The above taken by LLM Gerry Stacey at his PC altar at home
Online communion in the Ellis household.
Where can we find confidencein a crisis? Where can we find confidence in a crisis?
In 165 AD, while Marcus Aurelius was Emperor, a terrible epidemic swept across the Roman Empire. It was probably smallpox. It lasted 15 years. Possibly a quarter to a third of the population died. A century later another great plague came across the world.
According to Professor Rodney Stark, the typical response of people during these plagues was to flee and to avoid any contact with the afflicted. A contemporary report speaks of the pagans (those worshipped the Roman gods) pushing even their dearest away….into the street to die.
The exception were the Christians. The Christians (at the risk of their own lives) cared for the sick and not just the Christian sick but also the pagans. They didn’t have any PPE. They didn’t have the science to understand how the disease was spread. They didn’t have hope in a vaccine eventually being available or even know what a vaccine was.
But nevertheless the Christians had astonishing success by bravely providing elementary nursing care, including the provision of water and food which allowed those weakened by the disease to keep strong enough, long enough to recover.
Professor Stark says that mortality may have been reduced by two thirds by their work.
Of course, huge numbers of conversions from Paganism to Christianity followed. Christianity exploded across the world!
But why did these Christians do this?
Why did they put themselves at such risk of their lives to nurse back not just Christians but also pagans to health during this crisis, when there was absolutely no cultural expectation to do so, as, after 1500 years of Christianity there is here, now.
Why weren’t they terrified like everyone else? Why didn’t they just run away from the disease like everyone else?
Why did they reject FEAR and choose FAITH?
The only explanation is found on what actually happened on Easter Sunday 2000 years ago. If Jesus Christ, crucified on Good Friday, was actually restored to life, resurrected, on Easter Sunday, then it suggests, it strongly suggests that there is a God, who loves us, who can, and actually does, intervene in this world.
So following his teaching becomes a completely rational thing to do, even if it means risking your own life in the process.
But did it happen. Did Jesus rise from the dead?
Have you ever been terrified out of your wits?
I mean so terrified that you know that you have lost control, that it saps you of all your strength and confidence and makes you act in a way that is a total rejection of who you are, what you stand for?
That was the sort of terrifying fear that drove Peter to deny Jesus and caused the disciples to run from the garden of Gethsemane and lock themselves in a room for ‘fear of the Jews’.
Well, I want to contrast that sort of paralysing fear with the incredible courage that Peter and the other disciples showed a month and a half later, at Pentecost, when they stood in front of the crowd boldly declaring that Jesus of Nazareth, who the crowd, by the way, had had a hand in crucifying boldly declaring that he was the Son of God, the promised messiah!
This boldness started the church. This boldness enabled those Christians to look after the sick pagans during the plagues, with no guarantee that they would not die of it themselves and this boldness enables the church to survive, even today, 2000 years later, despite persecution, torture, mockery, and now (in the West at least) patronising contempt.
What a contrast: terror, on the one hand, and incredible courage on the other. With only 50 days in between!
How is it possible that a rag tag collection of fishermen and artisans, Jesus’ followers, could one month be paralysed with fear and the next month be willing to go to their deaths proclaiming that the man who the authorities had murdered, is the Son of God?
How could they go from FEAR to FAITH?
Something very significant must have happened in between.
What happened, of course, was the Resurrection: Jesus coming back from the dead which we celebrate today at Easter.
I don’t think it is possible to over-emphasise the importance of the Resurrection to Christianity.
That Jesus was actually, physically, tangibly, historically (can I make it any clearer) raised from the dead is essential to Christianity. It is ONLY by the fact that Jesus died and God raised him from the dead that we are freed from our sins and can have a direct and immediate relationship with God today. So it is pretty important.
Now, I would love to be able to demonstrate to you, conclusively, that Jesus rose from the dead – to show you by scientific proof that it happened in a way which no rational person could deny.
But I admit that I cannot. As we all know, people who are dead don’t come back to life again and the whole basis upon which we build our knowledge of science hinges upon repeatability….
But, It’s easy to assume that the only way that we know things is by the scientific method.
A little reflection makes clear that this is not the case.
For example, we cannot discover what happened in the past, by the scientific method – Julius Caesar’s Gallic War is not repeatable – does this mean that we cannot know anything about it? Isn’t history knowledge also?
But, you may say, that is all very well, but when we look at history, we don’t accept that impossible things happened in the past; things which go against the laws of nature, as we know them.
But if we say that, we are assuming that anything that God, the Creator of the universe, might do has to be bound by the natural laws that he established.
The Resurrection, if it is anything, is a deliberate and exceptional interference with the usual laws of nature from outside – something supernatural.
If you say there is no possibility that the laws of nature could be interfered with from outside then, of course, you will decide that the Resurrection is impossible. But this is what lawyers call ‘begging the question’.
Can knowledge which is not scientific knowledge, be reliable?
Every day, apart from during this crisis, throughout this country groups of men and women face making decisions on whether something happened in the past or not. They are called juries. Juries decide whether something happened or not on the basis of the evidence before them. They weigh the evidence and they make a decision. This is all I am asking of you today. You are the jury…..
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I would like to make two points about the evidence upon which I would ask you to form a view:
Firstly, I would suggest that the gospel accounts are credible and secondly that the other possible explanations of what happened, are not credible.
Firstly, the gospels are credible; they ring true.
The gospels are not myths: although they deal with some extraordinary events, the gospels don’t read like the myths of the Ancient World in which the heroes are larger than life characters. The disciples are not always heroes. The ancient world, prized personal courage and loyalty above all, but the gospels reveal the leader of the disciples, Peter, acted with cowardice and disloyalty when he denied Jesus. And its pretty obvious from the gospels that the disciples most of the time did not have any clue, what on earth Jesus was talking about. Even in Gethsemane, after the Last Supper, when Jesus was pointing towards his immediate death, the disciples slept rather than watched and prayed with him, indicating that they had no idea that their world and dreams were about to be shattered. If the gospels are not true accounts, why would the writers have been so embarrassingly critical of the disciples, who became the eye witnesses of the resurrection and were the then leaders of the church, at the time the gospels were written?
Also, the first and most important encounter with the risen Christ is with a woman. Sorry ladies. But in a world where a woman’s word was of almost no value and was not allowed in a court of law, it is the women who first find the tomb empty and are the first witnesses to the Resurrection. If the apostles had wanted to invent a story about the resurrection, they would not have made the most important and first witness account, come from a woman.
Secondly, The alternative possibilities as to what might have happened are not credible:
Some say that Jesus did not die on the cross, but survived the crucifixion and staggered out of the tomb. We know that he was chastised by the Romans. Anyone who has seen Mel Gibson’s film of the Passion of the Christ knows what that means. The flogging was so severe that some people died just from the beating alone. A soldier went to check that he was dead to report back to Pilate. A Roman soldier would not have wanted to make a mistake on a report to Pilate on a matter of this importance. But most convincing of all, I think, is the discharge of ‘blood and water’ from Jesus’ side recorded in John 19:34, when Jesus was lanced by the spear. This discharge apparently suggests massive clotting of the blood in the main arteries and is apparently “exceptionally strong medical proof of death”. And, of course, the evangelist could not possibly have realised the significance of this phenomenon to a modern doctor.
Others say that the tomb was not empty, but, if so, why did the authorities not simply produce the body and scotch Christianity at birth?
Some have suggested that the disciples stole the body. But, is it really credible that so many of those who witnessed the risen Christ would have died, often in agony, maintaining that he had risen from the dead, when in fact they actually knew that they had stolen the body? It is one thing dying for a lie if you believe it to be true, but dying for a lie you know to be false? Is it credible that they would have done so?
So I would submit to the jury, that the resurrection story, unlikely as it may sound, is more credible than the alternative possibilities.
But what really seals the deal, from my perspective, is where we started: The transformation which occurred between Gethsemane and Pentecost is difficult to explain if the resurrection did not happen. The disciples were transformed from terror to expounding the gospel boldly, publicly.
When we realise, after looking at the evidence, that belief in the Resurrection is possibly true, we clear away the principal intellectual obstacle to Christian faith. And this does need to be cleared away for many of us, if we are to see Christianity as something which is of any use in a crisis like this; if we are to place any confidence on it; if we are to place our hope on it…if we are to choose Faith rather than Fear.
But it may not be enough in itself. It is only when that obstacle has been removed, that we might be willing to repent of the wrong things we have done in our lives to ask for God for forgiveness and to ask Jesus to reveal himself to us.
When finally we do this, I can assure you that Jesus will reveal his presence to us through the Holy Spirit; he will provide us with all the proof that we need that we can rely upon him and we will see that whatever happens, he will be with us, holding us by our hand in all the challenging times we face.
You see, his presence is all we need to get through this crisis, as we place the burden of our fears on his shoulders, through our prayers, we can trust him to carry it for us, even though we may be terrified out of our wits by circumstances which are completely out of our control and, like those Christians looking after those sick from the epidemic in the second century, we will know that what happened on Easter Day means that everything is different and that we can cope with this crisis with confidence, with faith in the God who made us
A prayer to ask Jesus into our lives
If we would like to ask Jesus into our lives so that Father God can intervene for us in this crisis, we should pray the following prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, I am sorry for the things that I have done wrong in my life
Take a few moments to bring before God anything in particular which is on your conscience
Please forgive me.
I now turn from everything that I know is wrong. Thank you that you died on the cross for me, so that I could be forgiven and set me free. Thank you that you offer me forgiveness and the gift of your spirit. I now receive that gift. Please come into my life by your Holy Spirit to be with me for ever
If you have said that prayer for the first time let me know by email firstname.lastname@example.org and I will pray for you.
If something has stirred in you and you would like to know more about what Jesus Christ can offer you in this crisis, can I suggest the Alpha Course which is being run online at the moment.
Julia and James Wright write as follows:
During the Covid-19 crisis, Holy Trinity Brompton (the church where Alpha started) has seen a huge surge of interest in the course. They have now started running the course online, and they are starting 2 new courses each week – such is the demand. Previously they ran three Alpha courses per year.
The Alpha Course offers you the chance to explore some of the big questions of life, such as, ‘Is there more to life than this?’ and ‘Who is Jesus?’ Each session starts with watching a 45 min talk about one of the big questions concerning life and faith. The talk is then followed with discussing the video in small groups of up to 10 people, hosted by one of the Alpha leaders. For the online course, you will be able to download the talk at home and the discussion groups happen via Zoom. The aim is for the groups to be open discussion rather than didactic teaching. Every opinion is valued and there is no expectation to conform to any particular belief. It really is a chance to explore these big questions.
Whilst we would love to offer Alpha online within the valley, we aren’t able to due to a vastly smaller team than HTB, all of whom have increased workloads during this time whilst also having all their children at home 24-7. However, if you are interested, we would love to point you towards the HTB website where you can sign up to one of their online courses.
Find out more about it here:
https://www.htb.org/athome (scroll down to Alpha stories)
And you can sign up to an Alpha course online here:
https://www.htb.org/alpha (scroll down to the bottom)
You will see they are also running the Marriage Course online too!
If you do take part in an Alpha course online, we would love to support you in any way we can. Therefore if you want to let one of the Parish Ministry Team Parish Ministry Team know, that would be wonderful!
Julia and James Wright
Lucy’s prayers from today’s service
Prayers for Easter Day, 12th March 2020
Heavenly Father, Hallelujah! The Lord is risen indeed! Thank you for our resurrected Christ Jesus. Thank you that Jesus appeared to Mary in the garden outside the tomb and that she was able to declare “I have seen the Lord!”. Thank you that we can know Jesus Christ today, our risen Lord.
Lord we are so sorry for all the things we have done wrong in our lives. We repent of them to you now and ask for your forgiveness. We pray Lord that as we do this and in the coming days and weeks that you would reveal yourself afresh to us, by your Holy Spirit. Show us by miraculous signs and wonders, just as you did rising from the dead and appearing to Mary and the disciples, the proof that you are indeed alive today!
We especially pray that you would come alongside us in these challenging times of the Coronavirus and hold our hands, being present with us so that we may place the burden of our fears on your shoulders. Help us to trust you to remove our fear and to replace it with faith, that we can cope and that you will deliver us from this world crisis.
We thank you Lord again for the beautiful place that is our valley. Thank you that we have the joy of being able to walk and run in your beautiful countryside. Help us to stick to government advice and to not be tempted to overstep our daily quota for the sake of all those who are already suffering and for the sake of all our front-line staff and all those supporting the vulnerable in society or others in need.
Lord, I pray that, this Easter in particular, we will have time to reflect on the message of Christ’s Passion, that he came to earth to save us, that he died on the cross to carry all our sins away and to reconcile us to God, that he rose again on the first Easter Day and is alive with us through his Holy Spirit. I pray that as we allow this truth to enter our hearts that we would truly come to know you and understand what it means in our lives to follow you. Help us to be guided by you in everything that we do, especially with the extra time each day that this crisis has brought to us.
We lift to you again our National Health Service and all the other essential services. We continue to pray for your provision and protection. Lord we earnestly plead with you to help oil the wheels of innovation and scientific endeavour so that supplies of ventilators, PPE, vaccines and treatment can reach the front-line and beyond as soon as is supernaturally possible. We pray for our doctors and nurses, especially where the crisis of the virus is beginning to take its toll, where health providers are falling sick themselves, where they may be feeling exhaustion or anxious. Send them, we pray, your healing, strength, stamina and courage in this time of stress and uncertainty. Help us, Lord, to support them in whatever way we can. Thank you for the work of the volunteers who are beginning to help the elderly, vulnerable and lonely. Strengthen, protect and heal all those involved.
We lift to you our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and pray for his recovery from the virus. We pray that you would breathe your breath of life in to his lungs, so that he may return to his family and to the work of governing our country very soon. Thank you for the incredible medical team who have been caring for him. We pray also for all those in cabinet and their advisors as they make decisions regarding the lock down and many others. We pray that they would seek your guidance in everything that they do on our behalf. Thank you for the collaborative support from the opposition and we pray for a time of extraordinary unity throughout our country. We pray for our economy, that life can miraculously tick along while we travel through this crisis. Please Lord make provision in whatever ways are possible for all those who are suffering financially at this time.
Thank you Lord for your continued protection over Her Majesty the Queen and the Royal Family and thank you for the on-going recovery of Prince Charles. Thank you for inspiring the Queen in her message to the nation (and, it turns out, the whole world); for her calm fortitude and encouragement to us all to believe we can get through this.
Lord, we pray for those in our community who know they have the virus or who are
experiencing symptoms. We pray for your healing and for your comfort. Help them and their families to hold on to hope. Help us Lord to strengthen our resolve to social-distance, self-isolate or shield, so that we may do our part in the saving of lives. Lord Jesus, be with those who have already lost loved ones. Come to them in their grief. We give thanks for the life of Eric Hobbs, whose family has lived in Easton for nearly 100 years. Dear Lord, be with his family, we pray, and bring them your comfort, peace and hope.
Merciful Father, hear us we pray, accept these prayers for Jesus Christ’s sake, whose life was the true template for ‘loving our neighbour’ when he paid the ultimate sacrifice on the cross for each and every one of us! We praise and thank you that he is risen from the dead and is alive this Easter Day! Hallelujah! Amen!
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jn 20:1–19). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.