Pastoral Letter - 9th April
My dear Friends,
Especially those of you who are still reading these letters a year after I first started sending them! A Happy and Blessed Easter to you all!
In Holy Week you may have read, or heard read once again, the harrowing moment when Peter, that strong, prominent disciple, so often the spokesman for Jesus’ other disciples, denies that he knows Jesus and betrays his friendship with Him. Three times he is asked if he knows Him, when Jesus is arrested and taken in for questioning, as he, Peter, waits in the outer courtyard, warming himself at the fire. "Were you not with the Galilean?" "I don’t know who you are taking about!" "Yes, surely you were one of the men who always accompanies Jesus." "No, not I, you must be mixing me up with someone else." "I am sure I saw you with Jesus." "I tell you I do not know the man." (Luke 22 v 54-62) The extenuating circumstance was of course that he feared for his life, that what was happening to Jesus might well happen to him too. If Jesus was to be crucified, so too might he be. It is an uncomfortable story, who of us might not do the same? We may hope that we would not, but, when it came down to it and we were in danger of our lives, are we sure that we would behave any differently? Most of us have probably never been in that situation when something we said might endanger our lives, if we aligned ourselves with someone we believed to be good, honourable, innocent.
Peter, the one whom Jesus called "the rock", the one whose leadership skills the others relied upon, the one whom Jesus seemed to be nurturing, preparing, to carry, share responsibility with Him, here even denies that He knows Jesus and fails Him miserably as a friend. As I say, most of us have probably never been in such an extreme situation when we are called to account for our faith, but some betrayals are more subtle. Not correcting a piece of gossip when we hear it; adding to a story by spicing it up and casting someone in an unfavourable light; being "economic with the truth" which exposes someone to criticism or ridicule.......All of us hope to live morally blameless, ethically uncompromised lives, but do we, honestly, truly? I write this with sensitivity to some who consider themselves to live clean and unblemished lives, and ask them to reflect in the face of Jesus Christ, whether or not they are deluding themselves. Some spend far more time in self-delusion and self-justification than in self-examination and repentance. It is not dissimilar to the story Jesus Himself tells of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke Chapter 18 verses 9-14). The Pharisee, the apparently good, law abiding, synagogue and temple going man, congratulates himself that he is morally blameless and condemns the morally compromised Tax Collector beside him. But from God’s point of view, we are told by Luke, the Tax Collector who is aware of his sinfulness and unworthiness, enjoys the benediction of God in a way the Pharisee does not, as his spiritual vanity gets in the way. It is as though the Pharisee stands before the Lord and ticks off all the things he has done according to the Law of the Lord, effectively saying "God, you must be so pleased with me. I fast, I tithe, I go to the temple regularly, I do exactly as all the commandments bid me do." Then he looks as the poor figure shivering with guilt at his side, whom he condemns as someone who falls short of the example he himself has achieved and continues, "I am so pleased I am not like this sinner here." But the Tax Collector, having more self-knowledge, is aware of how far short he falls, not just from the letter of the law, but from the spirit of the law and living a generous, compassionate, non-judgemental, forgiving, serving and loving life, that he beats on his breast and pleads, "Have mercy on me, Lord, a sinner." One might even adapt the Beatitudes to say, "Blessed are those who know their need of God’s loving forgiveness, it is they who most truly enjoy God’s favour."
But, thinking about our sense of sin, our failure to live according to the Law of Love, here’s the nub of it: whereas guilt, born of perhaps self-indulgent introspection and self-loathing, turns us in on ourselves and traps us even more in negative darkness - repentance, such as the Tax Collector displays, offering one’s sense of shame and failure to God and not hanging on to it oneself, is about something marvellously different. Whereas those who condemn themselves to the claustrophobia of negativity and guilt effectively remain, as in last Sunday’s gospel, in the tomb their sins have condemned them to, or trapped in a room of fear, as in the gospel we will hear this coming Sunday, the Risen Christ wants us to experience something wonderfully different. What he wants for us we see in both John 20 verses 11-18 and John 20 verses 19-23.
In John 20 v 11-18 we see Mary of Magdalene turning from looking into the dark, dank depths of a tomb, symbolising for her as it does, painful endings, unbearable grief, darkness and despair and turning 180 degrees to see the Risen Christ glimmering in the early morning sunshine, allowing His love, His forgiveness, His healing, His new life to fill and infect her with the resurrection energy of optimism, liberation, transformation, confidence and hope.
In John 20 verses 19-23 we see the disciples, similarly in despair, trapped in their own tomb of tortured guilt having deserted Jesus and in fear for their lives, experiencing Jesus breaking into that trappedness and again bathing them in His love, His forgiveness, His healing, His new life as He breathes upon them with the gift of the Holy Spirt, which in turn infects and empowers them with the resurrection energy of optimism, liberation, transformation, confidence and hope.
Guilt, which we are tempted to hang on to, has no place within the Christian psyche. Repentance on the other hand, that genuine awareness of how far we fall short of Christ’s example of generous, compassionate, loving service, when we offer it humbly and honestly to God, allows us to relinquish any sense of shame, unworthiness, failure, inadequacy and not hold onto it. We need to believe and trust that Christ longs to free us from anything that holds us back from knowing His loving, accepting friendship. It takes courage to confess our sins, to face up to our sins, to admit to ourselves how much sin there is within us. But we do so with the knowledge, in the context of believing, that God is an understanding and accepting God who not only forgave Peter and the other disciples we are told deserted Him in His time of need, but us too. It is interesting, it is significant, that the risen Jesus does not refer at any time to their desertion or betrayal of Him in the past, His focus is entirely on the creative future He longs to enjoy with them. So too I hope with us, as He looks at us with love and as He longs to breathe upon us with the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit this Eastertide.
To return to Peter’s story, we read of Peter denying Jesus three times (Luke 22 v 54-62) And in John, we hear of Jesus effectively forgiving Peter three times. (John 21 v 15-17) It is a moment for the correction of wrongs, of alignment to a new set of values. What I find particularly compelling about this way of offering reconciliation and forgiveness is this: Peter isn’t merely given the assurance of sins having been forgiven, but rather, he is given a commission to live in a different way from now on. "Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep. Feed my lambs." Peter sins three times, Peter is forgiven three times, but that forgiveness has the imperative of the Creator at its core and so is creative in itself. In the same way as guilt is a negative emotion and repentance a positive act, so too is forgiveness seen here to have a positive and constructive dimension. Peter is being called to live out the new life which springs from Christ`s forgiveness, by serving others in love, in the strength of the Holy Spirit.
It is not easy or comfortable to reflect upon the truth of oneself. If you are like me you will find a million excuses for not doing so. We like to think of ourselves as unblemished and easily turn a blind eye to our occasional failings and failures. The truth is of course otherwise, but we have access to a God who longs that we behave not like the self-deluding Pharisee, but like the self-aware Tax Collector, who brings his sense of sin into the presence of the one who alone can absolve and free us from the claim of darkness, so as to walk in the resurrection light of forgiveness. May each of us have the strength and will to look to Christ in these coming days, that He may "see if there be any wickedness within us," and "breathe forgiveness o’er us" that we may more easily breathe in the breath of the Holy Spirit, who comes to us with creative, refreshing, resurrection life.
With blessings and best wishes
THANK YOU To all of you who sent me cards and greetings for Easter, they are very much appreciated and cherished. Blessings and best wishes to each of you in return. Jeff
Please join us this Sunday for our Zoom service at 9.30am by clicking on the following link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85685339742 or in person in church at 6pm, by booking on: firstname.lastname@example.org
The readings for this Sunday are: Acts Chapter 4 verses 32-35 and John Chapter 20 verses 19-end The Collect for this Sunday: Almighty Father, You have given your only Son to die for our sins, And to rise again for our justification: Grant that we may put away the leaven on malice and wickedness That we may always serve you in pureness of living and truth, This we ask through the merits and mediation Of Jesus Christ your Son, Our Lord, Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and for ever. AMEN.
Little Fish Zoom party Saturday 10 April @ 4pm - a short session of songs, story and catch up aimed at 0 - 3 year olds, but all children welcome. Please sign your child up using this link and we will send you the Zoom details Sign up here
Wine and Whine evening Sunday 11 April @ 8:30pm - Wine and whine evening - following our enjoyable January parents' catch up, we would love to see you again for an informal Zoom chat over a glass of wine. Please sign up using this link and we will send you the Zoom details Sign up here