The one about…a week ago.

Time is a strange phenomenon. On Easter Sunday afternoon Ani, Zeb and Ez splashed happily in the paddling pool, armed with water squirters, as they tried to dislodge each other from the body boards they were standing on. Summer had arrived, it was only April but it was good. The warm, dry and sunny bank holiday, a relatively rare experience in the UK, came and went so quickly and now the children are back at school, Easter seems a long time ago..

Easter Sunday has always been a significant day in my story; a day of celebration, on a par with Christmas. There are gifts, usually of a chocolate nature, followed by church and a roast dinner, shared with family; a celebration of death defeated and sin overcome. I’m not sure I hold to the theology in quite the same way anymore but I do believe there’s a reason for celebration. Like any marker or reference point an annual celebration is significant and holds meaning for all who associate with it. Celebrating Easter offers a renewed opportunity to be reminded of the rhythm of life, death and resurrection and silence.

Silence, the silence is important because sometimes there aren’t the words and sometimes we need that space, we need the silence, to process what’s going on around us, work out what we think and find a way to respond.

It’s been nearly a week since over 200 people were killed in bomb attacks in Sri Lanka as many of them sat in church, celebrating resurrection.

To announce the news ‘He has risen’, seemed somehow lost in the atrocity that had occurred. Death was not defeated; death was visible, raw and very very real. To celebrate resurrection seemed irrelevant to those who haven’t risen this week and returned to be with those they loved.

So where does that leave the “good news” of Easter, especially after all the eggs are eaten, the bank holiday is over and ‘normality’ returns.

I’ve walked the dog a few times this week pondering the hope of Easter.  I’ve wandered through a church yard, looking at the gravestones, some clearly tended to with flowers while others looked unvisited, maybe forgotten. I’ve seen daffodils that had once flowered now standing withered and the blossom that had brightened the trees now falling. Death is all around us. Death always is. We try to pretend it’s not but it is, we can’t escape it.

Death remains as unknown and mysterious as it always has. We can attempt a more positive spin when we talk of people having had a good life or dying ‘doing what they loved’ but really death can’t be appeased like that, even less so when death seems so unnecessary, wasteful and atrocious.

Many look to religion for answers often finding religion to seemingly be the cause. What should offer life and peace instead divides and condemns. True religion, genuine spirituality, can be found in anyone and maybe it’s in those moments, where the only honest response to death is silence, that we need to look within for a way forward.

There are no easy answers to the evil that took place in Sri Lanka. It is not ok. Yet the unrest, jealousy and ignorance within ourselves is not ok either. Until we begin to find ways within our own sphere of influence to be people who look to always love rather than hate, to always forgive rather than seek revenge, to always pursue peace rather than justification, to always welcome rather than judge, the world will not move forwards. So when we look at the injustice in our world and feel helpless to respond we need to be creative about what we can do.

Resurrection will only mean something if we begin to look for ways to bring hope, new life, new energy and new possibilities to those around us.

Death will always be held within mystery and maybe we need to allow it to be held, until at the right time, in the right ways, we can embrace resurrection. What often looks and feels like the end rarely is, life finds a way. What if there is always resurrection? What if it takes time; what if it can’t be rushed or forced? What if instead it could be welcomed, spoken of and celebrated? What if we become people who choose to celebrate resurrection wherever and whenever we find it and in doing so show the world that the ‘good news’ of Easter is for real, all year round.

The one about…a magical Easter

The days are getting longer and so much warmer. The March winds have subsided, making way for the April showers and now sunshine; Spring is well and truly here. The earth is responding. Blossom is falling, daffodils have all but been and gone, the bluebells are resounding as they carpet floor of the woods, the dawn chorus is echoing and new green shoots are sprouting in every tree and bush; the world around us is coming back to life and it’s magical!

Magic: the power of apparently influencing events by using mysterious or supernatural forces. Magic must be at work out there because there is something mysterious and supernatural about the way nature seemingly dies during autumn and resurrects in the spring! Ok, so if I’d paid more attention in A level biology maybe it wouldn’t seem so mysterious and I’m not sure if nature can be supernatural so maybe magic isn’t the right word but in the same way that a good magician creates awe and wonder, so does nature when we stop, look and listen!

I read a book during lent, written by a magician called Nate Staniforth, his book is called Real Magic. If you can afford it, buy it, if you can’t ask me and you can borrow my copy. It’s awesome!

Nate tells a story of a performance he gave to a hostile audience, inviting the most aggressive looking member, a guy called Marcus, to hold a wallet containing a lottery ticket with pre-chosen numbers printed. He then chooses six unknown people at random, not pre warned, to give him a number between 1 and 50…I guess you see where this going! The numbers given by the audience match the numbers on the ticket in the wallet. This is how he described the moment the brutish guy holding the wallet reacts:

“Get the f*** out of here, man. What the f***?” The audience is watching Marcus ascend to a sort of crazed delirium….I want you to see his face. I want you to see the joy, the open, unaffected joy. It’s the kind of joy that reminds you that what you mistook for dull, uninspired brutishness a moment before was actually just weight-the weight of worry, of pain, of anxiety, of the world-and for a moment it has gone, and the face that shines without it is extraordinary.

The universal truth of this particular story is that we all need, want, maybe even crave those moments where we lose the weight of the world and experience the wonder of it.

What if that’s what Easter offers? What if a story about death and resurrection offers us that moment of, as Nate describes;

“not knowing, a moment of wonderment, of joy, and of innocence. It reminds us that it’s ok not to have all the answers or all the information-that we can move on with our lives anyway. And that we should, because we will never have enough information.”

What if the debate about the facts, the ‘information’ about whether Jesus actually rises from the dead, misses the point as much as the debate about how the magician hid the coin, knew the numbers or seemingly sliced through the body! What if that debate isn’t where it’s at? What if instead Easter invites us deeper into awe and wonder? What if Easter invites us to lose ourselves, our worries, our insecurities, our fears and move, for a while, into the wonder of it all before stepping back into reality, still shaking our head in disbelief but with a new found sense of, what if that’s true? What if resurrection is real, what if there is hope? What if we all were able to live from that place rather than a place of doubt and despair? What if the Jesus story invites us to believe, not in the accuracies of historical events, but in wonder, possibility and a preferred future? What if Jesus invites us all to live with the wonder of resurrection knowing that whatever deaths we face there is always hope? What if Easter opens the doors of possibility to something bigger, inexplicable and seemingly impossible, leaving us all hoping that the resurrection is for real!

The one about…it meaning something!

“I can’t do this anymore”. I lay down, closed my eyes and stared intensely at the back of my own eyelids hoping for inspiration; a picture, an image, an idea…nothing, just darkness. I sighed and rolled over. It was going to be a long night.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt trapped like this, don’t get me wrong, it’s not an awful place to be trapped, we’re ok, we’re living life. We can’t stay where we are though and we still can’t see a way forward. It feels a little like I’m in one of those horror movies where there’s no way out and the space is slowly filling with water; something has to make sense soon or I am going to drown.

There are occasional glimmers of hope, possibilities that might come to something but nothing ever seems to be straightforward. Yet in the midst of all the job applications, interviews and conversations about our future, the ‘everyday’ takes place; the real demands, joys and sorrows of raising children, seeing friends and sharing life with each other happens; life happens.

It’s easy just to sit and write about love and hope and adventure; to be passionate about the divine, soul and mystery; it’s at this point though that it has to mean something. It has to mean something when life is hard, when there isn’t a plan, when you can see those around you hurting and you can’t fix it. That’s when all the whimsical theological theorising actually has to be true.

This is where I have to believe that this story, the one I find myself living in, makes sense in a bigger story.

This is where I have to decide to love; to be kind and patient with those around me even though other feelings overwhelm me. This is where I also have to choose to love and forgive myself when I don’t love others as I would like to.

This is where, when fear taunts me, I acknowledge it’s existence but I don’t let it take the steering wheel. It’s where, when grief engulfs me, I allow it to do it’s work but I also take a deep breath and dare to keep hoping.

This is where I have to acknowledge that I can’t meet all the expectations placed on me by myself and others, where I admit I don’t even want to meet some of those expectations. This I where I accept that I don’t always cope and that it’s OK not to.

This is also where the tension between science and soul exists, where the logical reasoned approach to life meets the mysterious whisper of what could be and leaves me torn, not really knowing which route to take. This is where I’m left clinging to the belief that it will all make sense despite the fact that sometimes all I really want to do is hide under the duvet and stare at the inside of my eyelids!

So, this is where I choose to believe in the Divine; in a force that holds all things and where I admit that I believe that same force will renew, restore, refresh and resurrect all things, even my story.

This is where what I write means something. Right here, right now!

The one about…resurrection.

I read a book while we were away…well, when I say “read a book” it was more a case of having a book in my hand and trying to get through a sentence whilst juggling the demands of a potty training two year old, a very creative(!?!) four year old and an emotional seven year old at the same time as ensuring the rest of the family were fed and watered when they did reappear back at the camper!
The book in question was called “Practising Resurrection”…the title intrigued me because I’ve thought more about the death thing than resurrection, not necessarily actual physical death, more the metaphorical kind of death like the death of plans, or hopes, or dreams; the death of relationships or friendships or the nagging feeling that life, energy or meaning are draining away and you’re not sure what comes next…that kind of death!
I guess to some extent that’s why I find the church concept so intriguing…’death’ is all around us and it manifests itself in many ways. I want to believe that church has something to offer. The Jesus story is one where death is defeated and resurrection reigns. Jesus is about resurrection, the bible is full of stories about restoration and redemption. I guess the question is so what!? What difference does the resurrection make? What do restoration, redemption and resurrection look like in our world now? What does the church have to say into all of this?! There are so many questions…
Does the resurrection make a difference to the tired and tearful mum who has totally lost sight of who she is among the demands of her growing family? Does the resurrection make a difference to the guy whose wife of fifty years died a week ago and he’s not sure what he’s going to do now? Does the resurrection make a difference to the woman whose husband walked out and now she’s left with a future that looks very different to the one she’d imagined they’d have? Does the resurrection make a difference to the boy whose exam results weren’t quite what everyone expected and now he’s not sure the options he’s being given are anything he really wants to do? Does the resurrection make a difference to the guy who has just been made redundant because the role he’s trained to do just isn’t needed in the same way anymore? Does the resurrection make a difference to the mum and dad who have just had their thirty eight year old sons life support machine turned off?
There’s death in all of those stories. Endings that no one saw coming, or even if they did, it turned out they weren’t as prepared for it as they thought. A finality that hurts, that breaks us in ways we didn’t think we were capable of being broken. A wake up call to our own vulnerability, fragility and mortality. Death is painful, whatever form it takes.
The Jesus story speaks into our encounters with death, it reminds us that death is real. It shows us how death can be respected, honoured, or at the very least acknowledged. There’s something about naming it, about mourning, about letting the tears fall and the pain be felt that helps us to connect with that moment and allow it to simply be…for a while unresolved, unfixed, just what it is.
Jesus surrenders to it, he allows death to do its thing. Maybe there’s a wisdom to the surrender, a wisdom to allowing death to ‘be’ because we know that death does not have the last word. It might have a lot to say, it might linger for longer than we would like it to but the Jesus story, and many of our own ‘death’ stories show us that it is not the end.
As we follow the Jesus story we see that death does not hold Jesus, the tomb is empty. We read of his friends, some who accept their encounter with death and almost immediately see the new possibilities, running to share the news. We read of other friends who remain for longer in the death moment, still wondering what it might mean, uncertain how or even who they’re going to be now everything’s changed. We see others who can’t move forward, paralysed by fear or doubt or pain, needing to know the gentle encouragement of someone they trust before they can tentatively take another step.
In each case however there is hope, there are glimmers of something new emerging and a faint whisper of hope murmuring within.
For me, hope is what the Jesus story offers, it’s what the church should offer; the idea of ‘Practicing Resurrection’ as Cris Rogers describes:

“The very way Jesus would be able to reveal his resurrection to the (Roman) empire and to the world was through his church. This church was a group of people who had experienced the resurrection and now were calling others into it.” Practicing Resurrection; page 104

As church we call others into the hope of resurrection life. As church we practice finding those glimmers of new life. So for the mum who feels she’s not coping there’s the realisation that there are gradually more good moments than there are bad ones as she shares life with a friend who just listens; or for the boy with the exam results a new idea offered, one that had never even been considered; for those who hoped to be living out their days with that person they’re no longer with, for whatever reason, a new story begins to take shape and new relationships emerge or old relationships find a new expression; for the couple who’ve said goodbye to their son, they find a way of remembering and celebrating what was as they create a new way of being in the world, as they delicately tread a path they’d hoped they’d never have to walk…resurrection isn’t always realised immediately!
The resurrection offers hope into our own stories of death. Somehow, as we live through the myriad of metaphorical death experiences and share the stories of the new life emerging, the stories of restoration, of renewal, of relationships restored and life rekindled; we find resurrection to be a reality. As we embrace the knowledge that we can be refreshed, renewed and re-envisioned we begin to believe that resurrection is true. Resurrection becomes the reality that we see faithfully played out in our everyday, a practice so intertwined in how we live that when we face our final day we know that death is not the end, it’s the beginning of something new.