Thought for the Day by Jan Betts of All Hallows’
When he was ten I told my son that I had a really mega surprise for his birthday. ‘I hate surprises, tell me what it is now’ was his instant response! Which surprised me in turn.
Unpleasant surprises, shocks even, were common in the life of the early church. James had just been executed in this bit of the story we read today. Peter had been imprisoned under very heavy guard by a king who was desperate to curry favour with the same Jews who had called for the death of Jesus. But suddenly Peter turned up at dead of night at the place where people were praying, (probably not shouting ‘surprise!’) The girl who heard his voice on the other side of the door was so shaken and scared that she couldn’t even open the door to him. But it was true. Whatever we make of the angel – were there influential Jews who were secret Christians who organised the escape? – Peter surprisingly was free.
Surprises figure a lot in the life of Jesus. The resurrection was the biggest surprise, but he also surprised the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he surprised the woman taken in adultery and her accusers, he surprised his parents by staying behind in the temple, he shocked the Jews by saying the Sabbath was made for people not people for the Sabbath, he surprised the disciples by walking on water to meet them …and on and on. His ministry was one of constantly turning things upside down and bringing new insights which challenged his followers and stretched their understanding of him. ‘It’s like this, not like this’ he said constantly. ‘Look with God’s inclusive loving eyes, not with eyes of scorn or reproach’.
This thought made me reach for the old classic written by Gerald Hughes ‘The God of Surprises’. He makes the comment that when we are distraught or unhappy or afraid it is much harder to recognise the surprise of God with us. This week, feeling slow and a bit unhappy with a very sore ankle after slipping in the garden, a friend quite unknowingly encouraged me by talking about how she was structuring her day. I was then able to find a structured way to cope with my own temporarily limited ability, surprised by a casual conversation into a new understanding of how I could enjoy this time. I was thankful for it. Can we today find a way of looking quietly at what is going on for us and find the surprise of God-with-us in some small way? Can we do this in our communities, finding a surprise in the way people have responded so well to being generous with time, with loving attention, with being prepared to do new things to help out? Where is God’s surprising blessing in today?