Tag Archives: Easter

It’s a Wonderful Life

I was asked to contribute a short piece for the April edition of the Church of Scotland’s magazine, Life and Work, as part of the publication’s “The Big Question”

This being the Easter edition, the “question” was “What is the best depiction of the Easter story that you have seen?”

This is what I wrote:

I’m going to be a little controversial here, and plump for a film that we would not normally consider to be an obvious Easter depiction.

Almost every Christmas, many of us, gathered round the TV set, tune in to a beloved old family film: “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

It’s an all time favourite , essential viewing at that Holy Season.

Yet, it’s one of the darkest movies ever (it was a failure when first released in the cinema).

We all know the story; how Jimmy Stewart’s character, George Bailley, thinking that his life has amounted to nothing and that he is a complete failure, is on the verge of suicide, but is ‘saved’ by the ‘angel’ Clarence.

He is shown – in flashback – what life in his small town would have been like had he not intervened, even in a small way.

It’s a picture of awfulness and hopelessness and more.

As a result, horrified and contrite at what his society (the world in microcosm) could have become without his positive interactions, he is saved…….. if you like, resurrected to a new and positive outlook and mission.

This is not just a film for Christmas nor Easter, but for all times and seasons – when we realise that our post-resurrection acts and deeds can indeed make for a better world.

Because of Christ, we live.  May we make our life more than just existence- and give life to those around us.

This is, because of the Risen Christ, a “Wonderful Life”!

 

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Guess who’s back?!!

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March 28, 2016 · 08:01

Holy Saturday

 

One Easter Saturday during my ministry in Trinidad, I conducted an evening service at our little church in Arouca (some 15 miles from Port of Spain).

As befitted the solemnity and seriousness of the day, the theme was muted and the closing hymn was “Abide With Me” – abide with me, fast falls the eventide,the darkness deepens…

….and then it was off home, driving through the hot and humid night…….. to a power cut (an electrical outage, as it was known there). Darkness everywhere and no power (no light,no air conditioning, and burglar alarms going off everywhere; and,of course, no chance of a shower).

Now, sometimes I can be a lazy fellow and this time, typically, I hadn’t prepared my sermon for Easter Day – and I was due back at Arouca for a sunrise service at dawn. And there was no light to see what I was doing. My electric typewriter, anyhow, was as useful as the proverbial ash-tray on a motor bike

It was to be a long, hot, uncomfortable night.

But then – about four in the morning – the lights flickered, the a/c came on.

Power, Light, new Hope – EASTER!

Sermon written, cuppas consumed, showered and dressed – eastward back toward Arouca and a rising sun

And the opening hymn, sung with gusto –

“Blest morning, whose first dawning rays

Beheld the Son of God

Arise triumphant from the grave

And leave his dark abode”

 

….. and then the lights went off again!

 

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FRONT PAGE NEWS

CHRIST IS RISEN !!

HE IS RISEN INDEED!!.

 

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Pieter Bruegel the Elder – “Go ye into the Emmaus

Cleopas and his friend hadn’t read about it in that morning’s copy of the “Jerusalem Post”

 It hadn’t even made the “Evening Shalom” which had hit the streets mid-afternoon.

Oh, yes – there had been rumours – of course, there had been: weird bits of gossip floating about – stuff about empty tombs, wild talk about visions of angels… all very David Icke

 But the news hadn’t picked up on it.  Nothing in the papers.  Just more engravings of Herod and populist write-ups in the “Daily Star” and “the Daily Roman”

The resurrection never made the front pages, as it were. Had there been newspapers in Christ’s day, it would not have hit the headlines.

There wouldn’t even have been space for it tucked away amongst the small ads for donkeys, wine jars, and the like – somewhere near the end.

 It wasn’t in the news – not that it wasn’t news!  It was. and is, the greatest News of all, the Good News!

But It was so unexpected that these followers of Jesus were unprepared for it.

 The story was still of crucifixion and death and the events leading up to it from Palm Sunday to trial and arrest, then sentence followed by capital punishment – Roman style.

 So, here are Cleopas and his companion, who hadn’t read the news – it wasn’t in the news – wearily going home to their village.  For them, it was “Goodnight Vienna”

It was a bad news evening.

 The last full stop of the last sentence of the last chapter of the Jesus story had been written.

 The mark of a good journalist is to summarise or compress the whole point of a story into the first paragraph, even sometimes the first line.  The rest of the report may simply be filling.

 Sometimes, if it’s too long ,the editor will “cut it” – nowadays on a word processor by blocking off a section and pressing delete – in days of old, by literally using a pair of scissors to cut out the last couple of paragraphs.

 

 You can’t do this with novels, of course – you can’t excise the last page, especially of thrillers or whodunits.

I’m old enough to remember “Hancock’s Half Hour” first on the old steam radio and then on TV….. and I’m thinking just now about what happens when Tony Hancock (in his TV show) gets a murder mystery  (Lady Don’t Fall Backwards by Darcy Sarto)  from the library.

 

 

To his shock and horror he finds the last page torn out.  He and Sid James try to solve the whodunit, by tracking down people who had borrowed the book and even a visit to the author’s house with chaotic results.

 

But the Jesus story isn’t fiction.  If the gospel report had ended with Christ’s death and burial, the whole point is missed.

 

 Let me re-tell one of the best Easter stories I have ever come across:

The Franco-Prussian War  (19 July 1870 – 10 May 1871), was a conflict between the Second French Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia

The Battle of Gravelotte, or Gravelotte-St. Privat, was the largest battle during the Franco-Prussian War. It was fought about six miles (10 km) west of Metz.

 

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On the eve of the battle, a group of French Infantrymen was sitting around a camp fire, smoking, drinking, anxious about the next day’s conflict.

Suddenly, out of the bushes came an old, stooped man carrying over his shoulder a bag.

 “Stop, who goes there?” one of the soldiers shouted, jumping to his feet

“Only a poor old bookseller”

“Books?  Pah! we’ve more on our mind than poxy books”

“No, sirs, these are good books – they will give you strength and courage as you face tomorrow”

One of the more “gallus” soldiers shouted over “Here, I’ll have one of your books”  and was handed a pamphlet form of one of the Gospels (probably Mark)

He took it, flicked through the pages and then, tearing out the last one, screwed it up, touched the flame from the campfire, and lit his pipe with it.  Much laughter all round …. apart from the old bookseller who retreated, sadly, whence he came.

The next day, the battle raged – with many casualties, including our “soldat” from the evening before.

Injured, he was carried off to a corner of the battle-field to await whatever medical help could be given.

Although, wounded, he wasn’t in too much pain and rummaging about in his kitbag for something to eat, he came across the little book which had been given to him the night before, and about which he’s completely forgotten.

With so much time to spare before help would arrive, he started to read it – reluctantly at first, but the with growing interest.  Here was this Jesus guy who obviously had great leadership skills – and he could relate to that.  And these disciples were like a sort of army – tough guys most of them.

Hey, and they’re challenging the powers-that-be.  This is good stuff. Marching now on Jerusalem for a showdown with these so and so’s in authority.  Come on, get them and sort them out!

But wait – it’s going wrong: arrested – no!  condemned to death – no way!  The disciples will come and rescue him, surely. 

The Cross – death ….. he turned the page (but, of course, there was no last page; he had torn it out the previous evening)

The End.

FINIS.

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He threw the little book away in disgust.

Now it happened that some while later, while in a field hospital, the same old bookseller came round the ward.

“Hey you!” shouted the soldier,” that was a terrible book you gave me – what drama, what enlightening stories, what a hero – and then… that’s it: anti-climax – he dies.”

And the old bookseller then explained what was written on that last missing wonderful and miraculous page.

Had the story ended with the death and burial, then it would have been a tragedy.

 

In his first Letter to the Corinthians, St Paul theologises the situation for us:

“If Christ is not risen, your faith is in vain”

 and, if that isn’t bad enough, he adds “You are still in your sins”

 and “All those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished”

 (1 Corinthians, 15 verse 17)

 

empty faith – faith  based on nothing

and no forgiveness

no promise of our living beyond the grave

 What a hopeless picture!

 

The kind of hopelessness experienced on that sluggish trudge to Emmaus.

 If the story had ended with Good Friday, then it’s inconceivable that the Church would ever have arisen on the back of a dead prophet or wise man or shaman

 And, if our imaginary newspaper editor had cut the story at death and burial, should there not have been an editorial somewhere denouncing this fraudulent and false teacher?

 An editorial denouncing a misguided fanatic?  And I can imagine the comments on the online edition of the newspaper:  “whew! what a weirdo!”  And from those in power: “WE won!”

And, you know – all the events which contributed to Christ’s death, all the events that enthral our pretend Jerusalem newspaper reader would always hit the headlines of life to the exclusion of any thing of value, beauty or truth.

 But, as we know, the story doesn’t end with the redacted last page:  “Christ is Risen!  He is Risen indeed!”

 the Good News of the Gospel, of  Easter, of all time is that He is alive.

THAT is the headline of all time!

And, you know, Cleopas didn’t have to read about it.  Nor did Mary Magdalene.  Nor Peter. Nor Thomas.   They didn’t have to.

They EXPERIENCED it for themselves.  They SAW their Risen Lord; they talked to him, walked with him, ate with him.

 He was real – not something dreamed up by some journo – REAL

 That’s the kind of news that they just couldn’t keep to themselves.

 Can we?

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Putting the World together again

Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin was a Russian Communist leader who took part in the Bolshevik Revolution 1917.  He became editor of the Soviet newspaper Pravda (which by the way means truth), and was a full member of the Politburo. His works on economics and political science are still read today.

 

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There is a story told about a journey he took from Moscow to Kiev in 1930 to address a huge assembly on the subject of atheism. Addressing the crowd, he scorned, mocked, belittled, and  attempted to demolish the validity and truth of Christianity, hurling insult, argument, and proof against it.

An hour later he was finished. He looked out at the pitiful, battered and bruised crowd.

“Are there any questions?” Bukharin sneered.

Deafening silence filled the auditorium but then one man approached the platform and mounted the lectern standing near the Communist leader. He surveyed the crowd first to the left then to the right.

Finally he shouted the ancient greeting known well in the Russian Orthodox Church:

“CHRIST IS RISEN!”

En masse, the crowd arose as one, and then came the thunderous response:

“HE IS RISEN INDEED!”

–ooOOoo–

Some years ago, an eminent professor from Moscow University said that religion in Russia was virtually dead and that he claimed “There is no one in the Churches, except a few little old ladies”

Well, these so-called “little old ladies” have seen off the Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, and Gorbachev.  The little old ladies have won – and it is most likely that what sustained them was their abiding hope in the living Christ – the one who is and always will be the Resurrection and the Life.

No one and nothing can defeat him: no political system, no military dictator, no communist, no fascist – nobody.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

He was dead and he was buried.  Then on the third day, he rose from the dead and is alive forever more

And the world has never been the same since.

–ooOOoo–

The world……

There’s a story told about a little girl who one day was restless and fidgeting.  Her father was trying to read his newspaper, but was being constantly interrupted by his young daughter.

To amuse her, her dad tore a map of the world from the paper he was attempting to read.  He then cut the page into small pieces.

“Here’s a jigsaw puzzle” he told the little girl, “Why not sit down somewhere quiet and put it together”

The youngster whose knowledge of geography was pretty limited, went to work on the map and, to her father’s amazement, soon had it reassembled.

“How did you do it so quickly?” he asked her.

“Oh it was easy” she replied, “There’s a picture of a man on the other side. I put the man together and the world came out right!”

 

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If we truly believe in the power of God and that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life – put back together, as it were, on Easter day – then one day the world in all its difficulty and brokenness, will come out all right.

Christ will triumph.  The victory will be his Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

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Passover Easter mashup

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Easter – Comment is free – The Guardian view on Easter: David Cameron’s wonky cross Editorial

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David Cameron, fishing for votes, has told an evangelical radio audience that he believes that the message of Easter involves “hard work and responsibility”. So what does he think really happened at the crucifixion? Who were the criminals nailed up on each side of Jesus? Skivers being sanctioned because they had missed their appointments at the job centre? Mr Cameron’s Christianity, as it is displayed in this interview, attempts to offend no one, and the result is an insult to Christianity and to all non-Christians as well.

It’s an insult to non-believers because the vague and fluffy list of virtues – kindness, compassion, and forgiveness as well as hard work and responsibility – have nothing distinctively Christian about them. He might as well have said that he gets his two legs from God. But it is insulting to Christians for exactly the same reason. The point of the Easter story, and especially of the crucifixion, is that none of these virtues is enough to save us. It is absolutely not a story of virtue rewarded and vice punished, but one of virtue scourged and jeered through the streets, abandoned by its friends and tortured in public to death.

Jesus did not really preach hard work, responsibility, or family values. He told his followers to consider the lilies of the field, to have no thought for the morrow, and to leave their father and mother to follow him. He came not to bring peace, but revolt. The Easter story makes even democracy look like an instrument of evil. It is the crowd who demand that Jesus be crucified and Pilate who goes along with them.

What Christianity brought into the world wasn’t compassion, kindness, decency, hard work, or any of the other respectable virtues, real and necessary though they are. It was the extraordinary idea that people have worth in themselves, regardless of their usefulness to others, regardless even of their moral qualities. That is what is meant by the Christian talk of being saved by grace rather than works, and by the Christian assertion that God loves everyone, the malformed, the poor, the disabled and even the foreigner.

The idea that humans are valuable just for being human is, many would say, absurd. We assert it in the face of all the facts of history, and arguably even of biology. This idea entered the world with Christianity, and scandalised both Romans and Greeks, but it is now the common currency of western humanism, and of human rights. It underpinned the building of the welfare state, and its maintenance over the years by millions of people of all faiths and none.

It is also an idea that Mr Cameron’s government has defined itself against. The assaults on social security, on migrants, and even on the teaching of the humanities, are all underpinned by a belief that the essential metric of human worth is their utility, and in practice their usefulness to the rich in particular, because it is the marketplace that provides the only final judgment. There are many Christians in this country who are quite content with that. Surveys show that ordinary Christians are consistently to the right of their clergy on many questions: the clergy runs food banks while the pews are full of people muttering against scroungers who believe that poverty is the fault of the poor.

But the activists have for the most part a much more critical attitude, and it is their activism which has led party leaders to be interviewed by Premier magazine. Even the smallest of the mainline churches have memberships larger than that of the political parties. The Church of England alone has twice as many people in church every Sunday as pay their subscriptions to all the political parties put together. There are at least five million active Christians in England today, and they represent a pool of committed and energetic voters that no party can ignore. They won’t all vote as a bloc, but within the existing blocs they will put in more effort, and perhaps more money, than any other group.

Hence David Cameron’s discovery of his own spiritual side. This newspaper can’t condemn him for that. We can only wish he did it more thoroughly and more often. If he were a better Christian, he might believe in, and he should fear, a judge beyond the market. For the rest of us, this election offers an opportunity to judge both him and his party.

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Lego Easter Story

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