PO Box 609, Wagga Wagga NSW, 2650 (02) 6921 4275 For prayer or care, please get in touch through the Pilgrim page or contact form.

Sunday: seeking together

A huge word of affirmation and thanks to the Pilgrim elders – Betty, Marilyn, Ruth, Rob, and George – for putting together our service of worship for Sunday in such a meaningful and extraordinary way.

The full wording of the service can be found by downloading the PDF order here:

A video compilation of all the songs, prayers, readings, and sermon can be downloaded by clicking on the following link: Sunday service.

Our Ascension Day service can also be found here.

Blessings to each and every one of you
as we continue to gather in a way that moves us beyond the physical boundaries of time and place
and seek to use our gifts – together – to build up our faith and community.

With much love,
Yvonne

Sunday: mothering

Call to worship

Sing, heavens! Shout for joy, earth! Let the mountains burst into song! God will comfort God’s people; God will have pity on God’s suffering people. But the people of Jerusalem said, “God has abandoned us! God has forgotten us.” So God answers, “Can a woman forget her own baby and not love the child she bore? Even if a mother should forget her child, I will never forget you. Jerusalem, I can never forget you! I have written your name on the palms of my hands.

God – the Mother who never forgets,
We gather in the embrace of your love,
We gather in the strong grasp of your hands,
We gather in the comfort of your care and nurture, We gather, as your children, to worship.
Amen.

John Van de Laar, sacredise.com

Hymn: Praise to God, the world’s creator

Sung to the well known tune: ode to joy.

Praise to God, the world’s creator,
source of life and growth and breath,
cradling in her arms her children,
holding them from birth to death.
In our bodies, in our living,
strength and truth of all we do,
God is present, working with us,
making us creators too.

Praise to God our saving Wisdom,
meeting us with love and grace,
helping us to grow in wholeness,
giving freedom, room, and space.
In our hurting, in our risking,
in the thoughts we dare not name,
God is present, growing with us,
healing us from sin and shame.

Praise to God, the Spirit in us,
prompting hidden depths of prayer,
firing us to long for justice,
reaching out with tender care.
In our searching, in our loving,
in our struggles to be free,
God is present, living in us,
pointing us to what shall be.

Jan Berry

One of the questions that I’ve most enjoyed asking young people – both within church and school settings – over the years is to identify their heroes. The answers always follow the same pattern:

a few joking proclamations of “I’m Batman” or Wonderwoman or even Spongebob Squarepants (often accompanied by the theme song which gets stuck in my head for days);

followed by the names of a few famous people like Kim Kardashian or Shawn Mendes;

followed by a few “right-sounding” answers – Mother Teresa, Ghandi, Pope Francis –

and then there’s an awkward silence and a shifting in the seats until some brave soul blurts out, “my mom,” (or “mum” now that we are fully immersed in Australian culture) followed by a long and breathless explanation as to why someone so ordinary counts as their hero ….

These are stories of love or sacrifice or integrity or perseverance in the face of unbelievable adversity that has made a permanent impression on that young person’s life, shaped who they are and who they want to be.

It is certainly the case for me – and so I wear my mother’s pearls this morning as I share this space with you – as tribute to the legacy that she leaves in me and gratitude for the particular gifts of words, wisdom and courage with which she has graced my life. 

Mother: 
she changes everything she touches;
everything she touches, changes.

We remember, with thanks, those who have been mothering role-models in our lives.

Silence is kept.

Let us pray:

Life Giving and Sustaining God
We give you thanks for the gifts women bring.

On this Mother’s Day we especially thank you for our mothers.
We thank you for their caring love,
their cradling of children,
their willingness to give and not count the cost,
their tenderness and warm embrace.

We thank you for our mothers in the faith
who have helped us know and experience Your love.
We thank you for their words of wisdom
and the ways they have nurtured and cared for us.
Our lives are the richer because of their influence and example.

We honour them this day and ask that you would help us
follow the example of love they have shown.

Strong, Compassionate God,
Like a mother you tenderly care for your children.
You pick us up when we fall over; 
Your face smiles on us;
You sing songs to us of your love.

Like our mother you feed us from your hand,
You search for us when we are lost,
You bind up our wounds,
You comfort us when are hurting.

We ask this day that you would strengthen our families.
We know that no family is perfect.
Heal our families where they are broken.
May You be present in our families guiding and sustaining us
this day and into the future.

We pray in Jesus’ name who spoke of himself as a mother hen 
who seeks to gather her chicks under her wings (Mat 23:37).

Amen.

Helen Richmond

Meditation

In her book, the Painted Prayerbook, Jan Richardson offers these words on motherhood:

“Who are our first sanctuary.

Who fashion a space of blessing 
with their own being:
with the belly 
the bone and the blood

or, if not with these, 
then with the durable heart
that offers itself 
to break and grow wide, 
to gather itself around another
as refuge, as home.

Who lean into the wonder and terror
of loving what they can hold
but cannot contain.


Who remain in some part of themselves
always awake, 
a corner of consciousness 
keeping perpetual vigil.


Who know that the story 
is what endures
is what binds us
is what runs deeper
even than blood
and so they spin them
in celebration of what abides
and benediction on what remains:

a simple gladness that latches onto us
and graces us on our way.

As we celebrate the precious gift of mothers today we acknowledge the immense pain of childbirth that pales in comparison to the pain of loving and letting go a million times in each lifetime of the heart that suddenly walks outside of your body: love and hope and longing enfleshed in little arms and little legs and little minds that age and change and grow. 

We hold in our hearts today the vulnerability and the suffering 
~ of those who have longed to be mothers but been unable to conceive or miscarried,
~ of those for whom it has been more than enough to be aunt or role model and been made to feel by our society that they are somehow less or incomplete, 
~ of those for whom pregnancy has been an unmanageable reality or a painful reminder of violation or terrible mistakes and who have had to make difficult choices that would forever change their future and the future of their unborn child,
~ of those who have loved and lost a child and never fully felt the same about life since,
~ of those of have done their best only to find that nothing has gone to plan and who sit in the rubble of broken relationships and unrealised dreams,
~ of those who feel deep down inside that they were terrible mothers and they have ruined their children and there is no way to go back and make things right …. 

For this is what motherhood is – a mess of blood and bone and bonds that changes everything. 

Listen to these few words from Paul’s second letter to a young man named Timothy: 

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,

To Timothy, my dear son:

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

2 Timothy 1:1-5, New International Version

Mother:
she changes everything she touches;
everything she touches, changes. 

Timothy’s sincere faith – his honest and authentic belief in God – begins in his mother’s mother; just as Paul’s faith is rooted in his own ancestors. 

Just as his eye colour or the shape of his nose was knit together and formed within his mother’s womb – a beautiful blending of man and woman, of mother and father – so too was his spiritual being knit together and shaped by the nurture and the faithfulness of Eunice and Lois. 

Their posture to God, their love for one another, their work in the neighbourhood, their attitude to giving, the songs that they sang, their pattern of prayer, their sincerity and honesty and faithfulness were the loom on which Timothy’s connections to Earth, to community, to the divine were slowly woven …

… so that this young man, grown, mature, independent, now claims for himself a bond of brotherhood with one of the most fervent preachers of the good news and, indeed, with Christ himself.

Mother:
she changes everything she touches;
everything she touches, changes.

As we celebrate the gift of mothers in blood and bone and bond,
and as we recognise the painful vulnerability of motherhood today,
we glimpse not only the mothering heart of God, 
but also – perhaps – are invited to really wrestle with the idea or image of Mother Church – 
our spiritual sanctuary,
a space of blessing created for us,
in which to find life and love
and home and refuge. 

What are the stories that we tell,
the ones that endure?
Do they break down or build up?
Do they foster faith in our youth and children
– or inspire resentment or apathy or boredom?
Are they sincere, honest, authentic? Are we?
Do they bind us even deeper than blood
without becoming restrictive or oppressive?
Do they bless us when we abide in them – 
and when we move on to another place
is that blessing written upon our hearts?

Mother:
she changes everything she touches;
everything she touches, changes.

May we be touched and changed by the mothers and grandmothers 
of our faith today. And, as Church, may we seek to embody the courage and the vulnerability of God who reaches out to all in love. 

Hymn: God of the women

To the tune of: be Thou my vision

God of the women who answered your call,
Trusting your promises, giving their all,
Women like Sarah and Hannah and Ruth —
Give us their courage to live in your truth.

God of the women who walked Jesus’ Way,
Giving their resources, learning to pray,
Mary, Joanna, Susanna, and more —
May we give freely as they did before.

God of the women long put to the test,
Left out of stories, forgotten, oppressed,
Quietly asking: “Who smiled at my birth?” —
In Jesus’ dying you show us our worth.

God of the women who ran from the tomb,
Prayed with the others in that upper room,
Then felt your Spirit on Pentecost Day —
May we so gladly proclaim you today.

O God of Phoebe and ministers all,
May we be joyful in answering your call.
Give us the strength of your Spirit so near
That we may share in your ministry here.

Carolyn Winfrey Gillette

Benediction

May the Mother who knit us together within the womb
and the Midwife of our soul,
shape our sojourn on this earth
with intimacy and connection,
with courage and vulnerability, 
with the capacity to touch and change
and be touched and changed.
Amen.

Monday: shepherd

It’s been wonderful to have a week away from the “work” of ministry – to spend time in my studies with the likes of Mallory and Chaucer, to enjoy the sunshine after the rain, to indulge in long baths and pyjama days, to feel energy and creativity and vision unfolding again from the resting place ….

a special word of thanks to the elders from Pilgrim who have shared their own stories, thoughts, and reflections with us in this space to make that time possible. We truly are a community that is being led and fed and built as we deepen our connection with Christ and seek to offer the gifts that we receive to one another and the world.

An acrostic prayer/poem based on Psalm 23

Sing songs of blessing and devotion to the shepherd of our souls!
He is our constant companion, our protector, our friend.
Each of us is known by name; led by his footsteps into the open way.
Peace and plenty are the gifts we will find in his resting place;
His goodness and love, the assurance that our future is safe in his hands. 
Even when the day is dark and difficulties distress us,
Remember that you are not alone – he is near.
Delight in the table set before you and and drink deeply of his Spirit!

Sunday: remember

Message from Moderator Simon Hansford, 
and prayers adapted from Tess Ward’s “Celtic Wheel of the Year.”

Prayers – sung and spoken

Praise to you Suffering God.
You know the wounding by metal
of skin that was made to love.

Your prophets spoke long ago
of melting down weapons and bombs
to make machines for hospitals and farms,
of using money and intelligence spent studying war
on housing all and finding cures for our dis-eases.

Praise to you for not abandoning us
but remaining with us in the darkest dereliction
of our choice.

Be still in the silence and aware of the Love with and within …

O Holy One who came in peace,
your blood fell on dusty ground
in the sacrifice of Calvary;
Your cross standing erect as graves,
for every father, son and brother;
for every woman too;
row on row of unmarked stone,
indecently clean and straight
belying the messy stain
that can never be eased from our story now
but inspires our courage
and calls us to act for Your eternal shalom.

As age shall not weary them,
may despair not overcome us.
We will not cover the spectre of terror with forgetfulness.
We will remember them.

For all the war studied
and all the lessons never learned,
we offer our contrite hearts
and our sadness
and place them into Your hands.

Hear then the Good News (from Hebrews 9:27-28 The Passion Translation):

Every human being is appointed to die once, and then to face God’s judgment. But when we die we will be face-to-face with Christ, the One who experienced death once for all to bear the sins of many! And now to those who eagerly await him, he will appear a second time; not to deal with sin, but to bring us the fullness of salvation.

So, the peace of the Lord be with you.

Gospel reading

Now on that Sunday two of the followers of Jesus were going to a village called Emmaus, about 11 kilometres from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all the things that had happened that led to the crucifixion of Jesus. 

While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” 

They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 

He asked them, “What things?” 

They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 

Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 

Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 

But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 

They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 

Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Luke 24: 13-35

A brief reflection

In the midst of life we are in death,creatures of a day.
Like a shadow we flee and never stay.
But God is tender to those who fear him
for he knows of what we are made;
he remembers that we are but dust.
Our days are like the grass;
we flourish like a flower of the field;
when the wind goes over it, it is gone
and its place will know it no more.
But the merciful goodness of the Lord endures forever, 
full of compassion and grace.

Tess Ward, Alternative Pastoral Prayers

Death has a way of bringing the whole of life into question. And days of remembrance can be especially hard as we sit with the tensions of sadness and celebration, of holding on and letting go, of the life that was lived together and the unimagined future of life without one we loved dearly. 

One of the things that I treasure most about my faith is the assurance that the God who was there at the beginning is also there for each ending. And that, in God, beginnings and endings are not as limited or as finite or as opposite as we use them in our language. 

For those disciples on the road to Emmaus, the death of Christ on the cross and all of the events leading up to it and all of the confusion of the days that followed distracted them from their core beliefs and blinded them to the fact that the very one they were mourning was walking right beside them.

Gently, Jesus reminds them. 

First, by telling them the old, old stories right back to the days of Moses so that they might remember God’s faithfulness and recognise the slow unfolding of God’s salvation in every generation.

Second, by accepting the invitation to stay with them and enacting the simple blessing, breaking, and sharing of bread as he had so recently done in the upper room of the disciples that they might know him and make known to others the truth of his abiding presence. 

As we remember all Australians killed in military operations by telling their stories or standing at the end of our driveways at dawn or wearing sprigs of rosemary or baking ANZAC biscuits, may Jesus gently remind us that – as part of Christ’s resurrection community – we are custodians of the good news, part of God’s unfolding plan for the salvation and renewal of the whole world, a people called to pray and work for God’s perfect peace. 

Prayers for peace

Let us pray for all who suffer as a result of conflict,
and ask that God may give us peace:

for the servicemen and women
who have died in the violence of war,
each one remembered by and known to God;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

for those who love them in death as in life,
offering the distress of our grief and the sadness of our loss;
may God give peace.
God give peace.

for all members of the armed forces who are in danger this day,
remembering family, friends and all who pray for their safe return;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

for civilian women, children and men
whose lives are disfigured by war or terror,
calling to mind in penitence the anger and hatreds of humanity;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

for peace-makers and peace-keepers,
who seek to keep this world secure and free;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

for all Defence Force chaplains offering support,
encouragement, acceptance, compassion and understanding
wherever and whenever it is needed;
may God give peace.
God give peace.

for all who bear the burden and privilege of leadership,
political, military and religious;
asking for gifts of wisdom and resolve
in the search for reconciliation and peace;
may God give peace.
God give peace. 

O God of truth and justice,
we hold before you those whose memory we cherish,
and those whose names we will never know.
Help us to lift our eyes above the torment of this broken world,
and grant us the grace to pray for those who wish us harm.

As we honour the past,
may we put our faith in your future;
for you are the source of life and hope,
now and for ever.
Amen.

Today’s song has long spoken into the very depths of my heart of the presence of God in the high and low places of my life. 

When I am down, and, oh, my soul, so weary
When troubles come, and my heart burdened be
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence
Until you come and sit awhile with me

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be ….

You raise me up, today’s version performed by Josh Groban

It evokes, particularly, memories of many trips down from the inland plateau of the Highveld in which Johannesburg is located to the southern coast of Kwa-zulu Natal – for family holidays (both as a child and as a parent), formation for ministry, and silent retreat.

The long drive alone was often a wonderful time of contemplation and quiet as I watched the rolling plains give way to flat fields of wheat and sunflowers to the steep and winding pass through the mountains. 

Always, I would stop for a cup of coffee and to stretch my legs just off of Van Reenen’s Pass … and to get my playlist ready for the next part of the journey. Always this song would play (very, very loudly and on repeat) as my eyes took in the wondrous beauty of God’s good creation in its green and browns and the play of light and dark on the open hills and leafy valleys.

Always, the words of the Psalmist would come to mind:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, 
the Maker of heaven and earth. 

Psalm 121:1-2, New International Version

As you listen, may you feel the hands of God enfold you gently,
offering you sufficient help for this day, 
and leading you into life in the wide open spaces
of mercy and grace.

Sunday: orientation

Click to listen to audio version

We cry to God, we cry aloud!
In the day of our trouble we seek you, God.
Has your steadfast love ceased for ever?
Are your promises at an end?
Have you forgotten to be gracious 
and shut up your compassion?

We call God’s deeds to mind;
we remember your wonders of old,
and muse upon your mighty works.

Your way, O God, is holy.

Uniting in Worship 2, pg. 199

Some demand signs
and others seek insight,
but we have only the Christ crucified,
stumbling block and folly of our time.

In faith, we appeal to God.
In hope, we will not let God go.
In love, we claim God’s attention.

Uniting in Worship, pg. 200-201

It’s the second Sunday in Easter and, to be honest, I feel completely flat after the energy and emotion of that holy week.

Like the disciples, I find myself behind closed doors but they do not keep out the heartache and the heaviness with which people are struggling due to ill health or accidents, grief or loneliness, financial worries or fear for vulnerable loved ones. What the doors do do is keep me from the
re-energising presence of people, the touch that offers comfort, the sense of broader community that pulls me out of my own unsettled headspace ….

So, the familiar story of Jesus appearing to the disciples in the upper room takes on new meaning and deeper significance for me as I wonder what it must have been like to be part of that first family of Christians who had no sense of being a resurrection community, no expectation of their crucified Lord showing up in the midst of their misery and despair.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John 20:19-31 New International Version


But Jesus does show up – to the wonder, the astonishment, the surprise of those who are present – and the disbelief of Thomas who was not (perhaps he was the one tasked with going out to search for toilet paper). And the book of John specifically records the stories of these two encounters – one with Thomas and one without – because they present the need for a radical about-face as those who have been dealing with death suddenly have to deal with life.

English writer and philosopher Gilbert Chesterton wrote:

“What has really happened during the last seven days and nights? Seven times we have been dissolved into the darkness as we shall be dissolved into dust; our very selves, so far as we know, have been wiped out of the world of living things; and seven times we have been raised like Lazarus, and found all our limbs and senses unaltered, with the coming of the day.”
So seven days and seven nights have passed since we retold the resurrection story. And seven days and seven nights passed between Thomas hearing the story told by the other disciples and actually experiencing the wonder of the risen Lord embodied before him. How many days and nights must pass for us to be reoriented from death to life, from the “now” which preoccupies so much of our thinking and doing to the eternal, from the fear which keeps us behind closed doors in far more than a physical sense to a life founded on peace and purpose and forgiveness and faith?

Through this Gospel account, may you receive this – and each – new day as the remarkable gift that it truly is: an invitation to this time and this place to believe and to love as we enter again and again and again into the surprise and delight and creativity of the resurrection story as participants rather than spectators.

Some questions that I am pondering as I acknowledge my own need for re-orientation which you may want to reflect on in the seven days and seven nights that lie ahead before we join two disciples on the road to Emmaus and discover, with them, Jesus in the simple act of breaking bread:

What does resurrection life look like to you?
What does it mean in the midst of the suffering and sorrow of our days?
How does it shape who we are and what we do when we move again beyond the closed doors into a world that has little sense of the divine, the sacred, the eternal?

May the God of the Easter garden bless you in every season of the heart.
May the God of the mountainside bless this time we’ve spent apart.
May the God of the beach bless you whether tides ebb or flow.
May the God of the upper room bless your doubts that all may know
the deep love of God that is stronger than death.
Amen.

Thursday: in the cross

Well, it’s Thursday already. 

It’s been a morning of running errands that were postponed until the end of Holy Week and of trying to make inroads into the 109 hours that still remain for the learner driver in the house. I am aware of the unread mails and messages lurking behind this (once) almost blank screen and of the rumbling in my belly that says it’s nearly time to do something about lunch. 

How quickly life returns to normal; shifts from the sacred back into the ordinary. And how hard it is to hold on to the passion of Easter and the Good News message of God’s great love for the world when there are practical things that need to be done. 

So … the song I’d like to share with you today is one that I grew up singing in church on Sundays. Even though it’s from the Methodist Hymn Book (number 199), I call it a song because the version below is not at all “hymny” and I love it! 

In our busyness, 
in our dailyness,
in our brokenness,
may Christ keep us close to the cross.

***

Jesus, keep me near the Cross;
There a precious fountain,
Free to all, a healing stream,
Flows from Calvary’s mountain.

In the Cross, in the Cross,
Be my glory ever; 
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.

Near the Cross, a trembling soul,
Love and mercy found me;
There the bright and morning star
Shed its beams around me.

In the Cross, in the Cross,
Be my glory ever;
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.

Near the Cross, O Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day,
With its shadow oe’r me.

In the Cross, in the Cross,
Be my glory ever;
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.

Near the Cross I’ll watch and wait,
Hoping, trusting ever,
Till I reach the golden strand,
Just beyond the river.

In the Cross, in the Cross,
Be my glory ever;
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.Methodist Hymn Book 199 – Frances Jane van Alstyne

Sunday: realisation

Call to worship: Wilderness

I used to know the wilderness only as pain;
A land without food, a land without water.
But you rained down manna
And even water flows in your desert.

I used to think the wilderness was total isolation—
But the Israelites had each other,
And you had the stars in the sky.

So then I thought the wilderness must be time wasted—
Forty years of circles.
Forty years of wondering.
But then I realized, each step is a step,
And maybe there’s growth in that.

So then I concluded that the wilderness must be lonely spaces—
The woman and her well,
The blind man and his gate,
Martha and her kitchen,
Peter and his fire.
But then you showed up in each of those places,
To each of those faces.

So now I wonder—
What if the wilderness is the birthplace of creation?
What if the wilderness is where call begins?
What if the wilderness is where joy is birthed?
What if, between the dirt and the sky
And that wide orange horizon,
The wilderness is where we find you?

by Sarah Are – A sanctified Art

Welcome

Welcome, brothers and sisters in Christ, to the dim hours of dawn as the sun slowly climbs into the sky, bringing light and warmth upon the land. 

How we have travelled these weeks,
through the wilderness of scarcity and isolation,
loss and loneliness, uncertainty, ill health, and strange time which passes now too quickly, now too slowly,
to the praises of Palm Sunday and the horrors of the cross and the silent hours of waiting …
to this moment.

We begin with two questions for you to consider:
1. Why is this day special to you?
2. And, what emotions are you feeling today?

Gospel reading: John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved,and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

New International Version

Prayer

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Living One,
no tomb can keep You,
no door is closed to You,
no life is shut off from You.
Come lead us out of darkness into light,
out of doubt into faith,
out of death into life eternal.
Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord.
Amen. 

Guided reflection

Interesting that the day starts and ends at the tomb, a morning like any morning. No earthquake. No flash of light. No bright star to announce his arrival. No chorus of angel song to testify to the Good News of resurrection. Simply the awareness that what has been is gone. 

So we pause for a moment to be still, to be quiet, in the pale light of morning and we hold before God that which is gone in our own lives.

***

Mary Magdalene, in the dark, notes that the stone has been moved. And her despair is doubled  – for her mind does not go to the promises and prophecies of resurrection but to her broken experiences of a world in which a crowd one day utters “Hosanna” and the next “Crucify,” where the beloveds become betrayers, where those in authority wash hands of their responsibility, where an innocent man is crucified between thieves. In such a world, it makes sense that the very same enemies who have orchestrated all of that, will have taken the body and hidden it so that the name of Jesus did not become mightier in his martyrdom. 

We pause for a moment to be still, to be quiet, in the cold air of morning and we hold before God that which is broken in our own world.

***

She goes to get help. Or at least, some company in her grief – but Peter and John run off ahead of her.
The one who was at the cross and entrusted with the care of Jesus’s mother cannot bear to go, at first, beyond the door but notes that the body is gone and the wrappings have been left behind. The one who denied any association with the Lord, goes straight into the burial place and pronounces it empty of the Christ. They see and believe – not in the resurrection – but that the body is gone. And they go back to where they are staying – leaving Mary outside the tomb, crying and alone.

We pause for a moment to be still, to be quiet, in the wake of bad news and we hold before God those who we have left alone in their frailty or sickness or grief.

***

As she weeps, Mary bends over again to look into the place that has been declared empty. She knows that the one she is looking for is not there so I wonder why she does so. Why she alone stays in the dark, cold place of death when the others have returned to a safe place. What instinct drives her to look again. What she expected to find. Certainly not two angels who she doesn’t even recognise as angels through her tears. Nor Jesus, himself, standing behind her. 

We pause for a moment to be still, to be quiet, in the blur of tears and we ask God to hold those times and places in our lives which it feels like God is not present with us.

***

“Mary,” Jesus names her. “Rabboni!” she cries out. And the whole reality shifts. He was dead. Now he is risen. His body was gone. Now he is here. She wants to reach out and hold on to him in her relief- but Jesus gently stops her. Nothing will ever be the same and he is to leave his disciples in order to be with all people. His Father has become our Father. His God is our God. 

We pause for a moment to be still, to be quiet, in the truth that changes everything and we ask God to hold the realities that need to named and challenged and transformed.

***

Again, Mary returns to where the disciples have sought sanctuary. Her news is radically different from what it was. The misery and uncertainty of “they have taken the Lord and we don’t know where they have put him” is now the joy-filed eye-witness testimony “I have seen the Lord” and the careful retelling of what he said to her. 

We are not actually told how her news was received; whether they believed her or wrote her good news off as the imaginings of an overwrought woman. Certainly, it did not seem to change their fearfulness for when Jesus next appears to them, they are still behind locked doors. Yet, that does not really matter. Easter Sunday reminds us that we all have a testimony to offer of the personal touch, the power, and the presence of Jesus.

So we pause for a final moment to be still, to be quiet, in the brightening light and we ask God to hold our lives as living signs of God’s love for the world.

Prayer for the world

Lord, like Mary, we weep.
We weep with all who suffer,
with all who are persecuted,
with all creatures who endure our cruelty.

Lord, we weep with those who are lonely,
with those who have buried a beloved,
with those for whom life is harder than death.

Lord, we weep with all who are oppressed,
with all who are bound by their addiction,
with all who are wrapped up in suspicion and hate.

Lord, we weep where disease is spreading,
where war has erupted,
where tempers run high.

Lord, we weep with children abused by the people they trust,
with young people bullied, and silenced, and shamed,
with homes where the anxiety of this time is made worse by violence.

Together Lord, we weep. We weep.

May we all, at the end of this Lent,
though many of our lives still feel like the wilderness place,
receive again with the rising of the light each day,
the knowledge that You are with us,
that You call us by name,
and that You have left us – like the empty tomb and and the folded wrappings – as signs for all the communities of earth
of Your power and Your purpose:
to heal all who are hurting
and bring us back to life.

Amen.

Hymn: Christ the Lord is risen today

Christ the Lord is risen today:
Hallelujah!
Let the whole creation say:
Hallelujah!
Raise your joys and triumphs high:
Hallelujah!
Sing now, heaven, and earth reply:
Hallelujah!

Love’s redeeming work is done;
Hallelujah!
fought the fight, the battle won;
Hallelujah!
vain the stone, the watch, the seal:
Hallelujah!
Christ has burst the gates of hell.
Hallelujah!

Lives again our glorious king;
Hallelujah!
where, O death, is now your sting?
Hallelujah!
Once he died our souls to save;
Hallelujah!
where your victory, O grave?
Hallelujah!

Soar we now where Christ has led,
Hallelujah!
Following our exalted Head;
Hallelujah!
made like him, like him we rise:
Hallelujah!
ours the cross, the grave, the skies.
Hallelujah!

Together in Song

Friday: it has come to pass

This is the night 
where violence is the victor
as ambitious men measure a man’s worth in silver
and fearful men turn their backs on a friend,
and powerful men trade what is right for whatever keeps them popular.

This is the day
when the sun refuses to shine 
on the tear-stained cheeks of those who bear witness to such cruelty
or the bewildered faces of those who can’t take back their wrongs
or the hardened hearts already moving on to their next bit of entertainment.

This is the time 
in which God goes ahead 
into the nightmare landscape of pain and suffering,
into the breach between divine love and human sinfulness,
into the dark, 
into the deep, 
into death.

Out of the depths we cry to you:
Lord, have mercy.

Gethsemane … by Glen Powell

As it was prophesied in the book of Isaiah, so has it come to pass:

See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
so he will sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.

For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.
Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (NIV)

Sovereign Lord,
our great God of compassion,
as we gather around the cross of Christ
we can hardly believe what happened.
Our hearts are shaken with sorrow,
our certainty with disbelief,
for a life so full of promise has been taken
and we do not understand.

Cradle us in our confusion,
meet us in our anger,
contain our shock and sadness,
bear the questions that have no answers,
ease our regret and shame.

We must believe that you do not despise our cries of deep despair –
that You do not look the other way when we are in pain.
You are the first responder to our sufferings:
let us remember that “it is finished”
that we might overflow with life again.
In Jesus’ name.

Thursday: Tenebrae

If you would like to celebrate the Service of Shadows at home, light seven candles and work your way through the readings, extinguishing a light after each one. Once in the darkness, sit for a while in it, then light one candle as a sign that we live in the assurance of resurrection hope and look forward to Sunday.

Welcome 

To find a body willing is hard. In the mall, I asked old women, young men, a few clerks – could I please wash your feet?

I held out a brand new bar of soap and a full blue plastic basin. The pink towel on my shoulder was clean.

As you might expect, some folks dismissed this as a ploy. A wide man wearing green suggested I kiss his wide green ass instead. His leather work boots squeaked against the tile as we each declined the other’s gesture.

It was a revelation just how many claimed their feet were plenty clean – tiny women in gossamer shoes; boys in sleek white Nikes; a cop’s polished black oxfords shone.

By the time I found someone, the water had grown cold. Yet he only winced a bit at the initial dip of his heel. Callused skin on the balls of his feet and a sharp nail on his big toe kept him from being a stranger.

After dabbing dry his skin, I handed him his socks. He knotted up his laces. He asked was it my turn now? But by then I had to run.

A liturgy for stones by David Wright 

Welcome, friends, to our service on shadows on this Thursday night in Holy Week. This is the time for us to be held in awkward tension between our humility and our selfishness, between life and death, between light and dark.

Welcome.
Welcome.
Welcome.

Candle 1: Humble worship 

I honestly don’t know what came over me. One moment I was sitting at the table listening to the serious conversation of the men about where they might be headed next. My sister, Martha, was setting out baskets of bread for which they reached absent-mindedly – their heads too full of plans and questions.

She caught my eye, smiled, and shook her head slightly in amusement and wonder at our brother, Lazarus, reclining alongside Jesus. It was not so long ago that our home was a place of weeping and wailing, yet here he was, returned to use from the dead and slowly putting on all the weight that his sickness had stolen from him.

My eyes welled up with tears. How unpredictable life is. How fragile. How precious. I excused myself quickly, not wanting anyone to see me overcome with emotion.

As I paced under the night sky I thought about how I could best give voice to the love and the gratitude that I was feeling.

I returned to the room that Martha and I shared and retrieved our greatest treasure – a simple alabaster jar filled with the most beautiful perfume. It was worth a small fortune and we were always getting into trouble for removing the stopper to breathe in the heavenly scent.

Yet, tonight, I knew within the deepest part of my being that there is no treasure more precious than life, than the present moment, and so I took the jar back to the supper table, knelt before Jesus, and poured each and every drop onto the feet that had travelled so far to teach and heal and touch people who were hurting as much as we had.

The smell that filled the room was even sweeter as all my love, all my joy, all my worship streamed from my heart and I wiped his feet with my hair.

Candle 2: Selfish ambitions 

Mark 14:4-11
Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

In the silence, humble yourself before God and confess the ways in which you have put aside the Love and Life which Christ has made possible for selfish ambition, desire, and pleasure.

Candle 3: A humble meal

The night before his suffering and death, Jesus shared a final meal with his friends around the safety of a table in which he could speak some uncomfortable truths and prepare them for what lay head. While we cannot gather to share in this meal of remembrance, still we share in the love we have for each other and for our Lord Jesus Christ who said:

‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’

In that love, we are the body of Christ whose Spirit is with and within us.

So we remember the signs us of His presence and his promises to us.

A candle …

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world;
whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life”.

A loaf of bread …

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. The bread that I shall give is myself for the life of the world”.

A cup of wine …

Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

Whenever we encounter this everyday ordinary elements in our households, let us remember that we are each part of the story of God’s sheltering love as he stills holds space for everyone at the table.

Jesus said: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.’

So may the peace of the Lord be with you.

Candle 4: Selfish needs 

Mark 14:32-50

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.

Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

“Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Then everyone deserted him and fled.

In silence, open yourself up to how Jesus must have struggled with this journey. Stay within this sinkhole of agony for the next 5 minutes. Stay awake!

Candle 5: Humble silence 

I really have to stop wringing my hands in front of the servants. What would people think of the governor’s wife displaying such worry as the city fills in celebration of the Passover feast?

But I do worry! My heart is full of fear. No one really understands what it takes to stay in power in this world. There are always people plotting, scheming, playing games. One wrong move – and that’s it. We would be out of this comfortable residence, excluded from polite society, banished to a poor province, forgotten in our disgrace.

And this time of the year is the worst! Spirits are high. Foreigners flood the streets. Keeping the law is fraught with danger. Oh! And that barbaric custom of setting a prisoner free on the whims of the crowd – does no one even stop to consider what put them there in the first place!?!

Sometimes I get so anxious that my head feels like it will burst. Then I have to retreat to my chambers with lavender burning and a cool cloth over my eyes until the pain retreats or, if I’m lucky, I manage to find a few hours of sleep.

But sleep was no comfort at all today for I dreamed of a familiar face – a man I’ve seen talking to the crowds in the marketplace. Some say he’s a healer. Others a fraud. Those that we dine with regularly for the sake of appearances certainly don’t seem to like him. He’s gotten everyone all riled up. I mean, the other day, he came into the city riding on the back of a donkey with the common folk throwing their cloaks at his feet and pulling palm branches off the trees to wave in the air as they shouted. I think he’s going to mean trouble for us.

In my dream he stood before me, staring silently – eyes so full of love and sorrow, compassion and pain – that I could not look away. “Who are you?” I cried. “What do you want from me?” But he said nothing. I woke to a clamour of cries “Innocent! Innocent!” but there was no one else in the room.

And now, I can’t stop wringing my hands. Yet I must. I must stop this useless fretting and send a message to my husband warning him that if this man comes into his courts, we must wash our hands of him.

Candle 6: Selfish preservation

I never thought that my life would amount to much. I’m a fisherman. Just like my father. And my father before him.

Each one of my days was the same as the next – marked by the changing seasons, the ebb and flow of the tides, simple acts of mending nets, and good natured competition with our friends about who would bring home the biggest catch.

Then I met a man who changed all that. He saw something in me that no one else did. He promised to change me from a fisherman to a fisher of men. I didn’t even know what that meant but I followed and, through his words and his way with people, I learned that God is nearer than we think and that we all have a part to play in his Kingdom.

I was proud when he changed my name from Simon to Peter and said that he would build his church upon me.

Yet, tonight, he was taken by force in the Garden of Gethsemane, betrayed by one of us and I just can’t bear to stand beside him in the high priest’s house and find myself accused too, though we’ve done nothing wrong. But I can’t bring myself to leave either.

I want to be the man that he saw when he called me but he warned us that the cost of following him might be laying down our life – and, now that it comes to it, I’m not ready.

Twice already I’ve been asked whether or not I am one of his followers. Twice I’ve lied, denied any knowledge of him, and I hate myself for it.

Next time, yes, the next time I’m asked, I’ll stand up for truth. I’ll be the Rock. I’ll risk my life, my future for him the same way as he took a chance of me. Next time ….

Candle 7: A humble end 

Mark 15:16-32

The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the jews.

They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

***

God is light, 
in whom there is no darkness at all.
Jesus Christ is the light of the world. 
And this is the judgement,
that the light has come into the world,
and we loved darkness rather than light.