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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

Wednesday: turmoil

A simple offering of words this night as we enter into the troubled state of Jesus’s heart and his disciples’ turmoil and anxiety ….

After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”

His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”

Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas,the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.

When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

John 13:21-32 NIV

Scripture gives us some insight into the kind of man that Judas was. We met him on Monday as a liar and a thief who would criticise a woman for an extravagant act of worship because of what it cost him … and lie about his motivation for doing so. 

We will meet him again tomorrow in the Garden of Gethsemane when he betrays his teacher and friend with a kiss. We know his end – how he regretted what he had done and hung himself because there was no way to take it back. 

Yet, as we look around the table in this particular passage tonight we see a gathering of very anxious, very human men who – at Jesus’s proclamation of the coming betrayal – do not rush to point the finger at another or protest their innocence but want to know which one of them it might be. 

They were a close group who had journeyed together intimately over a number of years – from different backgrounds, yes; with vastly different personalities, certainly – but bound in wonder and belief to this man: Jesus. There would have been squabbles and conflicts, smaller cliques developing between those with a natural affinity, and an understanding of each person’s gifts and shortcomings that physical closeness and camaraderie brings. 

As they listened to those words, as they scrutinised each other, I wonder what they saw in one another’s hearts and minds? I wonder if they considered what was truly going on within their own and that gave them pause.

What strikes me most, time and time, about this story is how Jesus acts from the turmoil within his spirit. He speaks the truth and then dips a piece of bread into the dish and gives it to the one who will betray him. This act is not just a means to out the betrayer in the midst but, culturally, a tradition performed by the host of a table to honour a special guest. 

It is a radical, intentional gesture of affection that includes him for eternity in the meal of broken bread and shared cup which proclaims that, by a love and grace that we are freely given, we are forgiven and bound to the eternal life of Christ.

Still, Judas chooses to leave the table and to cloak himself in the shadow of night. And soon, Peter will choose to deny any association with the Messiah to save himself. 

We all make our choices. This Easter, what life do you choose? 

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: Fragrance

Tonight, we gather at Jesus’s feet to worship an extravagant act of worship (based on John 12:1-11, from The Passion Translation). Before you begin, I invite you to light a scented candle or rub some scented oil or spray some perfume lightly on your wrists – if you have these things at home. 

Watch the video reflection and prayer below by clicking here Video – or read the words carefully giving yourself time to breathe and reflect as indicated.

Close your eyes. Breathe in deeply. Notice the smells, the fragrances which fill the room in which you are sitting – much as the Spirit of God fills your heart. 

Think back on this night of costly perfume spilt in an extravagant act of worship to a story that comes well before it … to a time when something amazing happened in Bethlehem: the birth of the One who would be King of the whole earth.

Remember how the wise men came to worship, bearing costly gifts of their own. The gift of gold. The gift of frankincense – which was used for worship then – and is still used in places to pray today, turning first from black to white before its scent is released.

There was another gift too. Another smell. That of myrrh – a gum or resin – that was placed with the dead at burial and burned at the funerals of those whose death was important.

Think of Jesus who died for you, whose death was important for the life of all. 

Breathe in deeply. Imagine the scents of the stable and the foreshadowing of a tomb outside which, very soon, women will weep in the bleak morning light as they seek to care for a body taken in haste from the cross and laid in a borrowed tomb. 

This is the night that we breathe in deeply the sweet scent of love between friends, of a meal shared where Martha served and Mary scent and there was no squabble between them because Lazarus, their brother, was returned to them from the dead, or worship in spirit and truth that does not count the cost and will not be contained by the practical.   

Six days before the Passover began Jesus went back to Bethany, the town where he raised Lazarus from the dead. They had prepared a supper for Jesus. Martha served, and Lazarus and Mary were among those at the table. Mary picked up an alabaster jar filled with nearly a litre of extremely rare and costly perfume—the purest extract of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet. Then she wiped them dry with her long hair. And the fragrance of the costly oil filled the house. 

Breathe in deeply and let your love for the Lord fill your heart – Saviour that he is.

But this is also the night that we breathe in deeply the sharp scent of ambition, of dishonesty, of betrayal as we are given a glimpse into Judas’ heart and find it full of himself. Meanly, he turns on Mary for her generous act. Quickly, Jesus comes to her defence with words that speak of the darkness that will soon descend – and Judas will play a significant part in that.

But Judas the locksmith, Simon’s son, the betrayer, spoke up and said, “What a waste! We could have sold this perfume for a fortune and given the money to the poor!”

(In fact, Judas had no heart for the poor. He only said this because he was a thief and in charge of the money case. He would steal money whenever he wanted from the funds given to support Jesus’ ministry.)

Jesus said to Judas, “Leave her alone! She has saved it for the time of my burial. You’ll always have the poor with you; but you won’t always have me.”

Breathe in deeply and let the Lord’s love for you fill your heart – sinner that you are.

This is the night that we breathe in deeply the contradictions of those who were moved by Jesus’ miracles to worship and believe and those who would plan and plot to see him die for such miracles were incontrovertible proof that he is the Son of God..   

When the word got out that Jesus was not far from Jerusalem, a large crowd came out to see him, and they also wanted to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. This prompted the chief priests to seal their plans to do away with both Jesus and Lazarus, for his miracle testimony was incontrovertible and was persuading many of the Jews living in Jerusalem to believe in Jesus. (John 12:1-11 The Passion Translation).

Breathe in deeply on this night when past and future meet in a fragrance poured upon soon-to-be pierced feet. Breathe.  

***

Oh Lord who raised Lazarus from the dead,
and, in your last days, reclined at the dinner table with followers and friends,
~ savouring the intimacy,
~ unearthing the essential,
~ contemplating the road ahead,

in grateful adoration, I kneel before you this night:
my Saviour,
my Rabbi,
my Companion …

my Treasure:
~ cherished,
~ worshipped,
~ sought after,
~ centre and sustainer of my life.

Like perfume from the alabaster jar,
may my unstoppered confessions spill
and find your welcome and defence:
~ that I have forgotten the cost of your unconditional love while putting a price tag on on my own offer of forgiveness and friendship,
~ that I have held onto and hoarded – for good reason and poor – my time, my resources, my grace,
~ that I have been so caught up in my plans, my agendas, my desires, that I’ve lost sight of your will and your way,
~ that I have been ignorant of your presence, of your need, in light of the urgent and the tangible that crowds in on each day.

As I look upon these feet that walked within my world,
freshly anointed,
soon to be wounded,
~ wipe away all of my transgressions,
~ make me attentive to the immediacy of your kin(g)dom,
~ and fascinate me with the fragrance of your loving-kindness.

Amen.

Sunday’s sermon: Passion

To listen to audio, push play (triangle).

Call to worship

Holy Week starts on Palm Sunday with Jesus weeping over the people of Jerusalem before entering it – not as a warrior on a war charger – but as a person of peace on a donkey that had never been ridden before. 

The crowd goes wild – for the Healer, the Teacher, the Miracle-maker, the bread-and-fish-breaker, the Calmer of Storms has come. How we might long to slip into their midst and wave our palm branches in greeting – our “Hosanna” song rising to heaven on the lips of the throng:

Give thanks to the Lord, 
for He is good!
His love endures forever!

Psalm 118:1 New International Version

But Palm Sunday has another name with words so much harder to hear that we would rather wash our hands of them. Instead, I invite you to open them wide where you are sitting and to hold within them the passion and the pain of the Psalmist’s prayer:

Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress;
    my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
    my soul and body with grief.
My life is consumed by anguish
    and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction,
    and my bones grow weak.
Because of all my enemies,
    I am the utter contempt of my neighbors
and an object of dread to my closest friends—
    those who see me on the street flee from me.
I am forgotten as though I were dead;
    I have become like broken pottery.
For I hear many whispering,
    “Terror on every side!”
They conspire against me
    and plot to take my life.

But I trust in you, Lord;
    I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hands;
    deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
    from those who pursue me.
Let your face shine on your servant;
    save me in your unfailing love.

Psalm 39:1-16 New International Version

Candle-lighting

If you are listening to this an audio reflection, I invite you to pause it for a moment to light a candle and join in the hymn below by singing along or speaking the words out loud:

Born in the night,
Mary’s child,
a long way from your home;
coming in need,
Mary’s child,
born in a borrowed room.

Clean shining light,
Mary’s child,
your face lights up our way;
light of the world, 
Mary’s child,
dawn on our darkened day.

Truth of our life,
Mary’s child,
you tell us God is good;
prove it is true,
Mary’s child,
go to your cross of wood.

Hope of the world,
Mary’s child,
you’re coming soon to reign;
King of the earth,
Mary’s child,
walk in our streets again.

Together in Song 323

Prayer

Blessed be you, Divine Peacemaker,
seeker of justice, 
the One who weeps with and for us 
as we fail to see how dazzled we are by the trappings of status
and how distant we have become from your passion for the world.
Give us eyes to see what is scandalous, 
voices to speak up for those without worth, 
courage to confront both power and pride,
and enough care to place in Your hands 
the burden of the wrongness of this world
which we name before You now.

In Jesus’ name.
Amen.

Reflecting on Scripture

Today we reflect on a portion of the Gospel reading for Passion Sunday in which Jesus appears before Pilate who washes his hands of him.

Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer.Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.

Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.

While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”

But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.

“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.

“Barabbas,” they answered.

“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.

They all answered, “Crucify him!”

“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”

Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

Matthew 27:11-26

It is something that I learned to love in South Africa: the provision of a beautiful bowl of warm water, often strewn with pretty petals or a few drops of scented oil, for a guest to wash their hands in before a meal. More than a practical act of cleanliness, it was a measure of hospitality as well. 

How different our preoccupation is with hand washing now as we sing or pray our way through a twenty-second scrubbing as we seek to be safe and keep others safe in a world where others might bear the cost of our unsantized touch.

Perhaps it is this regular, relentless act that first drew me to this reading. 

Perhaps it is the injustice of it all that pulls me in – for surely the world is not so unfair, the crowd so bloodthirsty, our leaders so quick to do the wrong thing if it means retaining their power and popularity. 

Perhaps it is my frustration that the Living Word offers no words really in his defence and that all the articulate theological arguments around why the salvation of the world must come about through such a brutal story still make little sense to my heart. 

Perhaps it is because I know how many times, at the end of a long day, I have run myself a hot bath and allowed to slip away words that I have spoken to influence or injure, the names of people I did not get around to calling because I’ve put so many other priorities on my plate, deep questions about love and life and faith that I am not yet ready to consider, good intentions that have amounted to nothing beyond a brief thought, the truth of how great a divide there is between who I am and who Christ calls me to be. I wish that I could say that I at least wallow in these things for a while, but with the warmth of the water they are fast forgotten – particularly when paired with a good book.

I wonder if it was that way for Pilate – or if the guilt and shame ate away at him over time. Scripture is clear in telling us that he knows the motives of the crowd are false, that he is warned by his wife of Jesus’s innocence, that he gives up the truth when he sees that he is getting nowhere. 

His act of washing his hands and declaring that he is innocent of Jesus’s blood is ludicrous – for though the crowd has asked for it – he is the only one with the power to have Jesus flogged and handed over for crucifixion. So, what is its significance? Why waste time on such a meaningless ritual? 

As I wonder these things, I am struck by the difference between the passion of Christ and the pretence of Pilate. Between an act of loving servanthood in which Jesus took basin and towel, got down on his knees, and washed each disciples’ feet and this pointless gesture of hand washing in which one with great authority takes absolutely no responsibility for his choices. Between one who is willing to lay down his life for the liberation and healing of others – and one who is unwilling to risk anything at all for the sake of justice or peace.

It is a story of contrasts which speaks radically to me of what it means to be Church as we enter into Holy Week, to be a people made new by baptism and nourished each day by the living waters of God’s Spirit instead of a people who wash our hands of the world that God has given us responsibility for. 

As you listen to or sing along with the next hymn, I invite you, as you are able, to pour a bowl of water and – as you wash your hands – slowly consider what significance this action might take on in your life right now.

For me, I am reminded of the words of Trevor Hudson who speaks of each one of us as sitting beside a pool of tears. As I dip my hands into the water, I choose not to give up responsibility for a world that is hurting, but to open myself up to stories of heartache and pain so that, together, we might find healing and transformation.

Jesus Christ, I think upon your sacrifice
You became nothing, poured out to death
Many times I’ve wondered at your gift of life
And I’m in that place once again
I’m in that place once again
And once again I look upon the cross where you died
I’m humbled by your mercy and I’m broken inside
Once again I thank you
Once again I pour out my life

Now you are exalted to the highest place
King of the heavens, where one day I’ll bow
But for now I marvel at this saving grace
And I’m full of praise once again
I’m full of praise once again
And once again I look upon the cross where you died
I’m humbled by your mercy and I’m broken inside
Once again I thank you
Once again I pour out my life

Thank you for the cross
Thank you for the cross
Thank you for the cross, my friend

Matt Redman

Blessing

May the blessing of God who fashioned and formed us 
be upon us in the place of pain and the pool of tears
that we may never forget the world’s suffering 
nor forsake God’s great love, 
but seek to do justice,
love mercy,
and walk humbly with God.

Looking ahead through Holy Week …

Next week, instead of the daily pattern of prayer, a short reflection will be offered each night on the lectionary readings that lead us to the cross. I do hope that you will join me on this sacred journey. 

Yours in Christ
Yvonne 

Saturday’s spirit: Palms up

If you are reading this post, welcome to the first ever offering of “Saturday’s spirit” which focuses on tapping into the Spirit of God in our creativity, experience, and play. The language of these posts is deliberately family-friendly and draws on stories, prayers, and activities that I have accumulated over many, many, many years of wonderful engagement with youth and children but, speaking as someone well into her forties, no one is ever too old to get their hands dirty. 

As we get ready to enter into Holy Week, today is all about palms. Normally, these refer to the branches that people laid before Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and which we often use to decorate our sanctuaries on Palm Sunday. Given, current circumstances, we will use the palms we have at hand – don’t excuse the pun!

A playful prayer:

Before this prayer is offered, you may want to talk about tomorrow being Palm Sunday and what that means. Acknowledge the ways in which we normally celebrate it as church and how we can celebrate it this year using the palms of our hands. As you pray (you can repeat the prayer two or three times to get into the mood of it), wave your hands about, clap, and cheer.

We sing and clap and wave and cheer
for Jesus, who come riding near.

We cheer and wave and clap and sing
to welcome Jesus as our King.

The Lion Book of a 1000 prayers for children.

Palm story

The story of Jesus entering in Jerusalem can be found in Matthew 21:1-11. You can read the story together or watch a short youtube clip:

Jesus and his followers were coming closer to Jerusalem. But first they stopped at Bethphage at the hill called the Mount of Olives. From there Jesus sent two of his followers into the town. He said to them, “Go to the town you can see there. When you enter it, you will find a donkey tied there with its colt. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone asks you why you are taking the donkeys, tell him, ‘The Master needs them. He will send them back soon.’” This was to make clear the full meaning of what the prophet said:

“Tell the people of Jerusalem,
    ‘Your king is coming to you.
He is gentle and riding on a donkey.
    He is on the colt of a donkey.’”

The followers went and did what Jesus told them to do. They brought the donkey and the colt to Jesus. They laid their coats on the donkeys, and Jesus sat on them. Many people spread their coats on the road before Jesus. Others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.Some of the people were walking ahead of Jesus. Others were walking behind him. All the people were shouting,

“Praise to the Son of David!
God bless the One who comes in the name of the Lord!
Praise to God in heaven!”

Then Jesus went into Jerusalem. The city was filled with excitement. The people asked, “Who is this man?”

The crowd answered, “This man is Jesus. He is the prophet from the town of Nazareth in Galilee.”

International Children’s Bible

An Easter bouquet

Today’s activity is as messy as you want to make it. It can be done using poster paints and a large piece of cardboard – all together – or individually with pencils and pens. 

From https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/384635624405993253/
Image from Kitchenfunwithmy3sons.com

If you are working collaboratively with paint, start by painting the vase/pot and as many stalks as there are members in your family. Once they have dried, have each person dip their hands into a shallow bowl of poster paint and then carefully press it on to form a “palm” flower. If you would like to use this as a more prayerful activity, have each person name someone that they are thinking of at the moment and miss having physical contact with. 

Alternatively, the pot and stalk can be drawn in pencil with hands traced to create the flowers. The picture can then be coloured in. Make sure that your Easter bouquet goes on display!

x

Sunday reflections 22/3

Welcome friends, fellow pilgrims on the way to God’s promised end in this time of disaster, disease and dis-ease when many of us feel truly anxious and alone in the wilderness ….

Yet, as we gather in new ways and in new times and in new spaces like this one, we remember that it was through the ascension of Christ and his return to the Father, that we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit who dwells within each one of us and is with us even now, ensuring a deep and spiritual connection with all the heroes of the faith who have gone before us and with the whole host of heaven. So, in faith, let us pray:

Gracious, gathering God:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
from the beginning, connected,
and through the connection, creative,
and in all creation, communing

with Your children
who You fashioned in Your image,
wove together with Your own hands,

named “beloved,”
and called according to Your good purpose and plan,
how wonderful,
how truly delightful it isto enter this day
into the sweet harmony of Your salvation song:

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

As we gather together in this moment
with all our sisters and brothers across time and space,
may the togetherness of our spirits
be a source of blessing
and a sigh of our deep yearning
for the day when You will gather all things up
in heaven and on earth
into Your perfect peace -forever and ever.
Amen.

Our Good News comes today from John 9 and I read from The Passion Translation.

Afterward, as Jesus walked down the street, he noticed a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Teacher, whose sin caused this guy’s blindness, his own, or the sin of his parents?”

Jesus answered, “Neither. It happened to him so that you could watch him experience God’s miracle. While I am with you, it is daytime and we must do the works of God who sent me while the light shines. For there is coming a dark night when no one will be able to work. As long as I am with you my life is the light that pierces the world’s darkness.”

Then Jesus spat on the ground and made some clay with his saliva. Then he anointed the blind man’s eyes with the clay. And he said to the blind man, “Now go and wash the clay from your eyes in the ritual pool of Siloam.” So he went and washed his face and as he came back, he could see for the first time in his life!

This caused quite a stir among the people of the neighbourhood, for they noticed the blind beggar was now seeing! They began to say to one another, “Isn’t this the blind man who once sat and begged?” Some said, “No, it can’t be him!” Others said, “But it looks just like him—it has to be him!” All the while the man kept insisting, “I’m the man who was blind!”

Finally, they asked him, “What has happened to you?”

He replied, “I met the man named Jesus! He rubbed clay on my eyes and said, ‘Go to the pool named Siloam and wash.’ So I went and while I was washing the clay from my eyes I began to see for the very first time ever!”

So the people of the neighbourhood inquired, “Where is this man?”

“I have no idea.” the man replied.

So the people marched him over to the Pharisees to speak with them.

They were concerned because the miracle Jesus performed by making clay with his saliva and anointing the man’s eyes happened on a Sabbath day, a day that no one was allowed to “work.”

Then the Pharisees asked the man, “How did you have your sight restored?”

He replied, “A man anointed my eyes with clay, then I washed, and now I can see for the first time in my life!”

Then an argument broke out among the Pharisees over the healing of the blind man on the Sabbath. Some said, “This man who performed this healing is clearly not from God! He doesn’t even observe the Sabbath!” Others said, “If Jesus is just an ordinary sinner, how could he perform a miracle like that?”

This prompted them to turn on the man healed of blindness, putting him on the spot in front of them all, demanding an answer. They asked, “Who do you say he is—this man who opened your blind eyes?”

“He’s a prophet of God!” the man replied.

Still refusing to believe that the man had been healed and was truly blind from birth, the Jewish leaders called for the man’s parents to be brought to them.

So they asked his parents, “Is this your son?”

“Yes,” they answered.

“Was he really born blind?”

“Yes, he was,” they replied.

So they pressed his parents to answer, “Then how is it that he’s now seeing?”

“We have no idea,” they answered. “We don’t know what happened to our son. Ask him, he’s a mature adult. He can speak for himself.” (Now the parents were obviously intimidated by the Jewish religious leaders, for they had already announced to the people that if anyone publicly confessed Jesus as the Messiah, they would be excommunicated. That’s why they told them, “Ask him, he’s a mature adult. He can speak for himself.”)

So once again they summoned the man who was healed of blindness and said to him, “Swear to God to tell us the truth! We know the man who healed you is a sinful man! Do you agree?”

The healed man replied, “I have no idea what kind of man he is. All I know is that I was blind and now I can see for the first time in my life!”

“But what did he do to you?” they asked. “How did he heal you?”

The man responded, “I told you once and you didn’t listen to me. Why do you make me repeat it? Are you wanting to be his followers too?”

This angered the Jewish leaders. They heaped insults on him, “We can tell you are one of his followers—now we know it! We are true followers of Moses, for we know that God spoke to Moses directly. But as for this one, we don’t know where he’s coming from!”

“Well, what a surprise this is!” the man said. “You don’t even know where he comes from, but he healed my eyes and now I can see! We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but only to godly people who do his will. Yet who has ever heard of a man born blind that was healed and given back his eyesight? I tell you, if this man isn’t from God, he wouldn’t be able to heal me like he has!”

Some of the Jewish leaders were enraged and said, “Just who do you think you are to lecture us! You were born a blind, filthy sinner!” So they threw the man out in the street.

When Jesus learned they had thrown him out, he went to find him and said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of God?”

The man whose blind eyes were healed answered, “Who is he, Master? Tell me so that I can place all my faith in him.”

Jesus replied, “You’re looking right at him. He’s speaking with you. It’s me, the one in front of you now.”

Then the man threw himself at his feet and worshiped Jesus and said, “Lord, I believe in you!”

And Jesus said, “I have come to judge those who think they see and make them blind. And for those who are blind, I have come to make them see.”

Some of the Pharisees were standing nearby and overheard these words.

They interrupted Jesus and said, “You mean to tell us that we are blind?”

Jesus told them, “If you would acknowledge your blindness, then your sin would be removed. But now that you claim to see, your sin remains with you!”

***
It’s an interesting way to start a story, isn’t it?

The disciples see a man afflicted from birth by blindness and their immediate assumption is that somewhere along the line someone in his family must have done something terrible to deserve this punishment.

Their question reveals as much about their culture as it does about their picture of God, their notion of justice, and the attitudes that they have towards others that have been ingrained since birth by teachers and parents and rabbis and priests. It is a wonder, actually, that they did not spit on the ground and curse at him as they passed him by.

Yet, Jesus does not just walk on without seeing both the need of this man and the opportunity to open the eyes of his disciples to shine a light wherever it is dark.

As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the physical limitation of the man born blind is far more easily remedied than the disbelief of his neighbours, the rigid and enraged hearts of the religious leaders, and the fearfulness of the man’s family of being thrown out in the street – excommunicated from their faith community if they celebrate that something miraculous has happened to their son and publicly confess Jesus as the Messiah.

By the end of the story, we only hear account of one man – the blind man – seeing with new eyes Jesus, the Son of God, as the source of his healing and salvation and declaring, “Lord, I believe in you!”

I wonder what the disciples believed in this moment; how watching the interaction between Jesus and this so-called cursed creature and then Jesus and their Jewish leaders may have challenged what they thought they knew about the world and people’s place in it.

On Thursday morning, I felt that I had woken up in a new world as we, in the Uniting Church in Australia, have been urged – like churches in other denominations throughout the world – to cease meeting in person for the common good of all on our planet, but particularly the most vulnerable in our midst.

COVID-19 follows so closely after the devastating bushfires and a period of prolonged drought and other natural disasters that we must surely say, “This is the dark night when no one is able to work.”

Yet, as spit on the ground could be used to open the eyes of those who desire to see, this time in our life as God’s Church, challenges all who believe in the Son of God, to become signs of His presence with us and lights that pierce the world’s darkness.

As we are challenged by this dark time to forgo many of our religious traditions and rituals, to think about what we know of the world and people’s place within it, and to embody the healing and transforming power and presence of Jesus, let us be particularly mindful of those who feel forgotten as the public eye has shifted so quickly from the horrors of this summer and a long, dry season to this global pandemic.

Let us be mindful of vulnerable communities throughout the world whose little access to adequate healthcare or good nutrition or sufficient space to self-isolate or maintain social distance places them at great risk.

Let us be mindful of the elderly in our midst, and, especially, those on their own who already feel isolated, and who cherish the company offered in physical gatherings and in the peace passed by human touch.

Let us be mindful of those whose names we have forgotten, who have been on the margins of our Christian communities or ceased to worship a long while ago due to difficult family circumstance and ill health, and may slip through the cracks in our care

Let us be mindful of all who have already been struggling day in and day out with cancer, and depression, domestic violence, and addiction, broken relationships, and financial concerns.

Let us be mindful of those whose employment makes them vulnerable to infection and those whose employment and income are currently at risk.

Let us be mindful of individuals and families who can neither celebrate wonderful moments nor grieve great losses as they would normally do.

As I end with an encircling prayer, I invite you to write down some of the names of people and places that come to mind as we consider those who are especially impacted and to lay them out on a piece of cloth or a scarf which you will fold over them each time you hear the word “encircler” – just as Christ covered the man’s eyes with spit and mud his act of healing.

Let us pray (adapted from the Carmina Gadelica III):

My Christ! My Christ! My shield, my encircler,
Each day, each night, each light, each dark:
My Christ! My Christ! My shield, my encircler,
Each day, each night, each light, each dark.

Be near us, uphold us,
our treasure, our triumph,
in our lying, in our standing,
in our watching, in our sleeping.

Jesus, Son of Man! Our helper, our encircler,
Jesus, Son of God! Our strength everlasting:
Jesus, Son of Man! Our helper, our encircler,
Jesus, Son of God! Our strength everlasting.
Amen.

Love letter 6

To my fellow pilgrims on the way to the promised end

“What you have just said is quite true ….”

John 4:18b

This third Sunday in Lent, we meet in the Gospel of John a woman who is almost offensive in her forthrightness.

Jesus asks her for a drink of water and she points out that Jews don’t talk to Samaritans.

Jesus offers her living water and she wants to know how he will get it since he has nothing to draw water from the well beside him.

Jesus instructs her to fetch her husband and she speaks the ugly truth of her life in plain terms.

Jesus reveals his knowledge of her personal circumstances and she bombards him with questions that are both political and religious. 

And when Jesus reveals that he is the Messiah, even as she hurries home with the good news, she is wondering, “Can he really be?”

At each stage of their conversation she is true to who she is – plain-spoken and prickly and rough around the edges. Yet, in return for sharing her truth, Jesus reveals who he truly is. (For those who are curious, have a look through the Gospels and see how rarely Jesus claims the identity of Messiah for himself). And when she shares his truth, many in her community become believers and are open to his teaching.

This week, may you know that God already knows what is happening in the hidden and sometimes desolate spaces of your life – but when you speak your truth, you will find a more intimate friendship with the Saviour of the world. He longs to sit a while with you.

Yours in Christ
Yvonne