Easter Day

Christ, our paschal Lamb, has been sacrificed; let us therefore celebrate the festival!”
– 1 Corinthians 5.7-8

Happy Easter! Christ is risen – he is risen indeed!

St Paul's flowers

Thank you for joining us on our journey through Lent this year. As the church moves from the penitential season of Lent and into Eastertide, it is worth pausing to ask yourself two questions.

Firstly, in what ways did Lent form you this year? As we’ve promoted throughout The Lent Project, the Lenten season is about formation, as we concentrate particularly on the way the gospel reforms our desires and habits to bear fruit for God’s glory. As you consider the disciplines and behaviour you’ve employed over the last 46 days (fasting, particular Bible reading, waking up early, alms giving, etc.) what have they been doing to you? You may like to especially ask:

  • What have you learnt about your own desires this Lent?
  • What have you understood again/anew about the gospel and how it changes us?
  • In what ways have you been encouraged through Lent?
  • In what ways has Lent challenged patterns of sin in your own life?
  • What questions do you have related to Lent? What has Lent stirred up in you?
  • How are you hoping God will grow you in grace in the months ahead?

Secondly, how will you celebrate during Easter? The season of Easter lasts for 40 days; from today (Easter Day/Resurrection Sunday) through to Ascension Day (the sixth Thursday after Easter Day; although recently some churches have extended Eastertide through to Pentecost/Whitsunday, 50 days after Easter Day). Whilst Lent is a time for preparation and fasting, Easter is a time for celebration and feasting. Without celebrating Easter, we’ve only done half of what the liturgical calendar has planned for us. According to Tom Wright,

I have come to believe that many churches simply throw Easter away year by year; and I want to plead that we rethink how we do it so as to help each other, as a church and as individuals, to live what we profess…

But my biggest problem starts on Easter Monday. I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend forty days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little gloomy, and then bringing it all to a peak with Holy Week, which in turn climaxes in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday . . . and then, after a rather odd Holy Saturday, we have a single day of celebration.

All right, the Sundays after Easter still lie within the Easter season. We still have Easter readings and hymns during them. But Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday. It ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before., with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom? It’s long overdue that we took a hard look at how we keep Easter in church, at home, in our personal lives, right through the system. And if it means rethinking some cherished habits, well, maybe it’s time to wake up. That always comes as a surprise.

And while we’re about it, we might write some more good Easter hymns and take care to choose the many good ones already written that celebrate what Easter really is rather than treating it as simply our ticket to a blissful life hereafter. Interestingly, most of the good Easter hymns turn out to be from the early church and most of the bad ones form the nineteenth century. But we should be taking steps to celebrate Easter in creative new ways: in art, literature, children’s games, poetry, music, dance, festivals, bells, special concerts, anything that comes to mind. This is our greatest festival…We shouldn’t allow the secular world, with its schedules and habits and parareligious events, its cute Easter bunnies, to blow us off course. This is our greatest day. We should put the flags out.

In particular, if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up. Champagne for breakfast again—well, of course. Christian holiness was never meant to be merely negative. Of course you have to weed the garden from time to time; sometimes the ground ivy may need serious digging before you can get it out. That’s Lent for you. But you don’t want simply to turn the garden back into a neat bed of blank earth. Easter is the time to sow new seeds and to plant out a few cuttings. If Calvary means putting to death things in your life that need killing off if you are to flourish as a Christian and as a truly human being, then Easter should mean planting, watering, and training up things in your life (personal and corporate) that ought to be blossoming , filling the garden with color and perfume, and in due course bearing fruit. The forty days of the Easter season, until the ascension, ought to be a time to balance out Lent by taking something up , some new task or venture, something wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving. You may be able to do it only for six weeks, just as you may be able to go without beer or tobacco only for the six weeks of Lent. But if you really make a start on it, it might give you a sniff of new possibilities, new hopes, new ventures you never dreamed of. It might bring something of Easter into your innermost life. It might help you wake up in a whole new way. And that’s what Easter is all about.

Our passover lamb has been sacrificed. Let our hearts therefore rise, for our Lord is risen, and sing his praise.  How will you celebrate the arrival of God’s new world in the resurrection of Jesus’ body? How will you celebrate the forgiveness of our sins and the promise of the death of death? How will you celebrate over the next six weeks that Jesus Christ is Lord?

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Good Friday

“Today he who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the tree. The king of the angels is decked with a crown of thorns. He, who wrapped the heavens in clouds, is wrapped with the purple of mockery.” – Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and New Zealand Services of Holy Week

Welcome to Good Friday, the penultimate day of Lent and the beginning of the Great Triduum, the three days which mark Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. For the last six weeks, we have been praying to God “who hatest nothing that thou hast made”; today we recall especially the depth of that love, when God’s own Son was hung on a cross outside Jerusalem. Adjudged as a false prophet, unjustly condemned and cursed, he hung there for all the world to see, bearing the weight of all the world’s pride, selfishness, and fear. In him was the light of the world, and on that day he exposed the darkness of the human heart, and the insidious powers which connive behind our hearts, as the one true, humble, and obedient human died the death of an insurrectionist.  He died, submitting the forces of evil at their very worst, so that we who had been enslaved and recruited by the dark pursuits of sin, might be set free. He died, so that everyone given to him by the Father could live:

“Again Jesus asked them, ‘For whom are you looking?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.’ This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, ‘I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.’” John 18.7-9.

What to do on Good Friday is never precisely clear. The government provides us with a public holiday, a relic from a different time when the government saw its duty as being there to support the church in her mission. How we to feel? Unlike the darkness of a Maundy Thursday Tenebrae service, or the joy and light that accompanies Easter Day, Good Friday invites both thankfulness and tragedy. Is it good that by his wounds we have been healed of our sins. Nonetheless the travesty of justice, the cruelty of the execution, the loneliness of Golgotha are too much for our hearts to bear. Which is exactly the point – he bore our sins in our place. The only right response can be heartfelt, repentant faith and love for the one who went through hell for you.

By coincidence, or perhaps by mercy as John Donne would describe it, Good Friday this year falls on the feast of the Annunciation, an event which will not occur again until 2157. It is a reminder once again that all of Jesus’ life was a continual passion. (It was also, because of the conjunction of these two days, that the ‘one ring’ in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was destroyed on March 25).

Music - Welcome Wagon         Collect - Annunciation

Visual - Son of Man         Poetry - Dawe Good Friday

Sermon - Andrew Shead         Poetry - Donne Westward

Visual - Crucifixion         Music - Johnny Cash

Collect - Good Friday         Collect - Antioch

Palm Sunday

The Collect, which emphasizes that there is no Crown without the Cross, is from the Sacramentary of Gelasius.

It helps to make these prayers count for us when we locate the verbs. It helps to locate the petition, which is to say what is being asked. Sometimes the Collect surrounds rounds God with pertinent adjectives and descriptive clauses (i.e., the acknowledgement). But if you look, and keep looking, there is always ways eventually a verb, and almost always eventually an object. Here, on the Sunday of Holy Week, which we know today as Palm Sunday, the verb is “grant.” The object is dual: that we would “follow the example of his patience” and that we would “be made partakers of his resurrection.” The intention is first that we would become more like Christ, in particular in His humble bearing of His life’s work during this week.

The intention is, second, that we would so get through the shadows ows of this life that we would make it to the promised land, the life yonder.

In sum, we ask at the start of our most important week to be granted both perseverance in His way and fulfillment of His achievement.  This is Holy Week’s prayer, from His entry into the city to His empty tomb Easter morning.

Holy Week

This Sunday marks the beginning of the end of Lent. The normal focus of Lent is upon repentance and discipleship, Christ’s temptation in the wilderness and spiritual formation, vivification and mortification. Through study and reflection, we have been preparing our hearts for celebrate Jesus, who was delivered for our trespass and raised for our justification (Romans 4.25).

But this Sunday, the forty long days of fasting and commemoration suddenly gather pace as we celebrate Palm Sunday. As we recall that moment when Jesus entered Jerusalem hailed as the King, we enter into the Easter story. Within eight days, the righteous and humble king would be betrayed, condemned, crucified, buried, but vindicated in resurrection.

Article - Perfect Storm         Poetry - Malcom Guite Palm Sunday

Visual - Palm Sunday         Book - Colliery

So this week, amidst the hot cross buns and the bunnies, take the time to enter into Holy Week. Marvel with the crowd at the one who rode victorious and lowly on a donkey. Consider Jesus’ actions when he marched into the temple and overturned the tables on a fruitless  and idolatrous system of power. Read again of his calmness under pressure when his authority was challenged again and again. Examine the significance of his death in the light of apocalyptic history. Or again, learn of the meaning of his death and the establishment of the new covenant through the meal Jesus gave us. Learn that to serve Jesus you must be first be served by him. On Maundy Thursday, receive a new commandment, read Jesus’ prayer for you and all his people, before Jesus is betrayed, deserted, mocked, denied, and beaten.

Visual - Jerusalem         Music - City Alight

Visual - Last Supper         Article - Calvin

Visual - Arrest        Sermon - Tim Chaddick

The darkness looms large over this week; there is a malevolence as human wickedness and evil do their very worst to God’s anointed, leaving him dead and buried. But we move through the week, clinging to the truth that darkness cannot overcome the light. We learn again that if we are to live with Christ, we must die with him, crucifying our sins and our failures, our fears and our regrets. For the way of the cross is the way of life.

As you read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest Holy Scripture this Holy Week, here are several resources to aid you in dwelling in the events of this week.

The Fifth Sunday in Lent

The original Latin “familia” in the Collect was here by Cranmer as “people”.  As is so often the case in the Prayer Book, this is a prayer not only for individuals but for whole household of the faith.

The thought process is as follows: Without some restraint or order, the human situation moves towards chaos. Only with sin restrained, will the self, and the plural selves that make up society, find itself preserved. The world descends to chaos, goes this argument, when the evil impulse is not checked.

How is sin checked? How is human nature governed? Is it governed by external restraint imposed, or is it governed by internal restraint engendered?  The Prayer Book answers the question decisively. We are ruled “by thy great goodness”; we pray to God that by God’s great goodness we may be governed and preserved evermore. The root of sin’s abeyance is the goodness of God. We become better from the effects of mercy, not from the effects of judgment.

Discipleship

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die”.

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

At the very centre of the Christian faith is the call for those who follow Christ to take up their cross and follow their crucified Messiah. The cruciform life which hangs over Jesus whole ministry and existence comes to define our own very lives. There is a grace dynamic to all of this; not only do those who lose their lives find it, but the very means which makes it possible is Jesus own movement from death to life.

The focus during Lent on Christ’s own temptation and our fight against sin shines a spotlight on our own discipleship. The measure of course of discipleship is our integrity and fidelity of following teacher. In other words, discipleship is about being confirmed more and more to the image and likeness of Christ. The quote from Bonhoeffer at the beginning of this post sets this path. ‘As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our  lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ.’

About 18 centuries earlier, the Latin theologian Tertullian spoke about the all encompassing reality of the cross in this way:

At every forward step and movement,
At every going in and out,
When we put on our clothes and shoes,
When we bathe,
When we sit at table,
When we light the lamps,
On couch, on seat,
In all ordinary actions of daily life,
We trace upon our forehead the sign
[of the cross].

Our resources this week are focused on spurring one another in our discipleship as we fix our eyes on Christ this Lent. There are two sermon series we love: one on the cost of discipleship and one on the Lord’s Prayer. You’ll also find a poem and a song about what it means to serve God, a book review on sacrifice and confronting pictures of Jesus carrying his own cross.

Sermon - Christine Lee        Visual - Carrying Cross

Sermon - Mike Raiter        Poetry - Milton 19

Music - Liv Chapman        Book - Guinness

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

As with the other Lenten Collects, Cranmer based this Collect on a prayer from the Gregorian collection. The use of the word “relieved” (i.e., “refreshed,” Latin respiremus), together with the Gospel reading (John 6.1-14), has given this day the popular title of Refreshment Sunday. Another title for this mid-Lent Sunday is “Mothering Sunday,” a reference to the Epistle reading (“But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all,” Galatians 4.26) and to the custom of returning to one’s “mother church” on this day.

It is one of the least modern prayers that we could possibly pray, anywhere or anytime. It suggests an untenable situation: “that we… do worthily deserve serve to be punished.” The situation is both unbearable and at the same time strangely liberating. It is unbearable because: “If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, 0 Lord, who may abide it?” (Psalm 130.3) This is a scalpel to the “normal” human posture of self-deception, self-promotion, and self-involvement. It is offers liberation without any sense of pretense, in Jesus Christ is full and sufficient grace for the release from all our sins.

Combating Sin

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

 Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 

Colossians 3:1-10

Last week we looked at Jesus facing off with evil as he was tempted in the wilderness, and this week we continue on the theme: how do we wrestle with sin in our day to day lives?

The Christian life is a life full of combating sin in one way or another. In the letter to the Colossians, Paul is pretty upfront about it: Are you a Christian? Well, you have died with Christ and been raised with him… so now you get to put to death all the sin in your life. Let’s go! [that’s my paraphrase of Colossians 3:1-10].

Combating sin is hard. It’s complicated, because, well, where do you even start? It can be discouraging, because the more we wrestle with sin, we find it runs deeper than we expected. It can be isolating because it make us feel ashamed and afraid to share our struggles with our friends and family.

But combating sin doesn’t have to be like that! No way! Jesus has set us free from the things that make us ashamed and afraid! He has pardoned us from the guilt of even our deepest sin! His victory gives us power to wrestle with sin in our daily life!

Don’t believe me? Have a listen to one (or both!) of the sermons in this week’s collection. Take a listen to Garage Hymnal or Page CXVI and let them remind you of the power of the cross. Need something visual to keep the cross at the front of your mind? Jim Le Page has produced 47  different pictures of the cross for you to meditate on every day during Lent. Or mull over John Donne’s famous – and incredibly intense – sonnet ‘Batter my heart’.

Music - Garage Hymnal        Music - Page CXVI

Sermon - Andrew Katay        Sermon - Brian Elfick

Poetry - Donne Sonnet 14        Visual - Jim LePage

The Third Sunday in Lent

The origins of the Collect for the Third Sunday in Lent also lie in sixth century Italy. However, the prayer that God will “look upon our heart’s desires” and “defend us” against our enemies, both physical and particularly spiritual, references the Gospel reading for today, Luke 11.14-20.

The central phrase in the Collect is “the hearty desires of thy humble servants,” particularly the word hearty. Cranmer’s meaning here is drawn from the perspective of Psalm 51:  a “broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51.17). Our heart is looking for consolation and trust, the restoration of hope. We petition the Lord from the desire that He will restore our hearts to aspire to what is good. And that right desire only comes from  God creating in us a clean heart (Psalm 51.10).

The Temptation in the Desert

“One does not live by bread alone,
   but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

During Lent, our forty day fast, many people like to remember and meditate on Jesus’ forty day fast – and his temptation – in the wilderness. Jesus’ fast is recorded in Mark 1, Matthew 4 and Luke 4, and it’s much more intense than anything that we do during Lent. After forty days of fasting Jesus is hungry and the Satan confronts him, not just with the chance to feed himself but to do so in a way that will define his sonship: “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread” (Luke 4.3). As God’s faithful son, Jesus has fulfilled the promises that God made to Israel, His son, through submitting to God’s words in Scriptures. In recapitulating Israel’s history, Jesus also succeeded in his confrontation with the Satan and by the power of the Spirit overcome the failure of Adam – “the son of God” (Luke 3.38). What the Satan had offered Jesus was a way to be the Son without suffering and death. In the power of the Spirit, Jesus showed that he entrusted himself to the Father, and did not seek to escape death, but clung in hope to God’s promise to save him from death.

One of the things I love about the temptation stories in the desert is how they point forward to the greatest temptation Jesus faces. At the end of his life, as he stands poised to offer his own life for the sin of the world, Jesus once again wrestles in prayer, overcomes temptation to save himself, and submits to the will of his Father:

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’

And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ 

Mark 14:32-36

What an incredible Lord and Saviour we follow: one who is faithful to his Father, and faithful to his people, even in the face of temptation, even into death. In this way God condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin’s domain (Romans 8.3). He was made perfect in his obedience, and in this way, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4.15).

This week we have a sermon, some music, some poetry, and lots and lots of art, to help you reflect on Jesus’ faithfulness in the face of temptation.

Visual - Simon Smith Music - Jacob Montague

 

 

 

Poetry - Malcom Guite

Sermon - AJ Sherrill

 

 

 

Visual - Temptation

Visual - Jesus in Garden