Suddenly There

Matthew 28, 1-10

Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshipped him.

I don’t know if you’ve have heard of the Christian song­writer Geoff Shattock. One of his songs is about the resurrection, and it’s called “Suddenly There”: –

“It wasn’t what they expected,
it wasn’t that they suspected he was around.
But he was suddenly there.”

That’s what Easter morning is about, isn’t it? We can philosophize about new life and we can theologize about the resurrection at the end of the world, and we can argue with the sceptics as to what actually happened and where Jesus’ body got to. But in the end, the point is that Jesus was there.

Suddenly, Jesus met them…

I don’t think we can grasp what that must have felt like, even though we’ve heard it so many times, and even though we too have lost some of our dear ones and know all about the grief and pain involved in that. In some ways, perhaps, it’s easier for us to relate to the Saturday, the Sabbath when the disciples were alone with their grief – and I suppose went through the same phases that other bereaved people go through: Denial, anger – and perhaps frustration, for the women, because they hadn’t had a chance to look after Jesus’ body properly. Part of the grief process is to think of all the things we could have done or should have done, and we feel guilty about that on top of all the rest. Or perhaps they really hadn’t taken it all in yet, perhaps they didn’t have time to feel anything but numb emptiness. But Jesus was gone.

And then they had this incredible experience at the grave. Now those who know me know that I’ve got loads of questions about this. Angels in bright white clothes and all the rest – it’s a challenge to our more prosaic way of thinking. But the important thing is that the women were told that Jesus was no longer there – he was risen from the dead. What did it mean?, How did they feel?

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy… (28:8)

Did they believe it? Did they dare to believe it? Would anybody else believe them? Whatever they felt, they had to tell the others, so they rush off – but I suspect that quite a lot of things ran through their heads during verse eight, short as it is. And then we come to verse nine. It’s written so simply. No more angels and bright lights, no fanfares. Just: Jesus came to meet them and said “hi”, as if nothing had happened. They thought they had lost him for ever – but suddenly, he was there.

There must have been a hurricane of feelings when they saw him for the first time: Of course they were happy. Of course they were scared, too. But they did the only natural thing – they threw themselves on their knees and worshipped him.

And so it continued. Two of the disciples were on their way to Emmaus, confused about everything that had happened – and now these new rumours that Jesus was alive after all. They didn’t know what to believe until a man comes and explains it all for them, and he breaks bread, and says a blessing. And he was suddenly there. Jesus.

Thomas didn’t know what to believe either. The others said they had seen Jesus, but he wanted proof, he wanted to see and touch. And suddenly Jesus was there, and Thomas too fell on his knees and worshipped him – and in fact, according to John, became the first to call him God.

I suppose this was the experience of many people during Jesus’ ministry. Zacchaeus was just curious – but suddenly Jesus was there for him, and his life was changed. The blind beggar by the road who heard Jesus’ passing by – suddenly Jesus was asking for him, talking to him, healing his eyes.

The thief hanging on the cross, condemned justly according to the laws of that time, as he himself admitted. The cross was a miserable end to what perhaps had been a miserable life. But he realised there was something different about Jesus – and in those terrible moments before they all died of pain and exhaustion, Jesus was somehow suddenly there: Not just another victim like the thousands of others who died on a cross, but God’s Son, who could say to a man:

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

Suddenly there. I could go on for ever – and Jesus is still doing this. Still meeting people. Not always where they expect to find him. Often quite the opposite, sometimes when they’re not even looking for him at all. He’s suddenly there.

And when he comes, everything is somehow different. The criminal’s death becomes a gateway to paradise. The women’s confusion turns into joy. Thomas’ doubt turns into faith.

Where are we today? Are we still living in verse eight, perhaps? We’ve heard that Jesus is alive. We want to tell others that he’s alive. But we haven’t really met him yet. Are we still standing outside the empty tomb waiting to see if he’ll turn up there? Perhaps he will if we wait long enough. But the women didn’t meet Jesus outside the tomb. They met him on the way to the others. Perhaps Jesus is waiting to meet us in some unexpected place? Not here, perhaps, but in our daily lives when we’re not so “religious”. Among the people we meet every day. Are we so awake that we would notice if he was there?

Perhaps there is something in our lives that would be different if we met Jesus again. I don’t think Jesus is a kind of “fixer” who solves all our problems. The thief on the cross still died even though Jesus was there. But when we meet him, the world looks different. We realise that there is more to life than what we can see. There are truths still to be discovered. There is hope, and love, and life even in our distress, even in death. When we meet Jesus, life is different.

In conclusion, let’s take a few moments to reflect. When did you really meet Jesus last? When did you notice he was there – no matter where or how? When did you last throw yourself at his feet to worship him? Is he waiting for you somewhere?

Easter morning: Jesus is here.

[This sermon was originally preached at the Salvation Army, Tunstall Corps, on Easter morning 2007]

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Death, thou shalt die!

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So Jesus was dead.

Nobody at that time doubted that he really was dead. But just a few days later people were saying they’d seen him alive. Yet another paradox.

The resurrection never meant much to me until death became real to me. But now I realise that it’s at the very heart of the Gospel. Christianity is about new beginnings, new life. About the permanence of God in a world of constant change. About God’s ability to create life.

In practical terms, I have no real idea about how it happened. Did Jesus “come back to life”, like a coma patient suddenly waking up? Was his dead body suddenly transformed into something less physical, more spiritual? I haven’t got a clue – and I don’t really care. Once again, the thing that matters is that those who knew Jesus, those who were eye-witnesses, said that he was risen from the dead. Whatever it was that happened, that was the only explanation that fitted in with what they had experienced. Jesus was dead: But now he’s alive!

If Jesus’ death was the triumph of God’s love over human sin – then the resurrection was the triumph of God’s power over death. God doesn’t only love us in some abstract way. He also has the power to give us life. Physical life – and spiritual life. The Bible tells us that even while we are alive, we can be spiritually dead. If we cut ourselves off from God, the giver of life, then our “life” becomes mere existence. It may be very pleasant – you may even find it meaningful. But in the final analysis, you’re dead. And one day, when your physical life ends, you will realise just how dead you are.

But that isn’t what God wants! He wants to give us “life abundant”. He wants us to live to the very limits of our potential, to exploit all of the gifts that he has given us, to explore his universe, his love, himself. And by making us spiritually alive, he promises us a new kind of life that will continue into eternity. I’ve no idea what that means. Streets of gold and pearly gates leave me cold. But if God is the source of all life, the source of all that is truly good – then I want to be with him. And Jesus’ death and resurrection is my guarantee that that is not only possible – but it’s what God wants.

Tell me true, tell me why …

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“Tell me true, tell me why was Jesus crucified…
is that a hint of accusation in your eyes?”
Roger Waters, “The Post War Dream”

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God is in pain.

It’s been going on for thousands of years, perhaps millions. And I’m afraid it’s going to continue for a long time yet.

And what’s causing the pain, is us. The human race. Because we don’t care. We would rather fight and torture and kill each other than admit that we needed God. And even when we have admitted it, we have often carried on fighting and killing. Not you personally, of course. You’re not like that – and neither am I. Except sometimes. Ever told a half-truth to get out of trouble? Ever thrown the charity appeal envelope straight in the waste paper without reading it? Ever got bored by all the tragic stories on the nine o’ clock news?

Every time we do something unloving, every time we do something dishonest – and every time we don’t do the loving or honest thing that we could have done – then God is in pain. And since people have behaved more or less like you and me (or worse) since time immemorial, and since they show few signs of behaving differently – then God must be in eternal anguish.

So what do you do if someone hurts you? Hurt them back? Not directly, maybe. But isn’t that what we call justice? If you hit me, I hit you back. If you steal from me, you go to jail. If you reject my love – then I hate you! What if God treated us like that?

On the other hand, you can always hurt somebody else. It’s not fair, but we all do it. If we can’t get back at the person who’s hurt us, we pass it on to someone else. Had a bad day at work? Yell at the kids. Boss put you down? Make your underlings feel small. Girlfriend ditched you? …

Or you can forgive. What does forgiveness mean? It means accepting the hurt that has been done to you, refusing the “justice” of hurting them back, or the injustice of hurting someone else. Keeping the hurt to yourself, and saying to whoever has hurt you that you want to reestablish good relations. And that’s what God does. Throughout his eternity of pain, he refuses to hurt us back. He accepts the pain, bears it, and tries to tell us how much he wants us to love him and each other.

What Jesus did when he died on the cross was to show us God’s eternal pain. In fact, in some way beyond our comprehension, he actually bore God’s pain, then and there. All the centuries of hate and spitefulness and petty selfishness that is human history. All that, concentrated into a few hours of human time. All that, to cry out to his tormentors – all of us – “I forgive you. I love you. What are you going to do with my love?”

Worktalk: Holy Week

WORKTALK is an organisation devoted to the promotion of spirituality in the workplace: “to enable people to see that the Man who changed the world can change the way we work.” Geoff Shattock provides (among many other things) a weekly column which you an subscribe to. I liked this weeks column – so I’m sharing it with you, at the same time giving WORKTALK a little plug. By the way – Geoff also sings, as you can hear here: 

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WORKTALK WEEKLY

14 April 2014

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Son of Man 11: Holy Week

What can be said about Holy Week that has not already been said? Probably not much. But permit me to make an observation. Right at the heart of the phrase is a contradiction. As you will see when we go into more detail about the name “Son of Man”, Jesus of Nazareth takes old or established concepts and tips them over, turns them round and spills out new truths. Like his zeal for turning over moneychangers tables, he will turn over your ideas if you will watch.

For centuries, millennia maybe, humans have nurtured the concept of special days, special places, special people, it is a useful way to nurture the mind and remind ourselves of a truth. But consider this. If this is Holy Week, what are the other 51 weeks of the year? Don’t get me wrong, I love the Easter season and all the special services, ceremonies, plays and events that surround it. I love to celebrate all that Easter means in that week. But I repeat it contains a paradox.

The “Son of Man” took a well known title and added a dimension that no one had thought of before. No one ever associated “Son of Man” with suffering. In the culture of his day it was the title for a superhero. We will explore this matter another time in depth.

The “Son of Man” who also took the concept of holy and shot it through with new meanings. His suffering was directed at making it possible for every week to be equally holy, every person to become a priest and every place to become a shrine. How?

I’ll tell you. Holiness now works from the inside out. Days don’t make you holy, places don’t make you holy (even though it seems easier some days and in some places to be holy!)

The Son of Man showed his holiness in horrible places and on difficult days with desperate people.

Look around you. Holiness radiates out from your centre into your world. This means your work is holy because you, a holy person, are doing it. Your acts, this week, are sacrifices and offerings because you are doing them for your God, in the name of your God. Every week of your year is a holy week.

There was a Greek philosopher called Aristippus of Cyrene who lived 400 years before Christ. He founded a school of thought based on the idea that the whole of life was about the pursuit of deep pleasure or “egoistic hedonism”. So important was this to them that they would often assess a person or a life with the question “Did he or she have passion?”

For them, passion was, at its core, about enjoyment, fulfillment and pleasure seeking.

What we call holy week also contains the story of the “passion”. As usual it contains a new meaning. It includes joy, fulfillment, meaning and pleasure but it also speaks of the suffering “Son of Man”.

You don’t have to make your weeks holy, he already has, that was, and is, his passion.

Work Well and Happy Holy Week!
Geoff Shattock

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© Geoff Shattock April 2014

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