Easter Message 2009 from the Rev. Norman A. Grigg, Chairman and General Superintendent of the Methodist Church the Gambia
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
It’s my privilege to bring to you Easter greetings from the Methodist Church in The Gambia and I pray that the joy of this season of the year may be yours.
God’s book full of stories There is a children’s hymn in the Methodist hymn book which is about the Bible – trying to explain to children what the bible is all about – it says:
‘God has given us a book full of stories
Which was made for His people of old,
It begins with the tale of a garden,
And ends with the city of gold’
The hymn is referring to the fact that the Bible is a collection of books – 66 of them in all – and the reference to beginning with a ‘tale of a garden’ – is talking about the book of Genesis where the story of the creation of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden is recorded – and ‘ending with a city of gold’ is a reference to the Book of Revelation – the last book of the Bible which describes the city prepared by God at the end of creation.
So the simple words of the hymn make the point that the Bible contains the stories of how God leads and loves, disciplines and teaches the world that he has made and the people who live in it- from the beginning to the end.
The story of the last week of Jesus’s ministry
The bible story that churches throughout the world have been thinking about this week- is the account of the last week of Jesus’s earthly life, recorded in the gospels, Matthew Mark Luke and John- the hymn describes it as ‘the most beautiful story of all’ – and I am sure you know that the story well enough. Jesus, who had a breath taking three year ministry- ended his earthly life in Jerusalem- tried by the courts- both religious and secular- and sentenced to earth on a cross.
They said that his message was ‘blasphemous,’ that he was inciting the people to rebellion against the authorities- and the suspicion is that some of those, in the religious leadership particularly, were frightened that they would lose their positions of power and authority if they let him carry on- so they plotted to kill him and Jesus was crucified-hung on a cross- the death penalty that was to hardened criminals- murderers and thieves. It’s difficult to see how that can be described as ‘the most beautiful story of all.’
A story of defeat into a story of victory
The best stories for many of us are those which have ‘happy endings’- and some of the classic stories are those where ‘every one lives happily ever after.’ We know, however, that ‘living happily ever after’ is now how our lives always turn out. But Easter Sunday brings a totally different light on the story of Jesus – the sufferings of Jesus and his death on the cross are not the final chapters – as the story goes on to tell about the resurrection of Jesus and says that his death was not the end – people couldn’t destroy his message – it was too powerful for that and so on Easter Sunday the story changes from one of defeat to one of victory. When the disciples gradually realized that the Jesus they thought had died and was buried was not alive and present with them, then the whole story becomes transformed.
It’s a good story but if this is just a story that is written down in Christian literature and is told like any other story then the point of it all may well be lost. Yes, it is true in one sense that Easter Sunday is a ‘happy ending’ but in another sense it isn’t the end of the story at all. Let me try and explain what I mean.
The story continues
Many stories especially children’s stories start with the phrase ‘Once upon a time…’ – it puts the tale into a moment in history often far removed from the time in which we live and although you may enjoy listening to or reading the story, it may not have anything to do with us – it’s just a story, and you can take it or leave it.
The Easter message that I want to pass on to you is one of hope in the face of despair and of love triumphing over hatred and death and this is a story which can be translated into our lives as it is an eternal truth. The story continues with us – indeed that is the purpose of the story – it’s not just the first disciples of Jesus who benefited from the presence of the Risen Christ – His presence can be with us now.
It was put very well by a song writer called Sydney Carter who wrote a song called ‘The Presence tense’ which said:
Your Holy hearsay is not evidence
Give me the Good News in the presence tense
What happened, now two thousand years ago,
May not have happened, how am I to know?
So Shut the Bible up and tell me how
The Christ you talk about is living now.
There are so many ways in which the ongoing truth of the Easter message can be real to us now in all those situations when we feel defeated – we can go through those times and know that ultimately God’s love will conquer all the seemingly impossible obstacles; if we are genuinely sincere and truthful it helps us so much more than if we try and dodge the truth with all our lies.
The real story
It’s a living truth that Christians talk about not confined to the pages of a book – but one that continues in our lives making sense in our changing circumstances and giving confidence in our changing times.
Next month, the Methodist Church will become an autonomous church. After 188 years of being a district of the British Church, we shall have our own conference and will make our own decisions without always referring to the British conference. And as we make this change, we shall have the confidence of the living presence of Christ as we take our first faltering steps into autonomy.
So, as I bring you greetings from the Methodist Church this Easter I hope and pray that the story of seeming failure disaster and tragedy being transformed into success, victory and hope may be so much more than a story told about someone else at some other time and in some other place but may be a reality which helps each one of us to be confident that God’s work and his living presence continues even here and even in us.
Have a very happy Easter and may God bless you richly.
Author: By Rev. Norman A. Grigg