Sunday 18th April 2021

Introduction

I wonder how many of us can associate with the following scenario? And if so, how many of us can associate with both sides of it? Someone is needing advice on a matter that is troubling them.

Who do they turn to for it? Do they go to a friend or family member whom they know has been there before or do they go elsewhere? Possibly to somebody like a counsellor who should be more objective and able to stand apart from the emotional side of your dilemma. Whatever route you go down the last thing you really want to hear or indeed say if you are the one who has been sought out is, ‘I know exactly how you are feeling and this is what I did when it happened to me so therefore you would do well to do the same thing.’ We all know it is impossible for us to feel exactly the same or for that matter to know exactly how another person is feeling. The first letter of Peter is written not by a man who has been asked by the recipients to offer his advice or counsel but it is written by a man who has known suffering, on a personal level and as a first hand eyewitness to all that his friend and Lord had to endured. He is not a man who is writing to tell everyone that he has the answers. He is a man who is encouraging other believers that Jesus has the answers and it is to him and him alone that they should go. We will follow the letter and as it unravels three main themes will become clear. The privileges and responsibilities of Salvation. Christian submission and God’s honour. And finally. The suffering and persecution of Christians.

Reading: 1Peter:1-12

Reflection

During our journey through the Gospel according to Mark we encountered Peter in several places. I said that we would often find him at the most important parts of Jesus’ journey and sure enough he was there at the highs as well as the lows. In the Gospel narrative Peter is seen as one who covers the spectrum of disbelief to absolute faith. He is amongst the first to be called by Jesus as a disciple. He is the one who denies Jesus three times on the night of his arrest but he is also the one who Jesus calls the rock upon which the church will be built. Over the next few weeks we will look at Peter’s letters beginning today with his first which is believed to have been written when Peter was in Rome around the year 64AD. Most scholars place Peter’s death during the persecution times that he writes of in this letter, that being mid to late 60’s AD. In the early days Christianity was tolerated by the Roman Empire but as time moved on the government eventually began to take exception to some of its teaching. It did not like the talk of another kingdom, and certainly not a kingdom that was greater than the one Rome had created. It did not take kindly when Christians refused to bow down to the Roman idolatrous way of life with its numerous gods for all things. It could not understand how the Christian people had turned their back on the advancement of worldly wealth for the benefit of feeding and clothing the poor.

Peter writes in such a way that reveals his simple background as a fisherman, he was no academic who had learned about Jesus in a book, he was a man who had given over his life to walk closely with the man who called him forth. His writing resembles a sermon rather than a written thesis. He uses expressions that were common figures of speech. Remember Jesus too would speak in ways that people hearing him could understand when he addressed them through the parables. Peter speaks about things such as cornerstones, or a lamb and a shepherd. But this letter is not some homespun untampered, ill-informed advice from a man who just thinks he knows what is best for people, oh no, Peter was well grounded in the teachings of Jesus and the prophets. Peter quotes form the Old Testament more than any other New Testament writer. His letter is written to various provinces across the empire in what we now know as Turkey. It is a letter of encouragement for believers to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. It will discuss many of the trials and persecutions the Christian Church will face in these early days but they are urged to stand firm in the face of these ordeals and keep the faith. With a crazed Emperor Nero blaming Christian people for everything that was going wrong in the empire and making a sport out of using them a scapegoats. Torture of Christians in a very public way became a pastime of pleasure for many. Of course it is a word written for a season at different points in history when persecution has occurred. During WWI in or around the area Peter is writing to, that is modern day Turkey, many attacks took place on Christian villages. The Turkish assault on Armenian Christians is counted amongst the bloodiest religion-inspired massacres in history, with over one million people being killed. During the 20th Century thousands of Christians died in East Africa during the Mau Mau uprising and the Idi Amin reign of terror. Many more have suffered under Soviet and Chinese persecutions.

Even in our time, oppression continues with Christian converts being tortured and or imprisoned. What advice could one man offer to all these people? If you or I were asked, ‘How can I handle all of this?’

Would we know where to even begin? Peter comes at all of this from a very personal starting point. Having walked with Jesus he encourages those who have not seen with their own eyes but believe. In closing I want to look at just one verse from our reading, verse seven, and the refiner’s fire. The Good News Version puts it this way, ‘Their purpose is to prove that your faith is genuine. Even gold, which can be destroyed, is tested by fire; and so your faith, which is much more precious than gold, must also be tested, so that it may endure. Then you will receive praise and glory and honour on the Day when Jesus Christ is revealed.’

Sunday 11th April 2021

Introduction

The ending or to be more accurate the endings of the Gospel according to Mark have been a source of conversation with theologian academics throughout the centuries. Manuscripts have been found where the longer ending is missing and others have been found with it attached. Some early writers make reference

to the material in the long ending and others don’t. Did the original come to an end at verse eight which we heard last week? ‘and the women, trembling and bewildered went out and fled the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.’ Or does it continue on to the verses, read to us this morning, with its collection of appearances by Jesus followed by the commissioning to go out to all the world and preach the good news. I think we will leave the academics to try and resolve that particular question

Reading: Mark 16:9-20

Reflection

In these verses we have that whole tension arising between faith and misunderstanding. We have that whole visual backing the verbal again; they did not believe Mary Magdalene when she told them Jesus had appeared to her. Only when he appears to two of them walking in the country, other gospels record this as the Emmaus Road encounter. Or appearing to the eleven when they were eating, other gospels record in detail the whole upper room appearances. Jesus rebukes them for their lack of faith and unbelief that others had witnessed him risen from the dead. Then the final two verses giving Mark’s account of the Lord’s ascension. The scholars may well debate all of this but we will look at what we have. Mark opens the Gospel by declaring, ‘the gospel about Jesus Christ, the son of God.’ And he draws it to a close by declaring Christ has risen. When we began to look at this Gospel back on the 10th of January, right up until this morning, Mark has only ever wanted us to recognise Jesus of Nazareth is Jesus the Christ. He has led us on an amazing journey in what I think is a very straightforward way. He has led us to the place we find ourselves this morning, in some ways irrespective of what ending we choose to finish off with. Jesus Christ is the son of God and he has been raised from the dead. You and I don’t need to be afraid anymore. On the Friday night, a man dies. He is buried on that same night. On Sunday morning, some friends of his arrive at the tomb where he was buried to pay their last respects only to discover that his body is gone.

What happened? “Come and See”! the angel said to the women who came to the tomb that Sunday. It was true for these women and it’s true for us, as well. Come to the truth of the empty tomb. This is the beginning of a new relationship that is real and honest, this is the new relationship of love with God, Himself. The angel said, “…SEE the place where He lay.” what is it that we SEE at this place? God putting aside His glory and dwelling among us. Offering for all who would believe salvation and eternal life. We look at that tomb today and we also see Jesus isn’t there! He is risen! He has conquered death! For us today the personal encounter with the risen Christ convinces us of the truths within scripture. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. As we look around at the world stage. We see regions of our world where there is no dignity for their citizens their lives are void of anything that remotely resembles joy or liberty.
Nations locked in negotiations over trade agreements and border disputes, ancient grievances causing war.

Surely by now we have become clever enough that we have the ability to bring relief around the world to those who are suffering. These world-shaping events are so important. They are literally changing the course of history. And as we watch, we wonder. We are reminded that no event in history has shaped the world like the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are reminded of this simple fact about life.

Life does not go on forever. There is death. Every one of us must face our mortality. There is no military victory, no medical cure, no global village that can prepare any individual to answer the ultimate questions in life. Where is there hope? Where is there new life? Where is there reason for joy? The answer to our questions has arrived. It is here waiting for us. It is a three-word message: Christ Is Risen! This Eastertime we proclaim Hope, the hope of His Resurrection. Jesus Christ is our hope of resurrection. Some people today see the empty tomb and believe. Some see the empty tomb and they don’t know what to believe.

Others see the empty tomb, and the change this has on people’s lives and they search for an explanation of what has happened. Because of the Resurrection the disciples were changed. Because of the Resurrection our view of death has changed. Because of the resurrection, our view of Jesus has changed.

Easter is all about LIFE; new, whole and abundant Life, Redeemed and Resurrected life. Easter says the purpose of life is not death, the purpose of life is life that triumphs over death forever. Celebrating Easter is a celebration of all that is good, all that is true, and all that is beautiful. It is the reality of Easter that makes everything else we would do possible.

Holy Week – Easter Sunday 4th April 2021

Introduction

I want to begin our Easter service with a very short, but I think lovely story that I first read a few years ago. A little boy and his father were driving down a country road on a beautiful spring afternoon. Suddenly out of nowhere a bumblebee flew in the car window. But what made this incident really terrifying was that the little boy was deathly allergic to bee stings. So, when he saw the bee, he became petrified. But his father, thinking quickly, reached out, grabbed the bee, squeezed it in his hand, and then released it. The bee then started to fly around inside the car again, as soon as he let it go. So the panic started all over again for the little boy. His father saw the panic on his boy’s face, he pulled the car off to the side of the road. Then he reached out his hand, but this time it was to show the boy something. There still stuck in his skin was the stinger of the bee. “Do you see this?” he said. “You don’t need to be afraid anymore. I’ve taken the sting for you.”

Reading: Mark 16:1-8

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Reflection

They arrived early.

These ladies didn’t arrive early in anticipation, but rather to take care of unfinished business. They had seen the tomb and where his body was laid after he was taken down from the cross. Yet, they had to return home where they prepared the spices, and ointments, but their work was delayed because of the Sabbath. Even though Joseph had anointed the Lord’s body, these ladies had to do this last thing for their Lord. As soon as they could, following the Sabbath, they left their homes, met together, and went to the tomb of Jesus. One must admire the devotion, and courage of these ladies. Oh, how they loved him! He must have a proper burial. It was the least they could do. They were courageous in what they did.

They did not fear the darkness nor did they fear being identified with Christ.

They arrived expecting.

What did those ladies expect? They expected to find a body. They came there to anoint the body of the Lord with spices, and ointments since they were unable to do so because of the Sabbath. What do we expect when we go to a graveyard? We expect that there will be tears shed, that there will be grieving,

and that a body will be lowered down in the ground, and covered with dirt. They arrived entering. As these ladies came to the place where they had seen the body of Christ laid, they were discussing how they would be able to get into the tomb. They had seen the huge stone that was rolled in front of it after his death,

and knew that it was too large for them to move. Their major concern was access to the body. Apparently these ladies had no confidence that the Roman Soldiers who had been dispatched to guard the tomb

would be courteous enough to roll away the stone. After all, had they not been instructed to seal the tomb…indicating that it was not to be disturbed. Yet, God gave them access to an empty tomb. They arrived anticipating to find a stone in front of the tomb, but what they found was the stone rolled away, and the tomb empty!

They departed excited!

What a great way to leave a cemetery? We don’t usually leave graveyards excited. We usually leave there in pain over the death of a family member or friend. Even, if it’s not someone that we were closely acquainted with…. excitement is not an emotion we usually feel after leaving the graveyard…yet, these ladies were excited. The source of their excitement was, of course, the resurrection of The Lord Jesus Christ. They left quickly and fled… and that they trembled and were amazed!

Holy Week – Good Friday 2nd April 2021

Reading: Mark 15:21-40

Reflection

Recently we have quite some time using our senses and imagination as we try to get ourselves into this story of Jesus. What must it have felt like around the city that night. Total utter rejection for many and the smugness of others, religious leaders believing they had completed a good day’s work. Imagine now after his death how the mocking would have continued, all those barrack room lawyers emerging from the shadows and the ridiculous statements that would have been made. Things such as, ‘We shouldn’t really be surprised given what has gone on during this last week in Jerusalem. This Jesus really had it coming to him.’ Then another voice chips in, ‘The wife and I were just saying ‘You cannot traipse around the country with a dozen nobodies and expect to be believed. These disciples of his, if you can call them that, are common. And as for him, with his stories of lost coins and runaway children, he was far from sophisticated.’ Imagine the feelings around the city that night. People wanted a Messiah and if you pretend to be one you must take the consequences. You need to know where the line is if you are playing the fool, poking fun at politics and religion, he overstepped the mark.’

On Sunday we imagined that we were the Roman soldier sent to fill out a report on the entry parade now he is reflecting with his mates, now he has the words that he could not find just a few day ago. ‘There he was, riding on a donkey, with his starry-eyed friends throwing their shirts off their backs in front of him, and doing all of this in Royal Style. It might have been quite a laugh after dark, when the streets are empty. But not, in the light of day in the most sacred week of the year. Those who do that must be prepared for the consequences. So, all in all he had it coming to him.’ Of course, if it’s sensationalism he was after, he was going the right way about it. The temple of all places, that house of prayer, who would disagree? The place of worship is not a place to test the limits to which you can go or test the patience of those in charge, before someone shouts, ‘No further!’ But the stories circulating now about before he reached the city. He had such a following who would gather and listen to his words. They would gladly settle down on the hillside and listen to his preaching even when they were hungry and night approached he fed them with least amount of food you could ever imagine. Stories of how he invited those who look the worst, those who never seek the limelight. He asked the sick people to come forward and so they came. Three years his followers watched him, listened to him, copied him and now they have been let down. When the time came, it was one of his own who hand him over for a fee. He could have shown them today who he really was, people were ready for something big, instead he said nothing, allowing them to carry out their worst. Imagine how those whose lives he had touched felt in the city that night as they reflected on his short life. Remembering when he sat with the ones whom society had rejected and told them God was there. He smiled at soldiers, heathen soldiers, and promised them that God loves them. Imagine in the city that night those who still believed, those who still loved, those who remained loyal to their friend, those who still held fast to their faith. Imagine their conversation that night. That’s probably the most difficult conversation for us to imagine. Imagine if this is what the whole week has been about?  As the world carried out it’s punishment on God, God was doing something beautiful for the world. That leads us to a choice of two statements.

Because all in all he had it coming to him. Or Because all in all the world needs him.

Holy Week – Good Friday 2nd April 2021

Jesus before Pilate

Mark 15:1-15 tells of the sham trial Jesus had before Pilate.

As we Reflect On this Good Friday we can ask the question again, where were you?

Were we in the crowd following the high priests baying for Jesus’ to be crucified? Or were we a follower of Jesus hiding saying no! we did not follow Him freighted in case we were arrested too.

Another thought was being a soldier thinking what they have to do to this innocent Man if it went against.

The cruel torture they would inflict on Jesus.

Verses 1 to 5 tell of Pilate’s questioning.

Jesus only answers to Pilate a single time, to confirm that he is in fact the King of the Jews.

 Pilate asks Jesus other questions but of course, Jesus never answers any. Pilate is amazed, simply because Jesus, who lived in a lower social class than he did, did not respond to Pilate’s authority.

Jesus is God, and has the highest authority, and need not bow down to Pilate.

And although Pilate probably learnt nothing from Jesus’s answers, I think we have learnt a little bit now.

The remainder of the verses from 6 to 15 detail the verdict of the people. What happens next may seem familiar to those who read or follow international news with demonisations and the like.

The chief priests stirred up the gullible crowd to condemn Jesus and release Barabbas instead. Pilate, although thinking Jesus harmless, did not want to lose his position and thus, due to self-preservation, gave up Jesus to the crowd.

A few key points here.

Firstly, notice how Pilate, despite “knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him” (Verse 10), Pilate still decides to crucify Jesus anyway.

 It was in fact a great surprise to Pilate, when he found the people so much under the influence of the priests, that they all agreed to desire that Barabbas might be released.

We shouldn’t follow Pilate’s example, that is, prioritizing truth and justice over our own self-preservation.

Not only did it cause Pilate’s condemnation, but it was also the reason the Pharisees and Sadducees wanted Jesus dead in the first place.

Despite Jesus being a good man, the Pharisees and Sadducees wanted to continue being all “high and mighty” and Jesus was basically destroying whatever reputation they had.

Secondly, we shouldn’t be the crowd either.

The crowd was riled up the priests on that day and the priests made the crowd do their bidding.

We, as Christians, need to be able to stand firm in our positions and not be manipulated by worldly forces, say money, sex or reputation, but instead be steadfast and do what is right in the face of the crowd.

Finally, a final thing to note is something that was mentioned in the first paragraph: we gotta respect Jesus’s authority.

Know that time with him and following his example is more important than every other thing. Always make time for Jesus. Always strive to be like Jesus.

Amen.

Holy Week – Thursday 1st April 2021 Communion

The Meal

Mark 14; 17 -26

As we heard this afternoon.

This was during the time of Passover, and the disciples questioned where the Lord desired to eat the Passover meal. It was at this meal that Judas slipped away to betray Jesus.

This was a time set aside centuries prior in celebration of God’s mighty hand of provision as the people departed from Egypt.

On that faithful night they were expected to offer a lamb as a sacrifice, putting the blood of the sacrifice on the door posts and lintels, preparing the lamb along with bitter herbs and unleavened bread for their meal.

This was also referred to as “The Feast of Unleavened Bread.”

 I once went to a meal in Abby Church North Berwick where a Passover Meal was as it was in the time of Christ. With all the Herds and Wine and the order it was performed in.

The order of the meal was as follows:

• They drank a cup of red wine mixed with water, Luke 22:17.

• There was a ceremonial washing of hands which symbolized the need for spiritual and moral cleansing.

• They ate the bitter herbs (Lettice Celery) dipped in salt water, which symbolized their bondage in Egypt.

• They drank a second cup of wine, at which time the head of the household explained the meaning of Passover.

•They ate Charoset which is Chopped up nuts Apples and Cinnamon.

• They would then sing the first two of the Hallel Psalms, Psalms 113-114.

• Next, the lamb was brought out, and the head of the household distributed pieces of it with the unleavened bread. The unleavened bread symbolized haste. There was no time to allow the dough to rise before the journey would begin.

There is no record of what the menu at the last supper but there was bread and wine and

It would possibly be here that Jesus would have told them this is my Body and then this is my Blood.

• They drank a third cup of wine.

• Then, they would conclude the meal by singing the rest of the Hallel Psalms, Psalm 115-118. (i)

It would be easy to move on and not discuss the Passover any further, but it would be an injustice not to take a moment and consider the prophecy revealed in the Passover and how this celebration, observed for centuries, pointed to Christ.

We must consider the instruction given in Exodus 12.

The feast involved a lamb, Ex. 12:3-8. Notice that Ex. 12:3 called for Israel to choose “a lamb”.

This could have been any lamb at all.

Then, it is called “the lamb” in verse 4.

This refers to the particular lamb that was chosen for the meal.

Then, it is called “your lamb” in verse 5. This makes the meal very personal.

They were to select the lamb on the “tenth day of the month”, Ex. 12:3, and they were to keep the lamb until the “fourteenth day” of the month, Ex. 12:6.

There would be an attachment that would develop between the family and the little lamb.

This was intentional, God wanted them to see the high cost of sin. He wanted them to understand that salvation is an intensely personal business.

 It was on that night that our Lord Jesus gave us a new meaning to the supper, And it was on this night that Judas went from the meal to betray Jesus! (ii) Our Lord is not just a lamb; He is the Lamb!

He alone secured our salvation!

In order to be saved by grace and reconciled to God, Jesus Christ must be our Lamb.

One must know Him in a personal way in order to be saved. We must repent of sin and receive Him as the sole means of salvation!

Exodus 12:5a – Your lamb shall be without blemish.

The Hebrews were instructed to carefully select their lamb for sacrifice.

Any ordinary lamb would not be sufficient.

This lamb had to be without blemish.

 God demanded a perfect sacrifice in order for His judgment to pass-over them.

In order for our sin to be atoned, there had to be a perfect sacrifice.

God alone was able to provide such a sacrifice.

 Our Lord Jesus came to this earth, God robed in flesh, offering Himself the perfect sacrifice for our sin!

And here we are tonight remembering that this was the last Supper that Jesus Christ had on earth, He suffered the cruelty of the cross and gave his Life for Us!!!!  

Amen. 

Holy Week – Thursday 1st April

Reading: Mark 14:12-16

Reflection – Passover preparation

Each day of Holy Week holds special significance and traditions have been attached to these days over the years. Thursday known as Maundy Thursday has become the day in the week that we celebrated Holy Communion and we will do so this evening on our zoom service. For the moment I want us to spend some time looking at the daytime of Thursday because there is something happening that warrants our attention. As always there is imagery here that appears elsewhere in this gospel and across the others too.

The acting out of finding the suitable upper room resembles the finding of the donkey in preparation of the Palm Sunday entry. Of course there is one glaring difference in all of this. The preparation for Sunday was to set in motion a very public procession. The preparation for evening meal was to eat with disciples in secret. It also reveals something else that may catch us by surprise or in fact it may be something we have never really thought about too much. We read much about the disciples. Jesus calling the twelve then the seventy-two and they remain in the story at varying degrees. But there are a couple of points here that reveal much. ‘a man carrying a water jar will meet you.’ And, ‘say to the owner of the house he enters.’

‘they found things just a he had told them.’ The other day I was speaking with a colleague and we were saying how every year we visit Holy Week and every year there is something new and fresh to discover, such is the depth of the story. I have to say this is one of those moments for me. I’m not sure if in haste and trying to get to what happens next but whatever the reason I have always skipped over these verses and they do reveal something of value to us. Jesus mentions these men it would appear just in everyday conversation. But it shows us he must have followers and unknown disciples or friends. People he could trust and rely on in times of need and at this point in times of danger. The task of carrying water was normally carried out by women but Jesus knew that today a man would be doing this and more than that Jesus knew this was a man that could be trusted. He also knew this man did not have the room required for the meal but he would know the man that he was to lead the disciples to in order to carry out their task. When arriving at the house the phrase, ‘the teacher asks’ is enough for the homeowner to know who had sent these people. How deep is this? Jesus knows our gifts. Jesus knows our limitations. Jesus puts us to work in his kingdom where he knows we can fulfil the duties he requires of us. In these couple of verses in the turmoil of everything that is going on around them and with the knowledge of what lies ahead of him Jesus still finds time to encourage us with this message that whatever gift we have he can use. There is no person and there is no gift that he cannot nor will not call upon.

Holy Week – Wednesday 31st March

Reading: Mark 14:1-11

Reflection – The anointing

Here we have, similar to yesterday, another one of those Markan sandwiches. The first two verses tell us

there the need for a traitor but we do not know who that will be yet. Mark then moves us to the anointing story and the anointer is left unnamed although we are told it happens in the house of Simon the leper.

What are the contrasts between the characters? One is a traitor and the other a believer. One represents the worst possible action and the other suggests the best. There are of course lots of strands we could try to unpick when looking at these contrasts. If the crowds were so against Jesus as the angry mobs who will cry out crucify why did the religious authorities think it was unsafe to arrest him during the day? Why did they have to wait for the cover of darkness? Why did they wait until he was in a more private place such as the garden with only a few of his disciples with him? Why did they have to get Judas on board when many would have been willing to accept the thirty pieces of silver? The term used on Sunday was ‘many people spread their cloaks and branches.’ As with most parades or demonstrations ‘the many people’ can be taken to read different things. How many people need to be there before it constitutes a crowd? It can all be relevant to circumstance. On Monday the religious leaders, ‘were afraid to act because the whole crowd was amazed’ Was that the same crowd or a smaller one that witnessed the temple incident? Now look at the anointing. Such lavish outpouring of emotion, an entire year’s wage, not some thirty pieces of silver.

Jesus rebuking the disciples and saying this act will be remembered whenever the gospel is preached throughout the world. Now if ever there was an endorsement then that surely was it. Not only for a few weeks but every time the gospel is preached. Not only in and around Bethany and Jerusalem but throughout the world. Here in this action by this unnamed woman could it be that we are witnessing Mark’s revelation of the first to truly believe that Jesus will be raised from the dead? Because she is anointing him with burial oils and perfumes. That is where I want to leave all the questions and theories, all the theological what ifs. Over the weeks journeying through this gospel we have spent time thinking about the visual and the verbal. This is yet another case. The woman by her actions has visually displayed she understands all that Jesus has been speaking to his disciples about his dying and rising again. And yet still some among them said, ‘why this waste?’ This afternoon I want us to engage our imaginations with another of our senses. The sense of smell. I remember talking to a family once when making arrangements for a funeral. One of the men present said, ‘oh you knew when she had been baking, what a lovely smell when you got near the house. I can still get that smell today.’ I wonder how many of us can still smell

that favourite sweety shop from our childhood? Or on holiday and the unmistakable combination of the chippie with chips covered in vinegar and that fresh sea air filling your lungs. If you close your eyes and take a big deep breath through your nose what beautiful memory does your imagination allow you to revisit? When all the bits and pieces have been stripped away and we are left to remember our own thoughts. Where do we travel to?

And who do we travel with?

Holy Week – Tuesday 30th March 2021

Reading: Mark 11:20-25

Reflection – The fig tree

This is a day when lots happens. In the gospel according to Mark it takes us over the course of three chapters and 115 verses. Thursday will cover 60 verses and Friday will cover 47. This will be a full on day for Jesus and most of it is spent in conflict with the temple authorities and their side kicks. The day begins by taking us back to yesterday when the focus was, quite rightly, set on the clearing of the temple but before that encounter Jesus, you may remember, stopped at the fig tree and now we hear Peter is amazed that it is withered to the roots. Only days away from the end of life for Jesus and still we witness that tension of faith and understanding by those who have been closest to him. This encircling an event is common practice for Mark. Throughout the gospel he begins a story, moves to another and on completion of that one moves back to the original story. Biblical scholars do actually call it the Markan sandwich.

We have arrived at Tuesday. Jesus and his followers are returning to the city for the third day in arrow.

Remember as we journeyed through the gospel I said Jesus spent most of his time and his ministry in villages and rural settings. He only came to the city when he absolutely had to. With that in mind, I suppose going even once would be bad enough but three days in a row certainly not enjoyable as he knew the rest of the week, indeed the rest of his life, would be spent there too. There is going to be no let up for Jesus this week. Overnight the fig tree has withered. Look back to Sunday and see the crowds who welcome Jesus. Look forward to today and see the authorities who challenge him. Look further forward, to the end of the week and see how the crowds wither away also. They, like the fig tree, will bear no fruit.

Jesus has used this fig tree as a visual to underscore the verbal. If you have faith enough then whatever you ask will be done. All things are possible with God. That is not to say that praying in faith to God through Jesus is some form of magic formula, it must never we adopted as some ritual to be performed in a set manner using a set of prescribed words. To pray in faith allows us to wait and see how God will answer these and sometimes we are surprised at the outcome. We will go with Jesus on Thursday evening as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane and there we will discover in the words of Jesus, a prayer of faith ‘Father everything is possible for you. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’ And that is the seal on any prayer of faith. Father God if it is according to your will then let it be so. Jesus will give some great teaching in the next few chapters before leaving the city in the evening again to return to his friend’s home in Bethany. By the time we return tomorrow Jesus will have been challenged over and over again. We will join with him tomorrow in that friend’s house.

A Journey through Holy Week

In the light of the continuing restrictions that we’re dealing with, I’ve created a digital resource that runs from Palm Sunday to Easter Day – a journey through Holy Week. It will air across the Church of Scotland’s various channels at 8am each morning or can be viewed later.

Each episode features a short reflection presented by myself, as Moderator of the General Assembly, together with the appropriate daily reading from John’s Gospel, a prayer and a piece of contemplative music.

Colleagues from across the Church have contributed these various elements, the episodes can be viewed directly from the Church’s platforms or you can visit https://stream1.churchofscotland.org.uk/worship/holy-week-2021