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.

Take away the stone.

My mind has struggled this week to focus on anything apart from taking each day at a time. Normally I’m a big future planner, I like to know what I’m doing in good time. I like to plan things to look forward to. I like to see what is ahead of me so I can adapt and prepare myself mentally and emotionally.

All that has gone out of the window since the lockdown. I have got a dissertation to write and my mind just cannot hold my attention long enough to focus. As soon as I think of doing something my brain recalls all the latest news headlines, and reminds me of the fact I’m part of the vulnerable group due to my chronic neurological illness.

Then I add onto that encouraging the children to do their online school work, making sure they’re fed etc, thinking about slowly sorting the house for when we move, and remembering to look after myself. After all that I can’t even remember what I was going to read or write, it is like there is a large stone blocking me off.

I feel like the very dry bones described by Ezekiel and I only begin to move and operate when the daily offices breathe their life into me. I love the imagery of God’s word being the energy, the power, the life force that cause the bones to become part of a body again.

This theme of new being and resurrection is seen in the Gospel reading today as we see Jesus raising up Lazarus. We are told that he has been dead for four days. The body would have become decayed and damaged. Yet like in Ezekiel I imagine the flesh and bones reconnecting through God’s word, “Lazarus, come out!” breathed upon him.

But what I notice before Jesus speaks is that he asks the stone to be taken away.

I’m pretty sure Jesus could raise Lazarus without the stone being moved yet he says “Take away the stone”.

I want to think on this action a little – Take away the stone.

Ezekiel has a wonderful image earlier on in chapter 11 verse 19. He says “I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.”

Here the stone symbolises the hardness of the heart that happens to us. We protect our hearts as much as we can. We don’t like to be hurt. We put up barriers to protect ourselves and over time the fleshiness, the softness of the heart suffers.

Those around Lazarus’ tomb doubted because it was natural to them. They were hurting because of the death of their brother, did they really want to experience more hurt if Jesus could not do anything? Could they face weeping even more than they had?

Jesus wept feeling the sorrow of His heart raging through his body. His most sacred heart filled with compassion for his people.

Jesus says “Take away the stone” and they still protest, but he says “did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

And so the stone is removed and they witness a miracle.

Not only in Lazarus being raised. They themselves being resurrected, flesh clinging to their dry bones as their hearts beat again in joy. Weeping turning into joy.

I believe in these testing times and as we start Passiontide walking closer to the cross, Jesus is calling us to “Take away the stone”.

He calling us to step away from the hardness of heart that doubt and fear threatens to create.

He is calling us in readiness to open our hearts to Him so he can resurrect our dry bones, and make our hearts fleshy and on fire with love for Him.

These are the times to take away the stone, to allow the breath of God to enter us, to feel our heart’s break with tears and beat with love and resurrected hope.

These powerful images of reconnected bodies speak clearly to us as a dispersed communion, where we cannot worship together or celebrate the Mass. In the words that we share in our prayer books, apps, and watching Mass being streamed online, we put flesh on our bones through the act of participating in God’s word and worship.

Our bodies are reconnected as the Body of Christ, though apart still together in deepest communion through the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Jesus’ heart tells us to “Take away the stone” and let him in amongst all the tears and fears.

This is my focus for the week. I will take away the stone and focus on Him. I pray that we all can, as we walk together towards Holy Week.

Amen.

You shall still deliver the same number of bricks

I don’t know about you but I have found this week so far really tiring.

It is a great compulsion of us all to keep going in the face of change, difficulty, and challenge. But how much can we keep pressing on without taking a bit of time to step back and realise the enormity of the situation we are all living in.

Some will say that pressing on is what we are called to do, the keep calm and carry on attitude. This is fine but there is an importance and a need to sit in the uncomfortable space of despair and grief.

We are all pressing on but we must remember that we can become our own Pharaoh, expecting ourselves to produce the same number of bricks when the situation has changed.

One of my favourite theologians Walter Brueggemann speaks of the importance of the lament in worship. By acknowledging our lament we push through the culture of denial and embrace grief. This is not a mere melancholy sulking but actually sitting in this space acknowledging the situation, vocalising it, and then turning to Him who listens and reorientates in a radical newness that only He can provide.

Remember we cannot deliver the same number of bricks.

God isn’t calling us to slavery but to service.

He calls us friends and we press on in that assurance and steadfast love.

Amen.

The Lord is with you

One of my favourite phrases from the Gospel of the Annunciation today is “the Lord is with you”.

By greeting each other saying the Lord is with you, we are saying that love is dwelling within, that the indelible marks of Christ are seen within us, that His grace is present within us.

In these times of isolation and physical distancing, hear the words “the Lord is with you” and in turn realise that we are not without the Lord.

When we proclaim this greeting of joy and love we are saying that we are not alone, we are not without Him, no matter how abandoned and broken we feel.

Mary heard these same words and showed courage.

This is the inspiration we take from Mary today, courage in the face of isolation and difficulty.

Mary knew her yes would cause her sorrow and pain but joy was promised too.

Today as we all continue to make the painful choice to not see loved ones, family and friends who are separated from us, we put our trust in the Lord that He is with us. That He is with us to help us to know that this sacrifice of our yes is in sodality with the courage of Mary and of the love that dwells deep within.

The Lord is with you.

Amen.

Sighs too deep for words

There are many situations where words become hollow. Where we feel like we have to say something either for the sake of it or because we feel like we need to do something in that moment.

Today is a day where in prayer I can only read the words on the pages of my breviary and let them do the talking.

This is the beauty of the psalms, they speak the rawness of humanity, they vocalise the suffering, the anguish, the disorientation that we all feel at this moment.

I feel this as I read Psalm 102 which encapsulates the feelings of isolation:

“I have become like a pelican in the wilderness, like an owl in desolate places, I lie awake and I moan, like some lonely bird on a roof”

When there are sighs too deep for words we can take courage that the Spirit intercedes, the Spirit knows our hearts, and helps us say yes to continue pressing forward in our weakness.

I commend to you and to myself to keep going.

Keep turning the pages of the daily offices, keep using the prayer apps, keep up the Lenten reading and fasts, because if we don’t have the words, the Saints and the whole company of heaven and our Blessed Mother Mary have gone before us and said them.

On the eve of the Annunciation let us say yes to facing the spiritual challenges we face through lack of public worship and Mass, let us take courage from the example of Mary, the woman who in the face of a seemingly impossible task said yes to God.

Amen