Cross – word of the week

There are quite a few words that I could choose for this week’s word: holiday springs to mind (actually I meant to blog that one last week but I was too busy writing other blog posts of things we were getting up to on holiday whenever I was sitting at my laptop), and also chocolate (having given it up for Lent, it’s been on my mind quite a bit this week as the day that I can eat it again has drawn near). But I’ve gone for….

Cross

Although with 2 young boys to run around after I do often find myself getting cross, that’s not the sense of the word that I’ve been thinking about in the lead up to Easter Sunday. I’ve been thinking about a certain Roman cross, the tool of torture and execution upon which Jesus died. Not a particularly pleasant thing to think about, but I believe (along with other Christians) that it was His death that took the place of all the wrong things that I do. These wrong things (for example, getting cross at my kids, or being jealous of what others have) are what separate me from being close to God. But God loves everyone — yes, even me, even social outcasts, even criminals, even those who believe in other gods — and wants us to know Him, which we can do by believing in Jesus and what He did for us, if we choose (there’s no obligation).

The particularly amazing thing about what we celebrate at Easter is that death isn’t the end of the story. I believe that three days after He was crucified, Jesus rose from the dead. He beat death, he has the ultimate victory over all wrongs. And the key point in this for me is that anyone who believes that Jesus is alive again, can have a personal relationship with Him, with God, and that includes an everlasting life with Him in heaven after our short life on Earth. That’s what I’m celebrating this and every Easter, because I think it’s the greatest day in history in terms of how I live my life.

The greatest day in history,

Death is beaten

You have rescued me

Sing it out Jesus is alive

The empty cross, The empty grave

Life eternal You have won the day

Shout it out Jesus is alive

He’s alive

Oh happy day, happy day

You washed my sin away

Oh happy day, happy day

I’ll never be the same

Forever I am changed

(Tim Hughes)

The Reading Residence

Easter for everyone

Although Andrew is now experiencing his third Easter in life, this is the first year that I have really thought about how to start explaining to him what happened at the very first Easter, because 2 years ago he was just a couple of months old and last year he still wasn’t understanding things we said half as much as he does now. To get some inspiration for how to tell the Easter story in language that a toddler will grasp, I’ve turned to the various children’s Bibles that we have.

Both boys were given some Bibles for their dedications (Joel’s was last week), but despite the number we have, we’ve only ended up with a couple of duplicates between both boys. Some are board books aimed at babies and young toddlers, some have paper pages but lots of pictures and simple text for age 2 years plus, and some have more text aimed at early-school-age children. This is good because as they grow up we have a nice progression of Bibles to read with them.

There is something very refreshing about reading the Bible in a version that is meant for children. It brings me back to basics and reminds me of some of the most important points there are to know about God.That’s not to say that I don’t want to explore the more detailed and challenging points of what we are taught through the Bible using a version meant for adults, but sometimes in studying the more complicated bits, it’s easy to lose sight of the simple truths. So this Easter I have been reminded, through the simplicity of children’s books, of the enormity of what Jesus did for me by dying on the cross and rising again.

The two board book Bibles that Joel was recently given, which are aimed at babies and young toddlers, don’t actually say that Jesus died, but put it more figuratively: ‘Some people did not like Jesus. They took him away….Then Mary saw Jesus. Jesus had come back to life again!’ (The Baby Bible); ‘The people hurt Jesus and then put him on a cross, and soon Jesus was gone. Jesus’ friends took his body down from the cross and carried him to a tomb with a big stone door.’ (Baby’s First Bible).

For about the past year or so, we have been reading a Bible story to Andrew each night before he goes to bed. We’ve been using the two Bibles for toddlers that he was given, and although he doesn’t understand everything, he enjoys looking at the pictures and talking about what’s in them as we read (I say ‘we’, but since Joel’s been born it’s mainly been Daddy reading). As we’ve worked our way through the Bible, we have of course got to the Easter story; he has heard it, but he doesn’t yet understand what it means when they say ‘they left him to die’ (Candle Bible for Toddlers) and ‘Jesus died on the cross’ (The Beginner’s Bible).

However, he does understand that some of the people in the story were very sad about what happened, as he sees the sad faces on the pictures and we explain that they were sad. But the great thing about the Easter story is that although Jesus died, he also rose again, so it’s a happy ending and we can explain to a toddler that the people who were sad became happy again, shown by their expressions in the pictures in the books.

These emotions of sadness and joy are at the heart of how I feel when thinking about what happened to Jesus and why we celebrate Easter. It is so very sad to remember that Jesus died, and in particular that he suffered a horrific death, tortured and killed on a Roman cross, even though he had done nothing wrong – in fact He went through this to make up for all the wrong things that I do which separate me from God. This is such a massive thing to fully appreciate, and it’s quite easy to forget throughout the rest of the year just how hard that must have been for Him, so in the days leading up to Easter Sunday, particularly on Good Friday, I think it’s the least I can do to reflect on this with feelings of sadness and thankfulness.

But in the sadness there is always hope! Death was not the end of Jesus’ life, death did not beat Him. Having been through all that suffering, He rose again back to life from the dead. Now that is definitely a reason to be so very happy. What’s more, Jesus promised that whoever believes in Him and that He died for them to make up for everything they do wrong, they will have everlasting life with Him in heaven after their life in this world. That’s even more reason to be happy, and that’s what I am celebrating today. I have this song in my head and will no doubt be heard humming/singing it several times today 🙂 Happy Easter everyone!

What’s so good about Good Friday?

It’s a Bank holiday, right? No wait, we get to eat hot cross buns – that must be what the Good refers to. I love a nice hot cross bun, especially indulgent when topped with melting Nutella – yum! I’ve been contemplating whether my bread fast should extend to sweet buns. Technically I guess it should, but it’s Good Friday, and it wouldn’t be the same without them. Tough call. Although I can’t deny the goodness of hot cross buns, I know that they are not of course the real reason why Good Friday is good.

A cross of hot cross buns

The word Good here is used in the sense of ‘Holy’. On Good Friday, Christians like myself remember that Jesus died on a cross (that cross is what inspired the tradition of a cross on a hot bun). In the time leading up to his death, he was living in an area of the Middle East that was at that time under Roman rule. He was brought before the Jewish High Priest in Jerusalem, because he claimed to be the Son of God, which the Jewish priests thought was blasphemous. After that he was sent to the Roman governor, Pilate, but after questioning Jesus he decided there was no reason to sentence him. However, with mounting pressure from an almost riotous crowd of priests and others, demanding that he be crucified for claiming to be God, Pilate ultimately, in fear, handed Jesus over to be put to death. Jesus hung on a cross, tortured for several hours before he died, in between two criminals who had been tried and found guilty of crimes, even though Jesus himself had not actually been found guilty of anything under Roman law.

So why on earth call this day of torture and death, by one of the most excruciating means ever devised by man, Good?! Well, that’s not the end of it! (And remember that Good here is in the sense of ‘Holy’ – Jesus’ death and what happened afterwards were a sign of his ‘Holiness’ or ‘Godliness’). Jesus’ body was taken away, wrapped up in cloths and placed in a tomb, as was the custom at the time. On the third day, what we now celebrate as Easter Sunday (i.e. Friday = 1, Saturday = 2, Sunday = 3), some women who knew Jesus well went to his tomb and found that his body had gone. He then appeared to them, and later to some of his disciples (friends who had followed him closely before his death), showing them that he had risen from the dead and was alive again. These people, who had witnessed his death and then got to meet him in the flesh, alive again, became the first to believe that Jesus Christ really was the Son of God – they were the first Christians, and they went on to spread the Good news of what had happened to others.

You see, Jesus’ death and rising again were exactly what had been foretold (prophesied) in the scriptures, the religious texts, that the Jewish priests would have known inside out – but they just didn’t recognise him when they actually met him during his time on earth. It was written in these scriptures that God would send a ‘Saviour’, who would sacrifice His life and rise again from the dead, in order to make up for all the ways that all of us people fall short of being perfect like God. So we could then draw near to God, be forgiven for our wrongs, and live a new life in Christ, one that lasts beyond our time on Earth. We just have to accept that Jesus died for us, and follow Him, putting Him at the centre of everything we do (which I’ve found you automatically want to do if you’ve accepted the enormity of what He did for us). This message is the Good news that those early Christians went around telling people about, and what ultimately (several centuries later) I got to hear when I was a child, and then later came to understand and accept in my life for real during my early twenties.

So what’s the good bit about Good Friday for you? Do you have a soft spot for hot cross buns like me? Or do you like to take advantage of the Bank holiday and go somewhere different or do something fun? If you’re curious to find out more about the original reason why Good Friday was called that, get in touch and I’d be happy to talk some more about it. For now, have a Happy Easter everyone! 🙂 We’re just about to go on holiday for a week. I’ll leave you with the words of one of my favourite songs (check it out on youtube)….

The greatest day in history, Death is beaten
You have rescued me
Sing it out Jesus is alive
The empty cross, The empty grave
Life eternal You have won the day
Shout it out Jesus is alive
He’s alive
Oh happy day, happy day
You washed my sin away
Oh happy day, happy day
I’ll never be the same
Forever I am changed

(by Tim Hughes)

From one love to another love

As it’s Valentine’s Day, I thought we’d go for a bit of a wander through my thoughts on ‘lurve’. I’ll start with love as we think of it on Valentine’s Day, and end on the most amazing love I know of, which is for everyone, not just those with a Valentine.

If you believe Wikipedia, Saint Valentine’s Day has traditionally been associated with lovers celebrating their love for each other since the Middle Ages. These days it seems to have become another one of those annual events that card shops, chocolate manufacturers and florists big up in order to sell their goods, handily situated between Christmas and Mothers’ Day.

Since Tom and I started ‘going out’ in 2004, we have always gone out for a meal together on or around 14th February, because we enjoy our food and for us it’s the perfect way to spend an evening together. The one exception was last year when we had a 2 week old baby – we got takeaway instead! I say ‘on or around’ because I think most years it’s actually been another evening close to the 14th, mainly because it’s so expensive to book a restaurant on the night itself, and we don’t feel as though we need to show/tell each other how much we love each other on one particular night of the year – we try to do that every day. It’s a good excuse to go on a ‘date’ though 😉 This year Tom has a surprise location planned for dinner tomorrow, and I’m not allowed to guess where. Andrew’s Godmum has kindly offered to babysit.

The kind of love we think about on Valentines Day is just one of various kinds of love. It’s the attraction felt between two people who are ‘in love’ (though of course Valentines is not just about existing couples but also those who want to tell the one they are attracted to just that). Somewhere in my linguistics-related past I remember learning that Greek is a language which has various words for different kinds of love, not like English which has to qualify which love is meant if the context isn’t clear (it usually is). But since my already jam-packed memory for linguistic info didn’t need to access this interesting insight about Greek semantics (or word meanings – I’m a sounds girl), it must have filed it in the hard to reach areas – yes, I’ve forgotten exactly what the words are. As my days of sitting in the University Library are long gone (not a bad thing), my research into this ‘love’ly topic can’t come from there; instead I choose Google. The top result in my search is of course Wikipedia, though scrolling further down I come across various sites and blogs that agree with it. And here’s what I find, summarised…

Eros

This is passionate or intimate love, often with a feeling of desire and longing. Though it does not necessarily have to be sexual, it applies to someone you love more than a friend, including dating relationships and marriage. It’s where we get the word ‘erotic’ from in English.

Philia

This is affectionate love or friendship, such as that between family, friends and within a community. In ancient Greek it could also be used for enjoyment of an activity, like we say, for example, ‘I love swimming’. It’s where we get the suffix (or word ending) -phile from in English, as in Francophile (someone who likes/loves all things French).

Storge

This means a natural affection, used mainly for family relationships, like the love that parents have for their children. It can also be used to mean ‘putting up with’ situations.

Agape

This started off in Ancient Greek as a general affection or deeper sense of love than eros which suggests more of an attraction. It was also used for the love parents have for their children, and that between a married couple. In the Bible, the writers of the New Testament, the part written (in Greek) since Jesus was born, used agape to mean unconditional and sacrificial love – the love that God shows towards us.

When I read about these different Greek words for love just now, I did recognise the word agape from more recent times in my life than eros, philia and storge (which I vaguely remember reading/hearing about at some point). It’s because the term Agape supper is used at church, to describe a meal that we sometimes eat together as a community of Christians (usually just before Easter on Maundy Thursday evening), to remind ourselves of God’s sacrificial and unconditional love for us. He showed this love by sending His only son, Jesus, to live on Earth, then die by being crucified on a Roman cross, to make up for all the things we do wrong that separate us from God. In this way Jesus showed the ultimate sacrificial love for us, taking all our wrongdoing on himself instead, to allow us to come close to God. Even when we mess up, again and again (I try not to, but I’m not perfect and still fall short of living a perfect life), God is always there, unconditionally loving us, ready to welcome us back with open arms and be close to Him again.

Now that I’m a parent, I understand what this kind of love feels like more than I did before Andrew came along. I know that I would do anything for him, even sacrifice my own life in order to save him if we were in such a situation; I can’t imagine not accepting him as my son, even if he did something really awful (though I guess at 1 year old I’m not going to be able to imagine that kind of thing yet anyway!) But, unlike me, God is perfect, and I have no doubt that He will welcome me back whatever I do, and I will say sorry to Him for messing up in whatever way, small or big, because I know what Jesus did for me by dying on the cross. As Christians we think of God as our Father (in heaven), and the kind of love that parents feel for their children is (out of the various kinds of love we can think of) probably the most like what He shows with agape.

I’d like to draw this wander through my thoughts on different kinds of love with some of my favourite verses from the Bible, because they remind me of how loving and perfect God is. First a selection of lines from one of the letters that a writer named John wrote to a community of early Christians:

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. (1 John 4:16)

We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19)

There are two things here that I find so amazing: 1) the very definition of love is ‘God’, and His character is ‘love’; 2) this love is not something that our actions initiated, it wasn’t anything we ‘did’, rather it was started by God and given to us.

Following on from ‘God is love’, here is a passage from a letter that a writer called Paul wrote to a community of early Christians:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails…. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:1-8, 13)

Again, there are two things here that I find so amazing: 1) the importance of love – without it even seemingly important talents or faith mean or are worth nothing; 2) perfect love has so many attractive and positive characteristics that I would love (!) to have (more patience and kindness, less envy, pride and anger would definitely go down well with me) – since ‘God is love’, we could re-write that list of characteristics with ‘God is patient, God is kind… etc.)

If you’d like to find out more about this agape love that I’ve talked about here, either contact me through the blog/twitter/facebook to ask me more, or why not find an Alpha course near you, where you can ask all sorts of questions about the Christian faith, like ‘Who is Jesus?’, ‘If there is a God, why does He allow suffering?’, and ‘What do I need to do to feel God’s love?’ After all this thinking about agape, I’d better get back to writing the card and wrapping the present for my Valentine. Have a ‘love’ly day everyone 🙂