is the part of the story that I so want to read, and yet there’s so little detail of what they did. Is this it? Is this all they did? Rested?
This is the bit of the story that is scant with detail, but anyone who has ever experienced grief or loss knows what came next. The fatigue. The loss of appetite. The tears for no reason. The isolation. How could they have rested, truly rested, and worshipped at a time such as that? How could they have participated in Sabbath rest and worship?
We see this played out in Frozen 2, when Anna loses both her sister and her friend. She sinks to the floor, barely able to speak. She sits alone in the dark, a metaphor for the isolation in your mind after loss. When she sings, it is with a whisper.
I’ve seen dark before, but not like this This is cold, this is empty, this is numb The life I knew is over, the lights are out Hello, darkness, I’m ready to succumb I follow you around, I always have But you’ve gone to a place I cannot find This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down But a tiny voice whispers in my mind You are lost, hope is gone.
“You’ve gone to a place I cannot find … you are lost, hope is gone.” Words sun by Anna in the song Do the Next Right Thing. It’s a hint given throughout the film: when all seems lost, we do the next right thing. Yet, Jesus gives the same instructions. He tells them to break bread and to do it in remembrance of him; to drink wine, remembering his blood poured out for all; to worship their God, without pretense, and with their whole hearts. Despite their loss, despite the hopelessness they find themselves inhabiting, the women, we are told, do the next right thing. They entered the Sabbath and they rested in their grief.
Can there be a day beyond this night? I don’t know anymore what is true I can’t find my direction, I’m all alone The only star that guided me was you How to rise from the floor When it’s not you I’m rising for?
In the immediacy of losing Jesus, they must have wondered what happened next. Here was a man who’d taught them so much, proclaimed to BE the truth. The way. The life. But now he was gone. They had rooted their lives in his; where he went, they followed. Even until the end, even with the danger of being associated with this man, the women followed to the cross. And to the tomb.
In the same way, Anna’s life is rooted into that of her sister. She finds her truth and identity in being Elsa’s plucky but vulnerable younger sister. She’s not the queen, but by blood she is royalty. And when her sister is lost, Anna doesn’t know how to do the next right thing. Why? Because the one who guided her towards that thing has gone. I wonder if the women felt this despondency. How do we rest and worship when the one who guided us to rest and worship is gone?
But break it down to this next breath, this next step This next choice is one that I can make So I’ll walk through this night Stumbling blindly toward the light And do the next right thing
They must have felt lost. Yet they had a deeper faith, rooted into a tradition of worship and rest found in keeping the Sabbath. They knew that Yahweh had delivered the people they belonged to out of Egypt and through the waters into new life. They had to believe that if they did the next right thing, if they stepped into the Sabbath to worship and rest, that Yahweh would deliver them out of this grief, through their tears and into new life. The life he had promised them. The life where they would no longer hunger or thirst.
Of course, this is the turning point in the song, where Anna’s voice strengthens and she starts to make a move. She becomes resolute in what she has to do next. If this were a musical about Jesus’ death and resurrection, one of the women would sing this. At this moment, though, they’d have been mourning and resting in the darkness of their own home for 2 nights and a day. They’d be getting ready to make a move out of Sabbath and into the next right thing: returning to the tomb to continue mourning.
And, with it done, what comes then? When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again Then I’ll make the choice to hear that voice And do the next right thing.
That first Holy Saturday wasn’t just about darkness and isolation, grief and loss. It was also about Sabbath: rest and worship. Worship that no doubt included loud cries and wailing. Rest that no doubt included both silence and noise. Today, as sit in our own social isolation, I wonder if we have lessons to learn about how we rest and worship this Easter.
It was that line which made me first thing of the crucifixion story: “What comes then? When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again.” I instantly imagined Mary and the other women yearning for yesterday, mourning not just the loss of their beloved friend, but also the loss of life as they knew it. Life as they’d hoped it would be. Yet, they made a choice: to rest into their grief and loss. They made a choice: to wait and return to the tomb after a day of Sabbath. They made a choice, to hear God’s voice. To do the next right thing.
From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,[a]lama sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). (Matthew 27: 45-46)
Forsaken. Abandoned. Deserted.
Jesus hangs, laid bare for all to see, broken for all to mock, dying for all to live. Jesus hangs, forsaken. First abandoned by his friends, and now his God deserts him. Our God deserts him.
Jesus cries in pain, the pain we cause in our separation from God. The pain we feel because of our own separation from God. The pain we embrace each time we sin.
We look at the cross today. We see Jesus feel forsaken. And I wonder if, in this current time, we feel forsaken too. Jesus was never separated from the Father, he merely allowed himself to enter into the experience of sin itself. We see in these words on the cross, an entering into the human experience of separation from God.
Just 15 weeks have passed since Christmas, when we celebrated Immanuel: God WITH us. We are a resurrection people. A people who know that ultimately God IS with us. And yet we are a Good Friday people too. Just as we have many hours of lockdown left, we have many hours of forsakenness before our resurrection celebration on Sunday morning. We have hours in which we can, as Walter Brueggeman challenges us, reflect on the fake promises of the world around us, and on the truth of our lives before the holiness of God.
NT Wright writes, “the mystery of the biblical story is that God also laments.” We are not alone in our feelings of forsakenness and grief. God IS with us. As we dwell in abandonment until the resurrection of Easter morning, as we fix our eyes on Jesus’ forsakenness, may we see clearly our own abandonment and that of others.
The loud cry will turn to loud praise. But before that, it is a loud cry. It is a loud cry for all the abandoned. It is a loud cry for all the sick. It is a loud cry for all those in our world who are yet to know the truth of Immanuel.
This loud cry of forsakenness can be our cry this Easter. It tears the temple curtain in two, it is so powerful. And behind the curtain, revealed to us, is the God who turns the world the right way up. And he chooses to do this through weakness. As we sit at the cross, may we hear Jesus cry, may we be reminded of our own weakness, as we ask God’s spirit to cry within us today.
There are just three words I want to say to you today. Three words I want you to hear today.
Love is everything.
Love. Is. Everything.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul writes of the indispensability of love and all of its character. It is patient, kind, slow to anger, not self-seeking, rejoices with the truth. It protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres. It does not keep a record of wrongs, nor shame others. It is not proud or boastful. It is everything.
Often read at weddings, this passage has a lot to say about love. But why did Paul choose to teach the Corinthians about it? Why was it so essential for him to impress upon them the greatness of love?
At the time of writing, the church in Corinth were falling out over which spiritual gifts were the greatest, experiencing disunity and jealousy, amongst many other things. The context of this particular chapter is that it comes immediately after Paul tells the Corinthians (in Chapter 12) that no one person amongst them is vital. Yes, there are those with prominent gifts, such as prophesy, teaching, healing and interpreting, but the whole church, the body of Christ, is one body with many parts. And Paul writes that all those parts suffer with one another, whilst equally rejoicing with one another. They are one body.
And so, Paul’s focus on love in 1 Corinthians 13 makes sense. You could be the greatest at prophesying but, if you do not have love, it is nothing. You could have a real gift for preaching but, without love, it is nothing. You could have everything that is outwardly good and seen as special but, without love, it is nothing. Whilst all that you’re fighting about will cease to exist, writes Paul, love will never fail. Love will always exist. In fact, we see in verse 10 that love is completeness. Paul builds his argument that the “most excellent way” is love: when we are fully grown, when we are complete, love will be everything. You won’t need to worry about who is preaching and who is not, who is prophesying, and who is not, because love will suffice in its entirety.
Love is everything.
I wonder if you’ve seen the film The Greatest Showman. In the box office it had great success and has become one of the highest grossing musicals of all time. Friends of mine, who are quick to state their dislike of musicals, rave about it; but on the face of it, it seems shallow and is only very loosely based on the main character P.T. Barnum’s life. And yet, the music, oh how the music explodes onto the screen and tells us of deeper truths which lie within all of us. I am certain that stirring of emotions from within is the catalyst for the film’s success.
‘What does all of this have to do with God’s word? What does this have to do with love?’ I hear you ask. Well, when I am in the very early stages of preparing to preach, I like to run and mull things over in my head. Sometimes I might mutter along to myself, phrasing and rephrasing things which occur to me about the passage. And sometimes, I have a sudden moment of inspiration. These moments tend to come from nowhere; they feel almost like a sucker punch, and they’re usually at the point in the run when I am struggling along, and my thoughts are turning to survival. It’s almost as though, when I am physically empty, the Lord is there with me to fill me up spiritually. It was at this point the other afternoon when the song ‘Never Enough’ came onto my shuffle playlist; it was at this point I felt winded and yet had clarity; it was at this point that I burst into tears.
You see, the words woven through this melody have power. This wasn’t the first time this particular song made me cry: both my husband and I were moved to tears, when we watched the film for the first time. The lyrics reminded me of how I feel God working in my life. This idea that nothing in life could ever be enough, without Him. Nevertheless, here I was, several months later, crying because God had revealed something different.
‘All the shine of a thousand spotlights, all the stars we steal from the night sky, will never be enough, never be enough. Towers of gold are still too little, these hands could hold the world, but it’ll never be enough, never be enough for me.’
God does not need the shine of a thousand spotlights, He already holds the world in His hands. Indeed, He does not need to steal the stars from the night sky; they are His already. And yet, He chooses to say, ‘I am not done.’ He chooses to send His most beloved Son to live on earth, be crucified and then rise again. Why? Just so we can encounter Him. Just so creation can be restored. Just so we can take His hand and share in His story. (In fact, the songs says this… “take my hand, will you share this with me? Because darling without you… it will never be enough.” This is the most extravagant and overwhelming display of love in all of history.
The song, according to its writers, is supposed to feel exactly like that: Extravagant. Overwhelming. They wanted to conjure up the image of ‘someone in a castle trying to count all of their riches and it still doesn’t add up to enough. It’s kind of that moment where someone isn’t really satisfied.’ And that was what came to mind when I was mulling over 1 Corinthians 13 on a long 6-mile run.
God’s love for us is so extravagant, so rich, so complete, that He could not leave us and creation after the fall. All that we read about love in 1 Corinthians 13 is part of God’s character because He is love. God is patient, and kind. He does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud. God does not dishonour others, nor is He self-seeking, nor easily angered, and He keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. God always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres. God never fails. He is complete and whole.
Yet, He chose to say, “It is not enough.” His love is so complete that, despite our lack of whole-ness, He chose us. He chooses us. He chooses the impatient mother. The unkind classmate. The envious, boastful social media influencers. The proud and self-praising boss. The bully who humiliates. The angry teenager. The couple who bring up old grievances in new fights. The colleague who feels good when other people get their ‘comeuppance’. The teacher who fails to protect. The colleague you can’t trust. The friend who never sees the light at the end of the tunnel. The student dropout, who just can’t persevere.
We all know these people. We are these people. And God loves us anyway. It’s written throughout scripture, from Genesis through to Revelation. In John 3: 16 it says, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ As we think about how God loves us that much, that He would rather send His son to die in our place, than live eternally without us, it may be that you recognised one of those character traits in your life. How does your record of wrong doing affect your relationships? What does always being hopeful look like in your life? How is love hindered by your lack of generosity to those who wrong you?
For me, I struggle with patience. I have a 3-year-old and it often feels like Groundhog Day as we spend yet another 90 minutes eating cereal or toast or pasta. How can it take so long to eat a simple meal? Yet, the impact that has on my relationship with her is negative. It creates tension, rather than peace; friction, rather than happiness; sadness, rather than joy. It is something I am working on at the moment and it is hard work, as I sit with her and find endless new ways to keep smiling whilst I wait for her to swallow her food. Yet, if God can look at my poor track record in my journey with Him, and show love in His patience with me, I can surely try to do the same with my toddler.
What is it in your life which is stopping you from showing love? God looks at us and says, ‘It will never be enough.’ So why is it enough for us to say we love, yet to withhold it in myriad ways offered in 1 Corinthians 13. What would our relationships look like if we applied ourselves in these areas? How could our communities be restored if our love looked like God’s love?
“Whenever, wherever, we’re meant to be together; I’ll be there and you’ll be near and that’s the deal my dear.”
I woke up with this song in my head, yet I’ve not listened to it for years. In fact, the last time I heard it was probably June 2013 when I was singing it at a Karaoke bar in Heidelberg, Germany. Anyway, the lyrics grabbed me this morning.
That line from the chorus is a paraphrase of Psalm 139, except this time it’s God speaking.
These words from this psalm were of great comfort to me when I was at my lowest after my daughter was born in 2016. Each time I felt myself plunging into the darkness, when paranoid fears overtook me and the loneliness set in, it was this psalm that would pull me back.
I felt utterly helpless, useless, abandoned. And oh so alone. Always so alone. Even in a busy room of people, alone. Until this psalm found me. And oh did I weep. Suddenly, I was reminded that even on the darkest day, God’s Spirit was with me as a light, a guide, a safety net.
Psalm 139 is a beautiful image of our relationship with God. He searches us and knows us. In fact, he’s known us since before we were formed, when we were being knitted together. And he is always with us, even when we try to get away. He is one determined pursuer of our attention.
“Whenever, wherever, we’re meant to be together; I’ll be there and you’ll be near, and that’s the deal my dear.” Who knew Shakira was a theologian?
Let me mingle tears with thee, mourning Him who mourned for me, all the days that I may live:
By the Cross with thee to stay, there with thee to weep and pray, is all I ask of thee to give.
Weeping. See Mary at the foot of the cross.When Mary stayed at the cross, did she know she would be given a new son? Someone to look after her and someone for her to mother? While she wept, did she say anything to Jesus? Did she cry out to God? Where was his mercy for her? How could he leave her?What was her prayer?
Do we look at the cross and seethepain? Or do we look away, only inviting the joy of the resurrection that we know is coming?Marydid not know. She did not have hindsight.
Look at the cross. See Jesus the son, wrought with pain. See Marythe mother,stood below, watching, waiting, weeping.
Let us hurry not to the Easter tomb, with gleeful joy.
Waiting. See Mary at the foot of the cross.Her face is turned up towards Jesus. She sees his frail body, hanging bleakly.While Mary waited, did she think of her life with Jesus?What was she remembering in her grief as he went from her? Perhaps the moment she was told of his birth? Or the miracle of turning water into the finest wine? So far from the wine vinegar he tasted on the cross. As we look with Mary, what do we remember of Jesus’ life?
Do we look at the cross and seethepain? Or do we look away, only inviting the joy of the resurrection that we know is coming?
Look at the cross. See Jesus the son, wrought with pain. See Marythe mother,stood below, watching, waiting, weeping.
Is there one who would not weep, whelmed in miseries so deep, Christ’s dear Mother to behold?
Can the human heart refrain from partaking in her pain, in that Mother’s pain untold?
Watching. See Mary at the foot of the cross. While she watched, we know she must have wept. Her son lay bare for all to see, broken for all to mock, dying for all to live. Is her face blotched and stricken with angst? Perhaps you can hear her cries from all around? Or is she weeping more silently, more controlled?
Do we look at the cross and seethepain?Or do we look away, only inviting the joy ofthe resurrection that we know is coming?
Look at the cross. See Jesus the son, wrought with pain. See Marythe mother,stood below, watching, waiting, weeping.
Mary, at the cross with Jesus, is an image immortalised in Stabat Mater art – Stabat Mater meaning mourning mother. Sometimes this art portrays solely Mary with Jesus, sometimes the other women are there too, as in John’s Gospel, but mostly it is Mary on Jesus’ right hand side and John on the left. These images portray the artists’ impressions of how they see what John wrote about. The Stabat Mater is also a 13th century hymn, and I want to use some of the words to help us reflect on Mary and her thoughts and feelings as she stood at the cross with her son.
Stabat mater dolorósa
juxta Crucem lacrimósa,
dum pendébat Fílius.
Cuius ánimam geméntem,
contristátam et doléntem
At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last.
Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.
Watching, waiting, weeping.
Mary was promised by Simeon that her soul would be pierced too. She was not promised a lifetime of joy with her beloved child, but an eventual sharing in his pain and anguish. She did not run away and hide, as the disciples did, but stood there until the end.
Do we look at the cross and see the pain? Or do we look away, only inviting the joy of the resurrection that we know is coming?
Look at the cross. See Jesus the son, wrought with pain. See Mary the mother, stood below, watching, waiting, weeping.