“What’s going on?” “What have you heard?” “It’s all so weird!” Information, misinformation, rumour, bewilderment, doubt, fear, a sense of numbness… Such words could describe events and emotions in any news situation around the world today.
When something unusual happens, reporters gather and sound bites are sought from passers-by, local residents and visitors to a city. It’s happened in Salisbury in recent weeks. It happened in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection when the city was full of visitors. Jesus’ friends had largely vanished at his death but, as news flashed around the area that he’d returned to life, so they re-emerged slowly – with some trepidation and a glimmer of hope.
The reports varied, as they do in news stories today. Whispers of sightings of the living Christ were followed by exclamations of relief, joy, and the gradual realisation that, “Yes, of course! Hadn’t he said this would happen!” An angel told the women at the tomb, “Come and see!” then, “Go and tell!” They looked, saw the empty tomb and went to tell the disciples. Over the coming days Jesus spent time with them. So, the news was true! Nearly 2000 years later the message continues to reverberate around the globe: “Christ is risen!”
What difference does it make that Jesus is alive? The fullness of life Jesus offers is more than pretty daffodils, chocolate eggs and fluffy chicks that are here today and gone, if not tomorrow, in a few weeks’ time. His message of hope for all creation defeats sorrow, evil, fear, and death itself. His invitation is, indeed, to come and see, then go and tell.
“Look where you’re going!” Heed that warning if you walk along a crescent-shaped stretch of pavement near my home. Hawthorn trees, with low overhanging branches, border the path. In winter, and in early spring, their vicious inch-long spikes aim to poke your eyes out.
Every time I walk past one of those hawthorns, I think of Jesus Christ who had a crown of thorns rammed onto his head after his arrest. I shudder at the agony he went through – not just from the crown of thorns, but in a succession of acts of torture and then a cruel death by crucifixion.
Hawthorn buds, I gather, emerge at the point where the spikes protrude from the twigs. In May the buds burst into flower and in autumn the tree is a profusion of red berries and golden leaves that catch the sunlight of bright October days.
The bloodied head of Jesus and his dead body weren’t the end. Just as the hawthorn spikes give way to buds, so death gave way to new life for Jesus. But at such cost. Agony before glory. Why did he do it? He told his disciples, “The greatest love a person can have for his friends is to give his life for them.” That’s the message that will be conveyed this week – Holy Week – as Christians remember and reflect his sacrifice for the human race.
Who are the whistle-blowers? What do they do? Why? Where? When? How?
My first whistle-blower was my year 3 teacher who, with whistle firmly lodged between her lips, flat-footed her plimsolled feet up and down the netball court’s side line. Hurricane-force blasts from her whistle frequently stopped play.
Perhaps you’ve wrapped up against the chill to go and support your child’s team kick a football around? And been glad when the referee blows for half time (cuppa: phew!) or full time (home: bliss!) Your child, on the other hand, may be delighted – or outraged, depending on which side has transgressed – when the whistle heralds a free kick, corner or penalty.
Wales ended second in the rugby Six Nations, thanks to a tense home win yesterday. A mixture of instructions, penalties and awards had the referee whistling at frequent intervals throughout the match, often with a quiet explanation to the relevant captain.
Who, what, where, when and how. But why are referees necessary? To ensure that players know and stick to the rules, that there’s fair play, resulting in a harmonious match.
A whistle-blower – in the other sense – is someone who exposes wrong-doing. Is God a whistle-blowing referee? His instructions for living were to ensure fairness for all, with a potentially good result. But he gave us free will; we’re not puppets at the end of his string. We tend to blow it – not the whistle, but the opportunity for harmony – so it’s a good thing he’s promised that one day there will be perfection, with no scowls, punch-ups, rules or referees.
There are visitors and visitors. Some you look forward to seeing but their visit disappoints; others you steel yourself to welcome and they surprise you by their affability.
There’s a bunch of visitors who always come in a group, chatter incessantly but are highly entertaining and very amusing. They’re long-tailed tits. Then there are the greedy gang of greenfinches who come together – usually five or six – and take their positions at the feeding station, dropping food onto the floor in their haste to guzzle as much as possible in the shortest time. Timid visitors, and this year reluctant to come at all, are blue tits. Are they afraid of their bigger cousins, or is the winter just too cold to venture out?
Yesterday a great crowd of varied visitors all upped and left without so much as a ‘thank you for having me.’ They’d spotted an incoming visitor whose company they abhorred. Sad though I was to see the little ‘uns go, I was delighted to see the new arrival who sat motionless on the apple tree – long enough for me to get my camera and take a picture of her. She was a sparrowhawk. What a beautiful bird! But a dangerous one. Her beady eye and fiercesome beak are enough to make anyone fly a mile.
Yes, there are visitors and visitors. The sparrowhawk went on her way, her visit short but special. The good thing is the others have all come back. They know, metaphorically, which side their bread is buttered.
What is a black box? A flight recorder – though it’s really orange. Maybe you have a black box for the car that records your driving. A useful device – if you like that sort of thing. Households round here have a black box for recycling paper, tin and glass. The box is sturdy-ish with a somewhat less sturdy lid. One such lid was spotted in the snow this week, a small child using it as a makeshift sledge to whiz down a short steep hill. She squealed with delight at the thrill of it all. Ah, the ingenuity of people who find new uses for ordinary objects!
Snowmen, it seems, are outmoded, though it may just have been the ‘wrong kind of snow.’ One enterprising family, however, managed to sculpt an astonishingly life-like female figure out of the snow in their front garden. Mum was the sculptor. Dad was the shoveller – only suitable for hard labour, he told me. Elsewhere, igloo builders, with remarkable engineering skills, pressed snow into blocks to create cosy snow holes.
There is now a thaw. The white world is being stained black as the tarmac of roads reappears. Soon the white will have disappeared altogether. The world we inhabit is a place of metaphorical darkness and light. Evil and goodness exist side by side. But life isn’t just black and white; it is a kaleidoscope of colour. Purple crocuses and yellow daffodils, emerging unscathed after being buried by snow, demonstrate the continuous cycle of seasons and remind us that, ultimately, goodness, light and purity will prevail.
Wales lost again – in the Six Nations on Saturday. It was an edge-of-the-seat match and could have gone either way. Ireland prevailed. As did Scotland who beat England at Murrayfield in front of thousands of excited supporters.
Who remembers these grand sporting occasions twenty, forty, a hundred years on? A world-renowned cricketer, at his best in the 1980s, recalled in minute detail, some of his Ashes successes. He certainly remembered! Top tennis players can describe matches they played years ago. Some of the great Welshmen who played rugby way back – Gareth Edwards, JPR Williams… remember with delight their successful seasons.
What about other great stadium events? American evangelist, Billy Graham, who recently died aged 99, filled stadiums around the world. What motivated people to attend? Curiosity, hunger for meaning in life, the buzz of huge crowds, a personal invitation? Who will remember Billy Graham and those meetings in future decades? In the UK, people who were at Harringay in the 1950s, Earls Court in the 1960s, Wembley in the 1980s, will remember. They weren’t present to watch sport but to hear about Jesus – something of far greater significance than a ball game.
Billy Graham wanted to share some good news – THE good news – that could impact life not just for the length of the meeting or even for a few years, but for eternity. However remarkable the sports individuals and teams, however renowned the evangelists and preachers, however forthright the politicians and media, the good news from God outlives them all.
Is it necessary, desirable or edifying to keep being reminded – via newspapers, TV, digital media – of the scandalous events, behaviour and opinion that are prevalent in current culture?
Paul, writing to Christians in the first century, said, “Fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and honourable.” He wasn’t pretending the nasty stuff didn’t exist. This former persecutor of Christians exposed the amoral and immoral culture of his time – which wasn’t so different from our own culture today – but then pointed to an alternative lifestyle based on Jesus who was the epitome of truth, nobility, purity, loveliness and honour. Paul was himself persecuted on many occasions and imprisoned for standing up for what he believed.
A ride on a country bus yesterday reminded me that, while acknowledging the nastier parts of human nature and behaviour, we can balance that with glimpses of God through nature’s wonders: Snowdrops nestled beneath hedges that had had their winter haircut. Pale grass hosted twisted trees that stretched ungloved fingers skywards. Sheep, cows and horses grazed on gently rounded hills, squat-towered churches dotted the landscape and a buzzard rode the air currents in a blue sky.
Side by side we see beauty and brokenness, wealth and poverty, morality and amorality, wisdom and folly, selflessness and ego… What we fill our minds with will impact our attitude, affect our personal behaviour, and maybe prompt us to share goodness, truth and loveliness.
PS ‘Out of a listless sky’ has been added to the Poems page.