Monday in Week of Easter 7

Acts 19.1-8; Psalm 67; John 16.29-33

The Orthodox (Eastern) Churches refer to the entire fifty days we call “Easter”as the season of Pentecost.  Everything about this time is leading towards the great celebration of the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Church on the Feast of the Fiftieth Day, or Pentecost.

For us, though, the final ten days of the season, after Ascension Day, are particularly devoted to prayer for the Holy Spirit.  This period of prayer from the day after Ascension Day through Pentecost Sunday (described in Acts 1.12-14) is the origin of the novena, nine days of intense prayer for a particular object.  Even if you haven’t already started, today isn’t too late to devote ourselves to prayers like Veni, Creator Spiritus for the final week of our Easter celebration.

“I am not alone” Jesus declared to his disciples as they made the long walk from the upper room to Gethsemane where he would prepare himself for his coming sacrificial work.  “My Father is always with me.”  In our times of testing and trial, may we know that presence, manifested as the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts to strengthen us [Romans 8.11] and give us the words we need [Luke 12.11-12] to declare the reason for the Hope that is in us.
[I Peter 3.15]

Friday of the 6th week of Eastertide

Acts 18:9-18; Psalm 46(47):2-7; John 16:20-23

The problem of suffering, has been the subject of many studies. One of the most noted, is in the book 'The Problem of Pain" by C.S.Lewis. His wonderful, part biographic 'Surprised by Joy' also deals with suffering and loss, and has been filmed (its on BBC iPlayer at the moment). 'Shadowlands' seems to show CS Lewis as being obsessed by the need for us to suffer to be saved - he then he has to accompany his wife, Joy, as she suffers from cancer and dies. This is a journey many of us have already, or have yet to travel, so it is a question we are all likely to face - Why does God allow us to suffer, if he loves us? It seems that even minds as great as CSL's, need to experience the full journey of suffering to understand it fully - the change in his character portrayed so well in that film by Robert Redfern is beautiful to see.

Pain and suffering do not go away - but unlike the early CSL where it seems to be a necessary blacksmiths' anvil on which our character is beaten into us - the love of God at the end, completely overcomes what came before. Although it remains hard to understand, that problem is neatly answered at the end of todays' Gospel in just a few words of Jesus -

"When that day comes, you will not ask me any questions."

We might also remember the words in Romans 8 - 'there is nothing, that can come between us and the Love of God'

 

Ascension

Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 46(47):2-3,6-9; Ephesians 1:17-23; Matthew 28:16-20

The Ascension was not simply the moment that Christ, Our Lord departed the earth, leaving us to fend for ourselves, and certainly not to save ourselves. There is no sense of abandonment nor of departure. Christ always was divine, but at the moment of his conception he also became human. Throughout his life he showed us how to live. As all humans do, he died, and now, as all humans will, he showed us that we will ascend. Body and soul, our full creation in the image of God, will ascend back to the Father at the last day.

So much did the Apostles and disciples want to follow Jesus, there was quite a tendency to expect that this was going to happen in their own lifetimes. But of course it did not - now approaching 2000 years since ascension, we are all still awaiting that final glory.

While we are waiting, we are far from alone. We wait with each other, but much more than that, we have the Holy Spirit present in our lives. As Christ promises us in todays gospel, "I am always with you; yes,  to the end of time!" Not the 'I am', which is the Name of God... God is always with us. Life is not about being separated from God, just about part of our journey with God back to himself.

Monday of the 6th week of Eastertide

Acts 16:11-15; Psalm 149:1-6,9; John 15:26-16:4

We find ourselves today at Philippi, a town noted for trade. It was probably thus a melting pot of different societies, beliefs and practices. It seems that Judaism had not established itself there, as if there were a temple, surely Paul and companions would he visited it on the Sabbath? It required only a community of ten men, to be able to establish a temple - this number is the minimum requirement for orthodox Jewish ritual to this day.

A detail of some note is that the apostles spoke with the women gathered at a customary meeting place. A revolutionary act in the context of the times as most women would simply have been expected to follow the religious beliefs of their husbands or fathers. As this was by a river, it is likely that baptisms conveniently took place there. Lydia, of some prominence in the community (she was a merchant for purple dyed cloth, the material of emperors and high office, which was made with one of the most expensive materials known at the time) was likely to have been rich. Her household therefore would probably have swamped out the small number of local Jews, and she may will have influenced many other Gentiles to join the new church.

A little like with Jesus, first talking to Mary Magdala in the garden, Paul first spoke with the women of Philippi. The Philippians came to be the starting point of the spread of Christianity in the Roman empire - it was at Philippi that they first become known as 'Christians'.

 

 

 

Saturday of the Week of Easter 5

Acts 16.1-10; Psalm 99; John 15.18-21

Paul and Silas became the apostles to Europe when Paul experienced a dream in which a man from Macedonia appeared and appealed to him, “Come across to Macedonia and help us.” Without a moment’s hesitation they booked passage across the Aegean.

But note the events that preceded this decision. “They travelled through Phrygia and the Galatian country, having been told by the Holy Spirit not to preach the word in Asia.” And then: “When they reached the frontier of Mysia they thought to cross it into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them….” These detours and disappointments are recorded tersely, but one can imagine the despondency and even despair that must have accompanied them. It seems the missionaries were being thwarted on every side.

Yet note the positive construction Paul puts on these difficulties. It was the Holy Spirit, he says, who deflected him from Asia (that is, Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey). It was the Spirit of Jesus that prevented him from going north to Bithynia. And when all roads appeared to be blocked, he is addressed in a vision, summoned to a new place that had apparently not previously occurred to him. A new chapter both in his own life and in the history of the Church is opened as Paul is sent to bring the good news even further.

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sunday, 14 May 2023

Sixth Sunday of Easter (Children’s)

Sunday, 14 May 2023

Friday in Week of Easter 5

Acts 15.22-31; Psalm 56; John 15.12-17

I call you friends” Jesus says to the twelve, and like other words of the Master to his disciples they are words we may hope to hear ourselves.

In a half dozen completely diverse places in the Old Testament Abraham is named as “the friend of God.” Abraham for us is the father of faith [Romans 4.16] and friendship is an excellent metaphor for faith. The things that mark the best friendship—intimacy, fidelity, mutuality and joy—are equally descriptors for the relationship we may hope to have with God himself. He is not our friend because we have chosen him: no, he has chosen us. As the 20th Century American novelist Reynolds Price put it in his succinct summary of the Gospel according to St John, “The Maker of all things loves me, and wants me.”

A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” Jesus declares. He has laid down his life—no one took it from him, he laid it down [John 10.17-18]—for the sake of you and me. He has taken that life up again and now sits at the right hand of God to make intercession for us. [Romans 8.34] And if we have known ourselves to be loved by him and made his friends, we are then empowered to share that love with all others for his sake.