Saturday, 19 April 2014

Easter Day - The Desire of God

Revelation 21:1-7

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’

And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’  Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.  Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

John 20:1-18
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.  So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’  Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb.  The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Desire for time together

The Church of England has its very own newspaper.  As you can imagine it’s a hot-bed of gossip to rival anything you’ll find in the Sun or the Daily Mail... 

...Well no actually, it’s more like the Guardian than anything.  But on its back pages there is always an interview with someone I’ve rarely heard of, which concludes with the question, ‘Who would you most like to be locked in a church with?’  An odd question really, and a bit churchy.  So I’m going to reframe the question and ask it of you.  If you had the chance to go on an all-expenses paid trip to anywhere in the world for a month long holiday, where would you go, who would you take with you and why would you take them?  Don't go on until you know the answers to those three questions.


Now I guess I’m quite lucky with regards to my family.  My parents have always wanted to spend time with us kids, and indeed they have always put a huge amount of effort into making sure that we still all get family time whenever possible, even though we’re all separated by many miles and they’re in their eighties.  And it’s always been that way.  When we were children and all living at home we would watch as some of our friends at school were given huge Christmas or birthday presents costing far more money than our parents spent on us.  But that was because mum and dad had other plans for that money.  Rather than spending it on 'stuff' that was going to wear out, they were going to spend it on togetherness time, on memories for a lifetime.

And so every year, without fail, we would have a holiday together in Cornwall, and most years that was three weeks rather than two.  Why Cornwall you might ask?  Well although I can get there in less than four hours now, when I was a child living north of London the M4 didn’t start until Slough and it stopped before Taunton.  Year after year we would set off early and it would take us twelve hours to get there with Taunton always a bottleneck.  But it was important that we went that far away because it meant that ICI, the company my dad worked for back then, wouldn’t call him back into the lab if anything went wrong because it would take too long to get him back.

Mum and dad did this because they wanted to spend time with us and for us to spend time with each other.  And that still hasn’t changed.  Although both in their 80's now they will still drive all the way across the country, literally from east of Norwich to the south west of Wales, 360 miles with an overnight stop with us, in order to spend time with family.  Why?  Because to them their family is important and spending time together is right at the top of their list of priorities.  Now the reason I’m telling you this on Easter Sunday is because I had a bit of an epiphany moment two weeks back, and that’s why I chose the reading from Revelation.  That reading comes from the future, from the end of this creation and the beginning of the new one and St. John, the author, is telling us the words he hears directly from God as God describes the future to him.  Ponder this again:
'See, the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’
Ponder this carefully because I think that the whole of Christianity and everything that surrounds the events of Easter that we celebrate revolve around this, so it is probably the most important thing that we can grapple with, and it's this:  The Creator God, who I believe made everything that there is, seen and unseen, and everything that there will be, wants to spend all of eternity in our presence.  This goes way beyond my parents wanting to take us away on a holiday every year.  This is how the Holy One feels about each one of us, that we are loved so much, and in a far stronger way than our limited humanity can even begin to comprehend, that the Creator of all things, seen and unseen, desires to spend all of eternity, from now until, well it never ends, with us, with you, as in you personally.

Now I find that when Alison goes away on business and leaves me on my own for a few days, I pretty soon tire of my own company, and so I find it beyond all comprehension that this is how God feels about me.  But there it is in black and white in the Revelation to St. John.  God wants to spend all eternity with you.  You’re family to him; we all are.  The love that good parents have for their children, however powerful it is, is merely a dim reflection of the love God has for us, his children.

So spending time together for all eternity has always been God’s plan.  But from the beginning of human consciousness we realised that there was an inevitable gap between humanity and God, with us being created beings and God being the uncreated Creator of unimaginable power.  He’s perfect and we’re, well we’re human.  Think of it like this; Can you imagine trying to build a spaceship that could land on the sun?  The difference between us and God is greater.  That’s why whenever God’s presence appears in the Bible it is masked by a thick cloud.  That cloud is there for the protection of the onlookers.  We could not cope with being in the presence of God in these feeble bodies.  So we have had to face up to the realisation that religions have told us down the ages, that God is someone we can pray to, but with whom we cannot be physically present.  God, however, had other plans.  And so God says to us, ‘You cannot be in my presence unless I remake you, and I have to remake you into something more real and complete, to remake you perfect in the image of my Son.’

This Holy Week has seen gatherings every day and we have thought about a lot of the theology around the cross.  There are lots of different ideas about how it ‘works’, about how Jesus dying and rising from the dead somehow makes it right between us and God.  I’m not going to rehearse any of those here though.  Instead there is actually a very simple message about the cross.  I believe that Jesus was the Son of God, both fully human but also fully divine, and he was misunderstood, reviled by the people in power, beaten, abused and publically executed in the most humiliating way possible, being accused of blasphemy.  What does that all mean?  Well my friend Mark Townsend put it like this
‘It’s God’s way of saying, “Go on, kill me if you like, I won’t stop loving you.”’
And that’s what's at the heart of the Christian faith.  Humanity gets it wrong and kills the Son of God, but out of love he comes back to his disciples, risen from the dead with a new resurrection body, and says, ‘I still love you, even you Peter who denied ever having met me.  I still want to spend all eternity with you, and this new everlasting body that you I have is the forerunner of what you can all receive.’  As Rob Bell puts it:
  ‘There is nothing you can ever do that will make God love you less.’
So yes, we can debate endlessly the different meanings behind the cross, but at the end of the day it comes down to this.  God genuinely wants, out of the love we can’t begin to imagine, to spend all of eternity with you, and the cross and resurrection is his way of making it happen.  All we have to do is say, ‘Yes, I want that too.’

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