Asda (a cheap UK supermarket) have been advertising their Easter products. And whilst doing so, they used an interesting tagline. “Everything you can imagine this Easter”.
This is where the pedantry really sets in. What I can imagine this Easter is a church full of people praising God, celebrating Jesus’ death and resurrection, singing great hymns like “Thine Be The Glory” at the tops of their voices (with a modulation for the final verse, of course!). And then I broaden this imagination to hundreds and thousands and tens of thousands of churches, all celebrating such a special event!
I probably couldn’t buy that at Asda. I’ll admit, some chocolate wouldn’t go amiss. Which is probably more what Asda had in mind…
10 days to go until Easter!
So at uni, I go to CU. Every Tuesday, our college groups meet together and study the Bible, with the aim of equipping us for mission on campus. I also go to Church Bible study, which also meets on a Tuesday (albeit at lunchtime rather than the evening), but has a very different focus. It’s a completely different style as well, and I appreciate that.
So then I come home from uni and my weekly pattern of Bible study is disrupted. But then I get invited to two different home groups on the same night and have to pick which one…
Each of the groups I’ve been to has a very different approach to Bible study.
In CU, the leaders prepare a set of questions and the focus is on the CU as a whole.
At Church, we read through a passage, and people will mention different things that jumped out at them, and we can have deep discussions about something that initially seemed so inconsequential but are actually deeply significant (see Doves), or we could move on quite quickly. There are no pre-prepared questions, it’s just a matter of what we hear when reading the passage.
At home group, we were going through a Diocesan Lent course, which included plenty of questions but was mostly focused on the Church and how the Church would seem to non-Christians. And how we as members of the Church display the characteristic of (in this case) courage. Other studies in the series included generosity and joy.
These three groups are all very different. Meeting with a very different demographic, discussing very different things, in very different contexts. And yet all of them are relevant.
Something that we often ask in Church Bible study is “why”. Why did Matthew mention this? Why does Isaiah emphasise that? Why is Ecclesiastes in the Bible? And the answer boils down to this: Because it’s relevant. Sometimes it’s relevant to the context of the passage. Sometimes it’s relevant in define exactly who someone is. Sometimes it’s scarily relevant to the world we live in today.
The Bible has so much wisdom, and is so rich and varied – studying the same passage 5 times could bring up 5 different take-away points. And that’s the joy of studying it with a variety of different groups. The different demographics will always come up with different ideas, and it’s all valuable in coming to know God more.
It’s important to remember that worship is not exclusively singing and music-making. However, music plays a hugely important part in worship and in praising God.
I’m much more likely to use traditional hymns to worship. Knowing that they’ve got a background – having been sung for generations, knowing that they’ve been used to praise and worship God for a long time – is one reason. Another being the fact that I prefer the music… (ducks).
The Psalms are a great example of singing God’s praises. Many of them are themselves songs, others, like Psalm 150, encouraging singing, dancing, and playing instruments to praise God.
And when a full congregation is singing their heart out, lifting up their voices to worship God, it’s so uplifting and so joyous. Even more so because we are all singing with one purpose: to bring praise and glory to God.
Tell Out, My Soul is such a joyful song, based on the words of the Magnificat, or Mary’s Song. It’s a song of praise and thankfulness, and rejoices in God’s faithfulness, might, power, and holiness.
Perhaps my favourite verse is the final one – purely for the last two lines:
“Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord,
To children’s children and forever more!”
This reminds me of Psalm 145:2-3:
“Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.”
God is so great – and this encourages us to pass on this good news. One of the great things is that God is also constant – from generation to generation. And so we pass this on.
The music for this hymn is also wonderful. The hymn tune Woodlands was composed in 1916, and is one of my favourites just because of how uplifting it is. In fact I dare say that I can’t sing it without a smile!
This weekend was particularly special for me because one of my friends got baptised. It was at a Church I wouldn’t usually go to, but I figured I should probably go to support her! It was such a joyful occasion, with about 5 people altogether being baptised, and a celebration afterwards. It’s been wonderful to see my friend grow in faith – and I’ve learned plenty from her. Particularly in how she prays. She prays straight from the heart – she pours her heart out to God, not only praying for her and others’ needs, but also thanking God for his great goodness.
Throughout the weekend, and since, this song has been in my head, and I have dared to sing it out loud at the top of my voice a few times! It has reminded me of God’s goodness. And when people tell out the greatness of the Lord, to their friends, to their children, to their children’s children, great things can happen.
“I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.” – Psalm 40:1-2
Loneliness is hard.
Fortunately, we have a God who loves. A God who cares. A God who comforts.
It was great to be reminded of this on Monday. After the weekly CU prayer meeting, I had a 2-hour gap before my first lecture. So I decided to head to the Costa opposite, and someone else from CU came and sat with me. We had a cup of tea and chatted. And I admitted that this time of year I find particularly difficult.
And then she said exactly what I needed to hear. I needed to be reassured. To be comforted. And to be challenged.
Challenged to trust. But not only that. Challenged to escape the vicious cycle of worry, lack of trust, and feelings of worthlessness. We are weak, but God is strong.
One of the things I love about CU is that, at your lowest point, someone will be around to pick you up. But more than that. Everyone recognises that they are not strong enough to pick you up. But instead they point to God – the one whose grace, mercy and love is strong enough.
I listened to a series of talks recently, and one of the things that struck me was when the speaker described us being designed for relationships. And how a relationship with God is the only one that truly satisfies. But how good that it’s offered!
“As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.” – Matthew 3:16
In our Church Bible study on Tuesday, we were looking at Matthew 3 (Jesus’ baptism). One thing that particularly struck us was the fact that the Spirit of God descended “like a dove”. And we wondered why Matthew bothered mentioning it.
Looking back through the Bible it becomes much clearer.
In the story of Noah, doves are sent out to search for land. They eventually return with an olive branch; this is hopeful and promising.
Doves were also used as sacrifices, particular amongst the poor. Later on in Matthew’s Gospel we see the comparison “innocent as doves”. Perhaps this innocence is why they could be sacrificed?
So the Spirit of God descended “like a dove” – perhaps this represents Jesus’ sinless life – His innocence, and the hope and promise that He brings.