Wounded by love

Father may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word Jesus Christ our Lord.

Everything feels a little bleak. Yesterday’s news has affected so many people. When I look on my social media I see so many voices crying out in hurt and pain. Many feel there is nothing left of Christmas. Yet here we stand on the fourth Sunday of Advent looking towards the crib and the stable where Jesus was born and laid.

When Mary approached the stable after that long journey I doubt she was surprised by the way her son was going to be brought into the world. The message of her pregnancy came with a promise, “that nothing was impossible with God” and we hear those words spoken by Angel Gabriel in the gospel today.

It is in the darkness where we are reminded of the deep body shaking promise of God. The labour if you like of our own embodiment of Jesus inside of us.

Mary had to empty herself of her self to make room for God to work, for the Holy Spirit to come upon her and fill her. Mary’s yes changed the world, heaven and earth kissed on the night of Jesus’ birth with the lips of a new mother on her warm newborn son.

The wood in the crib through her yes turns into the wood of the cross, the deeply linked joy and sorrow that is the Christian life, the life that Jesus walked on earth, instructing his disciples to leave their own wants and needs and to follow him because he will fill them with everything they will ever need.

Mary understood this from the very beginning. She raised Jesus in the scriptures, she taught him to walk, talk, eat, all things a mother does. And in those final steps towards the stable like we are doing right now, she held on tight to the promise spoke by angelic voice, for nothing is impossible with God.

This emptying of self by Mary by her yes, is what Jesus did on the cross through his yes, the cost and sacrifice of love, all of us who are feeling that way today,

We are wounded by love.

Mary’s heart was pierced as she saw her son pierced on the cross.

We are all wounded by love in some way.

Today those wounds of saying yes to love become real in the journey towards the stable. Soon the labour pains which give birth to love begin to surge, my own body remembers and aches with the knowledge of childbirth as I think of Mary pacing the stable waiting and listening to her body.

Christmas is coming but not in the excitement of the fairy lights and the family gatherings many know of, but in the sparseness of the stable, in the pain of love, yet all wrapped in the promise of that nothing will be impossible with God, if we hold onto that tightly, soon we will witness the emptying of self, and realise we have room to feel the joy of Christmas, we have made room for Jesus to be born into us this Christmas in a different way.

Mary’s song of hope is what we need right now and I will finish with her words that sing glory and thanks to our God, healing for the wounds of our love.

My soul glorifies the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour.

He looks on his servant in her lowliness;

henceforth all ages will call me blessed.

The Almighty works marvels for me.

Holy his name!

His mercy is from age to age,

on those who fear him.

He puts forth his arm in strength

and scatters the proud-hearted.

He casts the mighty from their thrones

and raises the lowly.

He fills the starving with good things,

sends the rich away empty.

He protects Israel, his servant,

remembering his mercy,

the mercy promised to our fathers,

to Abraham and his sons for ever.

Amen

The cross is the door of the church

Father, may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday I was doing some reading about the signs of life in the church and found out that when a Bishop consecrates a new church part of the ritual involves she or he making the sign of the cross on the door. I loved this seemingly simple act, but this symbolism shows that the real door is the cross. That the entrance to the Church is through the cross.

The cross opened up our way to salvation, paradise as Jesus proclaims with his final breaths, the doorway opened by his precious body and blood.

Jesus says in the gospel today “whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” it is about entering in, we enter in, we go in with the Lord when we enter into the way of the cross, to go into a relationship with Jesus, to say yes to picking up our own cross.

This is the real door way, an entrance of a life with Jesus, saying yes to him, being obedient to him, giving up our ways for his ways.

I feel much pain about public worship being stopped again, the door of the church being closed, but remember the image of the door being the cross and the cross being the door. The cross as the most beautiful entrance, a doorway that opens to no more darkness, where every tear will be wiped away.

May we savour this final Eucharist today, clinging onto the body of Christ with our mouths, our lips, and our hearts, firm in the promise of Jesus through the door, the way of the cross, Amen

Writing in the sand for our young people

At the end of the school day my children reel off to me what has been going on and what lessons they have had etc. But recently I have heard a reoccurring report that friends in their forms have been experiencing panic attacks either in break times, lesson times, or at home. This is worrying to hear because we all know that school can be stressful but are we fully realising the amount of pressure and stress this Covid situation is putting on our children and young people?

Recent news reports have highlighted the apparent irresponsibility of young people. However more and more Drs are pointing to the long term affects that the lockdown and further restrictions will have on young people. Recent writings concerning the well-being of young people have concluded that the long term impact of loneliness on their mental health will be felt several years from now.[1]

Our denial of the huge trauma on our young people that the disruption and removal of education, socialising, and physically being together has, has untold consequences. Van der Kolk who authored a must read book on the topic of trauma, The body keeps the score, states that the “denial of the consequences of trauma can wreak havoc with the social fabric of society.”[2]

How we react to members of our society equates to consequences further down the line, are we continually reinforcing a message that ignoring stress and trauma is the way we do things, especially if you are deemed to be of blame.

Out attitudes towards young people are also part of the problem. We have a tendency as a country and culture to want to point the finger at a certain focal point to establish blame. It tends to make us feel better, especially if the group in trouble is not us, and it gives us something to unite and focus our energy on to overcome, or beat the problem.

I was reading the Gospel of John the other day, I’d just come to John 8, where the scribes and Pharisees decide to drag in a women to test and prove a point to Jesus. Jesus in this situation did something fantastic, the accusers say to him, “now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such woman. Now what do you say?” (John 8:5) Jesus bends down and writes in the sand and by doing so changes the way things are done, by not engaging in their process, he breaks the momentum of blame and punishment, and turns the old system back onto the accusers, “let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7 NRSV) 

Beautifully also in all of this, where the scene is taking place is in the temple, a focal point of unity[3]. Jesus had already shown his disciples how he is the new temple in John 4, where he gives living water to all who thirst, waters that bring life and healing. (John 4:13-14, Ezek 47:1-12) In this scene faced with a frightened woman and the accusers safe in the knowledge of their teaching, Jesus disrupts the process of blame and punishment by giving life and healing. Exactly what the function of the temple should do. He now becomes the focal point of unity, by showing how His people should be treasured and loved, healed and fed.

I had a thought whilst thinking about all this. Is this what we are doing to our young people, are we dragging them into our temple – the media pages, our social media, – and saying, “Ha I caught them standing in a group, talking, there were more then six of them, they were not doing what they were told, now, see, I told you, you cannot believe that our views are wrong!”

Jesus stands next to our young people and breaks the process of blame and punishment. He challenges us to dare to throw the first stone, who has not washed their hands, wore a mask, desperately hugged a friend?

We have a duty to stand up for our young people to ensure they are treated with compassion and concern.

And there is a duty here for us to stand up for our young people by breaking the process of blame and punishment. To also accept and acknowledge that there is untold unseen damage to our young people being done through unfortunate necessary restrictions to try and combat the virus.

I pray that I hear fewer reports of my children’s friends suffering such anxiety to the point of a panic attacks, and I pray for all young people during this awful time.


[1] Dr Maria Loades, “Lockdown loneliness in children and young people may continue to impact on mental health for years to come” in reachwell.org, July 22 2020. https://reachwell.org/2020/07/22/dr-maria-loades-lockdown-loneliness-in-children-and-young-people-may-continue-to-impact-on-mental-health-for-years-to-come/

[2] Bessel Van Der Kolk, The body keeps the score, (London, Penguin Books, 2015) 186.

[3] Mary L Cole, God dwells with us, (Minnesota, The Liturgical press collegeville, 2001); 122.

A new people built and fed on the body of Christ

Father, may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word, Jesus Christ our Lord.

I bought some new bird feeders for my garden the other week. I adore birds so I filled them up with sunflower hearts and waited to see what birds came. Surely enough some blackbirds came and enjoyed the produce. Then a couple of days later I went to refill them and the squirrels had not only been at the seed but chewed around the hole where the birds could peck at the seed. The holes that they had made where now so big I couldn’t put anymore seed in and I couldn’t hang them up anymore – the squirrels had decided somewhere along the line they would take and protect what they thought what was their own and at whatever cost!

Today’s Gospel is rich in metaphor and imagery, of a landowner devastated by the breakdown of trust from the tenants, of tenants who believe they are owed more than what they think they are receiving.

They are blinded by keeping the produce, clinging onto the things they can see and protecting it at whatever cost. And what happens, they manage to kill the landowner’s son as they refuse to believe that there is anything more precious that what they can accumulate for themselves.

If we are honest we can see ourselves as the tenants in this parable. How tightly we hold onto things, onto possessions, positions, power, control, we love to have things our own way, why should anyone else take a produce that we have looked after ourselves, we deserve it, these are our rules and we reject any who tell us otherwise.

Paul in the letter to the Philippians speaks of the need for humanity to have status, to be confident in our own doings, in our own rules, and he says after the loss of all things, he regards all of that as rubbish, yes rubbish, because he has gained Christ and gained the knowledge that Jesus is in control.

The landowner who provides for the tenants who have faith in him, who trust that their reward for growing have a place in the kingdom.

After all in the vineyard, growing is the work, and we are called to work, growing a new people built on the cornerstone, a new people made from and built on the body of Christ.

We are being called to be a new people, made on the foundations of Christ, built on his body, sustained by his body, to be the body of Christ in the world.

This means stepping out of our human boundaries, to not seek the things we feel when we are most pressed, to step away from the need to feed ourselves on ourselves and our own produce. We need the bread that is the body of Christ, that bread which transforms and challenges our human desire for self satisfaction.

Paul says beloved I do not consider that I have made it my own, but this one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul shows the urgency of keeping moving forward walking with Jesus, feeding on him, so we can leave our sin and mistakes behind us, we cannot grow or build if we keep looking behind us, we must press on, working, growing, being re-focused on the will, the mission of God, realising that our ignorance because of self satisfaction is distorting our life and those around us.

The sorrow of the Gospel today cries out to us to reevaluate what we are doing, are we living only to satisfy ourselves, to stand and admire our produce in the vineyard?

Like the squirrels who admired their bounty, and not thought further than themselves, they have destroyed the thing that was actually feeding them.

We are being called to be a new people, made on the foundations of Christ, built on his body, sustained by his body, to be the body of Christ in the world.

As we take Jesus into us today, during this Holy communion, this indwelling of him in us and us in him, let us ask for the Holy Spirit to remind us of our love for Christ and of our trust in Him.

Amen.

Forgiveness parts the waters of the world

Father may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Who here knows the story of the crossing of the red sea? Excellent.

Now who here thinks that this story is still relevant today?

My favourite part of the Exodus reading set today is “the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea” now bear with me, you might be thinking what has this got to do with the Gospel reading today?

I will show you.

In the Gospel Jesus is teaching about forgiveness. Peter wants to know the limit on how much he should bear if another person in the church sins against him. Last week we heard from Katherine who taught us about the prescription of how we travel together to be a healthy church. And here Peter is asking for a little clarity about how often he should forgive. Jesus says not seven times but I tell you 77 times.

This seems like a very big challenge.

So I want to come back to the Old Testament reading, where the Lord tells Moses to stretch his hand over the sea and they will pass safely.

There is this wonderful image here of God paving the way of his people.

He spilt the sea to help them walk forward with him, to be close to him, to foster a relationship of intimacy, love, and trust.

There is another fantastic image of the water being moved to help God’s people keep walking forward, it is in the book of Joshua chapter 3. The Priests are carrying the ark of the covenant “God’s word” across the river Jordan. The Lord says to them that as soon as the Priests feet touch the water it will move. And sure enough it does and they again cross safely.

So lets go back to Peter and Jesus.

Jesus is giving Peter the advice he needs to keep walking forward, even when facing the sea of hatefulness and opposition. Forgiveness is the promise that Jesus gives to Peter, that if he keep forgiving the sea will part from his feet and he will continue to walk on dry land following the will of God and in his promise of love and ultimately a place in the kingdom.

I want you all to imagine that all the things we encounter, pain, anger, injustice, anxiety, loneliness, fear, is like facing a wall of sea. God promises us to help us cross this sea by the power of His love, forgiveness, that when we place our feet into those frightening waters they will spilt, and we can keep moving forward.

Forgiveness does not diminish the things that happen to us, or turn us into doormats, it makes us stronger because we lean on the Lord and be honest and tell Him how hurt we are.

Take heart that not long after the Israelites crossed the sea they started to complain! And the disciples themselves scattered at the Crucifixion. We all need the Father’s love, the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and Jesus’ power of forgiveness.

In these times of uncertainty it feels like we are facing a wall of water, but God promises to split the sea and help us to keep walking in the way of the Lord, to love and trust God, to forgive and keep on forgiving just like he does.

May we trust in God’s ways to forgive and keep walking with Him, may the seas that we face spilt, and may our hearts be open to his word.

Amen

Talitha cum

Watching the sun rise I felt you there, as the tight faint words that left my pained lips whispered your name. Minute by minute as the sky began to change I felt the light of your presence tiptoe into the darkness of my pain. How can saying a phrase over and over again bring such focus when my mind is occupied by the heat of firework-like pain.

Over and over again, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Each pronunciation of each word causing more pain but still cuts through the sea of flames parting them for a moment of stillness, a strange sweetness in the bitter endurance.

Soon I realise an hour has passed, and although the pain hasn’t gone I feel my lips are stronger and more confident. Although my body doesn’t agree, with shaking legs I make my way downstairs in the new born light of the day. The kitchen isn’t dark enough to warrant a light yet not light enough to see clearly. The click of the kettle is loud – click, bubble, rumble, click – and the sound of my hot water battle filling up, a warm relief to hold.

I tip toe into my study, thin morning light casts shadows from the crucifix on my table. I draw my eyes up and see the growing light flowing over my statue of Mary. She stands there with arms open and I cast all my fear of the pain into them. The garden illumines more and more, I pace the carpet, and find myself swaying like I used to when settling my children when they were babies. Here I am trying to settle myself but being rocked in the rhythm of prayer, being fed by His sweetness, and comforted by the strength of Mary.

At some point it all became quiet.

And in that stillness a voice – “Talitha cum”

Sweetness in the bitterness of pain.

I have seen the Lord

I saw the feast of Mary Magdalene described as a little Easter in ordinary time on twitter today. I felt after the Lent and Easter that the world experienced this year this description of this beloved saint was very fitting.

I remember on Easter Sunday morning waking and watching the sun rise in such stillness perpetuated by the lockdown situation which hung thick in the air. The sound of a busy town silenced seemed a fitting way to imagine the echo of the loudness heard and felt after the violence of Good Friday.

After all the crowds had gone, after the body of Jesus was laid in that cold tomb, I imagine Mary Magdalene slipping down to its location, wrapped in the comfort of the thin dawn light to glimpse and hold the memories of the man who changed her life, who transformed her.

Mary hangs around the tomb weeping and it made me think about the things that we’ve wept over, the memories that we have stood next to and wept and poured ourselves out over. It made me think about the tombs in our lives have we have that we stand near and mourn, waiting, searching for light and hope

Jesus transforms Mary’s sorrow as he bursts into the present and calls Mary by name. Suddenly he reaches into death and pulls her from darkness into light, and there in the breaking dawn she sees the power of love that death cannot stop, love that cannot be drowned even in the streams of tears that fell from her eyes.

There in the new daylight, the sun burning aflame like Mary’s heart that beats with joy and love in her chest as she stands with the man who kept his promise, to be with her and us always.

And then after her adoration she turns and becomes the Apostle to the Apostles and she proclaims “I have seen the Lord”.

May the Lord greet us as we weep at the tombs of the things heavy on our hearts, that in this little Easter we experience the fresh light and love from the one who knows and calls us by name, drawing us from darkness to light, aflame in love.

By his wounds we are healed

And what is meant by the experience of physical pain in the hands at the mention of Christ hanging on the cross?

Is it a shared sympathy, a feeling that can compound the huge sacrifice laid down on that rugged tree? Is it an acknowledgement of the wounds that we share , that we are following the journey, the call that Christ calls us to, that we are ultimately crucified with Christ.

A vision of rough and sturdy hands forcing the arms apart, the body bucking and thrashing as each nail is driven into the palm. One by one, sharpness, sheer pain, followed by the never ending aches, throbbing from the palm, to the elbow, to the shoulder, to the neck.

An ache a yearning to escape from this suffering. God weeps as we writhe and thrash away from the cross, because His son willingly took the burden of humanity and poured out His blood and water to feed the ground in which we grow. Each of us a sacred seed, grown and made in the likeness of God Himself.

Feeling that ache in the hands, an echo of the shared suffering, the wounds we share, our secret knowledge that only God can know. And when I look down and see the colour changing in my palms, the purple flag that flies as death draws close, the paling of life that foreshadows the dying of sin, I see the victory over death. And in that pain I am shown that there is no way around the cross in ministry.

Christ can be seen through us so in turn we feel Christ dwelling in us. Not just the joy of re-birth, of resurrection, but of skin breaking on cold iron, on sharp thorns, on rough wood, and the welt from carrying the cross.

And from those aching palms blessings are poured out through the wounds made and healed through Christ.

We doubt that recovering from these wounds could be possible, yet quietly Christ approaches – ‘touch my hands and see my side’ and we fall down and declare in the realisation of such a sacrifice – my Lord and my God!

Look, your king is coming to you

I vividly remember my first Palm Sunday in church.

It was a Sunday evening in what was called “family church.”

The light was just moving into its evening glow and the hall was filled with the smelt of palm leaves that we were folding into crosses. I was pretty hopeless at folding the palm leaf. So I made a large paper palm leaf from green craft paper. It had that familiar texture to it that reminded me of primary school craft and choir practice.

We moved into church and stood in a circle and sang a hymn. Some started to wave their branches, some their crosses. I was stood a little motionless not sure what to do. I glanced over to my children and they were waving away. I thought I’d better make some effort and I started to sing and wave my paper palm leaf.

It was that moment when the sun broke through the stained glass, and I was overwhelmed by a sense that God loved me.

I questioned this feeling in mind, “really Lord, you love me?” the reply was a firm yes and hot tears ran down my face.

One of my favourite hymns captured this moment for me “amazing love, how could it be that thou my God shouldst die for me?” It was on that first Palm Sunday that Jesus rode into my heart and I welcomed Him with a paper palm leaf and tears of joy and thankfulness.

Today Palm Sunday is once again a new feeling. It’s a Palm Sunday that is happening with locked church doors, with no public worship, yet Jesus still rides onwards towards us.

Look your king is coming to you.

He is coming through the locked doors, through our isolation, through our sadness and grief and fear.

Look your king is coming to you.

He is coming in the breaking of the sun from behind the clouds, from the birdsong that cuts through the silence, in the breath of the wind that flows through the open window.

Look your king is coming to you.

He is coming in the text messages from your loved ones, in the FaceTiming of family, in the phone calls from friends, in the live streaming from The Church.

Look your king is coming to you,

May this Palm Sunday be one of confidence in the Lord’s love for us, let us welcome Him into our hearts afresh.

Amen.

Run with perseverance

When I started attending church regularly (which was around late 2013 early 2014) I remember seeing a small red badge that the clergy would wear. The same symbol was at my children’s school and it took me a while and a lot of squinting to figure out what it was.

Turns out it was a race track, an athletics track shaped in a triangle with the strap line “run the race look to Jesus” under it.

Catchy I thought!

I had no idea really what it meant. I didn’t know it was scripture. I didn’t know any theology about it but it kept asking me to join in.

Joining in is the first thought I had when I read the Hebrews reading this morning,

“let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfector of our faith

It reminded me that Jesus goes before us in all things. He is the one that is in front of us and we are joining in with Him, gathering others, running towards Him. Running towards the joy that He has set out before us made possible through the sacrifice of Himself.

It also reminded me that things take time. Yesterday felt a long day. We might be like this for a longer time than we originally thought.

I was annoyed by this prospect. Then I was annoyed by my own annoyance. How selfish can I be? How glad that I am forgiven!

But going back to that little red badge.

Was it there that God called me to join in the race?

Perhaps it was!

God is calling us all to join in and to keep going and even more so during these challenging times.

The good news is that we are not alone, that a great cloud of witnesses go with us. And as we wait in isolation and lock down we realise the great cloud of witnesses are not only heavenly, but those in our online communities too.

Let us run, let us allow our hearts to be moved, looking to Jesus for His peace and perseverance this day and every day.

Amen.