Easter to Pentecost
The following reflections have taken us through Easter to Pentecost.
Eastertide is a period of 50 days from Easter Sunday to Whitsunday
This year it was from Easter Day 12th April to Pentecost Sunday, 31st May 2020.
Why is Pentecost Important?
Pentecost took place on the well-established Jewish festival of First Fruits, which was observed at the beginning of the wheat harvest. It was seven weeks after Easter, or 50 days including Easter.
The feast day to celebrate the country’s wheat harvest does not sound exactly world-changing, but that year, it became one of the most important days in world history. For Pentecost was the day that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit - the day the Church was born.
Jesus had told His disciples that something big was going to happen, and that they were to wait for it in Jerusalem, instead of returning to Galilee. Jesus had plans for His disciples, but He knew they could not do the work themselves. They would need His help.
And so, they waited in Jerusalem, praying together with His other followers, for many days. And then on that fateful morning there was suddenly the sound as of a mighty rushing wind. Tongues of flame flickered on their heads, and they began to praise God in many tongues, to the astonishment of those who heard them. The curse of Babel (Genesis 11: 1- 9) was dramatically reversed that morning.
That morning the Holy Spirit came to indwell the disciples and followers of Jesus. The Church was born. The Christians were suddenly full of life and power, utterly different from their former fearful selves. The change in them was permanent.
Peter gave the first ever sermon of the Christian Church that morning, proclaiming Jesus was the Messiah. His boldness in the face of possible death was in marked contrast to the man who had denied Jesus 50 days before. And 3,000 people responded, were converted, and were baptised. How’s that for fast church growth!
Of course, Pentecost was not the first time the Holy Spirit had acted in this world. All through the Old Testament there are accounts of how God’s Spirit guided people and strengthened them. But now, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, He could indwell them. From now on, every Christian could have the confidence that Jesus was with them constantly, through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit.
May 2020 - Ascension Day
Forty days after Easter comes Ascension Day. These are the 40 days during which the Risen Christ appeared again and again to His disciples, following His death and resurrection. (Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; and John 20.)
The Gospels give us little of Christ’s teachings and deeds during those 40 days. Jesus was seen by numerous of His disciples: on the road to Emmaus, by the Sea of Galilee, in houses, etc. He strengthened and encouraged His disciples, and at last opened their eyes to all that the Scriptures had promised about the Messiah. Jesus also told them that as the Father had sent Him, He was now going to send them - to all corners of the earth, as His witnesses.
Surely the most tender, moving ‘farewell’ in history took place on Ascension Day. Luke records the story with great poignancy: ‘When Jesus had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, He lifted up His hands - and blessed them.’
As Christmas began the story of Jesus’ life on earth, so Ascension Day completes it, with His return to His Father in heaven. Jesus’ last act on earth was to bless His disciples. He and they had a bond as close as could be: they had just lived through three tumultuous years of public ministry and miracles – persecution and death – and resurrection! Just as we part from our nearest and dearest by still looking at them with love and memories in our eyes, so exactly did Jesus: ‘While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven.’ (Luke 24:50-1) He was not forsaking them, but merely going on ahead to a kingdom which would also be theirs one day: ‘I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God...’ (John 20:17)
The disciples were surely the most favoured folk in history. Imagine being one of the last few people on earth to be face to face with Jesus, and have Him look on you with love. No wonder then that Luke goes on: ‘they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.’ (Luke 24:52,53)
No wonder they praised God! They knew they would see Jesus again one day! ‘I am going to prepare a place for you... I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.’ (John 14:2,3) In the meantime, Jesus had work for them to do: to take the Gospel to every nation on earth.
in the Storm
by Rev. Paul Hardingham
‘Jesus got up, rebuked the
wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it
was completely calm.’
started out for the disciples as a routine trip across the Sea of Galilee,
ended up with a storm threatening to overwhelm their boat! Jesus was asleep in
the boat, so little wonder they feared for their lives: ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ (38).
would have thought two months ago that the world would be overwhelmed by the
Coronavirus pandemic and our lives turned upside down! Self-isolating and
self-distancing are now part of our daily vocabulary, as we live in an
uncertain world. What does this story say to us in our circumstances?
Firstly, we read that Jesus calmed the storm: ‘He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’’ (39). He is the Lord of the storm and holds our circumstances in His hands. We are called to trust, not fear, being assured that He is with us to protect us. ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ (40). Nothing is outside of His control.
Secondly, despite the calm, the disciples were still terrified: ‘They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!’’ (41). Like us, the disciples were asking why Jesus, who loved them, had allowed the storm to happen! Our circumstances provide us with an opportunity to understand more deeply who Jesus is. We can’t control Him and we don’t always understand His bigger plans for us and His world. We are called to overcome fear and insecurity, by living lives of peace, faith and hope. How contagious can we be for Jesus in a stormy world?
For the 4th Sunday of Easter (3rd May 2020) the Rt. Revd. Peter Hill, Acting Diocesan Bishop and Bishop of Barking, prepared the following message.
23rd Psalm sets the scene for us to hear the Gospel of the Good Shepherd,
but let us first quieten our hearts to pray:
Risen Christ, faithful shepherd of
your Father’s sheep:
teach us to hear your voice and to follow your command,
that all your people may be gathered into one flock,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.
The LORD is my shepherd, I
shall not want. He makes me lie down in green
he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.
‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
vicar was asked to do ‘Thought for the Day’ on local radio. The programme
producer asked for
the details of his talk. ‘I’m
speaking on the 23rd Psalm’, said the vicar.
The producer sighed and said ‘is that all?’ ‘Surely that’s enough,’ said the vicar.
few days later the Vicar received e-mail confirmation of his talk and was
surprised to read the
title it had been given: ‘The Lord is my Shepherd, and that’s enough.’
As we continue in this time of lockdown I wonder if we can truly say the same - The Lord is my Shepherd, and that’s enough! In our gospel passage, as so often, Jesus paints a picture of a scene familiar in every day Palestinian life to teach and to challenge. Then, as today in Palestine, shepherds have an intimate relationship with their sheep, sometimes bringing them down from the hills and penning them up in a communal sheepfold overnight for protection. There the sheep are safe from wild animals, though not always from marauding sheep thieves, as the passage implies. The shepherds sit outside guarding the gate. In fact they are the gate for the sheep. In the morning each shepherd stands at the gate and literally calls his own sheep out to lead them to new pasture. As the passage says, “... the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.’
There is a parallel here to our own situation. At the moment most of us are penned in lockdown to protect ourselves and others from this vicious virus. But the time will come when we will be called out again to some sort of new normality. In fact, as I prepare this the Prime Minister is returning to work after his own life threatening brush with Covid-19. All the media are predicting that his first priority will be to begin to plan the re-emergence. That re-emergence will not be into a time when the virus has been eradicated, but rather into a period of co-existence until an effective vaccine is sourced.
So it seems a good time for each of us to begin to think and ask what The Good Shepherd has been preparing us for in this time of lockdown. How has his presence been transforming us? And what will our lives be when we re-emerge? Some of us may go back to the same jobs and community lives; some may return to a working or a community life that is somewhat different to before; while others sadly will have no work to go back to and will need to find other employment. Hardest of all, still others will face returning without the presence and support of a loved one they have lost. The lifting of restrictions will surely bring us all new challenges, emotionally, economically and spiritually.
One thing I feel sure about is that we must not return to normal. Some of us have learnt to live more simply these last few weeks and found time for important things we had neglected. Significantly across the globe our corporate carbon footprint has been much reduced. These are some of the positive outcomes alongside the heart breaking agonies of much sickness and death. In response to both and echoing one of our four Transforming Presence strategic themes we must inhabit our new world differently and distinctively. Whatever the situation is for each of you, the Lord Jesus, our Good Shepherd, is waiting at the gate to call you out again to new pastures of service.
When the gates of return open will we discern the call of the Good Shepherd on our lives afresh? How will we re-emerge as disciples who trust in the Lord? What will our vocation and discipleship be like then? Will it be the same old, same old way of being Christian, or will God have taught us new things and shown us new possibilities while we have been restricted?
That is the challenge. You see, in and out of lockdown the Lord calls us. He knows our names - everything about us. Before we were formed in our mother’s womb he knew us and called us. As we hear him call again, and make those first steps of faith into a somewhat different and more challenging world, can we truly say, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd - and that’s enough’?
The words of the John Bell’s hymn encourage us to hear and respond to God’s call as we look to a different future:
Jesus Christ is waiting,
waiting in the streets; No one is his neighbour,
all alone he eats.
Listen, Lord Jesus, I am lonely too. Make me, friend or stranger, fit to wait on you
Jesus Christ is raging,
raging in the streets, Where injustice spirals
and real hope retreats.
Listen, Lord Jesus, I am angry too. In the Kingdom’s causes let me rage with you ....
Jesus Christ is calling,
calling in the streets,
”Who will join my journey? I will guide their feet.”
A Final Prayer
Listen, Lord Jesus, let my fears be few. Walk one step before me; I will follow you.
Merciful Father, you gave your Son Jesus Christ to be the good shepherd, and in his love for us to lay down his life and rise again: keep us always under his protection, and give us grace to follow in his steps; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Who Moved the Stone?
by Revd. Tony Horsfall
When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.’ Mark 16:4
Frank Morrison was an investigative journalist who was a sceptic when it came to religion. He decided to write a book to disprove the claims of Christ, specifically focussed on the last week of His life.
However, when he came to consider the evidence for himself, he was drawn reluctantly to a different outcome than he had imagined. He found that the evidence proved the story to be true, including the fact that Jesus not only died but rose again. In the end he wrote a different kind of book called Who Moved the Stone? with the first chapter entitled, ‘The book that refused to be written.’
The veracity of the Christian faith is grounded on historical fact. Not only was Jesus a real person, a figure of history, but His death was real, and so was His resurrection. Examine the evidence for yourself. Read the gospel accounts openly and honestly and see what happens. The truth is there for anyone willing to consider the facts.
Easter reminds us that our faith rests on solid ground. It is why we celebrate Easter Sunday with such gusto. The Resurrection proves that Jesus was who He said He was (the Son of God) and that He did what He set out to do (save us from our sin). But more than that, it reminds us that He can deliver what He promised and help us today because He is alive for evermore.
Jesus is not a figure of history, locked away in the past. No, He is a risen Saviour who is alive today and who invites each of us to receive the gift of salvation, and to live a new life in fellowship with Him.
By Revd. Tony Miles
On the evening of that first day of the week, Jesus came and stood among them and said “peace be with you!” John 20:19
Easter is more than eggs. Christians rejoice that Jesus conquered death by rising from the grave. God hadn’t abandoned His only Son, but kept His promises, gloriously defeating evil, wrongdoing, and death.
Too good to be true? Well, perhaps that’s what the disciples thought! Picture them on that first Easter evening: bewildered, shocked and fearfully huddled together—despite Jesus’ appearance to a few early that morning.
They were uncertain, behind locked doors, and hiding from the Jews and soldiers who might arrest them. Knowing this, the risen Jesus came to their hideaway and greeted them reassuringly: “Peace be with you” (the word ’shalom’ means ’a deep inner harmony’). He doesn’t chastise them for being frightened or faithless just before His death. He understands!
May be today you are feeling worried, or insecure, or even frightened of death. Whatever your retreat for shelter or security, I pray Jesus will break through into your experience and stand alongside you.
He’s alive and He’s concerned for your well-being now and eternally. Let Him set you free from anything that imprisons you, transforming your darkness and fear to His light and hope and peace.
Lord, may the reality and truth of the resurrection dawn in my heart, that I may possess peace with the assurance of eternal life. Amen.
Paul Williams, chief executive of Bible Society, offers encouragement to those who are feeling overwhelmed, afraid or lonely.
These last days and weeks have shaken all of us. Whether or not we've suffered directly from the coronavirus, we've all been affected by it. We've each been reminded how fragile life is, and realised how we've often taken things for granted.
This isn't the first time the world has reckoned with desolation, or people have faced life-changing circumstances which are outside of their control. War, famine and plague have been constant factors in human experience. We are now experiencing the fear, lack of control and heartbreak common to people across most of the world, through most of time.
It's understandable if we're confused, frightened and even angry. Every day our senses are assaulted with statistics that only a few weeks ago seemed impossible to imagine. Every day there are more deaths and more heartbreak, as loved ones must die alone. Every day our fear grows that we or those dear to us will be next.
As we look for ways to respond, there’s plenty of good advice about positive things to do – anything from PE with Joe Wicks, to planting a garden, or just stopping to be grateful.
But sometimes we don't want to be told to be cheerful. We might also need to acknowledge more negative feelings to give voice to our fear and anger. People of old voiced their pain, confusion, and sense of abandonment. Those who believed in God asked why he wasn’t doing anything about their suffering, in texts like the book of Lamentations where the prophet says, "The Lord is like an enemy" (3:5) and "Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long?" (5:20).
Good Friday is the day we recall the first part of the Easter story – the story that's at the heart of the message of the Bible.
It’s the day we remember Jesus dying on a Roman cross. Crucifixion was the most agonising form of execution used by the Roman empire. Its victims typically died of asphyxiation, gasping for breath
Jesus was known for healing the sick, including those with leprosy – the most terrifying infectious disease of his day. He was known as a man who identified with the poor and marginalised. And he was known as a man who confronted the religious leaders of the nation and claimed to be God. That’s what got him killed.
But if his claim was right, it means that God knows what it’s like to suffer and die alone. So if you're feeling abandoned in your fear, loneliness and suffering, if you're angry about coronavirus, if you are overwhelmed trying to protect and save lives, surrounded by death and fear, exhausted but unable to sleep, if you are afraid of dying, then know this: God is suffering with you.
On Good Friday, * remember God is there when you're alone in the ICU. And he's there when you're frightened for your job, or for your parents or your children or your other loved ones. He's there when you feel trapped within the same four walls and you can't see a way out. Good Friday is when we remember that whatever we go through, we are never alone.
*This article was written as we approached Good Friday.
to Move On
By Revd. David Spriggs
Some Greeks were among those who had gone to Jerusalem to worship during the festival. They went to Philip (he was from Bethsaida in Galilee) and said, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew, and the two of them went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has now come for the Son of Man to receive great glory.
We know it’s time to drive on when the traffic lights change from red to green. We know it’s time to pick up our bags when we are told that the next train to arrive is the one we want. But how do we know when it’s time to change our car or job, or our role in the church?
Jesus knew there would be a great change in His ministry, when He would move from teaching the crowds and healing the sick, to preparing the disciples for His death and then enduring crucifixion. But how would He know when it was the right time? He could have let events overtake Him. But that was not God’s way.
Somehow, the news that ‘Greeks’ were seeking for Him was the trigger! He knew that He had come to bring salvation to all people, and now God was sending people who represented the nations to look for Him.
Part of what the Son of Man being ‘glorified’ means, is that people were recognising more clearly who Jesus was and were getting ready to openly acknowledge this as the ‘Greeks’ were doing. But the bigger part is that it means He would be crucified. If we are struggling to know when to make a significant change to our lives and work for God, we can be open to God’s guidance through other people, as Jesus was.
Prayer Thank You, living God, that you are big enough to guide us and help us with our difficult choices. Help me to be open to Your presence today. Amen.
A reflection for Low Sunday 19th April, that looks at Thomas one of the disciples of Jesus.
A short sermon about Thomas was included in our Sunday Service on that day.
This can be viewed on our video section.
Seeing the Lord
by Lester Amann
Nicknames can be complimentary, but others are not. One disciple of Jesus has the nickname of ‘Doubting Thomas’. He acquired it because of one sceptical remark when he couldn’t believe his friends telling him that Jesus had risen from the dead. Although Thomas is named a doubter, the Gospel narratives show him to be a different kind of character. He was a man of devotion.
We first seen him with the disciples and Jesus on their way to Bethany. Hostility awaited them as the Jews had accused Jesus of blasphemy and wanted to stone Him. Thomas spoke up and declared his loyalty to Jesus. He was willing to go with Jesus into danger and risk his life! Here was a man with courage! Jesus never said our walk with Him would be easy. If our roads are paved with troubles Jesus will never forsake us.
We see Thomas next with the disciples and Jesus in the upper room. During an evening’s meal Jesus said He was leaving them and promised that He was going to prepare a place for them. Thomas, not understanding what Jesus was saying, asked for more details. Jesus responded: I am the way, the truth and the life; no one goes to the Father except by Me. 1
Thomas was not afraid to ask searching questions and probed for the answers. We too would be wise to always look to Jesus who is the ‘key that opens all the hidden treasures of God’s wisdom and knowledge.’ 2
After Jesus arose from the dead, His first appearance to the disciples was in a locked room. For some reason Thomas wasn’t with them and couldn’t believe his friends. He needed to see Jesus for himself. His demand for proof is understandable. Some people will only believe in Jesus if a number of criteria, chosen by them, are fulfilled.
A week later Thomas meets with Jesus and He says ‘stop doubting and believe’. Jesus invites Thomas to touch Him and responds with words not previously used by the other disciples ’My Lord and My God’. Thomas declared the divinity of Jesus.
This incident in Thomas’s life helps us to realise that there is nothing wrong with doubts, but they have to be faced and expressed. Jesus will respond and accept us as we are. He will reveal Himself in a new and transforming way.
Be encouraged by the words Jesus spoke to Thomas: “Do you believe because you see me? How happy are those who believe without seeing me.” 3
1. John 14:6
2. Colossians 2:3
3. John 20:29