Easter 5 letter

To my fellow pilgrims on the path of resurrection life 

Last Saturday, mom and I spent a lovely afternoon at Tambea Kitchen and Garden learning a little more about gardening in Australia – and, more specifically, in Wagga’s difficult climate. (I won’t go into detail about the caramelised pear and ginger cake that we also enjoyed over afternoon tea but it definitely deserves a mention).  One idea that the presenter kept coming back to, however, was the importance of thinking about your entrance – whether you live on a farm, in a cottage, in the suburbs, and even in a flat. Your entrance not only makes a first and lasting impression, but it also tells people something about who you are and lets them know where you want them to go and what door you would like them to enter in by. 

Alongside Janice’s joy-filled induction service and the celebration of Mother’s Day (which becomes a little more awkward each year for many preachers due to our deepening awareness of who might feel left out or even be hurt by their memories), the myriad pictures of bold and creative entrances that we were shown has had me thinking a lot about how we extend God’s welcome to our community: 

~ what do our entrances say about us?
~ how do people know where to go?
~ does our welcome encourage them to enter through the door of our church and the Door of Life?

As we continue to journey with the book of Acts and the stories of the church coming to life in this season of Eastertide, we encounter the apostle Peter freshly returned from Joppa where many had come to profess faith in the resurrected Christ. His greeting by the believers in Jerusalem is not quite what we might expect:

“The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’”  Acts 11:1-2

And so Peter explains: 

~ his vision of God making what he considered impure clean,
~ the timely invitation to Caesarea,
~ and how he witnessed the gift of God’s Spirit to the Gentiles.

THEN the disciples rejoice at how God is opening up the way, expanding the kingdom to include those that they had not judged worthy! 

As Revelation 21:1-6 reminds us today: God is moving into the neighbourhood. Heaven, in Christ, is coming to earth. And the Church exists as a sign of this Truth.

As God makes God’s dwelling place with all people, I wonder how we can offer a cheerful entrance and a warm welcome rather than the unspoken 

“This venue reserves the right
to refuse admission to any person”

which shows on so many faces when the unexpected and “unwanted” show up. 

This week, may we be particularly aware of the opportunities to extend God’s welcome to friend and neighbour and stranger.

Yours in Christ
Yvonne 

Easter 4 letter

 To my fellow pilgrims on the path of resurrection life 

This week sees a wonderful celebration of women with:
~ the story of Dorcas, the dressmaker, as one of our lectionary readings in this time of Eastertide,
~ the induction of Reverend Janice McWhinney at Wesley on Saturday morning,
~ and, of course, affirming and praying for the treasures that we name “Mother” in our family and community.

These moments are of special significance to me as a mother, daughter, sister, sister-in-law, and woman in ministry for – despite gradual and intentional changes – the language and power hierarchies within human relationships are still very much masculine.

Imagine what it must have been like to be a woman in Dorcas’s time! 

Yet, in a patriarchal world and an emerging church led exclusively by a cadre of male disciples, Dorcas sews together far more than pretty garments:

  • Within her home, she drew together members of both the Jewish and Greek communities – note her two names – in a radical act of inclusion. 
  • Through her charitable acts, she helped those who had a little to offer to recognise their ties to the most vulnerable and poor within the city of Joppa – not by putting money in a plate but by making by hand something that would provide warmth and care for those in need. 
  • In the public square she wove into the understanding of Christian discipleship the colours of gentleness, compassion, and the desire to repair the world.  

William Willimon notes:

“When the story of the rising of Dorcas is told by the church, the social system of paralysis and death is rendered null and void. The church comes out and speaks the evangelical and prophetic ‘Rise!’ and nothing is ever quite the same.”

As we tell the story this week of a woman who brought the rising of hope to the vulnerable, alienated, oppressed cast-offs of her community; a new minister who will share in the work of repairing the world in this place; and the women who have carried us in their wombs – and their hearts, may we hear again the invitation to “Come to life!” and rise in the name of
~ our Labouring God who held us in the hidden depths of God’s own heart before bringing us into being,
~ our Accompanying God who draws near day after day with outstretched hand to walk and talk and work with us,
~ and our Affirming God who declares the goodness of each Word-birthed, Spirit-breathed man and woman.

And may God bless in this time of remembrance and celebration every woman who is and was and will be a living expression of God’s labouring, affirming, accompanying nature. 

Infuse them with Your wisdom,
encircle them with Your love,
empower them with Your presence,
that they may know in the very depths of their being,
their beauty and belovedness.
Amen. 

Yours in Christ
Yvonne 

Easter 3 letter

To my fellow pilgrims on the path of resurrection life

Last Sunday we had a wonderful opportunity to reflect on some of the values that make us a congregation within the Uniting Church of Australia:
~ the centrality of Christ, our Living Word, 
~ our inclusivity and radical hospitality, 
~ a strong sense of justice, 
~ shared authority and responsibility for ministry etc.

As people told stories about where they come from I was struck by the remarkable diversity of experiences gathered around our one little table, even though we had all once called ourselves “Methodists.” I was also surprised by the longing that arose within me for some of the songs, rituals, and people that had been a significant part of my faith journey – particularly in my youth. But, above all, I was deeply aware of the fact that the values that we were talking about sometimes represented who we are becoming (or striving to become) more than who we actually are.

When we speak of ourselves as a pilgrim people on the way to the promised end, we are acknowledging that we aren’t there yet: not in the eternal rest of heaven, and not even close to the fellowship of reconciliation that lives out God’s love for the common good of all God’s creation.

We confess that there are many in our midst who know that they belong, but there are still some who we hesitate to welcome unconditionally into the family of God.

We confess that there are people with whom we serve and worship who make our eyes roll and our nostrils flare and our blood boil and our ears close and our hearts harden.

We confess that for every issue that we are passionate about because we have experienced it first-hand or have a close friend or family member who has, there are a dozen causes that we don’t have the energy or the resources or even the desire to attend to.

We confess that we often mistake authority for power, seasons for traditions, gifts for possessions, domination for leadership, our plans for God’s will.

Yet we also confess that it is Christ alone who comes, addresses, and deals with us in and through the news of his completed work in such a way that 

~ the guilty are acquitted, 

~ life is given to the dead,

~ and new things are brought into being which, without him, could otherwise not exist.
(Paragraph 4, Basis of Union, paraphrased)

Just look at Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). This is probably the most remarkable story of transformation recorded in Scripture as a fervent, almost fanatical persecutor of the Christians fleeing Jerusalem to escape a painful death becomes a just-as-fervent preacher of the Gospel, missionary to the Gentiles, and teacher on what Jesus’s resurrection-life means for the early Church. And all because he encountered Jesus along the way!

As we receive in each week of Eastertide the deepening invitation to “Come to life,” may the light of Christ shine brightly on our way and open up new possibilities for us!

Yours in Christ
Yvonne

Damascus Moments

The transformation of Saul, the fanatical persecutor, into Paul, the fervent preacher of good news to the Gentiles is one of the most dramatic tales in Scripture (Acts 9). That Damascus moment, when he encountered the Light of Life and the voice of Jesus gently accusingly questioning, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” changed the course of his life entirely by altering not only what (or Who) he believed in, but the very purpose of his being.

His story has had me thinking about the Damascus moments along my way: ~ my conversion,
~ my call to ministry,
~ how I met my husband,
~ why we moved to the other side of the world,
~ how we came to settle in Wagga Wagga of all places ….

And I’m sure that that’s not going to be the last time that God gets my attention to move me in a new and unimagined direction!

In ministry I often come across people who are desperately searching to have their Damascus moment: an encounter with God that will lay to rest any doubts or uncertainties, reveal what their unique significance is in the world, and point out clearly the next steps that God wants them to take in this adventure that we call faith.

I think that it’s seldom as simple or easy as that!

As we look at Saul’s Damascus moment, we find that the encounter with Jesus left him blinded and completely dependent on his companions. He had to wait in the darkness for a stranger – who had every reason to fear and avoid him – to come and lay hands on him and heal him. And, after his transformation to Paul, throughout his travels, there was a constant leading of the Holy Spirit – now drawing him this way, now drawing him that way – that determined the “where to next” of his life and ministry.

In my own experience, no matter how clear the Voice, the vision, or the Scripture has seemed, each Damascus moment has only opened up a new possibility in my life, and journeying into that possibility has required risk, resolve (which my husband calls stubbornness), humility, and – my worst nightmare – utter dependence on God and on other people every step of the way.

For those in a process of transformation or discernment, praying for that Damascus moment, that elusive clarity, here are three gleanings from a fellow traveller:

  1. Make time for silence. Get away! Into the bush or the country, a retreat centre or monastery, a little hut with a kettle and toaster and no TV overlooking the sea. Without your cellphone or computer. Without that great book from your favourite author who you think can make the hard work easier. Without a 600 page commentary on Scripture. Take your searching heart and a pen and some blank paper, a Bible, walking shoes if you’re keen, or slippers and comfy pjs if you’re tired, and lots and lots of munchies because silence can be overwhelming and listening can be the hardest work of all.
  2. Participate in worship and mission regularly. And by participate, I don’t mean organise or lead. Some Sundays, be the person in the pew or handing a sandwich to a hungry preschooler, hungry yourself for that unexpected word to capture your attention, that song to move you, that story shared over tea time to get you thinking about more than whether the chairs have been packed away properly, or people heard what you were trying to tell them, or how things could go more smoothly next time. As Saul/Paul found, conversion and call is worked out in community – so be part of the Body into which you were baptised, as painful as that can be at times!
  3. Nurture companions for the way. I keep coming back again and again to my “Ananiases” – the people that God sent to help me make sense of what I had heard and what I was thinking. Sometimes, they advised me to wait; sometimes they told me to “go, go, go!” Sometimes they asked questions I didn’t really like or hadn’t really thought of. Sometimes they picked me up and bandaged my bloody hands and knees and nurtured and loved me until I had regained my strength and could try again. How I praise God for their company and wisdom and honesty and care! And how fascinating it is that there has been a different companion – God-provided – for every moment!!

And may God, our Constant Companion,
smile upon us in our times of settledness,
hold our hands in our times of change,
and bless us always in our becoming
as we make our way Home to Eternal Love.

Easter 2 letter

To my fellow pilgrims on the path of resurrection life 

As Autumn’s umber fades away
into winter’s deepening, dark decay;
Christ breaks the confines of his tomb –
defying death, dispelling gloom.

Hope gleams with the rising sun:
sin is dead and love has won.
Though today may bring its share of strife,
we heed Christ’s call and come to life!  

I’ve never been much of a history student but, as a mom who loves to watch superhero movies with her teenage boys, I have begun to appreciate the “origin” stories of our faith in a new way. Not only do they graft us into the continuity of God’s great love enacted in generation after generation, but they also inform our imaginings of who we might be as Church in the future as we journey along the way today. 

The next fifty days of the journey between Easter and Pentecost are known within the Christian faith as Eastertide: the time in which the Church is born and grows and scatters to the ends of the earth as news of Jesus’s death and resurrection spreads. 

We walk this path with familiar characters like Thomas who had to see Jesus’s wounded hands and side in order to believe. We breakfast with Peter beside the sea as he is reconciled with his lord who has a special task for him to perform: “feed my lambs.” We marvel at the blinding majesty of God that can turn the most hate-filled persecutor of Christians into a powerful preacher of resurrection life. We visit the homes of Lydia and Dorcas which epitomise Christian charity and hospitality. 

And we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit who comforts, counsels, and accompanies us on life’s journey.

As is often the case for me over the Easter period, I find myself revisiting my own faith story in this time, for it was the dramatic narrative of the suffering Jesus that brought me into the Christian life at the age of thirteen. I would never have been able to imagine back then the calling that God would place upon me or how someone so shy and awkward and serious and self-conscious would be able to kick off her shoes and talk openly about God’s great love for the world.

This post-resurrection-preparing-for-Pentecost time reminds us that as Christ calls us to come to life, he gifts us tremendously:

~ with the power of the Spirit who dwells within us,
~ with the great cloud of witnesses like Thomas and Peter and Paul and Lydia and Dorcas who have gone before us,
~ and with companions along the way – soul friends who speak truth in love and help us to see God in our enfolding story, in the best of times and in the worst of them.

Being part of the renewal and widening of Christ’s Church begins with the recognition that each one of us has a unique story to tell of how we have come to Christ, and how in coming to Christ we have discovered real life. We also have the gifts with which to tell it – even if we don’t yet recognise them! 

My prayer for us over these next few weeks is that our Scripture stories of real people sharing their real faith will affirm and inspire our own witness to the power and the promise of the resurrection: that Christ will come again!

Yours in Christ
Yvonne 

Eastertide: Come to Life

Excerpts from Eastertide for lay preachers and worship leaders.

The word “Easter” brings many things to mind from the “Hosannas!” of Palm Sunday, to toasted hot cross buns and colourful eggs, to the more sombre cross of Christ and the Tenebrae services in which we recognise the deepening darkness, to a time of rest and renewal as we enjoy holidays with family and friends.

As the world around us changes colour from orange and gold to the red, white and blue of Anzac Day, to the bleak grey of winter, within the Church we move through Scripture –
from the cross to the empty tomb,
to Christ’s ascension into heaven,
to that wonderful celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the first disciples.

Often in this time, we hear stories of Jesus’s post-resurrection encounters with his disciples: how doubting Thomas received the proof he needed to believe, how Peter’s threefold denial was transformed into a call to care for Christ’s sheep, how those on the road to Emmaus felt their hearts burning with hope.

In the space between, something new – unknown – is happening:
the Church is coming to life!

I’ve never been much of a history student but, as a mom who loves to watch superhero movies with her teenage boys, I have begun to appreciate the “origin” stories of our faith in a new way. Not only do they graft us into the continuity of God’s great reconciling love enacted in generation after generation, but they also inform our imaginings of who we might be as Church in the future as we journey along the way today. 

In this year’s lectionary readings I have been struck by the real people who show us what real faith looks like as their lives are touched by resurrection news. 

Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene, Thomas, Peter, Saul who becomes Paul, Lydia, and Dorcas are all changed from the inside out as they encounter the power of the resurrected Jesus. Their faith, their transformation, their testimony is vital to others coming “to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

There are two elements that I particularly appreciate about this lectionary cycle:

  1. Its portrayal of our clear need for Christ and the change that occurs when we are truly open to an encounter with the Living Lord: Thomas who stubbornly refuses to believe what he has not seen is sought out like a little lost sheep; Saul is converted through an encounter with God on the road to Damascus; Dorcas is brought back from the dead; Peter receives a vision that transforms his relationship with the Gentiles; Lydia and her household are baptised after the Lord opens her heart and ears to the Good News; and Paul and Silas are miraculously freed from prison.
  2. The inclusion of women who played an often-overlooked part in the growth of the early church: Dorcas (or Tabitha) who was well known for her devotion to caring for the vulnerable, and Lydia who was also know to be a worshipper of God and generously offered the hospitality of her home to Paul on his travels. I love that their stories are told against the backdrop of cloth – the garments that Dorcas was making for the poor and the purple fabric for the rich in which Lydia dealt – and have a picture in my head of the Gospel weaving together people of different genders, socioeconomic status, ethnicity etc.  

Real people.

Real faith.

As Christ comes to life, the Church is born. And as we come to Christ, so too do we come to Life – full and free and eternal. This is the message that transforms us and the witness we have to bear. Eastertide is a good time for us to remember!

A call to come to life …

As Autumn’s umber fades away
into winter’s deepening, dark decay;
Christ breaks the confines of his tomb –
defying death, dispelling gloom.

Hope gleams with the rising sun:
sin is dead and love has won.
Though today may bring its share of strife,
we heed Christ’s call and come to life!

Easter letter

To my fellow pilgrims with whom I travel to the cross of Christ 

A few years ago I was preaching at an early morning service on the practice of prayer. I talked for a bit about the formal prayers which we learn in our childhood and the handy prayer acronyms that well-meaning Sunday School teachers and youth leaders have passed down through the generations to “beginner” Christians.

Then, I stepped out from behind the pulpit, walked right up to the front row and offered the unsophisticated thought that prayer is simply coming before God as we are – and being open to God doing the same. 

That was the first moment that I took my shoes off in front of a congregation. I’m still not sure how it happened exactly. I hadn’t planned to do so. I didn’t even register that I had done it until I spotted a colleague doubled over in laughter, trying to take photos of my feet. But that is my most natural state of being: barefoot, in the garden, like a child who is unafraid and unashamed to walk with her holy and loving and life-giving God.

Over the past seven weeks we have been walking the long and dusty road to Jerusalem. Like Jesus who had travelled that way many times before in both his childhood and his ministry, we revisit the familiar ground of our faith:
~ the palm-strewn streets of Jerusalem,
~ the pounded earthen floor of the upper room upon which Jesus knelt to wash his disciples’ feet, 
~ the green of the olive grove in which he prayed in such agony of spirit and received the kiss of betrayal,
~ the cold stone of Pilate’s court which resounded with the hateful cries of “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
~ the torturous hill upon which he stumbled under the weight of the cross,
~ the dark and dreary road of grief and despair that the women walked as his lifeless body was taken from Calvary and laid in a borrowed tomb,
~ and, then, the rough path that flies by beneath our feet as we run breathlessly to see for ourselves the truth – that he’s not where he’s supposed to be! He is risen!!

I hope that as we have travelled together, we have not found ourselves just going through the motions, listening to the same old story in the same old way, revisiting ground so familiar after 10- 20- 50 years that it fails to move us …

… but, that as we are given, again, this remarkable glimpse into who God is and how much God loves us, we are able to
     kick off the shoes that confine us, 
wash away the grime that has gathered,
             receive the assurance that we are forgiven,
escape from our own narrow expectations,
and walk, and dance, and run, and laugh, and dare, and dream
with the God who defeats death that we might come to life.

Over the next 50 days, as we move from Easter to Pentecost, may we come before God as we are and be open to God doing the same, knowing that such a holy encounter will not leave us unchanged.  

Yours, in Christ,
Yvonne 

Dead.

A reflection for Good Friday on What Darkness Brings To Light

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 

Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 

Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. 

John 19:38-42

Our Gospel reading today puts us at the very end of the crucifixion story.

We are unable to marvel at Christ’s compassion as he pleads with the Father to forgive those who have treated him so unjustly, so horrendously. We cannot cheer for the criminal who sticks up for Jesus and so earns himself a place in Paradise. We are not moved by the agony of God-with-us thirsting, breathing shallower and shallower, questioning why he has been forsaken.

For he is dead.

The spectacle is over.

And the crowd is hurrying back to their homes because it is nearly Passover and there are preparations to be made: houses to be tidied, meals to be prepared, tables to be set.

But isn’t that always the case with death? The rub, the salt in the wound; the final, unbearable agony on to of the already excruciating loss? How quickly life moves on ….

The flowers fade. The cards and calls stop coming. The last lasagne or chicken-pot-pie comes out of the freezer, is defrosted, and eaten. People get busy and conversations become awkward as you get the sense from what is not said that you should be moving on; when, really, its as a result of the guilt that they feel for not being there for you as they had intended that makes others unable to look you in the eye.

So you keep yourself busy – through the first Christmas, first birthday, first anniversary. But you realise just how many firsts there actually are: the first holiday that you don’t take your usual camping trip, the first time you sit down at your favourite coffee shop alone, the first time something funny happens and you start telling it to someone who’s no longer there ….

So you’re stuck, as the firsts turns to seconds or thirds and the loss really doesn’t get much easier and you discover that a wave of tired can overwhelm you for no particular reason at all.

Death is final. Irrevocable. And – for those who loved its victim with all their heart – changes life completely.

Our Gospel reading today puts us at the very end of the crucifixion story.

Christ is dead – and with him, the hope of the world.

The spectacle is over.

And the crowd is hurrying away from the darkness of it all in case some taint should linger and be carried home with them.

And yet, it is in the darkest place that something quite unexpected, quite amazing happens.

In the absence of Jesus’s male disciples, two other men step up to deal with Jesus’s body: Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man and a member of the Jewish ruling council, who had vehemently opposed the decision to have Christ crucified; and Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the rabbinic tribunal who we remember for that very confusing conversation about needing to be born again in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Both were secret disciples. As members of the religious and political parties that shared power with their Roman rules, both stood to lose much by aligning themselves with the crucified King of the Jews:

  • their position,
  • their standing in the community,
  • their creature comforts,
  • their freedom,
  • and, maybe even their lives.

But in the gravest of moments, at the darkest of times, when everyone else had abandoned the lifeless, useless, blood-stained body of Jesus and just a small handful of weeping women stood watch over it from a distance, wondering what to do next in the face of such an unexpected, unjust, tragic death – Joseph and Nicodemus declare their love publicly and practically as they petition Pilate for Jesus’s body, prepare it for burial with a lavish amount of myrrh and sandalwood, and lay it (as Isaiah had prophesied) in a rich man’s tomb. Tradition suggests that this may even have been Joseph of Arimathea’s own tomb – freshly hewn into the cliff of a nearby, private garden.

Through the darkness shines
their courage,
their generosity,
their faith,
their love,
their commitment.

Yet I can’t help but wonder if they would ever have identified themselves as followers of Jesus if the story had not ended in this exact way. Without the darkness, would their relationship with Jesus ever have come to light? Without the tragedy and injustice of such a death, would the world have been prepared for Sunday’s truth: that Christ has come to life?

Today, our Gospel reading puts us at the very end of the crucifixion story.

Christ is dead.

The spectacle is over.

The dreams of his disciples lie in rubble and ruin.

And the crowd is hurrying back to their homes …

… homes which are lonely and quiet because there is no one else left in the family …

… homes which are fearful and bleak because daddy is a mean drunk or mommy’s new boyfriend is looking at me in an inappropriate way …

… homes which are filthy or bare because there’s not enough time or not enough money …

… homes which are cold and uncomfortable because there’s no love left there anymore …

… homes which are prison for the very old, the very ill, the very depressed …

… homes which aren’t really homes, just a rough, warm spot somewhere out of the wind and the rain ….

This Good Friday, as we encounter the courage, the generosity, the faith, the love, and the commitment of Joseph and Nicodemus in a place of darkness and despair – the place of Death – I wonder what their story may bring to light in our own lives and in our own understanding of what true discipleship might require in this dark world
into which Jesus came,
and suffered on the cross,
and died.

Who will carry the light in the darkness?

Prayer

Untiring God,
Your love pursues us:
there is no place in heaven or earth or under the earth
where we can hide from You.

Gather us up in Your arms 
– gently, for some of us are bruised, and broken, and bleeding.
Dispel the shadow of death,
the despair that engulfs us, 
with the bright dawn of Your life.

Look upon us with unconditional grace and mercy;
lead us, slowly, in our yearning
for redemption and a brand new day.

Give us patient faith in times of confusion,
strength to meet hard times to come,
and courage to place our hearts, our lives, our spirits,
into Your hands,
confident in the day
when every word will be spoken in kindness,
every tear shed for joy,
every home a safe haven,
and every ending just another beginning
as the first-light comes
with the blessing of Your own face shining upon us.

Amen.

Table talk

As I sat down to write this letter, I was very aware of the fact that the chair beneath me was not at all comfortable to sit on, the walls were sparse (and powder blue!), and the bookshelf before me was bare. I was – once again – in an unfamiliar space: this time my “new” little office at the Team Ministry Centre. 

I took a deep breath and touched the familiar objects that I had brought from home in turn: a leather-bound Thompson Chain Reference Bible (like the one my mom gave me when I first started preaching at 18), a scented candle (a present from treasured friends), and a bowl of black and white pebbles (that I handed out throughout the Southern Region on Ash Wednesday).   

Outside, the cars rumbled past. Inside, cups clinked as Annie put the kettle on for a cuppa and John whistled away as he looked over the finances. I smiled as I remembered the faithfulness of God who journeys with us in the midst of the everyday and the ordinary, as well as the new and the unfamiliar.

For me, the major seasons of the Christian Year – Christmas and Easter – should enfold us in this liminal space where things are simultaneously new, yet familiar. Christ’s cross and his cradle must bring new meaning to how we engage with the dailyness of human routine and relationship. And the old, old story which we hear again in this season has to be listened to with fresh ears if we are to discover its significance in a world which is constantly questioning its/our relevance.

This year, I find myself particularly drawn to the table at which Jesus sat with his disciples for one last, long conversation before his betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane and painful death on Calvary. I keep thinking back to the laughter, the arguments, the teasing, and the sharing that took place over Sunday roasts in my childhood home. We never pretended to be a perfect family but the table was always a meaningful place of togetherness, whether we were at peace or warring with one another (my mom might have an entirely different perspective!). 

I wonder what went through Jesus’s mind as he knelt before each of his disciples and washed their dusty, calloused feet … 

… as he broke bread with his friends and predicted that one would betray him … 

… as he anticipated being disowned by the one on whom he would one day build his church … 

… as he comforted them, commanded love, and promised the coming of the Holy Spirit … 

… as he prayed and prayed and prayed – for them, for himself, for all yet to believe …

… as he went out into the night knowing what cruelty and despair awaited them all….

I wonder what it means for us to be disciples at and of that table:

  • what part does meal-sharing have in our worship, our decision-making, and our mission?
  • how can we be wounded, imperfect people and yet break bread together and love one another with the same love that Christ had for us?
  • who would be invited, excluded, or not even thought of?
  • what challenging conversations would we need to have to prepare us for what lies ahead?
  • what might Jesus pray for us? what would we ask for ourselves?
  • where do we go when the meal is over? what do we do next?

In the midst of our familiar celebrations of Easter and Pentecost, I encourage you to read again the “table story” of John 13:1 to 17:25 and to engage with some of these wonderings – around your dinner table or the communion table – that we may encounter and offer Christ to one another and the community around us in a new way.

Yours in Christ
Yvonne

What darkness brings to light

A service for Good Friday

Opening notes

On Easter Sunday we focus on coming to life, in and through the power of the risen Christ. But in order for us to come to life, we must first sit with the darkness of death. This service is a solemn space in which people can grieve the suffering of Jesus for the sake of our sin and remember their own losses. It has many elements that would be found in a funeral/memorial service.

Despite having a number of children in my children in the congregation for whom I have written this service, I decided not to have our usual time of conversation. I want them to experience the silence and the ritual of this moment. At their table in the front of the sanctuary, however, I have prepared a space for them in which they can discover the theme of the service in their own way: black cardboard, metallic sharpies (markers), a box of different crosses from a Godly Play lesson, and my own messy example in which I have drawn freehand nine different imitations of those crosses that spoke to me – some overlapping. After the service, these will be put in the sanctuary windows. The gold and silvers literally shine on the black background!

Metallic markers on black cardboard.

I have also incorporated a silent “pilgrimage” to the large metal cross on the church grounds. I have pre-cut lengths of red ribbon which congregants will be able to tie to it as a symbol of their confession. It will also be visible to members of the community from the shopping centre across the road.

The lament

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

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

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

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

TiS 350 There is a green hill far away (verses 1-4)

Old Testament reading: Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

TiS 356 Here hangs a man discarded

(sung to the tune of O sacred head most wounded – 339 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oza5iOPtQkA)

Pilgrimage of confession/pain

The prayers of confession are done as part of a silent pilgrimage to the cross (located in my instance on the outside of the building). Everyone is given a red ribbon as they walk out of the sanctuary to tie to the cross as a symbol of laying their sins on the Intercessor. 

After some silence, a prayer in the face of tragic death is offered (based on some of the language and imagery of Psalm 22). This will connect with people on two levels: the first, as a lament of the injustice of the cross and expression of the questions may have about whether it was really necessary; the second – of which we need to be aware – is at the more personal level of recent or unresolved grief for those whose loved ones have died.

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

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

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

Chorus: Amazing love (what love is this)  

Gospel reading: John 19:38-42

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 

Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 

Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. 

Prayer of invocation

O God for whom the darkness is as dazzling as light,
You are our very present help in times of trouble.
With You we have nothing to fear
and in Your hope we place our trust.
In the mystery of life and death before us,
speak to us now Your eternal words of life.
Amen.

Guided meditation:
what darkness brings to light  

I am amazed how in the worst of times, we sometimes get a glimpse of the best in people. My meditation will focus on how Jospeh and Nicodemus, secret disciples who were afraid to be seen of him in the light of day for what it might cost them, in this moment step up, out of the shadows, and claim his body. While it is true that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it, sometimes the darkness is necessary for us to work out what we really believe and where we’re headed and to see sources of light that escaped our attention before. 

This is a wonderful place to lead people in an imaginative prayer exercise beginning with our common experience of having our eyes adjust in a dark room when something unsettles us in the middle of the night and finding all sorts of unexpected light sources that orient us, and leading to a prayerful consideration of what our current worries, struggles, or pain might be revealing to us.  

Prayer of petition

Untiring God,
Your love pursues us:
there is no place in heaven or earth or under the earth
where we can hide from You.

Gather us up in Your arms 
– gently, for some of us are bruised, and broken, and bleeding.
Dispel the shadow of death,
the despair that engulfs us, 
with the bright dawn of Your life.

Look upon us with unconditional grace and mercy;
lead us, slowly, in our yearning
for redemption and a brand new day.

Give us patient faith in times of confusion,
strength to meet hard times to come,
and courage to place our hearts, our lives, our spirits,
into Your hands,
confident in the day
when every word will be spoken in kindness,
every tear shed for joy,
and every ending just another beginning
as the first-light comes
with the blessing of Your own face shining upon us.

TiS 349 In the cross of Christ I glory 

Benediction (and moment of remembering)

This is a memorial prayer (available in Tess Ward’s “Alternative Pastoral Prayers” which sends people away to experience the wait for a new day. Afterwards, opportunity is given to those who would like to light a candle in memory of a loved one for whom the words are equally true.

Long the journey we must now make
for one of our kind has left us and we cannot be the same.
Slow the feet tread moment by moment,
a wonder that morning and evening keep coming round.
But weaving the old story into the new cannot be hurried 
for there are no landmarks and no maps.
We must weep over their bones until we carry them within us.
And when the winter of our grief is past
and the rains are over and gone
we will arise and come away,
put our hand in the hand of life,
see the world afresh with newborn eyes
as the flowers appear on the earth again
and the time of singing is come.

Go gently with God.