Easter: "Practical Service"

The Revd Margaret Legg

Like her or loathe her, it’s almost impossible not to have heard of the demise of Margaret Thatcher. There has been blanket coverage in the press and on television. Even her funeral is a cause of dispute: ‘£10million blazed the Sun’ on its front page. ‘We have had £27billion in EU rebates thanks to her’, fired back William Hague. The Resurrection, celebrated throughout the world a fortnight ago, didn’t get quite such extensive coverage! And it was just the same on the first Easter. The last thing the disciples had on their minds, amazed, frightened and disbelieving as they were, was to go public with the news. Instead they quietly resumed their ordinary lives, uncertain of the point of the last three years spent with Jesus, uncertain about the resurrection, uncertain about their futures.

Uncertainty

Uncertainty chimes throughout our readings: The certainty of Saul, en route to Damascus, hell bent on destroying the new movement ‘The Way’, is blown apart; Ananias, the cautious and nervous follower, is sent to lay hands on Saul, certain that he is an enemy but he is proved wrong; and the uncertain disciples are given a new commission that will give them a certain purpose for the rest of their lives.

Mrs T. was only too well aware of the uncertainty of her position as Prime Minister. Before each General Election she always packed up the flat at number 10, so that should she be defeated, her exit would be orderly and quick. When defeat came, it came unexpectedly. In the twinkling of an eye, her life was transformed, not by an encounter with the risen Christ, as happens in our readings, not by the electorate, but by the votes of her own Members of Parliament.

So how do our readings help us to live in the light of the resurrection? The one certain thing that comes through is the abiding presence of Christ in our lives, from before our birth, during our lives and continuing after our death. This presence can inspire us to live in a way that won’t probably hit the headlines, but can have an impact for good on the lives of those whom we encounter.

Feed my sheep – practical service

Saul and Peter, specifically, in our readings (if only we knew a bit more about Ananias) were each given a new direction: to follow Jesus in lives of practical service. Peter and Paul became church builders, Paul starting in the synagogue, Peter bringing the Gentiles into the net of Jesus’ love. We are encouraged to live out the resurrection not in some nebulous, airy fairy way, but by engaging with the nitty gritty of helping, supporting, accompanying each other. Mrs T. put this into practice in spades when my husband was standing for re-election in 1997, 5 years after her defeat. She and Denis were guests of honour at a constituency fund raising dinner. Guests had the opportunity to have their photos taken with the. Every single person queued up – it seemed to take forever. Then they moved into a side room to sign the raffle prizes – sounds familiar!!  Alongside the framed photos of the couple and the bottles of whisky were some boxes of jigsaws – depicting John Major and his wife outside Chequers, the man for whom Maggie was ousted! I remember they both looked at them in horror. ‘They expect us to sign these!’ exclaimed Denis. ‘Yes, they do,’ was the brisk reply, ‘so we’d better just get on with it.’

Practical service, sometimes when we’d rather not. ‘Feed my sheep’, even when the fodder is not to our taste.

When the net of our lives is full

This is perhaps more straightforward to put into practice when all in our lives is going well. When we feel we are richly blessed and God’s seems close. Then we are called to share of our abundance, be it money, time, or experience. To give to our Lent charity, to engage with our community, perhaps through our school, with our neighbours, the Residents’ Association; support our employees and colleagues at work, taking an interest in what is going on in their lives, helping them to face up to problems and challenges so they can move on. If we are in good health, then we might share that most life-giving substance, our blood, through blood donation!

When the net of our lives is empty

Sometimes though God seems far away. We feel drained, bereft. It is more difficult to serve when all our energies are taken up with our own worries, problems, anxieties. Air brushing these out of our lives, or putting them to one side in the too difficult pile and trying to keep going through sheer will power, isn’t a long term solution. We have to face them, in all honesty, in the light of Christ’s resurrection, which overpowered evil with good, falsehood with truth. We might well imagine what was on Peter’s mind as he spent the night fishing on Lake Galilee: fear, guilt, self-recrimination, following his 3 fold denial of Jesus on the night of his arrest. The clothes he put on before jumping into the lake to reach Jesus are a metaphor, it seems to me, for all that lay covered up on his heart. And it wasn’t going to get better; the charcoal fire was a reminder of the fire at the High Priest’s house, the taking and offering of bread an echo of the last supper, the triple question ‘Do you love me?’ mirrored Peter’s denial. Peter could not be given that new commission ‘Feed my sheep’ until he had restored his relationship with Jesus. Jesus helped him, not with judgement but with love. When we are struggling and the net of our life seems empty, Jesus is there, quite possibly unseen and unfelt in the dark, on the shores of the lake, ready with a place for us at the fire of his love and with food to strengthen us so that we can face up to life. We can speak to him honestly and openly about what troubles us, knowing we will be heard in love and enabled to move on.

As we go through life, with all its uncertainties, of one thing we can be certain: that the net of God’s love is wide enough and strong enough for us all. There is room for Peter in spite of his denials, for Saul, in spite of his persecutions, for Ananias, in spite of his fears, for me and for you and for Margaret Thatcher!  Whoever it is that we find ourselves brushing shoulders with in that net, we are to give them the food of the resurrection in practical service!