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

Started on his way

I awoke early this morning not knowing really how to feel. Everything is different. No early morning train to catch to college. No school runs. No plans made for the day. My diary is empty yet my mind is full.

Somehow in all of this we have to find our way. A new way of daily living one that breathes into the fog of disorientation. Somehow we need to absorb the information we have heard, trust in it, and keep moving forward.

Today’s Gospel speaks of a man who believed what had been spoken to him and started on his way.

This a structure for us right now.

We believe the words of hope that Jesus speaks to us and we listen and start out on our way.

This new way might look different.

This new way might feel different but we are moving on the way together even though apart.

I wept yesterday listening to Archbishop Welby’s morning prayer on Radio4.

I wept watching an online stream of the Mass.

My heart is heavy with the loss of public worship for us all, yet I made to the end of these services and felt reconciled to this new way.

On this strange start to a week of increasing change and anxiety, let us start on our way of hope together.

The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way.

Amen.

Here is your Mother

My favourite image of our blessed Mother is The Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo Da Vinci.

The rocks around her invoke an isolating and harsh place, a wilderness, yet the warmth of the colours bring a softness that is brought to the environment just by her presence.

Mary’s expression combined with her outstretched hand over her infant Son draws the eyes to follow her Son’s blessing to the infant John who is tucked under her mantle. The angel at her side is in adoration of her Son, yet is sat at Mary’s feet in comfort and assurance. Behind Mary’s shoulder is the glimpse of the dawn light breaking forth on the whole scene.

A scene of promise and hope in the face of harshness and wilderness.

Mothering Sunday can feel like we are sat in the rocks, in the wilderness.

My children are not with me today as they are with their Dad. Many people are separated from their loved ones due to the virus. The ache of separation weighs heavy like the rocks in the scene.

Today I take comfort in the vision of Mary in the rocks, a scene of promise and hope in the face of harshness and wilderness.

Perhaps this is where you are today for many reasons, but remember the dawn light shines on the beauty of what we have, it shines on what was, and what we had, and that beauty never fades.

We are not alone or isolated on this Mothering Sunday, we are with the Angel sat at the feet of Mary, we are with the infant John tucked into her mantle, we are the flowers on the ground that bloom in the wilderness.

Hear the words of Jesus to his blessed Mother speaking over you today,

“Woman, here is your child .’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’

Amen.

Your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart

When my children all talk to me at once it can seem quite overwhelming. Voices darting and fighting over one another. Different accents, different pitches, different noises crescendoing with me calling out for each to speak one at a time.

It’s times like those where words do not seem useful or helpful. It is just a scrum of sound. The amount of information we are receiving at the moment from different sources about the current situation feels a bit like this.

A pile on of words, noises, opinions, facts, and in there somewhere are the words that give us life.

In all this self isolation it is important for us to cling onto words that help us to flourish . These could be the words from our loved ones. A phone call from a friend. A text message, WhatsApp, email etc but even then it can all become overwhelming, an alphabet jumble.

I love this phrase from Jeremiah “your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” the key word here is “became.”

It is all too easy for us to brush off communication as another thing to do.

Do I really want to read another text from my Mum (sorry Mum).

Do I need to watch the umpteenth TickTok video from my teens (I like them really).

It’s also really easy to brush off reading scripture because we’ve heard the stories before.

Time is becoming a thing that suddenly we all might have a lot more of and it is time for us to start to cherish the words we hear.

“your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart

– who’s words bring you joy and delight?

– who can your words bring joy and delight to today?

Amen.

Is not this the carpenter’s son?

Wood is a beautiful thing. The smell, the wonderful things that can be made with it. Being a carpenter required skill, observation, patience, imagination, discipline.

I often wonder how many skills Jesus learnt from his earthly Father that He used in his ministry.

The one example of Jesus’ carpentry knowledge that makes me sit up and think the most, is when Jesus is on his long walk to His crucifixion. He stops and speaks to the woman of Jerusalem as they are crying. He says at the end of his speech to them, “for if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:31)

I have no knowledge of wood but I was inquisitive so I took to the internet and read about wood in different states. Apparently, green wood is wood that has been freshly cut down, it is no good for burning or structure because of its high level of moisture. If you use this wood in construction in this condition the finished product will likely warp and crack as it dries. Dry wood is optimal for construction, it burns well, it is perfect for woodworking projects because of its fixed dry state.

Joseph taught Jesus about wood so deeply, that He had something to say about it even in deep agony and exhaustion.

Woodworking requires patience and interpretation, perhaps this is what Jesus is speaking of as he talks about wood.

If we are quick to chop down and build something without patience, or discernment, or though, the result will not be as expected.

We are in a season where having patience with each other and building each other up has never been more important.

Joseph is a perfect example for us to think about when feeling an urge to be hasty.

This is the man who stood by Mary so she could bear the Son of God.

Joseph, a man of interpretation and discernment of God’s word.

Joseph, a man who taught Jesus about the wood that would chop down his son’s life.

St Joseph pray for us, for patience and obedience, for discernment and deep listening, pray for us all in these times of uncertainty.

Amen.

Hope is a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul

The road next to my house is very busy. It is a constant stream, like trickling water, but instead a roar of tyres of various speeds flowing at all hours.

When I woke yesterday morning there was a strange stillness. The road was quiet. I checked my phone and it was indeed the right time to get up. I looked outside beyond the beginning to bud branches of the trees and the road was empty.

I questioned myself about why the sound of the cars was in some way comforting.

Was it because they signalled the normality of life?

Was it because I could pin point the time of day to their presence?

I realised that small things anchor us down into the lives we lead. We rely on little things to keep us going and with more and more changes happening over the coming days our little anchors of stability could change. As these things disappear we could feel like we are bobbing around against the tide.

In the Hebrews reading this morning we are told that “hope is a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” Hope is the anchor that goes down to the deepest depths of the river bed of our heart.

This hope is not an idealistic or unrealistic hope. This is not head-in-the-sand hope. This is hope that cries out in the pain and disorientation of the situation we are all living in. This is the hope that weeps in compassion. This is the hope that holds on until the final breath on the cross. Jesus is the hope we carry as Christians inside of us, wherever we go, whatever we do, whatever happens.

When we begin to feel lost in the tide, let us remember our anchor of our soul, the sure and steadfast hope of Jesus who has gone before us. He will guide and sure us as we journey together as a Church without public worship.

Pray in the knowledge that the rough waters will not separate us. We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.

Amen.

You shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

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

At the beginning of my story of how I became to be stood before you today I was lying in the dust at the bottom of a deep pit that I could not get out of.

I had lost myself. Who I was. What I was meant to do with my life. Everything around me felt meaningless, life was automated, I had no hope or vision for my life.

On a New Year’s Eve I decided it was time to start praying again. You see I’d not gone to church as a child or as a youth. But I’d always known deep in my heart that God loved me and was my best friend. I would lie in my bed at night feeling lost and alone, yet soon a feeling would come over me and would not feel alone anymore. In the darkness I was enfolded in a mantle of protection and my heart ached to feel that again.

That night before I went to sleep I cried out to God for help, to show me what to do, to help me from this seemingly inescapable pit I was in. I went to sleep on that New Year’s Eve and I had a dream.

You shall cry for help and the Lord will say here I am

I dreamt that I was walking with Mary and she placed her arm around me and her cloak. We walked and she spoke, I rested my head on her shoulder and she led me to a temple. I walked inside and it was so brightly gold, brighter than I’d ever seen anything before. I looked at Mary and she pointed to a huge statue of Jesus. I looked up and it was so big I could only see up to his waist. I turned and said to her how big it was and then she pointed at his feet and a cross began to glow in bright light. It became brighter and brighter until it engulfed me and I woke up.

I woke up the next day feeling changed inside. I began the journey of transformation turning away from my old life and walking in the way Jesus was calling me to follow. It lead me to wanting to have my children Baptised, I was one of those Baptism families who just turn up not knowing what to expect, and so I became part of the church into regular worship.

You shall cry for help and the Lord will say here I am

Then one day as I watched the Priest at the altar break the bread, I heard God call me to serve him as a Priest. How could this be? Why would he want me?

There in the dust of that dark pit I felt myself being breathed into by the word of God, and slowly I rose up on that wind of the Spirit who guided and pushed me out of the pit and into the hands of Jesus.

The gospel reading today tells us of the woman who was dragged into the temple by the Scribes and Pharisees to be used as an example to test Jesus.

The woman stood probably naked with her feet in the dust of the temple floor.

You shall cry for help and the Lord will say here I am

And what does Jesus do as he listens to their accusations and their eagerness to punish her.

He starts to write in the dust.

And here is the beauty of this Gospel scene as we approach Lent and start to walk in the steps towards the cross.

When we are stood naked with all our sins on show, and we are feeling like we are being judged, that we are hopeless, that we feel that we are too far gone to be able to even approach God.

Jesus is there in his perfect love, bending down to us, re-writing the next steps of the story of lives.

you shall cry for help and the Lord will say here I am

Jesus re-writes what we think of ourselves, he re-writes the narratives we have slipped into, Jesus in his perfect self-giving love pulls us close to his heart and through him enables us to start again, afresh in the new life freely given by his forgiving love.

Jesus takes us by the hand, picks us up out of the dust and stands up tall next to us and speaks love and truth to us, he saves us, no longer are we just people of dust we now stand in the image of Jesus who became human, and died for us, his blood spilling into the dust, so that humanity and heaven kissed each other and returned to being as one.

you shall cry for help and the Lord will say here I am

And the thing is Jesus doesn’t just stop when he stands besides us he keeps on re-writing our stories. The gospel says that as he speaks to the scribes and the Pharisees, he once again bent down and wrote on the ground.

Over and over again we are made anew.

I shared a bit of my story with you today as a message of hope that when we cry out for help and turn to the Lord, the Lord will say here I am.

Soon we will hear the words in the receiving of the Ashes, “you are dust, and to dust you will return” and I’d like you to try and picture Jesus coming along aside you and writing in that dust a new start for you.

It is in the re-writing of our stories by Jesus that we are transformed but also we are sent out to encourage and support others.

Jesus told stories to teach, and the Apostles shared their stories of how Jesus taught them.

Today we begin to walk together through Lent, towards the cross, repenting of our sins and committing ourselves a fresh to following our God who loves us, who bent down and came to dwell with us, who died for us, who continues to stand with us through everything and anything.

We are dust and Jesus writes in us his love and plan for us, let us turn to him again and again in faith and trust over Lent.

Amen.