July 2013

“Jesus said, ‘I am… do you want my umbrella?” “Oh, actually Jesus didn’t say ‘Did you want my umbrella?’ of course.”  Much laughing, ‘Dad would have seen the funny side of that!’  Really, it was a sombre occasion, as we were interring the cremated remains of a mother in the same niche as her husband.  The weather had turned, and we huddled together under a steady strong drizzle of rain.  I put my umbrella down and stood under the Sexton’s, so I could conduct the service.  I started with the familiar words of Jesus “I am the resurrection and I am the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (The Bible, John 11.25-6).  I only got as far as ‘Jesus said, “I am…”’ before it registered that a member of the family was standing with his hood up and shoulders hunched against the rain, and I realised I had an unused umbrella, hence the question to offer the available umbrella.  As he declined, with the family already beginning to laugh, I observed that it wasn’t Jesus who said ‘Do you want my umbrella?’  Once we had settled down, I re-started, and we decently interred the cremated remains.  Humour is a good tonic, and it was healthy to see in the midst of the gloomy rainfall at a sombre service the smiling faces.

When I was thinking about this article, the incident came back to me, and I reflected that Jesus would indeed have offered his umbrella.  It was, after all, Jesus who instructed his disciples to “love one another, as he has loved us.” (The Bible, John 15.12)  It was Jesus who encouraged his disciples to give their tunic to one who had taken their cloak.  (Luke 6.29) It was Jesus’ early church that “shared everything that they had” (Acts 4.32) and Jesus’ missionary apostle Paul who repeatedly took collections for the poorer brothers in Jerusalem e.g., Acts 11.30.  Years later, St Martin of Tours was moved to share his cloak with a beggar, cutting it in half for him; that night he had a dream in which Christ appeared to him, wearing his half cloak.  Yes, Jesus would have shared, even given, his umbrella.

However, it might be more accurate to suggest Jesus is the umbrella; an umbrella embraces you and protects you from the hostile environment, something easily identified with the nature and ministry of Jesus.  As he drew near to Jerusalem, knowing that he would be falsely arrested, harmed and crucified, he none the less had the protecting and loving heart that led him to declare, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13.34) In his great prayer, the night he was betrayed, he is still focussed on his wayward disciples, praying for them, “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me.  None has been lost except the one doomed (i.e., Judas)…” (John 17.12)

It is in his very nature to want to protect, to embrace, to care for his disciples, like a parent cares for their child, even to the point of self-sacrifice.  Ultimately, the hostile environment from which this ‘umbrella’ wants to protect us is the corrosive internal environment of self-centredness, or sin.  It is sadly a characteristic, common to all that we now seem to cultivate all too often, unable to distinguish between self-expression and self-centeredness.  It is this self-centredness in us that required the greatest act of self-sacrifice, the death of Jesus on the cross, to counteract, to undo the toxic environment which we naturally create.  Jesus gave himself so we could live in peace and fullness, in joy and harmony.  His gift is that we may have harmony with God and harmony with each other.  He wills that we share and care for each other, as he cares for us, and that we may enjoy this – and the next – life to the full.  The willingness to meet each other’s’ needs, to suppress our own self-centredness in favour of even a minor self-sacrifice, to put one another first, is both the first step towards, and the consequence of, the ultimate self-sacrifice for us.

Jesus promised that, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (The Bible, John 10.10).  That fullness might begin with even the simplest of empathetic acts – ‘Would you like to borrow my umbrella?’

Praying that in you may find in Christ Jesus your protector and guard, and so learn to show his nature in your acts towards one another, to his glory.

            Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,
Simon Cox.

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