The thing about this stage of the moving on process is that inevitably it is filled with looking backwards. Inevitably and rightly. I have been a part of a community I have loved for eleven years, and there are so many people, so many relationships involved that the cherishing of what we have and have had is indeed rich in these days.
That this part of the process has been coupled over the weekend with Easter has made it, for me, especially poignant. For this is a time of new hope, new beginnings, new life. An end to the old, a fresh start. A death, a resurrection. And resurrection is glorious.
Mind you, I have allowed myself the odd comedy moment. Before Friday's Walk of Witness through Pontypridd, a lady from another church congratulated me on my move. "It's good to have an evangelical going to a university," she said; "People get taught all sorts of things & you'll be able to put them right." Such confidence in me! And after all, the evangelical perspective on fundraising is underemphasised... Forgive me, I didn't take the opportunity to correct her understanding of what I will be doing. I simply thanked her.
The Walk was lovely - two Indian students led the way, carrying the cross slowly so that we all kept together, and I spoke in the Market Square on the God who understands, who knows what suffering is and stays with us through it to show that pain, fear, death (even) are not the final truths of this world - but his love, his life, these things are stronger, truer, deeper.
I ran up from the Square to begin our afternoon service (made it with five minutes to spare) and then led everyone through thoughts around the cross. I love the way Jesus says to the chief priests and co in the first trial scene that all of them will see him at the right hand of the Mighty One. Is this a promise of salvation or judgement? Or a mix? I like to think he is offering the former, and that these guys baying for his blood will receive the blessing of the same. Jesus speaks a blessing to those who curse. They aren't bad people - they go to Temple every day, and it's really hard to be really bad and go to temple every day. They are just people. And he loves people; so much he dies for them; for us.
On Saturday I joined my Outdoor Fitness mates for an hour in the park (in baking sunshine) before joining the Coffee Morning & Kid's Craft Day at church. Both of those events combined for a puppet show... and the Easter Bunny's theological grasp of the season was so impressive, I booked him to start our main Easter Celebration Service the day after.
There have been two Easter Eves when I have failed to read St Mark's Gospel to an assembled crowd since arriving in Pontypridd. One year I had a terrible throat and could hardly speak (please refrain from commenting), and last year I simply wasn't well. So it was good to keep the tradition on my last Easter Eve. And to enjoy it so much. It only takes an hour and a half, and it's great story telling (once you forget to do it in a 'religious' voice). You can make some fantastic links by getting it all in one go.
And then there was Sunday.
After Friday, I felt emotional. My last Good Friday here. My last preaching through this story on this day in this place. By Sunday I was slightly exhausted. I started the day with a tear and an old sermon. The tear came from a lovely person who hadn't been in church the previous week to hear I was leaving; a person who genuinely surprised me with the extent of their emotional response. Surprised, and deeply touched me. The old sermon was something I preached at Easter may be three years ago. As I preached it, I disliked it. So I went off piste towards the end, which improved it no end. But I then had two more morning services to go, so I threw away my notes & decided to busk it.
If I can't preach Easter by now, I really never will be able to.
The 9.30 service was a vast improvement, though I wasn't entirely happy. The 11am had it fine. A stroll through the resurrection as the tipping of the ages, with John 20.1-18 as the point at which everything changes. We find ourselves in a garden, where once everything had gone wrong, and now everything is well, where once a woman had been deceived and caused to break relationship with God, but now is restored and worships anew the present Lord, walking in the early cool of the day. Obedience follows. Second chances are the order of the day. Mistakes, sin, pain, death - these thing no longer rule and have the final say. Forgiveness, love, joy and life are God's ultimate truths. All we have to do is take the outstretched hand before us -
Funny. As I preached I was reminded of a situation where mistakes and sin and pain have taken their toll. During the day I had the chance to speak to the people involved in that particular, well, mess. And on the day where we find hope reborn and Jesus walking amongst us with the power to change the world, we were able to share a little peace and I hope find something new in the air. The best sermons are the ones which change lives, by process or by crisis, and even if the life changed turns out to be your own.
I handed out the eggs afterwards, as I always do. Another of my traditions. Over a hundred given away this Easter. And then drove away, packed and ready for sunnier climes. Next year will be different. But so was last year. Isn't that the point? If we are following Jesus, holding his hand, living the life he gives us, then there should be from time to time an end to the old, a fresh start. A death, a resurrection. And resurrection is glorious.