Do you remember the eruption of Mount St Helen’s on 18 May 1980? Seismic activity around the area continues to rumble on, but the 1980 eruption made such an impact, locally and globally, that witnesses – many of them children at the time – can still recall it in detail. Its angry spewing was seen by television audiences worldwide. Big events are remembered and, in some cases, don’t seem that long ago. And yet, Mount St Helen’s erupted four years before my youngest daughter was born, so to her – and to others of her generation – it is, in all probability, simply an event in history.
If your knowledge of British history is good, you might recall that on 19 May 1051 Henry I married Anne of Kiev. Another royal Henry is, perhaps, remembered more easily: Prince Harry – who married Meghan Markle on 19 May last year. Maybe you were one of the 1.9 billion people who witnessed the event.
Some of us have better recall of times and dates than others. How do you fare at quiz questions that ask the year in which an event occurred? Time plays tricks with our memory. The older we get, the quicker time seems to go. Time, for us mortals, is significant. How much time will I have on the planet? For what might I be remembered? I’m really rather thankful that, for God, a thousand years are as a day and a day is as a thousand years. Each day we have on the planet is a gift. Let’s make each day count for good and, if you believe in him, for God.
The muted colours of winter’s landscape have given way to the brash, vivid, saturated colours of May. The bright yellow mini-sun-like flowers of dandelions are now puffs of seed-head clocks and dainty buttercups have taken their place. The grass is a solid green after its pallid winter wear and trees are in full leaf. Conical purple lilac and pendulous yellow laburnum show off their blooms against a blue sky, while billowing lines of lacy cow parsley border country lanes.
Up above, tucked in amidst cauliflower white clouds, is a miniature cloud, perfectly formed in the shape of a tiny half disc. Not a cloud at all, but the moon, silent and relatively still – above and beyond the activity of the clouds that are blown by a brisk northwest wind and, in rushing moments, obscure the little half disc.
The clarity of this daytime atmosphere creates crisp edges to trees and rooftops on which the moon gazes down. And as yet unseen, on this sunny day, are the myriads of stars that may be seen overnight.
The seasons change but the moon and stars remain steady, giving a sense of calm and stability in this, the season of most dramatic change. If you find spring, with its rapid burgeoning of newness, somewhat unnerving and unsettling, or if you find each day a challenge – for whatever reason – look up at the sky. Be still and hear, beyond the clamour of earth, the silent voice of God.
Why do creatures do what they do? Consider, for example, the various activities of a mole, a worm, a boy, and the driver of a mechanical digger.
Moles spend most of their time underground. They dig tunnels, eat – rapidly and often – and sleep (not a lot, because of their need to eat.) They are extremely effective diggers and the earth they excavate ends up on the surface of grass, usually in neat round piles of what appears to be pristine soil. Gardeners are conflicted: some love the soil and gather it for compost; others loathe that their precious lawn has been messed up.
Worms spend much time underground too. Some species of worm excavate and excrete casts of slimy soil onto the surface of the ground, for interested parties to ponder the curly pattern created.
On a recent cold spring day, a boy and his dad chose to dig two holes on a Norfolk beach, then created a tunnel between the two, much to the delight and satisfaction of the excavators.
Lastly, mounds of broken chalk rubble appeared in seemingly random places on a hilly field. The driver of a bright yellow mechanical digger had excavated large holes – then covered them up again. Research for a building project?
Each of these scenarios may make an observer ask, “Why?” And varying answers come to mind. My random observations of tiny bits of life’s rich tapestry may be of little interest to you. Fair enough. But as W H Davies wrote, “A poor life this if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”
How might your life be transformed? By getting a job? Finding a life-partner? Going in for body-shaping surgery? Ticking accomplished items on your bucket list? According to an advert, it’s a new bathroom that will transform my life.
Does such a claim have any merit? Possibly. If I lived in a part of the world where there was no sanitation provision, a bathroom – or at least a toilet and clean water – could transform my life and the lives of a whole community. But the advert was geared for the likes of me. I already have the privilege of a bathroom. I’m sceptical that a new one could transform my life. So is there a more plausible alternative that could transform me?
The apostle Paul wrote, “Don’t conform yourselves to this world.” Be transformed. How? “Let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind.” In this Easter season, Christians ponder and rejoice in the transformation from death to life of Jesus Christ and what that means for their own lives. A seed falls into the ground and lies dead and buried. It happened with my seed potatoes. Now green shoots are showing. My peony plant sprang out of a patch of bare earth. It had lain dead and buried all winter. Now its buds are ready to burst into flower.
The miracle of Jesus’ life from death, unlike a bathroom transformation, has implications for people everywhere through all time and into eternity. Those who accept his offer for transformation are works in progress. One day the transformation will be complete: new heaven, new earth, new and pain-free bodies, new and fully-functioning minds, new life forever. That’s transformation.
In Notre Dame a shaft of sunlight illuminated an empty cross. All around were charred, blackened and broken pieces – a picture to me of a damaged world in need of mending and redemption.
The cross of Christ in Jerusalem two millennia ago was the means by which God redeemed. The reality for human beings is that our bodies will die. We’ve seen that only this morning with news from Sri Lanka. The hope for believers, including those who died at church this Easter morning, is that death is not the end. Fear, confusion, and deep sorrow accompanied the women to the tomb of Jesus. But then things changed: “Come and see!” said an angel. They went, they saw. And maybe at that point they remembered Jesus’ words from weeks before, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will never die, but will have eternal life.”
“Go and tell!” continued the angel. And they did. Their testimony, and that of many others, has resonated throughout the centuries since that day, as is evident in the millions of people worldwide who will be singing and telling the joy and reality of Christ’s resurrection this very day.
The world which we inhabit is bewildering. There are still tears. Jesus wept at the death of his friend. He weeps with us in our trials and mourning. Yet it is only through his death that we have hope – the defeat of evil and death itself through his sacrifice and resurrection.
The total fulfilment of God’s plan will come later when there will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. Mary Magdalene met the risen Christ in a garden and it is in our gardens that we see evidence of new life. On this Easter Day may you know that, through Jesus, grief can turn to joy, suffering to healing, despair to hope and death to life. “Come and see!” “Go and tell!”
A donkey walked slowly under the stone archway of the city gate. Head bowed, ignoring the jostling crowd, he carried a man onwards through the throng and into the town.
I was in that crowd and followed the patient animal and its rider for several hours, pausing with them in a shopping mall, the market square, outside the council offices, by a hotel, in a green open space. Passers-by stared in curiosity, others carried on shopping – indifferent to the action on the road, some joined the procession, others tut-tutted at the commotion.
The first Palm Sunday was a day of hoorays and hosannas as many welcomed Jesus as the Messiah – the new king come to save. Some people doubted his credentials, others were outraged by his claims. This day would be the beginning of a dramatic week which included the hailed king acting as a servant and washing his friends’ feet, sharing supper with them, being betrayed, arrested and eventually crucified.
The story of the first Holy Week may be familiar. Let’s not ever become blasé about it. It had world-changing results. The major pageant, of which I was a part, happened a few years ago. I was moved – in every sense – as I followed Jesus through the city. I watched familiar faces acting viciously as Roman soldiers, saw Pilate wash his hands, viewed Jesus being strung up on the cross. Moving, indeed. And to all those who have witnessed the action, whether 2000 years ago, or by watching re-enactments, or by simply reflecting, what has been the lasting impact..? When I went for an early countryside walk this morning and met nobody else, I wondered whether Jesus would have gone through all those events if I was the only person in the world. I believe he would.
The metal locker, in my dingy office in London’s Paddington, was disguised with a great array of postcards. They cheered up the room and were a useful conversation starter when people came in. The cards were mostly pictures of landscapes and cityscapes and invariably showed blue skies and glorious colour.
That was decades ago. I’m not sure people send picture postcards of their holidays now. And did you know that it costs the equivalent of 14/- (fourteen shillings!) in old money to buy a first class postage stamp in the UK? Unsurprisingly, greetings now are sent electronically and received instantly. The pictures are often selfies taken against a backdrop of wherever the sender happens to be.
This last week, however, I received no less than three postcards through the post. One was a picture of a daffodil, the flower crafted in yellow and white scrunched-up tissue paper; another was a picture of Mr Greedy and the third was a picture of Pooh Bear sitting on the branch of a tree in the rain with eight pots of honey for company.
What, I wonder, does the subject matter of the cards say about the senders – and the recipient? It doesn’t actually matter; the important thing is that the cards communicated love and made me smile. And that means a great deal in uncertain times when, if you read the news stories, there isn’t much to smile about. It makes me wonder what I could – and should – do this week to demonstrate love and bring a smile to someone else’s face.