Note to reader. I included this story in an article I wrote for the Contact Magazine back in 2017, and on here for an Advent reflection in 2016. I like it because it helps me understand the love that inspired the Incarnation, and why we should celebrate Christmas. I know… its June… just bear with me.
A grandfather found his grandson, jumping up and down in his playpen, crying at the top of his voice. When Johnnie saw his grandfather, he reached up his little chubby hands and said, “Out, Gramp, out.” It was only natural for the Grandfather to reach down to lift the little fellow out of his predicament; but as he did, the mother of the child stepped up and said, “No, Johnnie, you are being punished, so you must stay in.” The grandfather was at a loss to know what to do. The child’s tears and chubby hands reached deep into his heart, but the mother’s firmness in correcting her son for misbehaviour must not be lightly taken. Here was a problem of love versus law, but love found a way. The grandfather could not take the youngster out of the playpen, so he crawled in with him.
The only problem with this story is that it is unfinished. At some point the grandfather must leave the playpen, and Johnnie must grow up, learn from his mistakes and move on. So, you’ll be pleased to know I’m not 6 months behind, I’m not calling for a second Christmas to be added to our calendars, no matter how much I love the Australian tradition of a good BBQ on Christmas Day. Instead I’m suggesting we make more of the Ascension of Jesus in our lives.
The Church marks and celebrates the Ascension this year on the 30th May. We do so to remind ourselves that Jesus is indeed still with us, whilst knowing that it is now our task to mature in faith, and to take our role as Christians in the world seriously.
I agree that Ascension Day is an obscure Christian holiday. It celebrates an event that is difficult for the modern scientific mind to take literally, and the truth that Jesus ascended to heaven when he could have stayed, is quite unhelpful to Christians more generally. I mean let’s be honest – if the resurrected Jesus was still with us in person, spreading the Gospel would be a whole lot easier. He’d be very popular on YouTube for a start. Jesus ascending into heaven was like our best player being substituted off the pitch in extra-time, at the very moment we needed him the most.
Despite this, we declare in church that the Ascension is central to our faith.
We publicly state it every week in our creed. Why? Well, its because we know we must grow in our faith, grow in life, remain dependent on the love of God in Jesus but free to exercise our faith in the world. Here are three reasons why should keep the Ascension high up in our lives.
The Ascension is a call to worship.
In Acts 1:9 it says that Jesus was ‘lifted up’, he didn’t get taken up on some divine hoist, or sky elevator. He was lifted up. The first thing to note here is that the original Greek text conveys an earthly perspective not a heavenly one. It literally means the world ‘lifted’ Jesus toward his Father, which conveys the ascension as a moment of glory. The Ascension is therefore a call to worship. When we meet in church and remember the Ascension, we lift Jesus to his rightful place as having authority in our lives.
The Ascension is a reminder that it is good for us that Jesus returned to the Father. One way of seeing the Ascension is like it’s Christmas in reverse. God comes down to be with us, and then God returns, to remain in us. Teresa of Avila writes, ‘Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ is to look out on a hurting world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless now.
The Ascension was the moment the Church became the Church. One of the many privileges of being vicar of All Saints Highertown is my seeing all the amazing people that are involved in community run projects, such as resident’s associations, community choirs, and the many support groups that use the church. I am proud that they are part of our life, and that the body of Christ is rich and varied. And this is the point. The Church is not a community organisation, it is not an institution, it is not a religion. The Church was always meant to be body of Christ, the person of Jesus to the rest of the world. In so many ways we have lost our way, but there are equally ways in which we have lived out this identity with all we can offer. And so here is the task we are reminded of on Ascension Day. Our greatest task of all is to be what we are meant to be. To be like Him who saved us.
Revd Jeremy Putnam
(Mary Magdalene's experience of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Resurrection experience combining John 20:2-18 and Luke 24:1-12)
I’ve been hanging out with a guy who I thought the world of. He’s no ordinary guy, people love him, he has this way about him that attracts normal people like you and me.
You see I’ve not lived the best of lives, I’ve done things wrong, I was pretty well off coming from a fishing village but at one point I was really troubled with bad spirits. They messed with my head and made me think bad things and do bad things. Not many people wanted to be near me but this guy
This guy he was different...
He healed me.
My mind and my body and I became better again.
So I followed him, I invested in him, time and money along with my friends Joanna and Susanna
We went with him wherever he went and we saw amazing things.
He didn’t just heal me, he healed so many people, I saw blind men see again, this man who was lowered into a house on a makeshift bed as there were so many people around they couldn’t bring him in the door. He couldn’t move got up but this guy told him to get up and then he started walking about.
It was like having on the ancient prophets with us, but even better.
He even brought people back to life, this little girl, a young man and my new friend Lazarus.
We thought he was he messiah we’d all been waiting for.
We thought he’d come to overthrow the Romans, be our warrior but he was different.
We loved him but the priest and leaders of the temple weren’t so enamoured with him.
They didn’t think some guy from Nazareth could be God’s son so when that’s who he said he was they were not too happy.
Plus, he did things they REALLY didn’t like, it was bad enough when he started doing things on the Sabbath, like healing people, I mean what can be more important, healing people or observing the Sabbath.
Well the priests had their opinion that’s for sure…
But then he started telling people their sins were forgiven…
Talk about taking their job from them…
Plus, he started getting lots of followers and it threatened their ‘jobs’ so they started plotting to kill him.
They started by trying to catch him out with tricky questions but I’ve never seen anyone be able to answer questions like him.
But then not long ago when he came into Jerusalem he came on a donkey and the people went crazy, treating him like a crusader, a warrior, someone come to save us from the Romans. He knew what he was doing but I think that was the last straw for the Jewish leaders…
And the unthinkable happened.
They got to one of our friends.
It was the best way to actually catch him as up until now they never managed it. He always slipped out of their grasp… To many people around who loved him to protect him.
They needed to get him when there weren’t so many people around…
They got to Judas.
He was a good guy but never really got away from the pull of money. He used to look after the money for us so they offered him money to betray him and one night he did.
This guy was being weird the few days before.
It’s like he knew what was going to happen.
He started talking about dying and how he was going to be betrayed but we didn’t believe him.
We didn’t want to believe him.
To us he was Gods son, our messiah.
And lots of people thought so too.
But Judas did betray him, over the time of the Passover of all times, he told the roman guards where they could find him and with all things a kiss he showed them who he was.
And they took him away.
That’s when people starting walking away and disappearing.
The next few hours got tough…
Our friend Peter denied him. I mean Peter! He was right there during EVERYTHING. Even this time when he went up a hill and they said Elijah and Moses appeared. You don’t get closer than that…
But while this guy was being questioned the people outside recognised Peter but he denied even knowing him.
He said that would happen too.
I mean who knows the future?
But then it all went totally pear shaped.
He went from Pilate to Herod and back to Pilate.
They both found nothing to charge him with, but in that short time the leaders and priests managed to rile up the crowd who had to gathered.
I don’t know how it happened, it makes no sense, but before we knew it they were calling for him to be put to death.
Pilate said no and tried to appease them by flogging him.
It was awful, we couldn’t leave him, but it was horrific to watch and they seemed to enjoy every moment.
These people who days before were cheering for him. From Hosanna to Death in days.
What was going on. It was all going wrong. This man I’d invested my life in.
It was going, just so badly.
But the flogging wasn’t enough.
Death, Death, Crucify, Crucify.
And they got their way.
He was exhausted, they had kept him up all night, questioning him, flogging him, mocking him.
Then they made him carry his own cross, and not just to outside the city on the road, they took him to a hill where everyone would see him.
And to make the point that they thought he was a guilty they crucified two criminals with him.
It was the worst day of my life.
This man who I gave up my life for, I saw him struggle and die.
As he took his last breath he said ‘it is finished’
For us it was.
I felt my heart break
I fell to the floor
I felt physical pain throughout my whole body.
We managed to get the Romans to agree to let us take his body down so he was not hanging on the Sabbath and we laid him in a tomb which was given to us and rolled a stone in front of it.
Those of us that were left, we went into hiding but we had to go back, he was laid in a hurry before the Sabbath so me and some of the other women prepared the embalming spices and took them to the tomb.
The men didn’t come, I think they were too scared but we knew it needed to be done.
He might not have been who we thought he was, as how could the son of God, the messiah, have died? How could he have left us?
But at the very least he was our friend and he deserved to be treated as we would anyone else.
It was the right thing to do.
Summoning up all our strength and courage we went, knowing the Romans and the Temple Elders were still on the lookout for his followers.
As we got near I knew something was wrong, there was a sense in the air and from a distance I could already see the stone was rolled away, but how? Why?
Could this get any worse?
We ran to the tomb and looked inside and the body was gone?
But the tomb was not completely empty, the cloth we wrapped his broken body in was there, neatly folded. Surely if someone had stolen his body they would take the cloth? Who would want to carry a naked dead body through the city? And even if they did who would take the time to fold the cloth and lay it so neatly with the smaller amount we carefully wrapped his head in at the top?
But there was something else in that tomb though, two bright figures, dressed in shining, dazzling white,
They scared the life out of me and were so bright I couldn’t even look at them.
Then they spoke. Their words made me jump.
They told us he had risen from the dead.
I remembered how he brought Lazarus back and my heart began to lift, could it be possible?
Who could raise themselves?
But these figures told us to remember all he had told us before.
Those words came back like a crashing flood. All those times he said the Son of Man must die, the Son of Man will be handed over, the Son of Man will rise again.
The Son of Man will rise again, on the third day.
Friday, day one, Saturday day two...
Sunday… Could it be?
The other women they ran home, but my heart and mind were buzzing, so many thoughts so many fears, wishing it to be true but I saw him die, I saw his body broken and now his body wasn’t even there.
When the girl rose we saw the body wake up, same with the young man.
But his body, where was he?
I needed time, I needed space. So, I wandered the garden where the tomb was.
Eyes, fuzzy with tears and confusion I saw a man. I asked him if he knew. If he knew where this man was.
He said one word to me.
My heart flooded with joy. My friend, my saviour, my messiah.
It was true, he was alive.
This guy… this guy.
Jesus was this guy. THE GUY!
THIS GUY, THE GUY, JESUS!
He WAS and IS the son of God, and what he had said would happen had happened.
He came to this earth, born just like you and me, saw life in its rawness, felt it, touched it, lived it…
Then went to the cross, not for what he had done, but for what I had done.
He forgave my sins, he forgave many sins but we all knew sin needed sacrifice which hadn’t been made, but he was that sacrifice…
A sacrifice once and for all.
He told me to go and spread the good news, the news that he was alive and risen from the dead.
To begin with the others didn’t believe what I and the other women had told them,
Some of them ran to the tomb themselves, that was good enough along with that we told them.
For others, they were still a bit sceptical but then the impossible happened.
He appeared to us, in a locked room. Then disappeared.
Then he appeared again, then to hundreds.
Our Lord and Our saviour, IS alive.
He died and is alive.
Life has changed forever.
He changed my life, he healed me and many others.
He’s not here on this earth now in bodily form, but he sent his spirit of love and truth and grace and mercy so you can share in him too.
I’ve never known anyone who gives without expecting much back. But he does.
He just wants you to know he loves you. That’s all he ever wanted.
And when you know that, when he touches your heart you change.
Don’t ask me how it works, I don’t know. It just pure deep love that changes you from within.
He died on that cross so we can all have it.
This guy, THE GUY, Jesus.
He loves you SO much.
Genesis 32:22-32 | Acts 9:1-9 | John 20:19-23
We are now in the season of the resurrection (I'm not talking about the Church calendar!). A post-Easter world, in which the curtain has been torn, the stone has been rolled away and the gates have been lifted. So why is it that we still live in a world that is so evidently broken by sin, and why are there still imperfections that have not been overcome by this awesome Gospel truth?
I invite you to look at the three passages that I’ve suggested for reading. These for me sum up the paradox. Jacob meets with God, wrestles with him and comes away with a broken hip. Saul witnesses the resurrected Christ and comes away from it blinded by the experience. And Thomas, like Paul, encounters the resurrected Jesus and recognises him by his wounds.
At Easter we are told of the new creation that is waiting for us, and with it a wholeness that only Jesus can bring. But salvation is not about being saved from the world, it is about being saved for the world, since we are called to follow the God who became humanity for the world. So how can we reconcile a world that is still at odds with itself, and with this Easter faith?
It shouldn’t surprise us that in our desire to follow Christ, whose ministry led directly to Calvary, we are likely to first experience a breach before we encounter healing. For Jacob, the injury to his hip from wrestling with God, was preparation for the healing and reconciliation he would later find with his brother, and with God. For Saul, the loss of sight was a counter to the healing and reconciliation he would later find for himself, without this, he would otherwise be held back by his history. And the passage from John’s gospel reminds us that Christ’s resurrected body still exhibited the scars of his crucifixion. Which might teach us that in our own resurrection, all that we have suffered will aid us in our partaking in Christ’s glory.
These passages teach us that ‘wholeness and healing’ in a Christlike sense is not the same as wholeness and healing in a worldly sense. Christ did not setup a trauma centre or an accident and emergency tent outside Jerusalem. Rather he met the reality of our brokenness by joining us in our brokenness. You’ll remember that he said “I am the resurrection and the life” after weeping over the death of Lazarus. You’ll remember that he sweated blood, whilst agonizing over his path to the cross. Christ’s way is not the easy way.
So, does that mean we shouldn’t ask for healing in prayer for human ailments, does this mean we shouldn’t request cures for all that harms or deters us from life? No, of course not. Jesus healed the sick, and through his faith we can find wholeness despite being confronted by things that we would otherwise have no control over. But what these passages teach us is that God can still be found in the hurt, the pain, the injury and the ache. Leonard Cohen wrote:
Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
In the pain and the hurt of the world, in which we will all feel and share at some point in our lives, we pray that a new perspective of God is found, and our faith is made more real in the knowledge that Jesus suffered with us, and our prayer for wholeness might ultimately honour his suffering, and the suffering of the world he loves.
May the life and blessing of this Easter season be with you.
Revd Jeremy Putnam.
Les Reed, once manager of Charlton Athletic FC has held an extraordinary record ever since his time in office in 2006. Mr Reed lasted only 7 games in charge, and still to this day holds the shortest reign in Premier League history. I’d like to think this is an exceptional example, but unfortunately there are plenty of managers that over the years have lasted less than ten games. The game of football has often been accused of being very short-sighted. Heroes reduced to zeros in a matter of days, messiahs to mess-ups in a month, kings to criminals in a season.
I can’t help but think that the culture of our time all too often reflects the same short-sighted attitude as that of the premier league. Celebrities come and go, politicians rise and fall, major government policies are often accused of being vote winners instead of really investing in the future of our country. The ‘quick fix’ seems to be a slogan of honour for a new generation of movers and shakers, rather than taking time to consider the future as well as the present.
For those of you who lived in the 1950s, you’ll likely remember how the country felt at the time. Still rebuilding from the devastation of the war, there was a strong sense of unity, both in recovery, as well as hope for the future; and unemployment was low too. The welfare state and the introduction of the NHS meant that people were eating better, working more safely, and living healthier than before. The spirit of Britain at the time was to bless the next generation, and leave their children with a healed and prosperous country. Have we lost this desire to invest in the future? In the midst of a world that is obsessed with instant gratification making the most of life now, have we lost the culture of ‘paying it forward’, of legacy and gift; handing on a better world to our children?
This week the Church marks the beginning of Holy Week with our Palm Sunday celebrations in which we are reminded of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. On that day in Jerusalem palm leaves were waved by the hundreds; praises sung with loud voices rejoicing at the sight of the one who would reclaim Israel, and begin the liberation of God’s people.
Six days later they were calling for him to be crucified.
Hero to zero, messiah to mess-up, king to criminal in a matter of days. How fickle were the crowds? It is easy for us to look back and say they were too impulsive and quick tempered, but are we any different?
Despite the short-sightedness of the world, the Easter story reminds us that God is not. His plan is for eternity. He cares for the here and now, but he also cares just as much for the tomorrow and forever too. Jesus championed a way of life that was exemplified by his cross and passion. His sacrifice and resurrection ensured that we have life; a life for the here and now, but also a life for all eternity. Choose His way and you choose life; for today, for tomorrow and for ever.
May you have a blessed and life filled Easter season. Jeremy
How many of you have watched the Channel 4 TV show Gogglebox? For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, Gogglebox is an observational documentary that features couples and families from around the country watching TV. Yes, incredible as it sounds in this TV show you are watching people watching TV! Well, the irony isn’t lost on me, nor is the discomfort that comes from realising, that I too, am contributing to the show’s success.
Christians for a long time have got very hung up on the idea that God is watching them. In fact, it could be said that the ‘Religious Gogglebox’ is the notion that God is watching us watching him… watching us watching the world; I could go on, thankfully I won’t! The idea of a god watching us in this way is not helpful, it makes our God sound like GCHQ waiting to catch the bad guys. Does God really watch us, or does he watch over us? Psalm 121 says “The Lord will protect you from all evil; he will keep your soul. The Lord will watch over your coming in and your going out.” Likewise, the Father in the ‘parable of the Prodigal Son’ didn’t watch his son’s every move, he simply responded, as God does, with an overflowing of grace, and rejoiced at his son’s return.
God is there when we need him, just as the son needed his father. God’s prophets in the Old Testament were often called Watchmen or Sentinels, not because they watched the people but because they watched out for danger on their behalf (Ezekiel 3:17).
God watches out for us, cares for us, loves us, pours his grace upon us, he even stands in for us. Does not the Easter story tell us that very truth? Although this is something to be joyful about it might be that Easter this year has been a difficult time for you. If that’s the case, know that you have a heavenly parent who loves you and will watch over you. In fact, watching is simply not enough for God, he is with you, he shares the sorrow and the hurt. Jesus came so that we might understand the deep personal love that God has for each one of us.
Easter is a time of joy, but it is very easy in our society to think that just watching is enough. There is no Gogglebox for Easter! So I hope that you have been drawn into the whole experience of Easter, the love, the joy, even the pain and the fear, and maybe even the odd chocolate egg too. Be blessed this Easter time and know that God is with you.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.