Web chats are weird, but then I suppose other modern communication tools are too. Back in the olden days of handwritten letters, it might take a minimum of several days before receiving a reply to my letter. In today’s fast-paced world, we have come to expect instant responses to our communications. Hence my weird web chat with an unknown person at a well-known company. The chat achieved a result but was very impersonal.
You really can’t beat a face to face conversation. You could say, like Parliamentarians using different spelling, “The eyes have it.” On my desk there are a dozen pairs of eyes smiling at me, so when I’m on the phone to one of the family, I have their photo in front of me. Lovely though it would be, it’s not always practical to be face to face with family members who live at a distance. The photos help.
Each face is different and each pair of eyes represents a unique person who is of great value to me, but also of great value to God. A smile, a kind word, a listening ear, can all help someone feel affirmed – so important and necessary in an impersonal and often lonely world. If God recognises me amongst his billions and knows me by name, I should make the effort to affirm others – including that unseen face on the other end of the web chat.
If you were a worm, your perspective of grass would be different from a human adult’s perspective. As a worm, you might wish that the grass were mown more often to make your slithers easier on the belly. You might be fearful of the daisies whose stems appear like trees and whose delicately pretty canopy you can’t see. Dandelion clocks, with their seeds dispersing in the wind, knock you on the nose and make you sneeze.
If you were a little girl, you wouldn’t care how short or long the grass was. You’d be sitting on it making a fairy necklace out of the daisies, or a garland to put round your head so you could pretend to be a princess.
If you were a young lad, (and call me sexist if you want to) you’d see the grass as something to pound with football boots. You’d ignore the daisies, and shoot for goal. Any self-respecting worm would retreat underground.
If you were an adult you might see the grass as a chore at this time of year. It grows quickly so needs mowing frequently, but rainy days prevent the work – and make the grass grow even more.
If you were God, you’d look at the worm and the grass and the daisies and the dandelion clocks and the little girl and the young lad and the adult, and you’d see everything you’d made, and would be very pleased.
Are you a marathon runner? Today’s London Marathon has been even more of a test than usual, as it’s taken place during an unseasonal heatwave.
Arsene Wenger is coming towards the finishing line of a challenging 22 year ‘marathon’ as manager of Arsenal. Her Majesty the Queen, now starting her 93rd year, has also faced many challenges in her ‘marathon’ run of a long reign.
Life itself, for each of us, is a marathon that involves short sprints, long plods, uphill grind, downhill dithers and slithers, wearying stumbles and tumbles and some scintillating strolls. These are accompanied by a mixture of physical pain, mental anguish, tears, smiles and joy.
Taking part in a marathon (and no, I’ve never done one) requires, initially, choice. Shall I? Shan’t I? For the marathon of life, choice wasn’t our shout! How we run life’s marathon is dependent on personality and circumstances. Whether thinking of life’s marathon or the London Marathon, perseverance and endurance are required. It’s also helpful, as I imagine Mr Wenger and Her Majesty might concur, to have the backing of your personal cheerleaders – family, friends and supporters – and of your fellow-runners.
St Paul likened the Christian faith to running a marathon: “I have done my best in the race, I have run the full distance, and I have kept the faith.” In Hebrews it says, “Let us run with determination the race that lies before us.” Let us. Together we can do it.
Parallel to the main road, about ten minutes’ walk away, is a byway. The narrow track links a hamlet in the east to a market town in the west. In past centuries it was the main route. Then an A-road was built, now a noisy highway of continuous traffic with its attendant fumes and noise. The byway became a by-the-way, useless for vehicles and unseen by its drivers.
Far from being forlorn and forgotten, the byway thrives as a peace-filled haven for nature. Delicate flowers of blackthorn decorate its edges. Goldfinch, robin and blackbird serenade walkers who, tuned in to tranquillity, carefully tread its path. The byway emerges onto a lane with scattered cottages and farm buildings whose names reflect the past: Cheese House, Forge Cottage, Old Barn… A little bridge – great for Pooh sticks – spans a lazy river where trout lurk in the shallows, ducks paddle on the surface and kingfishers flash past above their heads.
Highways and byways. Drivers and walkers. Townies and country folk. Noise and quiet. VIPs and by-the-ways. Somebodies and nobodies (though no-one is a nobody in God’s eyes.) Jesus used local scenes to illustrate his stories. In one he told his followers to go everywhere – highways and hedges – to share God’s message of love and grace and his invitation: “Come!” The invitation stands today – wherever we are, whoever we are, whatever our circumstances.
When does Easter end? Commercially, Christmas ends on Christmas Eve though, for Christians, it is just the beginning of a 40 day celebration of the birth of Christ. What about Easter? When does that end? Easter Monday? Many people were back to work on Tuesday though, this year, with Easter being early, the school holidays have fallen entirely after Easter so children may still be doing Easter egg hunts up until next weekend!
The Easter garden in my local cathedral was bare and bleak on Good Friday. On Easter Day and ever since, it has been a colourful display of spring flowers surrounding an empty tomb. Worshippers in churches today repeated the greeting of last Sunday: “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed; Alleluia!” Christians are people of the resurrection. Christ died once. He rose to new life that goes on for ever! Christians believe that, thanks to his work of redemption and their belief, faith and commitment to him, there is everlasting life and hope for today and for every day.
Easter eggs come and go all too quickly. Easter, for those who believe, doesn’t end – ever. The disciple Thomas found it hard to believe until he’d seen the risen Jesus for himself. Then he was in no doubt at all: “My Lord and my God!” he exclaimed. Jesus understood his doubt. He understands anyone’s doubt, but his invitation is still for people to believe: “How happy are those who believe without seeing me!”
“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.