As we journey to the cross through Lent the gospel writers articulate how Jesus helped people apply their faith to the world they lived in. This was in preparation for the disciples and indeed the reader that despite the turmoil Jesus offers certainty of the presence of God and a resurrection life.
Fifth Sunday in Lent, John 11:1-45
The early Christians faced a world of social upheaval, war, oppressive Roman rule, landlessness and poverty. The gospel writers wrote the story of Jesus to help people live in that world. The story told them where God is in the world, how they should act in that world, and what would give them hope. This long story about Lazarus is not primarily about the claim Lazarus was raised to life. It is that Jesus could do this; that Jesus is actually “the resurrection and the life”. (v. 25) In the works of Jesus they will see the glory of God. (v.4, 40) They can go about their life — work, family, the wider community — because life has a centre in Jesus who offers us the life of God. The real miracle is the presence of God among us, giving us a glimpse of paradise.
In our world of enormous change and uncertainty, why does it matter to you that Jesus offers us the certainty of the presence of God?
Sixth Sunday in Lent (PALM SUNDAY), Matthew 21:1-11
Matthew wrote to followers of Jesus struggling not to be drawn into political revolt against Roman rule and the retaliation that always followed. He offers them an alternative to nationalistic violence and to the common cultural narrative of retribution. The gospel of Matthew follows the usual story formula of a young prince surviving an attempt on his life (2:13-18) and, later, reclaiming his kingdom from the false king; true kingship is restored. The difference between other similar examples and Jesus is they offer a story of revenge. Jesus, though, refuses to retaliate, does not need to be saved by the sword (26:52), tells his disciples to offer unconditional forgiveness, turn the other cheek, and love enemies. This is the heart of today’s reading. People are left bewildered by the messiah-king. This is something new. Violence, racism, never-ending war and blaming others are countered with the outrageous claims of the non-retaliatory teachings of Jesus.
What do you do to show others an example of non-retaliation and the ending of retribution?
Resurrection of the Lord (EASTER SUNDAY), Matthew 28:1-10
This is such a familiar story, so let us note just two things. First, the resurrection is not a separate ‘happy ending’, a sort of contradictory narrative to what has gone before. Rather, the resurrection unveils completely what has been underneath the whole of Matthew’s gospel – God has been working out God’s purpose and intention in the life of Jesus. Even in the face of violent execution, God can still work in the world. Second, the story of the women is a story of great faithfulness; a model for discipleship. They followed Jesus from Galilee, and they stayed to watch his death when the male disciples fled. After the Sabbath waiting-time, they returned to resume their faithful vigil – to complete the following and service they had offered him.
What do you think is the appropriate shape of ‘faithful watching’ alongside Jesus in this world?
Second Sunday of Easter, John 20:19-31
The familiar story continues. In this part, the story is one of fear and hiding, and Jesus who comes into that space to offer peace and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Ours is a world where we are encouraged to fear, because too many people benefit — economically and politically — from it. Rescuing people from conjured-up fear is big business. Jesus, on the other hand, offers peace as a gift. We are not to be frightened of the life he offers and the world he turns upside down. We are to embrace that life. We often miss the last words of this reading: “but these [signs] are written so that you may come to believe”. (v. 31) We are challenged to read this story not as distant critics, or sceptics about history, but as people open to the possibility that we might meet one who brings life.
What difference might it make if you read Scripture in order to deepen your faith?
Third Sunday of Easter, Luke 24:13-35
Two men are walking along and are joined by Jesus. They have no clue about who he is. It is easy to be so locked into our own world and its possibilities that we cannot see things that do not fit. Do people rise to life? No, they do not. So whoever this is, it cannot be Jesus. Even when Jesus explained how his life fitted into the hopes of the nation, they still could not see. It took the breaking of bread to peel the scales off their eyes. It took this powerful symbol, this promise broken open in bread, for them to see and to acknowledge their own burning hearts — and then to have the courage to tell others. It is amazing what we cannot see in life because we have decided it cannot be there: the love of strangers; the humanity of people of other faiths; the wisdom of First Peoples; the presence of God.
What do you risk missing because you have decided it cannot be there?
The reflections for April 2017 have been prepared by Rev. Dr Chris Budden, the Interim National Coordinator of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress