Author: Aftab Gohar

Easter Message

Easter Message

Message of Easter is a Message of Hope

Let me start with a story of a young lady from India.

Arunima Sinha! A former Indian national volleyball player, who had lots of hopes about her future, Sinha had an incident where she was thrown off from a moving train while resisting a robbery. This resulted in her left leg being cut off, rods inserted into her right leg, and multiple fractures in the spinal cord.

She spent many months in a hospital to recover. All her dreams and hopes crashed down because of that incident.

But she never let her dreams and hopes die. She even started dreaming higher things. While recovering she resolved to climb Mount Everest.
Sinha became the world’s first female amputee to climb the Mount Everest. She went on to be the first female amputee to climb the six more highest mountains in Africa, Europe, Australia, South America, Antarctica by 2019.

In a complete hopeless situation she has achieved, which completely able people can not even think of. Many a time we just don’t have any hopes and aspirations, and most of the time we blame our circumstances for that.

When I think about Arunima, I think of the Easter story and the way that the hopes and aspirations of the Disciples were first dashed then restored. 

When the disciples first followed Jesus, they had great hopes; these grew into an excitement on Palm Sunday when Jesus’ entered the city as a celebrity. But as the events of the Holy Week unfolded the Disciples’ hopes and aspirations perhaps wobbled before they came crashing down around them as Jesus was arrested and then crucified on Good Friday. Jesus’ followers slinked off home, defeated and disheartened. They thought it was the end. Easter Saturday must have been horrendous day for them. But then came Easter Sunday; Jesus rose again to life on the Sunday morning, the empty tomb, the resurrection, and meeting Jesus again, brought new hope for the disciples.                                                                                           For Christians, the death and resurrection of Jesus lies at the heart of what it means to be truly human. Because Christians believe that every barrier that might be placed between turning evil to good, between lies and truth, between slavery and freedom, and ultimately, between God and humanity, was broken down on that first Easter Sunday.

For Christians, the Easter story represents hope of a new start, a new direction, a new future, and the opportunity to be truly fulfilled humans.                                            You may share a belief in that Christian message of hope. You may follow another faith or believe that human resources alone are enough.   Yet there is something for all of us in the Easter story. Every one of us has experienced times when we felt so discouraged, so let down by other people that we felt there was no way out, just like those followers of Jesus on that first Good Friday.  It may be that now we all feel a little bit like Jesus’ followers – the world seems uncertain and dangerous. The Coronavirus Pandemic has hit us so badly, the whole world has become a different place because of the impact of the pandemic. Then what is happening in Ukraine, all destruction and refugee crisis, is affecting the whole world and challenging us all, to do some thing, because the situation is getting hopeless. To add into this, the situation around us here in our town, our neighbourhood and in our school doesn’t look promising. Always there is a sense of insecurity and hopelessness around us. Many people are suffering from isolation, abuse, and mental illness. The news on media constantly raises our concerns, creating a picture of a world we can no longer really understand.                                       

Easter, however, is a story of hope. Easter tells us that, however bad our situation might appear to be, there is a way forward, even if we can’t see it right now. It’s a ‘never say die’ story, but it needs to be real for us as individuals. It needs to be tangible.                                                                                                                         So, where might our hope come from?                                                                      Let’s start with people. It’s easy to feel like you’re on your own. But what about others?                                                                       Can you spot anyone else who’s caught in the Good Friday feeling?                           Why not be the person who brings their suffering to an end?                                         If you can bring hope to them, maybe the hope will rub off on you.                           We start by making ourselves look outwards rather than inwards, even in these difficult times – reaching out to people in need, feeding the hungry, supporting the weaker, encouraging the struggler, helping the most vulnerable through social media, phone, text, even through personal meetings! –  reaching out to those who we know might be feeling distressed.                                                                                            Let us use our time to take a real look at our lives and what matters. Let us start with today.

HAPPY EASTER

Rev. Aftab Gohar

GOOD FRIDAY SERVICE – MEDITATION ON SEVEN WORDS FROM THE CROSS

GOOD FRIDAY SERVICE – MEDITATION ON SEVEN WORDS FROM THE CROSS

1: “forgive them, Father! they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

It makes sense that the first word of Jesus from the cross is a word of forgiveness. That’s the point of the cross, after all. Jesus is dying so that we might be forgiven for our sins, so that we might be reconciled to God for eternity.

But the forgiveness of God through Christ doesn’t come only to those who don’t know what they are doing when they sin. In the mercy of God, we receive his forgiveness even when we do what we know to be wrong. God chooses to wipe away our sins, not because we have some convenient excuse, and not because we have tried hard to make up for them, but because he is a God of amazing grace, with mercies that are new every morning.

As we read the words, “Father, forgive them,” may we understand that we too are forgiven through Christ. Because Christ died on the cross for us, we are cleansed from all wickedness, from every last sin. We are united with God the Father as his beloved children. We are free to approach his throne of grace with our needs and concerns. God “has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west”. What a great news!

 

Do we really believe God has forgiven our sins? Do we take time on a regular basis to confess our sins so that we might enjoy the freedom of forgiveness? Do we need to experience God’s forgiveness in a fresh way today?

 

2: “I promise you that today you will be in paradise with me.” (Luke 23:43)

As Jesus hung on the cross, he was mocked by the leaders and the soldiers. One of the criminals being crucified with him added his own measure of scorn. But the other crucified criminal sensed that Jesus was being treated unjustly. After speaking up for Jesus, he cried out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”.

Jesus responded to this criminal, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise”. Paradise was thought to be the place where righteous people went after death.

Jesus promised that the criminal would be with him in paradise.

Though we should make every effort to have right theology, and though we should live our lives each day as disciples of Jesus, in the end, our relationship with him comes down to simple trust. “Jesus, remember me,” we cry.

And Jesus, embodying the mercy of God, says to us, “You will be with me in paradise.”

We are welcome there not because we have right theology, and not because we are living rightly, but because God is merciful and we have put our trust in Jesus.

Have we staked our life on Jesus? Have we put our ultimate trust in him? Do we know that, when our time comes, we will be with him in paradise?

3: “Dear woman, here is your son.” (John 19:26)

As Jesus was dying, his mother was among those who had remained with him. Most of the male disciples had fled, with the exception of John “the disciple he loved.”

Jesus gave to John a responsibility, he had to take care of Mary.

Jesus wanted to make sure she would be in good hands after his death.

The presence of Mary at the cross adds both humanity and horror to the scene. We are reminded that Jesus was a real human being, a man who had once been a boy who had once been carried in the womb of his mother. Even as he was dying on the cross as the Saviour of the world, Jesus was also a son, a role he didn’t neglect in his last moments.

When we think of the crucifixion of Jesus from the perspective of his mother, our horror increases dramatically. The death of a child is one of the most painful of all parental experiences. To watch one’s beloved child experience the extreme torture of crucifixion must have been unimaginably terrible. We’re reminded of the prophecy of Simeon shortly after Jesus’ birth, when he said to Mary: “And a sword will pierce your very soul”.

This scene helps us not to glorify or spiritualize the crucifixion of Jesus. He was a real man, true flesh and blood, a son of a mother, dying with unbearable agony. His suffering was altogether real, and he took it on for you and for me.

What does Mary’s presence at the cross evoke in us? Why do we think was it necessary for Jesus to suffer physical pain as he died?

 

4: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mark 15:34)

As Jesus was dying on the cross, he echoed the beginning of Psalm 22:

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?

In the words of the psalmist Jesus found a way to express the cry of his heart: Why had God abandoned him? Why did his Father turn his back on Jesus in his moment of greatest agony?

We will never fully know what Jesus was experiencing in this moment.

Was he asking this question because, in the mystery of his suffering, he didn’t know why God had abandoned him? Or was his cry not so much a question as an expression of profound agony? Or was it both?

What we do know is that Jesus experienced a separation from God. The Father abandoned him because Jesus took upon himself the penalty for our sins. In that painful moment, he experienced something far more horrible than physical pain. The beloved Son of God knew what it was like to be rejected by the Father. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”.

Father abandoned the Son for our sake, for the salvation of the world.

Have we taken time to consider that Jesus was abandoned by the Father so that we might not be? What does this “word” from the cross mean to us?

 

5: “I am thirsty.” (John 19:28)

No doubt Jesus experienced extreme thirst while being crucified. He would have lost a substantial quantity of bodily fluid, both blood and sweat, through what he had endured even prior to crucifixion. Thus his statement, “I am thirsty” was, on the most obvious level, a request for something to drink. In response the soldiers gave Jesus “sour wine”, a cheap beverage common among lower class people in the time of Jesus.

As he suffered, Jesus embodied the pain of the people of Israel, that which had been captured in the Psalms. Jesus was suffering for the sin of Israel, even as he was taking upon himself the sin of the world.

As we reflect on Jesus’ statement, “I am thirsty,” we can keep thinking of our own thirst. It’s nothing like that of Jesus. Rather, we are thirsty for him. our souls desire for the living water that Jesus supplies.

we should rejoice in the fact that he suffered physical thirst on the cross – and so much more – so that our thirst for the water of life might be quenched.

How do we respond to Jesus’ statement “I am thirsty”? What does this statement suggest to us about Jesus? and About ourselves?

 

6: “It is finished!” (John 19:30)

When Jesus said “It is finished,” surely he was expressing relief that his suffering was over.

“It is finished” meant, in part, “This is finally done!” “It’s done . . . complete.” Jesus had accomplished his mission. He had announced and inaugurated the kingdom of God. He had revealed the love and grace of God. And he had embodied that love and grace by dying for the sin of the world, thus opening up the way for all to live under the reign of God.

Because Jesus finished his work of salvation, you and I don’t need to add to it. In fact, we can’t. He accomplished what we never could, taking our sin upon himself and giving us his life in return. Jesus finished that for which he had been sent, and we are the beneficiaries of his unique effort. Because of what he finished, you and I are never “finished.” We have hope for this life and for the next. We know that nothing can separate us from God’s love. One day what God has begun in us will also be finished, by his grace. Until that day, we live in the confidence of Jesus’ cry of victory: “It is finished!”

Do we live as if Jesus finished the work of salvation? To us have confidence that God will finish that which he has begun in us?

 

7: “Father! in your hands I place my spirit!” (Luke 23:46)

 “Father! in your hands I place my spirit.”

On an obvious level, Jesus was putting his post mortem future in the hands of his Heavenly Father. It was as if he was saying, “Whatever happens to me after I die is your responsibility, Father.”

Jesus not only entrusted his future to his Father, but also implied that he would be delivered and exonerated.

No, God would not deliver him from death by crucifixion. But beyond this horrific death lay something marvellous. “I entrust my spirit into your hands” points back to the familiar suffering of David, and forward to the resurrection

Have we put our life and, indeed, our life beyond this life, in God’s hands? How do we experience God’s salvation through Christ in our life today?

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Cape Town, South Africa
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