Jenny’s letter 24th March

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we celebrate Palm Sunday. The Sunday on which we remember and rejoice at Jesus being welcomed triumphantly into the city of Jerusalem.  It is extraordinary to reflect on the fact that a few days on from this celebration, Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest disciples, interrogated, beaten, disowned, made to carry his own wooden cross and finally nailed to it. He hung there, no longer a hero, but one who was reviled and hated by almost everyone around him. 

Jesus had been warning those who followed him and specifically the 12 disciples that this would happen, but it was beyond their comprehension. They had a fixed idea of what the rescuing Messiah would do, how he would behave and what the result of that would look like. For many, the goal was to be liberated from the Roman occupying force. They did not fully comprehend the weight of sin that lay on humanity, and those who knew what the scriptures taught, saw punishment as something that happened to others. Stick to the rules and you’d be ok. Except of course, their human nature meant they did not. And even The Commandments and the many extra rules created for them by the religious leaders could not protect people from God’s judgement. 

For us now, one of the most shocking and difficult to comprehend parts of the whole Easter Story is the resurrection itself. Good Jews would have known about the three resurrections in the Old Testament.  The resurrection of the widow’s son in Zarephath (1 Kgs 17:17–22) the resurrection of the Shunammite’s son (2 Kgs 4:18–37) and the resurrection of the man thrown into Elisha’s grave (2 Kgs 13:20). 

Witnesses of the time would have been aware of the at least seven that take place in the New Testament. Admittedly, these were not quite the supernatural event that Jesus’s resurrection was. But the possibility was there for the Pharisees who, unlike their counterparts the Sadducees, believed in resurrection. 

I should say here, that I am not suggesting that a risen Jesus was anything other than a complete shock to the women who visited the tomb of Jesus early in the morning on Easter Day. He was the one who had breathed life into others and now he was dead and placed behind a huge stone. In this situation, resurrection must have seemed impossible.

The differences in beliefs between Pharisees and Sadducees did not keep them apart at the end. Their alliance with the Roman occupiers was born out of a fear of losing power and control. They had struck a deal with one another to maintain the status quo. Where there is power, there is always a risk of corruption. 

In writing as I already have in this article, I could almost be describing our world in 2024. Wherever you find people, you will find those who want power and those that fear it. You will find people who support their enemies when there is a risk of losing what little control they have. You may be thinking about the war-torn parts of the world like Ukraine, Israel and Gaza and Haiti which are currently in the news. But many nations are victim to this kind of behaviour. We live in a time where moral and spiritual integrity are as threatened as I think they have ever been which gives rise to allegiances of most surprising kinds. ‘What is in it for me?’ could be described as an anthem of our post-modern times. It affects small communities and it affects churches. 

It is not just issues around power that exist now. Those of us who love God and profess to be Christian, can at times also be drawn into creating our own God, in a shape that we understand. I am not saying that there is no room for honourable debate about elements of theology and the interpretation of scripture. At least then we are opening ourselves to one another and to what the Bible has to say. Rather, it is those times when we cherry pick the bit of the Bible we like and avoid those we don’t. 

It is the way in which we open our lives to Christ but try to keep some element of ourselves for us alone. We must keep looking to scripture, and doing so alongside one another, to help us avoid worshipping a God who is only as big as our own thoughts and behaves towards and directs us as we choose.

This is hard and is in part why Jesus came. What is God like? Look at Jesus. How should I behave? Look at Jesus. But look at him alongside others so that we can check with each other that we are seeing him clearly. So that we can allow our views to be challenged (the very hard bit) and so that we can learn from one another. 

May God be with you as you journey through Holy Week to Easter.

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