Tag Archives: Lent

HE IS RISEN!

Today’s Reading Matthew 28:1-10

EASTER DAY

Earthquakes, angels, women running to and fro, a strange command. A highly unlikely tale. Yes, indeed, and that’s the point. Nobody thought in the first century, and nobody should think now, that the point of the Easter story is that this is quite a reasonable thing to happen, that dead people really do rise if only we had the wit to see it, that it should be quite easy to believe it if only you thought about it for a few minutes.

No. It was always a strange, crazy, wild story. What else would you expect if, after all, the ancient dream of Israel was true? If the God who made the world had finally acted to turn things around, to take all the forces of chaos, pride, greed, darkness and death and allow them to do their worst, exhausting themselves in the process? If Jesus of Nazareth really was, as the centurion (greatly to his own surprise, no doubt) found himself saying three days before, ‘the Son of God’? What else would you expect? A calm restatement of some philosophical truths for sage old greybeards to ponder — or events which blew the world apart and put it back in a new way?

The unlikeliest bit of the story is the bit that really does show they weren’t making it up. Women were not regarded as reliable witnesses in a court of law in those days, and every- body knew it. Even the early church, where women played an important part, formulated the first official statement of resurrection faith in such a way that the women were quietly removed from the story (1 Corinthians 15.3—9). It is a thousand per cent more likely that the women were in the story at the start and then airbrushed out, rather than that they were never there in the earliest forms of the story and then inserted, in different ways, by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. How to ruin a good story for public use! Everyone would surely say, and many sceptics did indeed say, ‘How can you believe a crazy tale on the evidence of a few hysterical women?’

But, as Paul put it elsewhere in that same letter, God chooses what is weak in the world, what the world counts as foolishness, to put to shame the power and wisdom of the world. That is part of what Easter is all about. God is doing a new thing, and, as Jesus said earlier in the story, the first shall be last and the last first. Easter is a day to put everything upside down and inside out. Maybe we should have Easter processions with the young, the weak and the stranger in pride of place, letting the normal leaders sink into oblivion somewhere. Maybe we should let the children’s band lead the worship and send the professional choirs into the congregation for the day. Maybe the women should lead the entire service and then, at a certain point, go and tell the men that it’s time they joined in. Giving the women pride of place in the story makes exactly that point. Instead of the men getting the message and then solemnly informing the women later on, the women are in on the action from the start. It is they who have to go and tell Jesus’ ‘brothers’ (verse 10).

But the main thing is that, once more, they are told not to be afraid (verse 5). What is there to be afraid of, if Easter has dealt with the greatest monster of all, death itself? Why should you be afraid of anything, if Jesus has been raised from the dead, if the old world has cracked open and a new world has been born?

And Easter always looks outwards. From the very start, the news that Jesus is risen contains a command: ‘Go!’ Go, first to Galilee; go back to where it began, back to your roots to meet the risen Jesus there and watch him transform everything, including your oldest memories. And, as you obey the command of the angel, Jesus himself may perhaps meet you in person (verse 9). Take hold of him. Worship him. This is his day, the Day of Days. Make it yours too.

TODAY

We praise you, Lord Jesus Christ, because you have overcome death, and opened God’s new creation to all believers.

We would like to thank SPCK Publishing for providing Lent for Everyone by Tom Wright. For more information, please visit their site: http://www.spckpublishing.co.uk/shop/lent-for-everyone-matthew/
Lent for Everyone is a devotional created and written by N.T. (Tom) Wright. For each day of Lent, there is a reading chosen from the Gospel of Matthew, plus a reflection by Wright. These readings have grown out of a project encouraging Lent reading in Northern England. This is the second in a three-volume series based on the Revised Common Lectionary of the Church of England.

Holy Saturday Devotion

Today’s Reading Matthew 27:57-66

HOLY WEEK: HOLY SATURDAY

They tried to keep Jesus safely dead then, and they try it still today.

Again and again, when the newspapers or the radio stations want to talk about God, they ignore Jesus. We hear experts pro- claiming that science has disproved God — without realizing that the ‘god’ you could squeeze out of the picture by more and more scientific discoveries is not the God whom Christians worship. Our world is still full of the modern equivalents of high priests going to the governor to have a guard placed on the tomb — the sceptics appealing for help to the powerful. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now.

Sometimes, though, we Christians need to observe a Holy Saturday moment. On Holy Saturday, there is nothing you can do except wait. The Christian faith suffers, apparently, great defeats. There are scandals and divisions, and the world looks on and loves it, like the crowds at the foot of the cross. When the Pope visited the United Kingdom in September 2010, he spent almost all his time talking about Jesus while the commentators in the media spent almost all their time talking about sex. And where the church, through its own fault, has caused scandal, a time of silence may be appropriate.

But God will do what God will do, in God’s own time. The world can plot and plan, but all of that will count for nothing when the victory already won on the cross turns into the new sort of victory on the third day. In many parts of the western world today, the church is almost apologetic, afraid of being sneered at. It looks as though the chief priests of our culture, the Pharisees in today’s media, and even the political leaders, have won. Give them their day to imagine that. It’s happened before and it will happen again. The Romans tried to stamp out the Christian faith once and for all at the end of the third century, but within a few years more than half the empire had converted and the new emperor gave in. Many people in England were sceptical about Christian faith after the religious turmoil of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but great revivals of various different sorts took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth. Who knows what will happen next, after the sneering and scheming of the sceptics of our day? Our part is to keep Holy Saturday in faith and hope, grieving over the ruin of the world that sent Jesus to his death, trusting in the promises of God that new life will come in his way and his time.

And there is usually something to be done in the present, even when times are sad and hard. It took considerable courage for Joseph of Arimathea to go to Pontius Pilate and ask for Jesus’ body. Peter and the others had run away to hide because they were afraid of being thought accomplices of Jesus. Joseph had no such qualms, even after Jesus’ death.

Some of Jesus’ followers might well have thought that, if the Romans had crucified him, he can’t have been the Messiah, so he must have been a charlatan. They might willingly have let the Romans bury him in a common grave, as they usually did after a crucifixion (always supposing there was anything left to bury once dogs, birds and vermin had done their work). But Joseph didn’t see it that way. A clean linen cloth; the tomb he had prepared for himself; and the security of a great stone.

It all had to be done in haste, with the sabbath approaching (that’s why the two Marys were watching, so they could go back on the first day of the new week to complete what should be done to the body). But what was done was done decently. Sometimes, as we work for and with Jesus, it may feel a bit like that. We aren’t sure why we’ve got to this place, why things aren’t going as we wanted or planned, and the life seems to have drained out of it all. That’s a Holy Saturday moment. Do what has to be done, and wait for God to act in his own way and his own time.

TODAY

Help us, gracious Lord, to wait for your victory, and in the mean- time to serve you in whatever way we can.

We would like to thank SPCK Publishing for providing Lent for Everyone by Tom Wright. For more information, please visit their site: http://www.spckpublishing.co.uk/shop/lent-for-everyone-matthew/
Lent for Everyone is a devotional created and written by N.T. (Tom) Wright. For each day of Lent, there is a reading chosen from the Gospel of Matthew, plus a reflection by Wright. These readings have grown out of a project encouraging Lent reading in Northern England. This is the second in a three-volume series based on the Revised Common Lectionary of the Church of England.

Good Friday Devotion, April 3, 2015

Today’s Reading Matthew 27:33-56

HOLY WEEK: GOOD FRIDAY

Overwhelmed with horror at what we are seeing, we join the crowds as they hurry along behind the soldiers with their prisoner. Forget the calm tableau of so many historic paintings of the scene, with Mary and John standing at a discreet distance from the foot of Jesus’ cross. In the Middle East, then as now, there were always more people in the crowd than would fit into the small streets, always people pushing and shoving. The soldiers might keep people at arm’s length, but not much more. There were probably fifty people within ten feet of Jesus, jostling, shouting, jeering, pointing, spitting. Some weeping.

You could tell the story a thousand different ways, and they’d all be true. Jesus’ followers quickly came to tell it in such a way as to bring out what Jesus himself had been trying to say all along, and what Matthew has been trying to tell us through- out his gospel: this is the event through which Jesus became king. King of the Jews. King of the world.

To see how Matthew has done this, you have to imagine yourself, in that crowd, as someone who has prayed and sung the Psalms all your life. The Psalms turn the hard lumps of Israel’s story and hopes into liquid poetry, flowing along like a great river, carrying you with it. And as you stand at the foot of the cross, you have a nightmarish sequence of flashbacks, of déjà vu moments, watching Israel’s hopes and dreams come to life, or rather to death, in front of your eyes. Bits and pieces of the Psalms, acted out right there. Jesus is offered sour wine to drink. They cast lots for his clothes. They hail him as ‘king of the Jews’. They mock him with his own words. And, after three hours of darkness, Jesus screams out the words that begin the Psalm (22) where some of those things happen: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ The fulfilment has come, and it is a moment of utter terror and hopelessness. It is as though the sun were to rise one day and it would be a black sun, bringing a darkness deeper than the night itself.

As you stand there in this strange, powerful mixture of recognition and horror, bring bit by bit into the picture the stories on which you have lived. Bring the hopes you had when you were young. Bring the bright vision of family life, of success in sport or work or art, the dreams of exciting adventures in far-off places. Bring the joy of seeing a new baby, full of promise and possibility. Bring the longings of your heart. They are all fulfilled here, though not in the way you imagined. This is the way God fulfilled the dreams of his people. This is how the coming king would overcome all his enemies.

Or bring the fears and sorrows you had when you were young. The terror of violence, perhaps at home. The shame of failure at school, of rejection by friends. The nasty comments that hurt you then and hurt you still. The terrible moment when you realized a wonderful relationship had come to an end. The sudden, meaningless death of someone you loved very much. They are all fulfilled here, too. God has taken them upon himself, in the person of his Son. This is the earthquake moment, the darkness-at-noon moment, the moment of terror and sudden faith, as even the hard-boiled Roman soldier blurts out at the end. (Don’t forget that ‘Son of God’ was a regular title claimed by Caesar, his boss.)

But then bring the hopes and sorrows of the world. Bring the millions who are homeless because of flood or famine. Bring the children orphaned by AIDS or war. Bring the politicians who begin by longing for justice and end up hoping for bribes. Bring the beautiful and fragile earth on which we live. Think of God’s dreams for his creation, and God’s sorrow at its ruin.

As we stand there by the cross, let the shouting and pushing and the angry faces fade away for a moment, and look at the slumped head of Jesus. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in him, here on the cross. God chose Israel to be his way of rescuing the world. God sent Jesus to be his way of rescuing Israel. Jesus went to the cross to fulfil that double mission. His cross, planted in the middle of the jostling, uncomprehending, mocking world of his day and ours, stands as the symbol of a victory unlike any other. A love unlike any other. A God unlike any other.

TODAY

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for all that you bore that day. Thank you for your victory, the victory of love and justice. Thank you that you are the Son of God.

We would like to thank SPCK Publishing for providing Lent for Everyone by Tom Wright. For more information, please visit their site: http://www.spckpublishing.co.uk/shop/lent-for-everyone-matthew/
Lent for Everyone is a devotional created and written by N.T. (Tom) Wright. For each day of Lent, there is a reading chosen from the Gospel of Matthew, plus a reflection by Wright. These readings have grown out of a project encouraging Lent reading in Northern England. This is the second in a three-volume series based on the Revised Common Lectionary of the Church of England.

Maundy Thursday Devotion, April 2, 2015

Today’s Reading Matthew 27:1-32

We would like to thank SPCK Publishing for providing Lent for Everyone by Tom Wright. For more information, please visit their site: http://www.spckpublishing.co.uk/shop/lent-for-everyone-matthew/
Lent for Everyone is a devotional created and written by N.T. (Tom) Wright. For each day of Lent, there is a reading chosen from the Gospel of Matthew, plus a reflection by Wright. These readings have grown out of a project encouraging Lent reading in Northern England. This is the second in a three-volume series based on the Revised Common Lectionary of the Church of England.

Lenten Devotion, April 1, 2015

Today’s Reading Matthew 26:57-75

HOLY WEEK: WEDNESDAY

When I first lived in London, I already knew four or five parts of the city quite well. I knew Westminster itself, with the Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, and the roads leading up to Buckingham Palace. I knew the areas around the big cricket grounds. I knew the British Museum and Oxford Street, and one or two other places I had had to visit from time to time. But I had no idea how they joined up. I used to get about on the Underground, being whisked from place to place with no mental picture of what was above me. So if I tried to walk between the places I knew I would get quite lost.

Many people are like that with the stories in the gospels. They know the parables and the miracles. They know about Jesus’ birth; about the transfiguration, perhaps; certainly about his riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, cleansing the Temple, and then his trial and death. But even with these final events they may have little or no idea how they join up. The cycle of readings in church carries them from event to event, like a spiritual Underground train, and they’ve never thought about how things actually moved from one thing to another in the real world.

So people often miss the full force of the questions Caiaphas asked Jesus in this informal night hearing. The chief priests were the guardians of the Temple. That was (in our terms) as much a political office as a spiritual one, and they took it extremely seriously. Jesus hadn’t actually committed any crime in what he’d done in the Temple, but they were eager to make the links with his larger intentions. Word had got around, in a garbled form, that at some point he’d said something about destroying the Temple and rebuilding it. That could only mean one thing. The only person (other than the high priest) who could claim authority over the Temple was the Messiah. And, of course, God himself. So did Jesus’ actions and words mean . . . ?

Before we can get there, we need to remind ourselves of another link of thought which they would have made. Some Jewish teachers pondered passages like Genesis 1.26, where God says ‘Let us make humankind in our own image’, and Daniel 7.13, where the prophet sees a vision of ‘one like a son of man’ coming on the clouds to the ‘Ancient of Days’ and being enthroned beside him. As they did so, some speculated that there might be some kind of plurality within God himself. Such ideas were severely frowned on by most people. Again, it’s as much the political as the spiritual claim that was seen as dangerous, blaspheming nonsense.

So when Jesus refuses to answer the question about destroying the Temple and rebuilding it in three days, the high priest moves to the natural next step. He puts Jesus on oath, and asks him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?’

Jesus’ reply is fully in line with all that we have seen in the earlier pages of Matthew’s gospel. It all joins up. The high priest himself has said what needs to be said, but there is more: Caiaphas will see that Jesus will be vindicated by God after his suffering, that he will ‘come with the clouds of heaven’ and be enthroned at the right hand of ‘Power’, in other words, of God himself.

That’s enough! It’s blasphemy! And Jesus is condemned, mocked as a false prophet.

Meanwhile, a different sort of connection is established out in the courtyard. Peter — impetuous, blundering Peter — provides the mirror-image to Jesus. Jesus tells the truth, knowing it will condemn him. Peter tells a lie to save his skin. The stage is set. Jesus, the innocent one, will die in place of Peter, the guilty. And the rest of us, too.

TODAY

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for the truth which you spoke and lived, and for which you died. Help us, afraid as we are of truth, to come out of the shadows and confess that we are your followers.

We would like to thank SPCK Publishing for providing Lent for Everyone by Tom Wright. For more information, please visit their site: http://www.spckpublishing.co.uk/shop/lent-for-everyone-matthew/
Lent for Everyone is a devotional created and written by N.T. (Tom) Wright. For each day of Lent, there is a reading chosen from the Gospel of Matthew, plus a reflection by Wright. These readings have grown out of a project encouraging Lent reading in Northern England. This is the second in a three-volume series based on the Revised Common Lectionary of the Church of England.

Lenten Devotion, March 31, 2015

Today’s Reading Matthew 26:36-56

HOLY WEEK: TUESDAY

Put this passage alongside the other time when Jesus took Peter, James and John away with him by themselves. In chapter 17, the four of them went up a mountain, and the disciples watched in amazement as Jesus was transfigured before them, shining with the glory of God and talking with Moses and Elijah. Now the same group of three are together in a garden, and the disciples watch in amazement as once again Jesus is transfigured, this time with the sorrow of God. Again, he is very much aware of the ancient scriptures which said it must be like this (verses 24, 54, 56).

This scene in Gethsemane is absolutely central to any proper understanding of who Jesus really was. It’s all too easy for devout Christians to imagine him as a kind of demigod, striding heroically through the world without a care. Some have even read John’s gospel that way, though I believe that is to misread it. But certainly Matthew is clear that at this crucial moment Jesus had urgent and agitating business to do with his father. He had come this far; he had told them, again and again, that he would be handed over, tortured and crucified; but now, at the last minute, this knowledge had to make its way down from his scripture- soaked mind into his obedient, praying heart. And it is wonderfully comforting (as the writer to the Hebrews points out) that he had to make this agonizing journey of faith, just as we do.

‘If it’s possible — please make it that I don’t have to drink this cup!’ The ‘cup’ in question, without a doubt, is the ‘cup of God’s wrath’, as in many biblical passages (Isaiah 51.17; Jeremiah 25.15, and elsewhere). Jesus was resolutely determined to understand this fateful moment in the light of the long scriptural narrative that he saw now coming to its climax in his death. But, precisely because of that, he realized in a new and devastating way that he was called to go down into the darkness, deeper than anyone had gone before, the darkness of one who, though he was the very son of God, would drink the cup which symbolized God’s wrath against all that is evil, all that destroys and defaces God’s wonderful world and his image-bearing creatures.

We can see this very process working its way out as the story unwinds. All the strands of evil in the world seem to rush together upon him. The power-seeking politics of the local elite. The casual brutality of imperial Rome. The disloyalty of Judas. The failure of Peter. The large systems which crush those in their way, and the intimate, sharply personal, betrayals. And everything in between, the scorn, the misunderstanding, the violence. The story is told in such a way that we see and feel, rather than just think about, the many different manifestations of evil in the world. Matthew invites us to see them all converging on Jesus. That is what this story is all about.

We are encouraged to see this scene, too, as somehow a revelation of the glory of God. It is one thing to be transfigured in the sense of shining with the dazzling light of God’s glory. It is another thing, perhaps equal if not greater, to be seen in agony, sharing the sorrow and pain of the world. Perhaps the two scenes need each other to be complete. Certainly our own pilgrimage, if we are faithful, will have elements of both. One of the reasons we read and reread this extraordinary story is because we know, in our deepest beings, that the scriptural story to which Jesus was obedient must be our story too. Matthew, telling us that Jesus’ disciples all forsook him and fled, wants us by contrast to stay the course, to see this thing through, to witness the glory of God in the suffering face of his crucified son.

TODAY

Teach us, good Lord, to watch with you in your suffering, that we may learn also to see your glory.

We would like to thank SPCK Publishing for providing Lent for Everyone by Tom Wright. For more information, please visit their site: http://www.spckpublishing.co.uk/shop/lent-for-everyone-matthew/
Lent for Everyone is a devotional created and written by N.T. (Tom) Wright. For each day of Lent, there is a reading chosen from the Gospel of Matthew, plus a reflection by Wright. These readings have grown out of a project encouraging Lent reading in Northern England. This is the second in a three-volume series based on the Revised Common Lectionary of the Church of England.

Lenten Devotion, March 30, 2015

Today’s Reading Matthew 26:14-35

HOLY WEEK: MONDAY

Some of the sharpest, most bitter arguments the church has ever had have been about the meaning of the meal which Jesus shared with his friends the night before he died, and of the similar meals his friends have shared ever since. In the sixteenth century, in particular, these arguments exploded in several directions as Christians accused one another of perverting or even undermining altogether the point and purpose of this meal.

That is tragic, of course, but the present passage indicates that we should not after all be surprised. The story of Jesus sharing the bread and the wine, in those four brief verses 26—29, is surrounded by the discussion of the betrayal that was about to happen (verses 14—16, 20—25) and the warning that all the disciples would abandon him, and that Peter, particularly, would deny him (verses 30—35). Perhaps it is always so.

Perhaps, whenever something truly and massively important is afoot, it becomes the place where attack is concentrated, where Jesus’ friends will be distracted by so many immediate muddles and concerns that they risk missing the glorious thing that stands quietly in the centre, the gleaming diamond in the middle of the rubbish-heap.

And diamond it is — with many facets, reflecting light all around. This meal, this Passover-with-a-difference, was the way Jesus chose to explain to his followers what his death was all about. They hadn’t understood what he’d said to them up to this point, but this meal, and their repeating of it there- after, would soak it deep down into their imaginations. What you do, and particularly what you eat and drink, changes the way you think and feel. Jesus wanted them, and us, to know at a level much deeper than mere theory that his death was the true Passover, the time when God acted to rescue his people from slavery once and for all, and that we are not merely spectators but participants and beneficiaries. When we come to the table, as Paul said to the Corinthians, we truly share in his body and blood (1 Corinthians 10.16). We are shaped and formed, together and individually, as Passover-people, as rescued-from-slavery people, as dying- with-Jesus people.

For a community to be formed and shaped in that way is perhaps the most powerful thing that can happen to a group of people. Again, that’s why it’s so easy to distort it, to allow squabbles and muddles and even betrayals and denials to creep in and spoil it. Sometimes the church has made its sharing of this meal into such a wonderful work of art that everyone is thinking about how clever the art is rather than about how awesome Jesus is. Other Christians have over-reacted to this, and come to the meal, when they have to, almost casually or flippantly, like someone whisking through an art gallery with a cheerful comment about the pretty paintings. We all need, constantly, to find our way back into the heart and meaning of this meal. As Jesus makes clear in verse 29, this meal is the prelude to the coming of the kingdom — which must mean that Jesus himself, and Matthew in shaping his gospel the way he has, saw his death, interpreted in this Passover-fashion, as the final act of kingdom-bringing.

Certainly that is the implication of 28.18. Jesus’ death is the final overthrow of the powers of darkness, which is why his resurrection then establishes him as the one who has all authority in heaven and on earth. However puzzled we may be (if all this is anywhere near the truth, we should hardly expect to understand such a huge and mysterious thing straight off), we are called to share the meal, to stay focused on Jesus as the rescuer, the kingdom-bringer, and so to encourage one another to be kingdom-people. To be Jesus-people.

TODAY

Help us, gracious Lord, to come to your table in gratitude and love, that we may be formed into your people and be strengthened in your service.

We would like to thank SPCK Publishing for providing Lent for Everyone by Tom Wright. For more information, please visit their site: http://www.spckpublishing.co.uk/shop/lent-for-everyone-matthew/
Lent for Everyone is a devotional created and written by N.T. (Tom) Wright. For each day of Lent, there is a reading chosen from the Gospel of Matthew, plus a reflection by Wright. These readings have grown out of a project encouraging Lent reading in Northern England. This is the second in a three-volume series based on the Revised Common Lectionary of the Church of England.

Lenten Devotion, March 29, 2015

Today’s Reading Psalm 31:9-16

HOLY WEEK: PALM SUNDAY

I have on my shelves a Bible that my grandfather used when he was a student, a hundred or so years ago. It’s good to have that sort of contact with earlier generations, but what pleases me particularly is being able to see how he read it, what was important to him in it. Here are his underlinings of particular passages. Here are the things he scribbled in the margins. When I remember him from my boyhood, he comes across as a cheerful, outdoor, friendly man. All that was true. But here, in his private jottings, I trace something of the inner man, and how he became who he was.

That is a small window on what we ought to think and feel as we read the Psalms and think of Jesus. It’s passages like this that make it obvious; but really we should sense, all through the Psalter, his quiet presence, inhabiting the ancient traditions of his people, pondering and praying through the joys and the sorrows, reflecting on the portrait of the coming king, agonizing over the constant refrain of sorrow and exile. Here, if we listen carefully, we trace something of how Jesus became who he was. ‘Even though he was the Son,’ says an early Christian writer, ‘he learned obedience by what he suffered’ (Hebrews 5.8). And, as we read the Psalms, we realize how he learned that obedience. His own praying had been formed by these poems. We are privileged to pray them with him, sensing his presence as we do so.

It would be good to read the whole Psalm, of course, not just these central eight verses. According to Luke (23.46), Jesus prayed verse 5 (‘into your hand I commit my spirit’) as he hung dying on the cross. The opening of the Psalm sets the agony of the central passage into the context of a rock-bottom trust in God, despite all that the world can do. The closing passage, too, celebrates God’s continuing and abundant goodness and protection. But here, in the middle, we find the passage which meant that, when Jesus was plotted against, whispered about, picked up by the soldiers, laughed at, spat at, abandoned by his friends, he knew this didn’t mean he had somehow fallen out of God’s hands. It didn’t mean he had taken a wrong turn.

This lesson is vital for the church as a whole and for every individual Christian. Of course, it is possible to take a wrong turn and suffer the consequences. It’s no use quoting these verses if you have rebelled and gone your own way, and find yourself in a mess as a result. The right thing then is to repent and get back on course as quickly as possible. But if, so far as you know, you have faithfully trusted and followed, and then find yourself in this kind of distress, lonely and misunderstood, it may be that this is simply part of your particular call to join in the prayer of Jesus, the suffering of Jesus, so that his life and joy may also be revealed in you and through you. Read 2 Corinthians 4 and see how one very early Christian came to exactly this conclusion, using the Psalms to help him.

And when the church as a whole finds itself in difficulties — lack of money, mocked in the media, perplexed about what to do next — that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s taken a wrong turn, either. Of course, scandals and divisions are shameful. It is all too possible for the church to get it horribly wrong. When that happens it must say sorry, to God and to everyone who’s been affected. But sometimes God’s people as a whole are called to follow their Lord through the darkness as well as into the light. That’s why the Psalms remain indispensable in our public worship as well as our private prayer.

TODAY

Thank you, gracious Lord, that we can share your own prayer as we go through the darkness. Help us this coming week to stay close to you and to share your faith and hope.

We would like to thank SPCK Publishing for providing Lent for Everyone by Tom Wright. For more information, please visit their site: http://www.spckpublishing.co.uk/shop/lent-for-everyone-matthew/
Lent for Everyone is a devotional created and written by N.T. (Tom) Wright. For each day of Lent, there is a reading chosen from the Gospel of Matthew, plus a reflection by Wright. These readings have grown out of a project encouraging Lent reading in Northern England. This is the second in a three-volume series based on the Revised Common Lectionary of the Church of England.

Lenten Devotion, March 28, 2015

Today’s Reading’s Matthew 26:14-75; Matthew 27:1-66

WEEK 5: SATURDAY

It isn’t me, is it?

The great story, well known yet little known, bursts upon us

in a deeply disturbing scene: friends at the table discovering that one of them is to be a traitor. We often wonder what it was that made Judas do it. Perhaps we should also ask what it was that held the others back. They, like Judas, had misunderstood so much. They still didn’t realize what it was Jesus had to do. There is a worried humility about their question which we would do well to imitate as we approach the narrative of Jesus’ last moments, such a horribly public scene of torture and death and yet such an intimate portrait of him and those closest to him. To read this story casually, glancing through and reminding ourselves of its main outline, is to trivialize and so to misread it, like hearing a great piece of music played at ten times the proper speed. Read it with the question in mind, ‘Lord, it isn’t me, is it?’ and see what answer you get.

Because it is me — and you, and all of us. We are all here somewhere. We have all been loyal and yet disloyal. We have all wanted to do the right thing and then run away when the go- ing got tough. We have all colluded with injustice, stayed silent when we should have spoken out, and then perhaps blurted out some give-away remark when we should have shut up. And we have all stood by scenes of sorrow and tragedy, not knowing what to say or do but feeling that somehow, if only, we could or should have prevented it.

And, maybe, some or even many of us have, in time past, looked at Jesus and decided he was mad, crazy, a deluded fanatic. ‘You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!’ Many have hurled insults at Jesus; the worst, perhaps, is to patronize him by saying what a fine moral teacher he was, as though he was simply trying to be another Socrates and unfortunately got mixed up in local Jewish politics and religion. ‘Lord, is it me?’ If it is, or has been, then stay with that memory for a bit. Find yourself in the story, wherever you are.

Only then, perhaps, can we ask the question in a different way. Because from the earliest days of the church’s life the followers of Jesus told this story for another reason. The story of Jesus became their story, in the sense that they believed they had died with Jesus; they had suffered with him, been crucified with him, been buried with him. Somehow — and this mystery lies at the very heart of authentic Christian experience — they believed, and knew it to be true because of the utter difference it made to life, that through baptism and faith they were living in Jesus, and he was living in them. ‘Lord — is it me? Is it me, facing misunderstanding and betrayal? Is it me, praying in agony, being arrested, tried and unjustly condemned, abandoned by my friends, mocked, beaten up, stripped and hung up to die in shame?’ As we read this story in faith, we should hear the answer, life-transforming as it is: ‘Yes, it is you. This is who you now are. You are not the person you once were. You are the person to whom all this has happened. This is how your life is now to be shaped and directed. You are in me, and I am in you. You have died; your life is hidden, with me, in the life of God himself.’

All this, of course, is straight out of St Paul (another much misunderstood man). When he speaks of being ‘in Christ’, this is basically what he means. Jesus, the Messiah, died on the cross; you are ‘in him’, part of his family; therefore you died with him, were nailed to the cross with him, were buried with him. This is who you now are.

Yes, there is more. Easter and all that follows gives a further dimension. But take one thing at a time. It is through Jesus’ crucifixion, Matthew insists, that he becomes what he was born to be: the saviour (1.21). And this is how he does it: by extending his arms on the cross, enfolding us in that God-with-us embrace, and bringing us with him through death into a whole new life.

TODAY

Thank you, loving Lord. Thank you.

We would like to thank SPCK Publishing for providing Lent for Everyone by Tom Wright. For more information, please visit their site: http://www.spckpublishing.co.uk/shop/lent-for-everyone-matthew/
Lent for Everyone is a devotional created and written by N.T. (Tom) Wright. For each day of Lent, there is a reading chosen from the Gospel of Matthew, plus a reflection by Wright. These readings have grown out of a project encouraging Lent reading in Northern England. This is the second in a three-volume series based on the Revised Common Lectionary of the Church of England.

Lenten Devotion, March 27, 2015

Today’s Reading Matthew 26:1-13

WEEK 5: FRIDAY

Time to become a fly on the wall again, this time in a little house just two or three miles east of Jerusalem. If you’re in the old city of Jerusalem first thing in the morning, the chances are that when the sun rises it will come up right through Bethany, the village in question.

The word ‘Bethany’ means, most likely, ‘house of the poor’. There is some evidence that it was a place where some of the poorest people could be cared for. And it was a place where Jesus had close friends, Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus. On this occasion, though, he was in a different house, that of ‘Simon the leper’ — presumably a cured leper, or he wouldn’t be living in the village at all. Let’s join the gathering and see what happens.

Everyone is excited because it’s Passover time. After what Jesus did in Jerusalem the other day, they’re all wondering what’s coming next. Is he going to make another move? Is he going to give the signal for a serious uprising? He has secret contacts all over the place; are they getting swords and clubs ready for action?

The meal that evening is in full swing, when suddenly one of the women comes in. Normally women didn’t join the men; it wasn’t the done thing. So that’s a shock for a start. But then — you shrink back in embarrassment — she’s bringing a jar full of ointment, and she begins to pour it out, all over Jesus’ head! You smell the delicious aroma, above the various smells of the meal, and you watch the mixture of delight and dismay on everyone’s faces. What a wonderful smell; but what on earth is she up to?

Then some of Jesus’ followers, perhaps expressing complex social discomfort as much as real concern, start complaining. You can see their point. Here we are in a place set aside to look after the poor, and you go pouring out a month’s wages just like that? What can you be thinking about?

There is a pause. The woman looks down, ashamed at being told off and yet still pleased to have done what she did. Everyone waits. There’s only one person who can settle this.

Jesus speaks. ‘What’s your problem?’ he asks. ‘This was a good thing she’s done. As for the poor, there will be plenty of time to look after them; but you haven’t got long to look after me. You know what she’s done? She has prepared my body for burial!’

A horrified gasp goes round the room, but Jesus goes on: ‘Let me tell you this! Wherever the good news is announced, right around the world, what she has done will be told. That will be her memorial.’

Now the emotions are truly mixed. The woman is both thrilled at Jesus’ affirmation and distraught at the mention of burial. People look this way and that. Does he actually mean it? I know he’s been talking about the Son of Man being crucified, but we all assume — or we hope — that that’s just a way of talking about a time of great struggle and suffering. If he is actually going to die, what good news will there be to tell around the world? How does that make any sense?

Jesus may or may not have known, but he will certainly have guessed, that after his actions in the Temple the chief priests would be looking for a chance to kill him. What none of the disciples yet realized is that, for Jesus, this was not only the direct and foreseeable result of his whole kingdom- mission. It was the means by which that mission would be accomplished.

You are left in a corner of the room with one or two friends, puzzling it over, wondering what to do next. Pause there awhile and listen to what the others are saying. Then imagine that Jesus himself comes over, pulls up a chair, and starts to talk a bit more, to you in particular. What’s he going to say?

TODAY

Lord Jesus, give us wisdom to understand your strange vocation, and to tell your good news throughout the world.

We would like to thank SPCK Publishing for providing Lent for Everyone by Tom Wright. For more information, please visit their site: http://www.spckpublishing.co.uk/shop/lent-for-everyone-matthew/
Lent for Everyone is a devotional created and written by N.T. (Tom) Wright. For each day of Lent, there is a reading chosen from the Gospel of Matthew, plus a reflection by Wright. These readings have grown out of a project encouraging Lent reading in Northern England. This is the second in a three-volume series based on the Revised Common Lectionary of the Church of England.