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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.

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.

Tuesday: take time to grieve

Today, I conducted my first funeral in this unsettling time of social isolation. It is a tough time to grieve. Both for the less than 10 who are able to gather together and for those unable to offer the comfort of physical presence and support. 

It felt appropriate for this time of excruciating grief to use the Gospel story from this past Sunday for the darkness of death and the hope of resurrection are central to the Christian faith. 

So just a few thoughts for those working through grief and loss at the moment ….

Unlike the other texts, in John’s Gospel (chapter 20, verses 1 to 18) it seems as though Mary is alone at the tomb – there in the dark of dawn and the deeper darkness of her heart ache and sorrow. 

She was one of the eye-witnesses to Jesus’s slow and agonising death on the cross and those images lie heavily upon her – along with the rawness of her grief and the empty unimagined future that lies ahead of her and, in fact, all of the disciples. 

When she discovers that the stone has been rolled away, she does not think immediately of all the promises and prophecies that Jesus would die and – in three days – rise again but simply that in this very broken and unfair world that she has experienced of late someone has hidden his body so that they cannot grieve, they cannot remember, they cannot worship as they would like.

When she goes to the room where the others are staying safe behind closed doors, looking for comfort, looking for help, Peter and John run off ahead of her. And, once they have discovered that what she has said is true – that the body is gone – they return to their sanctuary.

Mary, alone, stays in the cold and lifeless place, the empty place, overwhelmed by her tears.

In the immediacy of death, our sorrow often feels completely overwhelming as we wrestle with the loss of the physical presence of a person we loved dearly, process some of the unresolved emotions and brokenness of relationships that occur, and ask deep questions about the eternal. 

There will come a time when we will be able to remember and laugh at how a loved one brought life alive for us; when the tears do not blur our ability to look at the past and at the future and see clearly that they remain present with us in every moment.

But, on that first day of waking up to a new reality, it really hurts. It hurts to no longer hold on to the one we have lost. It hurts that his or her body no longer draws breath. It hurts that they, like so many of our hopes and dreams, have been turned to dust to be returned to the earth and the eternity of God.

As resurrection people, I believe that God would have us take time to acknowledge the darkness, to feel the loss of those loves and lights that have been of great significance in our lives, to let the tears come, and the questions weigh heavily upon us.

In our grief we can take the time that we need knowing that there is a change in this Scripture story when Jesus calls Mary by her name and Mary, in turn, names him by the essence of who he is and what he means to her: “Rabboni” or “Teacher.” 

Death cannot deny or destroy the intimacy of lives so long shared. 

It does not have the final word. 

The darkness will turn to dawn. 

The stone will be rolled away. 

The stories will change from the anguished, “I don’t know where they have put him” to “I have seen the Lord.” 

For those who are mourning in strange ways in this moment, 
may you know that the same arms which welcome your loved one 
into God’s eternal peace, 
bear you through the sorrows 
and the longings of the time to come. 
In your memories, 
may his or her life star always shine bright. 
In your hearts, 
may their love always be in full bloom.

With much love,
Yvonne

Saturday: undone

As I sit down in the silent gloom of this morning, I am deeply aware that, for many, this is a time of great loss and loneliness. 

For some, the grief is raw and fresh; for others, it is a deep ache that has settled within their bones over many years. 

For some, tears flow freely; while others choke on bitterness and anger and regret.

For some, what must be let go of makes room for something new tomorrow; for others, there is no sense of being able to go on tomorrow without the one that they have lost. 

For myself, in this moment of darkness in which I reflect on my own life in light of a body sealed, cold and breathless, in a borrowed tomb … 

I dip my hands 
into the pool of tears,
and let each unwept drop 
drip
from my fingertips.
Their ripples shimmer
across my calm reflection
until, 
at last, 
I am undone. 

May we be undone on this black Saturday 
in the knowledge that, gently, God goes with us 
until the rains are over and gone
and the winter of our grief is past. 

Sending much love,
Yvonne

Tuesday: predictions

This morning I went for a walk through the nearby reserve. I rejoiced in the feeling of my calf muscles stretching after days cooped up inside. I breathed in deeply of air and space and solitude. I reached my hand out to touch the dewdrops on the snow grass. I looked for the kookaburras – hidden but noisy – in the tall trees and stared back silently at the kangaroos until they resumed their breakfast.

As I exalted in the simple sense of being alive, a long-loved poem came unbidden to my mind:

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

“Keeping things whole” by Mark Strand

Tonight, we move with Jesus from the comforting companionship of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus into Jerusalem where people long to see him because of the miracles that he has performed – particularly that of bringing Lazarus out from the tomb. 

He moves to make things whole, and, wherever he goes, he is exactly what people have been missing in their lives. 

Tonight, we hear of the heaviness within his heart – for he knows what is about to happen. He speaks strange things about glory in a troubling hour, about a kernel of wheat dying in order to produce many seeds, about believing in the light while we have it. 

Tonight, I invite you to engage with Jesus’s predictions through the ancient practice of lectio divina. Sit quietly and comfortably and listen to the words from John 12:20-36. If you are listening to the audio file below, you will hear the story from three translations with a question to ponder during each reading.

If you are working through the readings on your own, you may want to use your own Bible or the words from the New International Version which are included below. Read it through, slowly, three times, reflecting on the following questions:

Audio lectio
  1. First reading: What word, image, or phrase struck you the most in the reading?
  2. Second reading: What memories, thoughts, questions, joys does the reading bring to mind?
  3. Third reading: What might God’s invitation be to you this night?

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.

John 12:20-36, New International Version

Close off this time of reflection by offering a prayer to God in response to what you have heard. Perhaps you would also like to share one of your thoughts by commenting on this post.

Monday’s mourning: Psalm 143

Before offering a prayer of lament and longing today, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge what many others have shared over the course of the last week: that underneath the excitement and opportunities of finding different ways to connect and worship with one another is a very real sense of loss that is exacerbated by simply not knowing when we will next gather in person. 

For me, the call to act decisively, in the interests of those most vulnerable and in solidarity with a world that is suffering, is what being Church is all about. My mind was quickly occupied with what might be possible given the ranging age and contexts of the congregations with whom I share life. And there is a very simple pleasure in, each day, offering something small – and, I hope, full of hope – to a Church far bigger than the boundaries we have held on to as we seek to offer a word of comfort and promise in a time of loneliness and anxiety. 

But, as I pinned up the notices on the closed doors of a sanctuary to let people know some of the ways in which we can enter fully into this season of prayer and care for another, I must admit that I was overwhelmed with grief as I pictured the faces of the people that I would normally see gathering in that place each Sunday, the children I would hold, the hands I would touch. 

Hence Monday’s mourning – a space to turn to God with our sorrow.

God of promise,
please pay attention to my prayers this day. 
Don’t judge me for how I’m feeling –
but acknowledge my cries.
I live in the darkness of death’s shadow.
My life is crushed into dust.
My heart is heavy with despair
and a deep depression settles into my soul.

I am nearly at the end of my rope.

Help me to pause in Your presence,
to stretch out my hands to You
as a thirsty desert waits for rain
to bring new life.

Let the dawning day bring me a revelation
of your tender, unfailing love. 
Remind me of the good old days
 –
of all the ways I have seen You at work –
that I might have light for this path
and trust in You
to lead me by Your blessed Spirit
into clear and level pastureland. 

Amen.

*based on the Passion Translation and the Message paraphrases*