At the Tuesday service the readings were Acts 2:36-41, Psalm 33:4-5, 18-end, John 20:11-18. My reflection is given below:
Recently I’ve been doing some private tuition for a girl who is due to take her GCSE exams (taken by students in England at the age of 16) in May and June. We’ve been doing a mixture of maths and English, depending on what she has felt the need to be supported on. Maths at this level I can do very easily. I have a degree in maths (not a very good one I hasten to add) so I’m on pretty safe ground with the sort of topic this young lady wishes to revise. So far it’s been the area of various shapes and the volumes. Armed with a calculator these questions are fairly easy really.
The English is a different matter. For a start off, there is no right answer to a question on language or literature. The marking of work has to be fairly subjective, although certain key ideas are looked for. I think I was pretty sensible when I was younger, as I chose to give up studying English Literature when I was 13. Now I find myself faced with advising a teenager on how to get good marks in the subject. We’ve looked at two pieces of persuasive writing and been asked to compare and contrast them. Luckily there is a long list of the kind of things we should be looking for: presentation devices (bold font, underlining, bullet points etc), use of pictures, metaphorical language, purpose, intended audience, style, use of narrative, and so it goes on. The last time we met we were comparing and contrasting two poems and so to the list we added structure of stanzas, which person are they written in, tone, and so on. It’s actually been quite interesting although a bit of a challenge.
Faced with today’s two passages of scripture, I have felt challenged to draw anything out of them. My thoughts have ended up comparing and contrasting rather as I’ve been doing with my student’s work. These passages are put together for a reason, they must inform one another and teach us something. That’s what I’ve been looking for, not to get an A* in a literature exam.
The two incidents take place 50 days apart. On both occasions Jerusalem was full of people. When Jesus was crucified and rose again crowds had gathered for the Passover. When Peter addressed the crowd it was the festival of Pentecost.
Despite the fact that it was a busy time in Jerusalem, Mary was alone in the garden, probably because it was so early in the day. She had initially gone to the tomb while it was still dark and even with her journey back to see Peter and John and then back to the garden again, it might yet have been before dawn. The city was probably still sleeping, but Mary couldn’t rest any longer because of her grief.
At Pentecost the city was already bustling with life as it was 9am. People would have been pushing through the narrow streets of Jerusalem, possibly buying bread and other provisions for the day. There would have been a party feeling as this was a special holiday, no doubt with people chatting cheerfully about what the day would hold for them.
Mary had been drawn by love to the tomb. She was looking for her Lord, her Teacher. She knew that he was dead but she wanted to do right and make sure Jesus’ burial was properly finished. The crowd on the other hand were drawn to Peter and the other disciples out of curiosity; they hadn’t been looking for anything or anyone, certainly not for Jesus. The rush of a wind and the babble of many voices speaking their languages caused them to gather and question what was going on.
Despite these differences, both Mary and the crowd met Jesus. Mary met him in person and heard him speak to her in a loving way, calling her name and giving her a task to do for him. The crowd met Jesus through the preaching of Peter. This was no soft, tender voice, but the voice of accusation: ‘this Jesus whom you crucified’. Mary had watched her Lord die and had done all she could for him. The crowd, not necessarily personally, but by implication, were guilty of murdering Jesus.
Meeting Jesus had a profound effect. Mary was overcome with grief but then joyfully hugged her Teacher, all grief washed away in this amazing encounter. The crowd moved from astonishment at what was happening to great sadness when they understood the implication of Peter’s words – they had killed the Son of God. What could they do?
Both Mary and the crowd could have run away from Jesus. Mary had already taken a risk by staying near him, being associated with someone accused of threatening the power of Rome. She saw angels in the tomb, she saw a strange man in the garden – the gardener perhaps. Reason enough to run. Instead she accepted the task Jesus gave her and became the Apostle to the Apostles as she carried the message: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ The crowd could have walked off muttering that these disciples were drunk after all, questioning what right Peter had to accuse good Jews of such a crime, but 3000 of them responded to the invitation to repent and be baptised. That decision probably put some of them at risk when persecution started not too long afterwards. These people came from many parts of the world but we know that Paul didn’t confine his persecution of Christians to Jerusalem.
So where has my ‘compare and contrast’ exercise brought me to? I am perhaps more aware than ever of what the response to today’s psalm says: ‘The earth is full of the loving-kindness of the Lord.’ God in his loving-kindness knows that we all need to meet Jesus. He is prepared to find many ways to present the claims of Jesus to us. Some may hear them through the voice of a woman with a tear-stained face who has herself just met the Lord and is full of excitement and amazement. Some may hear through the no holds barred approach of someone like Peter, who faces them with their sin and presents them with the option to change. Some may hear Jesus call them by name, actually hear him or meet him in a dream. Some may meet him through their sorrow and some in times of gladness.
However we meet Jesus, we all have a choice in how we respond. We can accept the love he offers, repent and begin to live our lives like he did. That will mean that life is risky, challenging, but so much better than it would otherwise be. Alternatively we can choose to ignore Jesus and carry on unchanged.
If like Mary, we acknowledge Jesus as our Saviour and Teacher, we will be given the task of sharing the Good News with those whom we meet:
‘Christ is risen! Alleluia!’
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor