Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The financial markets are all Greek to me...

Greece is in crisis. I grew up with such headlines being a relatively regular occurrence as the regime of the colonels lurched from crisis to crisis through the 60s and 70s until democracy was restored. The causes of the current troubles are complex and beyond the comprehension of most mortals (certainly this one).

But at the heart of Greece's current problems are the bond markets. The way the media talks about these exchanges where cash is swapped for Government debt, you'd think they were operated by god-like powers who were above being questioned for their actions. I thought the credit crunch, if it's achieved nothing else, has at least dethroned the masters of the universe.

But no, these impersonal forces are still very much in control of events. Take this quote 'The market is now looking at every country with a lot of curiosity.' It was said this morning by Gilles Moec, senior European economist at Deutsche Bank, in response to questions about why the stock markets across Europe are falling.

In a sense he's right. Markets, those collections of individual decision makers with certain amounts of money to spend seeking products at a price they're prepared to pay, are looking for profits across Europe. But in a more profound sense, his comments illustrate the levels of denial at the heart of our current crisis - not just in Greece but across the globe.

The markets are moved by people like Moec and hundreds of others who make decisions based on their political views, religious outlook, knowledge of economies and how they work, the fact that they got to work with indigestion following a dodgy breakfast on the go and congestion on the metro. It's people who decided what to buy and sell and how much they're prepared to pay. The fact that the deals are in billions of dollars does make them impersonal; it just means that the sums involved are eye-wateringly huge.

But each of the deals is made by a trader pushing the button on his mouse or shouting into a phone. And perhaps we need to start calling these people - a highly paid, enormously powerful minority across the globe - to account for their actions.

This is why it's good that the US Senate is giving Goldman Sachs a hard time for developing products that appear to have been designed to benefit from the failure of other financial instruments.

This morning's election press conferences were all about party leaders trying to show how they will cut the deficit to ensure the market will continue to fund to Britain's national debt. The trouble is that such cuts fall disproportionately on the poor, the unemployed, the long-term sick and disabled; they risk creating new pockets of intractable, generation-after-generation deprivation in parts of the UK. And all to satisfy the markets, all to ensure our credit rating doesn't go from triple A to junk as Greece's has.

As the crisis deepens isn't it time for a different way of organising our financial affairs? Shouldn't those who want  to lead us being saying something about this?

Equality, responsibility and dreams of a better world

There was an interesting exchange on the World at One phone-in with Gordon Brown yesterday. A woman city worker was asking why he was against aspiration, the evidence for which was seen in the fact that she was now paying income tax at 50%. This means that she earn in excess of £150,000 a year, £3,000 a week, £75 an hour.

It came on the same day that Birmingham City Council lost an equal pay case brought by women workers who were being paid around £12,000 a year and weren't receiving the bonuses their male colleagues on the same pay scale were getting - sometimes to the value of 150% of their annual salaries.

It's the contrast that strikes me. In their book The Spirit Level: Why Equality is better for Everyone, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett argue, pretty cogently with a wealth of statistical data, that inequality is bad for people's health and well-being. The more unequal a society, the more likely it is to be affected by higher incidence of mental illness, more violence, more relationship breakdown.

Sadly, the book is not at the centre of the election campaign despite party leaders welcoming it when it was published last year.

And this morning we wake up to news that Greece's credit rating has been down-graded to junk status, that it risks bankruptcy and massive default on its debts. The effect of this apocalyptic scenario - brought about by international capital markets (that's people who buy and sell bonds in the markets of London, New York and the Far East, like Gordon Brown's interrogator) - will be lower wages for the poor, massive rises in unemployment among lower paid people and large numbers of people losing their homes - in short, even more inequality.

The city worker challenging Gordon Brown said how fed up she was of being blamed for the world's financial crisis. This on the day that Goldman Sachs executives were trying to defend the indefensible before a Senate enquiry.

It's all left me with a feeling that we haven't begun to have the conversation we need to have about how we value people, what kind of society we want to live in and what it means to take responsibility for our actions. If the election is about anything, surely it should be about this.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Making the (w)right move

Excellent news about Tom (N T) Wright: he is moving to St Andrews University to be professor of New Testament and Early Christianity.

This is excellent news because it will allow him to focus on completing his bold and brilliant series on Christian Origins and the Question of God as well as other projects that he's had on the go for too long.

He will be a loss to the Anglican hierarchy but a huge gain to the academic world. You can read all about it here and here.

Finishing touches all round

Having planned the framework for Prism, I've been spending the day sorting out running orders, shopping for a good deal of the stuff we need in the zones and listening to copious quantities of dance and chill out tracks to serve as background and fill-in music when people are gathering and in zones. The bar will be open in our venue from 7pm, so we need to ensure a suitable atmosphere is created as delegates arrive.

We've had trouble sourcing 200ml cartons of red grape juice (any suggestions? we need 150 of them) but apart from that we've got everything we need to ensure the event goes with a swing.

The plaster is drying nicely in our bathroom ready for the tiler to come tomorrow and make it look fabulous. So hopefully we're on track for a Friday tea-time finish. I'll be in Plymouth, but the rest of the family will be able to spend the weekend moving between the shower and the bath, washing off a fortnight's accumulated grime.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Falling short but feeling excited all the same

On the train to Bristol for a Prism planning session using my dongle. The experience so far is that the connection is slow and occasionally haphazard. Of course, 'slow' is a relative term, since connection speeds are vastly quicker than anything we experienced just a few years ago. But today we expect instant and lightening fast.

Last night I rounded off our series on living the resurrection by looking at Philippians 3:10 and reflecting on our dreams and God's role in them. Philippians 3 is one of my favourite passages; I've preached on it often and yet I still feel that its heart eludes me. Someone said that yesterday's sermon was really helpful and cast new light on one of their favourite passages.

But I felt that yet again I had not done the passage justice, that what I wanted to say about it lay just beyond my finger tips - much as Paul's complete knowledge of Jesus is just another step beyond his grasp. And maybe that's the way it has to be with this text. Our knowledge of Jesus will always be partial, our view through the distorting mirrors of our own perception, and so our thoughts about and reflections on this amazing text will always leave us feeling excited but dissatisfied.

Maybe this should be true of all our preaching. Like my internet connection, it's good but not as good as we'd like it to be.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Being a holy people in an unholy world

As an experiment - which I started last month - I am posting my perspective from our church magazine on my blog and facebook for those who would rather access it electronically than in print. I hope it's of interest to a wider audience - I've shortened it a little, cutting out the very specific stuff.

Not long ago the comedian Frank Skinner wrote a fascinating piece for the Times. In it he welcomed the increasingly marginal status of the Christian faith in the UK. Now Skinner is not noted as a popular theologian but his comments certainly made us sit up and listen.

Skinner said this: ‘There was a time when social pressure made people go to church. If anything the reverse is now true. Most adults you see in church nowadays are there because they want to be there. That’s not decline, it’s progress.’

Now, that’s an interesting thought, worth pondering for a few minutes...

He follows it up with this one: ‘I’m a little wary of muscular Christianity…It seems to be in direct contradiction to “Resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also”. This is the doormat as positive role model — a doormat who’s more concerned about the “welcome” than the muddy feet. Surely the central image of Christianity is someone who can shoot fireballs out of his fingertips allowing himself to be nailed to a wooden cross — submission as the ultimate show of strength — love as impenetrable armour. Most British Christians are badly dressed, unattractive people. We’re not pushy and aggressive members of society.’

Now, of course, we’re better dressed than the average congregation, but surely Skinner has a point. Being a follower of Jesus is not about status, power, influence, being the centre of attention. Rather it’s about serving people and being, like servants, a bit anonymous as we do it; people get served but they’re not sure who did it.

And this chimes in with the major theme of Paul’s passionate letter to the wayward Corinthian church. It is a sustained meditation on what it means to live a cruciform life, that is a life shaped, as Jesus’ was, by the cross.

His plea is that his readers take seriously all he’s taught them about Christian living. In the course of this he offers a model of life based on the character and cross of Christ, a life that he lives. The trouble is that this life is perceived as weak and worthless by his readers. It doesn’t bring them the kind of attention and status that people in Corinth valued so highly; it doesn’t help them win friends and influence in high places.

Now, of course, we’re not interested in such things. But we do think we have a right to be in the place of honour in public debate, that our view of morality is to be given preference over anyone else’s. And we’ve lost that over recent years and it hurts and, if we’re honest, we resent it.

With a mixture of charm and invective, Old Testament exposition and explanation of the difference between Jesus and every other religious teacher on offer, Paul urges, cajoles and encourages his readers to make it up with him and with Jesus. In doing so, he says, they will be able to live the kind of life that God calls them to.

That call is to be a holy people in an unholy world. Paul’s focus is on how his hearers will develop a way of living that puts a broad grin on the face of God. They’ll do it by hearing again the story of Jesus and his cross and building their lives on it as he’s built his life on it and offers that as an example to follow.

And while this way of living inevitably means that we don’t do some of the things our neighbours do – for Paul’s readers that meant avoiding what went on in Corinth’s temples and private function rooms – it mainly means that we develop a community life that has our neighbours looking enviously on wanting what we’ve got.

As we explore this letter between May and the beginning of August, we will look at how we can build and nurture strong, mutually supportive and encouraging relationships, how we can develop a community life based on equality and justice, where the weak are cared for and all are channelled into good works, how we can reflect the values of Jesus in our lifestyle at church, at home, at work and at play.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Celebrating St George

It's St George's Day. For some bizzare reason a range of English people, some with questionable attitudes to foreigners and precious little interest in the Christian faith, will be celebrating the life of a Middle Eastern Roman soldier martyred for his faith under Diocletian for refusing to worship the emperor.

One suspects that the recent revival in the cult of St George - it was a major feast in medieval and early modern England - has something to do with the surging confidence of Welsh and Scottish people in the wake of devolution and the perenial self-awareness of Irish people who have managed to get their saint's festival - St Patrick's Day - celebrated by any and everybody across the globe.

There's a parade featuring St George in the City of London today for the first time since 1585. According to (yes, our saint has his own website featuring Ian Botham on the home page!) over a million of us think we should have the day off to celebrate.

I'm preparing for Sunday at the moment - only one sermon as I've just talked to my morning preacher who has made it back from the States! I am focusing on how knowing the power of the resurrection enables us to live a cruciform life. I know nothing of St George - I suspect most of what we know is legend and rumour - but if he died for his faith, standing against an imperial ideology that sought the worship of its citizens, then he'd grasped what Paul is saying in Philippians 3:1-4:1 and especially v10.

In this sublime piece of rhetoric, Paul shows how the cruciform life of Jesus is the model for the lives of his disciples. Paul shows how it's working out in his life and urges us to work it out in ours. And it hinges on knowing the power of Jesus' resurrection. For only that power enables us to leave our old lives and press on into the future that God has for us. And only that power enables us to share the sufferings of Jesus in our daily lives - whatever those sufferings might be.

If those who want to celebrate St George's Day want to celebrate this, pass me a banner and count me in.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Marking McLaren with a minute's mayhem

I hope we’re all planning to have a minute’s mayhem at midday in honour of Malcolm McLaren who is being buried today (as his family has requested).

I thought I’d play Steely Dan’s Showbiz kids very loud and dance like a loon round my study. Of course, I might not be able to hear myself singing along over the sound of the drilling and banging from upstairs!

It seems an appropriate track since McLaren was nothing if not a showbiz kid and at the end of day the punk movement he helped launch was much more style than substance, all about the tee shirts and posturing and not much about changing the world (though it did blow a much-needed gale of fresh air through the music business).

Putting fire into the campaign

The lacklustre election campaign pitched into farce yesterday with Ken Clark ranting against those who might vote in such a way that we end up with a hung or balanced parliament. With his apocalyptic talk of IMF bureacrats touching down in London the day after the election, it's the first time I can recall a candidate threatening armageddon if you don't vote for his party.

Still, it's good to have a titter among the tedium! The thing is that with the prospect of a balanced parliament and a real chance for radical reform of our broken political institutions, the election camapign should be rivetting. Candidates and leaders should be engaging with the real issues of how we can refresh and renew our democracy. Instead they seem to be arguing over who can be trusted least to manage our present less-than-adequate way of doing things.

Back in the real world, it's 100 days since the Haiti earthquake but the suffering of a nation seems to have dropped off the radar - you really have to search hard to find anything on the BBC news site (though the Today programme featured a report on the continuing relief effort that contained the good news that immunisation of children has prevented epidemics of water-borne disease).

And Obama is making a speech about banking regulation in New York later today. Let's hope there are some radical proposals to regulate the excesses and even support for the Robin Hood Tax. Such a tax on every transaction of every financial institution across the globe could raise more than $300 billion for poverty-relief and front-line services in every nation where banks operate.

As Alexandr, the meerkat, would say 'schimple'

I wonder if it will feature in the prime ministerial debate this evening....

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bathrooms, music and the nature of reality

We have a bath and a towel rail, shower tray and many holes in walls; the electrician has arrived to do the wiring for the down-lighters and tomorrow the plasterer will come. It's like a convention of the skilled here! And we're on track for a completion at the end of next week.

I've been listening to the debut album by John Grant. Queen of Denmark is simply gorgeous. I've been eagerly awaiting this release since I heard the first single, Marz, which you can download for free at his record label's site (here). On first listen, it seems to be a list of ice cream flavours, but it slowly reveals itself to be a lovely meditation on memory and simpler times.

I've been working on the opening session for this year's Prism. So far we're kicking off with Gorillaz Glitter Freeze, moving into the Grace section of the second 1 Giant Leap DVD, possibily taking a peek at Christian Falk & Robyn's Dream On before moving into the zones for story telling and conversation. The aim is to create uncertainty - even a sense of disorientation - about whether there really is 'one world' and even more uncertainty about the reliability of our perceptions of that world.

I will also be using some of Alan Roxburgh's insights on maps and the growing sense that the maps we use to tell us how the world is and therefore how we do 'one mission' in it are no longer in tune with reality - and basing it all on Epeshians 2:1-10.

It will all make sense when it happens (maybe)! Of course, it'll all change over the next week. We have a final team meeting on Monday at which I hope we'll nail down the framework for the five sessions.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Transitioning to a new world

We're having our bathroom done. The lovely Steve and his mate have ripped our old bathroom out and over the next fourteen days will put in a lovely, gleaming new one. Over that time we shall grow increasingly smelly as we have nowhere ablute (well, I exaggerate, of course, because we are able to bath in the kitchen or hose one another down in the garden!

The transition is painful and inconveneient (briefly) but the end result will be wonderful.

I have also just started reading Alan Roxburgh's Missional Map-making: skills for leading in times of transition. Everything Roxburgh writes is worth reading, so I'm looking forward to picking up some hints on how I will manage things over the next six months as our new leadership beds in and we begin to chart a course into the mission God's calling us to join him in.

The introduction contains two great quotes. A seminary president addressing his peers and saying: 'I have just been elected president of a seminary that trains men and women for a world that no longer exists! What do I do?' And a denominational leader who echoed the seniment with the words: 'I was trained to lead and minister in a world that no longer exists. I learned methodologies and strategies that don't work in today's culture,' before adding that 'the chuch [is] a vampire sucking the love of ministry out of my system.'

I admire the honesty and would like to see it reflected in the way our denominational leaders and seminary principals speak about the world we're in. And I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of maps Roxburgh will help me make as I seek to lead my church in this time of transition.

I'm also looking forward to having a shower!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Poised for the great leap forward

We're back from the best Spring Harvest for a number of years. The main sessions in the big top were consistently excellent with Ruth Dearnley, Dave Steell, Steve Holmes, Gerard Kelly, Steve Chalke and Gill Rowe each preaching on Esther.

Although our pastoral was half the size of last year's, we still saw the same number of people - so we were very busy. But it is a huge privilege to be able to walk with people through a whole range of issues. I had the joy of helping a 15 year old boy become a Christian which was great.

Yesterday our week got off to a great start with the election of nine trustee leaders, including a number of younger people - the average of the leadership is probably around 40, which is fantatstic. I've been telling people that this is year zero - not because we're planning a cull of the uncooperative - but because I believe that we have come through a long transition time and are now genuinely poised for a great leap forward.

This week will be mainly taken up with Baptist Assembly planning, catching up with people in church, preparing for the weekend and having our bathroom completely refurbished (fortunately, we've got experts coming to do that for us!)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

On why it’s important to get out more

It's Day 4 in the Spring Harvest and we're all still sane. It's been a good week, Here's a story from it that the person concerned said it was okay for me to share. And I think it's worth sharing.

Anne came for prayer, feeling that she had nothing to offer, that God was distant and that she didn’t amount to anything. She’s not a sophisticated woman. She struggles with poor health, but she remains as active as she can be. After we’d prayed briefly and generally, she told me this story.

One day she was at the bus stop by the crematorium in her town. She often speaks to people at bus stops, so when she saw a slightly dishevelled elderly man, she asked if he was all right. He said he was visiting the memorial for his wife who had died recently.

She asked if he had family and he said that he only had a daughter but didn’t see her because she was a Christian. Anne thought this was a strange response and told him that she was a Christian and asked why he thought his daughter being a Christian was a problem.

He said he didn’t really know but got the impression they probably wouldn’t want him around. He added that his daughter had given him her phone number at his wife’s funeral, Anne suggested he ring her. What had he got to lose, after all?

She got her bus. That Sunday she told a leader at her church what had happened, who strongly advised her not to talk to strangers at bus stops but do something useful in the church instead.

She felt disheartened, guilty and useless.

About three week’s later, having prayed on and off for the elderly gentleman, Anne was getting off a bus in the centre of town when someone tapped her on the shoulder. She turned to see a smartly dressed, clean shaven man smiling at her. ‘I want to thank you,’ he beamed.

Anne was flummoxed. He’d never seen this man before as far as she knew. Sensing her bewilderment, the man said ‘you were the lady I spoke at the bus stop by the crem a few weeks ago, who told me Christians weren’t so bad and that I should ring my daughter?’ Suddenly she twigged: ‘Oh yes,’ she said.

She hadn’t recognised him because at that first meeting he’d been scruffy and unshaven and really down.

He explained: ‘I rang my daughter and then I went to see her. It was ok. In fact, I now live with her – she and her husband have a large house – and I worship at their church.’ He grinned broadly. ‘So thank you. Life’s come good since I met you at that bus stop.’

So in what sense does Anne have nothing to offer? I wish I had a church full of people who spoke to strangers at bus stops. God see3ms to have a habit of using such conversations to turn people’s lives around. And I wish church leaders would realise that Christians are more use on the streets than in the church building and let them get out more.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A bracing week at Butlins

Today we're off to Spring Harvest, to the icy chill of Skegness, for a week of listening to stories and praying with people.

Being on the pastoral team at an event like this is a wonderful privilege as people entrust us with their struggles and joys, challenges and disappointmnts and we are able to walk with them for a while, offering pointers to where grace might be found in their circumstances.

We also work with a team with whom we have loads of fun. So we're looking forward to our week.

I'm taking Patti Smith's memoire, Just Kids, with me to read in the quiet moments as well as the manuscript of my book to start compiling a list of subjects and people that might go in the index.

For the journey, as well as listening to at least one Patti Smith album, we also have the soundtrack from Slumdog Millionaire, Lonelady's lovely, edgy Nerve Up, and Paloma Faith's still splendid Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful.

We'll be testing out the dongle. So I hope to be able to post from time-to-time through the week

Friday, April 09, 2010

Good stories in the wash up

This might have passed you by, but in the wash up - that wonderfully named time when the government haggles to get as much of its programme on the statute book before Parliament dissolves altogether - the vulture bill was passed.

Vulture funds - many UK based - are investment houses that buy up the debts of the most heavily-indebted poor countries, often for a few pennies, and then sue those countries for the payment of the full amount owed. This is capitalism red and tooth and claw, a montrous injsutice backed by UK courts, and it is wonderful that our Parliament has voted to protect the poor from the rapacious rich.

The law restricts the ability of these funds to sue poor nations in the UK courts and so we should no longer witness the spectacle of a fund succeeding in getting a British court to uphold its claim for $20m immediate payment from Liberia, one of the world's poorest countries, on a debt outsanding since the 1970s. Hopefully, it renders their 'investments' worthless.

The bill gets Royal Assent today and so becomes law. There is a sunset clause built in, meaning that it will have to renewed in a year's time. So we need to remain vigilant.

But it's a good day for the world's poorest people.

The stories we live in

Picked up all Patti Smith's wonderful 1970s albums in a slip case for a tenner yesterday. result! Five albums (the package included 1988's Dream of Life). I shall listen to Horses and Easter as I read her wonderfully observed memoire, Just Kids, chronicling her start in the business and her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

And I confess a frisson of sadness at today's news that Malcolm McLaren has died. I remember early punk washing over Manchester in gigs of complete anarchy and chaos that blew through the rather ossified rock scene in 1976ish. He was a true pop maverick.

Meanwhile, back in the study, I have been putting the finishing touches to a Spring series on 2 Corinthians. I am really looking forward to getting into this urgent pastoral appeal for restored relationships and a cruciform lifestyle. Paul is urging his hearers to a life of holiness based on the story of Jesus in a world of competing stories and spiritualities.

The stories we tell about the world and our place in it, gives shape to our lives. Tell the story that McLaren and Smith lived by and one's life takes on a particular shape and course. In many ways, the election campaign is a clash of stories - how does the world work, what's our place in it?

And here's Paul, retelling the story of Jesus and his story, showing how in that story, God works to bring people together in a community of justice and equity. That's a spiritual vision but also a political one. Paul's intent is not that we withdraw from the world and huddle together but that we live in the world by the values we encounter in the story of Jesus.

We're off to Spring Harvest in Skegness on Sunday to serve on the smallest pastoral team we've been involved in. I'm assuming that numbers are down - otherwise we're going to be really busy! We always enjoy our week, working with some great people, catching with up how God's been working in their lives since last  year, as well as walking with a whole variety of folk as God speaks to them about all kinds of issues.

And then it's the Baptist assembly. Spring is so busy!!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

In the footsteps of Joanna the apostle

Happy Easter everyone. He is risen and the world is changed as a result. I thought I'd share with you what I'll be saying at church later thgis morning in our family Easter celebration. It focuses on one of the key witnesses of the events of that first Easter:

Joanna stuck to her guns. She had to. The men didn’t believe her.

She told the story again, even explaining it’s significance in the light of what they’d all been told a while back, when they were in Galilee.

Eventually Peter and John cottoned on and went to look for themselves.

No wonder Paul describes her as ‘outstanding among the apostles’. For she was one of the women who came with the news that the tomb of Jesus was empty on that first Easter Day and the first explanation of its significance.

Joanna had grown up with everything a little girl could dream of; she was rich and privileged, a proper Jewish princess. Then she married a wealthy and powerful man. She was part of the Judean elite, that small circle who enjoyed influence and power in Herod’s domain.

But one day her son became ill and desperate for him to get well, her husband had sought out Jesus, a wandering preacher who was gaining a reputation as a healer. The moment he spoke, her son recovered.

She had to find out more. So she joined the ramshackle band of disciples, became part of that group of women who met the financial needs of the group as they travelled proclaiming the good news, not caring that she was providing the lion’s share.

She heard Jesus’ parables, listened to his explanations over countless meals, watched him heal the sick, open the eyes of the blind, unstop deaf ears and even bring his dead friend Lazarus back to life.

And she watched as he was betrayed and deserted by his friends, denied by those closest to him, rejected by his own people, arrested, tried and crucified by the Romans.

Jesus had said to them that there would be those who’d not taste death until they saw his kingship in all its glory. Is this really what he’d meant – being enthroned on a cross of wood, under an angry sky?

Heart-broken, shattered but faithful to the last, she’d gone to the tomb on the day after the Sabbath to do what friends do for the dead, only to find the grave empty and Jesus gone.

Awe-struck and terrified in equal measure, she and the other women met two men who reminded them of what Jesus had said while they were on the road from Galilee to Jerusalem:

          That he’d be handed over and crucified and on the third day rise again.

She was entrusted with this message: he is not here; he is risen! Go, tell his friends (even Peter) that this has happened and that he is going to meet them.

It was a life changing moment.

Yes, she’d been amazed at Jesus’ teaching; yes, her eyes popped at some of the healings – not least that of her son; yes, she’d given her resources to help fund Jesus’ movement…

But here as the sun rose on that first Easter Day, and the angels’ words sank in, she knew the world had changed; that something old had been crumpled up like wrapping paper, torn away to reveal something new.

And later that evening, she saw for herself as Jesus came to them, spoke peace and opened the scriptures.

In rising from death, Joanna saw that Jesus was right when he said that she would see his kingship in glory. She had truly seen without fully realising it on Good Friday as he was enthroned over sin and death, as he embraced and absorbed all the pain and darkness of the world, so that on this bright new morning, he might burst from the grave and make all things new.

And if this amazing, wonderful, mind-blowing news was true, then everyone had to know – the disciples, her neighbours, people in the villages up the road, those who lived in Rome; everyone.

So, now with her husband, she leads a congregation of Jesus followers in the capital of the empire, a privileged Jewish princess, bringing the gospel to craft workers, dockers, slaves and the like in the back streets of Rome itself, watching the risen Jesus change despair to hope, darkness to light, death to life for all kinds of people – just as he had for her.

He did it when he healed her son, when he told his stories and drew her into his circle; he did it as he hung on the cross on Good Friday; and most emphatically, he did it when he met her in his risen glory on that first Easter evening.

And what Joanna wants more than anything else, is that he’ll do it for you. That’s why she’s travelled, suffered, even done time in jail with Paul. If Jesus is alive, then everyone needs to hear about it, everyone needs to be drawn into the new way of living she’s found in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Everyone. Including you and me.

[This story is reconstructed from Luke 8:1-3; 24:1-12; John 4:43-54 and Romans 16:7. It takes account of the fact that followers of Jesus were often only identified by one of their given names to protect their security and that Jewish people often had both Jewish and Roman names. For a full explanation see Richard Bauckham ‘Joanna the apostle’ in his Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (T&T Clark, 2002) Pp109-202]

May you all know the joy of the risen Lord this Easter