A Good Friday Meditation – including 7 new poems

Welcome to this Good Friday Meditation.  This year, I had been invited to lead a meditation for a group of local churches, and was hoping to be able to put together something a little like what we have below.  Instead, we will be following this meditation online, on Good Friday afternoon, and I believe others will be joining in.

I am posting it early in case you might like to join in too.  As we cannot meet together this year, you might want to find a time when you can go through the meditation, perhaps with others.  I have  put together a very simple structure: a reading from the gospel story, one of my poems based on Jesus’ words from the cross, and a response from Psalm 22.

To that I have added music suggestions, with links to YouTube.  The music reflects a variety of styles, so please feel free to go with what you like.  If you find YouTube sends you a lot of ads, do remember the “skip Ad” box, bottom right, and the mute button!  If YouTube is distracting, you can go through without music, or find something else from another source.  The music is to help lead us into prayer, contemplation, worship, so whatever helps you do those things.  I anticipate the whole thing taking about an hour, depending how we go with the music.  Of course, you can always leave music playing in a tab while reading the next section of words.

I intend to try to put something very simple, without music, on YouTube.  If I do, I shall post the link here.  That will be shorter, about 15 minutes.

If you’d like to see the poems all in one place, without the framework, you can find those here.

If you would like to use, or share, any of my material, please feel free to do so, saying where it is from.

I hope that’s explained things!

 

Now, as we prepare for our Good Friday meditation, let us focus our minds on Jesus, who loves us, and suffered for us.  May we have a deeper appreciation of that love and suffering this year.  May we, despite being apart, become more aware how deeply we are loved, and connected together.

elizabeth frink

Elizabeth Frink, Chapel of the Transfiguration, St Edmundsbury Cathedral.

 

 

First sentence
Reading (from Matthew 27 27-37 and Luke 23 33-34) 
Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him.  They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spat on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Two criminals were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Father forgive them, for they know not what they do

We don’t know what we do,
from the careless word that
starts a fire of anger,
to the careless killing
of a butterfly  –
who knows what
wide effects,
what winds and rains,
begin and end with just one death?

We walk in darkness, so often,
and so often, we close our eyes,
we do not wish to know.
And Jesus, seeing this,
that his life would end
with angry shouts,
with fearful washing of hands,
with indifferent playing of dice,
Knowing all this, even so, he bore
our lawful unthinking violence,
our blundering disregard for consequences.
Another would pay for our actions.

Yet as the ripple of our acts flows out,
through the world, who knows where,
so too, now, flows forgiveness,
following on, spreading and transforming,
watering dry ground, lifting burdens
and carrying them away.

 

Response from Psalm 22: v3-5

Yet you are holy,
dwelling in the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame
.

Music:  Salt of the Sound  Lamb of God (and Your Ways) both – 6 mins 28
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_5fsX8TEp4

Francisco_de_Zurbarán_Angus Dei

Angus Dei  Francisco de Zurbaran

Second sentence
Reading (from Luke 23 39-43)
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”.  Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.

 

Truly I say to you today you will be with me in paradise

Even as he hung upon the cross,
even with blood from that false crown
running down, not wiped away,
he saw the two men at his side,

One joined in mocking with the
priests and soldiers,
speaking from his pain,
and one did not, this second kept
his eyes on something else – a hope.

A hope the one he looked on was a king,
and of a kingdom where such things
as crosses are not lifted up,
a hope, even, of an end to death and pain –
this pain, this death.

And, ah, his king begins to speak,
of paradise.
What a world to gift him dying there.
A word of such sweetness, freedom, peace.
See  – clear water flowing, and flowers,
hear the sound of birds, the lazy
buzz of insects, the flutter of their wings.

What a word, at your end, to hold to,
to capture our beginning, once again.
But even more than this,
to be with him, beside the king,
seen and known,
held in the loving gaze of one who
hung up on the cross.
Might this, even this, be paradise?

 

Response from Psalm 22:v 27-28

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the Lord.

 

Music: Gabriel Faure  in Paradisum from Requiem 3 mins 50 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvYt-QA9vT0

IMG_0495

What do you think of, when you think of paradise?

Third sentence
Reading (from John 19 25-27)
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Son, here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

 

Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother

And still he sees, looks down
towards the one who bore him, bearing this,
the pain – not her own pain – worse,
the pain of watching one you love
twisting on those wooden beams,
the nails piercing her own flesh too.

The time has come when all the
treasure of her heart is broken open,
scattered, lying in the dirt.
What use to hold in mind
the words of angels,
the wealthy gifts brought by the wise,
what preparation Simeon’s warning,
when now she sees his agony with her eyes.
But she is not alone, his friend sees too.
John, who writes it down,
bears witness, even here, even so.
They turn their gaze upon each other
and see each other with new eyes –
a mother, and a son.
Gifting them each other –
his one last act of love,
this giving, from an empty cup.
This task of care can be ours too,
to behold each other in our pain,
and in our sorrow, walk each other home

 

Response from Psalm 22: v 9-11

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.

 

Music:  Salt of the Sound – I’ll meet you where you are/Home to you  3 mins 31  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFlXL3cgI6Q

600px-Michelangelo's_Pieta_5450_cut_out_black

Pieta Michelangelo

 

Fourth sentence
Reading (from Matthew 27 45-46)
From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

You felt your generous heart forsaken,
you felt the absence of the one who helps,
who was beside you, in the beginning,
who knew you from before first light.

We know too well the sparseness
of your isolation, without light,
and companionless,
in the darkness of our own long night.
And yet, within our dark, we find you there,
Find you have waited for us long days, and years,
while our poor eyes have
grown accustomed to the dark,
have learned at last to see you through our tears.
So as you know our pain and feel it,
you break our separation with your own.
Help us see the forsaken all around us,
invisible and in darkness, but seen by you.
May we seek each other in the dark,
May we have courage to cry out,
like you, and so be found.

 

Response from Psalm 22: v11, 14

Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint,
my heart is like wax
it is melted within my breast

Music: Casting Crowns  Praise you in this storm 5 mins 3
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YUGwUgBvTU

down_the_well_by_trilogy20-d3azhyz-701x336

Fifth sentence
Reading (from John 19 28)
Knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.”

I thirst

The well is deep, and you have nothing to draw with.
Where now that living water?
Where is that spring within you, gushing up
to fullness of life?
Do you remember, now,
the woman by the well?
Your deepening talk of thirst and water,
as now, again, you humbly ask another for a drink –
this time,
a sponge of sour wine?

Do you remember too, as the taste dries on your lips,
that wedding feast, where water changed to finest wine?
The richness and fullness of that beginning
soured to this cold bitterness.

You are our source, the spring of all our rivers
and still you thirst like us, need help to drink.
And so give us this grace,
that as we do for the least of these,
we may know we do for you.

May we see you
in each thirsty face.

Response from Psalm 22: v 15

My strength is dried up like a potsherd
and my tongue sticks to my jaws
you lay me in the dust of death

 

Music: Taise  O Lord hear my Prayer  7 mins 43
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKyU5BIlxc0

IMG_0592

Sixth sentence
Reading (John 19 29-30)
A  jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”

It is finished.

All things come to an end.
Even pain like this,
Even the anger and the cruelty of a crowd,
of us all,
even the certainty of those so certain
of God they hang a man upon a tree.
Even the punishment and scapegoating
even violence,
even death.

The work is done.
It has all been borne.
You have poured out your love, your life.
You have carried our sorrows, suffered
under our iniquities.

Your head bowed now, you sink
into the final pain of nails,
your body bears no more,
having borne all.
The work is done.

Response from Psalm 22: v 24

For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted.
and he has not hidden his face from him
but has heard, when he cried to him.

Music:  Ola Gjeilo  Ubi Caritas 3 mins 30
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xp3IHBSyZKY

stars in the wood

 

 

Seventh sentence
Reading (from Luke 23 44-49)
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and  the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

 

Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit

There is darkness now, deep darkness,
over the face of the deep,
and no hovering like a brooding bird,
instead, the temple curtain torn in two,
from top to bottom,
and the Holy of Holies empty.

God is not found there,
but here, with this dying man
on a tree,
He calls out father, and talks of hands,
and we remember what his own hands have done,
how many were healed by their touch,
raised up and restored from cruelty and death,
and now, he too will be held in loving hands,
a reconciliation beyond our grasp,
a trust even at this moment of last breath.

Dying, he taught us to die,
dying he brought us life.
May we be reconciled, may we know
at our end, the comfort of those hands.

Response from Psalm 22: v 26

The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied
those who seek him shall praise the Lord
May your hearts live for ever.

Music:  John Tavener Svyati (trans O Holy One)  12 minutes 35
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yssF24v5iBs

Or a traditional hymn, such as When I survey the wondrous cross.

 

salvador dali crucifixion

Detail from – Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) Salvador Dalí 1954
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

AA037808

Held

 

 

Poems – Seven Sentences from the Cross

This year, I had the privilege to be invited to lead a Good Friday meditation for a local group of churches, and began to work on a series of poems to share.

Of course, we can’t now gather together, we can’t share in the way we hoped. As the situation globally has become more serious, more confined, darker, those sentences that Jesus spoke from the cross began to take on more meaning for me.  I felt I could get a little closer to a contemplation of Jesus’ love and suffering, and see it in a new light, or even a new darkness.  These poems, emerging from that contemplation, helped me as I wrote them.  I hope they will help you in reading them, too.   Here then is the fruit of days working in the house.  I thought it might be good to have them all together, quite simply, like this.

In another post, I’ll share with you those poems as part of a structure including music and art, which you might like to use for your own meditations on Good Friday, or to share with others.  I reckon it might take about an hour to work through them, with all the readings.  I will post the link here.

I will try to learn how to make a short YouTube recording of them for Good Friday.  That will follow a simple pattern of Gospel reading, poem, response from a psalm. I anticipate that taking about 15 minutes.  I’ll post that link here if I do!
If you would like to share these poems, or use them in some other way, you are welcome to do so.  Please say where people can find them.

 

elizabeth frink

Elizabeth Frink, Chapel of the Transfiguration, St Edmundsbury Cathedral

 

1

Father forgive them, for they know not what they do

We don’t know what we do,
from the careless word that
starts a fire of anger,
to the careless killing
of a butterfly  –
who knows what
wide effects,
what winds and rains,
begin and end with just one death?

We walk in darkness, so often,
and so often, we close our eyes,
we do not wish to know.
And Jesus, seeing this,
that his life would end
with angry shouts,
with fearful washing of hands,
with indifferent playing of dice,
Knowing all this, even so, he bore
our lawful unthinking violence,
our blundering disregard for consequences.
Another would pay for our actions.

Yet as the ripple of our acts flows out,
through the world, who knows where,
so too, now, flows forgiveness,
following on, spreading and transforming,
watering dry ground, lifting burdens
and carrying them away.

 

2

Truly I say to you today you will be with me in paradise

Even as he hung upon the cross,
even with blood from that false crown
running down, not wiped away,
he saw the two men at his side,

One joined in mocking with the
priests and soldiers,
speaking from his pain,
and one did not, this second kept
his eyes on something else – a hope.

A hope the one he looked on was a king,
and of a kingdom where such things
as crosses are not lifted up,
a hope, even, of an end to death and pain –
this pain, this death.

And, ah, his king begins to speak,
of paradise.
What a world to gift him dying there.
A word of such sweetness, freedom, peace.
See  – clear water flowing, and flowers,
hear the sound of birds, the lazy
buzz of insects, the flutter of their wings.

What a word, at your end, to hold to,
to capture our beginning, once again.
But even more than this,
to be with him, beside the king,
seen and known,
held in the loving gaze of one who
hung up on the cross.
Might this, even this, be paradise?

 

3

Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother

And still he sees, looks down
towards the one who bore him, bearing this,
the pain – not her own pain – worse,
the pain of watching one you love
twisting on those wooden beams,
the nails piercing her own flesh too.

The time has come when all the
treasure of her heart is broken open,
scattered, lying in the dirt.
What use to hold in mind
the words of angels,
the wealthy gifts brought by the wise,
what preparation Simeon’s warning,
when now she sees his agony with her eyes.
But she is not alone, his friend sees too.
John, who writes it down,
bears witness, even here, even so.
They turn their gaze upon each other
and see each other with new eyes –
a mother, and a son.
Gifting them each other –
his one last act of love,
this giving, from an empty cup.
This task of care can be ours too,
to behold each other in our pain,
and in our sorrow, walk each other home

 

4

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

You felt your generous heart forsaken,
you felt the absence of the one who helps,
who was beside you, in the beginning,
who knew you from before first light.

We know too well the sparseness
of your isolation, without light,
and companionless,
in the darkness of our own long night.
And yet, within our dark, we find you there,
Find you have waited for us long days, and years,
while our poor eyes have
grown accustomed to the dark,
have learned at last to see you through our tears.
So as you know our pain and feel it,
you break our separation with your own.
Help us see the forsaken all around us,
invisible and in darkness, but seen by you.
May we seek each other in the dark,
May we have courage to cry out,
like you, and so be found.

 

5

I thirst

The well is deep, and you have nothing to draw with.
Where now that living water?
Where is that spring within you, gushing up
to fullness of life?
Do you remember, now,
the woman by the well?
Your deepening talk of thirst and water,
as now, again, you humbly ask another for a drink –
this time,
a sponge of sour wine?

Do you remember too, as the taste dries on your lips,
that wedding feast, where water changed to finest wine?
The richness and fullness of that beginning
soured to this cold bitterness.

You are our source, the spring of all our rivers
and still you thirst like us, need help to drink.
And so give us this grace,
that as we do for the least of these,
we may know we do for you.

May we see you
in each thirsty face.

6

It is finished.

All things come to an end.
Even pain like this,
Even the anger and the cruelty of a crowd,
of us all,
even the certainty of those so certain
of God they hang a man upon a tree.
Even the punishment and scapegoating
even violence,
even death.
The work is done.
It has all been borne.
You have poured out your love, your life.
You have carried our sorrows, suffered
under our iniquities.

Your head bowed now, you sink
into the final pain of nails,
your body bears no more,
having borne all.
The work is done.

 

7

Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit

There is darkness now, deep darkness,
over the face of the deep,
and no hovering like a brooding bird,
instead, the temple curtain torn in two,
from top to bottom,
and the Holy of Holies empty.

God is not found there,
but here, with this dying man
on a tree,
He calls out father, and talks of hands,
and we remember what his own hands have done,
how many were healed by their touch,
raised up and restored from cruelty and death,
and now, he too will be held in loving hands,
a reconciliation beyond our grasp,
a trust even at this moment of last breath.

Dying, he taught us to die,
dying he brought us life.
May we be reconciled, may we know
at our end, the comfort of those hands.

img_0630

The church at Selworthy Green, looking toward Exmoor

 

These poems owe an enormous debt to many sources.  If you are familiar with the Bible, you may find many resonances, and in some cases quotes.  I haven’t referenced these, in order to keep the flow.
However,  there is one reference I would like to acknowledge here:  in “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I directly quote from R S Thomas’ beautiful poem The Other. 

It is a poem about prayer, and seems very apt to read here.

Jesus said, I Am – for Lent. Chapter 6 – I am the way, the truth and the life.

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This Lent, under the shadow of coronavirus, we are all giving up more than we anticipated.  Some of us are staying inside, perhaps feeling anxious, while others work to care for the sick, and to provide food and essential services for us all.  It’s a time when we need to find new ways of supporting each other, and connecting, as we thought about last week.

As we’re staying indoors at present, I thought I’d share with you some photos taken as we walked the Norfolk Coast Path a couple of years ago.  It’s good to remember beautiful places we’ve been to in the past, and share them, and think about good things we’ll do, with such gratitude, again soon.

I did hear an excellent idea, especially if you have children who are missing their friends and their favourite activities….. Take a large jar, and write down on pieces of paper the names of people you want to see, and things you want to do, as they come to mind and you miss them.  Make it colourful.  You’ll then have a beautiful jar to look at, and a collection of things to really look forward to doing as you pull them out of the jar, one by one, when we are outside again.

We are keeping each other safe, keeping our vulnerable people and our medical people safe, by giving up our going out and doing things.  This is a real act of love.

Back to our Lent series.  Once again, these familiar stories and words of Jesus seem to take on an added depth of meaning as we consider them from inside – inside our homes, inside this strange time we are living through.  Thank you for joining in.  I hope that, by reading and praying together, we may be aware of all that connects us.

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

jesus-washing-his-disciples-feet1

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

 

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 their good – 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.

jesus-washing-his-disciples-feet1

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.

It might be worth opening our minds to consider how often the plagues we see in the Hebrew Scriptures are seen as connected to oppression, inequality and injustice. That’s a big theme, and a diversion from our current study, but it may be worth noticing as we consider what kind of world we want to help make when we do emerge from our time of isolation.

 
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?

For both of the above, we will need to adapt in our current circumstances, and consider acts of service and hospitality even that make space for people, hold patience when people are stressed or afraid, considering new forms of hospitality and connection online.

And below, we will all need to use the option for those who have difficulty getting about.  We can think of ways of doing a virtual pilgrimage with friends, perhaps sharing places that have meant something to us online, and describing the experience.

We can also plan what we would like to do when the time is right.

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.

Take a look after the photos for another suggestion for walking the way….

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These three are taken on a walk near Wandlebury Ring in Cambridgeshire.

Labyrinth

Make a labyrinth.  It could be a large one in the garden, temporary and marked with twis or stones, on a roll of paper or old sheet for indoors, or a small one on paper you could walk with your finger.  Walk it prayerfully, becoming aware of the presence of Jesus with you and you make your way.

Have a look online for suggestions and resources.  This might be a good project for self isolation.

Truth

In the current state of our news and social media, I think this response below 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?

It is also worth considering how much news we consume.  It is important to be well informed, but we can so easily be sucked into relentless news coverage which leaves us feeling passive and afraid.

 

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 – some are taking phone orders and delivering, or order online.

Here are a few suggestions:

The publishers, BRF

Amazon

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Bless you.  Thank you for joining me, and with each other, in this walk.

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Jesus said, I am – for Lent. Chapter 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.

We continue to follow my book.

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Leadership is once again under the spotlight, as we face another global crisis.  This time, a pandemic.  One of the things I have been noticing is that leadership, in some places, is emerging.  People and organisations are taking decisions to protect the old and the vulnerable, even as there is confusion about what to do for the best, and as there are differences among politicians as to how to interpret the science.

Maybe, as you read this, you are restricting your social engagement.  Maybe you normally attend a place of worship, or a community gathering, and are foregoing that for the sake of others, or your own health. One of the differences between this outbreak, and ones in the past, is that our isolation can be less total, that we can meet virtually, and reach out to support each other in difficulties, even when we cannot touch each other.

How to express love and community in a time when touch is problematic, when meeting is difficult or impossible for some, presents real challenges.  But thinking about how we can best support those in our communities – whether physical or on line – gives us an opportunity to perhaps do better, and be more imaginative and thoughtful, than we have before. We can build a slower, gentler, and possibly even more connected and compassionate, way of being community.

This week, we are thinking about the kind of leader Jesus was, especially to those excluded by those people who claimed religious authority.  We hold in mind the woman taken in adultery, and the man born blind, both of whom were part of our earlier reflection on Light.

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SNM128510 Jesus Washing the Feet of his Disciples, 1898 (oil and grisaille on paper) by Edelfelt, Albert Gustaf Aristides (1854-1905) chalk and grisaille on paper 58×47 © Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden Finnish, out of copyright

As we think of the loving actions of Jesus in the picture above, we remember that we can move beyond just knowing how he demonstrated his care , to hearing the invitation to do the same, too.
It is an invitation to a way of life. And one that involves touch, and washing.  It takes some thinking through, how this might look at a time like the present, but such a meditation on the passage below might help us.

 

 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.  Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.  If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.   John 13

 

It’s hard not to immediately call to mind the opposite of this – examples of poor leadership we may have experienced, both personally and as communities and societies – leadership which seems self-interested, and disconnected from the pain and difficulties people experience.  And we do need to acknowledge those things, and bring them into the light.

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

But, as ever, Jesus invites us to examine our own lives and ways of doing things, to think about whether we are acting as good shepherds or not, in our own sphere.

 

 

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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.  We are both sheep and shepherd, just about all of us, in different ways, and at different times of our lives.  We can be cared for, and care, in our turn.

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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The church at Selworthy Green, with Exmoor in the distance

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 marvelous 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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Thank you for your time and attention, for walking this way together.

Jesus said, ‘I Am’ – for Lent. Chapter 3, Light

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Mike Lacey Photography.

Welcome, and welcome back if you are following this Lent journey with me.  Whoever you are, I hope you find something that helps here.  We are now beginning week three by my schedule, and turning our attention to Jesus, the light of the world.  We’ll be continuing to draw on my book, Jesus said, I am – Finding life in the everyday

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“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all peoples.  The light shines in the darkness, and darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:3-4

 

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The days grow longer – each day, we are tipping a little more from darkness to light. I’m watching the plants respond to that light. I even have a few tiny seedlings coming up in my veggie patch.  At this time of year, the connection between light and life is clear, and fills us with hope.

Life and light.

It is often a good idea, particularly in John’s gospel, to look at the first mention, first use of a word or idea.  And often the roots of his themes are found in his opening words, the prologue.  But that prologue in itself carries echoes of something earlier, it takes us back to the very beginning of Genesis, where light is the first form spoken into being.

It starts with light. The things that live and grow on the Earth, our home, all depend on  light.  We cannot live without it.

And so when Jesus says he is the light of the world, we have a sense that these words are life-giving, momentous.  They speak of something we need every day, and yet the physics of light  – what light is – is hard for most of us to grasp.

“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” John 1:9.

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As the gospel stories are told, we hear Jesus saying I am the light of the world twice, and both times it’s at a turning point for someone, a moment which changes everything for them.  So once again we see that something that seems perhaps high and exalted, beyond our understanding, is revealed in the deep reality of our lived experience.

Jesus first says, “I am the light of the world”, in a very dark place.  The setting was the Feast of Tabernacles, or Booths, when the huge candlestick was lit at the temple, and the light from it was seen in Jerusalem’s streets……..

They [the religious leaders] seem to be policing the celebrations while Jesus is teaching in the temple, an eager crowd listening to him.  The religious leaders bring a woman before Jesus, caught in adultery, and ask Jesus if she should be stoned as the law demands.  The woman, whose life hangs in the balance, doesn’t seem to be of much concern. At this this challenge, Jesus does something remarkable. He shows us a different way of seeing, a different way we can think about the law.

The law can be used to judge and condemn another, or it can be used to throw light on our own hearts and motives.

“”Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”” John 8:7

…….

with the stones lying on the ground, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” for the first time. It is an active sentence – of following and walking, and even the light is the light of life.

It is easier to walk forward, into new life, when we can see the way.

The second time Jesus said it is better known – and that’s in a conversation before the man born blind.

“It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.  We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” John 9:3-5

We see some parallels between this story and that of the woman who was not stoned – in both cases, people seem most concerned about pointing the finger, apportioning blame.  Jesus does not do this.  He sees with clear-sighted compassion, not naively, but looking with the light of love, and looking for God’s work of healing and restoring.

Jesus did not go looking for sin and guilt, and did not apportion blame.  Human pain is, rather, the place where God’s work is to be done.

…..

God seems to specialise in the transformation of bad things. It is the resurrection power, to redeem, restore, make new.  What is more, it seems that the work is not God’s alone:  ‘We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work’.
There is a ‘we’ in that sentence…. So the challenge is not to judge, but to join in with God’s work.  God longs for us to act, as partners.  What an extraordinary thought! The hope is that when we are in hopeless and most desperate situations, like the man born blind, like the woman, we can encounter the glory and mercy of God.  We are open to the possibility of transformation.  Once again, Jesus’ language is full of action. ‘Work’ is the key repeated word.

 

Night is coming for Jesus, and this is his response – to give sight to the blind.

 

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We act now to lift the darkness we can.  We work while it is light.  This theme emerges again in the story of the raising of Lazarus (11:9-16). Light and work go together – and the work is the transformation of suffering and death, sin and despair, into hope and life.  It is the bursting out of a new dawn, a new light to live by. This is the life-light in action: the glory-light that is found in the strangest places.

Can we notice this life-light, the light of Christ?  Can we learn to see in its loving clarity? We know that if we turn towards light, like the plants, we will grow and grow well.

 

Reflection and Response

Oh, God, who spoke and light came into being, may we forever dwell in the brightness of knowing you.

May we bring the light of Christ to those in darkness,
may we chase away the shadows with hope and love,
may we hold a lamp for feet that stumble,
may we too be lights in the world.

 

The account of the woman and the stones we considered briefly above invites us to look at our own hearts and behaviour.  Lent is a good time for self-examination.

Quaker light meditation

The light of love and grace transforms our seeing.

The Society of Friends have various pamphlets available to help introduce the practices of meditation and silent prayer.  These are usually undertaken together, as a group, and the meditation below can be done alone or with others.  The words in inverted commas are those of George Fox, founder of Quakers, 1624-1691.  Many of the others are a paraphrase.  Again, you may wish to begin this in darkness, or use a small light or candle to focus.

Look Inside  “Your teacher is within you.  Mind what is pure in you to guide you to God” – remember the work of the Spirit within you.

2 Identify the light  “Now this is the Light with which you are lighted, which shows you when you do wrong.”  When you bring yourself into the light, you see your troubles, your temptations and your wrongdoings.

3  Let the light show you yourself “Mind the pure light of God in you” which shows the things in you that are not light: let your conscience be stirred.  Let the light of Jesus Christ search you.  Do not be afraid.  It is the light of love.

Trace the light to its source  Stand in God’s counsel, learn from the light that “you may be led forth in his life and likeness.” God is restoring God’s image in you.

5 Trust the light to show you the alternative.  Have courage to stand still in the light: it is the light of your saviour.  If you look at your sin, you are swallowed up in it, so look to the light by which you see it instead, and let your focus be on the source.

Feel the new life grow  “He who follows the light comes to have the light of life.” The Lord has sown a seed in you that lies shut up in the darkness, with winter storms about it.  He sends his light to the seed, that with time the new life will grow.

7 See other people in the light  “As you abide in the light, the life-light, you will see the kinship that is amongst you, for in the light no self-will, no mastery can stand.”  We are all equal before the light.

See the world in the light  This light lets you see all the world as it is, and keeps you mindful of God.

Learn to love in the light  Standing in the eternal power and light of God, we have strength to love those who persecute and wrong us; we have light enough to shed light on the paths of those who are against us.  This is how we learn to love.

Prayerful reading – for yourself or others
If you find yourself in a dark place, read through the stories again –  the woman with the stones, the man born blind.  Notice the depth of the pain these two were experiencing, and the easy condemnation.  Notice how Jesus responds. Notice how his presence transforms things.  Bring your situation into the light of life,  inviting Jesus, the light of the world, into your dark place.  Allow yourself to lay aside worry, and be lit and warmed by the love that waits for you. Stay in that place for a while.
You can bring someone you love, or a situation, before God in this same way.

Creative
Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.  Emily Dickinson
Photography, light-writing.  Why not take on a photography project, perhaps one of these every day for a week, or take a camera/phone with you wherever you go.
Light-sources in your home/community
Reflections and light effects
the same object or view at different times, in different light.
The same subject using various filters.
You could print off any you like, to pin up, or make into “sending you light” cards.

Living from a place of light.

Jesus calls us not to judge, and yet reminds us to know a tree by its fruit.

Can we develop the discipline of looking at ourselves and others with a clear-sighted vision, which sees truly and yet does not condemn?
This week, seek to lay aside harsh judgements.  Perhaps we can seek to learn lovingkindness even in situations of hostility.  Kindness to ourselves means we can keep ourselves safe, kindness to others means we do not need to condemn or retaliate.
Perhaps we can begin our own move towards light in the way we interact with each other on line.

Social Media .  Think about the arguments  in these chapters [of John’s gospel], and compare them to those you encounter on social media and comments sections online.  How can we respond in a way which is more like Jesus?  How can we be light in this particular dark place?

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Scatter the darkness in our hearts, that we may be children of light.

 

I wrote a poem as darkness fell while I was sitting on the beach.  You can read the poem, Light, here.

A prayer for the opening of the eyes (to be said throughout the day)
May I see signs of your kingdom springing up like seeds, working like yeast in the dough.

Thank you.  Next week, we’ll be looking at the Shepherd and the Gate.

 

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

Jesus said, ‘I Am’ – for Lent. Chapter 2, Bread

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The Little Free Pantry  at St Andrew’s Melton. A community food sharing project.

John 6:1-15, 25-35

We are following my book for Lent – thank you for joining me.  I hope you find it helps.

As Lent begins, we think of the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness, and the hunger and temptations he faced there.

Matthew 4:1-11

The first of these was to turn stones into bread, so it seems good to think about this first of the traditional I Am sayings at the beginning of Lent. Those two occasions of considering bread, or not, in the wilderness – the temptation, and the feeding of the five thousand – offer interesting contrasts.  You might like to hold them both in your mind as we proceed, seeing what light they might throw on each other.

Jesus fed a hungry crowd.  They had followed him to a remote place by the lake, where there was nowhere for them to get food.  There, he gave them bread to sustain them, and later he said he himself was bread – bread that came down from heaven, the bread of the life of the world.  Not surprisingly, they were mystified.

Some may be fasting during Lent, and this idea of following Jesus to a remote place, and finding that Jesus is bread, is coming to be your experience.  Maybe, imagining yourself into the story,  you see yourself as one of the hungry crowd.  Maybe you are one of the hungry crowd. Maybe lack of food is not a chosen discipline, but your economic experience.

At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus spent time in the wilderness where he fasted, prayed and was tempted.  One of the temptations the hungry Jesus faced was turning stones into bread.  Jesus answers, “It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God””….. but as Jesus answers the temptation we are reminded of a deep thread in Hebrew thought – that the wisdom, the mind of God, the Word, nourishes and sustains us like food….. God feeds us like bread.  This way of seeing helps us remember that our inbuilt need for God is a deep hunger.

In Jesus, tempted in the wilderness, we see a paradox.  Jesus, this Word made flesh, feels hunger like us, needs bread like us.  Now, astonishingly, after this feeding of the hungry people, he says that he is bread, and that he will be broken for us.  This Word made flesh has become bread for us…..

Knowing that there is more than one sort of hunger, that the hunger of our hearts and souls is real too, does not mean that the hunger of the body is less important.  Jesus feeds the hungry people.  He feeds all of them.

Firstly, we notice who was fed: everyone, all that multitude.  Here we see the extravagant generosity of Jesus, and the extent of human need.  Bread was given to all the hungry people who were in the crowd: there is no payment, no worthiness criteria, no belief criteria in this feeding; simply, if you come, you will be fed.

All who need it receive bread.

The tradition of fasting in Lent was always coupled with acts of service.  As we think about hunger – our own, and others – we can think too of ways of feeding that hunger.  There is an abundance and a generosity in this story of feeding so many that can liberate us into our own giving. We think of the small child who gave the little he had.

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And so, we see what Jesus does with the little he has been given by a child: he takes it in his hands, gives thanks, and then gives it away…… He gives thanks for the little he holds before it is enough.  This is another practice we can engage with: thanksgiving.  It is a powerful way of shifting us from a perspective of scarcity and anxiety to one of gratitude, of noticing the good and the blessing and the small loaves among so many hungry people. …..

Jesus models many things here for his followers: compassion for the hungry, a desire to help, seeing much in little and giving thanks.  After all have eaten, Jesus tells the disciples to gather all the broken fragments up, and there are twelve basketfuls.  Nothing is wasted………..

As we seek to find ways of living out these I Am sayings, perhaps we too can be a people who gather up the broken pieces, so that nothing and no one is wasted and lost.  It humbles us, it involves us stooping and searching for each broken thing.  By gathering the broken, we are following Jesus’ instruction and example.  The kingdom is the very opposite of a throwaway society.

 

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Reflection and Response

Enough, not enough?

Sometimes we can look at the little we have at our disposal, and the greatness of the needs we see, and be overwhelmed.  Look at the exchange between Andrew and Jesus. What have you to offer? Where do you feel a lack? Meditate on this scene, bringing objects that represent what you have and where you feel a lack, and lay them before you.  Use words and paper if more practical.  Ask Jesus to bless them and give thanks for them.

Make a practice of always doing the little you can, and asking Jesus to bless it and multiply it.  What do you notice as you do so?

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If you have done the meditation above, and you have considered that you may have some financial resources, or cooking ability, you might like to move to the next activity.  If not, feel free to adapt to find some way to be generous – giving attention, a smile, a blessing, can transform things.
If you feel very empty right now, do think on the hunger of the crowd, and how they were fed.  It is good to ask for what you need.

Bread for a hungry world: social action
Feeding people was a sign of God’s kingdom.  How can we live that out where we are – open-handed – thankful for what we receive, ready to share? Perhaps there are food banks or homeless people near you for whom you  can buy food.  Perhaps you can cook and share what you have made. Perhaps you can support a charity that feeds the hungry.

If you are fasting from any  sort of food, you could consider buying it anyway and putting it in the food bank.  Our little local Co-op supermarket has a collection box for the Salvation Army.  Our church porch has a Little Free Pantry – simply a set of shelves that anyone is free to donate to, and receive from, at any time.  It’s easy to set one up. You can find out more following the link under the picture at the top of this post.

Let nothing be wasted.
Set yourself a challenge for the week: to avoid waste, especially food waste.

 

Think about these three things, and how to make them your practice this week:
gratitude, generosity, avoiding waste.

 

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Vincent Van Gogh

You might like to extend your reading with thinking about The Sower and the Seed or small seeds from the Sunday Retold series.

A blessing for food from Prayers and Verses

Lord Jesus, who broke bread beside the lake and all were fed,
thank you for feeding us.
Lord Jesus, who asked his disciples to pass food to the crowds,
may we do the same.
Lord Jesus, who saw to it that all the spare food was gathered,
may we let no good thing go to waste.
Lord Jesus, who gave thanks,
we thank you now.

 

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

 

A link to Malcolm Guite’s thoughtful sonnet on this saying can be found here.

Jesus said, ‘I Am’ – for Lent. Chapter 1, the woman at the well.

 

The bible scene with Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman shows signs of damage and peeling of paint

Mural by  Emmanuel Nsama

If you are following my Book for Lent, welcome! I hope you find it helps.
If you’d like to begin at the very beginning, you could take a look at the chapter on Moses, and the burning bush – the first I Am. You can find a link to my post about that here.

 

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John 4:1-30, 39-42

It may seem a strange place to start, with this deep conversation that is not normally mentioned as one of the I AM sayings – and indeed, it isn’t one of the classic seven.  However, it is a story which has intrigued me for years, and when I found that this is the place where Jesus first says “I am”, I wanted to explore it more fully.  It is the longest recorded conversation Jesus has with one other person – and it is with someone who was on the other side of so many cultural barriers.

At a time when our politics is increasingly divided and divisive, where people box each other into categories, and make some lesser than others, this is a particularly relevant conversation.

John the Evangelist prepares us for this story very carefully, for it is profoundly counter-cultural. Jesus stops to rest near the plot of ground that Jacob gave his son Joseph. Jacob’s other name was Israel – one who wrestles with God. We are going back to Israel’s common spring, common source, at Jacob’s well. We are being reminded of a time long ago, before the time when and the Jews and Samaritans became peoples who saw themselves as separate. It is a place that holds meaning and memory for Jews and Samaritans – of their common father, and their common salvation story. John is placing us on common ground……

I think it is no coincidence that John begins this story by setting it against an atmosphere of potential conflict – between cousins, between related nations. We see Jesus acting out his mission to be a peacemaker, a reconciler. “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” Eph 2:14. Jesus himself is common ground, and his presence changes things. If we look carefully at how we are prepared for this encounter, we can see that we are being led away from conflict, towards reconciliation, to inclusion, and to hope…….

And so, as Jesus waits by the well in the heat of the day, a woman approaches.  We can only imagine what it must have been like for her, in a culture where a woman could be divorced “for any and every reason” (Matt 19:3). We often think of her as one utterly disgraced in her community, having to visit the well at such a time.  That may be so, but we must remember that at this time divorces were easy for a man to come by and early death not uncommon.  Whatever her circumstances, she must have known more than her share of tragedy and disappointment.  She may have known deep shame and disgrace.  She may well have been a rejected member of a rejected community.

And yet she, like everyone else, gets thirsty and needs water to drink and water to wash with.  She is as human as everyone else.  So often, we do not see people like this.  So often, we make quick judgements, build fences, wonder about people’s worthiness and, in our own pride and insecurity, seek to feel superior, chosen, righteous in some way.  Not so Jesus.

His question bursts through all our categories and barriers in its gentleness, its humanity.  It is a question that changes everything for this woman, and for her community.

“Will you give me a drink?”

Jesus humbly admits his own thirst, his own need.  If we have heard the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:31-46), this question may have a deep resonance for us, for there Jesus says that whoever gives a thirsty person water, gives it to him.  This story in John gives us a way of thinking about the needs before us.  How would we respond – how do we respond – if a stranger asks us for a drink?

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And from the Reflection and Response section.

Pour out a jug of water and set it before you, together with a glass.
Ask yourself what you thirst for.  Allow honest answers to emerge and note them.  Where does your life feel dry and unproductive?  What would help?

 

“I was thirsty and you gave me a drink”
….If you buy drinks out, perhaps you could fast from one or two a week, and give the money to a charity instead………

You could carry extra bottles of water to give to the homeless or buy tea or coffee for those you encounter and drink with them.  I have gift vouchers for coffee shops in my bag to pass on………

 

 

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Think about this picture – look at the two trees, and the fence.
Where do you find connection in your life, and where separateness?
Are there ways you can reach across divides?
Pray for wisdom.  Remember how Jesus slipped away from potential conflict with the religious leaders.

“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” Eph 2:14.
What comes to mind as you meditate on this verse? Does it speak into an particular situation for you?

 

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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This blog post also draws on the Sunday Retold series.

Thank you for sharing this time with me.

 

Jesus said, ‘I Am’ – for Lent. Getting started

 

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Here in the UK, our late winter weather seems brutal.  This is not what we expect for February, and many people are beginning this season with the heartbreak of seeing their homes flooded.  This Lent, the Archbishop is encouraging us to take seriously the call to tend and care for the living earth.

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We are all increasingly aware of the fragility of the natural world, as well as its beauty, and the response sections of my book pick up these themes and give some practical suggestions for ways we can move towards greater connection, and greater care, of the living earth.  I am so glad to hear various groups, churches, and groups of churches are going to use my book as guide through Lent, and, if you would like to follow, you can find a suggested programme here.

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Each week I’ll share with you a little from the relevant chapter.  This week, it’s from the first – I am: Moses and Abraham.  It’s short, so I hope you’ll be able to find time to read it together.  If not, we’ll begin next week with The Woman at the Well.

Moses and I Am
Exodus 3:1-14

 

John’s gospel looks back to Moses’ ancient story, recording for us how Jesus called himself by this name – “I am”.  This name, which emerged from a burning bush so long ago, is one of the most identifiable features of John’s account. It resonated with his early readers and listeners in Greek Ephesus, and it stirs our imagination even today, millennia later.  Before we go deep into John’s account, and explore why that may be, we will look back to Moses’ story and see what we understand of this earliest “I am”.

…….

Nothing is wasted in God’s economy.  God used the rubbish – and the good – in Moses’ upbringing and his life as a shepherd.  He became ideally suited to his task.  As well as his circumstances and experience, God used his character; in this case, a sense of justice and an indignation at bullies.  What must have felt like failure and a downwards path was the place where Moses encountered God.

We do not know if he was seeking God when God appeared.  We do know that he was in the middle of his everyday, working life, and that God did something strange to arrest his attention, awaken his curiosity, draw him nearer.  Attention and curiosity can guide you, can awaken you to God in the burning bushes we pass every day.

Moses certainly didn’t seem to looking for a job, let alone a great mission.  It is easy to read his rather thin excuses and wonder why he spent so long arguing.  His unwillingness to respond seems to come from uncertainty.

Moses is uncertain about himself, and he is uncertain about God.

“Nothing is wasted in God’s economy” – can we live from this realisation?  Can we acknowledge that even very difficult things can be fuel for something better?
Can we work to eliminate wasteful ways of living?

And from the Reflection and Response section

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God.
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

As you start your day, pray for open eyes to see where God may be at work, or may be seeking to catch your attention today.  Set off with open eyes, a camera and a notepad.  Record anything that draws your attention.  At the end of the day, mull over what you have recorded in prayer.  What did you see?

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

Here are a few suggestions:

The publishers, BRF

Amazon

 

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Thank you for joining me in your reading.  There is more to come…..

Advent 4 – Love – Christmas Readings

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It’s getting close now….
It’s nearly midwinter, nearly the shortest day….
It’s nearly Christmas.

And I want to give my attention to the story, to let the wonder of it seep through me, and there is a pile of ironing, and things in the kitchen that need attention, even though I am keeping things simple, even though.

It’s easy to feel the darkness closing in, even though there are lights and music flashing and blaring out there. In here, it’s cosy, and the sun is setting already. I will hold on to the wonder of love being born among us, even though the circumstances could hardly have been less promising – for circumstances are never quite what we hoped, and there’s the lesson. To look deeper than circumstance. To make a courageous decision to hold on to hope, and peace, and joy, and love, even though. For these things are real, and true, and enough. These things are golden strands, woven through the dark fabric.. It is where they can be found. And the One who is coming will light the way, and scatter the darkness, and hold out a helping hand.

I’ll hold on to the message of “Love came down at Christmas”, and light my candles in the fading light, and watch the rain clouds sweep across the sky, rain falling on all of us, just the same.

Perhaps later, the skies will clear, and we’ll see the stars.

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You can find out more about the candle ring, and the words around it, here.

From The Bible Retold

The Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, had ordered a census throughout the whole empire, when all the people would be counted, and taxed. The orders spread along straight Roman roads, and were proclaimed first in the white marble cities and ports, and then in the towns and villages of the countryside.

Even quiet Nazareth heard the news, and Mary and Joseph began to gather together their belongings, ready to travel to Bethlehem. That was Joseph’s family home: he was descended from King David, of Bethlehem. They set off south on the crowded road, for the whole empire was travelling. But, for Mary, the journey was especially hard, and the road seemed never ending. It was nearly time for her baby to be born.

At last they came to Bethlehem, but it was not the end of their troubles. The city was noisy, bustling, and heaving with crowds, and Joseph searched anxiously for somewhere quiet for Mary to rest – her pains were beginning, and the baby would be born that night. The inn was already full of travellers, and the only place for them was a stable. There, among the animals, Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him up tightly in swaddling bands and laid him in a manger full of hay. Then, she rested next to the manger, smiling at the baby’s tiny face.

There were shepherds who lived out on the hills nearby – the same hills where King David had once watched over the flocks, long ago. The sheep were sleeping in their fold under the shining stars, while the shepherds kept watch. Their fire flickered and crackled, and the lambs would bleat for their mothers, but they were the only sounds. All was peaceful. All was well.

Suddenly, right there in the shepherd’s simple camp, appeared and angel of the Lord, shining with God’s glory and heaven’s brightness. The shepherds gripped each other in terror, their skin prickling with fright.
“Don’t be afraid, I’m bringing you good news – it will bring joy to all people!” The shepherds listened, awestruck, their faces glowing with the angel’s light. “This is the day the good news begins, and this is the place. In the town of David, a saviour has been born. He is Christ, the Anointed One, the one you have been waiting for. And this is the sign that these words are true: you will find a baby wrapped tightly in swaddling bands, lying in a manger.”

The shepherds watched as light was added to light, voice to voice, until they were surrounded by a dazzling, heavenly host of angels, all praising God and saying
“Glory! Glory to God in the highest,
And on the earth be peace!”

And then, in an instant, the angels were gone, and the shepherds were left in dark night shadows, listening to the sound of a distant wind. But their eyes still shone with heaven’s light.
“Let’s go and see for ourselves!” they called to one another as they raced over the dark, rocky fields to Bethlehem. There, they found Mary and Joseph, and, just as the angel had said, they found the baby wrapped tightly in swaddling bands and lying in a manger. They saw him with their own eyes, and spread the angel’s message to all they met.
“The Promised One has come! The Christ, the Anointed One, has been born!” The angel’s words were on everyone’s lips that night in Bethlehem. And, as the shepherds made their way back to their sheep, bursting with good news, Mary kept their words safe, like treasures, in her heart.

And from Prayers and Verses

Love came down at Christmas
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
Christina Rosetti
1830-94

O God,
be to me
like the evergreen tree
and shelter me in your shade,
and bless me again
like the warm gentle rain
that gives life to all you have made.

Based on Hosea 14:4-8

The Little Christmas Tree

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

Have a peaceful and joyful Christmas, and thank you so much for giving your time to read this blog

Advent 3 – Joy

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Mary by David Wynne, Lady Chapel, Ely Cathedral

I love this contemporary statue of Mary in the ancient setting of Ely Cathedral’s Lady Chapel.  I love the bright, pure colours of blue and gold, which are probably  much closer to the original look than the current mellow stone.  Most of all, I love her stance.  It is open, powerful, ready to receive the extraordinary gift that was promised her.  It is joyful – with a joy that acknowledges the reality of the difficulties to come, I feel.

Once again, this week, we have a powerful word – Joy – as our theme.  Once again, we are aware that our immediate circumstances may not point to joy, but to sadness, or anxiety, or emptiness.  Once again, we see examples in the stories of Christmas where people have faced great difficulty, as Mary must have done with her unexplained pregnancy. The consequences for her of saying “Yes” could have led to rejection, abandonment, or even death. She does not overlook the huge difficulty, but goes through it, beyond it, to the bigger move of God, the higher purpose her life is serving.  She does this through her own choosing, her active acceptance, of the role the angel gives her.   It is a radical, open, trust, which Wynne’s statue of Mary captures so well. She also does it through seeking out her cousin Elizabeth.  With Elizabeth, also unexpectedly with child, she has someone who might be able to understand her strange predicament, and help her come to terms with what has been promised.  The two women – one too young, the other too old, could nurture and support each other, both giving and receiving, as the time came for Elizabeth to give birth.

Here too is a route to joy – the presence of another.  We are promised that God will not leave us, and we often find that another flesh and blood person embodies the love and care of God for us.  It must have been so good for Mary and Elizabeth to share those three months together. Perhaps, we too can offer some companionship to each other – simply being present, simply listening, simply understanding.

Here is the story, from my book The Bible Retold

Among the fields and vineyards of Nazareth, in Galilee, lived a girl named Mary.  She was soon to be married to Joseph, a carpenter, who could trace his family back to David, the shepherd king.

Then, one day, astonishing news burst into Mary’s quiet, hopeful life.  The angel Gabriel came to her with a message.
“God is with you, Mary!” Mary gasped, and fell to her knees.  “Don’t be afraid. God smiles on you!” The angel spoke the astounding words gently, lovingly. “You will have a son and name him Jesus.  He will be called great – the Son of the Most High God! The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David, and his kingdom will never end!”

For a moment there was silence, as Gabriel’s words filled the air – and Mary’s mind. “But how can this be, as I am not yet married?” Mary asked.
“God’s Holy Spirit will enfold you.  Your child will be holy.  Even Elizabeth, from your own family, is going to have a child, despite her age! She is now in her sixth month.  So you see, nothing is impossible with God!”

Mary raised her eyes to Gabriel’s face. “I am God’s servant. Let it be as you say.” And the angel let her alone, her mind spinning with the strange words.

Then Mary thought of Elizabeth. “The angel knew all about her – I must go to her.” She got ready, and set off quickly for Elizabeth’s home in Judea to the south, near Jerusalem.

As soon as she arrived at the house, she hurried to Elizabeth and took her hands.  At the sound of Mary’s voice, the baby leaped inside Elizabeth, and the Holy Spirit filled her.  She understood at once what had happened to Mary.

“You are blessed among all women, and blessed is your unborn child!” she said. “Why have I been so honoured? Why should the mother of my Lord God come to visit me?” Elizabeth laughed, and put Mary’s hand on her belly. “You see how my child leaps for joy at the sound of your voice?”

Then, Mary speaks out extraordinary words, which in turn echo the words of Hannah when she said goodbye to her long-awaited son, Samuel (I Samuel 2)  You can read Mary’s words in my previous post here.

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And so begins the journey of one called Lord God by Elizabeth into human flesh – not too pure and holy to found among frail humanity, not too great to be nurtured in the womb of a young woman, and born into uncertain poverty.  One who set up home on this earth, and opened our eyes to see heaven here, even here.

We thank you for being born among us,
sharing with us what it is to be human.
we thank you for showing us a way to live,
full of grace and truth.
Light up our path, and let us walk with you.

From John 1

From Prayers and Verses

 

 

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Advent ring from the good folk at Chapel in the fields. If you’d like to know more about the words, you can find out at my previous post.

 

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