I’m reposting in time for Pentecost Sunday.
Wind and fire – two of the ways people have tried to describe the Spirit.
As we approach Pentecost Sunday, I am sharing with you some readings and a poem. Please feel free to use them if they help you, saying where they are from.
Firstly, a reading from my book The Bible Retold
From the fields it came: the first sheaf of barley cut for that year’s harvest. It was carried high through streets crammed with visitors, and on to the Temple. And then the priest offered it to God, giving thanks for the good land, and for the gift of harvest. For that day was the celebration of the first fruits. It was Pentecost.
Meanwhile, the disciples were all together, waiting. Then, suddenly, it began. It stared with sound – a sound like the wind – but this was no gentle harvest breeze. This was a shaking and a roaring: a sound of power, whooshing and howling about the house, rattling every door and shutter. The sound seemed to come down from heaven itself, and filled the house as the wind fills sails. Then, the disciples watched wide-eyed as something that looked like fire came down, and tongues of flame peeled off it and rested on each of them without burning them. All of them were filled, for the Holy Spirit had come. And as it happened, their tongues were loosened, and they began to speak as the Spirit gave them words. These words were not Aramaic, their own language, but in languages that were unknown to them.
A crowd had gathered by the house because of the extraordinary sound, but then they heard voices. There were pilgrims in Jerusalem from all over the known world, and they recognized the words the disciples were speaking.
“He’s talking Egyptian!” said one.
“That one’s talking my language,” said a visitor from Crete – and the same was true for all. Each person heard God’s praises in their own tongue.
“What can it mean?” they asked each other. But others among the crowd joked that the disciples had been drinking.
The Twelve heard what they were saying, so Simon Peter stood up to speak to the crowds.
“Listen, I’ll tell you what’s happening. We’re not drunk! It’s too early in the day for that! This is God’s promise come true. Do you remember what one of the prophets wrote long ago?
I’ll pour out my Spirit on everyone – young and old.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
young men will have visions, and old men dreams.
All who follow me – men and women – will
be given my Spirit, and there will be wonders!
And in response, some prayers from Prayers and Verses
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours, no feet but yours…
Yours are the feet with which he is to go
about doing good,
and yours are the hands with which he is to
bless us now.
St Theresa of Avila 1515-82
Spirit of God
put love in my life.
Spirit of God
put joy in my life.
Spirit of God
put peace in my life.
Spirit of God
make me patient.
Spirit of God
make me kind.
Spirit of God
make me good.
Spirit of God
give me faithfulness.
Spirit of God
give me humility.
Spirit of God
give me self-control.
From Galatians 5:22–23
When I’m retelling stories from the Bible, I often spend time before them quietly, sinking into the story, wondering what it would have been like to have been there, to have seen and heard and felt….. As well as the retelling, this poem emerged from that process of contemplation.
How would it feel, then, to live
in that God-shaken house?
To feel the wind,
like the very breath of life,
like the stirring of the
deep before time,
gusting through these small
daily rooms, clattering and pressing
against doors and shutters,
not to be contained?
How would it feel to look up, eyes
dried by wind-force,
and see fire falling, flames bright
and crackling, and resting with
heat that does not burn on each
To be blown open
with wild reckless joy
as words tumble out into
the clear singing light?
It would feel like this,
it feels like this,
and it is still only morning.
Acts 2 1-4
This post draws on the series Sunday Retold
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
As lent begins, we think of the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness, and the hunger and temptations he faced there.
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.
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 he 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.
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?
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.
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.
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:
A link to Malcolm Guite’s thoughtful sonnet on this saying can be found here.
It’s only a week till publication day – 18th January. It is a strange that these thoughts that have been circling round my head for quite a few years now, will soon be released, to make their own way in the world, launched. They will have different work to do then, and will be enriched by the responses of those who read them.
I’ve already shared with you some of my thinking on this chapter in the Sunday Retold series – a while ago now. You can read that here. If you do, you will find some suggestions which have become items in the Reflection and Response section of the chapter, and get a flavour of that, too.
Although we tend not to notice in our translations, it seems to me very significant that the first time John records Jesus saying I Am is here, in Samaria, to someone outside our usual narrative of God’s favour.
So, here is a small snippet from the story of the unnamed woman who met Jesus in the heat of the day.
Perhaps she will come to see that Jesus is the gift, and he has living water. We are going deeper now. Living, life-giving, flowing water in a hot land, to a parched and weary soul, is life itself. It is a daily necessity and a joy. We know that in John, there is often an association between water and Spirit. Jesus’ previous encounter, with Nicodemus, reveals that. The Spirit can be to us as water on a parched land, softening, enlivening, refreshing and freeing the seeds locked in dry husks, so they grow and flourish and flower.
This encounter, which stared with a request for water, has become the source, the spring, of transformation that changed a whole community. Jesus gives value to a person, and to a whole people, who were despised. Here, in the heat of the day, they were offered fresh, life-giving water. And they drank from this new well
If you’d like a copy, you can ask your local bookshop, or order online.
Here are a few suggestions:
As we are drawing to the end of Advent, and nearly at the shortest day, I thought I would share with you a few extracts to steady us in our Christmas preparations. If you are feeling too busy and burdened, or not busy enough and on the edges of things, it can help to turn our attention to the Christmas message of light coming into darkness, of hope and new life emerging in the most unpromising of circumstances.
May you have a peaceful and blessed Christmas, wherever you are.
From Prayers and Verses
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
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him –
Give my heart.
Christina Rosetti 1830-1894
Also from Prayers and Verses, a poem I wrote as a child.
The dawn is breaking, the snow is making
everything shimmer and glimmer and white.
The trees are towering, the mist is devouring
all that is in the reaches of sight.
A bell is ringing, the town is beginning,
slowly, gradually, to come to life.
A candle is lighted, and all are excited,
for today is the ending of all man’s strife.
The light is coming into the world.
Please feel free to use the extracts, saying where they are from.
Sharing a reading and prayers for this Sunday – Pentecost.
Peace and Joy to you!
Picture Source: Jyoti Sahi
We celebrate Pentecost this weekend, and the story continues its extraordinary movement outwards. Last week, it was Ascension, when Jesus left the disciples. They were still thinking in terms of their own people, and Jesus showed them an ever widening perspective (Acts 1:6-9)
Now, we see how God continues to open and include. It seems that all those gathered together (1:14-15) were part of the great outpouring of the Spirit, and the impact on the listeners suggests God was at work beyond even those. The barriers between us of race, gender, nationality, language, youth and age, are being broken down, moving us towards a deep unity (Col 1:17, Gal 3:28). No wonder the whole house was filled with a great sound! This is powerful and much needed work.
We notice how the barrier of language is overcome. We notice that God’s priority is not to change…
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Some simple readings for today.
A simple reading and prayers for this Holy Friday
Please feel free to use any of my material that helps you, saying where it is from
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…
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Part of the Sunday Retold series – for the first Sunday of the Christmas Season.The readings many churches will be following this week are Matthew 2:13-23 and Isaiah 63:7-9
Today, 28th December, is also the day the church remembers those who suffer in the Matthew story – the children who are killed at Herod’s order, and all those who weep for them.
It is one of the hardest stories to read in the gospels – that of Herod’s terrible plan to put to death all the tiny boys in Bethlehem. It calls to mind Pharaoh’s instructions that all the newborn boys should be killed, and that calling to mind is no accident (Exodus 1). Matthew’s account is full of reference to the earlier story. The family run to Egypt, across the wilderness, later to retrace the journey, like a second Moses. All these elements of Israel’s suffering and…
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