Easter Letter 2021

Dear Friends

‘Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?

“They have taken my Lord away” she said, “and I don’t know where they have out him.” At this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus.

“Woman, why are you crying?” he said, “Who is it you are looking for?

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned towards him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!”, (which means teacher).

This has been quite a year!

Twelve months ago, we entered the first pandemic lockdown, and were frantically working out how to do Easter and church online. I didn’t for a moment imagine we would still be doing this a year on. But in this past year, I am not alone in learning new skills, as well as learning more about myself – what is really important, and what is not.

I am acutely conscious that many people have had an unimaginably tough year; painful grief, loneliness and isolation, fear and uncertainty. Yet we have also experienced extraordinary generosity of spirit, from the heroic and compassionate dedication of key workers in all sectors, to simple acts of loving kindness in our neighbourhoods and communities. We are all profoundly changed by what has happened.

In 2019, St Matthews experienced growth in many ways; numerically, relationally and in renewed confidence and hope for the future. Praise God!

In early 2020, as our plan evolved, we embarked on our first Alpha, which was a wonderful time of going deeper into knowing and understanding God. It was also an experience of the Body of Christ at St Matthews joyfully pulling together in, invitation, welcome, hospitality, prayer, bible study, and exploration of faith, in a safe and generous environment. There was and a cross-section of ages, from students to dear Walter in his 90s, and we were almost at the end when Lockdown 1 happened.

It is good to remember back to last year. It is also good to look forward, and to encourage each other to dream new dreams for God.

As we look into Spring and Summer 2021 with a degree of hope in the rollout of vaccinations, alongside this hope we are though, conscious of a deep sense of weariness, a longing to see our families and friends again, and a need to Reflect and Recover. In the season ahead, I and my faithful colleagues shall be doing all we can to help us journey together through this, so that in time, we are then ready to Revive and Renew for the future.

This will all be done with a Foundation of Prayer.

So, I ask you to join with me and my team again, this Easter and into the summer, in re-committing ourselves to God, remembering freshly the message of the Cross and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and praying to be filled by his Holy Spirit. As we do this, we shall be renewed and re-invigorated for the season to come. We cannot do this on our own, and by our own strength. But with God, ‘nothing is impossible’. (Luke 1:37Open Link in New Window)

In the bible passage at the beginning,

  • Mary was weeping at the tomb because she thought Jesus’ body had been stolen away. There are so many this year who will be weeping, because it feels as if all that is good, safe and whole has been taken from them.
  • In her grief, Mary didn’t recognise the person standing in front of her, who was her Lord. There will be many this year, who are struggling to see the way ahead.
  • But for Mary, Jesus is there, Risen, Renewed, Restored to life again—and he is here with us too, in the complexity of our lives, loving us and leading us into new life again.

Are you searching again for the presence and comfort of Jesus Christ this Easter, to help you understand purpose, direction and meaning in this confused time? The Risen Jesus stands in front of each one of us, ready to carry our burdens, fill us to overflowing with his Spirit of Hope, and travel with us through Rest and Recovery to Revival and Renewal.

Deborah and I and our family pray God’s blessing for you, your family and friends this Easter, and thank you for being our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Ian
Rev Ian Tomkins. Vicar, St Matthews Bristol.

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At the Cross

Today’s readings are parts of John 18Open Link in New Window & John 19Open Link in New Window.

Here is today’s reflection by Ian.

The cross brings us face to face with the suffering of Jesus. He was alone and his disciples had left him except his mother and three women, and John, the beloved disciple. His death on the cross was utterly humiliating and full of the most awful torture. Usually those who were crucified could linger a very long time on the cross before they died. But Jesus had already endured torture, beatings and more. Remember he had that ‘crown of thorns’ shoved down onto his head? So it is not so surprising that Jesus died in the afternoon.

Pontius Pilate had made the public declaration that Jesus be called the ‘King of the Jews’ and had a notice fixed to the cross to that effect, hugely annoying Jesus’ main protagonists, the Chief Priest and the Pharisees.

But Jesus was also crucified because of his claim to be the king. The Jews knew that the Messiah would come as their king, to establish the kingdom of God for them. But they wanted a king who would free them the oppression of Roman rule. Many people did hope that Jesus would be the Messiah, the chosen one of God promised in the Old Testament scriptures. He was and is. But there was a wide misunderstanding of what sort of kingdom this would be. Jesus came to win hearts for God. He came to be king of a kingdom that was utterly different from the reality of earthly kingdoms.

And the proof of God’s love for us, is Jesus freely offering his life for us on the cross. The last words of Jesus, ‘It is finished / It is fulfilled’ were not words of defeat or resignation. They were words which acknowledged the triumph of God over sin and evil, in that God’s plan to save the world he loves so much, to redeem the world, had been completed by Jesus death on the cross. As he died, Jesus knew this. Jesus remained true to the love of God the Father. The reason and purpose for God sending Jesus into the world, had been completed and accomplished.

The closest followers of Jesus, his disciples, mostly ran away in fear of the Jewish authorities and what might happen to them. But remember, Jesus’ mother, some women and the beloved disciple, stayed with Jesus to and beyond the end.

You and I are invited, alongside Mary and the women, to be present with Jesus, while he hung on the cross. We see his blood flowing for us. We see his body pierced and broken, for us. We see his arms stretched out on that cross, as if encompassing us all in his embrace of love.

The cross of Christ is the heart of the Christian faith, the assurance of God’s mercy, acceptance, forgiveness, new life and new hope. On the cross, Jesus has set us free from the shackles of sin. The cross shows us the way to victory over sin and death, over failure and despair. This is the meaning of Good Friday, and as we look at Jesus on the cross, with Mary, the women and the beloved disciple, remember that:

  • Jesus was humiliated so that we could be lifted up.
  • Jesus was broken, so that we could be made whole. Jesus knew despair, so that we would know hope.
  • Jesus died on the cross, so that we could have life—in all its fullness.

And we remember and celebrate that wonderful gift of life, three days later.

There will be a video version of the service.

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Washing Feet

Today’s reading is John – ?

Here is today’s reflection by Gaby.

Maudy Thursday

Foot washing is a topic that makes my toes curl. The idea of another person gently and lovingly washing my feet is a challenge. I believe that in reflexology feet are very important and connect to all sorts of other parts of your body. In Jesus’ time it was practical service and custom to wash feet. I once had a pedicure and it was in fact very nice.

Here it is all about intimacy. Verse 1 tells us Jesus’ love for his followers.

We see the meal is in progress which commentators suggest shows that Jesus’ foot washing is a deliberate act of serving not just a cultural courtesy on the way in.

Jesus knows his place in God, he had all things under his power and then he serves.

Peter seeing the others’ feet being washed tells Jesus he doesn’t want his feet washed. I wonder why… he knew Jesus was above him, perhaps he felt embarrassed to be served by him, anyway Jesus tells him clearly… Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.

This is when we see the mark of intimacy. Peter makes a U-turn… it’s all coming from the same heart but the thought has changed him and he he re-adjusts his position.

Then wash all of me Peter asks.

Isn’t Peter great? He loves Jesus, he wants intimacy and relationship with Jesus he jumps into everything. He’s not a bystander, he’s always a central character in every room because of his devotion to Jesus and his grappling with what it means to be a disciple.

You can’t serve me… I have to serve you…Ok then wash everything…

Peter is constantly saying I’m in, count me in, I want to be with you Jesus, I want to get what you’re doing,

As Jesus explains they’re all clean once their feet are washed except one. It makes you wonder what makes Judas unclean. He let Jesus wash his feet like everyone else did. But it was his inside that was unclean.

Peter and Judas are in direct contrast in this. It was all about what is inside. Peter has the desire inside him to know Jesus and be connected with him and Judas wants to make money.

Interesting that they both have a change of heart not too long after. Judas’ change of heart leads to him taking the money back and then his sad suicide. Peter’s change of heart is marked by a cock crowing and his denial then subsequent repentance and regret. They both had regrets Peter’s led to him founding the church and Judas’ led to his death.

I wonder where you are today in your intimacy with Jesus. Are you prepared to let him touch you and your life in a personal way or are you going through the motions, making it look like you do but actually inside you’re cold, you’re not grappling with discipleship you are struggling to survive and faith seems a long way away right now.

Jesus said to the disciples—Do you know what I have done for you and he asks the same thing to us. Do we know what he has done for us? Jesus says—Do you know what I have done for you personally… Ian, Richard, Gaby, Sean, Pat, Jean, Katherine, Margi, Nigel etc

His final encouragement was

Now I have washed your feet you should wash one another’s…

How will we find intimacy with Jesus this holy week? How will we do what he did and serve others?

Jesus ends this with

Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Let’s pray.

Lord I pray for greater intimacy with you. Lord I pray we will have hearts to seek you like Peter did not like Judas. Help us to crave intimacy with you. Please also help us to serve others as you served your disciples. And help us as we know these things to be blessed as we do them.

Amen

There will be a video version of the service.

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