Archive for April, 2012

April 30, 2012

Random Light No.7

Often the only camera I have with me is the one on my mobile phone.  Here are a few recent ‘phone’ pictures:

Something about the shadow cast by the tree with the yellow and the blue in the warm evening light caught my attention here.  Also the shadow on the lower right hand side balances the blue in the top left (or something).

After I had taken the first picture I turned around and noticed the same warm evening light glowing in the stonework of the Church.  The blue sky, fluffy clouds and crescent moon all came together and shouted ‘take my picture!’

Rows of plastic with Maize (Corn) growing underneath.  The plastic protects the young crop from the frost and then degrades gradually as the crop (which will be harvested probably in October) grows.  If you look closely at the picture, you will just see some of the new green shoots poking through the plastic.  For more info. see this link.

As a general rule in this part of the world, if it’s not raining, then it’s about to!  The view from Duneen strand, near, well not that near anywhere really…

Colourful rocks at Duneen Strand, with tufts of Sea Thrift  clinging on here and there.

April 24, 2012

Timoleague at night

Timoleague at 10.30 pm, 4/4/2011, link to photo on Flickr here.

I was looking through some photos from this time last year and came across some I had completely forgotten about.  Seeing them again reawakened the memory; I was on my way home from a Bible Study and as I approached Timoleague on the Courtmacsherry road I noticed the reflections on the water (and mud) of the Argideen river / estuary.  Fortunately I had the camera and tripod with me but I remember being disappointed with the results, which is why I suppose I didn’t put them on the blog at the time.  At 10.30 pm, It was just too dark and there was too much mud and not enough water.  But now looking at the photos again just over a year later I thought it would be worth including one of the pictures after all, even if only to see if I can improve on it another time.  I suppose that is a principle that can apply to all sort of things, that given a bit of time our views and perspectives can change; things we didn’t like too much we soften on, and conversely, things that were once important to us, become less so…

April 23, 2012

What we will be…

(Photo: Window reflections at All Saints, Kilmalooda.)

Sermon for the third Sunday of Easter, 22/4/12. Text: 1 John 3:1-7

When you were a child did you ever wish that you had different parents? Perhaps your friend was allowed to stay up late to watch T.V. and you weren’t and you wished you could swap parents with them! We might also be tempted to wish we looked different from them, that our nose had a better shape that our ears were more ‘normal’ and didn’t stick out like two radar dishes, and that we weren’t so short, balding or tubby! But as we get older, so long as everything was O.K. with our parents, we realise that things could have been worse and in fact they were actually a blessing to us in so many ways. One thing that often comes to us as a bit of a shock is when we realise just how like our parents we actually are, but of course our likeness to them is the proof of the relationship we have. We are like our parents because we are their children. Even children with step-parents or those who are adopted develop a likeness to their parents, even if genetically speaking they are different. My step-father and I always found it funny when people who thought he was my natural father said that I looked like him!

In our reading today from the first letter of John, the Apostle takes the concept of parents being like their children and applies it to our relationship with God. He says:

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.

We are a ‘rags to riches’ story; it is as if we are an orphaned child living in the gutter, covered in muck and wearing tattered rags. We look up from the filth we are in and we see the King! Our eyes can hardly believe what we are seeing, but the King comes over to us, He reaches down into the gutter and he grabs hold of us and He lifts us out of the darkness and holds us up in the air against the light. He knows our name and He speaks to us softly and He says, ‘Now if you are willing you will be my child. I am not forcing you, you can stay here in the gutter if you wish, but I would much rather you came with me back to the palace – I will carry you there and I will wash you clean and give you new clothes and you will be my own child and live with me for ever…’

The love that God has for us is a love beyond all measure, that He, Almighty God, Creator of the Universe should not only know I even exist but have actually created me and made me to be His child, this is a wonder beyond all wonders and a joy above all joys. Why would He do such a thing? The answer is beautiful and simple: God is love and love by its very nature gives. Because God loves so much He gives so much. He gave us His one and only Son, that we might not die in the gutter but have everlasting life with Him.

Many of us find this unconditional and limitless love hard to accept. Perhaps a reason for this is that with our parents it always felt like we had to earn their love and approval. Maybe that still is the case for us even if our parents are old or have died, we are still trying to please them but they just never seem (either in reality or in our imagination) to be happy with our achievements and we never feel totally accepted by them. It is of course all to easy then to see our Heavenly Father like this. Let us lie back and bask in the fact that God loves us, yes He really really does. We do not need to rush around doing things trying to please Him, He already is pleased with us! We must not fall into the trap of making our relationship with God one that is based on our works or achievements. God’s love and grace is not conditional on whether we have scored a B+ in our Christian life this week, He loves us perfectly, unconditionally all of the time.

Once we have accepted God’s offer to become one of His children, we will start to develop the family likeness. We will start to become more and more like Him and less and less like our old selves that we left behind in the gutter. We don’t do good works because we think they will make God love us more, He cannot love us more than He does already! We serve God and do all we can in His guidance and strength because we love Him and want to show Him that we love Him and how grateful we are to Him for the fact that He loves us.

John then goes on to say:

The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

Maybe when you gave your life to Christ (and if you have not yet done so, what are you waiting for?), you soon realised that some people were overjoyed for you and others just didn’t get it at all, they might even have been hostile towards you. Well, we are in good company; many people did not ‘get’ the Lord Jesus at all and even though at times He was followed around by great crowds, many people just wanted what they could get from Him so that in the end His followers were very few. Thousands were with Him on the grassy slopes sitting in the sunshine, listening to His teaching and getting their fill of loaves and fishes, but only a very small number of them stood around Him when the sky turned black and He was dying upon the cross.

If we were to take a good long look at ourselves in the mirror and saw who we really were we would be astonished. John tells us:

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.

As we look in the mirror and notice all the physical blemishes, we are wowed by the fact that we will not always look like this. John continues:

What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

One day we shall be like Jesus, as a caterpillar becomes a butterfly so shall we be changed into His likeness. To bring us back down to earth for a moment, think of Charles, the Prince of Wales. He is heir to the throne of Great Britain and his whole life has been lived in the light of what he will be one day. He does not yet possess his full inheritance, but his whole life has been, and is shaped by it. In a much greater way, one day we shall be like Jesus, changed into His likeness. In the meantime however, with the help and grace that God gives us, we need to live up to what we shall one day become.

So John says:

And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

I don’t know about you, but I feel very much more like the caterpillar than the butterfly; I despair at my lack of progress and find it all too easy to look at my many weaknesses and failings. I turn around and the gutter from where I have come from does not seem very far away… But we have a sure hope don’t we? We have a sure hope that we shall be changed, we really will one day become how God meant us to be all along, we will no longer be human becomings, we will be like Christ. John says that in the meantime we must ‘purify ourselves’. This means cutting out of our lives all the bad stuff that is there. Of course we need help to do this, we need God’s help and we need the help of those to whom we are closest and who we can trust. But as you look back on your Christian life can you not at least see some small victories, so that things you used to do you do no longer? Perhaps you no longer cheat on your tax return, perhaps you have given up destructive habits or addictions, perhaps you are much more generous, thoughtful and kind. Maybe people have even commented on how you have changed. Slowly but surely, with the help of the Holy Spirit who works in us like a gardener getting rid of weeds and planting that which is good, we are being changed, the old is falling away and what we shall become is slowly (very slowly we might say) being revealed.

So let us be encouraged and blessed, especially in those times when we despair, when we are all to aware of our sin and failures. Let us live now in the light of what we will one day become, let us remember the wonderful and beautiful truth that God has called us His children because that is what we are.  Amen.

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(Numerous thoughts and ideas in this sermon are taken from David Jackman’s book: The Message of John’s Letters, The Bible Speaks Today, I.V.P., 2nd ed. 1996.  In particular the idea of wanting to change our parents in the opening paragraph and then the reference to Prince Charles’ heirship to the throne.)

April 20, 2012

Charles Fort

Last week we took a trip to Kinsale and Charles Fort – it was an overcast, showery kind of day, perfect for black and white pictures!
rain over Kinsale

The view from the car park towards Kinsale town – the rain is coming!


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These strange octagons are to the right of the entrance gate – I have no idea what they were for…


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A great view out to sea, imagine the scene crowded with Spanish Galleons intent on war…


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It’s not hard to imagine soldiers hurrying up and down these stone steps between the barracks and the parade ground…

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Looking down on what was once the rear of the Governors house.

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More Barracks, I think these were where those soldiers lucky enough to be allowed to have their wives and families with them lived.


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In case that was an overdose of Black & White, a colour shot of some tulips in the Coffee shop :~)

April 17, 2012

A trip to the ‘Big Smoke’.

During the recent Easter Holiday, we had a day out in Dublin, hopping on and off the open-top bus on a tour of Ireland’s second city (after Cork ;-)

Guinness!

Every great city of the world has its place of pilgrimage…

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Cloud reflections, Kilmainham

Just an office building in Kilmainham, but I liked the reflections…

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Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Christ Church Cathedral.

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The Four Courts, Dublin

The Four Courts

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Ha'penny Bridge, Dublin

The Ha’penny Bridge

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Porter House, Temple Bar

The Porter House, Temple Bar (a regular haunt in times past)

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Window on to Eustace Street, Dublin

View on to Eustace Street from ‘the Ark‘ (a children’s cultural centre)

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O'Connell St.

Speeding down O’Connell Street

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Ha'penny Bridge Beggar lady :-(

I debated with myself whether or not to include this photo.  I have included it, even though (or perhaps because) I find it heart breaking.

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Killiney Bay

View of Killiney Bay (taken from the DART), with the ‘Little Sugar Loaf’ and the ‘Great Sugar Loaf’ mountains in the background.

April 15, 2012

Unity

Leaving a mark...

Today’s Sermon.  Text: Psalm 133.

Parents, Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents and teachers love it when the children they are looking after are getting on together. It makes life so much easier doesn’t it? When we see children sharing and caring, when they remember to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when they use their knife and fork rather than shoveling the food into their mouths with their hands (or something they have found in the garden), it makes us happy and realise that all the hard work in trying to bring them up was actually worth it. Of course the reality is that often children are selfish and rude and forget how to behave towards each other and to grown-ups and it can often be very difficult for those who have responsibility for them.

One of the greatest privileges for those who are parents is that the actual experience of bringing up children gives them a deep insight into the relationship we all have with our heavenly Father. When confronted with a stubborn child stamping their foot and shouting ‘NO’, we hopefully realise that we too have done this sort of thing with our heavenly Parent, God! We might not have actually stamped our foot and stuck out our bottom lip, but we have been just as defiant in wanting our way rather than the right way.

As we look at the church, we remember that we are all God’s children and as such we ought to admit that we are not particularly obedient children at that; we are always bickering about this that and the other thing (and that is even within our denomination, let alone between different Christian traditions). Every way that we can let our Heavenly Father down we have and every way we could have hindered Christ’s mission, we have. Have you ever been in the supermarket and seen and heard a child screaming at their poor mother of father? Perhaps the child is lying on the floor, clutching a bag of sweets they are not allowed to have and the red-faced parent is trying in vain to be in charge. In looking at so much of the debate and dissension in the church today, are we not just like that child in the supermarket? We shout out ‘I am right, my way is best’!  Worse still, we mock our brothers and sisters who disagree with us, if not face to face, then in hushed conversation with others in the church car park, or on the pages of the Gazette or on Facebook or Twitter. Sometimes it is just heartbreaking, that whether it be between members of our own church congregation, or between different churches or between clergy there always seems to be some issue that threatens to divide and break up any kind of fellowship that we have. What does God think of all this I wonder? Perhaps our Psalm for today, Psalm 133 will help us:

How very good and pleasant it is to dwell in unity.

When we walk into a house where everyone is at each other, arguing and fighting, we can sense the atmosphere almost immediately. On the other hand, when we walk into a house where the occupants are together and at peace with one another, what a difference it makes! Isn’t it lovely to walk into a peaceful and unified home, a genuine pleasure? The context of today’s Psalm could have originated in a number of different places – perhaps it refers to the relationship between Abram and Lot in Genesis chapter 13:8, where Abram said:

Let there be no strife between you and me … for we are kindred.

Perhaps this verse refers back to tensions between the tribes of Israel or perhaps even between the sons of King David, but I don’t suppose any of that matters to us too much because it is as wonderful today when people live together in unity as it always was.

The next couple of lines are interesting, we read:

It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, Even on Aaron’s beard, running down upon the collar of his clothing.

Interesting it might be, but what on earth is it saying? You may remember the character of Aaron, as Moses’ brother, Israel’s spokesman to Pharaoh and the first high priest in Israel’s history. When Aaron was made priest, special and expensive oil was used to anoint him (and all those after him too). The oil was consecrated, which means dedicated, devoted and set apart for God. A generous amount of oil was used, hence the fact that it ran down over his beard and the collar of his robes. So how then is living together in unity like this oil? The idea is that when God’s people are unified then it is a community of people that are genuinely set apart for Him and carrying out their calling in the world. Unity, like the sacred oil, is a precious thing.

When we as brothers and sisters are living in disunity then we are set apart from God, but when we are together then we are set apart for God.

I think that there are few things that give the devil more pleasure than infighting between God’s children; it is a gift to him and a gift that we should at all costs avoid giving to him! But when we are together, when (as it were) we are all singing from the same hymn sheet, all pulling in the same direction, all playing for the same team, then wow, look at what God can do!

Next in our Psalm we read:

It is like the dew of Hermon running down upon the hills of Zion. For there the Lord has promised his blessing: even life for evermore.

Mount Hermon is a high snow-capped mountain in the north of the land. Today the region is between Syria and Lebanon. We might not think too much of dew in our green and wet climate, but if you are a farmer in an arid climate then the morning dew is crucial for the survival of vegetation during the dry season. The dew ran down the sides of the mountain and gave life to the plants round about. This then is a picture of what unity does amongst God’s people, it brings life and blessing to the church, it brings growth and a harvest. Without the water from the mountain, the plants would wither and die; without unity the church withers and dies and there is no blessing, no harvest and no future.

It is very exciting to see God at work in this Parish; I could not even begin to list the many great things He has done, they are too many to mention here. Someone recently had the idea of writing a book of people’s stories and I think that would be an excellent idea. We must not be complacent though because the enemy is constantly trying to sow seeds of disunity amongst us.  We must fiercely and jealously guard our unity. We need to pray for each other and we need to look out for each other. When someone comes at you with some gossip, ‘Did you know, so-and-so did this, and they didn’t do that,’ remember this: gossip is not harmless fun, it is evil, it destroys. Every time we say an unkind word we destroy a little bit of that person’s character and the devil gets very excited about it.

Sadly I hear a lot of gossip and I have to tell you that I hate it. I have never seen any good come from gossip, it destroys friendships and trust and unity, it is an evil thing that has no place in the life of the church where we are to dwell together in unity. We have to learn to fight each others corner, to stand up for each other, we are family! If someone or something attacks one of us, then we are all attacked, if one of us is gossiped about then all of us are gossiped about – we are one body – does a body fight itself? No! All the parts of one body work together to fight off the common enemy, and that is how we as the body of Christ should be, fighting off all that comes against us with God’s strength, which is there for us when we live together in unity. God loves it when we get on together and He will continue to bless us so long as we are.

Let us pray … Amen.

April 8, 2012

Night had become day, death had become life.

Welcoming the Sunrise

Easter Sunday, John 20:1-18

I suppose that Mary Magdalene thought that things could not get any worse. Her Lord had been brutally killed and the horror of it all was still very fresh in her mind. Like any of us who have lost someone close, she wanted to go to where the body was. We feel that if we can go to where our loved one is buried that somehow it will help, we cannot find the words to express our loss and our sorrow, the bleakness and finality of it all, but we think that just being there will help, and it does. Perhaps this is what is going through Mary’s mind; she knows Jesus is dead, she saw it happen, but if she can just be near where His body is, perhaps it will help. She probably has had very little if any sleep and so before the sun has even come up she makes her way to the tomb. As she nears the place where Joseph and Nicodemus had laid Jesus’ body to her utter dismay, she sees that the large stone in front of the tomb has been removed and she knows that this can only mean one thing, that Jesus’ body is no longer there. She runs, as fast as she can, on legs that will barely support her to Simon Peter and to John and she says:

> ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ (2)

Peter and John waste no time, the news that Mary Magdalen has told them requires an immediate response. I wonder what they are thinking, is it horror at the possibility of Jesus’ body being stolen or at this point is even just a chink of light and hope entering their thoughts? Everything is happening quickly now, Mary had run from the tomb to tell them, now Peter and John run back from where Mary had come. John, the younger of the two men reaches the tomb first, he is cautious and he stops at the entrance and peers inside, he sees the linen wrappings lying there, but does not go in to investigate. Then Peter arrives, perhaps puffing and panting and with no caution whatsoever runs straight into the tomb, he too sees the linen wrappings lying there and also the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself (7). John then lets go of whatever it is that is stopping him entering the tomb and he steps inside. Describing his own reaction he says:

> … ‘he saw and believed.'(8)

‘Believed what?’ We might say. Certainly John believed that Jesus was no longer dead. He had seen Lazarus raised from the dead and Jesus had given enough strong hints that He would die and be raised again too (Mark 8:31, Luke 9:22) and now it seems that even as the sun is beginning to rise on that first Easter morning that the light is dawning in John’s mind, that what is happening what was Jesus had been telling them all along, He really was going to be killed and He really was going to rise from the dead. We don’t know why but Peter and John decide to go back to their homes, perhaps it’s to tell the others, perhaps it’s just to try and take in the enormity of the fact of the empty tomb, but as they depart we see that Mary has returned to the place of the tomb once again. Any of us who have stood weeping at a grave will know how she felt, though how much more so if the body we had come to be near was no longer there and we thought it had been stolen? Through her tears, Mary sums up the courage to peer inside the tomb. Instead of darkness, instead of a place of death she sees light, two angels in white sitting where Jesus’ body had been. One angel sits where Jesus’ head had been and the other where his feet once were. The angels speak to Mary saying:

> ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’

Mary replies:

> ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ (13)

Something makes her turn around and she sees a man standing there. She does not know who he is, she thinks he is the gardener. The man speaks to her, as the angels had already done, saying:

> ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ and then ‘For whom are you looking?’

Still thinking this man was the gardener Mary says:

> ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ (15)

The man says her name, ‘Mary!’ And now he is no longer just a man, it is Jesus, it really is Jesus! To one moment be in utter despair and in the next be in complete surprise and joy must have been overwhelmingly wonderful for Mary; one moment her world was in chaos, the pattern of her life in shreds and tatters and in the next moment it was utterly transformed; night had become day, hell had become heaven, death had become life.

All Mary can do is turn to Him and say, ‘Rabbouni, teacher’. She clings on to Him, overcome at all that has happened. He is alive! He is not dead! This is the happiest moment, the turning point of history, of his-story, ‘death (as the Apostle Paul would later describe it) has been swallowed up in victory’ (1 Cor. 15:54).

Yes, Jesus was alive, more alive than ever He was in His earthly body. Mary and the others would soon see that Jesus’ resurrected body was different; He could appear before them suddenly in a locked room and He was not a ghost because he could be touched and because he could eat and drink.

Jesus does not wish for Mary to cling on to Him for long, there is something that she needs to do. He says:

> … ‘go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”‘ (17)

Here is a new level of friendship; Jesus’ Father is their Father too, His God is their God. The same level of intimacy that Jesus has with His Father they can have too. He is their Daddy and they are His dear children.

Of course it is Mary who has the important job of telling the disciples, of bringing them the Good News of Jesus’ message. She goes to them and says:

> ‘I have seen the Lord’

Mary then tells them what Jesus had said. The wonderful thing here is that if someone in the first century had wanted to invent a story about people seeing the risen Jesus, they certainly would not have dreamed about giving the star part to a woman, let alone Mary Magdalene! (From Tom Wright, ‘John for Everyone’ (Part 2) SPCK 2002, p.146)

But there it is, a true story, but one where the ending has not yet been written because the end of the story is up to you. You are standing there with the others at the empty tomb, what do you do, how do you respond? Perhaps you were too busy thinking about lunch or wishing that you had not eaten so much chocolate already this morning, but don’t worry about that now, the risen Jesus is standing before you, as He spoke to Mary, He speaks to you. Listen as He calls you by your name… Let us respond to him now, let us pray:

Lord Jesus, I am overwhelmed that you have risen from the dead and that you would call my name. I feel so totally unworthy and unclean to even be near you, and yet I know that it was because of this, because of my sin that You chose to die. Lord, to say ‘thank you’ seems wholly inadequate, but I say it anyway, with all of my heart, “THANK YOU”. Help me off my knees Lord, help me to follow you, help me to love you, not just now this moment, but for always… Amen.

April 7, 2012

Joseph & Nicodemus

Good Friday - the shadow of the cross

Kilmalooda Easter Vigil, 7/4/12. John 19:38-42

Not long after I became a follower of Jesus, at the age of nineteen, my Mother gave me a small golden cross on a necklace as a present. I wore it every day, as a constant reminder to myself of what Jesus had done on the cross. One day at college, a fellow student noticed me wearing it and he asked me, ‘I see you are wearing a cross, does that mean you are a Christian?’ A perfectly normal question, but it suddenly dawned on me that I had told very few people about my becoming a follower of Jesus and for a brief moment I was faced with a choice; do I keep my faith a secret (in which case it would all be a sham) or am I willing to stand up and be counted as a believer in Christ? Thankfully, by the grace of God I found my voice and was able to reply, ‘Yes, I wear this cross because I am a Christian.’ It is not always easy to admit to being a follower of Jesus, as I have experienced many times since (and not always successfully) and no doubt many of you have also.

In our reading for this evening, two disciples of Jesus who had previously been afraid to show their allegiance to Him, come out from their hiding place and show, finally, that their faith really is genuine. Joseph of Arimathea, a respected leader in the Jewish council and Nicodemus, a Pharisee and also a member of the Jewish council come and bury Jesus’ body.

Joseph approaches Pilate and asks permission to take the Lord’s body away from the cross, and when the permission is given, he takes away the body. Nicodemus brings about a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes and together they wrap Jesus body in the spices and in linen cloths and they place it in ‘a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid'(41). In Matthew’s gospel we learn that this tomb belonged to Joseph and that he had recently cut it out of the rock (Matt.27:60). It was then in this new tomb, in which no one had ever previously been laid that they left Jesus’ body.

What must have been going through Joseph’s and Nicodemus’ minds at this point? I suppose we can hardly imagine what they felt. But now, when all the other disciples have scattered and fled, the two followers of Jesus that will stand up are the ones that previously were too afraid to do so. Something has happened, something has changed these two men, turning them from cowards to bravehearts. They no longer care what other people think about them, their lives are in danger for what they are doing, but that no longer matters, Jesus comes first, giving Him a proper and honorable burial is what matters now, and that is what they do.

One of the things about Jesus is that there is no sitting on the fence; either we are for Him or we are against Him (Matt 12:30). There is no cosy middle ground where we can pick and choose, where we can walk with Jesus when we need Him to help us and abandon Him when everything is going well once more. He wants all of us all the time!

I pray that all of us this now this Easter would see things as they are more clearly. Even if only for a moment would we shut out all the distractions of our busy lives and let ourselves be carried in our minds and in our spirits to the foot of the empty cross? Let us look at the hard, rough and cracked wood, the dry, dusty soil splattered in blood and ask ourselves, ‘What does this mean to me?’ Would it not change your life forever if someone died for you like that, and how much more so if it was God’s own Son who died for you like that? Guess what, it’s really true, He did it, He really did, and He did it for you … Amen.