For me, poetry goes beyond my daily bread; it is a sumptuous feast for my soul that invites me to sit a while and savour the deep mystery that is the Divine, to revel in the rich textures and scents and flavours of a world that cannot be contained in only language or logic, to feel full yet reach still – with longing – for one last delicious mouthful knowing too well that it is probably not my last ….
So, today, I want to share three poems that I keep returning to at present – knowing full well that few people share this love and many, quite frankly, find poetry intimidating.
Still, I invite you to skim through them and find the one that speaks to you in some way: that captures your attention with a word or image, that provokes questions, that plonks you in the deep end with an exasperated “I can’t make any sense of this” ….
Read through it, slowly.
Read through it again – out loud if possible – capturing the rhythm of each line; noting where there is a pause (comma), a break (full stop), or a breathless running on of one thought into another.
Highlight two or three words that seem important to you. What do they mean in the poem? What do they mean in your own life?
Read it one last time – not seeking to make sense of it or find the lesson but allowing yourself to be full of what it is that you are feeling: gratitude, joy, confusion, wonder, frustration etc. Let that be the starting point of your prayer today ….
God, I feel ….
You place a resurrection Flower on my desk, an explosion Of yellow blossom from a green Stem. All winter it was buried In the dirt, covered with snow, Soaked by rains, companion to Earthworms. Easter in a Daffodil: Christ leaps up In your green laughter and light embrace.
Eugene Peterson, Holy Luck
It doesn’t have to be the blue iris, it could be weeds in a vacant lot, or a few small stones; just pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate, this isn’t a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak.
Mary Oliver, Thirst
There is this thing that sits just out of reach so that whenever I stretch out for it I am left with my fingers dancing in the wind and the feelings of being exposed. So, instead, I curl myself up again and shimmer inside, enough to be satisfied. I stop grasping and let something grasp me.
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.
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.
If the purpose of the cross is that we might know and embrace the absolute gift of God’s saving love and forgiveness, then the purpose of the resurrection is that we might live – free and full of expectation at what God is longing to do in, with, and through a life devoted to love and to our Lord.
Consider these words from 1 Peter 3:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Verses 3 to 9, New Revised Standard Version
If this living hope is the compass that keeps the resurrection community orientated towards the deep and eternal mystery of life with and within God, I can’t help but wonder why, then, so many of us find ourselves acting from a past that makes us feel guilty and ashamed or (maybe even worse) smug and self-righteous? Why are there patterns in relationships that we return to and re-enact even though we know that they were abusive and draining and destructive? Why are there critical thoughts and old, hurtful taunts that still undermine our choices and sense of belovedness?
One of the most vital truths that has been revealed over some 30 years of discipleship (through Bible study and silence and spiritual direction and, sometimes, just the stubborn and painful struggle between the sacred and the secular) is that life is not so neatly packaged into separate physical, emotional and psychological dimensions but is always intimately connected to the spiritual – that is, to God – at all times.
What I do with my body impacts how I feel about myself and how comfortably I enter into intimacy with God.
What I fill my mind with in the books that I read, the programs I watch, the friends that I imitate alters my understanding of what is good and bad, right and wrong, God’s way and my own.
How I am feeling in any particular moment has a profound impact on my choices, my relationships, my beliefs unless but my living hope in the One who is beyond this present time and circumstance can transform those emotions and give me a stable ground from which to act.
What are the constant, repetitive issues in your life that rob you of a sense of abundance and love and knowing God’s closeness?
Resurrection, for me, means moving out of an old and antiquated way of thinking that certain aspects of my life can be kept private, secret, hidden from God.
Resurrection, for me, means moving beyond the cross at Calvary to the empty tomb – not just saying over and over each year how sorry I am, how much I want to be different; but leaving behind the habits that bound me, the fears that imprisoned me, the words that defined me, the voices that drowned out the still, sweet sound of God’s Spirit.
Resurrection, for me, is the assurance that whatever trials or sorrows or worries this day might hold, God holds it all.
What does resurrection mean to you?
Something new is growing inside you – a spilt seed you didn’t even know about.
Something unexpected is prising open the bars of your ribcage, reaching beyond your notions of what is.
It needles you with possibilities. Its roots unsettle your soil. You find yourself breathing in an unfamiliar scent, one that mystifies, tantalises, invites.
As I sat down to write this morning, I was quite convinced that I would offer in this space today something meaningful and important around the practice of silence in centering our lives around the wellspring of God’s Spirit.
Instead, Rory – my very adorable, very neurotic border collie-kelpie cross -rushed up the stairs to find me and ask what we were doing next. She was delighted to discover that I was about to settle down to work and promptly rushed off to find something of her own to occupy herself with ….
… a much loved half-chewed green squeaky toy that has lost its head but not, miraculously unfortunately, its ability to squeak.
As she threw it into the air and pounced upon it as it landed, I noted the irritation rising within me at each “squeak, squeak. SQUEAK SQUEAK!” I was trying to start my day off right. I was trying to have a quiet moment. I was trying to draw near to God.
As her toy flew in yet another wild arch across the bedroom, I heard deep within me the words “But I’m already here” and felt a sense of wonder and relief suffuse my spirit.
In trying to orchestrate a meaningful encounter with God, I was missing out on a special moment of companionship and unconditional love, of spontaneity and simple laughter.
As she lies quietly at my feet right now, I take a moment to appreciate how the light streams in through the bay windows. To listen to the birds singing just outside in the branches of a jacaranda tree. To smile at the mother walking past with two little ones on bicycles. And to see the presence of God in them all.
There is nothing that I need to do to make God draw near for God is here. This is what resurrection means.
So … the invitation today, the discipline for us to cultivate as we seek to live the resurrection life: be attentive. God is with you. Open your senses to what is happening in the world around you in this very moment and let that be the basis of your prayer – with or without words.
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.
I’m spending my time following Easter reading slowly through the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s appearances to his disciples.
While I have long loved the story of how he travels with two disciples on the road to Emmaus and makes himself known to them in the breaking of bread, I find myself intrigued at the moment by what follows afterwards when those same disciples return to Jerusalem to share the news of their encounter with the eleven who are still behind closed doors.
As they are recounting this miracle, Jesus appears in their midst – startling and frightening them all.
While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
Luke 24:36-48, New International Version
I wonder how often we, desiring God’s presence, pleading for God’s guidance, are actually upset and disturbed when our prayers are answered and we encounter God in a way so real, so tangible that we would tell friends later, “I came face to face with God.”
Coming face to face with God can be terrifying – especially when it is unexpected, or our lives are in disorder, or we are carrying around within us some secret shame, some “hidden” sin. Think of Peter still labouring under the burden of having denied his association with Christ, or John’s shame at being unable to stay awake in the garden, or Nathanael’s heartache at not having borne witness to the suffering of his Lord and teacher upon the cross.
Jesus comes into their midst without judgement, speaking words of peace, offering the signs necessary to turn their fear and trembling into joy and amazement, and their joy and amazement into certainty and belief.
A central truth of the Christian life that we often neglect is that every encounter with Jesus places us on the verge of change and invites us into newness.
Often we are looking instead for the presence of God to satisfy an emptiness within us, to bring a little comfort and peace into a difficult day, but the God who puts our lives back together does so with the hope and desire that those lives will be lived in a different way.
It is for this reason that Jesus opens the disciples’ minds to the Scriptures: so that they can bear witness – testify – to the new life that the suffering and resurrection of Christ has made possible.
The Good News that we preach and proclaim over Easter does not stop with Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. The purpose of Jesus’s excruciating suffering is not just that we might claim forgiveness and the assurance of an eternal life in God’s kingdom. We need to fully understand and bear witness to the fact that the resurrected Lord gives us the power and the passion to be different, to turn away from and leave behind those relationships that drain us, those habits that have a hold on us, those mistakes and failures which limit our imagination and rob us of life.
Christ’s resurrection brings us to the brink of change. All things are possible. All ways are open. So, which direction will we choose to walk in? And who do we choose to walk with us?
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.
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.
There is a beautiful song that is usually offered on Easter Sunday evening – a song that is rarely heard after sunrise services and easter egg hunts and roasts with families have left our hearts full and our bodies ready for bed.
It’s a song that acknowledges the painful history of the people of God – of immigrants, exiles, and slaves.
It’s a song of the homeless. Of the wanderer. Of the displaced. Of the thirsty – for whom God turns the hard rock into springs of water.
When Israel came out of Egypt, Jacob from a people of foreign tongue, Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel his dominion. The sea looked and fled, the Jordan turned back; the mountains leaped like rams, the hills like lambs. Why was it, sea, that you fled? Why, Jordan, did you turn back? Why, mountains, did you leap like rams, you hills, like lambs? Tremble, earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water.
Psalm 114, New International Version
This Easter Monday, we rejoice in the Good News that Christ is risen.
But, for those who still find themselves in the hard place, may you know in that still, small space where hope hesitantly holds on that you are the sanctuary of God.
May God “split open boulders and bring up bubbling water” day by day as we seek to live as people of the resurrection.
I used to know the wilderness only as pain; A land without food, a land without water. But you rained down manna And even water flows in your desert.
I used to think the wilderness was total isolation— But the Israelites had each other, And you had the stars in the sky.
So then I thought the wilderness must be time wasted— Forty years of circles. Forty years of wondering. But then I realized, each step is a step, And maybe there’s growth in that.
So then I concluded that the wilderness must be lonely spaces— The woman and her well, The blind man and his gate, Martha and her kitchen, Peter and his fire. But then you showed up in each of those places, To each of those faces.
So now I wonder— What if the wilderness is the birthplace of creation? What if the wilderness is where call begins? What if the wilderness is where joy is birthed? What if, between the dirt and the sky And that wide orange horizon, The wilderness is where we find you?
by Sarah Are – A sanctified Art
Welcome, brothers and sisters in Christ, to the dim hours of dawn as the sun slowly climbs into the sky, bringing light and warmth upon the land.
How we have travelled these weeks, through the wilderness of scarcity and isolation, loss and loneliness, uncertainty, ill health, and strange time which passes now too quickly, now too slowly, to the praises of Palm Sunday and the horrors of the cross and the silent hours of waiting … to this moment.
We begin with two questions for you to consider: 1. Why is this day special to you? 2. And, what emotions are you feeling today?
Gospel reading: John 20:1-18
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved,and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomband saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
New International Version
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Living One, no tomb can keep You, no door is closed to You, no life is shut off from You. Come lead us out of darkness into light, out of doubt into faith, out of death into life eternal. Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord. Amen.
Interesting that the day starts and ends at the tomb, a morning like any morning. No earthquake. No flash of light. No bright star to announce his arrival. No chorus of angel song to testify to the Good News of resurrection. Simply the awareness that what has been is gone.
So we pause for a moment to be still, to be quiet, in the pale light of morning and we hold before God that which is gone in our own lives.
Mary Magdalene, in the dark, notes that the stone has been moved. And her despair is doubled – for her mind does not go to the promises and prophecies of resurrection but to her broken experiences of a world in which a crowd one day utters “Hosanna” and the next “Crucify,” where the beloveds become betrayers, where those in authority wash hands of their responsibility, where an innocent man is crucified between thieves. In such a world, it makes sense that the very same enemies who have orchestrated all of that, will have taken the body and hidden it so that the name of Jesus did not become mightier in his martyrdom.
We pause for a moment to be still, to be quiet, in the cold air of morning and we hold before God that which is broken in our own world.
She goes to get help. Or at least, some company in her grief – but Peter and John run off ahead of her. The one who was at the cross and entrusted with the care of Jesus’s mother cannot bear to go, at first, beyond the door but notes that the body is gone and the wrappings have been left behind. The one who denied any association with the Lord, goes straight into the burial place and pronounces it empty of the Christ. They see and believe – not in the resurrection – but that the body is gone. And they go back to where they are staying – leaving Mary outside the tomb, crying and alone.
We pause for a moment to be still, to be quiet, in the wake of bad news and we hold before God those who we have left alone in their frailty or sickness or grief.
As she weeps, Mary bends over again to look into the place that has been declared empty. She knows that the one she is looking for is not there so I wonder why she does so. Why she alone stays in the dark, cold place of death when the others have returned to a safe place. What instinct drives her to look again. What she expected to find. Certainly not two angels who she doesn’t even recognise as angels through her tears. Nor Jesus, himself, standing behind her.
We pause for a moment to be still, to be quiet, in the blur of tears and we ask God to hold those times and places in our lives which it feels like God is not present with us.
“Mary,” Jesus names her. “Rabboni!” she cries out. And the whole reality shifts. He was dead. Now he is risen. His body was gone. Now he is here. She wants to reach out and hold on to him in her relief- but Jesus gently stops her. Nothing will ever be the same and he is to leave his disciples in order to be with all people. His Father has become our Father. His God is our God.
We pause for a moment to be still, to be quiet, in the truth that changes everything and we ask God to hold the realities that need to named and challenged and transformed.
Again, Mary returns to where the disciples have sought sanctuary. Her news is radically different from what it was. The misery and uncertainty of “they have taken the Lord and we don’t know where they have put him” is now the joy-filed eye-witness testimony “I have seen the Lord” and the careful retelling of what he said to her.
We are not actually told how her news was received; whether they believed her or wrote her good news off as the imaginings of an overwrought woman. Certainly, it did not seem to change their fearfulness for when Jesus next appears to them, they are still behind locked doors. Yet, that does not really matter. Easter Sunday reminds us that we all have a testimony to offer of the personal touch, the power, and the presence of Jesus.
So we pause for a final moment to be still, to be quiet, in the brightening light and we ask God to hold our lives as living signs of God’s love for the world.
Prayer for the world
Lord, like Mary, we weep. We weep with all who suffer, with all who are persecuted, with all creatures who endure our cruelty.
Lord, we weep with those who are lonely, with those who have buried a beloved, with those for whom life is harder than death.
Lord, we weep with all who are oppressed, with all who are bound by their addiction, with all who are wrapped up in suspicion and hate.
Lord, we weep where disease is spreading, where war has erupted, where tempers run high.
Lord, we weep with children abused by the people they trust, with young people bullied, and silenced, and shamed, with homes where the anxiety of this time is made worse by violence.
Together Lord, we weep. We weep.
May we all, at the end of this Lent, though many of our lives still feel like the wilderness place, receive again with the rising of the light each day, the knowledge that You are with us, that You call us by name, and that You have left us – like the empty tomb and and the folded wrappings – as signs for all the communities of earth of Your power and Your purpose: to heal all who are hurting and bring us back to life.
Hymn: Christ the Lord is risen today
Christ the Lord is risen today: Hallelujah! Let the whole creation say: Hallelujah! Raise your joys and triumphs high: Hallelujah! Sing now, heaven, and earth reply: Hallelujah!
Love’s redeeming work is done; Hallelujah! fought the fight, the battle won; Hallelujah! vain the stone, the watch, the seal: Hallelujah! Christ has burst the gates of hell. Hallelujah!
Lives again our glorious king; Hallelujah! where, O death, is now your sting? Hallelujah! Once he died our souls to save; Hallelujah! where your victory, O grave? Hallelujah!
Soar we now where Christ has led, Hallelujah! Following our exalted Head; Hallelujah! made like him, like him we rise: Hallelujah! ours the cross, the grave, the skies. Hallelujah!
Grace, hope and peace to the gathered community as we meet, not in person, but in the person of Christ Jesus who binds us together beyond boundaries of time and space and solid lines on manmade maps ….
I love this Sunday in Lent which marks the beginning of Passiontide. It is a time of prophecy and of promise as we get ready for the old, old story of Jesus’s joyful entry into Jerusalem, his final meal with the disciples in the upper room, his anguished prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, his trial before Pontius Pilate who chooses to wash his hands of him, his slow death on Calvary’s cross between two thieves, and – ultimately – his resurrection. Our Scriptures on this fifth Sunday in the wilderness journey give us something to hold onto us we face the darkness that lies ahead.
As we lead into a time of prayer this morning, I invite you to take a moment to light a candle or open a curtain and be reminded that we are a people of promise, prophets in this time who kindle a flame to lighten the dark and take our fear away.
You may want to listen to the chant below as you do so, or to simply repeat the following words three or four times:
Kindle a flame to lighten the dark, and take our fears away.
Let us pray (based on Psalm 130):
Lord, we cry out to You from the very depths of our despair. Hear our voice. Listen to our plea for mercy and answer our prayers. You do not measure us and find us unworthy. You do not mark our sins and find us unclean. You welcome us with Your forgiving love – so we love and worship You.
We wait for Your word of hope; We expect Your breakthrough; We long for the morning’s light.
Keep us hoping, keep us trusting, keep us waiting on Your tender heart and Your liberation.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
So we hear the words of the prophet Ezekiel
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”
Ezekiel 37:1-14, NRSV
Our Gospel reading (which you are welcome to take a moment to read in John 11) paints, for me, one of the most intimate pictures of Jesus that we find in Scripture.
It is a story of relationship, of friendship, of deeply human connection which we know because it begins by fleshing out for us the characters who make it so real and relatable.
We know Mary and Martha from the Gospel of Luke and remember how one – Mary – chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to his teaching while the other – Martha – did not have too much of a choice in taking responsibility for extending the hospitality of their household to Jesus and his followers. We are told that Mary was the one so moved by love for the Christ that she anointed his feet with an expensive perfume and wiped them with her hair. We hear quite plainly in verses 4 and 5 that Jesus, in turn, loved each of them: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, the brother who lived with them in the village of Bethany.
Yet, Lazarus is ill. It is obviously a serious sickness for Mary and Martha write to Jesus with the expectation that he, their beloved friend, will come immediately and help – even though the Jews in Judea have recently tried to stone him.
That’s friendship. The reaching out for the comforting presence of another in a time of need and knowing that they will show up because that it the nature of the love between you, because the give and take and mutual self-offering is how it has been consistently over time ….
But Mary and Martha wait. They wait and they worry. They take turns looking out the door or the window for a sign that the one they have sent for is coming. They wait and they worry and they watch. They watch helplessly as the day turns to night and Lazarus slowly slips away.
Hope turns to grief. Without breath, Lazarus’ body is buried – to return again once skin and flesh and sinew have decomposed to dry bones, to the ashes of the earth.
It is only four days later that Jesus shows up and, in an interesting turn, it is Martha who goes first to greet him. In the bleakest of circumstances she professes, “Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
We can move quickly now to the end of the story where the stone is taken away and Jesus calls his friend out of the tomb and all who see Lazarus breathe again believe that Jesus is not just some healer but the Promised Messiah, the Resurrection and the Life.
Yet I would have us wait for that moment between Martha’s professed faith and the miracle, to sit with the heavy accusation that falls from Mary’s mouth when she sees him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” to open ourselves up to the anguished weeping that moves Jesus himself to weep – even though he knows that this story will end with restoration and resurrection.
In the quiet, I invite you to breathe.
To breathe in deeply the breath of God, the gift of Spirit. To breathe out slowly the grief, the pain, the disappointment, the loneliness, the fear, the questions, the heartache that has settled deep within our bones.
Breathe in the promise of restoration and resurrection, and breathe out the years of longing, watching, waiting, weeping, praying with little sign of the newness coming, of the vision taking shape.
Breathe in the love and friendship and intimacy of the Christ who weeps with us in the darkest night, and breathe out that love, that friendship, that intimacy as though you are filling the whole world with it.
Just breathe … and in your breathing in and out, I invite you to hold all who are struggling to breathe in this time through sickness or sorrow or suffocating life circumstances before God.
Lord, we cry out to You from the very depths of our despair. Hear our voice. Listen to our plea for mercy and answer our prayers. Amen.
May you know the friendship of God who draws near to us in the darkest of days, who weeps with us when we are weeping, and who leads us to resurrection life.
And can it be that I should gain An int’rest in the Saviour’s blood? Died He for me, who caused His pain – For me, who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! how can it be That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me? Amazing love! how can it be That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
’Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies! Who can explore this strange design? In vain the firstborn seraph tries To sound the depths of love Divine! ’Tis mercy all! let earth adore, Let angel minds inquire no more. ’Tis mercy all! let earth adore, Let angel minds inquire no more.
He left His Father’s throne above, So free, so infinite His grace; Emptied Himself of all but love, And bled for Adam’s helpless race: ’Tis mercy all, immense and free; For, O my God, it found out me. ’Tis mercy all, immense and free; For, O my God, it found out me.
Long my imprisoned spirit lay Fast bound in sin and nature’s night; Thine eye diffused a quickening ray, I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee. My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in Him, is mine! Alive in Him, my living Head, And clothed in righteousness Divine, Bold I approach the eternal throne, And claim the crown, through Christ my own. Bold I approach the eternal throne, And claim the crown, through Christ my own.