Reflection on the story of the Good Shepherd Fourth Sunday of Easter: Psalm 23 & John 1.1-10
Our readings this morning make us reflect on God in the familiar image of the Good Shepherd. Although not many of us still live in a place where shepherding is a common profession, the Biblical stories have become very much part of our Western narrative, even for those who would not call themselves Christians.
That of course comes with its risks, because the way we imagine a shepherd nowadays, will have been very different from what they may have looked and behaved like two millennia ago. However, I don’t want to dwell on that thought too much, but rather share a story that made me think of the Good Shepherd a few weeks ago. I was out on my daily round of exercise on Granham Hill, just around the corner from where I live. Usually there are sheep roaming around at a distance, and the only interaction between them and me is a curious look at one another.
However, on this particular day, one of the sheep was stuck in some barbed wire. Being reminded of my pastoral profession, I felt a duty to see if there was anything I could do. Slowly I approached the sheep, at the same time not trying to scare it as well as thinking how I would go about freeing it. Whilst I was still at a good distance, the sheep was so shocked by my appearance, that this in itself was enough for it to free itself, and quickly it ran away.
Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter
The Road to Emmaus – Luke 24.13-35
The beautiful and intimate story that we hear in Luke’s Gospel this morning brings us back to the first Easter Day. On the same day as the women discovered the empty tomb, two of the disciples are on their way to a village called Emmaus, which is a good two hours walk.
As we can imagine, they are discussing the events of the past days. The triumphant entry into Jerusalem, their hope that Jesus would now show himself to be the Saviour he had told them to be. But then, his capture, condemnation and crucifixion; and now the empty tomb. They are trying to make sense of it all, but I suspect without much success.
This intimate setting of just two people walking and discussing together is one with which we may have become familiar in the last few weeks as well. If we are in a household with more than one person, we too may have had similar walks: discussing the current events and how to make sense of them. Or we may have had these conversations on the phone, or two meters apart in the queue to Waitrose or on our daily round of exercise. In whichever setting, I am sure that we too have found ourselves sad, bereft and anxious, just like these two disciples on the road.
Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter John 20.19-31
This passage from John’s Gospel, Jesus’ appearance to the disciples is traditionally read on the Sunday after Easter Day. It has striking similarities with the preceding passage, which we heard last week: Jesus’ appearance to Mary on the first Easter morning. Maybe one of the most striking differences, however, is the setting: where it takes place. Whereas Mary went to the tomb, searching, the disciples are in a house, hiding.
We hear that they have locked their doors, for fear of the Jews. Some commentators argue that the reason ‘for fear of the Jews’ was added in a later version of the narrative, as it does not appear when Jesus appears a second time a week later to reveal himself to Thomas also.
It is Easter morning, and the first words on our lips are ‘Alleluia, Christ is risen!’. We then look at the news, in the hope to find the world a different place; a place in which we had never heard about Covid-19, and we felt safe and secure. Yet, we wake up to the same reality as yesterday: what we had wished to be a dream from which we wake, is the world in which we live.
Yet, today, everything is different, although it may not seem so. To understand, let’s look at the story of Mary, one of the most moving stories in the Bible. Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Mary goes to the tomb where they had laid Jesus a couple of days earlier. She is on her own, and I wonder what she is looking and hoping for? Is she hoping that by visiting the grave, she will wake up from this nightmare, and realise Jesus is still there?
For many of us – we who are not on the frontline in medicine, care or retail – the experience of the global pandemic could be described as a prolonged Holy Saturday. A time of waiting, without knowing what lies ahead of us; without being able to do very much. This inability to help is hard for many of us, whether we have children who we desperately want to help, or elderly relatives, or people we know who depend on help in our local communities.
I suspect that it is very much like the experience that the early disciples, Jesus’ friends and followers and his family had. Still in shock after the events on Good Friday, his sudden arrest followed by his brutal crucifixion, now there is nothing they can do.
Good Friday is a day on which I often feel torn. It’s in many countries the start of a long bank-holiday weekend, so the ideal time to visit friends and enjoy the time together. Yet, today of all days in the year, I find it hard to enjoy myself. I feel disturbed: somehow it feels inappropriate to have fun. Yet, should I really let this event from the past – an event at which I was not even present – control my feelings, rather than what is happening today, in the present?
I suspect that this is a feeling to which many can relate, particularly in a time of grief. When we mourn the loss of a loved one, it can feel wrong to continue with our daily tasks. It can become hard even to eat, to get up, let alone to read the newspaper or to smile at a funny comment. For me, it is one of the most compelling reasons that the famous line in the poem ‘death is nothing at all’ is plainly wrong.
A reflection for Maundy Thursday John 13.1–17,31b–35
Today is Maundy Thursday. The word Maundy comes from the Latin ‘mandatum’, commandment, as this is the day on which Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment: “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another (John 13.34). This day is the last day of Jesus’ life as a free man. After his last supper with his friends, when he washes their feet, breaks the bread and blesses the wine, Jesus will go out to pray. It is here that he is betrayed by Judas and taken by the authorities to be crucified the next day.
I suspect that for many of us this year, the thought of death and dying has been in our minds. Maybe today is an opportunity to think a little bit about our own mortality. For those of you who know me, I am not the person to make it too heavy, but there is a time and a place to consider the transition from our earthly life, shared with those whom we love, to our heavenly life, where we will find ourselves in the presence of God.
A reflection for Wednesday in Holy Week Luke 22.54-end
As I already wrote in an earlier reflection this week, accepting our own limitations is one of the spiritual challenges that we face in these weeks of uncertainty, loss and isolation. A letter written from Italy in the Guardian last week put it rather well and in Luke’s Gospel this morning we hear the story of Peter, the disciple who epitomises our inability to be committed and faithful.
I am sure that I am not the only one who finds it very easy to relate to Peter’s story in which he denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed. Peter was one of Jesus most faithful followers; knowing that he would deny Jesus must have grieved him deeply. Indeed, it had a great impact on both men, as we hear that also Peter himself wept bitterly when he realised that Jesus’ predication had come true.
A reflection for the Tuesday of Holy Week Luke 22.24-53
In countries across Europe exam boards have decided to cancel all school exams. In England this means that pupils will get teacher-assessed grades this year. There has been much controversy over the decision to cancel the exams, rather than postponing them, and the debate on how precisely teacher should assess their pupils is still on-going.
Some have mentioned that cancelling the exam was unfair: you cannot change the rules of a game this late on, so the argument goes. Pupils have a right to exam-assessed grades, as this is the goal to which they had worked. This comment made me think. Of course, it is not fair to change the goal posts at this late a stage. Most of us will remember the indignant feeling as children when our peers did exactly that: changing the rules of the game we were playing. However, we also have to admit that some situations require the rules to change, and we find ourselves in one of those situations.
A reflection for the Monday of Holy Week
I have to admit that yesterday’s speech from the Queen made me cry. Indeed, particularly when she referred to her first radio broadcast together with her sister in 1940. However, being honest, the words ‘The Queen’ on the screen and the camera shot of Windsor Castle were enough to set me off. Talking to a couple of friends afterwards, I was not the only one.
Why does a speech like the one on Sunday has the capacity to move people so profoundly? I would like to suggest that it is because it reminds us that we matter; that we are part of a story with cosmic significance and each have a part to play. That story is the story of humanity, the story of God with us.
The story transcends our time and space: it is not just a cultural phenomenon which can be explained entirely sociologically – although others may disagree. To illustrate: notwithstanding my great respect for Queen Elizabeth and having sworn an Oath of Allegiance to her, she has not been my Queen from young age, as I grew up in The Netherlands. So we see, at least for me it is not the language of nationhood, a belonging to the Commonwealth, that matters, but something greater.