This morning I went for a walk through the nearby reserve. I rejoiced in the feeling of my calf muscles stretching after days cooped up inside. I breathed in deeply of air and space and solitude. I reached my hand out to touch the dewdrops on the snow grass. I looked for the kookaburras – hidden but noisy – in the tall trees and stared back silently at the kangaroos until they resumed their breakfast.
As I exalted in the simple sense of being alive, a long-loved poem came unbidden to my mind:
In a field I am the absence of field. This is always the case. Wherever I am I am what is missing.
When I walk I part the air and always the air moves in to fill the spaces where my body’s been.
We all have reasons for moving. I move to keep things whole.
“Keeping things whole” by Mark Strand
Tonight, we move with Jesus from the comforting companionship of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus into Jerusalem where people long to see him because of the miracles that he has performed – particularly that of bringing Lazarus out from the tomb.
He moves to make things whole, and, wherever he goes, he is exactly what people have been missing in their lives.
Tonight, we hear of the heaviness within his heart – for he knows what is about to happen. He speaks strange things about glory in a troubling hour, about a kernel of wheat dying in order to produce many seeds, about believing in the light while we have it.
Tonight, I invite you to engage with Jesus’s predictions through the ancient practice of lectio divina. Sit quietly and comfortably and listen to the words from John 12:20-36. If you are listening to the audio file below, you will hear the story from three translations with a question to ponder during each reading.
If you are working through the readings on your own, you may want to use your own Bible or the words from the New International Version which are included below. Read it through, slowly, three times, reflecting on the following questions:
First reading: What word, image, or phrase struck you the most in the reading?
Second reading: What memories, thoughts, questions, joys does the reading bring to mind?
Third reading: What might God’s invitation be to you this night?
Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”
Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.
John 12:20-36, New International Version
Close off this time of reflection by offering a prayer to God in response to what you have heard. Perhaps you would also like to share one of your thoughts by commenting on this post.
Tonight, we gather at Jesus’s feet to worship an extravagant act of worship (based on John 12:1-11, from The Passion Translation). Before you begin, I invite you to light a scented candle or rub some scented oil or spray some perfume lightly on your wrists – if you have these things at home.
Watch the video reflection and prayer below by clicking here Video – or read the words carefully giving yourself time to breathe and reflect as indicated.
Close your eyes. Breathe in deeply. Notice the smells, the fragrances which fill the room in which you are sitting – much as the Spirit of God fills your heart.
Think back on this night of costly perfume spilt in an extravagant act of worship to a story that comes well before it … to a time when something amazing happened in Bethlehem: the birth of the One who would be King of the whole earth.
Remember how the wise men came to worship, bearing costly gifts of their own. The gift of gold. The gift of frankincense – which was used for worship then – and is still used in places to pray today, turning first from black to white before its scent is released.
There was another gift too. Another smell. That of myrrh – a gum or resin – that was placed with the dead at burial and burned at the funerals of those whose death was important.
Think of Jesus who died for you, whose death was important for the life of all.
Breathe in deeply. Imagine the scents of the stable and the foreshadowing of a tomb outside which, very soon, women will weep in the bleak morning light as they seek to care for a body taken in haste from the cross and laid in a borrowed tomb.
This is the night that we breathe in deeply the sweet scent of love between friends, of a meal shared where Martha served and Mary scent and there was no squabble between them because Lazarus, their brother, was returned to them from the dead, or worship in spirit and truth that does not count the cost and will not be contained by the practical.
Six days before the Passover began Jesus went back to Bethany, the town where he raised Lazarus from the dead. They had prepared a supper for Jesus. Martha served, and Lazarus and Mary were among those at the table. Mary picked up an alabaster jar filled with nearly a litre of extremely rare and costly perfume—the purest extract of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet. Then she wiped them dry with her long hair. And the fragrance of the costly oil filled the house.
Breathe in deeply and let your love for the Lord fill your heart – Saviour that he is.
But this is also the night that we breathe in deeply the sharp scent of ambition, of dishonesty, of betrayal as we are given a glimpse into Judas’ heart and find it full of himself. Meanly, he turns on Mary for her generous act. Quickly, Jesus comes to her defence with words that speak of the darkness that will soon descend – and Judas will play a significant part in that.
But Judas the locksmith, Simon’s son, the betrayer, spoke up and said, “What a waste! We could have sold this perfume for a fortune and given the money to the poor!”
(In fact, Judas had no heart for the poor. He only said this because he was a thief and in charge of the money case. He would steal money whenever he wanted from the funds given to support Jesus’ ministry.)
Jesus said to Judas, “Leave her alone! She has saved it for the time of my burial. You’ll always have the poor with you; but you won’t always have me.”
Breathe in deeply and let the Lord’s love for you fill your heart – sinner that you are.
This is the night that we breathe in deeply the contradictions of those who were moved by Jesus’ miracles to worship and believe and those who would plan and plot to see him die for such miracles were incontrovertible proof that he is the Son of God..
When the word got out that Jesus was not far from Jerusalem, a large crowd came out to see him, and they also wanted to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. This prompted the chief priests to seal their plans to do away with both Jesus and Lazarus, for his miracle testimony was incontrovertible and was persuading many of the Jews living in Jerusalem to believe in Jesus. (John 12:1-11 The Passion Translation).
Breathe in deeply on this night when past and future meet in a fragrance poured upon soon-to-be pierced feet. Breathe.
Oh Lord who raised Lazarus from the dead, and, in your last days, reclined at the dinner table with followers and friends, ~ savouring the intimacy, ~ unearthing the essential, ~ contemplating the road ahead,
in grateful adoration, I kneel before you this night: my Saviour, my Rabbi, my Companion …
my Treasure: ~ cherished, ~ worshipped, ~ sought after, ~ centre and sustainer of my life.
Like perfume from the alabaster jar, may my unstoppered confessions spill and find your welcome and defence: ~ that I have forgotten the cost of your unconditional love while putting a price tag on on my own offer of forgiveness and friendship, ~ that I have held onto and hoarded – for good reason and poor – my time, my resources, my grace, ~ that I have been so caught up in my plans, my agendas, my desires, that I’ve lost sight of your will and your way, ~ that I have been ignorant of your presence, of your need, in light of the urgent and the tangible that crowds in on each day.
As I look upon these feet that walked within my world, freshly anointed, soon to be wounded, ~ wipe away all of my transgressions, ~ make me attentive to the immediacy of your kin(g)dom, ~ and fascinate me with the fragrance of your loving-kindness.
Holy Week starts on Palm Sunday with Jesus weeping over the people of Jerusalem before entering it – not as a warrior on a war charger – but as a person of peace on a donkey that had never been ridden before.
The crowd goes wild – for the Healer, the Teacher, the Miracle-maker, the bread-and-fish-breaker, the Calmer of Storms has come. How we might long to slip into their midst and wave our palm branches in greeting – our “Hosanna” song rising to heaven on the lips of the throng:
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His love endures forever!
Psalm 118:1 New International Version
But Palm Sunday has another name with words so much harder to hear that we would rather wash our hands of them. Instead, I invite you to open them wide where you are sitting and to hold within them the passion and the pain of the Psalmist’s prayer:
Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak. Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors and an object of dread to my closest friends— those who see me on the street flee from me. I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery. For I hear many whispering, “Terror on every side!” They conspire against me and plot to take my life.
But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me. Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.
Psalm 39:1-16 New International Version
If you are listening to this an audio reflection, I invite you to pause it for a moment to light a candle and join in the hymn below by singing along or speaking the words out loud:
Born in the night, Mary’s child, a long way from your home; coming in need, Mary’s child, born in a borrowed room.
Clean shining light, Mary’s child, your face lights up our way; light of the world, Mary’s child, dawn on our darkened day.
Truth of our life, Mary’s child, you tell us God is good; prove it is true, Mary’s child, go to your cross of wood.
Hope of the world, Mary’s child, you’re coming soon to reign; King of the earth, Mary’s child, walk in our streets again.
Together in Song 323
Blessed be you, Divine Peacemaker, seeker of justice, the One who weeps with and for us as we fail to see how dazzled we are by the trappings of status and how distant we have become from your passion for the world. Give us eyes to see what is scandalous, voices to speak up for those without worth, courage to confront both power and pride, and enough care to place in Your hands the burden of the wrongness of this world which we name before You now.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Reflecting on Scripture
Today we reflect on a portion of the Gospel reading for Passion Sunday in which Jesus appears before Pilate who washes his hands of him.
Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer.Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.
Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”
But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
It is something that I learned to love in South Africa: the provision of a beautiful bowl of warm water, often strewn with pretty petals or a few drops of scented oil, for a guest to wash their hands in before a meal. More than a practical act of cleanliness, it was a measure of hospitality as well.
How different our preoccupation is with hand washing now as we sing or pray our way through a twenty-second scrubbing as we seek to be safe and keep others safe in a world where others might bear the cost of our unsantized touch.
Perhaps it is this regular, relentless act that first drew me to this reading.
Perhaps it is the injustice of it all that pulls me in – for surely the world is not so unfair, the crowd so bloodthirsty, our leaders so quick to do the wrong thing if it means retaining their power and popularity.
Perhaps it is my frustration that the Living Word offers no words really in his defence and that all the articulate theological arguments around why the salvation of the world must come about through such a brutal story still make little sense to my heart.
Perhaps it is because I know how many times, at the end of a long day, I have run myself a hot bath and allowed to slip away words that I have spoken to influence or injure, the names of people I did not get around to calling because I’ve put so many other priorities on my plate, deep questions about love and life and faith that I am not yet ready to consider, good intentions that have amounted to nothing beyond a brief thought, the truth of how great a divide there is between who I am and who Christ calls me to be. I wish that I could say that I at least wallow in these things for a while, but with the warmth of the water they are fast forgotten – particularly when paired with a good book.
I wonder if it was that way for Pilate – or if the guilt and shame ate away at him over time. Scripture is clear in telling us that he knows the motives of the crowd are false, that he is warned by his wife of Jesus’s innocence, that he gives up the truth when he sees that he is getting nowhere.
His act of washing his hands and declaring that he is innocent of Jesus’s blood is ludicrous – for though the crowd has asked for it – he is the only one with the power to have Jesus flogged and handed over for crucifixion. So, what is its significance? Why waste time on such a meaningless ritual?
As I wonder these things, I am struck by the difference between the passion of Christ and the pretence of Pilate. Between an act of loving servanthood in which Jesus took basin and towel, got down on his knees, and washed each disciples’ feet and this pointless gesture of hand washing in which one with great authority takes absolutely no responsibility for his choices. Between one who is willing to lay down his life for the liberation and healing of others – and one who is unwilling to risk anything at all for the sake of justice or peace.
It is a story of contrasts which speaks radically to me of what it means to be Church as we enter into Holy Week, to be a people made new by baptism and nourished each day by the living waters of God’s Spirit instead of a people who wash our hands of the world that God has given us responsibility for.
As you listen to or sing along with the next hymn, I invite you, as you are able, to pour a bowl of water and – as you wash your hands – slowly consider what significance this action might take on in your life right now.
For me, I am reminded of the words of Trevor Hudson who speaks of each one of us as sitting beside a pool of tears. As I dip my hands into the water, I choose not to give up responsibility for a world that is hurting, but to open myself up to stories of heartache and pain so that, together, we might find healing and transformation.
Jesus Christ, I think upon your sacrifice You became nothing, poured out to death Many times I’ve wondered at your gift of life And I’m in that place once again I’m in that place once again And once again I look upon the cross where you died I’m humbled by your mercy and I’m broken inside Once again I thank you Once again I pour out my life
Now you are exalted to the highest place King of the heavens, where one day I’ll bow But for now I marvel at this saving grace And I’m full of praise once again I’m full of praise once again And once again I look upon the cross where you died I’m humbled by your mercy and I’m broken inside Once again I thank you Once again I pour out my life
Thank you for the cross Thank you for the cross Thank you for the cross, my friend
May the blessing of God who fashioned and formed us be upon us in the place of pain and the pool of tears that we may never forget the world’s suffering nor forsake God’s great love, but seek to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
Looking ahead through Holy Week …
Next week, instead of the daily pattern of prayer, a short reflection will be offered each night on the lectionary readings that lead us to the cross. I do hope that you will join me on this sacred journey.
If you are reading this post, welcome to the first ever offering of “Saturday’s spirit” which focuses on tapping into the Spirit of God in our creativity, experience, and play. The language of these posts is deliberately family-friendly and draws on stories, prayers, and activities that I have accumulated over many, many, many years of wonderful engagement with youth and children but, speaking as someone well into her forties, no one is ever too old to get their hands dirty.
As we get ready to enter into Holy Week, today is all about palms. Normally, these refer to the branches that people laid before Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and which we often use to decorate our sanctuaries on Palm Sunday. Given, current circumstances, we will use the palms we have at hand – don’t excuse the pun!
A playful prayer:
Before this prayer is offered, you may want to talk about tomorrow being Palm Sunday and what that means. Acknowledge the ways in which we normally celebrate it as church and how we can celebrate it this year using the palms of our hands. As you pray (you can repeat the prayer two or three times to get into the mood of it), wave your hands about, clap, and cheer.
We sing and clap and wave and cheer for Jesus, who come riding near.
We cheer and wave and clap and sing to welcome Jesus as our King.
The Lion Book of a 1000 prayers for children.
The story of Jesus entering in Jerusalem can be found in Matthew 21:1-11. You can read the story together or watch a short youtube clip:
Jesus and his followers were coming closer to Jerusalem. But first they stopped at Bethphage at the hill called the Mount of Olives. From there Jesus sent two of his followers into the town. He said to them, “Go to the town you can see there. When you enter it, you will find a donkey tied there with its colt. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone asks you why you are taking the donkeys, tell him, ‘The Master needs them. He will send them back soon.’” This was to make clear the full meaning of what the prophet said:
“Tell the people of Jerusalem, ‘Your king is coming to you. He is gentle and riding on a donkey. He is on the colt of a donkey.’”
The followers went and did what Jesus told them to do. They brought the donkey and the colt to Jesus. They laid their coats on the donkeys, and Jesus sat on them. Many people spread their coats on the road before Jesus. Others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.Some of the people were walking ahead of Jesus. Others were walking behind him. All the people were shouting,
“Praise to the Son of David! God bless the One who comes in the name of the Lord! Praise to God in heaven!”
Then Jesus went into Jerusalem. The city was filled with excitement. The people asked, “Who is this man?”
The crowd answered, “This man is Jesus. He is the prophet from the town of Nazareth in Galilee.”
International Children’s Bible
An Easter bouquet
Today’s activity is as messy as you want to make it. It can be done using poster paints and a large piece of cardboard – all together – or individually with pencils and pens.
If you are working collaboratively with paint, start by painting the vase/pot and as many stalks as there are members in your family. Once they have dried, have each person dip their hands into a shallow bowl of poster paint and then carefully press it on to form a “palm” flower. If you would like to use this as a more prayerful activity, have each person name someone that they are thinking of at the moment and miss having physical contact with.
Alternatively, the pot and stalk can be drawn in pencil with hands traced to create the flowers. The picture can then be coloured in. Make sure that your Easter bouquet goes on display!
Today’s photo is taken in the entrance hall of our home where we have been getting ready for Easter.
The round table on which everything rests belonged originally to my Mom but when I got married it became mine because it was the just-right size to fit in our little dining room with four chairs around it. Over the years, it has been gnawed upon by puppy dogs and punctured by pencils as the boys did their homework at it. Every time I look at it I smile because it makes me think of Enid Blyton’s “Enchanted Table.” Now retired, it has found new purpose marking the seasons and offering welcome as people come through our door.
In the background are bright symbols that remind me that this is a time of joy. I remember how much fun we had has children hunting Easter eggs in the garden – and the even greater fun I had hiding them for my own. I think of family traditions like Sunday’s roast lamb and hot cross buns at Oudi’s house on Good Friday, and church traditions like gathering together to make hundreds of Palm crosses or huddling beneath Calvary’s cross (yes, that really was the name of a dear community in which I worshipped, and yes, it really did have a beautiful outdoor cross) an hour before sunrise in the gloomy cold as we waited together for the light to dawn. Light. New life. A world made new. I am SO ready for that.
On the left are images from a Godly Play story which hold before me how truly human and how deeply loved Jesus was. The One who suffered alone on the cross was a blessing to the world: a son, a brother, a student, a carpenter, a friend, a teacher before he showed himself to be our Saviour. As I make ready to enter Holy Week, I reflect on the fact this is not some ancient story about some distant God but a word about love and pain and death and hope that so many need to hear … that I need to hear again.
Finally, on the right this year I have added a basin of water and a towel because the story of Pilate washing his hands of Jesus sits heavy within my heart in this time when hand washing has taken on such practical significance. I wonder who I have washed my hands of, kept at a distance, avoided because the personal cost in time and energy might be too much. Yet, as I dip my hands into the cool water, I feel myself washed clean.
As we get ready to enter into this special season in our homes this year, I would like to encourage you to create a space for the symbols that help you connect with the story, with some of your memories of Easters past, and with the people who have sat with you in the darkness and waited for the light.
“Seek, O seek the Lord” is probably my favourite hymn. We had it at our wedding and I will possibly have it at my funeral when the time comes. It was sung at our wedding at St Stephen’s Macquarie Street by the choir of Cleveland Street Boys’ High School where I was in charge of Music at the time.
It is not a long hymn but the words touch the heart – I particularly love the last two lines: How can we love God – and not each other? (in the original and in the Catholic Hymn books the last line reads “and not our brother”).
The hymn is written in a particular form for a particular reason. It is written in an antiphonal form which really means two choirs, but which can be thought of as verses with a repeated refrain or even ‘call and response’. The particular reason was that it was written, along with quite a lot of others, to introduce congregational singing into the Catholic Church following the liturgical reforms introduced by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
Seek, O seek the Lord, while he is near; trust him, speak to him in prayer and he will hear.
1. God be with us in our lives, direct us in our calling break the snares the world contrives keep us from falling.
2. God, increase in us the life that Christ by dying gave us though we faint in mortal strife his blood will save us.
3. Strengthen in our hearts the love we owe to one another how can we love God above and not each other?
TiS 464 music by Richard Connelly, words by James McAuley
I was first introduced to ‘Seek, O seek the Lord’ and Richard Connelly when as a young high school music teacher, I was invited to St Brigid’s Marrickville Church along with a close group of musician friends (mainly Catholic) to record an LP of ‘Songs for the Year of Grace’ a short book of songs written and produced by Richard Connelly.
All these songs were written to be sung with a cantor singing the verse and the congregation singing the antiphon or refrain. These were to be sung in English and not Latin. Catholic congregations were used to having the Mass sung in Latin and this was a very new concept. There are ten of Richard’s hymns in Together in Song and all except No.622 are in this form. Yvonne used one of them for the Easter period in the services leading up to Easter at Pilgrim last year.
May call and response be the rhythm of your day – each moment an invitation to be open to God’s voice, to seek God’s face and to dance in step with God’s Spirit.
If you would like this as a video reflection, please click here.
To the people of God on the way to the promised end,
As we get ready to enter into the unfolding drama of Holy Week and witness how the worship of the crowds as Jesus enters the holy city of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey will be transformed into the jeering mob’s cries of “crucify him!”
The feet so tenderly anointed with perfume will be pierced by nails.
His troubled spirit will find voice in the Garden of Gethsemane where a friend and follower will seal his fate with a kiss.
Bread broken, wine shared will become an enduring sign of his suffering and our salvation.
As the prophet Isaiah (50:4-9a) reminds us: He will not be rebellious. He will not turn away. He will offer his back to those who beat him. He will not hide his face from mocking and spitting. And though charges will be brought against him, though he will stand accused, he will not be condemned or put to shame. This is the word that sustains the weary: our Sovereign Lord is near.
As we enter the time of palms and passion, it will be an Easter unlike any we have ever known. Our traditional ways of gathering and remembering and the people with whom we usually do so are unavailable to wait with us through the suffering to the resurrection joy of Easter’s sunrise.
Perhaps the invitation of this time is to allow ourselves to feel deeply the loneliness of Christ as Pilate washed his hands of him; as he was forsaken by friends and followers and even his Father, and crucified in the company of criminals; as the stone shut him into the lifeless, lightless place of a borrowed tomb. Perhaps, if we open ourselves fully to that loneliness, we will also begin to awaken morning by morning to a greater love for a hurting world and those within it.
I love journals. The 16 barely-scribbled-in books on my bookshelf declare this to be true. I even enjoy journalling – from time to time.
But my main reason for these purchases (apart from the fact that they’re just so pretty) is the possibility that the blank pages hold.
What might I fill them with?
Prayers? Secret thoughts? Ideas for doing church differently? An account of each day? Three things to be grateful for? Fragments for a poem?
Whatever I like really …. Whatever I can imagine can be held, in limited form, within that space.
As I take time to start today with an awareness of God’s presence in my waking (and sleeping) moments, I have just stumbled across the Mooreeffoc Effect in a guided journal on creativity.
Mooreeffoc, you may have noticed, is simply “Coffee Room” spelled backwards. The story goes that Charles Dickens noticed the reversal of the sign on a coffee shop window when he was standing inside it and used it to describe how a familiar space can be transformed into something new and strange through the slightest shift.
As some of us begin to tire already of the restricted space and movements in this time, I wonder how we can put the Mooreeffoc Effect to good use in transforming the familiar routine. What might you do differently today? And what might you do differently that might make the day different for another?
Before offering a prayer of lament and longing today, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge what many others have shared over the course of the last week: that underneath the excitement and opportunities of finding different ways to connect and worship with one another is a very real sense of loss that is exacerbated by simply not knowing when we will next gather in person.
For me, the call to act decisively, in the interests of those most vulnerable and in solidarity with a world that is suffering, is what being Church is all about. My mind was quickly occupied with what might be possible given the ranging age and contexts of the congregations with whom I share life. And there is a very simple pleasure in, each day, offering something small – and, I hope, full of hope – to a Church far bigger than the boundaries we have held on to as we seek to offer a word of comfort and promise in a time of loneliness and anxiety.
But, as I pinned up the notices on the closed doors of a sanctuary to let people know some of the ways in which we can enter fully into this season of prayer and care for another, I must admit that I was overwhelmed with grief as I pictured the faces of the people that I would normally see gathering in that place each Sunday, the children I would hold, the hands I would touch.
Hence Monday’s mourning – a space to turn to God with our sorrow.
God of promise, please pay attention to my prayers this day. Don’t judge me for how I’m feeling – but acknowledge my cries. I live in the darkness of death’s shadow. My life is crushed into dust. My heart is heavy with despair and a deep depression settles into my soul. I am nearly at the end of my rope.
Help me to pause in Your presence, to stretch out my hands to You as a thirsty desert waits for rain to bring new life. Let the dawning day bring me a revelation of your tender, unfailing love. Remind me of the good old days – of all the ways I have seen You at work – that I might have light for this path and trust in You to lead me by Your blessed Spirit into clear and level pastureland.
*based on the Passion Translation and the Message paraphrases*
Grace, hope and peace to the gathered community as we meet, not in person, but in the person of Christ Jesus who binds us together beyond boundaries of time and space and solid lines on manmade maps ….
I love this Sunday in Lent which marks the beginning of Passiontide. It is a time of prophecy and of promise as we get ready for the old, old story of Jesus’s joyful entry into Jerusalem, his final meal with the disciples in the upper room, his anguished prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, his trial before Pontius Pilate who chooses to wash his hands of him, his slow death on Calvary’s cross between two thieves, and – ultimately – his resurrection. Our Scriptures on this fifth Sunday in the wilderness journey give us something to hold onto us we face the darkness that lies ahead.
As we lead into a time of prayer this morning, I invite you to take a moment to light a candle or open a curtain and be reminded that we are a people of promise, prophets in this time who kindle a flame to lighten the dark and take our fear away.
You may want to listen to the chant below as you do so, or to simply repeat the following words three or four times:
Kindle a flame to lighten the dark, and take our fears away.
Let us pray (based on Psalm 130):
Lord, we cry out to You from the very depths of our despair. Hear our voice. Listen to our plea for mercy and answer our prayers. You do not measure us and find us unworthy. You do not mark our sins and find us unclean. You welcome us with Your forgiving love – so we love and worship You.
We wait for Your word of hope; We expect Your breakthrough; We long for the morning’s light.
Keep us hoping, keep us trusting, keep us waiting on Your tender heart and Your liberation.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
So we hear the words of the prophet Ezekiel
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”
Ezekiel 37:1-14, NRSV
Our Gospel reading (which you are welcome to take a moment to read in John 11) paints, for me, one of the most intimate pictures of Jesus that we find in Scripture.
It is a story of relationship, of friendship, of deeply human connection which we know because it begins by fleshing out for us the characters who make it so real and relatable.
We know Mary and Martha from the Gospel of Luke and remember how one – Mary – chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to his teaching while the other – Martha – did not have too much of a choice in taking responsibility for extending the hospitality of their household to Jesus and his followers. We are told that Mary was the one so moved by love for the Christ that she anointed his feet with an expensive perfume and wiped them with her hair. We hear quite plainly in verses 4 and 5 that Jesus, in turn, loved each of them: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, the brother who lived with them in the village of Bethany.
Yet, Lazarus is ill. It is obviously a serious sickness for Mary and Martha write to Jesus with the expectation that he, their beloved friend, will come immediately and help – even though the Jews in Judea have recently tried to stone him.
That’s friendship. The reaching out for the comforting presence of another in a time of need and knowing that they will show up because that it the nature of the love between you, because the give and take and mutual self-offering is how it has been consistently over time ….
But Mary and Martha wait. They wait and they worry. They take turns looking out the door or the window for a sign that the one they have sent for is coming. They wait and they worry and they watch. They watch helplessly as the day turns to night and Lazarus slowly slips away.
Hope turns to grief. Without breath, Lazarus’ body is buried – to return again once skin and flesh and sinew have decomposed to dry bones, to the ashes of the earth.
It is only four days later that Jesus shows up and, in an interesting turn, it is Martha who goes first to greet him. In the bleakest of circumstances she professes, “Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
We can move quickly now to the end of the story where the stone is taken away and Jesus calls his friend out of the tomb and all who see Lazarus breathe again believe that Jesus is not just some healer but the Promised Messiah, the Resurrection and the Life.
Yet I would have us wait for that moment between Martha’s professed faith and the miracle, to sit with the heavy accusation that falls from Mary’s mouth when she sees him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” to open ourselves up to the anguished weeping that moves Jesus himself to weep – even though he knows that this story will end with restoration and resurrection.
In the quiet, I invite you to breathe.
To breathe in deeply the breath of God, the gift of Spirit. To breathe out slowly the grief, the pain, the disappointment, the loneliness, the fear, the questions, the heartache that has settled deep within our bones.
Breathe in the promise of restoration and resurrection, and breathe out the years of longing, watching, waiting, weeping, praying with little sign of the newness coming, of the vision taking shape.
Breathe in the love and friendship and intimacy of the Christ who weeps with us in the darkest night, and breathe out that love, that friendship, that intimacy as though you are filling the whole world with it.
Just breathe … and in your breathing in and out, I invite you to hold all who are struggling to breathe in this time through sickness or sorrow or suffocating life circumstances before God.
Lord, we cry out to You from the very depths of our despair. Hear our voice. Listen to our plea for mercy and answer our prayers. Amen.
May you know the friendship of God who draws near to us in the darkest of days, who weeps with us when we are weeping, and who leads us to resurrection life.
And can it be that I should gain An int’rest in the Saviour’s blood? Died He for me, who caused His pain – For me, who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! how can it be That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me? Amazing love! how can it be That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
’Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies! Who can explore this strange design? In vain the firstborn seraph tries To sound the depths of love Divine! ’Tis mercy all! let earth adore, Let angel minds inquire no more. ’Tis mercy all! let earth adore, Let angel minds inquire no more.
He left His Father’s throne above, So free, so infinite His grace; Emptied Himself of all but love, And bled for Adam’s helpless race: ’Tis mercy all, immense and free; For, O my God, it found out me. ’Tis mercy all, immense and free; For, O my God, it found out me.
Long my imprisoned spirit lay Fast bound in sin and nature’s night; Thine eye diffused a quickening ray, I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee. My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in Him, is mine! Alive in Him, my living Head, And clothed in righteousness Divine, Bold I approach the eternal throne, And claim the crown, through Christ my own. Bold I approach the eternal throne, And claim the crown, through Christ my own.