Someone offers you the only seat on a crowded bus or train. A child with shining anticipation presents you with a hand-crafted birthday card. A pot of delicious home-made soup arrives on your doorstep. A friend goes out of their way to drive you to an appointment.
Would you thankfully accept the proffered gift, or turn away and mentally dispose of it as unwanted?
A beautiful magazine drops through the letterbox every month. It has taken physical effort to deliver it. Every page lay-out, every type-set word, every composed sentence has taken time, effort and care. It is intended to convey useful advice and information, to report on matters that affect our home area, to offer invitations to events that create community and to give assurances of help in time of need. Do we value and enjoy it, or bin it?
The writers of the church pages hope to bring words of encouragement and comfort, to open up a precious ancient book that we believe to be a record of human lives in interaction with the Living God. They explain church tradition, and may try to provoke thought or challenge old prejudices with a fresh perspective. They offer ideas not as out-moded dogma, but as experiences of faith in a difficult and troubled world, and to share some reflections on the grace of God who so deeply loves the family of humanity. He rewards the searcher with his nearness, forgives the penitent and thereafter keeps no record of wrongs.
A young boy, on distant shores, wanted to give his teacher a gift. When he presented her with a very lovely delicate shell, she realized that he must have selected it from a beach an arduous trek from his home village. “You must have walked a long way for this,” she said, with smiling appreciation. He shrugged. “The long walk is part of the gift.”
We have a national date on our calendars this month, called Easter. Like Christmas, its origins are increasingly shrouded in an overlay of commercial enterprise. The chocolate Santas have been replaced on shelves by a myriad of foil-covered chocolate eggs, bunnies and chicks. We celebrate the signs of new life with the birth of lambs and ducklings, and fresh buds on trees. It is the season of reawakening after the short cold days of winter.
For people of Christian faith all around the world, it is a special time to reflect on the purpose and cost of forgiveness and reconciliation. God gave the most precious gift that Heaven could offer; a substitute, a Redeemer, a Shepherd. When Jesus took that long walk to the place of crucifixion, he knew that the whole purpose of his earthly mission and ministry was about to be fulfilled. Death would not ultimately destroy what God had brought to life, for beyond the final breath lay the prospect of joyful reunions, peace and an end of suffering.
What a gift God gives!
Isaac Watts was reputedly a small, modest and scholarly man who lived quietly at Newington Green, yet his words have spanned the centuries and alighted in hearts and minds around the world. His faith is encapsulated in the first verse of one of his most famous hymns.
“When I survey the wondrous Cross
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride.”
Easter brings together suffering and healing, conflict and reconciliation, love and life, peace and hope and new beginnings through the risen Christ.
A happy and blessed Easter to all.