The manger is empty, the four advent candles are lit, just one remains, to be lit 12 hours after I write this.
We have lit the candles for love, joy, peace and hope, all that remains is the one which celebrates the birth of a child who changed the world. Who changed my world when I chose to respond to his call to follow him.
I am waiting expectantly for tomorrow with the last line of In the bleak midwinter running through my head, my gift for Jesus is my heart.
Perhaps the irony and poignancy of this verse also struck you in our Easter readings for today. This familiar verse takes on a fresh meaning even in these days of vaccinations and gradual coming out of lockdown.
Even in the power of the resurrection miracle, being physically held is not always appropriate. Close but no closer. Timing is important in the revelation of our risen God Rabbi. Our Salvation hope is now and not yet. Sometimes we have to witness to the present and also wait for further time to elapse. Jesus has another appointment before he can be held. He has an encounter with the Father booked in before He can fully come out of the isolation of the tomb. There are rules for both Jesus and Mary to follow in the meantime. There is a correct order for this resurrection timetable. How frustrated must Mary have been. Come on Jesus, you have done the hard work, give me a hug!
When we get to the upper room, touch is not only allowed but encouraged, “touch me and see”, ” Thomas, put your finger here… reach out your hand”. Eating inside with a large group seems mandatory! The rules have changed, go and tell everyone and bring them all to me.
Perhaps you seen the above image or something similar. Heart felt longings from deep within, well perhaps not for all the introverts! Now where is that risen Lord Jesus, he had better had been to the Father by now. For all the last year has been, and the recovery I need, I need to never let go. I take comfort, God has and will not ever let me and you go.
What an interesting quest for our times. It implies there is role for us humans in the Easter story, objectives and achievements and certainly scope for identification with different people in the story. An opportunity to contribute towards the triumph, the tragedy and the resurrection. Help get ready for all this week has for Jesus and it’s meaning and consequences. I can’t read or hear the phrase without singing it, thank you Godspell!
I have always been interested in the people in the stories, if they are different or the same people in the Palm Sunday story and the Good Friday narrative. I got brought up on them being the same, fickle, peer and authority pressured people, but we don’t know. We certainly understand from the insights and experience of our own humanity, that either is possible.
Either way, everyone gets the opportunity to participate. In the same way as John the Baptist, we get to prepare the way for Jesus to be revealed in our contexts. We are not Jesus, but participants in the Jesus Kingdom being expressed. What a privilege to welcome humble Jesus in to our cities, towns and villages. To celebrate the gifts of healing, words of obscene grace, compassion, insight, understanding and loving kindness. This is what we can all witness to, celebrate for, join in with.
We all have hopes for coming out of lockdown; holidays, seeing family and friends, eating out. Some of these activities will just happen, some will need planning and preparation. As we look forward to a Covid-19 safe Easter, we plan to Easterise lament over the past year and celebrate for the forthcoming restriction lifting resurrection. Now, where is my Covid-19 risk assessed donkey?
Stimulating week of teaching on theology for paediatric chaplaincy and Child Theology Movement board meeting. It brought back my ongoing reflections about placing the hospitalised child in an encounter with Jesus.
We don’t know very much about the child that Jesus brings into the discussion. We don’t know the age, not even their gender. We don’t know what interests or issues they had. All that seems to matter is that it is a child. I wonder if the child was a sibling? I wonder what they were worried about? What did their family think of being referred to as so significant by this healing, miracle maker?
We have been wondering about the effects on our hospitalised patients and their families. Fortunately not many children have caught or died from having Covid-19, nor catching it in hospital. That sounds like good news but it would be naive to think that the pandemic has not had a profound affect on patients and families in a children’s hospital. The visiting restrictions have had far reaching consequences with the universal spiritual need of connectivity being inhibited. Families with a child in hospital maybe relatively Covid-19 safe but other aspects of their well-being are in jeopardy. Hospital staff have been working hard to ensure families as well as our patients feel supported.
One of the new activities we have developed are packs for siblings in and out of hospital. These include cards for siblings to send to each other. It facilitates and encourages keeping in touch with meaningful keep sakes. Reminders of being loved after we have left the zoom meetings. The cards we have seen have brought a tear to your eye with messages and words of affection and counting the days. Spiritual care and needs being engaged with and hopefully met, the benefits overflow into many aspects of our lives. We look forward to sharing additional activities in the future.
When we envisage the poorly child in the presence of Jesus, there is so much that is hidden going on. Let’s offer support because we can be confident there is so much going on behind the scenes away from the sad headlines.
I am doing some speaking and writing on shame this month and next and appreciating the opportunity to continue the dialogue with myself and others which began over fifty years ago with being shamed at school. Ever since then I have been a little wary of institutions and their propensity to shame me. I wrote about shame because I want to raise awareness of what Lewis Smedes calls the shame we don’t deserve, disgrace shame which is often culturally mediated and has nothing to do with what is needed to follow Jesus. I have had too many conversations with people who have been shamed over so many different things by institutions which should be caring for them and wanting the best for them not condemning them. I believe we can become shame free through what Jesus has done for us although that may need significant accompanying by those who accept and affirm us and help us to feel we belong.
Sally Nash Shame and the Church: Exploring and Transforming Practice London SCM 2020
One of the last things Jesus said to the disciples before he died was peace be with you, it was one of the first things he said after his resurrection. It is a word I need to hear a lot at the moment. Many years ago I was reading a book about meditation and it encouraged you to come up with a word or phrase, mine was be still, rest, shalom which still works for me. Shalom is a Hebrew word we often translate as peace and which means much more than how we often narrowly interpret it.
I have been reading a book of reflections and prayers on peace recently and I want to share two of the entries I have found helpful:
The Hebrew word for peace is ‘shalom’. Shalom is the substance of all the biblical vision of one community embracing all creation. Shalom implies well-being and the wholeness of life – material, spiritual, physical, personal, corporate. Howard Goeringer
I am trying to explore wholeness of life in lockdown and very gradually beginning to find a way of being within it which feels a little more life-giving and less task driven.
The second is a prayer by John Johansen-Berg:
Risen Jesus, we thank you for your greeting, ‘Peace be with you’. The shalom of God, deep lasting peace; peace that brings inner calm; that keeps a person steady in the storm; that faces the persecutor without fear and proclaims the good news with courage and with joy. This is the peace that reconciles sister to brother, black to white, rich and poor, young and old; but not a peace that is quiet in the face of oppression and injustice. This is peace with God, the peace that passes understanding.
I particularly like the phrase ‘keeps a person steady in the storm’ because that what some days feel like at the moment. The Easter story seems so right for now and this week peace be with you is the part I am focusing on.
The Way of Peace Compiled by Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild. Lion 1999.
If I ever had a month’s opportunity to study, I would enjoy and benefit from studying what is commonly referred to as the “hard sayings of Jesus”. The story of this blog is the encounter of Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman asking him to heal her daughter of possession of an evil spirit. His response…”for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs” (Mark 7. 24- 30).
We can be generous with Jesus, that he is possibly provoking the woman to think, justify her request as a non Jew, wait a minute and I will be with you after I have ministered to God’s chosen people, Jesus being blunt to a foreigner or other possibilities. I have one other for us to consider.
I have always been interested in Jesus’s levels of self understanding. When during his life time, the first 30 years, baptism, transfiguration, 3 years of ministry, on the cross, resurrection, what degree of knowing, certainty, absolute clarity did he have of who he ss, where he had come from and was going back to. I wonder if this response was out of a growing revelation of the who this new Kingdom rule was for? i am not a fan of process theology but it seems reasonable to ask, was this a learning experience for Jesus. As our vicar Al reflected this morning, was this a cultural response?
What ever it is, Jesus responds to faith, to a trust in God’s goodness, to express this new inclusive Kingdom of compassion, love, grace and mercy. Salvation available for all, always.
This morning in church someone read out an Eddie Askew reflection as part of our service. This was the story at the heart of the reflection:
A man died and went to heaven, after signing in and completing all the formalities he went for a walk. He expected heavenly choirs and halos but at least the weather was good, not too hot not too cold just right.
Going a little way down the hill he met an angel. The Angel greeted him cheerfully, well you’d expect that in heaven wouldn’t you, then began to look him up and down with great interest. The Angel walked all around the man taking his time and inspecting him from every angle and looking more and more puzzled. “What are you doing?” asked the man as near to irritation as anyone in heaven could be. “Sorry” replied the Angel “I should have explained I was looking for your wounds”. “My wounds” said the man “but I haven’t got any wounds”. There was a long pause and the Angel asked quietly “But was there nothing in your world worth fighting for?”
I guess what we are willing to be hurt for is different for each one of us. But surely there must be at least one thing, one oppression, one part of the world, one people group? The life and especially the death of Jesus would suggest He thought so, and it was us, humanity that was worth being wounded for.
What will your wounds be from?
For Christmas, the answer according to a certain supermarket chain is ‘Me’. It is a great question and a provocative answer. In many ways I would agree. To be fully present, available, instead of gifts or money, is a creative option and potentially the most generous gift one person can give another. To love and be loved, are the pinnacle of humanity’s potential and fulfilment. Christmas gifts as ongoing instalments, a gift that has to keep on giving.
To do this to those I know and love, is difficult enough, let alone those I do not know or am not that keen on. what about, I know it’s hard to contemplate, those who do not want me for Christmas! Giving without being asked sounds a familiar to imitate.
Last time I checked the gift of Christmas was not me but Jesus. Praise God and lucky for everyone!!
Yesterday I had the great luxury of reading a book in bed with a cup of tea and the sun rising over the trees. It was a book about the vulnerable pastor and one of the passages was about the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane, it seemed an apt thing to share today and is taken from Mark 14.36. Mandy Smith writes
“Abba Father, everything is possible for you” What a way to start a prayer! It begins with a reminder of whom we’re addressing. We’re not filling out paperwork to submit to some faceless bureaucrat. This is our Father…
“Take this cup from me.” Here’s where Jesus presents his heart’s desire. He’s not afraid to be honest and admit he wants something. Five simple syllables never had so much significance. When we pray according to this model, what heartfelt yearning do we insert here? God already knows our heart, the way we long to see restoration in our congregations and communities. Se we might as well voice them. Even if doing so makes us feel the vulnerability of hope.
“Yet not what I will but what you will.” This final statement perfectly balances the prayer, making it a very brief but satisfying prayer to pray. We’ve acknowledged who God is and what he can do. We’ve been honest about our desires. And now we end by giving God the final word. We trust the outcome to a well-meaning, all-powerful being who has heard us.
Mandy Smith The Vulnerable Pastor Downers Grove: IVP, 2015, p119.