So Easter Twenty-Ten has come and gone. Good Friday was good on all sorts of levels. It started at 7 a.m. with nine of us meeting to pray for God to send his Spirit on us as the word of the risen Christ would be preached in our churches. Then we drove Rhodri and Sibyl across town to the Welsh Evangelical Church for our bi-lingual service at 9.50 at which I did nothing but sit next to Iola and sing and pray and hear Derrick preaching on the Lord Jesus becoming the guarantor of the new covenant.
Off we drove to north Liverpool, Iola and I, three hours away, to preach in Aughton at the Evangelical church at 3.30 and 6 p.m. The people kept coming in. They asked the congregation if they could squeeze up to one another and then they brought in extra chairs. They filled the aisle with chairs until there was no more room.
The pastor there is a dear friend, Billy McCurry. His father was killed in the early seventies by the IRA and this hatred resulted in him in his late teens full of hatred doing something terrible for which he was caught and sentenced to many years in jail in the Maze Prison. After five years a wee old lady, a prison visitor, talked to him and left him with a Bible and told him to read Luke 23 which he dutifully did, was convicted and became a Christian. It was an ordinary conversion. He served 11 years, left the prison, and studied in a seminary, where through the conversations and enthusiasm of other students he encountered the doctrines of grace and had the Geneva blessing . . .He also met Bobbie there, married, graduated and became a prison worker for a few years. Then this church in Aughton called him 11 years ago and loves him deeply. He will continue there in his ministry. They have five children who were in the services including a seven year old afterthought, Elijah, who recently asked his Daddy how he could straighten his mass of curly hair. Billy is off in two weeks to the Isle of Harris to speak at the Hebridean Islands annual theology conference. We will meet up at the Banner of Truth conference in Leicester the following week.
On Good Friday we began by singing ‘Come let us join our cheerful songs with angels round the throne.’ I don’t like the fake spirituality that would have us pretend that Jesus is still on the cross. I preached on determining not to know anything save Jesus Christ and him crucified. Then a sumptuous tea. It was not like the north Indian celebrations of a century of gospel work originating with Welsh missionaries. This took place last month at which another friend Gareth Edwards preached. They served 42,000 meals in a football stadium, killing 26 cows, 34 sheep and a dozen goats. With all their poverty they have ‘cable’ and so all the surrounding villages watched it live on TV. Gareth told me all this last week. But in Aughton all of us had more than enough. The salmon sandwiches on brown bread quickly disappeared as the favourite. I talked to older men for the hour or two between the services and then preached again to a smaller congregation at 6 p.m. and we drove off back to Aber. stopping in an Indian restaurant for a lamb curry on our way.
Easter Sunday we were a small group but some folk from Aberystwyth turned up in the morning service and were talked to and welcomed for which they expressed appreciation. If they return what a delight that will be. God’s kindness to us. I preached two new resurrection sermons with some fresh insights, none was of the basic, ‘proofs of the resurrection’ type but more on knowing the power of the resurrection in our own lives because of the reality of this resurrection of our Lord. I used an incident from Christopher Hitchens’ tour of the USA. He is the author of one of those the bestselling atheist books that flooded the market in the past few years, God Is Not Great: Why Religion Poisons Everything. Since the book’s publication in 2007, Hitchens has toured the USA debating a series of religious leaders, including some well-known evangelicals, but in Portland, Oregon he was interviewed by Unitarian minister Marilyn Sewell. The following exchange took place near the start of the interview:
Marilyn Sewell said, “The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I'm a liberal Christian, and I don't take the stories from the Scripture literally. I don't believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make any distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?” Christopher Hitchens replied, “I would say that if you don't believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you're really not in any meaningful sense a Christian. Sewell wanted no part of that so her next words were, “Let me go on to something else.” Yup. No resurrection. No Christianity.
He is risen and has become the first fruits of them that sleep.
- Geoff Thomas