Often church the words of the service are so familiar that we don't really think about them. The other day I was at a communion service and when we reached the prayer of consecration and Jesus’ words about the bread and wine. I found myself thinking about how much life had changed for the disciples as they shared that Passover meal with him.
I imagined them reflecting on how they had come in the past three years. Normally they would have celebrated the Passover with their families, but home and family has been left behind a long time ago. Sacrifices had been made on their family’s part, as well as their own, to follow Jesus.
I considered the fisherman whose lives have been clearly marked out before they met Jesus: it was all about the business and family, and that was the way it was going to be. Life held no major surprises, everything was mapped out. Maybe they looked back that night and pondered on how far they had come, how many unforeseen, earth-shattering changes had taken place in their lives.
Of course they were about to face the greatest change of all - the death if their master, who they believed was their Messiah. And that would be followed by the even greater event of Jesus’ resurrection, contrary to all human understanding and experience (although they had witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus, they were no doubt still trying to get their heads around that one).
We often don't like change, preferring things to stay the way they are. I think of Peter's response to Jesus when he says he is going to Jerusalem where he'll be handed over to the authorities and killed. To paraphrase what the gospel accounts say "What, are you mad? Things are not going great and can only get better. Stop talking rubbish!"
And yet things change and we can't stop it. Soon changes are eagerly anticipated. I love waiting for spring, I love February and March, not for the months themselves but for that delicious feeling that so much lays ahead - warmth and sunshine, bluebells in the woodland and the dawn chorus, the Chelsea Flower Show and Wimbledon. Anything seems possible. Yet other changes are resisted or dreaded and sometimes can be overwhelming.
Change is inevitable, we can either face it alone, afraid of where the next blow is going to come from, or we can face it with God, knowing that he is unchanging and that he can be a place of refuge and security. You see, ultimately, eternal life is going to be eternal spring and that's something to look forward to.
There will be no more yearning for April and May and feeling sad when June comes, because it’s a whole year before you can see bluebells and leaves unfurling on the trees again.
The first Easter was a mixture of utter despair and unbelievable joy, from wondering at the change in their lives, starting with the successful days of teaching in the temple, to sharing the Passover as one of the privileged inner circle, to the arrest in the garden, the scattering and the hiding in fear after their leader was crucified. How could things have changed so quickly and where was God now?
We’ve all been in the position where life is coasting nicely along quite nicely and then something comes along out of the blue and stuns you. Suddenly the God who seemed so close, se reliable is no longer there.
“Why could he let this happen?” you might ask. You might go further and wonder “is there a God?” We realise how unpredictable life is. If there is no God then life is random and often cruel and unjust.
How bitter the disciples must have felt that such a good man who never did any harm had been so cruelly taken from them. They thought they were going to change the world together, but the might of civil and religious power had come down upon them and squashed the hope and dream.
So who was Jesus if he could be so brutally silenced? What of everything he’d said and promised? Did it mean nothing? Apparently so. What were their lives going to be about now?
Maybe they would just go back to where they’d come from – rejoin their families and occupants if they weren’t hunted down and imprisoned or killed themselves – and spend the rest of their days remembering what have been and recounting the tales of how they’d spend three years with the preacher and miracle worker “Why would God let this happen?” they, too might have asked. “Look how far we’ve come, but for what?” they were without God, they were bereft. This was a change they hadn’t anticipated and it had knocked them sideways.
The Easter day came. Mind boggling, impossible but true. Overwhelming joy. One thing it meant was that God would never leave. “I will never leave you or forsake you” Jesus had promised them. “I am with you to the end of the age” he was to promise them at the Ascension. They knew from then on, no matter the changes in life that came their way, all would ultimately be well because Jesus was with them.
And so it is for us. We can look back on our lives and wonder how far we’ve come, at the things that have happened to us, both good and bad Sometimes, as we reflect, I wonder on how God led me into the kingdom when I was a student and then led me to ordination 12 years later.
There will be more changes ahead, but one thing is certain; because Easter we will never be alone. The Unchanging One will walk with us if we let him. And in the Kingdom, spring will last forever.