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Bishop Jonathan’s ‘Reflections for Daily Prayer’

Easter

 

John 17: 1-5

‘Father, the hour has come…” (v 1)

Whatever the task, a moment arrives when there is nothing further to add by way of preparation: the game plan is shaped, it’s time to deliver; we’ve rehearsed our lines, the time to act has come.  At this point, all we can do is offer up our work and step forward. So too for Jesus: his preparation is done, the long-awaited hour, when he will complete the work for which he was sent into the world, has come.

In prayer, Jesus offers himself afresh to his Father’s purpose. Chapter 17 is often referred to as the high priestly prayer of Jesus. For within it Jesus offers himself, his disciples and those who will come to believe through them, to the Father’s care and protection. Three years of signs, teaching and a life lived to the full, have drawn many into relationship with Jesus and to the glory of God’s presence. Now, as the shadow of the Cross begins to fall, the time of preparation is over.  Jesus turns to his Father once again: “glorify your Son, so that the Son may glorify you”.

What are your tasks today?  Perhaps you might like to use these four words of Jesus as a prayer – ‘the hour has come’ – to offer your day with its relationships, challenges and opportunities, to the work of God’s glory.

 


 

John 17: 6-19

‘Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.’ (v 17)

Whose voice keeps you on track?

As voices of opposition are heard around them, Jesus recognises the vulnerability of his first disciples. Voices that will oppose, reject and pour violent scorn upon Jesus will, in due course, turn upon his followers. For the missionary calling of disciples, then and now, is to follow Jesus into a world that has not believed ‘the Father sent the Son’.

In the understanding of St John’s Gospel, ‘the world’ is both the object of God’s unconditional love and a shorthand to describe those on earth (for example, the religious leaders of the day) or in the spiritual realm (for example, ‘the evil one’ of v.15), who conspire to oppose the way of Jesus Christ.  It is ‘the world,’ understood in this shorthand sense, which provides the crucial backdrop to Jesus’ prayer.

Thus Jesus prays, on their behalf, that the Father will sanctify the disciples: that he will inspire their holiness, sustain the integrity of their witness and protect them by the truth of his word.  It is the Father’s voice, embodied in Jesus ‘the Word made flesh’ (John 1:14), which alone can keep Christian life and witness on track and faithful in the world.

Will you make time to listen for his voice today?

 


 

John 17: 20-end

‘…that they may all be one…so that the world may believe’ (v 21)

Shortly after ordination I was introduced to Roberta. When we met she was well into her eighties.  I found Roberta full of questions, intellectually curious and overflowing with love for God’s people.

Roberta ran a monthly house group, “for the older people, dear”.  This gathered up many facing isolation, negotiating loss or seeking Christian faith. The group embraced and held together, a number of hurt, outspoken and angular personalities.

Up at the crack of dawn, Roberta would prepare a feast. If I timed my visit right, I could guarantee returning home with leftovers. I recall, fondly, Roberta’s ‘Chocolate Tiffin’: all the usual ingredients, but with half a pint of sherry thrown into the biscuit mix!

I looked forward to these visits. Roberta wanted to know how things were going, asked lots of questions and prayed for me, as she did for so many others. She cared deeply about building up the Christian community. She longed for others to discover the joy of knowing Jesus Christ, a knowledge which had enriched her life.

In Roberta’s love for the Christian community, I saw the prayer of Jesus being answered before my eyes. For it is when Christians hold together, embrace difference and love like this, that others will discover the truth about Jesus for themselves.

How might you build community where you are today?

 


 

John 18: 1-11

Whom are you looking for?’ (v.4)

All the gospels portray Jesus as one who asks questions.

In today’s reading, the mob appears and as dark clouds of betrayal threaten to envelop him, it is a question we find on Jesus’ lips. Twice Jesus asks Judas, the soldiers, temple police and religious authorities, “Whom are you looking for?” and twice they respond, “Jesus of Nazareth”. So what’s happening here?

The question does not spring from shock, ignorance or surprise: betrayal almost always involves a back-story, plots and sub-plots that have taken time to thicken. This applies to the relationship between Jesus, Judas and the authorities. Jesus knew Judas and, according to John, had already discerned the role Judas would play in his handing over. So why the repeated question from Jesus: “whom are you looking for?”

An answer is found if we reflect on what a good question brings about, what it does or effects. From a skilled teacher, a question will draw out ‘the other’ and expose the hidden motivation underpinning action; each element is present here. For John bears witness that Jesus is in control, alive to the Father’s purpose and asking the questions even, paradoxically, as he is swept away.

If you are looking for One in whom to trust and spend your days, St John says: He is here, the Light of the World shining in darkness, trust him!

 


 

John 18: 12-27

“Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed” (v.27)

Like Peter, each one of us is more than one thing.

Peter got so much right. He’d said ‘yes’ with his life, left his work and the known, to follow Jesus. In Jesus’ company, Peter had seen the ‘age to come’ break into the present through lives transformed, in the poor finding a place at God’s table. Peter shared it all, shared his life, with Jesus.

In the Garden, too, as Judas appears with the soldiers, it is Peter – impetuous, indignant and brave – who draws the sword. And yet, minutes later, courage deserts him. Recognised in the firelight, Peter denies the life he’s had with Jesus.

If we’re honest with ourselves, like Peter, we are more than one thing. Courageous disciples in one moment, silent and full of fears the next. Believing God’s new age has appeared in Jesus, we deny him by our failure to speak up: for justice, for the powerless and for all he has come to mean to us. However, if Peter’s story is our story, then so too is Peter’s Lord our Lord: the One who knows, loves and retrieves us. I leave you with lines from Bonhoeffer’s ‘Who am I?’ written for people who wrestle with being more than one thing:

‘Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine,

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!’*

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, London: SCM Press 1953 (Seventh Impression) 174)

 


 

John 18: 28-end

“They themselves did not enter the headquarters…” (v. 28)

There is a detail, easily missed, in the handing over of Jesus to Pilate which should disturb people of faith in every generation.

The leaders of the Jewish people refuse to enter Pilate’s headquarters. Instead, they stand outside, withdrawing from events they’ve brought to pass. They’ve plotted, schemed and told half-truths about Jesus. They’ve orchestrated betrayal and used force of arms to bring Jesus before Pilate. So why, now, do they take their stand outside Pilate’s headquarters? Why, at this late stage, do they draw back?

Ironically, it’s religious commitment that motivates them.

The leaders of the Jewish people remain outside Pilate’s headquarters ‘so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover.’ (v. 28) Crystal clear about what pleases God and the detail of ritual duty, they are blind to actions which defile their inner lives. A closed religious system, self-righteousness and fear blind them to God’s life-giving presence in Jesus.

The irony is both deep and contemporary. For up to the present day acts of barbarity are perpetrated in the name, and for the glory, of God. While it’s not the whole story, it is the story we encounter in today’s reading. Religion practised uncritically – as a system closed to dissenting voices, new understanding or to costly love of neighbour – denies life, and is a rejection of the call of Jesus Christ to follow him.

 


 

John 19: 1-16

Pilate said to them, “Here is the Man!” (v. 5)

Today’s passage makes tough reading.

It’s tempting to turn away from its brutality: to shield our eyes from the soldiers’ violence, as Jesus is mocked, struck and crowned with thorns. But if we stay with the story, read it with insight drawn from those who’ve gone before us, what then might we find?

We find God’s compassion for a broken world, in a solidarity that saves. For Pilate speaks truly: “Here is the Man!” This Jesus, God’s human face, is our representative. In his beautiful life, wholly turned to God, our life is turned back to the Father’s love; the one, on behalf of the many.

This is a mystery beyond our capacity to possess or confine. But it’s a wonder, a deep mystery of love, which the Church has taught, lived, prayed and sung from earliest days. As John Henry Newman puts it:

O loving wisdom of our God!

When all was sin and shame,

A second Adam to the fight and to the rescue came.

In Jesus, the ‘second Adam’, God gathers up the fragments of broken human nature, absorbs our pain and suffers the consequence of sin. In Jesus, God repairs human nature from within, re-weaves humanity to its true end, in a solidarity that saves.

 


 

John 19: 17-30

‘It is finished!’ (v. 28)

Jesus carries his cross to ‘The Place of the Skull.’ Here he is crucified between two thieves. On Pilate’s orders, nailed high in three languages, are the words: ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’. Is this Pilate’s own estimation of Jesus? Or a device to taunt the leaders of the Jewish people?

The soldiers crucify Jesus. They cast lots for his tunic. In each detail, John sees scripture being fulfilled. Jesus had promised to draw all people to himself (12 v 32). As they turn towards Jesus on the cross, so Jesus draws Mary, his mother, and the beloved disciple, to each other. Even from the cross, Jesus is creating a new community of love, around his broken body and blood.

Jesus’ final words from the cross, “It is finished!” (in Greek tetelestai), call to mind a friend of mine. If ever we have a meal out together, he will insist on paying the bill: “It’s done” he’ll say, “don’t argue.”

At the time of Jesus, scholars tell us, tetelestai was frequently written on business documents or on a receipt. It indicated a bill paid in full, a work complete. So too, and gloriously for Jesus. Through his beautiful life and broken body offered for us all (he’s the Friend who pays the bill), Jesus establishes a new community of love and invites each one of us to share in the life and glory of God.

 


 

John 19: 31- end

“… the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there” (v. 42)

The part of the Holy Week story that gets overlooked is Saturday.

It’s a day for anyone who’s ever been disappointed or let down in life. We may remember the donkey, Jesus washing rough and smelly feet and his last supper with friends. And possibly his betrayal, mockery and cruel death. But it’s what happens next, the day after Jesus’ crucifixion under Pontius Pilate, that’s got a significance of its own. It’s called Holy Saturday. The day of disappointed hope and shattered dreams.

For three years Jesus had spoken up for the outcasts of society. He’d challenged the mighty, fed the hungry and healed the sick. He’d taught that God hears and answers prayer, that a new day for the world had dawned. But things had gone terribly wrong. Feared by Pilate, resented by the religious and deserted by friends, Jesus was put to a cruel death. Hopes were smashed: dead and buried with Jesus.

On Easter Sunday the true story of Jesus takes the most unexpected turn, as his closest friends (women first and then the men who had fled in fear) meet Jesus, risen from the tomb. But this can wait.

Don’t forget Disappointment Saturday. It reminds us to pray for, and stand with,  those who see no hope and whose grief knows no bounds… until the rays of Easter hope break through once again, for each of us and for the whole world.

 


 

John 20 1-10

‘…while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb’

There are different kinds of darkness in today’s reading. There is the physical darkness of the hours before daybreak. But another kind of darkness is present too: the darkness of Mary’s grief, the darkness of shattered hope.

Mary had anticipated a future in the company of Jesus. His presence had restored her fractured life. Mary had remained by the cross of Jesus, while others fled. She had seen the nails, winced as the spear pierced his side. And now Mary comes to Jesus’ tomb “while it was still dark” and the stone is rolled away.

Jesus always meets us where we are, in whatever darkness engulfs us. To Mary’s grief and loss confusion is added. She runs to Simon Peter and the beloved disciple, dismayed and believing the body of Jesus has been stolen.

The risen life of Jesus is always like this: he does not come to us in a sanitised spiritual vacuum or when our lives are fine-tuned or sorted out. Rather, Jesus  meets us in the midst of daily life with its joys and sorrows, its triumphs and fears. Brother Roger of Taizé wrote this prayer for people who seek God while it is still dark:

“God of mercy, we are yearning for peace of heart.
And the gospel allows us to glimpse that,

even in the hours of darkness,
you love us, and you want happiness for us.”

(Br. Roger of Taize, Living for Love, Les Presses de Taize ISBN 978 – 2 – 85040 – 310 – 1, copyright 2010)

 


 

John 20 11-18

‘Supposing him to be the gardener…’ (v 15)

Mary Magdalene stands weeping outside the empty tomb of Jesus.  What follows will restore her purpose and transform her vision, but the encounter begins with confusion. The angels address Mary from the tomb. They ask why she weeps.  Mary’s grief  is compounded by dismay. She is in a whirl of confusion. Jesus appears, but Mary does not recognise him.

In the resurrection narratives in John (and in the other Gospels), we find continuity and discontinuity in the identity and presence of Jesus. He will eat and drink with his disciples and yet comes to them through locked doors. Jesus is recognised by two disciples, with whom he breaks bread, but then vanishes from their sight.

Jesus speaks Mary’s name, and her eyes are opened to his risen presence.  Jesus sends her to announce his life to the other disciples. Mary becomes the first apostle, the one sent, to the apostles.

As he does with Mary Magdalene, Jesus comes to us in our confusions, in our questions and in our longing for him. Once he finds us, Jesus does not leave us unchanged, but names and sends us to announce his risen life.

Today, in the midst of whatever you face, you may like to pray the prayer of the ancient church:  Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!

 


  

John 20 19 – end

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 

Today’s reading, finds Jesus’ disciples huddled and afraid behind locked doors, unable to believe the word Mary Magdalene has announced to them about Jesus.

Perhaps they fear that the violence meted out on Jesus will be meted out on them. As they wait, locked in by fear, Jesus encounters them. His presence is transformed. It’s the same Jesus, but different “Peace be with you,” he says.

As they rejoice, so Jesus gives new purpose to their lives.  The whole work of Jesus has been an invitation to life in all its fullness.  Now Jesus sends the disciples to share this invitation to life with a waiting world. They are equipped and sent, not in their own strength, wisdom or courage, but in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus breathes upon them.

Many today are imprisoned by their fears. Whatever the fear, the risen Lord will meet us in the midst of it. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, even the timid and fearful, like the first disciples, will find courage to face their fears and to become life giving to others. We only have to ask.  A prayer of Brother Roger of Taizé:

Holy Spirit, enable us to bring peace into places of opposition,
and to make visible by our lives a reflection of God’s compassion.
Yes, enable us to love and to express it by our lives.

(Br. Roger of Taize, Living for Love, Les Presses de Taizé ISBN 978 – 2 – 85040 – 310 – 1, copyright 2010)



 

These reflections were first published in Reflections for Daily Prayer 2016/17, published by Church House Publishing © Archbishops’ Council 2016.