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The Revd Katy Hacker Hughes

I was somewhat surprised the other day to see two articles advertised in national newspapers. The first ‘How will the war in Ukraine affect house prices?’ The second. ‘How will the conflict with Russia affect our household bills?’ Extraordinary. I dare say the war will affect our economy in a variety of ways, but when you see what is going on in Ukraine at the moment, it feels like an extremely inappropriate response. Pregnant women being killed by bombs – not really equivalent to the increased price of a flat.

People respond very differently to bad news – it can bring out the best in us and the worst. A desire to help and reach out to others, as many are doing now. Or a concern for how its going to affect me, forgetting about the far worse suffering of others.

Its quite interesting in the gospels to reflect how Jesus’s disciples responded to the bad news he told them about his impending trial, scourging and crucifixion. To be honest, it’s a bit disappointing.

You’ll remember that Peter, when Jesus warned him about what was to happen responded with denial ‘No Lord, this must never happen to you!’ Denial was followed by empty promises ‘I will never abandon you’ and all the others nodded their heads in agreement. Well meant at the time, but ultimately rather hollow, as most of them abandoned Jesus at the critical moment he needed them the most. So, bad news was met with denial and abandonment.

Today’s gospel gives an alternative response which is almost worse. Jesus tells the Twelve the bad news again, he is to be handed over to be condemned to death, mocked, scourged and crucified.
The response from James, John and their mother is to ask, if the situation is so bad, what can they get for themselves out of it before it is too late? They’ve heard about a kingdom of some kind, and want to secure preferment in advance. It’s a pretty crass response, but Jesus, instead of being understandably hurt or angry, is gentle and gracious in his response. He explains that there is no fast track to glory, authority or ambition in the kingdom of God. Its about being prepared to accept suffering on the way, its about loving service rather than lording it over others. If you really want to follow me, he says, ‘can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?

It was Jesus’s female disciples who seemed to have been a bit more on message in response to Jesus’ impending death, during and after it. Mary of Bethany, in John’s gospel, anointed Jesus’ feet with costly perfume, as he put it, getting him ready for his burial. Loving service, no words necessary. The women stood by the cross, in solidarity not running away like those other disciples who promised the earth. Mary the mother of Jesus drank the most bitter of cups as she watched her son tortured to death.
And the women came to the tomb on Easter Day, to anoint the body of Jesus to give him dignity after an undiginified death, only to find that he had risen.

When bad news comes, and there is a lot of it around at the moment, may we both give and receive, not empty words, or self seeking, but instead loving service, prayerful solidarity in pain, and hope in the one who rose again on the third day, the best news ever. Amen.