God of Surprises

Many years ago, there was a book called God of Surprises. The title has stayed with me over the years, because it’s just so very true. Our God is one of surprises, doing the most unexpected and unpredictable things, which often seem (by human standards) to be somewhere between eccentric and daft. 

But these things work out! And in the end they turn out to be the right thing, powerful and beautiful and transformative. 

One of the readings for this Easter Sunday is from Psalm 118, and includes verses 22-24:

22 The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
23 the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvellous in our eyes.
24 The Lord has done it this very day;
    let us rejoice today and be glad.

These words are said to have been quoted by the then Princess Elizabeth when she was told that her sister Queen Mary was dead, and that she was now Queen. Her life to that point had been extremely uncertain, and her execution imminent on many occasions, particularly during the reign of Queen Mary. Yet she survived, and became one of the most celebrated, glorious and popular monarchs of English history. 

Jesus also quoted these words to the religious leaders who opposed him – the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. It is in fact the foundation and guide stone on to which all other stones of the building will be laid! So why did the builders reject it? Builders tend to know and understand stone. They know what they’re looking for, what will last, what is strong, what can be relied upon. 

Which leads me back to the unpredictability of God. St Paul explains how God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. St Mary’s famous song, the Magnificat, sings joyfully that God has put down the mighty from their seat and has exalted the humble and meek. Jesus, the Son of God, Creator of the Universe, enters Jerusalem on a donkey, and ends on a cross, executed alongside two traitors to Rome. 

As always with God, the story does not end where we would expect or anticipate, just as when we pray for help, the help that comes is perhaps not what we thought we asked for, but turns out to be exactly what was needed. This is in the big things in life, and in the tiny moments. The right person comes along, at the right moment, sometimes in answer to a need so seemingly trivial that we hadn’t even thought to pray. That happened to me the other day, and the difference it made was huge. 

God is indeed a God of surprises and the unexpected. You’d think a King would be born in a palace – but instead Christ was born to peasant parents in an ordinary home. You’d expect the Saviour of the world to come with glory and power and be seen by everyone – but instead the Messiah was nailed to a cross to die in pain, exposed to public ridicule and taunt. You’d think that if you had a message of salvation and transformation to spread across the whole world, you’d choose articulate intellectuals with lots of money and prestige and power to help get the message across. Instead Jesus chose ordinary disciples, people like you and me, to live out his command of love and peace, and to share with those around us that simple message of the wholeness He came to bring. 

Finally perhaps the greatest surprise of all: an empty tomb. Death is the end, isn’t it? There’s no coming back from that. Or so we thought. Turns out that’s not what we thought it was either! 

Mark 16.4-8

But when the women looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

May you have a blessed Holy Week and Easter.

Revd. Talisker

Photo by Roger Bradshaw on Unsplash