Sunday, March 24, 2013

Faithfully Following

With the excitement of the inauguration of the new Pope in Rome and of the new Archbishop of Canterbury in Canterbury you may not have noticed news of another important event in Westminster Abbey this last week.

To mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of David Livingstone the new President of Malawi has been over here visiting David Livingstone’s  birthplace in Blantyre in Scotland and his tomb in Westminster Abbey.  The memory of David Livingstone is highly honoured in Malawi – passionate to educate himself at loom, studying to be a Doctor and then giving himself to missionary service as one of a second generation of missionaries going out to Africa through our Mission agency, the London Missionary Society.  That has now become the Council for World Mission and the LMS become the CWM.  The links are important.

It’s not long since a group from our Congregational Federation churches went over to Malawi to spend time with our CWM partners there, the Churches of Christ in Malawi.  One of them joined us on a Sunday morning and reported back on that partnership.  We then got involved in welcoming the Malawi team to Cheltenham for the Olympics planting out that flower bed in the shape of the Malawi flag.  And in the summer, a small group from Malawi will be visiting our churches here and joining us at the International Congregational Fellowship conference.  They will be in Witney staying with Nan who was one of the Malawi team.  They are hoping they can visit us while they are over in Witney.

At our SW Midlands day Nan was saying how good it has been for Malawi since the election of their new President.  When we gave the design of the Malawi flag to the garden it was under the old regime.  By the time the athletes arrived the flag had subtly changed – in the hope that a new dawn was breaking in Malawi.

By all accounts that is happening.

What makes it a remarkbable moment to mark is that the new President of Malawi is a woman.  President Joyce Banda has according to our friends in Witney brought a degree of stability and hope to the country that has brought it back from the brink.

Interesting it should be a woman.   Women have made a big difference in Africa in conflict resolution.  It's less than two years since President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, together with colleague Leymah Gbowee, also of Liberia, and Tawakuk Karman of Yemen were  awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work."

The part women play in the story of Jesus' mission and in the Passion is easy to overlook, but of fundamental importance.

Luke 8:1-3

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

An interesting mix of women who were as much involved in the work of Jesus as he through cities and villages proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.    Mary called Magdalene – had received the healing touch of Jesus and had been restored to her right mind and to the wholeness – Joanna is the wife of Herod’s steward – interesting that she should come from the court of the Heoridan dynasty, Susanna and many others.  They weren’t just there but they provided for them out of their resources.  These were the ones who funded – who made it happen.  Maybe they organised the itinerary.  Event management.  Significant part to play.

Jump forward to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem … and Luke passes comment on the women in the crowd as Jesus was being taken out to his execution.

27A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For the days are surely coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.”30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us”; and to the hills, “Cover us.” 31For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’

The weeping of the women.

Images that horrify from Syria that cause us deep and profound concern – of the women who weep.   The weeping woman of Picasso’s Guernica inspired paintings – horror at the war.

Jesus directs their weeping – not at him, but for themselves.  He has wept over Jerusalem – would that they had recognised the things that make for peace but they had not.   Weep for yourselves he says.

Then it is that Jesus is taken out to the cross.  He shares those powerful words

Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.

The promise to the one beside him also on the cross  – Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

And then that final breath, “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.”

At a distance there were some watching – who were they?  The women …

48And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

The women who watch and wait and look on from a distance.  And they are the women who had followed faithfully from the first through those towns and villages in Galilee - there is a tenacity here.  A determination not to give up.

Then Jesus is taken down from the cross, laid in a tomb …

54It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning.55The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.
On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
And again, it is the women who had come with him from Galilee who followed.

Isn’t that interesting – we catch a glimpse of a very real determination to keep on following in the footsteps of Jesus.

It seemed as if everything had failed, all had fallen.  But they have the confidence to keep on going.  To journey faithfully on.

They thought the journeying had come to an end.  But they discovered it hadn’t.

We so often start our Easter readings at Luke 24.  But 24:1 follows straight on from 23:56 – the women who come to the tomb on Easter morning are the women who had been to the tomb at his burial – and these are the women who had come with him from Galilee.

What a remarkable testimony to their doggedness.

It’s a story for us all to take to heart – it’s something too for all of us to take to heart.   The need to journey on, to keep at it – through all the difficulties that all encounter.

Faithfully following ...
Touched with his healing,
Changed by his provision
Lord, keep us faithfully following
all the journey through

Comforted in our weeping
Strengthened in our loss
Lord, keep us faithfully following
all the journey through

Watching, waiting,
Unsure where this way will lead us
Lord, keep us faithfully following
all the journey through

Following through to the bitter end
And beyond to resurrection glory
Lord, keep us faithfully following
all the journey through.         

Luke 8 and 23

No comments:

So much to pass on at Highbury

If you give a little love you can get a little love of your own

A blessing shared at Highbury

Now and the Future at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions

Darkness into Light