Dressed in their Easter finery, members of the community and visitors arrived early at the Cathedral to celebrate Easter Day at the noon SLT service. Some took the opportunity to sample the refreshments provided on the table in the courtyard before going into the Cathedral. The Cathedral was decked out in banners and with wonderful lilies. We had journeyed together through Lent and Holy Week, preparing ourselves to welcome the risen Lord.
At the beginning of our service I asked that those who had applause or cheering animations available should use them when we all said together the many Alleluias which were found throughout the service. It gave the whole occasion a feeling of great celebration, and so it should. This is the greatest day in the church year and well worth celebrating. Jesus is alive! Death has been conquered. Alleluia!
The readings for the day were Psalm 118:14-24, Acts 10:34-43 and John 20:1-18. I gave the following reflection on God’s love:
Recently I’ve been trying out a new online tool which is designed to help people with depression and bipolar disorder to improve their mood. I wanted to be able to recommend it to my counselling clients but first wanted to see how it worked. It comprises a set of cards each with a different mood on: irritable, active, excited, distressed and so on. For each you choose how much of that mood you are experiencing by choosing a number from zero to three.
I’ve noticed that I really struggle with the card that says ‘Proud’. I suppose for Christians pride is normally thought of as a bad thing; ‘an excessive love of one’s own excellence’ as St Augustine called it. However, in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book this year by Stephen Cherry, called ‘Barefoot Disciple’ the contrast is made between bad pride, such as Augustine meant, and good pride. Cherry points out that God showed good pride when he looked on his creation and saw that it was ‘very good’. If God can look at his work and feel pride, we surely can too. We can be pleased if we have done work well or achieved something worthwhile.
I’ve now been challenged to think hard when that card bearing the word ‘Proud’ comes up in the Moodscope program. I have to remember that good pride, celebration and delight in my achievements, is not a bad thing. Celebration is built into the fabric of the universe from the very beginning. I see no reason not to join in through some kind of false humility.
Today is the supreme day of celebration for Christians. We’re not celebrating our own achievements of course; we won’t be choosing 3 on the ‘Proud’ card. Instead we are celebrating the wonderful action of God in Christ which has brought about our reconciliation to God. Jesus died and rose again, defeating death. The tomb could not hold him, death was denied victory though for a while it seemed to have won. Evil did not triumph.
In celebrating in a ‘big’ way, it can be possible to actually miss what this great day means to us as individuals, what we can celebrate for us personally. I’m sure it would be possible to fill volumes unpacking that but there are just two things I want to pick up which are illustrated in today’s readings.
First is the abundance of God’s love for us. God takes joy, maybe even pride, in giving to us more generously than we could ever imagine. It’s difficult to understand why the creator of the universe would want to take the trouble to give to us. What makes us so important? Compared to God, we are nothing, tiny dots in a vast universe. Yet I am sure that God wants to overwhelm us with gifts, beyond our imagination. I think that the description of this in Luke is the very best: ‘pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap’. I know that the context of that quote is the response we will receive when we give, but I am convinced that that is the way God works normally. He does everything in his power to give us as much as possible. His love is so great for us and he longs for us to receive it.
If you think of what you know of Jesus’ life, you see him being kind to those who were outcasts, on the very edge of society. The religious folk thought God would be nice to them as long as they followed the rules. Extending God’s love to those who didn’t follow the rules annoyed them so much that it led to Jesus’ death. As if that wasn’t enough, we read of Peter preaching that ‘in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’ God is not prepared to love just his chosen people, the Jews, but everyone who responds to his invitation, no matter what their nationality.
We see the same generosity working for Mary as she went to the garden where Jesus was buried. She wanted to be near him, though he was dead. She just wanted a physical closeness somehow while she wept. Instead she received the most wonderful revelation of the living Christ there with her in the garden. Instead of weeping, she was given joy. Instead of living with all meaning from life having gone, she was given a new task that brought purpose to her life. She became the apostle to the apostles, carrying the Good News – ‘I have seen the Lord!’ Never in her wildest dreams could Mary have imagined receiving such a gift but the abundance of God’s love is shown to her on that Sunday morning in an amazing way.
The second thing I want to draw your attention to is the personal nature of God’s contact with us. He doesn’t treat us as a mob of people but as individuals. Throughout his time on earth, Jesus talked to people one at a time. We know he also preached to crowds on the beach, on the Mount of Beatitudes, but much of what is recorded of his life is his contact with individuals: the woman by the well, the Syrophoenician woman, the man by the pool at Bethesda, blind Bartimaeus, the man born deaf and dumb, the man with the withered hand, the woman with the issue of blood, the woman bent double, the paralysed man brought on his bed. The list goes on and on.
On that first Easter morning Jesus spoke to Mary as an individual. It was as he spoke her name that she recognised him. Despite the terrible experiences of the previous days, Jesus had not forgotten her. He’d travelled to hell and back for the whole world but she still mattered to him as a person. She was given her own task to do for Jesus, something just for her, carefully chosen.
When I was thinking about this I saw a picture which I’d like to share with you. I saw a father returning from a long trip away. Entering the house, he called the children by name and they came rushing to him for a hug. I saw him with a big smile on his face. It was more than just pleasure at seeing the children. It was as though he was holding in a secret he longed to share. As soon as he had the chance he reached into his bag and gave each child a wonderful gift that he had brought back from his trip for them.
God hasn’t changed. His love is for each of us and is greater than we can ever imagine. Though there is the general nature of what Jesus did for us in dying and rising again, there is also a personal nature to it. He calls each of us by name. We are not part of a crowd, unnoticed. We matter as individuals to the King of kings. We can say with the psalmist: ‘I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me and have become my salvation.’
After the prayers we walked out of the Cathedral together to our Easter Garden where the tomb lay open, rays of light beaming from it. There we prayed that we might ‘be strengthened in faith, know the power of Jesus’ presence, and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory.’ The service ended with a blessing.
Often after a service, the majority of people need to leave to attend to real life but this time most stayed to chat. There were lots of admiring comments about the various beautiful outfits being worn and sharing of where to shop in SL. Many took the opportunity to sample the refreshments. Gradually some had to leave but others continued to converse. There was a lovely atmosphere of celebration and enjoyment of one another’s company.
Things took an unexpected turn when two griefers arrived on the sim. It was apparent after only a short conversation that they were there to cause disruption and offence. They were banned from the sim and reported to Linden Labs by community members. Unfortunately they succeeded in attacking the sim, piling nails and large crosses in the Cathedral courtyard. Swift action from Cady, our churchwarden, dealt with these but other burning crosses arrived which also had to be cleared from the sim. The griefers used the neighbouring sim to build up a pile of crosses and we anticipated another attack but it never came. This was obviously a premeditated attack, with similar objects being placed on neighbouring sims where there are churches. We are fortunate and seldom suffer in this way on Epiphany Island. All those present took the event in their stride, acting swiftly to keep a record of the conversations and to photograph the griefing. It was actually a memorable end to a wonderful day and a wonderful example of the community working together.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor