Lenten letters

To my fellow pilgrims in this season of Lent

In the midst of the troubling news of the tragedy in Christchurch last week and heavy conversations with members of a farming community who are fast running out of water and feed as they wait and hope and pray for rain, it was particularly meaningful to celebrate the act of baptism and hear the familiar words: 

… for you Jesus Christ has come, has lived, has suffered;
for you, he has endured the agony of Gethsemane and the darkness of Calvary;
for you, he has uttered the cry, ‘It is accomplished!’
For you, he has triumphed over death;
for you, he prays at God’s right hand.
All for you, even before you were born.

Uniting in Worship

For me, Christ’s journey to the cross – much like God’s choice to come into our midst in the form of a tiny, vulnerable baby – is a poignant reminder that God shares in our daily life, our suffering, and our death, and that, one day, we will share in the power of Christ’s resurrection.

In Luke’s Gospel this journey (beginning shortly after his transfiguration) takes ten chapters to tell as Jesus follows the pilgrim’s route through Samaria; stops over with Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany; and even eats in the home of a tax collector in Jericho. Though Jerusalem is his destination, he does not rush or brush people off or dismiss the daily needs of fellow pilgrims on the way as petty in the grand scheme of what he will soon accomplish.

He heals. He teaches. He encourages. He comforts. He visits.

He takes his time because the salvation of the world is not only about an eternal end goal but about us knowing the blessing of God being close to us in each and every day of life’s journey.

In Luke 13:1-9, as he tells a tale about a fruitless fig tree to those who are wondering about whether God is with them in light of the terrible time that they have had of late, I identify with the owner of the vineyard who just wants to cut it down and clear the space for something better. I recognise that I am hasty and full of judgement. I confess that I get frustrated with things that eat up my time or energy without actually accomplishing anything. I acknowledge that my sense of time always seems more urgent than the gardener who not only asks that the poor fig tree be given another year, but promises to nurture and feed it that it may bear fruit.   

The invitation of this week in Lent is threefold:

  • to slow down! Take some time out to walk, to wander, to visit with a friend, to be still, to be open to signs of God’s love with and within you.
  • to confess – our frustration, our impatience, our careless haste. 
  • to pray – for rain, for grace for the sinner and healing for the hurting, for the salvation of the world and for the part that God would have us play in it.

For us, Christ has endured much, accomplished much, and continues to pray much. May we, in turn, bear much fruit as we live in and with and through his great love for us.

Yours, in Christ,
Yvonne 

Day Two: Where Is Our God?

Psalm 79
Micah 4:1-5
Revelation 15:1-8

A retired accountant opens fire on a crowd of festival-goers from his hotel room in Las Vegas – over 50 dead and 500 taken to hospital emergency rooms for treatment ….

Buildings collapse in Mexico as the earth shakes. Thousands of homes are destroyed and over 360 people are pulverised and smothered by the falling debris ….

Strategic air strikes in Syria – some for domination, some for retaliation, some even in the hope of peace – result in well over 2000 deaths in the region in the month of September alone ….

A father of two returns home from a wonderful family vacation and is found a few days later, hanging in the basement ….

These are merely a few occurrences in the world today that cause people to question “where is my God?” or to curse and taunt “where is your God?”

Is there a particular moment in your life when you have wondered where God is …? 
… when you have felt abandoned or betrayed by God …? 
… when you have considered a terrible or tragic situation as the judgement or punishment of God?

Following the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, the Babylonian conquest was an unimaginable violation for the Jews – not only of their sacred places (the holy city of Jerusalem and the temple where they worshipped) but of their fundamental belief that, as God’s chosen people, they were totally untouchable.

Yet as their dead rotted in the streets without the dignity of burial, and the living were taken into captivity, they felt the scorn and derision of their neighbours keenly: their mocking question, “Where is your God?” echoed the fearful wonderings of their own hearts, “How long will God be angry with us? How long will we be punished for our sins and for the sins of our fathers?”

Reeling with the horror of what had happened and the disbelief that their mighty God would allow those who followed other gods to have victory over them, how difficult it must have been for them to hold onto the words of hope and restoration spoken by the prophets of old!

Read prayerfully through the passage from Micah 4:1-5 again.

Which promise speaks most powerfully to you?

Which image seems impossible or unbelievable given the state of the world today?

Each of today’s Advent readings invites us to examine the way that we think about the so-called “judgements” of God – none more so than the triumphant scene in heaven that John depicts in Revelation 15.

As seven angels carry seven disasters from the temple, the saved ones sing the song of the Lamb (verses 3-4, the Message):

Mighty your acts and marvelous,
O God, the Sovereign-Strong!
Righteous your ways and true,
King of the nations!
Who can fail to fear you, God,
give glory to your Name?
Because you and you only are holy,
all nations will come and worship you,
because they see your judgments are right.   

The season of Advent encourages us to give voice to our doubts, our wonderings, even our angry accusations, “God, where have you been in the midst of my/our suffering!?!” and then invites us to picture what lies beyond the crisis or the catastrophe that we are experiencing.

Salvation will come – rescue, restoration, an era of peace and plenty!

And the question, “Where is your God?” will be answered exquisitely by a personal experience of the power and presence of God acting to pull us from the muck and mess that our sin has made.

Last lessons: Love

*Good Friday: John 18:1-19:42*

And again another passage of Scripture says,
“They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”
19:37

Saving love is costly.

People humiliate us; they try to rob us of our dignity, to strip us bare; they make it their mission to alienate us, destroy us, outstrip us.

Yet love forgives.

Jesus prays for his enemies “for they know not what they do.”

So often we know precisely what we’re doing: we deliberately and knowingly deny, betray, turn away …

… yet through love we are forgiven.

And this love assures us of this: that when we recognize our need for conversion, for transformation; when we acknowledge Christ as Lord and Saviour, we are saved from the power of sin and death in this life and claim the promise of newness, the promise of eternity, the promise of Paradise …

… not as some ethereal vision or distant dream. Even today, Jesus makes life more bearable, more beautiful, by connecting us through the cross to one another in a way that comforts and takes responsibility for our Christian brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers, our sons and daughters, and indeed, for the whole world.

Yet there are times so dark, so difficult that we wonder how we will survive, endure, let alone thrive on life’s abundance.

In the midst of the darkness, Christ cries out that he has carried out pain; that we are not alone. On the cross, love laments so that we can know that we will never be abandoned, never be forsaken.

In fact, in our fragile humanity, in our needs and our longings, God moves us beyond superficial, surface-level relationships to a spirituality that is drenched in the Living Waters of God’s Spirit.

We praise God today that God’s saving love sees what is started through to the end. In a world of half-done things and best intentions, we are moved by the knowledge that the One who began a good work in us is faithful to complete it.

God is not done with our lives until we find our final resting place in God’s heart; until our spirits rest completely and safely in God’s hands.

Are we ready to offer our lives, our hearts, our love, our all to God’s saving love today?