What is the depth of the relationship between us and our nearest and dearest? In the Bible reading for this week, we have the story of Jesus’ passion which includes the account of the Last Supper which Jesus shares with his disciples. As he hands around the cup, Jesus says, “this is my blood of the (new) covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” The word covenant was crucial to the people of Israel and it is crucial to all Christians too. Jesus, by his life and, crucially, death, made possible a new relationship between God and man. In effect, Jesus was saying, you have seen me and, in seeing me, you have seen the heart of God. Jesus by his teachings, healings, compassion, passion and death has revealed to humanity what God is like. Jesus was the personification of God’s love for humanity. Because of Jesus’ suffering and death, the way is now open for humanity to have a relationship with the living God. In these dark times of the corona virus, we need to hold onto the truth of Holy Week which proves that God is on our side. God is for us; God is with us; God will not desert us, especially through these troubling times. Perhaps we can join with the hymn writer: “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.”
Does God show feelings and emotion? In the ancient world the deities were believed to be without feeling and without emotion. The reason was simple. As soon as a deity showed feeling, it showed that they were vulnerable to circumstances and even manipulation. As with many things at the time, Jesus turned this thinking on its head. In the Bible passage this week, we have the story of the death of Lazarus at the house of Martha and Mary in Bethany. When Jesus learns of his death and is met with the despair of Martha and Mary, Jesus does something extraordinary. It is recorded as the shortest verse in the Bible but also one of the most poignant. John’s Gospel records, “Jesus wept.” God is the God who has feelings, emotions and limitless compassion. In the midst of this terrible corona virus we serve a God who grieves with those who grieve, who mourns with those who mourn, who suffers with those who suffer and who weeps with those who weep. That is the nature of God.
Do we stand up for what we believe in? In this time of global crisis where Christians cannot physically meet for fellowship, how do we remain strong in our faith? The Bible passage for this week recounts the story of the blind man at the pool. Jesus healed him and then the pharisees interrogated him and his parents. Despite the isolation and fear of excommunication, the blind man remained resolute. “All I know is that I was blind and now I can see….no man has ever opened the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he couldn’t do it.” It is a tremendous profession of faith in the face of opposition. Why? Because Jesus had changed his life. After the man was thrown out of the place of worship, Jesus did not desert him. He found him and revealed to him who He was. Jesus is always true to the person who is true to Him and this loyalty brings revelation. In this season of trial, this is equally true and relevant.
Where should we worship God? Of course, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic with social distancing and churches shut, this is a topical question. In this week’s Bible reading, Jesus gives clear advice. He tells the woman at the well in Samaria, “It doesn’t matter whether you worship the Father here or in Jerusalem.” What prompted this remark? The Samaritans had adjusted history to suit themselves. They said that Abraham had been willing to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Gerizim and that it was at Mount Gerizim that Melchizedek had appeared to Abraham. Moreover, they held that it was on Mount Gerizim that Moses had first erected an altar when the people entered the promised land. As a result of all of this, the Samaritans had been brought up to believe that Mount Gerizim was more sacred than Jerusalem. It is for this reason that the woman in Samaria asked Jesus the question, “Where should we worship God?” Jesus’ answer is clear: God is Spirit and what matters is not where you worship Him but that you worship Him in spirit and in truth. In church or out of church; in groups or individually, we can worship God anytime, anywhere. Let’s keep praying for the world at this critical time by continuing in a state of worship, wherever we are.
Which verse in the Bible best sums up the Gospel? For many people, it is the one found in this week’s Bible reading from John’s Gospel: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” This verse tells us at least three great truths. Firstly, the initiative of salvation is God’s. Jesus did not change God’s mind. God was not someone who was angry and needed to be pacified by a human response. The origin of our salvation is purely God’s. Next, it tells us that the essence of God is love. It was love that formed the universe and love that drove our salvation. Salvation was not to bring the universe to heel and satisfy God’s desire for power. It was to satisfy his love for us. Finally, this verse tells us of the breadth of God’s love. It was the whole world that God loved. It was every race and every tribe and every person within those. God loves the unlovely, the unlovable, the pagan the atheist and the terrorist. All are included in God’s vast love. As Augustine wrote: “God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love.”