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On grace and grumbling

It is hard in this time to know what to do. 

Each day brings news that further divides us, scares us, confounds us, frustrates us.

Cleaning, compliance, checklists are words now associated with gatherings and worship while familiar rituals like the shared cup and plates and peace and songs are firmly on the “no no” list and pose a proven threat to the health of our communities.

Here in our little patch out in the country in a country with the space and resources to manage this pandemic quite well, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the global death toll is approaching 700 000 people – mere numbers to us but each one was knit together and named by and known to God who grieves along with the friends and family members that they are now lost to – often without a final goodbye or a familiar hand in theirs as they have taken their last breath. 

It cannot be business as usual; life as normal. We know this. And, over the past few months, we have moved in some ways – to online worship which transcends our geographical boundaries, and less cluttered calendars and diaries, and, maybe, a greater degree of mindfulness of and friendliness towards our neighbour. 

But, sometimes, it feels like we’re just holding our breath and waiting for it all to be under control or for a vaccine to be available and then, THEN, we can go back to how things were … because we like life with its familiar routines and rituals and rhythms, even when that life has locked us in to a narrow way of thinking and doing and being.

In the conversations that I’ve had in recent weeks about moving towards using church spaces again in worship, one of the consistent responses to this crisis and its implications for our community life has been grief and frustration at the fact that there can be no singing. “If we can’t sing, what’s the point in coming to church?” or “If you cut out the songs, you lose half the service!” have been common reactions. 

I acknowledge that pain. There is something about our music that connects us to the cacophony of all creation and the creativity of God. Beloved hymns and songs ignite memories, offer comfort, root us in our traditions, and make us feel as though God is right here beside us. And, often, our songs are the only way in which we – as individual worshippers – have a voice during the course of a traditional Sunday service.

So, for the next five weeks, we’re going to focus on the songs that we find in Scripture and in our stories of the people of God on the way and, perhaps, they will invite us into other practices that embed our life into the rhythm of Divine Love that permeates our every day work and our Sabbath rest.

Read below a few verses from that great and bloody liberation story in the book of Exodus in which Pharaoh set the enslaved Israelite nation free, then changed his mind, and had his army pursue them across the Red Sea. This is the song of Miriam, Moses’s sister, in response to God bringing her people to safety. 

When Pharaoh’s horses, chariots and horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground. Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. 

Miriam sang to them:
“Sing to the Lord,
for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
he has hurled into the sea.”

Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah. So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”

Exodus 15:19-24 (NIV)

Reflect: 

  • How does this song compare to the songs you like to sing?
  • Why do you think it is significant enough to appear in Scripture?
  • Do you find anything about the song challenging or confronting?
  • What is interesting to you about what happens next in the story?

***  

In and through and beyond our songs, God invites us into a rhythm of grace as old as time itself, yet new every morning. 

It’s a rhythm that takes us beyond words – into movement and relationship and freedom and spontaneity and simplicity and creativity. 

It’s a rhythm in which every member of the community can find their voice, their gift to offer, their time to lead, their connection with every other member. 

It’s a rhythm that is raw and honest and personal and allows space for difference. 

It is a rhythm that should endure beyond the song – in our living, our loving, and our journeying, yet we know that we can lose track of it when our focus shifts to other things and become bitter and full of grumbling.

May you seek the rhythm of love in your life this week – and let it move you!

Defining rhythm

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, rhythm can refer to:

  • an ordered recurrent alternation of strong and weak elements in the flow of sound and silence in speech;
  • the aspect of music comprising all the elements (such as accent, meter, and tempo) that relate to forward movement;
  • a regularly recurrent quantitative change in a variable biological process;
  • movement, fluctuation, or variation marked by the regular recurrence or natural flow of related elements ….

When we look at these definitions, we get an idea of how rhythm permeates our daily life: in language, in music, in nature, in growth and maturation. 

Think today of the rhythms that occur most in your life – of those cycles and seasons of which you are most aware – and how, perhaps, each offers an invitation to discover, encounter, and immerse ourselves more fully in the Rhythm that brought all life into being and, even now, sustains it. 

I would like to encourage you comment with a word, song, or image that comes to mind in your reflections.

Be open to the Divine Rhythm, in word, in music, and in the wide world around you.

Leaven

It’s a short story – only a verse in the Gospel of Matthew and two in the Gospel of Luke. 

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed [hid] in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Matthew 13:33 (NRSV)

And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Luke 13:20-21 (RSV)

In Matthew, it is prefaced by the parables of the sower and the weed; in Luke, by the call to repent or perish, the story of the barren fig tree, and a nasty confrontation with the Pharisees over the healing of a crippled woman on the Sabbath. In both instances, immediately before this parable is another: the parable of the mustard seed – the smallest of all seeds which, when planted, grows into a large tree that offers shelter to the birds of the field.

In context then, perhaps this story is also about what increases the kingdom – a sense of the nearness of God’s justice and perfect peace – and what might get in the way of that understanding and experience.

As I read Scripture through a woman’s eyes, the first thing that I notice about this story of the kingdom is that it is a woman’s story – probably taking place in her kitchen in her home in among all of the other routine tasks of a woman’s day.

As she bakes bread for the household, she takes a little piece of dough left over from the last batch that has, by now, fermented and mixes it in with the three measures of flour until it is all leavened and begins to produce the gas that makes the loaf rise.

I also notice that the whole process depends completely on leftovers, on just a little bit that she’s been clever enough to keep aside. And I notice that it really is just a little bit in comparison to the rest of the ingredients – but without it the loaf would remain flat, unleavened. I notice that that little bit permeates the whole mixture – changing its nature from unleavened to leavened. I notice that the word used for mixing in is actually the same word for hiding something inside. I notice that in this whole process, there is a a necessary, hands-on action on the part of the woman but, also, a letting go time in which the leaven, once mixed in, does its own work. 

Finally, I note that there is another passage in Matthew’s Gospel in which Jesus warned others to be wary of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees – and that, in this particular culture, at this particular time, there were many religious moments that involved unleavened bread, so leaven could be used metaphorically to describe a negative influence – and just a little would ruin the whole lot. 

Yet, in today’s story, a woman’s story, Jesus tells us that we discover what the kingdom of God is like …. I wonder what you notice and how it speaks to you of God’s perfect peace and justice growing in our churches, our households, our society. 

Perhaps the kingdom of God is about nothing going to waste.
About the smallest gift making a significant change. 
Perhaps it’s about how we divide and share our resources.
Perhaps it’s about planning ahead, and holding on to a little now, for something today or tomorrow or the next day.
Perhaps the kingdom of God is about those who normally don’t feature in our stories taking centre stage.
Perhaps it’s about finding God in the ordinary places of our homes and the ordinary routines of our work and our rest.
Perhaps it’s about what we hide away in ourselves that transforms us from the inside out. 
Perhaps it’s about knowing when to act – and when to just be part of an unfolding process that we cannot control.

Perhaps the kingdom of God is working unseen in us in this very moment.
Perhaps it’s about the peace and the justice that we long for contaminating our thoughts, our prayers, our language; 
fermenting in our gatherings, our studies of Scripture, our rituals, our planning; 
changing our mindsets, our prejudices, our grudges, our brokenness, our excuses; 
and rising, through the Spirit of God and not through any power of our own, to become bread for all at an open table …. 

It’s a simple story. A parable of the kingdom. May you break off a piece and hide it in your heart this day and see what increases in your life. 

Pentecost

Over the past few weeks, I – like many others – have become increasingly aware of the significance of constraints or boundaries or limitations in our lives. In the movement from death to life to life in its fullness, I am deeply challenged (again) by the identity of the Church as the pilgrim people of God and inspired by the imagery of God’s Spirit as breath or wind – invisible but tangible, uncontainable.

The gathering for Pentecost Sunday defies some of those constraints as technology enables some to meet beyond traditional sacred space and geographical boundaries for a time of conversation and contemplation through poetry, prayer, music, silence, and nature. 

This week, the service will not be recorded but I share some of the curated elements here for you to be drawn into this time in your own time and way through different voices, traditions, and experiences. If you would like to be part of the gathering, it takes place on Sunday from 9:30a.m. (with 30 minutes of opening music) to 11a.m. (G.M.T +10) and you are welcome to comment here so that I can send you an invitation to Zoom (requires computer with microphone and camera or smartphone). 

May the Spirit of God with and within you, move you.

***

Songs for worship

Poem: Pentecost is Every Day

I share and share and share again
sometimes with a new language
which, if you are so open
will take you behind the sky
and award you cartwheels across the sun
I give and give and give again
not restricted by the church calendar nor concocted ritual
I have no need of anniversaries
for I have always been
I speak and speak and speak again
with the sting of purity
that can only be Me
causing joyous earthquakes in the mourning soul of [hu]man
I am and am and am again.

Stewart Henderson, The Lion Book of Christian Poetry

Visual Prayer

Featuring names for the Holy Spirit from Richard Rohr’s book The Divine Dance. During this time, it is recommended that you move your body in some way in response to what you feel happening within you e.g. stretch, hold out your hands, follow the moving images on the screen with your finger, sway etc. Pay attention to which words or images really move you.

Prayer of presence (progressive)

We gather today
mindful of a creative,
energising magnificence
at work in all places:
– in the vastness of the universe,
– in the evolutionary development of life on earth,
– and in every breath we take.

In this Great Mystery
we are one with everything and everyone.

We open our hearts and minds
to this creative Presence,
this energising Power
in the depths of our own being, 
knowing that 
we need not ask it to “Come,”
but rather
knowing it has always 
been here with us in life,
in being,
in spirit,
in love.

We gather in memory of Jesus
who knew this Presence in his own life,
who recognised its presence in the lives of others
and who urged his listeners 
to call upon this Presence within them
to transform a world of sorrow,
a world of pain,
into a world of joy,
a world of promise and hope.

Today we give thanks for 
the Jewish men and women 
who took up the challenge
of transforming their world,
who kept the dream of Jesus alive. 

Michael Morwood, Prayers for Progressive Christians

Sacred Story

Adapted from http://www.barnabasinchurches.org.uk/pentecost-seven-signs-of-the-spirit-a-reflective-story/

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.”

John 20:19-23, New International Version

Questions to reflect on:

  • I wonder which of these signs of the Spirit you like best.
  • I wonder which of these signs you think is the most important sign.
  • I wonder if there are any other signs we could have to have all the signs of the Spirit that we need.
  • I wonder where we see these signs in the world around us.
  • I wonder how we can be a sign of the Spirit in the world.

Signs of the Spirit

As we pray for others, I invite you to pick up your pen/pencil and paper if you have one close at hand. As the words of the prayer are offered, without lifting your pen from the paper scribble an unfurling, unfolding, moving line in whatever way you are moved to. Alternatively, after the time of worship, tie pieces of string or ribbon outside in a spot where the wind will move them this week and you will be reminded of what you have prayed for. 

Praise to you Gentle breeze of the Spirit
For you blow where you will.
I hear the sound of you but
know not where you come from 
or where you go.
Let me be aware of your presence
as your breathe across my life this day,
though I can never grasp you.

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

By your breath of life which infuses all living things,
as I inhale the spirit of the people I meet,
may I exhale your love.
As I inhale the news of today, 
may I exhale prayer like incense rising.
As I inhale rumours of war,
may I exhale supplications for peace.
As I inhale the air which the leaves of the trees give to me,
may I exhale care for all that bears leaves.
As I inhale the same air of the creatures around me
may I exhale freedom from all that causes suffering.

Inspirer of the Universe,
by your grace, may we breathe your loving purpose this day.

Tess Ward, The Celtic Wheel of the Year.

Blessing

May the God of creation warm your heart like the campfires of old
Bring wisdom and peace as shown to the first peoples of this land
Shake off the dust from the desert plains by the refreshing rains
Followed by the glow and warmth of the sun
Let the light of God show us the right path and stand tall like the big
River gums drawing life from the ever flowing waters.

Uncle Vince Ross, commongrace.org.au

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.