Easter is, for good reasons, seen as the most important celebration of the Christian year. Even those of no faith can see the symbolism of renewal and rebirth, that death does not have the final word. Last year we had just started lock-down at Easter; now we are being released from it. On the face of things, surely celebrations will be all the greater this year?
Perhaps, but there are still uncertainties. I hope our churches are full on Easter Sunday, but I have my doubts; I suspect many people need time to process what has happened over the last year. It is striking that in most of the accounts of the resurrection; Mark, Luke and John, the immediate reaction of those who discovered the empty tomb was not rejoicing or a great outpouring of faith. It was rather bewilderment and fear. The empty tomb, by itself, does not seem to have been very convincing. It took more; experiences of the risen Jesus to convince his followers that he had risen. In the well-known story of the Emmaus road, two disciples walk with Jesus, invite him into their home and share a meal with him before suddenly they recognise him.
Faith is very often not about a quick fix. Rather, it is often a slow process involving bewilderment, disappointment and wrong turns. Eventually we may recognise Christ alongside us, but we should not be surprised if that only happens after a long period of reflection. There is a reason why people of faith so often describe their lives as a journey or pilgrimage; it is a process that takes a lifetime.
Rev David Poyner
I write this at the end of the week that has seen the first anniversary of lock-down. We have had the first real spring sunshine; in spare moments I have been planting in the garden, anticipating the summer that lies ahead. But this has been against a background of the grim memories of the previous year; the interviews with people whose lives were torn apart over the last twelve months in ways which neither I nor they could possible have anticipated. And I honestly do not know what the future will be over the summer; I trust the vaccines will do their work, I am looking forward to being able to get out and about again but just over the Channel we observe the third wave starting. In Brazil, deaths are now running at 3000 a day. Those figures rather put into context my disappointment at cancellation of the Burwarton Show.
Against this background, the Christian Church moves into Holy Week. Those who follow this will be aware it is a roller-coaster of emotions; celebration on Palm Sunday and Maunday Thursday followed by the solemnity of the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. Easter Saturday is an in-between day, with the great rejoicing on Easter Sunday. Even those outside the church might notice the difference between a Hot Cross Bun and an Easter Egg! Holy Week is a lesson in how to hold together conflicting emotions. Good Friday tells of how we must face reality, that the worst can happen. But Easter Sunday points to an even greater truth; that when the worst happens, God still is; love still is.
Rev David Poyner
Dave Allen’s Black Cat
Growing up in the 1970s, one of my favourite TV programmes as “Dave Allen at large”. I’m guessing the age profile of my readers is such that he needs no introduction…. Very recently, BBC 2 ran a compilation of his monologues and sketches which for me, had lost none of their humour. He was brought up in Ireland at a time when the Roman Catholic church still held sway; perhaps not surprisingly, many of his jokes were about the church and Christianity. He was an atheist but I actually think he was a good theologian; those outside of faith can often ask the most penetrating questions. One of his sketches involved an argument between the Pope and an atheist. At the end, the Pope exclaims “you are like a blind man in a dark room, looking for a black cat that isn’t there”. The atheist responds; “so are you; the difference is that you think you have found the cat”.
Perhaps only a vicar could find a link between this and the Old Testaments prophets, but here goes…. The prophets constantly warned about idol worship, the making of false Gods. Of course, today we do not images out of wood and worship them. But perhaps are idolatry is more subtle. We have our own pictures of God and we can dare to think that as a result, we understand God, forgetting that God is beyond our imagining. St Paul got it right when he spoke of now how we can only see through a glass darkly; we can indeed understand some truths about God; he is love, that he is faithful but we must always remind ourselves that she is also mystery, with the power to surprise. Beware of thinking we have caught the elusive black cat that can never be confined by human knowledge.
Rev David Poyner
Justice and injustice
The news at the moment is full of stories about injustices, real or perceived. At the start of the week the focus was on the Royal family; a private dispute within a family that has become public. Then there was the grim news of the murder of Sarah Everard as she walked to her home in London. This has re-awakened the issue of male violence against women. Both of these stories have been accompanied by much comment on social media, avidly reported by the media.
Rightly or wrongly, some of the public reaction has left me feeling uneasy, particularly responses that seem to condemn groups or individuals based on very little evidence. The Bible takes much interest in justice; God is frequently described as a God of Justice, who cares for the oppressed and condemns the oppressors. There is a recognition that victims may need to express themselves in brutal terms to deal with what has happened. Those of a certain vintage may recall the pop group Bonny M having a hit single with a reggae version of Psalm 137; By the Rivers of Babylon. “There we wept, while we remembered Zion”. It’s an uplifting version of the psalm but they left out the last verse, addressed to the oppressors; “Happy is he.. who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks”. Injustice damages the victims in many ways; it can brutalise them, but the Bible recognises that all their emotions need to be brought before God for healing. Victims need justice. But justice must be directed against the actual perpetrators; it must be based on facts and any punishment must be proportionate. In John’s Gospel there is the story of how the Pharisees caught a woman in the act of adultery; they organised a mob who dragged her to Jesus in the hope he would allow them to stone her to death. But Jesus rejected the judgement of the crowd, the easy but lazy thinking that just sees stereotypes. He turned justice back on the mob, asking the one without sin to cast the first stone. When emotions run high and voices cry out for simple solutions, Jesus challenges us to seek justice but to ensure it is free from injustice. You may want to listen to Boney-M, to see how they deal with this by changing the words of the Psalm 137; www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmdTK3oeho4
Rev David Poyner