Retold: Easter Day!

Happy Easter!

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Life and Love triumph over darkness and death.

Here are a few extracts from my books  The Bible Retold and Prayers and Verses.

Please feel free to use any of my material that helps you, saying where it is from.

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New Life

Where is he?

The door was locked, the shutters were closed over the windows, and a faint lamp smoked fitfully in the corner.  Jesus’ followers hardly dared speak: they hardly dared breathe. As they sat in the small room where they had all gathered after the night of the crucifixion, they hung their heads. The shock of Jesus’ death had stunned them, and fear for their own lives kept them shut away behind locked doors.

But now, it was near morning on the third day after Jesus had died, and Mary Magdalene began to watch the crack in the shutters for the faintest glimpse of new light.  When she could wait no longer she slipped out of the house, keeping to the deepest shadows, and ran to the place where she had kept watch – the place where Jesus was buried.

Then, she stopped. The stone covering the entrance of the cave-tomb had been rolled away – who could have done it? She ran back to the others. “He’s gone – they’ve taken him!” she gasped.  Simon Peter and John raced to the tomb ahead of her. They saw the strips of linen, and the burial cloth, but there was no body. The men ran back to Jerusalem, but Mary stayed, weeping, exhausted, and bent low.

Then she looked into the tomb. She saw two angels in white, seated where the body had been.  Their voices were strong, yet gentle. “Woman, why do you cry?”
“They’ve taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where he is!” she answered.  Then she straightened, and turned, seeing a man through her tears.
“Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”
Mary thought he must be the gardener, beginning his work in the cool dawn.  “Have you taken him, sir? Tell me where he is, and I’ll go and get him.”
“Mary!” said the man.  And Mary knew his voice.  It was Jesus, standing there before her. Alive!
“My Teacher!” she called, reaching out.
“Don’t hold onto me – go back and tell my brothers, my disciples, that I am returning to my Father and their Father, my God and their God.”

She stepped backwards and then ran, as dawn began to colour the sky.  She threw open the door to the room where the disciples were hidden, and pale, golden light washed over their faces. She called out, “I have seen the Lord!” Her voice rang loud in the still room and here eyes were wide with wonder, but they did not know how to answer her.

 

Come, Holy Angels,
into this dark night.
Roll away the stone of death.
Let the light of life
shine from heaven.

Good Friday is locked in winter,
in grief and death and dark;
Easter Sunday begins the springtime,
rising up like the lark.

 

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear the sweet though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation:
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear athe music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul-
How can I keep from singing?
Robert Lowry

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Retold: Good Friday

A simple reading and prayers for this Holy Friday

from my books  The Bible Retold and Prayers and Verses.

Please feel free to use any of my material that helps you, saying where it is from.

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Cano Alonso

THE ROAD OF TEARS, AND THE PLACE OF THE SKULL (Luke 23:26-49)

Jesus stumbled under the heavy wooden cross, weak from his beating, and so the soldiers seized Simon, a visitor from Cyrene in north Africa, and gave him the cross to carry.  Jesus followed slowly over the rough, hard road.

A large crowd followed, and among them were many women, sobbing.  He turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me. You and your children will know enough pain.”

Two other men were led out to be crucified with Jesus at Golgotha, the Place of the Skull: one on his left, and one on his right.  So Jesus was nailed to the cross, and a sign was hung above him, saying: “This is the King of the Jews.”
From the cross, Jesus spoke slowly, painfully. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

But some among the crowd sneered “Save yourself if you are God’s Chosen One. You saved others!”

The soldiers joined in, as did one of the men being crucified. But the other said, “Don’t you fear God, at the hour of your death?  We are guilty, but this man has done nothing wrong.”  He turned his head towards Jesus.  “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!”

And Jesus answered “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

Then, a deep darkness came over the land, and the shadows spread and joined together.  In the Temple, the curtain that hid the holiest place was torn in two.  “Father, take my spirit!” Jesus called in a loud voice, and then his head fell forward, and his breath stopped.

The Roman centurion at the foot of the cross said, “Surely this was a good man.”  And many of the crowd were overcome by sadness, and turned away.  But those who knew him, men and women, stayed, and kept watch.

THE TOMB  (John 19:38-42, Matthew 27:57-61)

Joseph of Arimathea, a secret follower of Jesus, went to see Pilate. “I request permission to bury Jesus,” he said, and Pilate gave him the body.  So Joseph and Nicodemus, the man who had visited Jesus at night, took Jesus away.  Nicodemus had brought a great weight of spices – myrrh and aloes – and together the two men prepared Jesus’ body with the spices and wrapped it in linen.  Then they carried him to Joseph’s garden tomb, cut into the rock, and there they laid him. They rolled the stone over the entrance, shutting out the last red rays of light. Then they turned, and walked away. But Mary Magdalene, who had been healed by Jesus, and the other Mary, stayed and kept watch in the chill of the deepening shadows.

 

 

Lord Jesus, who died upon the cross:
You know this world’s suffering,
You know this world’s sorrowing,
You know this world’s dying.

In your name, Lord Jesus, who rose again:
I will work for this world’s healing,
I will work for this world’s rejoicing,
I will work for this world’s living.

 

Jesus, who walked to the cross,
be with us when we feel abandoned.

Jesus, who walked to the cross,
be with us when we face danger.

Jesus, who walked to the cross,
be with us when we are suffering.

When sorrow threatens to defeat us,
Jesus, who rose from the dead, be with us.

 

Come, O Joy:
Let heaven break into my dark night of sorrow
like the early dawn of a summer morning.

 

Bless you this Easter

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Angus Dei by Francisco de Zurbaran

Retold: Maundy Thursday

As we approach Easter, I’ll share with you retellings and prayers that might help you in your preparation, and might be useful for faith communities to share.  Today, we’ll look at the time when Jesus knelt before his followers to wash their feet, and gave them a new commandment – to love each other.
The word Maundy derives from the word commandment.

The commandment is that we love and serve one another.

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Detail from: Jesus Washing the Feet of his Disciples, 1898 (oil and grisaille on paper) by Edelfelt, Albert Gustaf Aristides

 

THE SERVANT KING (John 13: 1- 17)

Evening came, and Jesus and his disciples were together in the upper room they had been given.  Jesus knew the time had come to leave the world – and those he loved, and would love to the end.  Jesus knew that God had given him power over all things, and so he took a towel, and tied it around his waist. He knelt down before his followers, and began washing their feet.
“No, Lord!” burst out Simon Peter when Jesus came to him. “I can’t let you do that!”
“You don’t understand yet – to be part of me, you must let me serve you.”
“Then wash my hands and my head, too” Peter replied.

Jesus came to Judas.  He knew that Judas had already agreed to betray him to the high priests and the Temple guard, but still, he carried on washing his feet.
“Do you understand?” he said when he had finished. “I’m your Teacher, your Lord, and yet I take the place of the humblest slave.  So you must serve each other, and you will be blessed in doing so.”

BREAD AND WINE  (Matthew 26:20-29, from John13:31-17:26)

Then, they began the Passover meal.  They ate flat bread with bitter leaves, and dipped greens in salt water, to remember the bitterness and the tears of slavery in Egypt.  Once more, they told each other the story of how God saved the people of Israel.  But then, Jesus’ face clouded with sadness.
“One of you is going to betray me!” he said.
“No!” they all answered, pale with shock.
“One who shares my bread,” Jesus said, giving a piece to Judas.

While they were eating, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it, giving it to all of them saying, “Take and eat, for it is my body.”  Then, after supper, he raised the cup, and gave thanks.  “Drink, all of you. For this is my blood, poured out for forgiveness.  It is the blood of the new covenant – the binding promise of God.”

During the meal, Judas slipped out unnoticed into the dark, dark night.

“Now the glory begins, and I give you a new command.  You must love one another.  Your lives will be marked by love, and all will know you are mine because of it. For I will leave you, and you cannot follow yet,” Jesus said.
“I’ll follow you anywhere!” said Simon Peter.
“Will you?  Before the cock crows, you will deny you even knew me three times.”

They were all silent, stricken with sadness.
“You are troubled – don’t be.  Think of it like this.  I’m going ahead to my Father’s house, to get rooms ready for you.  Then I’ll come back for you. You know the way!”

Thomas said “We don’t know where you’re going, and we don’t know the way!”
“I am the way,” said Jesus. And his disciples remembered the many long, dusty roads they had followed him along.   Now, where would they go, what would they do? He saw their sadness, and spoke gently to them for a long time, planting hope.
“I am a vine, and from me grow branches – you. The vine gives the branches life, and they bud and blossom and fruit.  So draw your life from me, and you will too.

“When I go, the Spirit will come, to guide you into all truth. In this world, you will face trouble.  But take courage: I have overcome the world!”

From The Bible Retold

This reading contains reference to two of the great I AM sayings of Jesus – I am the way, and I am the vine.

Dear God,
Help me to love you with all my heart,
with all my soul and with all my mind.
Help me to love those around me as I love myself.

O God,
Let me learn how to love.
May I grow more patient.
May I speak more kindly.
May I act more humbly.
May I never give up learning to love.

Lord Jesus,
May our lives bear the mark of love.
As we are kind, as we share, as
we are gentle, may your love be seen in us.
Help us, for this is hard for us.

From Prayers and Verses

Please feel free to use my material if it helps you, saying where it is from.

Lent: Jesus said I Am …… Holy Week, I am he – Jesus betrayed

This post draws on the final chapter of my book, Jesus said, I Am, finding life in the everyday

The last time Jesus said “I am”  was in the garden, at the moment the soldiers, and Judas, came to arrest him.

John 17:25-18:11

This is the decisive moment, when everything changes: Jesus steps forward, moving away from his friends.  He steps unarmed towards the guards, soldiers, and Judas.  This step delivers him into the hands of violent men. And yet, and yet.

In his very quietness, quiescence, there is a power and a strength they do not understand.  For their power is no power.  Jesus has freely chosen to drink from this cup of betrayal and suffering and death.  He knows what is to come.  He steps forward, into all that is to come, knowing this to be the way of justice, love and peace.  He steps forward, knowing this is the way to something unimaginably great – overcoming and forgiving the worst evil humanity can do.  But also, it is an immediate, personal, loving step – he keeps his friends safe, draws the eyes of the solders away from them as he enters their circle of glaring torchlight.

‘For whom are you looking?’
‘Jesus of Nazareth’
‘I am’ – ego eimi – ‘I am he’

 

Once again, we see something – someone – real – someone you can talk to, touch, kiss even – who is also this ‘I am’ we have been holding in our mind.  Those who came to arrest him fall to the ground as he says these words.

This is the great ‘I am’ of the burning bush in the shadowy brightness of the soldiers’ torches.  We are on holy ground.

Swords

Peter must put away his sword, and he does.  Jesus undoes our common narratives of violence – killing, defeat of our enemies, power and control are not the way of the cross.  Luke (22:51) records Jesus healing Malchus, the one Peter wounded.  Even now, this is how Jesus loves his enemies.

Judas Norwich

With gratitude to Norwich Cathedral

There is a very moving C14th painting in the Chapel of the Holy Innocents at Norwich Cathedral which shows the arrest of Jesus. Jesus is at the centre, with soldiers around him. Judas is on his left, embracing him, and Jesus receives this embrace, moving slightly towards it.  And Jesus’ other hand rests on a poor naked scrap of humanity, Malchus, restoring his ear.  It is all one beautiful, graceful movement.  This movement, this gesture, seems to transform even the betrayal of a friend, turning it into something life-giving for the naked soldier.  Even in all his ugliness, he is healed.  At some point, someone has scratched away Judas’ lips and eyes, presumably unable to bear the betrayal.  But Jesus bore it; he submitted to it.

The path of the sword is not the way of the cross.  For love and life to triumph over cruelty, separation and death, Jesus chose this way.

The way towards Good Friday is also the way towards Easter Sunday.

We have seen Jesus bring many things together.  These I am sayings reconcile, among other things, the everyday world of bread and gates and plants, with something that seems mystical and far away – the great I Am of the burning bush.  Perhaps we can come to hold these things together, see that they are not so far apart, after all.

Perhaps we too, in all our common, daily life can connect these two things.  Our lives can seem so insignificant and ordinary, but they are illuminated by a life-light, a love and a grace, a hope and a way that is so deep and true it connects our very depths to the very depths of a God who loves us enough to come, in fragile flesh, and stretch out his arms to show us the full extent of his love.  It is in our very ordinariness, our very smallness and failure and seeming insignificance, that we encounter the love and grace of God.  Even there, we can live out of that life-light. We can live in abundant life.

 

Reflection and response

Take some time to look at the picture of the betrayal above.  Seek to do so prayerfully, open to God.  What do you notice?  What catches your attention?
Ask if there are things for you here.
Ask if this speaks into your life, what you are facing now, today.

You might like to think more about Judas.  You can find my poem about him at the last supper here.

Prayer

Dear God, may we be forever caught up in your love and life.  May we never consider ourselves to be too small, too ordinary, too insignificant to be part of your great story of love and abundant life.  May we remember how Jesus came, humbly, and compared himself to bread, to a shepherd, to a vine.  May we see in the rough materials of our lives the wonder of your grace, your glory, your love.
Amen

 

Life and service

We can do no great things, only small things with great love.
St Teresa of Calcutta

As you consider the ordinariness and extraordinariness of ‘I am’, that great union of the everyday with the divine, develop the discipline of seeing each thing as capable of being filled with great love.  This day, seek to do one humble thing with great love. Repeat every day.

Thank you so much for walking this Lent path with me.

If you’d like a copy of my book, you can ask your local bookshop, or order online.

Here are a few suggestions:

The publishers, BRF

Amazon

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Lent: Jesus said I Am…. Week 7, True Vine

IMG_0840This post – for Holy Week – is the next in the series based on my book, Jesus said, I am – finding life in the everyday.

I do not have a vine in my garden, but I have so many other plants that are just opening up to new life.

This morning, I have been out planting seeds.  My veggie beds, rebuilt a few years ago by my son and a friend, have not been productive.  I suspect it was due to the shade, and the acid leaves, of a large conifer.  Last year’s drought finished it off, and I am hopeful that the new light and air around the beds may mean that we’ll have fresh salad leaves before too long. Something good may come of that loss.

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I’ve also been thinking of the wisteria, and the corkscrew hazel, in the light of this reading which tells of vines and gardeners.

This year, the wisteria is covered in long purple buds, and will soon be heady with scented flowers.  Last year, my gardener worked hard to cut back the unproductive growth, to focus the plant’s attention on the buds of  this year’s flowering.

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The corkscrew hazel requires less skilled intervention – I can manage to tell which stems are coming up straight, and need removing so the wild disarray of the corkscrew can grow freely.

These moments of intervention  are part of what happens here – I also love the wild flowers – or weeds, I love to watch what happens, what grows of its own accord. It is a hospitable place.  I love the rhythm of managed and wild.  I love the crowds of birds, the insects, the butterflies and bees that seem to thrive here.

Our Father is a gardener, we read.

John 15:1-17

Once again, we will just touch on some of the themes this image opens up for us.  There is always more.  Here are a few things, offered for your reflection – and some suggestions of how we might live inside this  song of the vineyard.

There is a way of seeing the overarching narrative of the Bible that looks like this: three gardens – the garden of Eden in Genesis, the garden tomb of the resurrection and the garden city of Revelation.  If we hold this narrative in our minds, we see a story of flourishing, of hope, of new growth despite the winters we encounter.  Gardens and their gardeners are a theme that runs through the whole Bible text.  Gardens are both beautiful and necessary, a sign of a settled life, a sign of peace and security, a promise of plenty.  And within the garden, the vine winds and trails its way through scripture, a sign of the people of God in both testaments, their frailty and fruitfulness, their need of a gardener to bring out their best flourishing, their provision of fruit and, more especially, wine to gladden the heart, wine soon to be poured out.

We are invited to be part of this fruitfulness and flourishing.  We are invited to be part of something bigger than ourselves, joined to others as well as to Jesus. We are invited to participate, and to contribute, to give and to receive.

As Jesus and his friend walked in the dark past vineyards, the image of the vine was real, fragrant, touchable.  This song was no distant allegory.  It was before them.  What would they have glimpsed, in the thin light?

A winter vineyard looks as dead as dead can be.  The bark flakes and pulls away.  But, here, in the spring, buds would have been bursting out.  What appeared dead was returning to life, throwing out tendrils, leaves, maybe blossoms.  They knew the importance of the vine, and the care and wisdom needed to tend it and make it fruitful. Passover required the drinking of four cups of wine…. Their blood was warmed with wine as they walked through the chill of night.

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And in the spring, sap runs through its veins like blood – it pours through, swelling the hidden buds.  This is a kingdom vine.  The way life flows through it is like the way the Spirit will sustain Jesus’ followers after he has gone.  The vine is loved and cared for by the Father.  God alone is the gardener of this vine.

 

Remain

To a group of people who will soon be scattered in the darkness, who will abandon him, Jesus talks of remaining, abiding.  He talks to them, assuring them they are already connected to the vine, already clean.  What will happen does not change that for them  He says this first, at the beginning of the song.  All else that follows is held within the certainty that they are part of the vine.

Here is the melody of the song, and this is what we need to treasure – that we are also part of this vine, the sap flows through us.

The heart of it all is remaining in Jesus, as Jesus remains in the Father; remaining because of love, so that joy may be complete.  We may not understand, but we an hold open the possibility of this love and grace and belonging.

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Fruit

We have talked about abiding, remaining, but the purpose of the vine is the fruit and the purpose of the pruning is to increase the vine’s capacity to bear fruit.  As Jesus continues his song of the vineyard, we see this fruit linked to a circular pattern of love – it begins with the Father for the Son, flows from the Son to humanity, who are then, for the second time, commanded to love in their (our) turn. The outcome of all this is joy – Jesus’ joy will be in us and our joy will be complete.

Love, joy… from there, we are naturally drawn to another mention of fruit in the New Testament – the fruit of the Spirit.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  There is no law against such things.
Galatians 5:22-23

The branches attached to the vine have the life of the Spirit flowing through them.  There is beauty in a fruitful vine, with its leaves, blossom and, in time, the ripening fruit.  Our lives, filled ith the flow of the Spirit, can have such beauty.  The life of Jesus, flowing through us, is transformative.  Maybe Jesus is telling us here how the Spirit works, how our lives can be part of something greater.  Connection to the soure of all life and love leads to flourishing.  We are not isolated, purposeless, lonely individuals.  We are part of the something greater, and we can live out our lives fruitfully.

Reflection and Response

Further Study

Read the account of the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12). Reflect on the symbolic meaning of the empty jars used for religious cleansing, here filled with fine wine at a wedding.
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Colossians 1:15-20.  How does this image of Christ connect with your thoughts on the vine? How do al things hold together in Christ?

Prayer and Meditation
Lectio divina
meditation – rooted and grounded in love
Read Ephesians 3:14-16, asking God to speak to you by drawing your attention to a word or phrase.  Read the passage out loud, slowly, twice, leaving silence between and around the readings.  See where your attention snags, what strikes you, and ponder that.  If you are with others, hold a time of silence, then share your words or phrases.

Read again.  On the last reading, be alert to anything that applies to you or your situation directly, any place where the Holy Spirit may be moving or guiding you.  Thank God for what you have learned.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love.  John 15:9

Have you ever experienced anything that felt like pruning?  What happened? What was that like?  Offer any loss, any gain, through that process to God in prayer.  Be alert to signs of new life that may emerge.

Life and service

Connection and community
Take some time to connect with people in your community.  Be on the lookout today, this week, for ways you can build connection with those around you.  It can be as simple as taking a few minutes to speak to a neighbour, smiling at a passer by or something more.

ways you might be part of making a stronger community.  Ideas could include:

  • using local shops, facilities, public transport
  • walking or cycling where you can
  • becoming involved in local groups, societies, politics, schools
  • with others, notice the needs in your community, and finding ways to bless and reach out – the elderly or housebound may require help, or young families, etc.
  • litter picking the streets around you, or clearing snow or leaves as appropriate

……..

Care for a garden, or a piece of land near where you are.  Work with others to enrich and bless growing and living things nearby.

Further reading – I recommend Richard Rohr’s book, The Divine Dance – the Trinity and your Transformation

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The Rublev icon

If you’d like a copy of my book, you can ask your local bookshop, or order online.

Here are a few suggestions:

The publishers, BRF

Amazon

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Poem: Jesus washes Judas’ feet.

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Jesus Washing the Feet of his Disciples, 1898 (oil and grisaille on paper) by Edelfelt, Albert Gustaf Aristides (1854-1905)© Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden Finnish, out of copyright

Why did Judas do what he did?

 

We can’t know, of course.
Can we seek to imagine what motivated something so terrible?
Might it help to do so?

It is a truly terrible thing to betray a friend, but maybe Judas was expecting a very different outcome.  Maybe.

Maybe he  thought there was a good to be served by doing what he did. He must have felt he had a reason. Maybe he was trying to force Jesus’ hand, make him reveal and initiate the Kingdom in a dramatic burst.  Maybe, an idealist, he was disillusioned with small progress, maybe the way things were turning out was not what he expected or felt he signed up for.

Having wondered this, having thought, too, how well Jesus knew Judas, and that he knew what Judas was intending to do, I imagined that instead.  I wrote a response.

Here it is.

 

Jesus washes Judas’ feet.

That moment, when you knelt before him,
took off his sandals, readied the water,
did you look up?  Search his eyes?
Find in them some love, some trace
of all that had passed between you?

As you washed his feet, holding them in your hand,
watching the cool water soak away the dirt,
feeling bones through hard skin,
you knew he would leave the lit room,
and slip out into the dark night.

And yet, with these small daily things –
with washing, with breaking and sharing bread,
you reached out your hand, touched, fed.
Look, the kingdom is like this:

as small as a mustard seed, as yeast,
a box of treasure hidden away beneath the dirt.
See how such things become charged,
mighty, when so full of love. This is the way.

In that moment, when silence ebbed between you,
and you wrapped a towel around your waist;
when you knew, and he knew,  what would be,
you knelt before him, even so, and took off
his sandals, and gently washed his feet.
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This is a picture that was in display at the Chapel of the Holy Innocents, Norwich Cathedral.  It shows the Jesus being betrayed, and healing, at the same moment.
I write about it in the last chapter of Jesus said, I am – finding life in the everyday
You might like to read the gospel story in John 13

Lent: Jesus said I Am….. Week 6, The Way, Truth, and Life

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The photos in this post were taken last year, as the very short spring warmed up suddenly into summer.  We were walking the Norfolk Coast Path, which was my first long distance path – flat, and easy to navigate with the sea on one side.  It took us through many lovely, varied landscapes and small settlements.

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It helps to have an image in your mind when thinking about the Way, as we are this week.

As we enter the traditional season of Passiontide, drawing closer to the Cross, we enter too, in our reading, an intense dialogue between Jesus and his friends, in which Jesus seeks to explain the terrible thing that is going to happen.  To prepare them, and to show them the necessity for it.

We will touch on the themes of Way, Truth and Life here, and seek to work them into our days.
We are continuing this Lent series drawing on my book, Jesus said, I am – finding life in the everyday.

John 13- 14

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Jesus knows that the time when he will be abandoned and betrayed by his friends, and then crucified, is getting close now.  Knowing this, despite this, he loves them to the end.  Knowing that the Father had put all things into his hands, he strips and kneels and washes their feet.  He gives them bread.  In doing so and by what he says, he tries to prepare his friends for what will come – must come.  He does so with sadness and compassion.  These are dark and difficult words.  But, there is more.  There is also a vision of love, service and life itself – the way of the Spirit, the Comforter. It offers them a way they can live when Jesus is no longer with them  They do not want to see ahead to such a time.  This next ‘I am’ saying is part of all this preparation – showing them a way forward – a way that will endure.  Jesus is that way.  He will remain that way, even after.

We are not there yet, though.  We need to stand back a little and see more clearly.

Jesus Washing Feet 11

Jesus Washing the Feet of his Disciples, 1898 (oil and grisaille on paper) by Edelfelt, Albert Gustaf Aristides (1854-1905)

© Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden
Finnish, out of copyright

The towel

Jesus gets up from the table, strips off his outer clothes, wraps a towel around his waist and kneels to wash his friends’ feet.  This is part of the way ahead – the way of love and service.  It is an instruction for how they are to live when he is gone.  They are to imitate this act – and a concrete task can help us through a difficult time.  It is hard for them to receive it.  This kneeling and washing, acting like a humble servant, is part of the self-emptying way that Jesus is following, a small foreshadowing of the self- emptying of the cross.  The way of love and life passes through the darkness of death.

………

Glory

No wonder it was hard to grasp.  This is what glory looks like: tying a towel around your waist, a friend leaving to betray you with the taste of bread still in his mouth, being lifted up on a cross.

What might it mean for us, to know there is glory even here?

This encounter between Jesus and Judas – as he washed his feet, as he shared bread with him – has given me much to think about.  I wrote about it here.

However much they did not understand, his friends did seem to grasp that he was going to leave them.  That this leaving would be for them – that it would bring them the greatest good  – was beyond them.  The loss of Jesus could not be but terrible in their eyes.

And so, he tries to frame it for them.

Something profoundly essential is happening – terrible as it is – that will ultimately work for the good.

This is the only way.

A spacious home

Jesus gives them a picture of what the good will be – a picture of the host going on ahead to prepare rooms, or dwelling places. This is why he must leave, to unlock the door, to get things ready, to open and air the rooms.  It is a large and spacious illustration, one that would conjure up Middle-Eastern principles of hospitality and welcome…..

There is an expansion in these pictures, and a deep sense that Jesus will go to considerable pains, even to the loss of his life, to bring home the sheep, to make a place in the Father’s house.  Images of hospitality abound in the other three gospels, for the kingdom – images of banquets and wedding feasts and wide tables. Here, we find these: a large and hospitable house, a generous sheepfold.

It is entirely understandable that Thomas replies, “We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Now is the ‘I am’ moment: “I am the way, the truth, and the life”.  Can we think of a person as a destination? For that is what we are invited to do. ….

As we seek to walk along the way of love and service, we walk along with Jesus.  We remember that the earliest name given to Jesus’ people was not Christians, but followers of the Way.  We walk with Jesus, and with each other, on this path.  That is the way.

It is Jesus who is Way, Truth and Life all. That begins to shift us to a different way of understanding what these things might be.

The reality behind it all, the reality we can trust, is love.  That is why Jesus goes on ahead through what we cannot, and then comes back for us again.

The way of love is not soft, comfortable or secure.  It will take Jesus to hell and back.  It will take him to the very worst that can be done to a human being. This is the way that humanity will see God’s outstretched arms, and be liberated to enter abundant, overflowing life.  Jesus is making the way.

Way, truth and life are here.

“In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” John 1:14

Reflection and response

John often has parallels, patterns in his Gospel.  You might like to think about Mary kneeling to anoint Jesus’ feet (see last week’s post) and Jesus kneeling before the disciples.  You can use the pictures in each post to imagine what it would have been like to be there. You might like to think about what they have in common.

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Further Study

Exodus 12:1-28
Consider more deeply these themes of the Passover: slavery and servanthood; a meal overshadowed by death and departing. Do these help your reading of the last supper?

I am struck by the fact that the Passover celebrates liberation from slavery, and this newly formed Passover – the Last Supper – includes a command to imitate the actions of a slave – washing feet – in free loving generosity.
How do you respond?

Creative Response

Foot washing
You will need: water, washable pens, paper, kitchen paper.

Imagine Jesus kneeling before you to wash your feet.  Imagine you are there, in that upper room. What do you feel at first? What do you feel at the end? You might like to paint your response.

You could use washable pens on your hands, remembering things that do not fit with the command to love.  Then dip your hands in water and watch them become clean.

Thank Jesus for his loving sacrifice and his example.  Thank him for the gift of forgiveness.

Remember a time when someone offered you love, and practical service. What was that like? Remember a time when you did the same for someone else.

Think of what it means to be a leader like this.  Where do you have opportunities to lay aside status and simply serve?

 

Life and Service

Love
In every situation today, take this as your starting point: how can I best love and serve this person, these people?

My Father’s House
Think about times you have received hospitality, and given it.  What stays in your mind?
Can you expand your current practices of hospitality – even a small step?

 

Pilgrimage

You may wish to go on a journey with a spiritual purpose and particular destination in mind.  You could travel far or go on a walking tour of local places of worship and ancient holy sites. You could use maps and photos to imagine yourself on such a journey if mobility is an issue.  You can go with friends, or alone.

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In the current state of our news and social media, I think this one is particularly relevant.  I would add to it now, as we are all empowered to generate our own content, and to share stories….. what are we spreading?  Is it true, loving, kind? Does it promote understanding or division?

Truth

Be on the lookout this week for where and how you learn about the world.  Look at your news sources.  Consider how you listen to more personal news from friends and colleagues.  Whom do you trust and believe? If you do not already do so, consider fact-checking, and reading and viewing things from perspectives that differ from your own.  What do you find out?

Be particularly alert to this question: does this presentation of the facts encourage love and peace between people, or fear, hatred and hostility?
Does it help or hinder me in loving God and loving others?

 

Thank you for reading.

Please feel free to share any of the material you find helpful, saying where it is from.

If you’d like a copy of the book, you can ask your local bookshop, or order online.

Here are a few suggestions:

The publishers, BRF

Amazon

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Poem: The green of rose leaves

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The progress of the rose – some, taken last year.

The roses that ramble through the silver birch give me great joy – I love to watch them as they grow and get ready to flower, and then fill the trees with startling beauty. I’m waiting for them, I can almost anticipate their scent …..

but not so much as I don’t love the spring as it is now, today.

Sometimes, we just need to look long enough to see it.

The invitation remains.

How do we respond?

 

 

The green of rose leaves

I watch the long arching branches
of the rambling rose bend in the breeze,
noticing how the leaves lighten,
like a colourchart of
pea green,
like a Deco lithograph.

So dark by the stem,
and look, how vibrant
by the tight bud –
with its white flower
to come.

Today, I can sit here,
and do this.
Today, I give my attention
to the spring,
which warrants it.

It has been here all along,
calling with the blackcap’s
fluid, full-throated voice,
it was here,
all this green,
saying
“Look, look……”
and asking me now,
“So, are you going
to join in?”

Lent: Jesus said I Am…… Week 5, the resurrection and the life

 

 

 

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Welcome back to this Lent series, based on my book Jesus said, I Am – finding life in the everyday.
As we walk through John’s gospel, getting closer to Easter, and the cross, we see the days grow longer, and life and light once again returning to us and to all things.

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John 11- 12:8

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Let us return to the gospel story.  As we follow it through, it is worth being on the watch for the flowering of the themes sown in the prologue, at the very beginning, where John talks of light and life, the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness not overcoming it. We see in this story of Lazarus the beauty of that light and life breaking through, and also the power and depth of the darkness.  If we are alert, we will also see the other great themes of the gospel: seeing the glory, grace and truth of God in the life of Jesus, and an invitation to belief.  All these things open and flourish in the account of Lazarus, Martha and Mary.

This is an extraordinary and profound passage of Gospel, so rich and deep.  We’ll just look at a few aspects of it here on the blog – aspects that I hope will give some nourishment,  or encouragement, or consolation – and also ways of living it out, living in the light of this bursting out of life and hope in a place as dark as the grave.  No details are wasted with John, and the slow introduction to this story has lessons for us too.

Messages and prayers

While he is by the Jordan, a desperate message arrives saying that Lazarus, his [Jesus’] beloved friend, is very sick.  And he does not respond. For all of us who have prayed for healing for someone we love, or for the resolution of some terrible situation, we send our messages to God, and then, sometimes, nothing happens.  This experience of silence is one all of us who have prayed encounter.

And yet, and yet, we pray……

When I don’t know how to pray, I ask God to accompany me, to be with me and to be with the one I am praying for.  I find myself expanding my prayer – for others I know in similar circumstances, and then for those I don’t know.  I pray for the support that is there, or that it may be there.  I ask if there are things I can do to be part of the solution.  That is what, in practice, I do.  Even when I don’t know how to pray, or why I am praying, I find that I do.

 

The death and raising of Lazarus, this journey to the grave and into life, foreshadows the Easter story in all its brightness and strangeness.  Also, in a very real and practical sense, the raising of Lazarus precipitates Jesus’ arrest and all that follows.

So, while Jesus was waiting, was he coming to terms with what was going to happen and seeking the Father? John’s gospel is very full of the bond between the Father and the Son.

Prayer is nothing less than oneing the soul to God.  Julian of Norwich

Prayer propels him into action, as it does now. …. We are not dealing here with a Saviour who is indifferent to the suffering of the world, but who is preparing to enter into it more fully than we can imagine.

And, we know, that Jesus does come, and the two sisters speak to him in their fresh raw grief.
I wrote a sequence of poems about this Mary, and the second one speaks of that moment.  You can read it here.

 

Lazarus

Lazarus by Jaquie Binns

 

Lazarus needed to be released from the grave-clothes, but maybe there were other kinds of letting go he needed now.

This story shows us the hard journey into new life Lazarus and his sisters went through, and the possibility, and power, of resurrection.

“Practise resurrection”

What would it mean to be a resurrection people – to participate with Jesus in making things new, to be part of the new heavens and new earth, to pray and work for his kingdom to come now, on earth, as it is in heaven? Is it possible to go deeper than believing in resurrection, to begin to practise it, to live as if it were the way things were meant to be?  In any experience of darkness, perhaps we can take courage from this story to enter into it, to not be afraid, to know there is a way out on the other side.  Even in darkness, we can look for signs of life.

The line ‘Practise resurrection’ [is]from the poetry of Wendell Berry.

You can see a performance of  Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front  

by Wendell Berry following the link.

 

Once Lazarus is restored to them, they throw a party to celebrate this resurrection power, and to thank him.

Feast

One thing resurrection means, in this story of Lazaus, is an extravagant feast and an extravagant anointing…..

Now, this is a ‘Jesus’ uprising – of feasting, a celebration of an empty grave. The feast, the open house, is an image of the kingdom we have come across elsewhere in the gospels, in Jesus’ parables of wedding feasts and banquets, of the hospitality of the Father’s house.

As the feasting continues, Mary enters. In an extravagant act of thanksgiving, a prophetic act too, she pours out precious perfume and anoints Jesus’ feet.  She unbinds her hair, an undressing, a vulnerability, as she gives the most precious gift the house can offer – a jar of nard.  This act of kneeling has its later echo: as Jesus kneels to wash his disciples’ feet.  I wonder whether Jesus was remembering this act of Mary’s when he knelt before his friends.

This feast, and this kneeling, is the subject of the final of my poems for Mary.  You can read that here.

 

Reflection and response.

Greening

You will need: a dry twig and a vase or jar, paper cut into leaves, green pencils or felt-tip pens, cotton.
Music suggestion: Hildegard von Bingen (perhaps Antiphon, Caritas Habundant in Omnia

Think of people and situations in need of new life – of healing and restoration and new beginnings.  Write them down on the leaves, colouring them in with green. Ask for the Spirit of life to be given them.  Tie them to the dry twig, giving thanks for new life.

Is there something you could do to suport or cheer a sick person, or someone caring for a sick person? Or is there a seemingly dead situation that could be open to new life?

Alternatively, you can pick a budding twig to watch unfold, visiting it each day and praying as above, or cutting it and putting it by a light place in your home. Celebrate the hope of new life coming from something that looks as if it might well be dead.

 

Grave clothes

Look at the picture of Jacquie Binn’s sculpture above.  Open yourself to what God may wish to show you.

Firstly, imagine yourself bound, as Lazarus was, with a cloth over your face.  You might wish to use a strip of cloth around your hands and enact it.  What does that feel like? What impact would it have?
Now, think of those things which may be ‘grave-clothes’ in your life: fear, debt, disappointment, selfishness, past experience or bad habits. Take your time and ask Jesus to release you from them.

Next, ask Jesus if there are any known to you who are bound in this way, and pray for them. Expand your prayer to your community and ask Jesus to set it free from its bindings. Ask if there are practical things you can do to set people free.

If you have used a strip of cloth, cut it and keep it as a bookmark to remind you of your freedom.

 

Practice resurrection

As God whether there are ways you could ‘practise resurrection’. God delights in using the flawed, the old and the cast aside, like Moses or Abraham….. Ask Jesus to bring his resurrection life into yours now, to breathe into the dead and dark places.  Similarly, ask him to do the same for those you love and for your community.

Ask, too, where you could be part of this process of making all things new, bringing new life.

Start simply – renew an old, thrown-away object: restore a pice of furniture, reuse old fabric for a sewing project, plant vegetables in a neglected place, make compost, use broken plates for mosaic, make something beautiful out of what has been cast aside.

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Wells Cathedral – you can read about it in Lent: Jesus said, I Am….. Week 3, Light

 

Please feel free to use any of this material that helps you, saying where it is from.

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Lent: Jesus said, I Am….. Week 4, the Shepherd and the Gate

Hello again, and thank you for joining me on this walk through Lent, thinking about what it means to live in the light of the I am sayings, to go deeper into following the Good Shepherd.

I feel I can’t start this week, which looks at leadership, without saying something about our current political difficulties here in the UK, with Brexit.  I am sure that many of you reading will be appalled and ashamed by our present national crisis.  Although the time will come to examine how we ended up here, at the moment, I’m just wondering how we can progress through the real and self-inflicted danger we now face.  Will a leader emerge? Will we – the people – have an opportunity to lead with our many voices and all be heard with respect?
For I am particularly appalled by the violence and threats of violence our MPs are receiving – as well as ordinary people out demonstrating or campaigning on line. I, for one, am deeply troubled by the fact that I have not heard politicians who lead the various factions speaking out to utterly condemn violence.

Why not?  We, the people, are watching and listening.

Poor leadership, or bad leadership, is very destructive of our common good, our communities, and the prospects for our young people. We need good shepherds.

In contrast, and with hope, I see a new kind of leader emerging in the figure of the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern.  Her response to the terrible events in Christchurch have been light in the darkness, a shepherd caring for her sheep, which includes taking strong action to protect them.  She has led with profound compassion, and that compassion has driven her actions – from legislation banning military style weapons, to opening her parliament with an Imam’s prayers. She has sought to model the best of the loving community she represents, giving no space to the voices of hate, intolerance and violence.

I hope you will forgive my trespass out of my normal field.  Our crisis of leadership is weighing on my mind as I think about the good shepherd, and I felt I needed to speak about it first.

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Just about all of us have responsibilities for others in some form or other, and as citizens and members of our communities we have especial responsibilities to the young, and the vulnerable.  And so, as we consider the Good Shepherd, and less good shepherds, we can hold in mind those ways our actions and our words have an impact on others, and how we can care for and nurture one another.

John 9:35-10:31

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This saying follows on from the one before – ‘I am the light of the world’. The setting, as we saw in the previous chapter, is the Feast of Tabernacles.  The atmosphere is hostile, argumentative, challenging to Jesus….
This good shepherd story is an answer to these questions and challenges that have been rolling on over several chapters of our reading.  Jesus often responds to questioning with a story.  Stories speak to the whole person..

Once again, Jesus has a double audience for this story – the man who has received his sight, and doubtless others outside the synagogue, and the religious leaders who threw him out.  This one story, one image, of the Good Shepherd, will have been heard differently by these two groups.  Just think, the man who had received his sight, and been thrown out of fellowship, was sought out by Jesus.  He is like the lost sheep in the other gospels.  It is so good to know that this is what the Good Shepherd does – he finds one who has been rejected.  Jesus not only healed him, but later comes to restore him, care for him, include him.

Of course, all those who listened to him on both sides will have been used to hearing scriptures that talked about good and bad shepherds.  They will have know the words of Ezekiel  on the subject, as well as holding dear the memory of David, the shepherd king.

“You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.” Ezekiel 34:4

Jesus clearly draws on a shared knowledge of this prophecy to confront those who challenged him.  They know that the prophecy continues, saying that God himself will search for the sheep, as Jesus searched for the one who can now see.  God will gather those who are lost and scattered, and will feed them with good pasture.  God will be their shepherd, will bind up the injured, will strengthen the weak.  They will be fed with justice.  And Jesus claims this role, the role of the good shepherd, for himself.

When we can be cared for by God, the power and importance of human leaders – tyrants, emperors, Pharisees – is hugely diminished. And it sets a high bar for those human leaders, those who would be a shepherd of a flock.  That nourishing, self-giving, gentle leading of the good shepherd is our standard.

Can we follow this shepherd, and learn to nurture in our turn?

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So, we turn, briefly, to the gate.

There is a twofold task that Jesus undertakes for us.  One is to keep us safe, to be the gate.  The other is to lead us out.  …… The shepherd would lie across the gap in the circular sheepfold at night, protecting the sheep both from wild animals and sheep-rustlers.  Jesus keeps the sheep safe……..

We need safety and refuge.  We need sanctuary.  We need to lie down and sleep in safety.  And then, as the shepherd gets to his feet and calls us out of the fold, we need to continue to find our safety in the presence of the shepherd as we step out into the new light of morning.

If God made the world, and all things hold together in Christ, we know that the shepherd knows what he is doing when he leads us out.  He knows all about the dark valley, and will not abandon us there, but it is not all dark valley.  It is also green pasture, flowing water and the kingdom coming on earth as in heaven.  Abundant life is such a marvellous promise……

 

Reflection and Response

Take some time to look at the picture through the doorway above, and to reflect on on Jesus being a gate, or a door.  Sit quietly, and open your heart and mind in prayer.
What catches your attention?
How do you feel when you look at it?
Does it remind you of anything?
Can you imagine yourself walking through that landscape?
As you go out and about in your ordinary days, or as you feel drawn to a new adventure in life and faith, what does it mean to listen out for the voice of the shepherd, and to follow the Good Shepherd?  Where may he be leading you?

How comfortable can you be with not being sure about that?
Take time to commit your days and your ways to following.

Prayer for the beginning of the day:
Good Shepherd, you know what lies before me today.
Help me to hear your voice, and remain close to you.
Guide me beside still waters, keep me at peace.
Nourish me with your presence, let me have enough to give.
Let me follow you this day, and always.

Prayer during the day:
Good Shepherd, let me see you ahead of me,
and know which way to go.

 

Good Shepherd
Write down ways in which you have some leadership and/or influence with others.  Each of our lives touches others; we all make ripples in our ponds.

Ask God to help you learn to be a good shepherd in these situations, and to follow the good shepherd.

Write down any action or insight that comes to you. Resolve to follow it this week.

Listen/hear
Remember a time when you felt really listened to, and a time when you did not.  What was the impact of both occasions? Resolve to be a more attentive listener this week.  Give your full attention to whoever is talking to you.  Seek to understand them, really hear them, rather than putting your own point of view across.

 

A link to Malcolm Guite’s sonnet on the gate

If you’d like a copy of the book, you can ask your local bookshop, or order online.

Here are a few suggestions:

The publishers, BRF

Amazon

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