One of my favourite movies is The Bourne Identity. In the opening scene a man is found floating out at sea, unconscious, and is rescued onto a passing ship. When he eventually wakes he has no idea who he is, where he’s come from, or where he was going. A microchip inside him leads him to a safe deposit box in a bank, and inside he discovers a whole stack of different passports and identities. Who is Jason Bourne?! What story is he a part of?
We aren’t so different. Post-modernism and the dismantling of social structures and coherent narratives, leaves those raised amidst it, swimming at sea, constantly searching for true identity. Do we find it? or are we meant to create it? (Both are seemingly beyond challenge in our culture, even though they are completely contradictory truths - eg “born this way”, “find yourself”, and self-help culture that promises “a new you”, or the possibility of “re-inventing ourselves”). You’ll have heard me preach this on numerous occasions, but most of us attempt to find our identity in one of three ways: What we do, what we have, or what is said about us. As we start to experience more of the impact of COVID-19 on our economy, we are going to see more and more struggles with our sense of identity and self worth. Many of us, our families and our neighbours may lose their jobs in the months ahead. Research shows what a massive effect this has on a person’s mental health and sense of well being.
With this in mind, there is more great news in the passage we have been reflecting on since Easter. Read verse 2.
“So she ran to get Simon Peter, and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved.”
It’s possible to rush on past it, but do you notice how John, the writer of the gospel, refers to himself in this passage, and throughout the gospel? "The one Jesus loved."
You might be tempted to think, what arrogance! Imagine giving yourself that moniker, as though he was more loved than the other 11 disciples. But John’s not saying that. He is describing only himself. What is the identity that he knows and shares when he talks about himself?
It’s not what he does. Not what he has. Not what is said about him by others.
John's identity rests entirely on his relationship with Jesus, and that relationship, founded on the love of God declares that Jesus, God incarnate, loves him! The truest thing that John can declare about himself is that he is beloved by God!
Do you know that is true of you too?
In the beginning of John’s gospel he tells us that Jesus came, and “that all who receive him, he gave the right to be children of God” (1:12).
Can you imagine what it would be like to wake up each morning to know that who you are, before you ever get out of bed and do anything, have anything, or hear anything, is based on the love of God towards you. Can you imagine waking up to know your most central identity is based on the sure and certain truth that God loves you? In receiving Jesus, this is the promise, and the reality. We are given the right to be children of God.
In this season of Easter, where the old way must die, and the new must be born, what old identifiers need to be consigned to the grave in order for us to cling to our identity as a beloved child of God?
Are there misspoken words spoken by a parent, a teacher, or peer, that have seared deep in your heart, and that bring pain and challenge your sense of self-worth and identity? Perhaps this is something God wants to free you from this Easter?
Has your work become a part of your identity, rather than an act of worship to God?
Does what you have define you in such a way that you aren’t free to be generous and give freely to others from what God has entrusted you with?
The good news of the gospel is that the work of remembering our true identity, and being freed from the old, isn’t just another endeavour of self-help, or another thing to strive for, but is a work of the Holy Spirit. As Paul writes in Romans 8:15-16:
The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship/daughtership. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
In this season where many of us have more time in solitude or silence, or where more than ever, our sense of identity is being challenged by the impacts of the COVID virus, let us all spend specific time in prayer at the beginning and the end of each day, reflecting on who we are. A friend I served with back in Boston, when asked when he knew it was time to stop praying, gave this simple answer. "I don’t get off my knees until I know I am loved."
What difference might it make for each of us to commit to that each morning and night this week, to commit to the practice of allowing God's Spirit to strip away our false identities and to strengthen us in the truth of God's love?
Perhaps after the 50 days of Easter, having started and ended the day this way, when someone asks us who we are, we’ll be able to answer the same way John does - “I’m a disciple whom Jesus loves.”
Dear friends, may the love of God toward you be the thing that most defines you, this day, and always. You are God's beloved child. Rev Chris.
“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:21)
This is how John the baptist introduces Jesus to the people at the beginning of John’s gospel, and it’s also how John, the writer of the gospel, wants us to see Jesus on the day of his resurrection.
As we take a second look at John 20 this week, I invite you to consider the description of the angels that Mary sees in the tomb. In chapter 20, verses 11-12 we read, “Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.”
For Mary, who would have been steeped in knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures, and for the original hearers of the gospel, they would have immediately recognised this as a picture of the mercy seat that sat above the ark of the covenant (read Exodus 25:17-22). Each year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the Mercy Seat seven times with the blood of an innocent animal. John is declaring to us that Jesus is the innocent and spotless lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is the one who sits enthroned on the mercy seat (see also Revelation 5).
John continues revealing this theme in the rest of the chapter. “Peace be with you” is not just a feeling of non-anxious presence in our souls, it is also a declaration that those who had declared themselves God’s enemies in their rebellion to his ways, have now been offered peace.
Do you remember the day you heard the good news that Jesus had atoned for your sin and that God was offering you forgiveness through Him? I do. The news brought me to tears. It still does.
Somehow in my understanding of Jesus up until that point, I’d reduced Jesus to a moral teacher that showed us what God wanted of us, and how to live his way. The problem was, I already knew just how far short of that calling I’d fallen. I knew I didn’t live that way. I knew I wasn’t worthy of a relationship with God, and certainly knew I had no business being part of a Christian community. I could never measure up. What if they found out who I really was? Jesus as a merely moral exemplar or good teacher among many wasn’t good news at all. I knew I’d have still fallen short of an exemplar or teacher half as moral as Jesus! I knew the weight of my own sin and lived under the burden of my shame every day. No amount of trying to “be a good person” could atone for that.
The good news proclaimed to me in the church building that day was that in Jesus, God was offering forgiveness for my sin. I didn’t have to earn it, I didn’t have to even understand in full the hows and the whys and the whats of it all. It was a proclamation that through Jesus’ death and resurrection my sins had been forgiven.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see! Perhaps you needed to hear that again today?
Perhaps you want to respond to that news for the first time? Now’s a good time! There’s no magic prayer or words for this. It may simply mean saying, “thank you God. I believe.” Got questions? Call me!
(There'e a beautiful scene in the movie Two Popes where Pope Francis talks about the character of God to have mercy, but his own inability to forgive himself. Perhaps you can relate to that? He confesses his sin to Pope Benedict and receives the assurance of forgiveness. We have the joy of doing this each time with gather for the Eucharist, and confession and recalling our forgiveness is a part of morning and evening prayer.)
There is a sense of course in which my earlier understanding of Jesus as someone who calls us to follow him, and to walk the narrow path that brings true life, and bear witness to him in the way I live, is very true. Repentance is to reorient my life in a way that recognises God’s priorities over my own. It’s a right response. There is an unhelpful tendency in the church to divide aspects of the gospel into two camps - the forgiveness of sins gospel (often preached in more evangelical congregations), and the Kingdom of God gospel (often preached in more liberal congregations). It’s a false dichotomy, for they are two sides of the same coin. Central to God’s Kingdom, was always the promise that when the true King came to establish it, he would bring about the forgiveness of sin. What was so staggering is that he would bring it about through his own suffering and death.
Yes, we can mature in our faith and see greater depths and breadths of the gospel, but Lord forbid we ever move on from the declaration of the forgiveness of our sins, or our need for it. I wonder how different our worship would be each Sunday if we slowed down during the confession of sin, and assurance of forgiveness, to truly plum the depths of our great need and God’s great provision?
My chains are gone I've been set free (even in a bubble of physical distancing!) My God, my Savior has ransomed me And like a flood His mercy rains Unending love, Amazing grace
Lastly, as ArchBishop Richardson shared on Sunday, in John 20:23 Jesus then gives the disciples the power and authority to offer this forgiveness of sins to others. The same is for us today. Upon receiving forgiveness, we ourselves become agents of this forgiveness in the world - even toward those who declare themselves enemies.
There aren’t many images more powerful symbolically than that of a locked room. Think of those movie moments when the door is closed and the bolt locked shut. Think of its distinctive sound. Can you hear it? Our passage begins in the dark beside a tomb. This is symbolically where the disciples find themselves as well, in a locked room (vv19, 26). As I write this, most of us can relate to this passage in a way we never have before - contained in our bubbles. We’re told Mary was weeping, the disciples were afraid, Thomas doubted, and though it’s not specifically said, Peter likely felt ashamed. We might be experiencing similar emotions - grief at our loss, fear in the unknown (and the known) and perhaps disbelief to some degree of the reality and significance of the resurrection those near us proclaim?
The great news in this passage is that God is at work even in death, and has the power over it. Amidst the darkness of Holy Saturday, and under the lockdown of the tomb, God was bringing into being resurrection and new creation! The stone is rolled away, and the new day is breaking into the darkness.
What do we see the resurrected Jesus do?
In the morning and in the evening of the first day, he goes to the weeping, the fearful, the ashamed and the doubting.
He seeks them out, calls them by name, and speaks peace to them.
As in Genesis, where in the evening of the first day the man and woman were hiding in fear and shame, Jesus came to them, this time saying peace be with you, for it is finished, the lamb of God has taken away the sins of the world. The grave stone has been rolled away, the curtain torn in two, and the presence of God dwells with humankind.
There are a number of aspects of the good news of Jesus we’ll look at in this passage in the coming weeks, but for now it’s the presence of God I want us to focus on.
The presence of God is good news.
Remember back to Genesis, that it was the absence of God’s presence that sin brought about in the beginning. Heaven and earth were to come together, and we were to experience the reality of the love of God, the love between the Father and the Son, through the Spirit, and were to bear this image through our own love. But humans rejected God, loving other things instead. This sin brought separation from God - the greatest effect of which is death. The humans in Genesis are exiled from the garden. The big thread running throughout scripture therefore isn’t the question of “how do we get to heaven when we die”, it is “How can a holy God dwell with a sinful people?” How can we be restored to the source of all life, and to the love of God? To once again be made in God’s image? The salvation, or “saving” humanity needs is from sin, and therefore its consequences, which includes death.
Jesus, is God’s provision, and the answer to this greatest need. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:13, “but now in Christ, those who were once far off, have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” Matthew’s gospel ends with these words of good news - “Behold, I am with you till the end of the age.” Perhaps this is best summed up in Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
John in his gospel doesn’t tell us these things, he shows us. Jesus, in his resurrection, comes to the weeping, the frightened, and those who doubt. Jesus, the presence of God incarnate, having defeated death, enters into their places of darkness, shame, guilt and fear, and speaks three times, “peace be with you”.
Take some time to be silent and reflect.
What are you experiencing emotionally right now? What is your grief, fear, or locked room?
How is the promise of God’s presence good news to you today?
Hear again the words of Jesus to you:
In your grief and mourning - “Peace be with you” In your fear - “Peace be with you” In your doubts - “Peace be with you” Today we remember and offer praise, for the risen Christ comes to the mourning, fearful, shameful and doubting, and his presence brings us peace. We pray with all the Church - come Lord Jesus.
The following reflection is from a parishioner. Enjoy!
PEACE TO YOU Escaping in fear - we returned - joyful. All our despair - turned into hope. Former confusion - resolved into sureness How? - Because Jesus, walking, had joined us, unrecognised, at first - on the Emmaus road.
We’d seen Jerusalem convulsed and contorted. Crowds shouting praise, then baying for blood; corrupt leaders, cruelly contriving His murder. But peace overtook us, as He shone light on each prophet - chiding us, justly - then setting our hearts aglow.
‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?’
We’d been perplexed by a report of Him living. Women of our group had heard it from angels, then others rushed off to find the tomb empty. Yet when He blessed and broke bread, at Emmaus No doubt remained - He vanished - just as we knew.
With wings on our heels we returned to Jerusalem, eager to share the great news. In a room, abuzz with excitement - for Simon had seen Him, too - Jesus, appeared there - alive among us - lovingly, saying: ‘Peace to you!’
I wasn’t going to write a reflection today. I was just going to refer you to the nine scripture readings that traditionally make up the Easter Vigil service, and recount the overarching story of God’s redemption of creation in Jesus. But I do have something I think the Lord has given me to encourage you with, and I pray this will be helpful as you prepare for tomorrow.
Tomorrow is going to be different for you. Tomorrow is going to be different for me. Different for us.
On the biggest and best day of celebration in the Christian calendar - a day of gathering, of rejoicing and feasting, and signing - we are going to be in our bubbles, which for many, is on our own. This will feel strange as we experience both the joy of Easter Sunday that our faith holds fast to, and the lament of not being able to celebrate as we would like. This is going to be a real cause of pain and sadness for many of us. We bear this sadness with you.
In the scriptures, we have some beautiful words to lean into in this experience.
After the destruction of Jerusalem, when many of the Jewish people were taken as captives to Babylon, a psalm was penned that captures the tension many of us may be struggling with today. In Psalm 137, the people were dispersed from their worshipping community and in exile and captivity in Babylon. When they remembered the temple, and the gathering of the people for feast days and worship, and the practice of their sacred traditions, they sat and wept (137:1)
The question then became, how could they worship and praise and be faithful to their God and feast days in a strange land? (137:4)
Perhaps these are the things you contemplate on this Holy Saturday as you think about tomorrow? You might write:
By the screens of our phones and computers Where we sat down in our bubbles We remembered our place of worship and our family gathering, and we wept.
We remembered our friends, and our favourite Easter hymns, and the gold on the front of the altar, and the kids filled with joy and excitement, and the feasting afterwards, and the alleluia acclamation, and the physical contact of a hug from a dear friend. And we wept.
With the people of God in captivity, we might also ask:
How can we sing the Lord’s song in this strange land? How can we properly celebrate Easter Sunday, and Jesus’ resurrection, in a bubble, and in light of everything going on in the world?
How indeed. It may feel for many of us, that instead of being able to burst free from the grave in glorious triumph, along with the resurrected Jesus, we are, to the contrary, still stuck in our bubbles, with the stone still rolled closed over our doors.
Perhaps we will experience tomorrow, more than any other time in recent years, the reality of the “already but not yet” of God’s redemption. Christ has been raised victorious over sin and death, and has conquered all the powers of darkness. Christ is the firstfruits of the new creation, and offers us a foretaste of the age to come, yet we experience this joy and hope in the midst of a world still in darkness. In Jesus’ resurrection the first signs of the new day have broken in, but the fullness of light is still to come.
This tension between celebration and lament is very real, so let’s be free to name it, and embrace it. It’s possible to rejoice in our lament, and lament in our rejoicing. That is ok, and very real.
One of my favourite passages in all of scripture, and perhaps the one we need to hold on to in this Easter, is the vision of John in Revelation 21:1-4
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
This passage holds all we need in our current circumstances:
A recognition that right now there is mourning and crying and pain in the reality of a world that is not yet fully healed in the way that we long for.
A voice from the throne of the one who conquered death! Amidst the voices of despair on our news cycles and social media feeds, there is a voice that breaks through!
A vision of hope! A marriage of heaven and earth, where God’s Kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as in heaven.
A promise that though in exile, where we may long for the old Jerusalem, or the old ways we worshipped and encountered God in the past, God is doing something new, something better! A promise that God’s presence will be with his people in even greater ways, bringing comfort, and healing and joy.
Today, on Holy Saturday, we mourn, but we don’t do so without hope. We shed tears, but hold steadfast to the promise that though tears come at night, joy comes in the morning.
This new thing will come into being. It is ahead of us.
So what can we do now in response to these reflections from scripture?
Feel free to be honest. Sit in the darkness of this day and take time to process your lost hopes. Write your own psalm of lament. Weep. Be silent. But do it before God, without the distracting sounds of TV or social media.
Feel free to be hopeful, and ready to rejoice. Prepare to celebrate the resurrection tomorrow in creative ways, holding on to the things you can from the past, and creatively finding ways to celebrate anew.
For those who can, join with all of our whanau in the Wellington Diocese tonight for our Chrism Service. It is being streamed online through the movement online website, Facebook, and on Freeview channel 200. The highlight of this service is the chance for all of us to reaffirm our baptismal vows. What better time than this to reaffirm our faith that just as surely as Christ died and was raised again, so surely, in our baptism we have died with him, and so surely will be raised again. What better time to affirm and declare our faith that God has the power to overcome death and to bring new life from the grave!
However you spend this evening, know that you are not alone. The thoughts and prayers of all our parish, and of Kara and I are with you. More so, the God of comfort and mercy, and hope is with you, as are his promises that he will never leave you or forsake you, and that nothing can separate you from His love in Christ. God is with you
One of the great remnants of this country’s Christian heritage is that Good Friday is still a national holiday (we even still close shops for one day a year! Hooray!). For most of our society, and sadly, much of the church, this holiday that was for allowing time to stop and contemplate the love of God revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus, became mostly a chance for a final family holiday before winter. One thing this current lockdown creates is an opportunity for us in our “bubbles” to slow down again, stay present, and walk the whole Easter journey, not just skip to the Easter eggs on Sunday. How can we possibly celebrate Easter Sunday if we don’t first go through the cross and the grave? No cross, no glory!
This year, many of us will relate much more personally to the pain of the world, the sorrow of suffering, the fear of death, and a sense of exile and disappointment. Good Friday is a day that speaks loudly, and clearly into this experience. The next three days are great opportunities for families for intentional discipleship, and meaningful conversation with friends and neighbours that connects our faith with the very real experiences of life. It might be the optimist, or evangelist in me, but I simply don’t believe that people have no interest in God.
People are still desperately looking for hope. People deep down still want to believe in the enduring power of love, and desperately want to believe that good triumphs over evil. Just look at your average Disney movie. We see the seeds of this in the outpouring of love and neighbourliness in our communities at the moment. We need to point them to the reason we can be sure of these things, and the fullest expression of what love is. Today, we point to the cross.
We struggle with the reality of evil and suffering. We should. In my experience, the thing people wrestle with is not a question of “is God real”, but rather, “where is God in the midst of our struggling, pain and sorrow?” Without an answer to this deep struggle, people often jump to a rationale that goes something like this: There is suffering in the world, therefore either God does not care about suffering and is therefore not good, or is powerless to do anything about it, so can’t help me.
The cross shows us a different reality. We may want a neat and tidy answer for why God allows suffering, but he doesn’t give it. What he does give us is himself. The profound claim of the Christian faith is that despite our sin and the evil we have perpetrated in God’s good creation, God is not distant or indifferent to our plight. The astounding claim we make as Christians is quite the opposite - that God condescended from glory, put on human flesh, and became part of his creation, partaking in all of the joys and struggles of the human experience.
Where is God in the midst of sorrow, injustice and suffering?
Walking in our shoes, right there with us!
In this Holy Week we get to see a God who isn’t distant or indifferent, but experiences the fullness of sin and evil and the fullness of its consequences. We see Jesus tempted, betrayed, abandoned, lied about, unjustly tried, mocked, stripped naked, shamed, spat on, ridiculed, beaten, whipped, hit, his meagre possessions taken and gambled for, publicly shamed, physically tortured, and nailed to a tree in the most extraordinary form of torture imaginable. Innocent, yet treated as though guilty and cursed. A man of sorrow. Jesus, God in flesh, takes upon himself all of the sin, the evil, the injustice and the suffering of the world, experiencing the greatest enemy of life - death.
God is not indifferent to our suffering. God is not absent!
God is also not powerless to save.
Ironically, it is through the darkness, through the valley of the shadow of death, through the “weakness” of God, in sacrificial, self-giving, love, that the fullness of sin and evil is taken to the grave and defeated through the resurrection. Death is swallowed up in victory, defeated through death, and has lost its sting. Jesus’ words to his followers are this: In this world you are going to have troubles, but take heart, I have overcome the world.
Without walking the path of the cross in our homes, and without contemplating the cross as the true glory of God, it’s little wonder our children struggle later in life if they encounter the reality of sin and injustice. If our faith is little more than disconnected bible stories, moralism, or self-help, God won’t seem to be the steadfast hope we need in times of trial, and they will look elsewhere. Likewise if we don’t take seriously the call to take up our own cross and to follow Jesus, it’s little wonder we slip into lives of privileged comfort at the expense of the poor. We need to proclaim the cross and Christ crucified.
The cross helps make sense of our guilt, our shame, and our experiences of injustice, suffering and death. Our Christian hope isn't in believing the right thing so we can go up to heaven when we die, it is, as we declare in the creed each Sunday, that because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, “we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” That's why the last exclamation in the bible, the second last verse, is “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!” Sin, evil and death (and COVID-19) do not get the final word! But then that’s jumping ahead to Sunday...
Until then, as you continue reading the gospels this weekend, can I encourage you to look through two lenses:
Pretend you are hearing the story for the first time. Try putting yourself in the shoes of someone hearing the story for the first time. Perhaps imagine being an ethnic minority, living under oppression, holding on to the promises of a saviour you have left everything to follow, who you believe is God’s anointed. Watch him at every scene. Listen to every word he speaks. Where are you? What are you thinking? What happens to you emotionally at each scene?
What are the powers of darkness at work against Jesus? Note that although the authority of Jesus seems to be being taken from him, he is in fact still in control. “This is my hour, the hour for which I came, the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23-27). He gives the Temple guards permission to arrest him on Thursday night, “This is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). He says to Pilate, “My kingdom has a power independent of you.” John 18:36-38. He chooses silence under trial, and when Jesus finally speaks, it is from the cross. Let these words, from the Word of God on the cross, be the words that tell you about who God is.
Lastly, note in the reading from John’s gospel today, that it starts and ends in a garden. This should draw your mind back to the garden of Eden, and to the tension in the biblical narrative that needs to be resolved. Which garden ended up with a tomb in it?
What are we learning about God?
What are we learning about what it means to bear the image of God?
Why did you wash their feet? I don’t understand, it makes no sense.
Why did you do something so demeaning, so distasteful, when you did not have to? Why humble yourself and wash the feet of your own disciples? You are the Messiah, it makes no sense for you, of all people, to do something that should be done by the least of all people, not by the greatest. It is not what we want our Messiahs to do.
Unless… unless we have got it wrong and that, somehow this is a measure of what Messiah means? Not that it is defined in greatness but that somehow, in your world the first will be last, and the greatest, least and servant of all?
But if we are to follow you, does it mean that we must follow your example too? Are you suggesting that we too should make ourselves humble? That we must wash the feet of the people whom we would rather ignore, or scapegoat, or deride?
Must we too become the servants of the least among us? the refugee, the disabled, the homeless, the addicted, the anti-social, the child?
Was that what all of this was about? To try and put us in our rightful place, not at the centre of our own world, but at the centre of yours, where we are no longer the most important person? Is that it? Were you trying to teach us this simple truth, that other people, all other people, should matter too?
Is that why you washed their feet?
A prayer of response Messiah I come, Brought to my knees by astonishing grace. In the presence of such humility From one so great What can I do but kneel and praise?
Messiah I come, Challenged to bow to the King who kneels. I want to pour out mercy and bring tender healing, But I am proud, judgmental, and self-absorbed And you are the only one who can lead me to first-becoming-last greatness.
I would wash and serve, wash and love, Like you do. But first Lord Jesus, Wash my feet, cleanse my heart Till I am – like you – Humble and ready on my knees.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And with those words of Jesus, the disciples looked at one another.
It’s easy to see the betrayal in others - harder in ourselves!
Simon Peter takes it beyond just looking at others - he wants a name (v24)
The emphasis throughout these scriptures is on the extraordinary betrayal of Jesus, by Judas, one of his disciples. He’d left everything to follow Jesus and was one of the twelve. Note the very specific naming: 12:4 - Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him) 13:2 - During supper, when the devil has already out it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him... 13:26 - he gave it to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot
The irony in the text is that Judas wasn’t the only one to betray Jesus that night. Peter ends up disowning Jesus three times.
Where are we quick to judge the actions of others?
Where do we seek to use the words of Jesus to reveal the shame of someone else, rather than to reveal our own?
The word of God must speak to us, to reveal our own betrayal, and our own need for forgiveness and mercy.
The great tragedy in the story is that Judas never goes back to Jesus for mercy and forgiveness. In Matthew 27:3-5 we read even more tragically, that he goes back to the chief priests and elders, returns the silver, saying “I sinned by condemning innocent blood”. Judas confesses his sin to those who were supposed to mediate between God and those who had sinned, and they said to him, “What is it to us? See to it yourself”. Again, note how easy it is for them to point the finger at someone else, without considering their own complicity and sin, which at this point is greater than even Judas’ betrayal. How easy it is for us also. In “seeing to it himself,” Judas knows he is guilty under the law and takes upon himself the punishment of the law. Hanging was the legal penalty for capital offences under Jewish law (Deut 21:22-23), and the guilty person was thought to be under God’s curse. In contrast to this judgment and consequence for Judas under the law, Jesus, the innocent one, is hung on a tree, cursed, and yet declares the guilty forgiven. Peter, although he also betrays Jesus, encounters the forgiveness of Jesus, and his life is reborn and he becomes one of the first messengers of the gospel and a leader in the church. As we walk through Holy Week, let's not miss the magnitude of our own sin, but equally importantly, let's not miss the astonishing grace, mercy and forgiveness of God toward us. Don’t miss how great his love for you must be to go to the lengths he would to restore you to himself. In our bubbles, or phone trees, let’s share our testimonies and encourage one another with stories of God’s great mercy in our lives.
How can the recognition of our own sin, and God’s amazing forgiveness in Jesus, produce mercy in us for others who fall short?
How can we mediate this grace and mercy of God in our world today?
If someone came up to you and spoke those words, what would you show them?
Jesus feeding the poor? Jesus healing the sick? Jesus eating with outcasts?
These things are all certainly true to Jesus’ ministry, but if we want them to see all the fullness of the glory of God in Jesus, hopefully, our answer is the cross.
Before reading on, it’s well worth going back to read the whole of John chapter 1, making notes of who Jesus is, and what he has come to do. He is life (v4), he is the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness didn’t overcome it (v5), he gave the right to become children of God to all who receive him (v12), He is the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us - we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (v14). He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (v29), the Son of God (v34), the Messiah (v41), the one who Moses in the Law, and the prophets wrote about (v45). Perhaps the best summation is that the purpose of Jesus' incarnation was to make known the very character of God (v18). Jesus himself says, if anyone has seen me, they have seen the Father (14:9).
These are the themes that are coming to a climax now in our reading.
We see Jesus wrestling with this vocation in today’s reading and the cost of obedience. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life”. “What should I say?” “Father, save me from this hour”? That would mean renouncing his mission, and Jesus chooses instead the way of self-sacrifice and obedience to God’s will: “Father, glorify your name”.
In our culture, glory is to be sought for ourselves (“you can be like God”) and is associated with words like fame, adoration, beauty, money, success, approval, winning. These self-seeking ambitions are the work of darkness, but the glory of God is found in the costly, self-sacrificing, forgiving, redeeming and reconciling love - the power of God that overcomes all tyranny, evil and death. The glory of God revealed on the cross is the light that overcomes the darkness (John 1:5). In John’s gospel, Jesus’ death is not referred to as his crucifixion, but his “glorification”. It is when Jesus is “lifted up,” that he will “draw all people” (including the Greeks/non-Jews) to himself. His death on the cross is his coronation as king and the fullest expression of the love of God. It is through his death and resurrection that the "ruler of this world be cast out" (v31). It is therefore the cross that we must proclaim.
This theology is inherently practical and relevant. We live in a world that is facing the spectre of death in a way most of us have never encountered. The numbers touted on the news are staggering (though maybe not so much for those in the world for whom each day is a battle against death through poverty, injustice and violence). The reality of death is in our daily news feeds in a way not experienced in a generation. This can produce much fear. The good news of Jesus is that through his own death, Jesus defeats death. On Good Friday we can confront the reality of death, and violence, injustice and evil face on, but with the hope that death doesn’t get the last world. It no longer rules over us. Death has been swallowed up in victory, so with Paul we can rejoice, death, where is your victory, where is your sting?!
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus”
As we love our neighbours this week by ensuring they have food, dropping off their medications, and keeping them from loneliness and isolation (or perhaps in the majority of cases, loving our neighbours by maintaining physical distancing and not selfishly pursuing our own ambitions and leaving our bubbles!), let’s make Jesus known fully, and show his full glory, not holding back the good news of the cross, and Jesus’ victory over death. As Philip experienced, sometimes people come to us and say, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus”, but like Philip, we also need to be prepared to go to neighbours and say, “We have found him… Come and see” (John 1:45-46). How might we creatively do that amidst our physical distancing? Perhaps a small way is to incorporate the cross if you participate in the window Easter Egg Hunt promoted by our Prime Minister. Here are some examples to download.
The invitation for all people at the end of today’s reading is to respond to Jesus in faith and to become the children of God (1:12) sons and daughters of light (12:36).
The scene in today’s gospel reading takes place straight after Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead. We’re told they’re in the middle of a dinner for Jesus, and Mary comes up and anoints Jesus with expensive perfume. For reference, in today’s dollars, the cost of the nard would have been the equivalent of $38,000! Yep - take a moment to let that truly sink in. Picture a jar opening and $38,000 pouring out in front of you, on to someone’s feet!
Imagine yourself being there. What’s your gut reaction? Mary just took her most valuable possession, likely her inheritance, since women wouldn’t inherit land, and poured it out on the feet of Jesus! Others will declare Jesus to be the anointed Messiah, the promised Son of David, Mary’s actions show a whole hearted, fully devoted belief that expresses itself in costly worship. Notice her posture, bowed down, humbly kneeling at the feet of Jesus, worshipping him in adoration and love. We’re told the whole house was filled with the fragrance of perfume.
Again, imagine yourself being there. Think how strong that perfume must have been. Other gospels report that it was also poured over Jesus’ head, and would have flowed down over his clothes and body. Could it be possible that the fragrance from this act of costly love and devotion stayed with Jesus on his skin and clothes all the way through the rest of Holy Week - all the way through the pain, the mocking, the rejection, injustice and evil? A reminder of the enduring power of love?
What produces this sort of worship in a person’s life? I’d say the testimony of Jesus by his words and deeds. Remember Mary was the one who took the invitation to sit at the feet of Jesus and to hear his teaching. She prioritised the word of God in her life, over the voices of her culture. She’s also just seen the power of God’s incarnate word and his power over the grave. Even without yet witnessing the full extent of God’s love and power in the death and resurrection of Jesus, she’s seen enough to respond in faith. Like the fragrance that fills the room bears witness to the pouring out of the oil, so Mary’s life bears witness to the pouring out of the love of God in Jesus.
Standing in contrast to Mary is Judas, whose avarice and self-interest brings only the fragrance of death to others.
(Note: “the poor will always be with you” - is not a rebuke of almsgiving - see the following line that Jesus is quoting in Deuteronomy. For context, there was a rabbinic conversation at the time as to what was more important, almsgiving or looking after the deceased. Jesus is speaking into this contemporary conversation. We often criticise a faith that is focussed on worship and praise without any action toward the poor, but it’s clear we should also be very careful of a purely social justice driven ministry that fails to worship or proclaim Jesus as the center of our testimony and behaviour. Jesus calls us to both. Love of God and love of neighbour.)
Also in the room is Lazarus. He’s just been brought back from the grave! We see that his life is now a testimony to others, and many are coming to faith in Jesus through his witness. People who experience new life tell others, even though some (here, the chief priests) would have them silenced. What opportunities do we have to testify to Jesus in word and deed this Holy Week? What acts of costly worship and faith can we offer to bear witness to Jesus, the King who brings fullness of life? What would hold us back?
Lastly, don’t miss the two big ironies in this text. One, the chief priests are plotting to send Lazarus back to the grave - even though Jesus has just shown the grave has no power over him! And two, at the center of this story, is Jesus. Having raised someone else from the dead, he is now about to die as a sacrifice for others. The invitation for all of us today, is to have Jesus and his offer of life as the center of our stories too.
How would your life change if you knew, in your deepest being, that Jesus had the power over death, and you need not fear the grave?
How would your life change if you knew, in your deepest being that God was truly a good Father who provides for his children? That we didn’t have to hold tightly to our possessions?
I think we’d be free to live lives of great worship, generosity and love. Lives that fill our communities with the fragrance of costly, sacrificial love. A loving, non-anxious presence amidst a world of turmoil and pain.