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Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Start:Stop - The only way is up!

Bible reading

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 … Simon Peter … 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 … 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 … 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. (John 20. 1 – 18)


In his great book The Gulag Archipelago Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote of the way the Siberian labour camps to which the Soviet government consigned those they deemed enemies of the state robbed him of everything that makes life meaningful: “He is robbed of his name – he is known only by a number. He is robbed of books and pen and paper – a dreadful deprivation for a writer of his stature. He is robbed of work he can do with dignity. Instead he must labour as a slave. He is deprived of sufficient food and sleep. He gets no letters. He hears no news of his family or of the outside world. He is stripped of his own clothes and dressed in verminous rags. He is robbed of his health – he succumbs to cancer.

Solzhenitsyn, robbed of everything, sinks as it were to the bottom, to the very base of being. And then he says something extraordinary. He writes of the day, ‘when I deliberately let myself sink to the bottom and felt it firm under my feet – the hard rocky bottom which is the same for all.’

On the Friday that we call ‘good’, Jesus too descends to rock bottom. He is betrayed by a friend, arrested, deserted and denied by his friends, falsely accused, wrongly condemned, beaten and mocked, before being killed by extreme torture. More than this even, scripture implies that in death Jesus descends to hell and, if hell is separation of God and the absence of all that is good, then, because Jesus cries out “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” we can understand that he enters hell.

As a result, we can say that however low you go Jesus has already been there and that it is Jesus that we find when we, like Solzhenitsyn, reach rock bottom. He is the rock that we find when we have lost everything that is ours or have reached the outer limits of who we understand ourselves to be. He is the firm foundation on which a different way of life can then be built because when you do reach rock bottom and find there a firm foundation on which to stand, then the only way to go is up.

Some of you will remember these lines from Yazz’s No. 1 song: “We've been broken down / To the lowest turn / Being on the bottom line / Sure ain't no fun ... / I wanna thank you / For loving me this way / Things may be a little hard now / But we'll find a brighter day / Hold on, hold on / Hold on, Won't be long / The only way is up, baby / For you and me now / The only way is up, baby / For you and me now”

That is what we celebrate in Eastertide and that is why this is an Eastertide reflection and not the Good Friday reflection that it has appeared to be so far. Jesus reached rock bottom on Good Friday but that was not where the story ends. For Jesus, the resurrection meant that the only way for him, following Good Friday, was up. And because Jesus dies and is resurrected as the forerunner for each one of us, this can be our experience too. Jesus went into the depths of human sin and suffering to save us, to bring us up and out from our depths of sin and suffering into new life together with him; a life in which resurrection has begun to be our experience and will become our eternal experience.

So, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Ain’t no valley low enough to keep us from Jesus, even the valley of the shadow of death. A change is gonna come. The times, they are a’changin’. We can move on up to our destination. We will rise from the ruins. The only way is up. The songs and the clich├ęs find their truth in Jesus and his resurrection which is the promise of our own personal resurrection and the resurrection of our world itself.


Hallelujah! Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed! May this declaration resound not only in these walls but touch the lives of all we meet and forever be the truth of which we speak. Your love, once sown within a garden, tended for your own people, neglected and rejected, now spreads its sweet perfume in this place and wherever it is shown. Hallelujah! Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed!

Lord of life, you defeated death to demonstrate a love that is beyond our understanding that reaches out even to me; saving Grace to all who hear. Lord Jesus Christ, we rejoice and rejoice continually in Your glorious and triumphant victory over death. For Your victory is our victory. Help us to live by it, in it, and for it. We are grateful to our depths - grateful forever. Hallelujah! Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed!

Lord of life, you defeated death to show that we can rise from all that binds us to the world; pride, envy, anger, fear, the debt of sin that holds us here. Lord of life, we pray for all who bring your word of life as a light to those in darkness. For those who bring your word of peace to those enslaved by fear. For those who bring your word of love to those in need of comfort. Lord of love and Lord of peace, Lord of resurrection life, be known through our lives and through your power. Hallelujah! Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed!

The Blessing

God, who through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ has given us the victory, give you joy and peace in your faith; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.


George Frederick Handel - Thine Be The Glory.

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