One of my seminary theology teachers would try to encourage us in the ‘stressful’ days before exams. He would say: “the sufferings of this time are not worth comparing to the glory yet to be revealed”.
Gerry was not predicting great student grades when he said this. Instead he was (with humour) nudging us to keep the glorious, God-centred, big picture in focus. Whenever Gerry offered his encouragement we would respond with laughter. We knew what he was saying to be true. It was a tragedy that we would forget this life-giving perspective right when we most needed to remember.
Last week, on this page, I reflected on the problem of stress. Stress is the consequence of a loss of healthy (therefore God-centred) perspective. When we know God’s love for us, even the most challenging trials are bearable. When we lose this life-giving perspective, even the joys of life fail to encourage us.
Imagine God saying to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: ‘see this little, dead-looking, chip of wood. It is a seed. If you plant it in the soil, and give it some water, it will grow into a great tree like that one over there…’
Well to Adam and Eve, what God was saying would have been quite unbelievable. “Yeah, right” they might have laughed. Surely God was pulling their legs? How could such a dead looking little bit of wood could ever be a mighty green and flowering tree. That would take a great feat of magic!
No, this is not magic. The magician only makes things seem to happen. We all know that the assistant is not really sawn in two. The watch is not really hammered. Magic is a clever feat of deception.
Instead what God does is truly miraculous. A miracle not only appears to happen. A miracle really does happen. Jesus really does bring sight to the blind. God really does raise Jesus from the dead.
So too, as the seed germinates and the tree flourishes, we see the miracle of life emerging from what seems lifeless. The life God offers us does not just seem to happen. This life is a reality.Our lives are full of moments that look deathly. We wonder ‘how can anything that delights me come from the impossible situation I find myself in today?’
When we look back over our lives we see the repeated pattern of life emerging from death. It the heart of a Christchurch winter it is easy to forget that spring will come. In the midst of earthquake devastation it is hard to imagine a successful rebuild. In the midst of grief over the loss of family and friends at Pike River, it is near impossible to imagine future moments of happiness.
But, from our past experience of deathly suffering and tragedy, new life has emerged. If not yet, this will come.
God’s hope-filled invitation is to notice the seeds of hope in our daily situation. Even the fact that you are reading this is proof that you are already seeking God. God has motivated your search, and God is with you.
Most people think of the Ascension of Jesus as being a ‘departure’ moment. Jesus was here and now he is gone. We imagine Jesus going up into the clouds and the disciples waving farewell from below. This is an unhelpful image. It is essential that we understand what does happen and what does not happen in the Ascension event. It would be easy to wrongly think that in his ministry showed us how to build the city of God on earth, and now he has gone and the mission is left to us.
A few years ago I was on Rēkohu Chatham Islands for what has become one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most sacred days, the ANZAC day of remembrance in gratitude for those who gave their lives, their health, their youth, their service that we may live in peace. The art above was produced by one of the students at the local Te One school.
Today’s reflection marks the end of the FFF Lent-to-Easter daily email posts. Thank you for your company on this journey. While these daily posts (for those who have signed up for the Lent / Advent reflections at this link) will take a break until Advent, those who have signed up to receive every post or regular posts at this link. You might take a moment now to visit this page now to check your email preferences.
During retreat this week I found myself pondering just how difficult it is to accept that God, in Jesus, is really with me today.
As I write I’m nearing the end of retreat days with a group of fifty priests from across the USA. As I mentioned a couple of days ago the diversity and youth of the group is remarkable with the majority being aged under 40 and a good number ordained for fewer than five years.