Ascension Sunday

John 17:1
When Jesus had said this, He lifted His eyes to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify your son, so that the son may glorify you.’

            We are coming to the end of some restrictions, my parents are looking forward to the day they can come down and see our son again, and some of you are looking forward to these reunions too. But we are also coming to the end of this Easter season, this season of joy, Christ is risen, Hallelujah! He has come to teach and prepare His disciples for His mission to the world, and yet 3 days ago He ascended to His throne in Heaven, ruling over all with authority. Now the eleven wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit before they go into the world, growing the church in our green season of Pentecost. The preparation is coming to an end, soon you will have to work and work hard for the Kingdom of Christ Jesus your Lord.

           To answer those who ask why are you a Christian? Where is your God? Even your own questions and doubts. To love those near you, to love Christians around the world and to show the love of Christ to those in need; how are the homeless fairing? How are the other countries around the world? What can you do to bring the love and hope of Christ to those people, and to our own backyard? Your work as a Christian, to speak God’s Word and to serve as did Jesus the son (1 Peter 4:11). That the Father’s name, His reputation, may be glorified, may be kept holy, by those inside and outside the church because of what you do and say; just as we pray in our Lord’s Prayer, ‘hallowed by your name’ (Matthew 6:9). Jesus here speaks with His Father and ours, ‘Glorify your son that the son may glorify you’.

            That night when He was betrayed, Jesus taught the disciples about who He was so that they may have peace. Jesus is God together with the Father, this is part of our understanding of the Holy Trinity; that the Holy Spirit will come to walk alongside us, to bring us into Christ, into the love of the Trinity; and that we love each other, keeping and guarding His Word, command and promise. A lot to take in, 3 chapters, about 100 verses, packed when we normally just hear 10 or so a Sunday. And that night, I don’t think they really got it because they scattered at His arrest. Yet Jesus after teaching and preparing them with the Word of God, turned His attention to our Heavenly Father; … God’s Word then prayer, I wonder when in the week we do that … but now is the time for teaching, soon is the time for prayer.

            Remember John wrote this gospel so that you might believe that Jesus is the promised messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have eternal life in Him (John 20:31). And here in this prayer, Jesus tells you, eternal life is to know the Father as the only true God and, just as John wrote, to know Jesus Christ whom He sent. This Jesus who prays for you, on your behalf, even though He knows you may reject Him as the disciples did that night, that you may forget His words, His promises. Thanking God for the eleven, He is also thanking God for you, that in you Jesus is glorified! You do know Jesus, baptised into Him by the Holy Spirit, you have been taught the faith and continue to hear the Word of God; you come and hold Him, taking Him into yourself in the bread and wine, Christ coming to refresh you as part of His body, Christ in you, you in Him; you keep His Word, His commands and promises, confessing the truth of what you have done, just like Peter recognising his sin yet not despairing but turning back to Jesus, confessing, repenting and receiving Christ’s mercy; even though we fail like the eleven, we trust Jesus Word, guarding it, keeping His commands, and we return to be strengthened to love again, to be prepared for the work He has for us; and in all this have peace and trust Jesus’ true prayer, that the Father answers when Jesus asked that He guards you in His name, so that we may be united to Jesus and each other, united in eternal life and strengthened, prepared to live it out.

            So as you go out today, as we prayer; the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts in Christ Jesus, through all trials and tribulations. Amen.

Rev Joseph Graham.

Sixth Sunday of Easter

The Text: John 14:15-21

 

JOHN 14:15(Jesus said) “If you love me, you will treasure my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father and he will give you another counsellor who will be with you forever: 17the Spirit of Truth whom the world is not able to receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you do know him because he is beside you and will dwell within you. 18I will not send you away as orphans; I am coming to you. 19Yet a little while and the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Because I live you also will live. 20In that day you will know that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you. 21Whoever has the commands of me and guards them; he is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father and I will love them and reveal myself to them.

“Seeing is believing!” That is the creed of today’s society that wants to see some verifiable evidence before placing trust in whatever the promise or proposition is, ranging from business deals to purchases we make and relationships entered into or ended, right through to the smorgasbord of claims and promises made in the area of spirituality too. Some years ago there was an article posted on the internet entitled ‘God does not exist and religion is a fairy tale for suckers.’ As the basis for their assertion, the person wrote:

“Please, please, please…give me the power to be God for just five minutes! You wouldn’t recognize the place!…no disease!…no poverty!…no crime!…no hunger!…no suffering!…no crack, no heroin, no tobacco!…no evil people running everything!…no ignorance!…no war!…no murder!…no rape!…no racism or discrimination!…no exploitation!”

Of course this isn’t really anything new. The human race says “I’ll believe that God is real when I see demonstrable proof and evidence—because evil is seen so regularly, then there cannot be a God.” But to assert that evil is proof that God doesn’t actually exist raises a greater problem―what sort of existence would it be where human beings, and the world we live in, is the product of random chance? If there is no God, what hope do we have living in an existence in which sin, evil and chaos rule unrestrained, devoid of the hope and means of deliverance from this situation?

The person who posted this internet article asserts there is no God based on what they can see. There’s another problem with this―if the evil we see is the evidence that God doesn’t exist, then the overarching moral code of the Bible becomes redundant, and to remain living under it is therefore viewed as an imposition. So instead, the self becomes the final authority to determine what is right and good. We should put no other gods above ourselves, for to do so is restraining freedom. But unrestrained freedom is a false freedom; in fact it is slavery, bondage to the self where we do whatever we want to feel good or feel safe or feel in control and preserve ourselves, even when that is damaging to others, and damaging to ourselves. Unrestrained freedom is actually the source of evil.

In our Gospel reading today we hear of humanity’s need for the one true saving God. Jesus says “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” The word for ‘obey’ here in its fullest sense means ‘guard’; ‘hold dear’, ‘treasure’. “If you love me, you will treasure what I command.” But not everyone does treasure what Jesus’ commands. If we are honest with ourselves, all of us, at one time or another, does not treasure or guard what Jesus commands. We find ourselves listening to our own hearts and reason rather than the words of Jesus, and as a human race that has been the case since Adam and Eve fell to the temptation in the Garden of Eden to treat God’s word indifferently too: Did God really say?

God dealt with the problem of sin and evil by taking it upon himself in the Person of Christ. That is why Jesus says to the disciples in today’s text: “Yet a little while and the world will no longer see me”. He is about to go to the Cross and die to make atonement for the world’s sin. He is about to go to the Cross where God judged evil and sin in his own Son in order to redeem the world from it. It is there that the innocent Son of God personally experienced and absorbed the full devastation of human injustice and wicked depravity, to save us from ourselves and God’s just sentence of death upon us as sinners. That is a truth that is painful for us to hear―but not as painful as what Jesus endured for our sakes, in order to redeem us and make us his own.

Most don’t see God in human flesh hanging there on the Cross. Our natural condition means that humans can’t. When people look at Jesus on the Cross perhaps they see a good man, or even a social revolutionary. Or perhaps just a poor man, the victim of cruel circumstances, powerless to help himself. Or perhaps they see a troublemaker who actually deserved the treatment given to him, worthy of the mocking from those passing by: “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the Cross and save yourself!’ In the same way the Chief Priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves: ‘He save others’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the Cross, that we may see and believe.’” (Mark 15:29-32). Yeah, that’s it. Come down, do something spectacular that we can see…then we will believe.

In today’s text Jesus said to his disciples: “A little while and the world will no longer see me.” The world will not see him…but they will see him. They will see him after his resurrection. They will see him as he reveals himself to them through the breaking of bread. They will see him as he comes to stand with them and proclaim his peace to them while they gather in a locked room. They will see him as he eats breakfast on the shore. They will see him…not just with their eyes but with their hearts and minds as he is with them. They will see him again: “I will not send you away as orphans; I am coming to you” (verse 18).

And he makes another promise to them: And I will ask the Father and he will give you another counsellor who will be with you forever: the Spirit of Truth whom the world is not able to receive because it neither sees him nor knows him” (verses 16-17). But they will know him. They will know him—the Holy Spirit is not some kind of vague force or impersonal power. He is the third Person of the Triune God. Some versions translate him as ‘the Paraclete’ but there isn’t really any particular English word that sufficiently captures what the original word ‘parakletos’ (pronounced par-a-clay-tos) means. Literally it is ‘one called to the side of’. Some of our English translations say ‘Comforter’ or ‘Counsellor’ and the Holy Spirit is both of those things, giving us counsel and comfort as he leads us into all truth. Another sense is that of an ‘advocate’—someone who speaks in support and defense of another. This is true too, as he stands beside us, defending us from the accusations of the law, others, and Satan himself who accuses God’s people day and night before God (Revelation 12:10). Jesus says that “the world cannot accept this One who walks beside, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”

Jesus promises them that the Holy Spirit will be their other Paraclete―their other advocate, counsellor and comforter. Their other one called to be by their side and to dwell in them. The first is Jesus himself: “I am not sending you away as orphans. I am coming to you.” The disciples will have Jesus and the Holy Spirit walking with them, guiding them, comforting them, leading them, ministering to them. These promises are first of all to the disciples as they give the apostolic testimony handed down to us today. Though the world does not see or know Jesus and the Spirit, they do, and will, and through the words the Spirit guided them to write, this promise is true for you too as he comes to you with his grace, mercy, forgiveness and salvation in baptism, Holy Communion, the absolution, the word, the liturgy.

In our first reading, we heard of the religious marketplace of Athens, the multitude of idols worshipped. Just to make sure they had all bases covered there was an altar with the inscription “To an unknown God”. Jesus promises the disciples in today’s text: “I will ask the Father and he will give you another counsellor who will be with you forever: the Spirit of Truth whom the world is not able to receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you do know him because he is beside you and will dwell within you.” God is so unknown to most people today―people who look for proof: “If I see God, then I will believe”.

But you do know the God unknown by the world. You have received that which the world is unable to receive―the gift of the Holy Spirit. Your Heavenly Father has sent him to be your counsellor to guide you into all truth so that you treasure the words of Christ―the whole of Scripture. Your Heavenly Father has sent his Holy Spirit to be your helper, your guide, to walk with you and stand by you and empty every accusation against you of its condemning power. He is not like idols of gold or silver or stone and he does not live in temples made by hands. But he lives in the temple he made with his hands—you: “…you know him because he is beside you and will dwell within you”.

The Holy Spirit is beside you and dwells within you together with Christ and his Father who sent him to die on the Cross and shed his precious blood to ransom you, that you would be his very own and have a dwelling place in heaven forever. Through the power of the Holy Spirit you know the God whom the world does not know. You don’t just know about God but you know God, personally, relationally, as he shares his own life and blessings with you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

That is how, when you look around and are tempted to see only abominable evil and heart-wrenching suffering, that we can be sure God is a loving God. For the Cross is where you see that God went to incomprehensible lengths for you, to punish such evil that is part of the human condition, and free you from your own sin and death, so that you will not be left orphaned in the world but have a room in your Heavenly Father’s mansion. His mighty resurrection, which you share in through baptism, is how you know his promise is true for you: “Because I live, you also will live”. Because God has given you faith to believe in your Saviour Jesus Christ, then one day you will see him with the angels and all the other saints in glory, forever. Amen.

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Psalm 23

Psalm 23 has been called the best loved song in all literature, with the best known opening line. It has been treasured both at life’s happiest occasions, like weddings, and on the saddest occasions, like funerals. For three thousand years, these priceless words have lifted the spirits of the depressed, comforted and assured the suffering and sick, and enriched the lives of all who know it by heart. Even people who say “I’m not very religious”, generally know the 23rd Psalm. It is personal. “The Lord is MY Shepherd”. “My” is a lover’s sweetest and most exultant word as each looks into the other’s face and says “You’re mine”.

As this psalm is read to hospital patients, one can see how they hang onto every word. Every word is written out of deep love for the Lord, and also out of many years of experiencing the Lord’s liberating love just when it is most needed. These are the words of a believer who has been through many bitter battles, with their faith now stronger than ever. The words of our psalmist arouse in us feelings of being provided for, cared for and protected. We Christians cannot help but refer these reassuring words to Christ, our Good Shepherd. We cannot read it without thinking about our Good Shepherd who treasures every single one of us, so much so that he laid down his life for us.

The longer we live, the more we learn that Jesus is the one thing needful. We can say “I shall not want” because our good Lord provides us with all we really need for time and for eternity. “Green pastures” reminds us of how our Lord provides us with more, much more than we need to stay alive. Green is the most restful of all colours, and the most hopeful. Green implies showers of rain as well as sunshine. We need both, don’t we? Green symbolises growth – growth in faith and love. “The best evidence of life is growth.” “Still waters” are restful waters. Sheep won’t lie down until they feel safe and secure. They fear fast-flowing water.

Our Good Shepherd orders our stops as well as our steps. People have often said after being laid abed due to an illness: “I needed that rest”. Jesus knows better than anyone else the burdens of work pressures and busy schedules you carry. That’s why he invites you: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).” Christianity is about BEING as well as doing. “BE still and know that I am God”, the Lord says to you. “In quietness and in trust shall be your strength”, God’s Word says to you. We pray in the words of a hymn: “Lord, take from our lives the strain and stress, and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of your peace.” He has made us for himself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in him.

Our Good Shepherd is in the “restoration” business. He’s a restoration specialist. Your Lord is deeply concerned when you wander away from his fold. When he hears us confess: “We have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep”, he delights in restoring our souls and welcoming us back into his arms. No lost sheep is too hard for him to restore. After our souls have been battered by the knocks and setbacks of everyday life, the grace of Christ our caring Shepherd gives them new vigour and vitality. “As your days, so shall your strength be.” How tenderly Jesus restored Peter at Easter. Life was new and fresh again. Peter’s love for our Lord was re-ignited. As we say “yes” to Christ’s question: “Do you love me?” we sense him restoring our souls again. We sometimes wonder about the direction of our lives. Today’s Psalm reassures us that our Lord leads us in the way that is right for us.

Psalm 23 is so deeply treasured also because of its realism. It doesn’t only record life’s sunny days. In verse 3, the initial picture of robust contentment is followed by a more sombre picture. An experience all of us must face is mentioned: “the valley of the shadow of death”. Faith enables us to face life’s grim realities with unflinching frankness. This valley is a symbol of life’s uncertain nature. It includes the valley of disappointment, depression and disease. Disease, disability or illness reminds us of our mortality. “Death” here includes the death of a friendship or marriage, a skill or talent, as well as of a loved one. We have the re-invigorating assurance that our Lord has experienced death before us, for us, and now offers us a share in his victory over death. What a comfort it is to know we don’t have to go through it alone.

“For you are with me” (v4) is the climax of the Psalm. Faith triumphantly affirms: “YOU ARE WITH ME”. We stake everything on our Lord’s promise: “I am with you always”, even when, and especially when, you feel otherwise. As threatening as the circumstances in our lives often appear, we trust a Shepherd who is greater than them. On the other side of our dark valley, the sun is shining.

The mother of a child dying of cancer taught her son the 23rd Psalm. She had him repeat: “The Lord is my Shepherd” by counting these five words on his fingers, starting with his thumb. His ring finger was the word “my”. When he got to that word, she taught him to hold that finger in his fist, signifying his relationship with Jesus. When her son died, he was found holding his ring finger. He died in the arms of the Good Shepherd.

We fear no evil because he comforts us with the gracious promises in his Word. To be comforted by Christ is to be fortified. Comfort concerns strength through companionship. We needn‘t face any of life’s battles on our own. Where his words of comfort are remembered, Christ is truly present.

In the Table he has prepared for us, the Lord’s Supper, he reassures us of his creative and transforming presence. We meet enemies that seek to undermine or destroy our faith, enemies like temptation, apathy, envy, bitterness, resentment, the Devil, and despair. In Holy Communion, we receive protection from these enemies. The Lord’s Table keeps our faith safe and strong. Luther said: “If you knew how many fiery darts the Devil is shooting at you, you’d run to the Lord’s Table every chance you got.” In Holy Communion, our Good Shepherd prepares us for trials and temptations of the coming week, and for the life of the world to come. The Bible calls the Holy Communion cup, the “cup of blessing”. Who can calculate all the blessings we’ve received from our participation in the Lord’s Supper? In Holy Communion, we’ve received our Lord’s liberating love, peace such as the world can never give us, and an infectious hope.

Our world needs cheerful faces that banish gloom and exude hope. We don’t have to sulk in the corner, trying to lick our wounds. Holy Communion is a healing medicine that soothes our wounds and cheers our spirits. This Sacrament “anoints” our faces so that they radiate with the presence of our Good Shepherd.

“Anointing’ is an act of honour and recognition. Our Lord gives us himself from “the Table he has prepared for us”, to acknowledge that we are his “sheep” whom he loves and treasures so much. That’s why his goodness and mercy “pursue” us, rather than just “follow” us – that’s what the original Hebrew word really means; they surround us all the days of our life. His mercy is as near to us as our plea: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”. His mercy meets us at every turn of our lives.

No wonder the psalmist wants to keep returning to the House of the Lord forever. The Hebrew word “dwell” also means “return to”, just as we keep returning to our homes. David doesn’t man that, in this life, he wants to stay permanently in God’s House. Rather, he’s passionately affirming that the Lord’s House is his true home on earth. We remember David more for the way his psalms have enriched our worship and devotion to God than as king. “My love for your House burns in me like a fire”, David sings in Psalm 69:9. Worshipping the Lord in the House of the Lord was the greatest joy and delight of David’s life. In the presence of the Lord, David tells us, “there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11)”, a joy we experience in part now, and in all its fullness and richness forevermore in heaven.

Because Christ, our Good Shepherd treasures you so dearly, he takes care of you more than you could be aware of or imagine.

            O Good Shepherd, bread life-giving,

            As we turn to Thee, believing,

            Guard and feed us evermore;

            Thou on earth our weakness guiding,

            We in heaven with Thee abiding,

            With all saints will Thee adore.    Amen.

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Sermon for Easter 5 (Mothers’ Day) 

The Text: John 14: 1-14

A Place prepared

 

Clean sheets on the spare bed. check.
House clean and tidy. check.
Plenty of Food in the house. check
Yep ready for the visitors to arrive.

Is that something you do to prepare for visitors to come and stay with you? A special meal, the spare bed has clean fresh sheets, and the house is tidied? It is special when children who have grown and left home, come home. For a mother, it is a joyous occasion when all the family are together and are at peace with one another.

Depending on where the children are geographically, there may be different ways they can travel to come home. Even when we go to places there is generally more than one way to take to reach a destination. If there is a more scenic way to get to a destination, sometimes that is a better wat than to travel on a major highway.

We can’t do that at the moment. We aren’t allowed to travel. We can’t be with our mother’s today if they live away from us. But that’s okay we can still connect with, phone, Facebook, Skype, email. Once this pandemic is over, once again we can go to their place.

Jesus tells about a place for us to go to today. He calls it his Father’s house. It’s a place where there is not just one spare room, but there are many rooms. But as Jesus says to Thomas, you can’t get there on your own. Jesus says: “I am the way”. To know Jesus is to know the Father. In the same way, the Father knows the ones who listen to the voice of Jesus, and follow him along the way.

It’s interesting that before early believers were called Christians they were called people who followed ‘The Way’.
Jesus fulfilled what the prophet Isaiah spoke of, “And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray”. (Isaiah 35:8).

How are we ever able to walk the way of holiness and be invited into our heavenly room that is prepared for us? For we know that daily we struggle with our humanity and its sinful desires. Rather than daily concentrate on the Holy life God desires of us, we follow our own ambitions.

The way to God was completely closed, and sin was the roadblock. It was like when the Israelites had been rescued out of Egypt they were filled with fear because they thought the way to freedom was blocked by the Red Sea as the Egyptian chariots were closing in behind them. It’s the same in our lives. If we think our way to freedom depends on us, then we fail to trust that Jesus has provided away for our freedom.

The way was blocked because of sin, but God wanted to rescue us from this world in which sin entered and blocked the way to the place where our Heavenly Father has these many rooms prepared. God could not simply excuse or overlook our sin and allow us to enter his place in our sinful state. Yes God is merciful, but He is also just. Justice requires that sin be paid for. At great cost, he himself paid that price.

God offers salvation to everyone who accepts it through faith in Jesus. Jesus describes this way as entering through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Perhaps the way through Jesus doesn’t look appealing enough or has too many restrictions. But in reality, the way through Jesus is bigger than you think, because God sent Jesus to save the world. It isn’t God’s fault that many don’t accept that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

We know the way to heaven by trusting in what Jesus has done for us and what he continues to do for us through his gifts to the Church. Our journey begins in Baptism. Through God’s Word and water Jesus dwells in our hearts through faith. Faith receives the promises of God and clings to Jesus as the true and only way. Faith receives Jesus as the way and rejects all other ways that are contrary to what God’s word says.

Just like a mother, God has a lot of love to give, even lots more. God’s love is an everlasting steadfast love that endures rejection, as he sees people go on a journey in other directions to fulfil their needs. However, through the Holy Spirit, God never stops trying to alert us if we go in the wrong direction.

It’s like when your TomTom or Navman tells you perform a U-turn where possible. What I really dislike about relying on GPS is when they try to take you down a road that isn’t there. It makes us end up feeling lost and not sure where I am. Then I need to back track to get on the right way.

Likewise, God gives us a conscience to alert us when we follow a way that leads away from his way. His ways are written on our hearts, and supported through his written word to show us his way.

When it comes to walking the way of holiness, it’s the way of repentance and forgiveness. Repentance because we fail to live holy lives and need to turn back and confess our failures to God. God hears our cries for mercy and forgives us for Jesus’ sake.

He is always waiting like a mother for her children to come home. One of the best images we have of this in the bible is the story of the prodigal son.

When Jesus says, “I am the Way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me” he is not meaning this to be a threat. Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, as a word of comfort.

They are a comfort for us as well, for we don’t need to panic and search for a hidden map or look for clues, or guess if we are on the road to salvation. It’s clear and simple. As Jesus says “Do not let your heart be troubled. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. If it were not so, I would have told you. I am going away to make a place for you. After I go and make a place for you, I will come back and take you with me. Then you may be where I am.”

A mother’s desire is to protect her children. Have you felt the anxious wait to see your children safely arrive home? You hope they will not get lost, but will follow the way that leads to you, to the place you have prepared for them. Sometimes things occur where as parents, as a mother, you need to go and bring your child to the safety of home.

This is what Jesus did for all of us. He came down from heaven into the world, where we were lost and heading in all sorts of directions and he shows the way home. His desire is for us to be where he is. There is no other way than the way Jesus paved at a great cost to himself.

He calls us to follow him with hearts that forgive, and have compassion. With hearts that welcome home into the family a child who had lost their way. With hearts that even go looking when we notice we haven’t seen them for a while.

It’s what a mother does for her child so she knows her child is safe.

It’s what Jesus does for us. There is only one true way to eternal life. That is the way of Jesus. Amen

Fourth Sunday of Easter

John 10:3b-4
The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.

            Hello out there, to you in your homes, or wherever you may be, do you hear me? One of the millions of voices in this world. We listen from the humble tin and string, radio, phone, TV and now the internet, we can hear each other from almost anywhere in the world. But then who do we listen to?

            Everyday thousands speak on what’s happening across the globe, with this virus, the economy, celebrities on the internet; and that’s just the morning news. There are so many voices in this world, so many people speaking, vying for our attention; How can you know who to listen to, to focus on, even be devoted to? In Christ’s ‘Good Shepherd’ speech our Lord and Saviour tells us. He says all those before were thieves and terrorists, He is the shepherd who calls His sheep and protects them. So we listen to the voice of Jesus, devote ourselves to God’s Word, because all those who came before are after their own benefit, the thieves, or seek revenge and destruction, the robbers. Of course there are others worth listening to, parents, teachers, friends, but we can still be wary of what we hear and to whom we listen. To keep an ear out for the voice of Jesus, the Word of God everyday, and how might we do that? To open up the bible a read, together if we can, the promises of forgiveness, love and new everlasting life; these that are yours in Christ Jesus. Just as those early Pentecost Christians devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, the New Testament, and to prayer together. That’s one of the reasons we set aside time every week to come together and hear God’s Word, especially from the Gospels. Also one of the reasons to mute everyone, so we can focus on what Jesus is telling us through the liturgy, through the readings and in this reflection on His Word.

            To hear the voice of your saviour, before Lent on transfiguration Sunday we heard the Father tell Peter, James and John, ‘this is my beloved Son, listen to Him’ (Luke 9:35). And as we heard from Acts, those who listened to the true words of God through Peter, baptised by the Holy Spirit, they devoted themselves to this new life in Christ. This is what this Easter season is for, to hear Jesus’ voice and receive our new life in Him. A life of love through Jesus, having heard the Word of God, as we have here today; forgiven, Jesus saves you and gives you new life. Hearing and receiving His love they respond with thanksgiving and devotion, love and faith toward God and His word, love and service to His people and those in need. A good example for us at this time, so as we hear His Word today, we respond. You are forgiven, we say amen, yes this is most certainly true. Everyday they met together with glad and sincere hearts (Acts 2:46), Thanks be to God. He bore our sins that we might die to sin and live for righteousness, again thanks be to God (1 Peter 2:24). He came that we and all who hear might have life everlasting and full, all praise to Jesus Christ! He tells us what is true, and we agree with that summary of the faith in the creed. We hear His voice and He hears ours in the prayers, our thanks and our requests, as we tell Him of what is happening in our lives and what wonderful things He has done. And at the end of this time of devotion to His voice and His devotion to us, He calls us out in peace, leading us out into the world; and of course we His sheep follow His voice.

So as you go out, and as you go in, the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, until not just hear His voice but see His glorious and loving face. Amen.

Joseph Graham.

Third Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:38-40
Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this warped generation.”

            Repent, be baptised, be saved. The divorce from sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise to you, your descendants and all who are distant. This is a summary of the apostles’ speech on the day of Pentecost, 50 days after Pascha, after the death and resurrection of our Lord. The Holy Spirit came down as fire on the apostles, brought them out of their fear, out of the room, and outside by His strength and courage. The Spirit gave them the words, and through their speech pierced the hearts of those listening, just as the Roman pierced the heart of Christ crucified. He revealed their state of death in sin, just as the spear proved Jesus had died, yet these still looked alive according to this warped world. They knew what had been done, how they had declared Jesus as king on the donkey, then called for His crucifixion. Now the Spirit revealed that the one they killed was none other than God himself, incarnate, the Messiah, the Lord over all things. How did they respond to this revelation? ‘What shall we do?’

            Their lives were shaken, turned upside-down, as have our lives been. Some of you might be asking still, what shall I do? Fortunately most all of us are still secure financially, if not please let us know, that we receive an opportunity to show the Love God has given. And yet our lives have changed because of this pandemic and global curfew; the way we live has changed because of something outside of us. You could say that the pandemic has made us repent, or in the Greek, change our minds. So now we ask that question, what will we do?

100 years ago the western world also was made to change its mind, to repent. Progressing to greater and greater feats, this war was supposedly to end all wars, and yet those dreams were shattered just like those men who fought. And further back to the ancient near east these Jews, who became this day our brothers, forefathers in the faith, were struck more centrally, shaken to the very ground, their heart, their core pierced, broken by the truth, God’s Word of Law, their minds were changed, they repented, as the Holy Spirit revealed this truth to them. A far greater change than what COVID19 has done, even than what WW1 did. So they ask, ‘What shall we do?’

Peter tells them, repent and be baptised in the name of Jesus into separation from your sin and failure, and you will receive the Holy Spirit. This day the Holy Spirit worked powerfully, joining with what Jesus had begun to do, bringing God’s Word to all these various peoples, piercing their hearts by revealing the truth, and now does He stop and tell us to save ourselves? No! He is the one who baptises 3000 who received Him and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. He is the one who affected the change, revealing the truth of our sin, we are crushed and broken. What can we do?

Of course many reject the truth, holding fast to their sin and this warped world, trying to force their mind to change back, turning not to God but back to their own sin and death. But for these Jews, the Holy Spirit was still working powerfully, they repented, changed their world view by the power of the Spirit and were baptised by Him into separation from their sin, receiving well the gift of the Holy Spirit, holding not to this world but to Jesus, the new creation, by the faith/trust given by the Holy Spirit. What shall we do? We shall live as who we are, in Jesus Christ, separated from sin, and healed no longer part of this sick and damaged world. As Peter wrote, your souls having been purified by obedience the truth into sincere brotherly love; born again of imperishable seed, through the living and abiding word of God (1 Peter 1:22-23). The Word of God reveals the truth of this world to you, just as Christ revealed Himself through the Old Testament on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:27, 32). You have been baptised by God, saved by Him, you can not save yourself, you do not baptise yourself, especially any here baptised as children. You are who God has made you to be, cling not to sin that has been taken from you, but rather cling to Jesus who is Lord and Christ.

            And as Christ Jesus Himself gave, the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.

Joseph Graham.

Second Sunday of Easter

The text: John 20:24-29 (ESV) 

24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

 Many people say: ‘seeing is believing’. In fact, they don’t just say it, they live it. Perhaps you do too. This means if someone told you something remarkable, you’d want to see it for yourself. Perhaps this means we reckon the sense of sight (and perhaps also the sense of touch) is the sense by which we judge truth. If we see it, or can touch it, we’ll believe it.
But this may also mean we won’t always believe what we hear (unless we can confirm by the senses of sight and touch that what we’ve heard is actually true).

 But what if seeing is not believing? Or to put it another way: we often want to see things because we don’t believe them.
For example, imagine you’re Thomas. For some reason you weren’t with the apostles on that night when Jesus came. You meet up with them later and they joyfully tell you of their experience of seeing the risen Lord Jesus among them. But you weren’t there! You didn’t see what they saw. So instead of believing the words of the apostles through your ears, you say you’re not going to believe unless you see him for yourself. You don’t believe your ears and want your eyes to confirm this truth.

 In fact, you’re not going to believe your ears and eyes unless you put your fingers on the nail marks on Jesus’ hands and thrust your hand into his speared side. Until you see and touch this news you’ve heard, you’re not going to believe. After all, don’t people say: ‘seeing is believing’!  But that’s the twist. You want to see because you don’t believe.

 I wonder if you can relate to Thomas. Of the remaining apostles, he was the only one not there. But you weren’t there either. You and I haven’t had the chance to witness our risen Lord for ourselves and use our senses of sight and touch to confirm the good news of his resurrection. None of us were in that locked room and saw the risen Jesus standing among us.

This is why we have this story in St John’s gospel account, because we weren’t there. This true story was written down for all who, like Thomas, weren’t in that room. In some ways, Thomas was fortunate in so far as Jesus came to him so he could confirm this truth of the resurrection eight days later, but what about us?

 We still haven’t been given the opportunity to see Jesus in the flesh and place our fingers into his wounds, and so we continue to struggle with our doubts and fears. No matter what we hear in God’s Word, we still demand to see or experience certain things before we believe. In this way, you and I are Thomas in this story. We’re Thomas whenever say or think such things like:

“Unless God answers my prayers the way I want him to, then I won’t believe.”

 “Unless I get something special out of worship today, then I don’t think this church is any good for me.”

 “Unless I feel something when I’m baptised, confirmed, or when I receive the Lord’s Supper, then I’ll question its validity.”

 “Unless I get what I want or expect, and can confirm it with my own senses of sight and sound and touch and taste and even with my emotions, then I won’t believe.”

 But these types of questions or statements means we only want to meet God on our own terms. It shows we’re struggling to believe. It shows we’re like Thomas. So, while we may believe, we ask God to help our unbelief!

 The strange thing about faith is it never stops in one place. While we’d like to think our faith will always increase and get better during our life; it doesn’t. It often wavers between faith and doubt; trust and suspicion. Some people expect that once you’re baptised, once you’re confirmed, once you’ve made a decision for Christ, or once you’ve received faith, then everything’s ok from that time on. But this isn’t true. At times we’ll be strong in our faith, but there will be times of doubt.

 For this reason we can also learn a lot from Thomas.

 When he doubted or struggled to believe, he didn’t dismiss or ignore the fellowship with his fellow disciples. He didn’t stay away, but came back into their little congregation to hear, see, and touch.

 We’re encouraged to do the same.

 We’re encouraged to hear the Word of God read and explained. We use our sense of hearing so we may listen for God speaking to us through the bible readings and the sermon.

We’re also encouraged to attend the Lord’s Supper where we use our senses of touch and taste as we receive our risen Lord’s body and blood on our fingers, on our lips, and on our tongue. But, while our senses of sight and touch and taste will tell us ‘this is simply bread and wine’, the Holy Spirit will ask our sense of hearing to be the more powerful sense so we may believe what we hear: That this is Jesus’ body and blood, given and shed for you and me.

 The fact is, a faith which doesn’t constantly look to our Lord Jesus Christ, and listen to him, will slowly die. A faith which refuses to come into his presence and receive his spiritual benefits will shrivel up. A faith which makes demands for proof of God’s love outside of the written Word, the cross of Christ, and his holy Sacraments, is in danger of leading to despair.

 This means if we want to see and experience Jesus on our own terms, or if we want to keep away from the place where his people meet, then we’re becoming an unbeliever. Then, just like Jesus said to Thomas, he says to you and me, ‘Stop doubting and believe’, or literally, ‘Stop becoming an unbeliever and become a believer’.

 This is why Thomas, in his time of doubt, went to the place where Jesus promised to be – with his people.

 In our own times of doubt we need to do the same, after all, we know Jesus promises to be wherever his people gather in his name. We know his Holy Spirit is present as we hear the Word of God read and proclaimed. We know Jesus promises to wash, adopt, forgive, and give new life to those who are baptised. We know Jesus promises his true body and blood is present on his holy Supper.

 Seeing isn’t always believing, because the demand to see is a sign of unbelief. On the other hand, believing is seeing. Faith instead gives us a greater sight so we may believe what we hear, despite what we see and don’t see.

 By believing what we hear, we see Jesus is our Lord and our God. We stand beside Thomas and see Jesus is more than just a man. By faith, we see Jesus is also the Son of God who came to suffer, die, and rise again for us so that, by believing, we may have life in his name.

 By believing what we hear, we can see God truly comes to us, hidden in times of simple worship to grant forgiveness, peace, and hope. He comes to challenge our unbelief and comfort us through his Spirit-filled words. He comes to wash us and claim us as his own people who will live with him forever. He comes and wraps his body and blood in humble bread and wine and offers them for us to eat and drink. He comes, hidden in the people joined to him through faith to love and care for us. He comes, sometimes despite our best efforts to lock him out.

 Yes, Thomas was blessed to see his Lord and Saviour in the flesh and use his senses of sight and touch. On the other hand, blessed are those who haven’t seen, yet still believe because they trust their sense of hearing.

 You and I are blessed because we believe what we’ve heard. Jesus is our Lord and God even though we haven’t seen him with our own eyes or touched him with our own fingers. And through faith in Jesus’ word our bodies will also be resurrected and we will see Jesus in heavenly glory forever. Amen.

Easter Sunday

The Text: Matthew 28:1-10

 

That first Good Friday must have seemed anything but good. Along with some other faithful followers, the two Marys had seen their Lord tortured and suffering in unthinkable agony. Mocked,humiliated and left to die. They sat on the sidelines and watched the life drain from His once strong body. The One who had spoken with such authority and hope, now lifeless and hanging on a cross. All their hopes were snuffed out just as surely as His life was. After taking His body down from the cross, they had done all they could. Hurriedly preparing Him for burial so they could observe the Sabbath, they left that garden tomb with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness.

And so when dawn breaks on the first day of the week, they tentatively make their way back to the tomb. Every step bringing them closer to the hopelessness they left behind on Friday. Every step bringing them closer to the tears and grief and despair they know is coming as they prepare themselves for the sadistic mocking that seems to come from every tomb and grave.

Jesus final words from the cross were ‘it is finished’. But to the ladies and to all who looked on, it seemed as though death had had the final word.

Isn’t that the way we experience life and death as well? Even as Christians we live out our days, knowing the hope that is ours in Christ, and yet every grave we visit seems to mock us. Every funeral we attend seems to taunt us to doubt the resurrecting power of Jesus Christ. Tempting us to despair, to heart break, to hopelessness. As long as we remain this side of eternity, the grave will always seem deceptively powerful. And now that he is defeated, the Devil will always try to convince you that it is the end. But today the Holy Spirit reveals the hidden truth for all who trust in Jesus for forgiveness. He reveals the divine reality that death is not strong enough to hold our Lord and so is no longer strong enough to hold any of us who have our lives in Him. Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed!] And because He is risen, death and the grave look completely different to us.

It’s not that we’re supposed to suddenly see death as a good thing. But in light of the Easter resurrection death is no longer the fiercesome enemy it once was. Jesus has made His way through death to life. In paying the penalty for our sins, He has broken death’s hold on us and transformed it into a doorway to eternity. As we live and even as we die, we can do so knowing that our Lord and Saviour has been through the valley of the shadow death and has come out the other side. He knows the way and has promised to be us to the very end of the age – and so He will even lead us through death to life. Because Jesus lives, because His tomb is empty, our graves are no longer the pits of hopelessness they once were.

Is there any better news than that? Why is it then, that most of the time our lives don’t seem any less filled with anxieties than the disciples’ were? If we know that Jesus is risen from the dead, if we know He has conquered our greatest enemies, why are we so often just as afraid, just as worked up, just as worried as the ladies were on that first Easter morning?

From our text it is clear that the reason the two Marys were despairing is the same reason our lives lose that resurrection joy and confidence shortly after the chocolate buzz wears off each Easter. And that reason is that we forget what Jesus has told us. You see when the ladies showed up at the tomb, we get all distracted by the fact that an angel spoke to them. But all that angel did was remind them of what Jesus had already said.

“Do not be alarmed”, the angel said, “I know who you’re looking for. Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified; nailed to the tree; taken down dead and carried right here! Well, ladies, you are lookin in the wrong place. He has risen. He is not here. He’s alive! You didn’t really think that death could hold Him down, did you? I mean, you knew Him! You saw what His Word could do. Off you go. Go tell His disciples that He is going ahead of you all to Galilee. You’ll see Him there, just as He told you.”

Just as He told you! If the ladies had simply remembered Jesus’ Word, they would have spared themselves a whole lot of heartache! But so often we forget what He has said, and even when we remember the words, we forget how reliable they are. Jesus’ promises come true no matter what. The problem lies with us forgetting or doubting what He has told us. Today we are encouraged to give up arguing with Jesus and believe and rejoice in what He tells us. You’ll find that every word of the Lord proves true. The ladies did, and when they remembered the words Jesus had told them, their fear of the unknown was now mixed with an overwhelming sense of joy. “Just as He told you.” How many of the anxieties and worries of our lives would evaporate if we always remembered what our Lord told us and what He has accomplished?

But, of course, wrapping your mind around the resurrection is no easy task when the reality of life starts to bite. Death and all sorts of other hassles seem to be the only things that are guaranteed in this world. We’re used to carrying each other to the grave. We’re used to saying “goodbyes” that are forever in this age. We’re used to trying to sort things out ourselves. Feeling responsible for our failures. Overwhelmed by the sin and shame that still weighs us down. Feeling condemned that even after celebrating a life time of Easters, you still don’t have your act together.

But remember what Jesus has told you. Remember what His word declares has taken place over these three holy days. He is the Resurrection and the Life, whoever believes in Him, even though they die, will live forever. He came not for the healthy, not for those who had their act together, but for the sick and stumbling like you and me. He has swallowed up your sin and shame and left it lifeless in the tomb. His blood has washed you clean as snow and He has promised to keep you in true faith as you simply listen to Him. Jesus has conquered death and the grave and is risen to reign eternally for you

Listen to these words of the risen One. He told us that death couldn’t hold Him – and He was right! And He tells us that He will meet us today to fills us with His resurrection blessings as He comes to us in bread and wine. At the altar this morning, He will pour more life into you than you’ll ever need; more forgiveness than all the world’s sin; more joy than all the sorrows of this age; more peace than all the fretting of your life. Just as He told you! Amen.

Good Friday

The Text: Matthew 27:15-26

 

It had been a long night as Jesus was accused and taunted before the Jewish Council and the high priest Caiaphas. Even under the cover of darkness when evil seems to get the upper hand, they had not been able to make their feeble accusations stick. And yet Jesus was still alone. Peter had denied Him as He had predicted. The other disciples were off in hiding, and Judas was filled with despair over the betrayal he had committed for a few coins. It’s at this point that they drag Jesus before yet another judge. As the highest official in Roman occupied Israel, Pilate is the only one who is authorised to sentence someone to death. And so the cowards come, seeking someone else to do their dirty work.

As much as Pilate has received a bad rap over the years, he is no fool. He quickly works out that Jesus is innocent of any crime and so he does his best to have the crowd release Jesus. He chooses the worst of the worst in prison at that time. Barabbas the terrorist. A murderous, thieving, hate-filled criminal who was waiting to be crucified. Pilate is convinced that regardless of the Jewish leaders’ request, the crowd would rather have Jesus roaming the streets than this notorious prisoner from death row.

And so Pilate asks the crowd which of the two they want him to release. Barabbas they scream. Angry that an innocent man is about to be killed, Pilate washes his hands and declares that he is innocent of Jesus’ blood. And at this point the crowd makes what is perhaps the most shocking statement in the whole passion narrative. “His blood be on us and our children,” they declare. As if it wasn’t enough that they willingly take the blame for Jesus’ crucifixion, they are happy for His blood to be on their children as well!

And so with that Barabbas walks free and Jesus is handed over to be crucified. Barabbas – a name which ironically means ‘son of a father’ – is released and the true Son of the Father takes His place to be put to death. The son deserving to die is let off, and the innocent Son of the Heavenly Father is sacrificed in his place.

Dear friends we are all Barabbas in one way or another – sons and daughters of earthly fathers. Children born of natural descent and living out our lives on death row due to our inherited sin – not to mention the sin we commit daily. But the Son of the Father – none other than the Lord Jesus – put up no fight when He was pitted against you and me in the person of Barabbas. Instead He willingly accepted the verdict and submitted to the Romans that He might be put to death for the sins of the world, for all those who have been born of an earthly father and found to have fallen short of the glory of God. Like a lamb led to the slaughter, Jesus did not open His mouth, but took Barabbas’ place, my place and your place, and suffered what we deserved.

Barabbas is no two-bit criminal. He’s not waiting execution by accident. He was due to get what he deserved. But Jesus is chosen and He takes on the guilt of this terrorist, and Barabbas in declared innocent. The sweet swap some have called it. Jesus gets our sin and we get His righteousness, innocence and blessedness. Jesus endures the fullness of God’s judgment on sin, and we are declared innocent – not because we deserve it any more than Barabbas did – but because Jesus came to do just this so that we would not be lost for eternity.

And so as the name Barabbas points to the innocent Jesus taking the place of sinners like you and me, so also that shocking statement from the crowd points to His work in an even greater way. “His blood be on us and our children,” they shouted as they sought to have Jesus executed.

When we come to Good Friday each year it is sobering for us to recognise our part in the crucifixion of Jesus. To recognise that the denials and cowardice of Peter are never far below the surface in our own lives. To accept that in the crowd calling for His crucifixion we can hear the voice of our sin. And in gazing upon the cross we realise that it is indeed our sin which held Him there. But for all of that, I don’t think too many would want to identify themselves with these bloodthirsty people in crowd who said, “His blood be on us and our children.”

But again, with no small amount of irony, the crazed words of this murderous crowd point to exactly what Jesus will accomplish over the next three hours. As He hangs crucified, the innocent suffering servant, Jesus endures the wrath of God for all who have sinned and fallen short of His glory. He is abandoned by God the Father. He is crushed in punishment for every sin of every person. Purchasing forgiveness with His own blood – the same blood the crowds called down upon themselves and their children. This blood flows and freely offers new life even to those who would be guilty of spilling it.

While they were prepared to have the guilt of Jesus blood on their hands and the hands of their children, Jesus offers up His blood for a better purpose, even for those who called for His death. As the letter to the Colossians says, Jesus has made peace between sinners like us and our Heavenly Father, through the blood of the cross. This blood, this death, offers forgiveness and freedom to all who believe.

It had been a long night and an even longer day as Jesus hung on the cross while the sun did not shine. As He gave up His spirit and died at the ninth hour, all the dark schemes of men and demons, all the hate-filled words and injustices meted out upon Him, all our sin and the death we deserve, all of this was consumed in His body as He wrestled it into the tomb on our behalf.

Dear children of God, the silence of the tomb over the next days is not the sound of defeat. It is the beginning of the sound of victory for our God, as sin and death and the devil are finally defeated in Jesus’ body and lie speechless as He conquers them in our place.

When Barabbas should have died, when the crowds should have been punished, when you and I should stand condemned – Jesus dies and we are set free. In the midst of death, the Lord lives and so will we! Amen.

Maundy Thursday

The Text: John 13:1-17, 31b-35    

 

If you were asked to take off your shoes and socks I imagine you might be a little reluctant to do so. Feet have a reputation, don’t they? We don’t just cover them to make it easier to walk around.We tuck them away out of sight and out of smell. We can probably handle the smell of our own feet but the thought of a roomful of exposed feet is probably not what we want at the end of the day.

And it is the end of the day. Chances are some of us have been on our feet for much of it and that tends to take its toll. Look at the burden our feet have to bear. They carry our weight around from A to B and everywhere else we need to go.

In Biblical times they used their feet much more than what we do these days. Feet were the primary mode of transportation. They didn’t have cars or buses or trains and even horses and donkeys were available only to the privileged few. So if you wanted to get anywhere, from a kilometre to 100 kilometres, you had to walk.

The Romans were known for their road construction, enabling the efficient movement of their legions. But in Palestine this was the exception rather than the rule. There was the Via Maris, the coastal road, and the King’s Highway, a trade route, but that was about it for major roads in that area. The Jews were not into road construction as the Romans were. A beaten, worn out dirt path was basically considered a road to them. A goat track was sufficient to get around.

So we can understand why the washing of feet was as much a part of their culture as the washing of hands is in ours. It must have been a huge relief to wash away the grime of a day spent on your feet. Think of the relief you feel when you can kick off your shoes and socks at the end of the day and put your feet up.

With this cultural background, it shouldn’t be that surprising to find Jesus at the feet of his disciples, offering to wash them. Yes, it was a task normally reserved for a servant of the household or the wife of the host. Failing that, the host would at least provide a bowl of water and some towels for his guests to wash their own. 

But Jesus had told his disciples: ‘the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matt.20:28).

Jesus had got dirty in the past as he touched lepers, healed the demon-possessed and mixed with non-Jews. He had eaten with tax-collectors and sinners. So why should the washing of feet be so repulsive? ‘No, you shall never wash my feet’!   

Well, the symbolism happening here is more significant and deep-seated than we realise. As the lowest part of the body feet were considered inferior. This wasn’t so much in terms of the function of the feet but their position. Feet acted as the interface between the individual and the ground, the dirt, they walked upon.

That is why the ultimate rejection is to wipe the dust from your feet, indicating that the other person’s dirt doesn’t even deserve to be on your feet.

It is also why it was considered to be an act of submission, reverence and humility to be found before the feet of another person. You can’t get any lower. It was expected for some people to be at the feet of others but not the other way round.

Throughout his ministry Jesus had people at his feet and for a variety of reasons.

Some of them were there because they needed his mercy. A beggar came before the feet of a lord or master in the hope of some morsel. So it is that the woman who was suffering from severe bleeding fell at Jesus’ feet (Mark 5:33). A woman whose daughter was possessed by an evil spirit fell at his feet (Mark 7:25). Even a synagogue ruler, Jairus, whose daughter was dying fell at his feet (Mark 5:22).

Others were at his feet out of sheer gratitude for the mercy that had been shown to them. The Samaritan leper fell at Jesus’ feet when he had been cleansed (Luke 17:16). Mary was at his feet, pouring perfume on them and wiping them with her hair after Jesus had raised her brother Lazarus from the dead (John 12:1-3). 

Still others were at Jesus’ feet in submission to listen to his teaching and wisdom, as was Mary that day when Martha was busy doing all the work (Luke 10:39).

It was entirely appropriate for people to be at the feet of Jesus. After all, he is the King of kings and Lord of lords. You come before a king in all humility to seek his mercy and wisdom and to give him the praise and honour he deserves.

And let’s not forget that a conquering king would literally put his feet on the neck of his enemies (Joshua 10:24). This demonstrated the ultimate humiliation and defeat of that enemy. As Jesus taught in the Temple during holy week, he himself quoted Psalm 110 to refer to this kind of thing: “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet’” (Mark 12:36).

Think also of the first prophesy connected to the Messiah. In Genesis God said to the serpent: ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel’ (3:15).

With all of this in mind, it is truly fitting and right that ‘at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord’ (Philippians 2:10).

And yet, here was Jesus, bowed before his disciples and at their feet!

It didn’t seem right. This wasn’t just a gracious act of service. This was a position of submission, reverence and humility. That is not where Jesus should be. This was a position of vulnerability, a place where those who are defeated get trampled on in disgrace. Surely not! ‘No, you shall never wash my feet’!

But Jesus answered: ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me’. Unless Jesus can serve us in such a way where he is trodden underfoot and humiliated and rejected and despised; unless he can be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities – we can have no part with him. The full extent of his love was not shown in the washing of their feet but in the piercing of his.

‘He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…he humbled himself and became obedient unto death – even death on a cross’ (Philippians 2:6-8).

This Easter as we come before the cross once again we will find ourselves at the feet of our Lord. But truly it is on the cross where he is at our feet. He is there in all humility to submit and to serve. He is there to show us the full extent of his love. Amen.