Each of the four Gospels gives us its own unique portrait of Jesus and his ministry. There’s much common ground between them of course, but Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have each chosen from the traditions about Jesus which were extant in oral or written form to give their own particular slant on his life and teachings. And this is as true for their resurrection narratives as it is for the rest of the Gospels.
Matthew, Luke and John each have memorable stories to tell of appearances of the risen Lord, amongst these are: the walk to Emmaus (Luke); the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene in the garden and Thomas refusing to believe that Jesus was alive until he saw him with his own eyes (John); and Jesus’ commissioning of his apostles to make disciples of all nations and to baptize them (Matthew).
Mark is unique among the Gospels in that he has very little to say about appearances of the risen Lord. True, at the very end of the Gospel there is a very hurried and sketchy summary of some appearances of Jesus ending with his ascension. But most scholars believe that these are later additions to the original Gospel which they think probably ended with Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome discovering the empty tomb and meeting a young man in a white robe who tells them that Jesus has been raised and they are to go and tell Peter that they will meet the risen Lord in Galilee. If these scholars are right the original Gospel of Mark ended with the rather unpromising words ‘So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid’.
I am inclined to agree with this assessment. If you read chapter 16 of Mark it really does look as if someone has added on to what is a coherent account a very brief and garbled summary of some of the stories from the other Gospels together with a unique version of the commissioning of the eleven apostles. My feeling is that at some stage after Mark wrote his Gospel, either Mark himself or someone else has looked at the accounts of resurrection appearances in other Gospels and has felt that Mark’s Gospel ought to have some too! But what do you think about it? Read Mark 16 and make up your own mind.
But if the Gospel did end with the three women fleeing from the tomb in fear what are we to make of this? Why did Mark leave everything ‘up in the air’ so to speak? True, the resurrection is definitely mentioned and the women are told that the disciples would meet the risen Lord in Galilee. But it all seems rather low key.
Now I love the resurrection stories from Matthew, Luke and John as much as anyone else. I find them to be profoundly moving and they help me to know the presence of the risen Lord in my own life. On the other hand I rather like the ‘open ended’ way in which Mark may have ended his original Gospel. The women leave the tomb in a bewildered and fearful state – though of course we know that eventually they will indeed meet the risen Lord.
I think that this open ending teaches us that it is often when we go out in faith and trust – even if we are bewildered, fearful and confused – that we will meet Jesus in our daily lives. Like the women fleeing from the empty tomb, we have not ‘seen’ Him. But if we venture out in faith we will encounter him in scripture, in prayer and in the Eucharist and in the ups and downs of our daily lives just as the women and the other disciples would indeed find him when they had the courage to journey to Galilee in faith.
I pray that this Easter our faith in the presence of the risen Jesus will be renewed and that we will meet him in the Galilee of our lives.
Lent begins rather neatly on 1st March this year, the first time I can remember this happening. It means that, even in Wales, the Church will be celebrating Dewi Sant a day earlier than usual on 28th February. Ash Wednesday, as an observance of the universal Church takes precedence even over the celebration of a patron saint. However I don’t think Wales’ patron would object to his day giving way to Ash Wednesday. Fasting and discipline were practices close to his heart and this was, after all, a man who spent long hours praying waist high in cold water!
Now I’m not going to suggest that we should adopt St. David’s way of praying as part of our Lenten discipline – though you are welcome to try it if you want to! But the tradition surrounding Wales’ patron saint can certainly inspire us as we enter into this special season. I’m thinking especially of his frequently quoted exhortation to his followers to ‘do the little things well’.
Perhaps instead of trying to take on all manner of extra disciplines this Lent, we might try instead to try to do the little things in our own lives much better. How about re-thinking our times of private prayer, giving them a ‘freshen-up’ and greater attention? Perhaps we could put more effort in trying to cope with a difficult family member or being a more patient driver. There are lots of aspects of our daily lives which could do with some attention – think what in your own life might be worth considering. Then on Ash Wednesday offer these to God asking for his grace – and see what happens.
One of the ‘little things’ most of us do regularly is to share in the celebration of the Eucharist and to receive the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. You might not think of this as a little thing as it is certainly one of the most important and profound things in our Christian lives. I describe it as a ‘little thing’ because for most of us it’s a routine part of life; something we do week by week or perhaps even more often than this. On Mothering Sunday this month we will implement the new Church in Wales policy to welcome all who are baptized to receive Communion. As we prepare to welcome them to Communion it seems sensible to take time to reflect upon what sharing in the Eucharist means to us.
So on the parish level, our focus this Lent will be on the Eucharist. There will be a short series of three sermons on this subject on the first three Sundays of Lent, and at St David’s Hospice after the Wednesday evening services of Compline there will be an opportunity to share in a ‘Pilgrim’ Course exploring the meaning of the Eucharist. As usual this will be a joint activity with our friends across the diocesan border in what is now the Aberconwy Mission Area. I hope that a goodly number of us will take part in these activities and so deepen our own Eucharistic life.
On the subject of the new Church in Wales policy on admission to Communion – I want to thank everyone who has taken part in the consultations on how we put this new policy into practice in our parish. I am especially grateful to the Sunday School leaders, to the Revd. Mike Harrison and to Jennifer Roberts, who have been helping to prepare our children for this change. Following this letter you will find set out exactly how the policy will be implemented.
Have a joyful and fruitful Lent!
Some people find February a particularly depressing month. The joys of Christmas are but a distant memory and, although there may be tantalizing signs of the coming of Spring, we may feel as if winter will never end. February ‘fill-dyke’ can be a rather miserable in-between time – a time of waiting.
With Easter being fairly late this year, February is also an ‘in-between’ time in the church calendar. The Christmas/Epiphany season reaches its conclusion with the celebration of the Presentation of Christ at the beginning of the month, and we are left with just over three weeks before the beginning of Lent.
In our current calendar the Sundays leading up to Lent have the rather unimaginative names of ‘Sundays before Lent’. Many people miss the old names for these Sundays – Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima (meaning 70, 60 & 50 days before Easter). But at least the new names remind us that the important season of Lent is near at hand and that we need to prepare for it.
In order to help us to do just that, two of these Sundays are given important themes: Creation Sunday and Transfiguration Sunday. Before embarking on the spiritually demanding season of Lent, with our thoughts turning to the passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord, we are firstly given an opportunity to celebrate God as creator of the universe of which we are part. We can rejoice in the beauty of the world around us and see it as the expression of God’s creative Love.
Then, on the Sunday before Lent, the theme is the Transfiguration of Christ on the Holy Mount – that wonderful moment when Peter, James and John were privileged to see the glory of Christ’s divinity shining out through his mortal flesh. This is a particularly appropriate theme for the days leading up to Ash Wednesday. The main reason for the Transfiguration was to make the disciples listen to what Jesus was trying to teach them – that he was going to Jerusalem to die on the cross and to rise again. So in keeping Transfiguration Sunday we are being prepared for our commemoration of Lent, Holy Week and Easter.
Transfiguration is also an important theme for the Sunday before Lent because Lent is very much about our need to be transfigured into the likeness of Christ. Lent is a time to grow closer to Christ, indeed to grow more like him. To be changed into his likeness.
So, let’s use these ‘waiting days’ of February to prepare ourselves for the keeping of a good Lent and a deeper celebration of Our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection.
Details of parish activities for Lent ’17 will be available in the course of the month, but in the context of our preparation to put into effect the new Church in Wales policy of welcoming all the Baptized to receive Communion the overall theme will be what it means to be a ‘Eucharistic People’.
With my best wishes and prayer,