Gospel Reading for Sunday 11th April
It was late that Sunday evening, and the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors, because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities. Then Jesus came and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. After saying this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy at seeing the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (called the Twin), was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later the disciples were together again indoors, and Thomas was with them. The doors were locked, but Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands; then reach out your hand and put it in my side. Stop your doubting, and believe!” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Do you believe because you see me? How happy are those who believe without seeing me!” In his disciples’ presence Jesus performed many other miracles which are not written down in this book. But these have been written in order that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through your faith in him you may have life.
Spend a few moments thinking about what stands out for you from the Bible reading. This idea may help.
‘I doubt it’. ‘Such a dubious character’. ‘It’s doubtful’. So often we make doubt seem so negative. But it needn’t be. When I doubt my test results, I discuss them with my doctor. When I doubt the safety of some electrical equipment, I have it checked. Doubt is essential when something really matters. Doubt is not taking for granted what I’m told or assume or believe. It is Thomas doubting what the other disciples said about seeing Jesus alive. It mattered so much that he needed to know for himself. If Easter faith really matters, doubt is essential.
Gospel Reading for Easter Sunday, 4th April
Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away from the entrance. She went running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” Then Peter and the other disciple went to the tomb. The two of them were running, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and saw the linen cloths, but he did not go in. Behind him came Simon Peter, and he went straight into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there and the cloth which had been around Jesus’ head. It was not lying with the linen cloths but was rolled up by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in; he saw and believed (They still did not understand the scripture which said that he must rise from death.) Then the disciples went back home. Mary stood crying outside the tomb. While she was still crying, she bent over and looked in the tomb and saw two angels there dressed in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and the other at the feet. “Woman, why are you crying?” they asked her. She answered, “They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him!” Then she turned around and saw Jesus standing there; but she did not know that it was Jesus. “Woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who is it that you are looking for?” She thought he was the gardener, so she said to him, “If you took him away, sir, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned toward him and said in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (This means “Teacher.”) “Do not hold on to me,” Jesus told her, “because I have not yet gone back up to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them that I am returning to him who is my Father and their Father, my God and their God.” So Mary Magdalene went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and related to them what he had told her.
The centrality of a woman in this account is not something that anyone would invent in a world that undervalued the role of women as witnesses. John locates his narrative in real time, during the early hours of ‘the first day of the week’. Mary’s grief is strong enough to draw her to the place where she can be as close as possible to Jesus’ body. She is shocked by what she finds: an obviously disturbed tomb, the body missing, presumed stolen. Two of Jesus’ disciples – both men – believe her anxious report and confirm her story by visiting the tomb for themselves. As yet, its emptiness can only mean that the body has been ‘taken away’.
Mary’s double loss – the companionship of her beloved rabbi, and now his body – is made visible in her inconsolable weeping. Unlike Peter and the other disciple, she stays by the tomb long enough to experience something she hardly expects. She only recognises the figure behind her when he calls her by name, like the good shepherd calling one of his flock. Jesus is within touching distance, but he resists. ‘Do not hold on to me’ suggests a new kind of relationship. ‘Ascending to the Father’ through his passion is the counterpart of the descent of the heavenly ‘Word’. This movement of grace will open up Jesus’ relationship with the God he calls ‘Father’. John’s readers know what this means: the coming of the Spirit to friends who live by the ‘new commandment’ that makes the love of Jesus visible. The foundation of this transforming vision is the astonishing witness of a woman.
Many things offer a ‘touching point’ with something mysterious that seems beyond the normal parameters of life: e.g. art, music, poetry, science and nature. However, we don’t all ‘get’ these things. Perhaps you have had the experience of trying to explain your enthusiasms to someone and being met with a blank look. Or being the one who gave the blank look! Sometimes you can get past this by helping someone else to experience what enthuses you. Experience can do what words can’t. It was the experience of the empty tomb, and then the risen Jesus, that provided a touching place with mystery – the possibility that existence is far bigger than Mary had thought. What achieves that for us today?
Prayer for All Ages
thank you for promising to be with us always.
Help us to remember that promise
when we don’t feel brave enough to be your disciples.
Help us to remember that the first people to know
that you rose from the tomb
were ordinary people like us,
women and men who didn’t feel very brave.
Give us courage to believe and to tell others –
as Mary did – this Easter and always.
|2nd April Good Friday|
St Mark 15: 33-41
|When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’ There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.|
This is the day they call good
On this day they call good, they took a man like no other before or since. A man they did not understand; who spoke the truth when it hurt; who denounced; gave offence; defended the poor; healed the sick; touched the untouchable; befriended prostitutes but did not make use of them. A man of integrity – who loved.
On this day they call good, they killed a man. They stripped him naked; beat him with iron-tipped whips till the blood flowed free. They vilified, degraded and abused him, ramming thorns of a caricature crown deep into his skull.
On this day they call good, they tied the man to a rough-hewn wooden cross; drove nails deep into the beams through his wrists and ankles, the sound of ripping flesh drowned by shouts of “Crucify!” The pain of rough, cold iron tearing through sinew and vein lubricated by his blood flowing freely, dulled by the throbbing ache in every part of his body.
On this day they call good, the man was frightened. It had been easy to be brave in that bright, warm room, saying that he had already been anointed for burial. Anointed now by his own sweat, blood and tears he was terrified, hanging there, filled with dread, aghast that he had been abandoned, crying out in fear: “My God, why did you abandon me?”
On this day they call good, he bore the torment; withstood the scorn; endured the pain; suffered in silence almost to the end. Not because he wanted to – but had to. Not pointless, mindless violence inflicted on him. He understood the point of it all too well. Our sin.
On this day they call good, he suffered with such dignity that a pagan soldier recognised him. “Truthfully, this man was a son of God.”
On this day they call good, they crucified a man and revealed our God.
That is why we call this day good.
God, when we are misunderstood, grant us forbearance.
God, when we are injured, grant us assistance.
God, when we are in pain, grant us relief.
God, when we are frightened, grant us reassurance.
God, when we feel abandoned, grant us sustenance.
God, when we finally understand, grant us generosity of spirit.
Source: Daily Devotions from the URC
Gospel Reading for Palm Sunday, 28th March
As they approached Jerusalem, near the towns of Bethphage and Bethany, they came to the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of his disciples on ahead with these instructions: “Go to the village there ahead of you. As soon as you get there, you will find a colt tied up that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. And if someone asks you why you are doing that, say that the Master needs it and will send it back at once.” So they went and found a colt out in the street, tied to the door of a house. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders asked them, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered just as Jesus had told them, and the crowd let them go. They brought the colt to Jesus, threw their cloaks over the animal, and Jesus got on. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches in the field and spread them on the road. The people who were in front and those who followed behind began to shout, “Praise God! God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord! God bless the coming kingdom of King David, our father! Praise be to God!” Jesus entered Jerusalem, went into the Temple, and looked around at everything. But since it was already late in the day, he went out to Bethany with the twelve disciples.
“Riding a horse into Jerusalem and entering its Temple is a very bold prophetic sign, indicating that the promises of Israel’s deliverance are being fulfilled. The two disciples involved in the preparations are told to expect an appropriate response to the Messiah, and this is well expressed in the King James version: ‘ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him. And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither.’ The ‘many people’ who greet him also understand the significance of the event. There is a celebratory mood, and the response is generous, as they contribute their cloaks. These were valuable items in themselves, worth suing someone for (Matthew 5.40), and worth repairing properly (Matthew 9.16). But they also express Jesus’ significance, recalling the time that, hearing that Jehu was the Lord’s anointed, people ‘hurriedly all took their cloaks and spread them for him on the bare steps; and they blew the trumpet, and proclaimed, “Jehu is king”.’ (2 Kings 9.13). The anointing of kings is also recalled when we remember that the dying David asked that his son Solomon be allowed to ride to Gihon to be anointed and to Jerusalem to be enthroned as king: ‘and all the people went up following him, playing on pipes and rejoicing with great joy’ (1 Kings 1.32-40). The unbroken horse also recalls the new cart and the previously unyoked cows that brought the ark, after its journey from the wilderness, to its final resting place in the sanctuary in Jerusalem (1 Samuel 6.7; 2 Samuel 6.2).”
“By Jesus’ time Psalm 118 was used at festivals, sometimes with palm branches, as a prayer for the restoration of the Davidic kingdom. This is made explicit here by the addition to ’Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’ (Psalm 118.26) of the interpretation, ‘Blessed be the coming kingdom of our ancestor David.’ Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the Temple, and the prophecy that began to be fulfilled by John the Baptist (Mark 1.2) is completed in Christ: ‘See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his Temple’ (Malachi 3.1).”
Source: Roots Worship and Learning Resources