Sunday, 5 April 2015

Easter Sunday

There is SO much wisdom written and spoken about the Easter story. I'll reference some gems here, but what has stuck in my mind this morning is the need to pursue Jesus. Not a command or a requirement but a basic underlying truth that it is NEED FOR MY SOUL.

I read (in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day by Peter Scazzero) Martha's story in Luke 
"The Lord and his disciples were traveling along and came to a village. When they got there, a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat down in front of the Lord and was listening to what he said. Martha was worried about all that had to be done. Finally, she went to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it bother you that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me!”

The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha! You are worried and upset about so many things,  but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I notice several things about this story.
I notice that Jesus was welcomed by Martha.
I notice it was Martha's home.
I notice that Martha served but Mary gave her welcoming presence

Welcoming presence. In Africa, when I was invited to a home, it was a huge occasion. There is no room for casual visits in African society. Every visitor is treated as a welcomed guest. You are ushered into the best room or found a comfortable spot to sit in outside, while your hosts prepare food. If possible, meat will be prepared: in rural homes, a chicken or a goat will be slaughtered. Cooking takes time. The visitor sits in splendid state, sometimes for hours and hours.

That does not happen in Europe. A visitor is offered a cup of tea or coffee perhaps, but the hosts welcome the visitor with their presence, sitting and talking. This is what Mary was doing. She sat and listened to Jesus as he spoke with his disciples. Although she elevated herself to the status of a man, sitting 'at his feet' like a rabbi's disciple, Jesus did not chastise her for flouting cultural norms. He was, after all, the master of alternative action when it came to do what was expected by society. Instead, he praised her for assuming the role of a disciple.

And I thought: this is what Jesus wants of me.
He doesn't want me primarily to serve - though I will do so.
He doesn't want me to speak well of my acquaintance with him - he doesn't need my praise.
He wants me to be with him. To spend time in His presence. To listen to what he says. To pursue relationship with him.

So I am learning, again, to slow down into silence as preparation for reading his words. Precious words about and from The Word. When I choose, like this, what is best, it will not be taken from me.

And Martha? Well, yes.
Martha, in her busyness, was missing the most precious thing of all - being with Jesus. Many people gain tremendous satisfaction from having provided a pleasurable experience for someone else by giving them a good meal, But the time spent preparing could be time better spent with people. Martha must - again, counter culturally - must have had an inkling of this.
Perhaps Mary usually helped, and Martha felt neglected and hard done by.
Perhaps Martha recognised how valuable time with Jesus was, and wanted to hurry the preparations so she, too, could be with him.
Perhaps she was so concerned - not just about the food - that she couldn't focus on the wonder of having Jesus in her home. He recognised that she had 'many' worries - what they were, we can only speculate. Perhaps ill health in the family. Lack of money. Perhaps Mary had special needs, or was very immature. Perhaps nobody wanted to marry and give social status to either of these women. We don't know, but Jesus did. He reminded her of what was most important.

But Martha also points to a different aspect of following Jesus. The way of following him with service. How, when we know him and spend time in his presence, we can't help but begin to see the (many) needs around us with his eyes. We then long to help, and start serving.

Martha's serving was sacrificial and costly. Hospitality costs time and money, precious resources in a simple society where people would work from morning and night without break. When I reflect on African hospitality, often it would be for one or two honoured guests: but Martha opened up her home to Jesus AND his disciples. How many was that? We know he had twelve close followers who he chose to hang out with: but there would surely have been more, tagging along. I think of the work involved in hosting 13 men with hearty appetites and I shudder.

Martha served sacrificially and at great cost to herself.
Martha should not be pitied as having 'missed the boat' but admired for her sacrificial love.

And so I come back to Easter. To Giles Fraser, vicar of St Mary's Newington in London, who writes in the Guardian about Jesus' sacrifice which we 'celebrate' at Easter. (I have a personal difficulty about celebrating his death and sacrifice, which probably means that I haven't completely grasped the glory of the cross.)
"In a world where we semaphore our successes to each other at every possible opportunity, churches cannot be blamed for failing to live up to this austere and wonderful message. The worst of them judge their success in entirely worldly terms, by counting their followers. Their websites show images of happy, uncomplicated people doing good improving stuff in the big community. But if I am right about the meaning of Christ’s passion, then a church is at its best when it fails, when it gives up on all the ecclesiastical glitter, when the weeds start to break through the floor, and when it shows others that failure is absolutely nothing of the sort. This is the site of real triumph, the moment of success. Failure is redeemed. Hallelujah."

During the last few days, we have spoken, often of how: "It's Friday, but Sunday's coming."

And Francis Chan finishes this reflection:

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