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! (I’ll try to take a decent image tomorrow when the light is better).

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.

Come to life

An “all-in” service for Easter Sunday

So often we want to rush to the end of the story – to banish the darkness and celebrate the light and life of Christ shining radiantly beyond the confines of the empty tomb. This service is intended to make room for the sorrow of the women who went to tend to Jesus’ body to give way to the wonderful news that he is risen.

Lamenting in …

As little children we are often afraid of the dark and of the unseen things that might lurk there.

As adults, we are more comfortable with turning the lights out; more certain that in the morning the sun will rise and banish the nightmares away. Yet deep within us, many fears remain: fear of change, fear of death, fear of the unknown, fear of anything terrible happening to the ones that we love, fear of being the one left behind – grief-stricken and alone …

… like the mother, the dear friend, the faithful disciples of Jesus who had stood as helpless witnesses to his suffering and death; who in the dismal light of early dawn and with great despair in their hearts travelled together to his tomb … . 

TiS 345 Were you there? (verses 1-5 only)

4/ 5 women walk into the church with  symbols which they place on a bare altar. 

  • One carries the Christ candle with five nails pressed into it in the shape of the cross. 
  • One carries a large stone to represent the cold, sealed tomb.
  • One carries a folded white table cloth to represent the folded grave clothes. 
  • One carries a perfume diffuser or incense stick to represent the spices that they brought for his body. 
  • The optional fifth brings a bright basket of eggs (two normal and two which have have had the insides blown out) to represent new life and be used in talking with the children – this symbol is not placed on the altar, but on the floor in front of it.  

As they lay their items on the altar, they pray:

1st: Lord, I weep with all who suffer,
                              with all who are persecuted,
  with all creatures who endure our cruelty.

2nd: Lord, I weep with those who are lonely,
                                 with those who have buried a beloved,
                                 with those for whom life is harder than death.

3rd: Lord, I weep with all who are oppressed,
                                 with all who are bound by their addiction,
                                 with all who are wrapped up in suspicion and hate.

4th: Lord, I weep where the land is burning,
                                 where war has erupted,
                                 where tempers run high.

5th: Lord, I weep with babies abandoned
in garbage bins and school bathrooms,
                              with children abused by the people they trust,
                              with young people bullied, and silenced, and shamed.

Together: Lord, I weep. I weep. I weep.                                                     
                                
 They join the congregation, sitting at the front of the church. 

Looking for life …

The transformation of the altar is enacted as the Gospel is read.

Luke 24:1-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 

The incense/diffuser is lit and placed to the side of the altar (on the rail, pulpit, a smaller table).

They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.

The stone is lifted and placed on the side of the altar, on the ground, opposite side to the basket.

While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 

The nails are pulled out from the candle and placed next to the stone. The candle is lit and placed on the side with the incense.

Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

The table cloth is unfolded and draped over the altar. The candle is returned to the centre.

Alleluia! This is the Gospel of Christ.
Praise to our Lord! Alleluia!

Prayer:

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.

TiS 370 Christ the Lord is Risen Today

Opening up …

Children’s Address (or sermon starter)

As you look at our Easter table, do you notice anything strange about it? Something that maybe doesn’t really belong there? (As my basket is a giant yellow chick popping out of its shell, I’m sure that the kids will be quite quick to spot it).

Hmmmm … this looks a little out of place. Should we see what is in it? Invite the kids to take a peek – but don’t let them touch yet. Yes! Yes! It’s full of eggs! These must be Easter eggs!! Would you like to eat one? (Taking care to pick a heavy egg which obviously still has yolk inside it, offer it to one of the children who should recoil at the thought of eating a raw egg).

Depending on their responses say something like, So it’s not an Easter egg? It’s just a normal chicken egg!?! Well, if it’s just a normal chicken egg then there should be something inside it. 

Crack the egg open into a bowl. O yes, you’re quite right. That’s not an Easter egg at all. I wouldn’t want to eat that either – not unless it was scrambled, with a little bit of cheese and tomato sauce on top.

But did you know that are some old, old stories that tell us where that the first Easter eggs were actually chicken eggs to start with? 

My favourite is the story of Simon the Cyrene. Simon was a farmer. His wife had sent him into Jerusalem one day to sell his produce to all the city folk who were preparing for a special feast  that  evening.   Simon had eggs to sell, something that everyone would need for their Seder table.  But when he got to the marketplace, there were people everywhere, shouting and pushing and spitting. So Simon put his basket down and pushed his way to the front to see what was going on. There, on the road, surrounded by soldiers was a man struggling under the weight of a wooden cross. He looked weak, like he had been up all night and taken a really bad beating.

As Simon watched, the man fell to his knees with exhaustion. One of the soldiers kicked him in the side. Another yelled at him to stand up. Simon just couldn’t help himself. He rushed forward to help – and so the soldiers ordered him to carry the cross of Jesus all the way up a hill called Golgotha or Calvary. 

There Simon watched as the whole sky turned black and Jesus died, hanging on that cross between two criminals. His heart was sad, but as he turned back he suddenly remembered: he had left his basket of eggs behind! His wife was going to be soooo mad at him.  He rushed back to the marketplace, hoping, hoping, hoping – and yes! There they were! Right where he had left them!! Remarkably not a single egg was missing, but, even more remarkably, the eggs were no longer white but brightly coloured and glittering. What a surprise!

Not like these eggs. Break the second full egg into the bowl. When we break them, we know exactly what we’re going to get. And that can be a little bit boring, and very disappointing.

Maybe that’s what it was like for the women we read about in the Gospel story. They went to the tomb which had been sealed shut with a large stone – knowing that inside would be Jesus’ body. Where there’s a closed tomb or a covered grace, there’s always a dead body. That’s just the way it is.

Next, pick up one of the blown eggs without really drawing attention to it and break it in the same way as you did the others. It should crumble in your hand.

Wait a minute! That isn’t right! That shouldn’t happen!!

Repeat with the remaining egg. Note the children’s curiosity and exclamations.  

These eggs are empty. Just like the tomb was when the women got there. They expected to see a body. But that’s not what they found! Instead they met two angels who asked them why they were looking for the living among the dead.

And that’s what Easter is all about – surprises. The unexpected happening right in front of our eyes. An empty tomb, a living Lord, new possibilities.

The children can be engaged in an activity like decorating or hunting for these “signs of life” – edible ones this time. 

Old Testament Reading (if using): Isaiah 65:17-25

 “See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
    and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
    will be heard in it no more.

“Never again will there be in it
    an infant who lives but a few days,
    or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred
    will be thought a mere child;
the one who fails to reach a hundred
    will be considered accursed.
They will build houses and dwell in them;
    they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
    or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
    so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
    the work of their hands.
They will not labour in vain,
    nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
    they and their descendants with them.
Before they call I will answer;
    while they are still speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
    and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord.

Meditation/Reflection: Coming to Life

My focus is on “coming to life” in response to the angel’s question: why do you look for the living among the dead? The Isaiah passage points to the nature of the resurrection life that Christ makes possible: healing, delight, health, security, fruitfulness, meaningful work, reconciliation etc. The second half of the service consists of symbolic rituals/responses enacting this new life.    

Let us pray (words by Tess Ward – adapted):

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

As we leave the old
and step out into the new this day,
bring new life to our fingers
that we might touch the signs of Your life among us
and have faith.

The elements for Holy Communion are brought to the table
during the singing of:

TiS 373 Hail Thou Once Despised Jesus

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

Bring new life in the sacred meal we eat
that we might know You
in the breaking of our daily bread.

The elements are blessed and communion is shared.

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

Bring new life
to the work of our hands this day
that we might trust
the abundance of Your gifts. 

Thank offerings are brought to the altar or collected by stewards.

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

Bring new life
when You interrupt our selfish dreamings
and name those that need Your love and care
as our sisters and brothers. 

The names of the sick and hurting are spoken.

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

Bring new life to our eyes
that we might see You beside us behind our closed doors
and set forth with hope and with wonder
to proclaim Your eternal life
and everlasting love for the whole wide world.

Closing hymn: TiS 380 Yours be the glory

Sending out …

Alleluia!
Go in joy and peace with the Living One
who leads us forward.

Alleluia!
In the name of Christ, we come to life!

Facing the Shadows

A Liturgical Drama 

Preparations

  • All banners, cloths, books, flowers etc. are removed from the sanctuary
  • On the altar, a candelabra or seven single candles are set in a semi-circle 
  • Bread and wine/grape juice in “earthy” looking vessels are ready to be brought into the sanctuary
  • Stations for hand- or foot-washing are set up outside the sanctuary – basins, warm water, towels, a drop of essential oil
  • Volunteers needed:
    • Foot-washers – preferably leaders/elders in the church
    • Communion “stewards” – preferably not the regular stewards but an unlikely and diverse-looking group 
    • 7 readers (with a torch light to assist with their reading)
  • If using a data projector to display responses and songs, there should be a black slide as a “placeholder” to maintain as much darkness as possible.

Upon entering …  

As people enter the church, the mood is upbeat. Those washing their feet (or hands) engage them in conversation about the week that has passed. In the sanctuary some of the hymns or choruses from Palm Sunday can be played to create the link in the story and set the “supper scene.” 

Once most of the congregation is seated, the seven readers come forward to light their candles.

Leader: God is light, in whom there is no darkness at all.
Response: Jesus Christ is the light of the world. 

Call to worship (by Thom Shuman)

It was a night of hopeas they gathered so long ago,
God who rescues people from despair and oppression.
You offered grace without blemish
as they left behind the years
of loneliness, grief, and bullying,
daring to follow you
into a future known only to you.

One of the footwashers brings a basin and towel and lays it at the foot of the altar.

It was a night when salvation drew near as they gathered so long ago,
Lord who kneels to serve us,
as you tried to ready your friends for all that would happen.
In humility, you washed their feet
so they might follow you down the dusty road of death;
in love, you transformed a simple meal
into moments of grace and comfort.   

The communion stewards approach with bread and wine and “set the table.”

On a night like this, we gather to draw near to one another and you,
Spirit who shares these stories with us.
Here, is the basin with the living water
which washes away our fears and foolishness;
here is the towel we can use
to wipe the tears of all who weep
from grief, oppression, and loneliness;
here, we find that bread,
which, though broken and dropping crumbs,
feeds us with hope, fills us with strength
to serve our sisters and brothers;
here, we are offered the cup
which causes us to thirst for justice.

The bread and wine is shared with the stewards. The elements are distributed among the congregation but are not returned to the altar. 

(Words by Tess Ward) The “leader” raises hands high and says:
Praise to You, Friendship Giver,
for showing what love is,
for coming to our table and bringing us supper,
with the kiss of death hanging darkly over you.
As You tenderly wash each traveling foot,
In the lastness of it all,
In the job of love to be poured out, come what may,
Praise to You.

All of the lights in the sanctuary and surrounds are turned off. 

Facing the shadows

Leader: God is light, in whom there is no darkness at all.
Response: Jesus Christ is the light of the world.

Leader: And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world
Response: and we loved darkness rather than light.

TiS 345 verse 1 

Were you there when the crucified my Lord?
Were you there when the crucified my Lord?
O sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble;
Were you there when the crucified my Lord?

Reader 1. The shadow of betrayal – John 13:21-30 (TPT)

Then Jesus was moved deeply in his spirit. Looking at his disciples, he announced, “I tell you the truth—one of you is about to betray me.”

Eyeing each other, his disciples puzzled over which one of them could do such a thing. The disciple that Jesus dearly loved was at the right of him at the table and was leaning his head on Jesus. Peter gestured to this disciple to ask Jesus who it was he was referring to. Then the dearly loved disciple leaned into Jesus’ chest and whispered, “Master, who is it?”

“The one I give this piece of bread to after I’ve dipped it in the bowl,” Jesus replied. Then he dipped the piece of bread into the bowl and handed it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And when Judas ate the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Then Jesus looked at Judas and said, “What you are planning to do, go do it now.” 

None of those around the table realized what was happening. Some thought that Judas, their trusted treasurer, was being told to go buy what was needed for the Passover celebration, or perhaps to go give something to the poor. So Judas left quickly and went out into the dark night to betray Jesus.

Leader: Lord, have mercy.
Response: Christ, have mercy.

The first candle is extinguished.

TiS 342 verse 1 

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Reader 2. The shadow of denial – John 13:31-38 (TPT)

After Judas left the room, Jesus said, “The time has come for the glory of God to surround the Son of Man, and God will be greatly glorified through what happens to me. And very soon God will unveil the glory of the Son of Man.

“My dear friends, I only have a brief time left to be with you. And then you will search and long for me. But I tell you what I told the Jewish leaders: you’ll not be able to come where I am. So I give you now a new commandment: Love each other just as much as I have loved you. For when you demonstrate the same love I have for you by loving one another, everyone will know that you’re my true followers.”

Peter interjected, “But, Master, where are you going?”

Jesus replied, “Where I am going you won’t be able to follow, but one day you will follow me there.”

Peter said, “What do you mean I’m not able to follow you now? I would sacrifice my life to die for you!”

Jesus answered, “Would you really lay down your life for me, Peter? Here’s the absolute truth: Before the rooster crows in the morning, you will say three times that you don’t even know me!”

Leader: Lord, have mercy.
Response: Christ, have mercy.

The second candle is extinguished.

TiS 342 verse 2 

Forbid it Lord, that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ my God;
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

Reader 3. The Shadow of ignorance – John 14:1-11 (TPT)

“Don’t worry or surrender to your fear. For you’ve believed in God, now trust and believe in me also. My Father’s house has many dwelling places. If it were otherwise, I would tell you plainly, because I go to prepare a place for you to rest. And when everything is ready, I will come back and take you to myself so that you will be where I am. And you already know the way to the place where I’m going.”

Thomas said to him, “Master, we don’t know where you’re going, so how could we know the way there?”

Jesus explained, “I am the Way, I am the Truth, and I am the Life. No one comes next to the Father except through union with me. To know me is to know my Father too. And from now on you will realize that you have seen him and experienced him.”

Philip spoke up, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be all that we need!”

Jesus replied, “Philip, I’ve been with you all this time and you still don’t know who I am? How could you ask me to show you the Father, for anyone who has looked at me has seen the Father. Don’t you believe that the Father is living in me and that I am living in the Father? Even my words are not my own but come from my Father, for he lives in me and performs his miracles of power through me. Believe that I live as one with my Father and that my Father lives as one with me—or at least, believe because of the mighty miracles I have done.

Leader: Lord, have mercy.
Response: Christ, have mercy.

The third candle is extinguished.

TiS 350 verse 1 

There is a green hill far away,
Outside a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified
Who died to save us all.

Reader 4. The shadow of negligence – Luke 22:39-46 (TPT)

Jesus left the upper room with his disciples and, as was his habit, went to the Mount of Olives, his place of secret prayer. There he told the apostles, “Keep praying for strength to be spared from the severe test of your faith that is about to come.”

Then he withdrew from them a short distance to be alone. Kneeling down, he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup of agony away from me. But no matter what, your will must be mine.”

Jesus called for an angel of glory to strengthen him, and the angel appeared. He prayed even more passionately, like one being sacrificed, until he was in such intense agony of spirit that his sweat became drops of blood, dripping onto the ground.

When Jesus finished praying, he got up and went to his disciples and found them all asleep, for they were exhausted and overwhelmed with sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “You need to be alert and pray for the strength to endure the great temptation.”

Leader: Lord, have mercy.
Response: Christ, have mercy.

The fourth candle is extinguished.

TiS 350 verse 3 

He died that we might be forgiven,
He died to make us good,
That we might go at last to heaven,
Saved by his precious blood.

Reader 5. The shadow of violence – Luke 22:47-53 (TPT)

No sooner had he finished speaking when suddenly a mob approached, and right in front of the mob was his disciple Judas. He walked up close to Jesus and greeted him with a kiss. For he had agreed to give the religious leaders a sign, saying, “The one I kiss is the one to seize.”

Jesus looked at him with sorrow and said, “A kiss, Judas? Are you really going to betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”

When the other disciples understood what was happening, they asked, “Lord, shall we fight them with our swords?”

Just then, one of the disciples swung his sword at the high priest’s servant and slashed off his right ear. Jesus stopped the incident from escalating any further by shouting, “Stop! That’s enough of this!” Then he touched the right side of the injured man’s head and the ear grew back—he was healed!

Jesus turned to those who had come to seize him—the ruling priests, the officers of the temple police, and the religious leaders—and said, “Am I a criminal that you come to capture me with clubs and swords? Wasn’t I with you day after day, teaching in the temple courts? You could have seized me at any time. But in the darkness of night you have now found your time, for it belongs to you and to the prince of darkness.”

Leader: Lord, have mercy.
Response: Christ, have mercy.

The fifth candle is extinguished.

TiS 350 verse 4 

There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin,
He only could unlock the gate,
Of heaven, and let us in.

Reader 6. The shadow of detachment – Luke 23:13-25 (TPT)

Pilate gathered the people together with the high priests and all the religious leaders of the nation and told them, “You have presented this man to me and charged him with stirring a rebellion among the people. But I say to you that I have examined him here in your presence and have put him on trial. My verdict is that none of the charges you have brought against him are true. I find no fault in him. And I sent him to Antipas, son of Herod, who also, after questioning him, has found him not guilty. Since he has done nothing deserving of death, I have decided to punish him with a severe flogging and release him.” For it was Pilate’s custom to honor the Jewish holiday by releasing a prisoner.

When the crowd heard this, they went wild. Erupting with anger, they cried out, “No! Take this one away and release Barabbas!” For Barabbas had been thrown in prison for robbery and murder.

Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, tried to convince them it was best to let Jesus go. But they cried out over and over, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

A third time, Pilate asked the crowd, “What evil crime has this man committed that I should have him crucified? I haven’t found one thing that warrants a death sentence! I will have him flogged severely and then release him.”

But the people and the high priests, shouting like a mob, screamed out at the top of their lungs, “No! Crucify him! Crucify him!”

Finally their shouts and screams succeeded. Pilate caved in to the crowd and ordered that the will of the people be done. Then he released the guilty murderer Barabbas, as they had insisted, and handed Jesus over to be crucified.

Leader: Lord, have mercy.
Response: Christ, have mercy.

The sixth candle is extinguished.

TiS 342 verse 3 

See from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Reader 7: The shadow of death – Luke 23:44-55 (TPT)

It was now only midday, yet the whole world became dark for three hours as the light of the sun faded away. And suddenly in the temple the thick veil hanging in the Holy Place was ripped in two! Then Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Father, I surrender my Spirit into your hands.” And he took his last breath and died.

When the Roman captain overseeing the crucifixion witnessed all that took place, he was awestruck and glorified God. Acknowledging what they had done, he said, “I have no doubt; we just killed the righteous one.”

The crowds that had gathered to observe this spectacle went back to their homes, overcome with deep sorrow and devastated by what they had witnessed. But standing off at a distance were some who truly knew Jesus, and the women who had followed him all the way from Galilee were keeping vigil.

There was also a member of the Jewish council named Joseph, from the village of Ramah, a good-hearted, honorable man who was eager for the appearing of God’s kingdom realm. He had strongly disagreed with the decision of the council to crucify Jesus. He came before Pilate and asked permission to take the body of Jesus and give him a proper burial, and Pilate granted his request. So he took the body from the cross and wrapped it in a winding sheet of linen and placed it in a new, unused tomb chiseled out of solid rock. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was fast approaching.

The women who had been companions of Jesus from the beginning saw all this take place and watched as the body was laid in the tomb. 

Leader: Lord, have mercy.
Response: Christ, have mercy.

The seventh candle is extinguished.

TiS 345 verse 4 

Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
O sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble;
Were you there when the sun refused to shine?

A deep moment of silence is observed in the dark.

The sending

After the silence, a single candle is lit.

Watchful Spirit who stays awake
and guards us through the night:
Be with all those who have been betrayed by another,
Misunderstood by another,
Denied by another,
Neglected by another,
Attacked by another, 
Disowned by another,
Killed by another.

Illuminate the shadows that dance deep within us 
That we may see how “another” may actually be me
And, through the passion of our Lord, grant us protection,
Through his suffering, our salvation,
Through his hurt, our healing,
Through his death, our deliverance,
And through his light, life eternal.
Amen.

The people leave the sanctuary in silence. 

Palm Sunday letter

To my fellow pilgrims in this week of passion and palms

Last weekend, I had the joy of attending the Kids’ Camp Out in Narrandera. Many of the children there have never set foot in a church before. Many did not know the Easter story which we can probably tell off by heart. Many of them have seldom heard how good and beautiful and loved they truly are. 

As they encountered the elements of worship, gospel, and fellowship in this carefully-prepared, child-friendly setting I noticed two distinct responses: for some, the words seemed to make little sense and they fidgeted and found excuses to leave the room; for others, it was as if a light had been turned on inside of them and they glowed with curiosity and delight and wonder as they invited Jesus into their lives. 

As I write this letter and engage with this week’s account of Jesus entering Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (Luke 19:28-40), I see in the crowd those same faces: those who are uncomfortable with what is happening in front of them and who demand of Jesus that he make it stop, and those who raise their hearts and voices to cry “Hosanna! Lord, save us!”

What strikes me particularly about this passage is that – in this case and in many places in the Gospels – those who seem the most uncomfortable with God’s saving grace are the deeply religious people who know off by heart the history of humanity’s disobedience and God’s faithful intervention in generation after generation. Yet, those who know best the Scripture’s promises of a Messiah who would set the world to rights want to put a stop to the people praising and praying that Jesus will save them because 1) he is not what they expected and 2) they have no control over what he says or does.

But maybe, just maybe, there’s another reason for their discomfort. Maybe, despite being able to read and recite all those words which spoke of God’s love for the world and longing to be in relationship with each and every one of us, the words never really made sense to them. Maybe, just maybe, they had heard so many times over so many years that they were so dumb or stupid or ugly or mean or weak or bad or worthless that they could not believe the words of God or make sense of what was happening right in front of them. 

Can you?

Can you make sense of the fact that for YOU Christ came into the world, was crucified, died and was buried, and rose again? 

Can you make sense of the fact that for the liar, gossip, murderer, backstabber, paedophile, adulterer, wife-beater, unbeliever, <insert whatever label makes you most uncomfortable> Christ came to do the exact same thing with the exact same heart of love?

As we mark the beginning of this significant week in which we remember and retell the familiar Passion story, perhaps Palm Sunday invites us to reflect on the condition of our faith and our relationship with the God who loves us. Perhaps it challenges us to consider which face (or voice) we are offering to the world for which Christ came. And, perhaps, it offers us the opportunity to reach out to those who have never heard how good and beautiful and loved they truly are, knowing that they might make a hasty excuse to get away from us but hoping that a light may be turned on inside of them by the Light that shines in us. 

Yours, in Christ,
Yvonne 

Palm Sunday

Preparing for Palm Sunday as an all-in (my preferred, more all-encompassing term for intergenerational) worship, I wanted to create a space that would give voice to the clamour of voices in our own lives by moving from lots of noise and movement to a stiller listening which would ready us for the silence and shadows that deepen as we move through Holy Week.

PREPARATION

The sanctuary can be decorated with Palm fronds or these can be brought in during the singing of a processional hymn like All glory, laud and honour (Together in Song 333). Stones should also be strewn around the altar to create the scene of the Gospel reading.

Palm fronds sufficient for the average number of children attending your service should be cut out of light green cardboard and given to children/volunteers seated throughout the sanctuary (there are plenty of easy templates available through Google search). These will be used in making worship a little more interactive for children, as well as for the prayers of praise later in the service.

WELCOME

This or some other introduction:

Today, Palm Sunday,  marks the beginning of Holy Week. This is the day when Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and then enters it on a donkey as a person of peace rather than a rising power. Yet, in spite of his humble entry, he is hailed by the crowd who recognise him as being of God and praise him with loud hosannas. Only weeks later, they will be baying for his blood with shouts of “Crucify him.”

Our King is coming.
And so, we cry from our hearts,
“Hosanna. Save us!”

If it has not been sung as a processional hymn, TiS 333 is sung now.

CALL TO WORSHIP – CLAP YOUR HANDS

A rap/ rhyme with clapping and verbal responses. The leader should prepare the congregation for the expected actions which are either a repetition of the words “when the Lord comes” or three claps following any other phrase. The overall effect should be a fairly fast, fun, flowing call to worship in which people of all ages can participate. It really doesn’t need to be perfect, just loud! Here’s a (poor) example of the rhythm:

Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Everyone             (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)

All you people (clap, clap, clap)
Shout to God (clap, clap, clap)
With loud songs (clap, clap, clap)
Songs of joy (clap, clap, clap)

When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)
When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)

We’ll shout and sing (clap, clap, clap)
Fear no earthly thing (clap, clap, clap)
Give Him everything (clap, clap, clap)
When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)

Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Everyone             (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)

All you people (clap, clap, clap)
Shout to God (clap, clap, clap)
With loud songs (clap, clap, clap)
Songs of joy (clap, clap, clap)

When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)
When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)

We’ll call His name (clap, clap, clap)
Proclaim the fame (clap, clap, clap)
Of He who stays the same (clap, clap, clap)
When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)

Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Everyone             (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)

All you people (clap, clap, clap)
Shout to God (clap, clap, clap)
With loud songs (clap, clap, clap)
Songs of joy (clap, clap, clap)

When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)
When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)

See Him enter in (clap, clap, clap)
Our humble King (clap, clap, clap)
Let us shout and sing (clap, clap, clap)
When the Lord comes (when the Lord comes)

Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)
Everyone             (clap, clap, clap)
Clap your hands (clap, clap, clap)

All you people (clap, clap, clap)
Shout to God (clap, clap, clap)
With loud songs (clap, clap, clap)
Songs of joy (clap, clap, clap)

SONGS OF JOY

A medley of two or three choruses are sung with recurring words. The children are invited to wave their (cardboard) palm leaves in the air every time they hear those chosen words e.g. “hosanna” and “glory” sung. I would suggest Hosanna in the highest and Glory, glory in the highest and maybe the “laughing song” for the children in particular.

PALM PRAYERS (AND OFFERTORY)

In groups of 5 or 6, mixed group of adults and children write down on a (cardboard) Palm leaf some of the things that they would like to praise God for. When sufficient time has been given, one of the choruses above can be sung through again as children bring their “palms” forward and scatter them among the rocks at the altar as a symbol of bringing their prayers of praise to God. The offertory can also be collected at this time as an act of adoration.

GOSPEL READING: LUKE 19:28-40

Before this familiar story is read, set the scene by picking up one of the stones and holding it to your ear. Then look at it quizzically, tell everyone to shhhhhhhh, and listen again. Say, “In today’s story, Jesus tells the Pharisees that even if the people who were singing songs of praise to him were quiet, the stones would shout out. Can you help me find a stone that speaks?”

Encourage the children to help you look – or rather listen! – for one that talks. When you’ve exhausted all the options, suggest that maybe they’re keeping quiet because there are so many other voices in our lives that we’re always listening to. Ask them whose voices these may be.

After a short time of sharing, say, “So many voices. In our story from Luke today there are a lot of voices too. Maybe we can listen together and count how many people are talking.”

The story is read.

With the congregation, try to identify the “voices.” I count 5 that I will be talking about in the time of meditation:

  • Jesus – the voice of authority/instruction 
  • The colt’s owners – the voice of ownership/interrogation   
  • The two disciples – the voice of imitation/obedience
  • The voice of the multitude – the voice of praise/expectation
  • The Pharisees – the voice of criticism/offence 

“SILENT” PRAYER

To be offered slowly, gently.

O Still Point of our Turning World,
Let us be aware of You in silence this day.
Let us not be distracted by the clamour of every thought
But let us sit – still and safe –
In the certainty of Your presence
And the assurance of Your love.

Let us trust that You are enough
And we are enough
And it is enough just to be here,
Just as we are.

Free us from the voices that would have us believe otherwise:
That would lead us away,
That demand we get back to the busyness of our day,
That question our worth,
That criticise our efforts,
That worry us and wear us down.

In this moment,
May our hearts be still,
Our minds uncluttered,
Our faces unmasked,
Our spirits at ease.

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

A time of silence is observed – just allow it to expand as long as is comfortable. Then ….  

May the peace of the Lord be with You.
And also with you.

The peace is shared.

PALM CROSS ACTIVITY

As people return to their seats, the children can be invited to make palm crosses at the table – they will probably need assistance, or, at the very least, company.

https://www.catholicicing.com/how-to-fold-a-palm-cross-in-10-easy-steps/

MEDITATION/REFLECTION

PRAYERS FOR THE WORLD

(An adaptation of a prayer by Tess Ward)

Great God whose love can never be silenced
Hold us in Your heart when the noise of our busyness is hushed:
After the gunfire of war, the stillness of the fallen.
After the crying of the baby, the contentment of sleep.
After the gossiping of tongues, the wounded heart of the one that is reviled.
After laughter with friends, the void of solitude.
After the hymns have been sung, the watchful waiting of an empty church.
After the beloved voice of those dear to us, the nothingness with which we are faced when they are gone. 

Be with those who are afraid of the stillness that this day may hold,
With those for whom quiet is equated with loneliness or loss,
With those who know silence to be the calm before the storm of violence and abuse erupts,
With those who feel so voiceless in their situation that they wish the stones would cry out on their behalf.
Great God whose love can never be silenced
Hold them in Your heart.
Amen.

TiS 585 I heard the voice of Jesus say is sung

BENEDICTION

In the clamour of this day
grant us a stillness of seeing, O God.
In the conflicting voices of our hearts,
grant us a calmness of hearing.
Let our seeing and hearing,
our words and our actions,
be rooted in the silent certainty of Your presence.
And, in our certainty let us cry out,
“Hosanna. Save us!”
that the world may be blessed
By the love of the Father,
The Life of the Son,
And the leading of the still, small voice of the Spirit.
Amen.

TiS 779 May the feet or some other quiet song of blessing is sung

Lenten Letters

To my fellow pilgrims in this season of Lent

Last Sunday, I was delighted to be part of a warm and wonderful time of worship that was centred around a vision of being “all-in” with God who, through the humble birth and painful death of Christ, has certainly demonstrated that God is “all-in” with us.

In John 12:1-8 this week, we see that idea come to life in the picture of Mary kneeling before Jesus – her Teacher, her Saviour, her Friend – in humble adoration. As she looks upon feet that have walked the length and breadth of her world and that will soon be wounded for love’s sake, she, in an extravagant and unselfconscious act, removes the stopper from an alabaster jar and anoints them with a fragrant treasure, wiping his feet with her hair.

Judas recoils with horror at the waste. 

He’s not upset about her blatant disregard for rabbinic law which allowed for only a few drops of inexpensive oil to perfume the water used for foot-washing by a really caring and hospitable host. Neither is he referring to the waste of what was probably her only inheritance and the economic implications that such an act would have on her future security as an unmarried woman. He is really bemoaning a lost opportunity to “give money to the poor” while lining his own pocket.

I recoil too. Not at the waste, but at the intimacy and humiliation implicit in her act. At the thought of spending time on my knees on a hard floor. At the idea of touching someone else’s calloused feet. At the image of my freshly-washed-every-morning hair clumped together in oil, wet with my tears. At imagining all of those men standing, watching, gaping in judgment over me.

Being a decent-enough disciple is not terribly difficult. Especially when we can use the priorities of God’s kingdom to advance our own agenda, reinforce our opinions of others through “God’s words”, satisfy our needs for belonging and affirmation, and create our own little piece of heaven here on earth for others who know how to behave appropriately in our space. 

But being “all-in” with God in the way that Mary was in that moment of pure and unashamed devotion – well, that just makes me uncomfortable. How about you?

***

Fast forward a few weeks in your imagination to the well known stories that we will again hear over Holy week and Easter:
~ of Judas whose love for money and whose own ideas of what the Messiah should do leads him to betray Christ with a kiss, to regret his choice, and to hang himself in sorrow;
~ of Mary whose love for Jesus leads her to the foot of the cross; a witness of his death and then, after taking a similar vial of perfume to his tombstone to tend to his body, of his resurrection.

This week in Lent, I invite us to sit with these two characters and the discomfort that each of them may bring us as we consider what it might cost us to be “all-in” with God – and what it might cost us if we aren’t. And, in our discomfort, may we encounter God’s unconditional, extravagant love which accompanies and sustains us in the searching and the questioning, the wondering and the wrestling. For God is “all-in” with us regardless of whether or not we’re quite there yet.

Yours, in Christ,

Yvonne 

Closet space

Today I tackled the task of unpacking my autumn/winter wardrobe.

As I bumped my head on the overhang in the little cupboard under the stairs, lugged the large red suitcase out and upwards, wrestled it (assisted by two overly-excited dogs!!!) onto the bed, opened it and groaned at the disarray that I discovered within, I mourned the loss of my very large and spacious dressing room back in South Africa.

The job of taking all of my summer clothes off their hangers and folding them into neat little piles (just don’t comment on my very obvious, vehement denial of the reality that they will be just as creased and jumbled as the winter ones after six months packed away) to be thrown out, passed on, or stored until Spring was tedious and, if I’m honest, a little disheartening.

Some of my favourites have worn too thin and will not see another season.
Some of my purchases this season have been plain desperate or ridiculous and declared me wasteful – or tasteless!
Some of my staples just seemed so boring and tired and old and I wondered if people had thought I looked that way each time I wore them.

And the work of unpacking started off no better!

“Why on earth did I even keep that?” I muttered.
“I wonder if that will still fit ….” I despaired.
Then “OOOOOOOH” as my fingers touched the warmth of merino wool and my eyes spotted the beautiful black ruched dress that I had bought towards the end of last season.

Suddenly, it was an adventure to pull out each garment. To find old favourites. To try things on and discover that they were in fact a little looser. To screw my nose up at a ghastly colour and wonder what on earth had prompted that particular purchase. To see how, in 6 months, I have changed. And how I have stayed the same. To put things in order, slowly. To accomplish something that I have been putting off since the first cool wind blew our way.

As I hung up the last few items, I realised what a spiritual exercise the afternoon had been because the whole rhythm of my life has changed since the cherry blossoms bloomed, then fell.

I wonder what this season holds in store for me. How, when next I lug that shiny red suitcase up the stairs, life will be different. What new things will have become old favourites? What old favourites will I have outgrown? What will I regret? What will I want to treasure and hold on to? What will I be ready to put away? What will I discover anew with fresh delight?

Are you due for a closet clean-out too?


Lenten letters

To my fellow pilgrims in this season of Lent

I love this time of year!
Palms. Passion. Pentecost.
The autumning of the earth as the temperature cools. 
Leaves donning their gold and orange colours.
Kevin baking his famous chocolate pudding for dessert.
Darkness deepening, lengthening,
inviting us to slow down and rest. 

It is, for many, a time of anticipation – an all-around-us reminder of the turning and re-turning rhythms written into our world by our Creator. Tess Ward, in her prayer book The Celtic Wheel of the Year, offers this profound praise to be offered on rising and resting in these autumn days:

Blessed be you Balance-Holder,
unafraid of the dark from which all newness must begin,
giver of light that draws us on and out into fullness.

(On rising)Help me to balance my need for outgoing
and restoring this day.

(Before resting)With thankfulness for my going out,
restore to me my rest this night.

The story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32) is the focus of our worship in this fourth week of Lent. It is a story of turning and re-turning; of a young man cutting ties with his family to seek adventure and pleasure and independence but finding himself full of loneliness and longing for that same family when times are hard and work is undignified and unrewarding and friends are fickle. Finally, when he is able to overcome his pride, his feet follow his heart which has turned towards the warm memories of home. He returns to his father’s embrace – and his older brother’s angry face. 

“It’s not fair!” is the anguished cry of the good and faithful son who had stayed behind to work the land with his father and restore their fortunes for little recognition or reward. And there he stands – outside his home, arms crossed in wounded indignation, denying himself the opportunity to share in the joyous feasting that is taking place just a few feet away. The son who had gone out is now restored. But what about the son who had stayed? 

Palms. Passion. Pentecost. Autumn. Turning and re-turning. Dark and Light. Going out and restoring. These are the rhythms written into our world, our life, our church by our Creator, or – as Tess Ward names God in her prayer, Balance-Holder.

I wonder how often we miss out on real joy
~ because we refuse to move and sway to these divine rhythms,
~ because going out seems risky and uncomfortable,
~ because we’re fiercely protecting what is ours,
~ because we want things to stay exactly the same.

May this week bring you opportunities to perceive God in motion and the courage to come to life in big and small ways as the Balance-Holder draws us on and out into the fullness of life together. 

Yours, in Christ,
Yvonne 

Lenten letters

To my fellow pilgrims in this season of Lent

In the midst of the troubling news of the tragedy in Christchurch last week and heavy conversations with members of a farming community who are fast running out of water and feed as they wait and hope and pray for rain, it was particularly meaningful to celebrate the act of baptism and hear the familiar words: 

… for you Jesus Christ has come, has lived, has suffered;
for you, he has endured the agony of Gethsemane and the darkness of Calvary;
for you, he has uttered the cry, ‘It is accomplished!’
For you, he has triumphed over death;
for you, he prays at God’s right hand.
All for you, even before you were born.

Uniting in Worship

For me, Christ’s journey to the cross – much like God’s choice to come into our midst in the form of a tiny, vulnerable baby – is a poignant reminder that God shares in our daily life, our suffering, and our death, and that, one day, we will share in the power of Christ’s resurrection.

In Luke’s Gospel this journey (beginning shortly after his transfiguration) takes ten chapters to tell as Jesus follows the pilgrim’s route through Samaria; stops over with Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany; and even eats in the home of a tax collector in Jericho. Though Jerusalem is his destination, he does not rush or brush people off or dismiss the daily needs of fellow pilgrims on the way as petty in the grand scheme of what he will soon accomplish.

He heals. He teaches. He encourages. He comforts. He visits.

He takes his time because the salvation of the world is not only about an eternal end goal but about us knowing the blessing of God being close to us in each and every day of life’s journey.

In Luke 13:1-9, as he tells a tale about a fruitless fig tree to those who are wondering about whether God is with them in light of the terrible time that they have had of late, I identify with the owner of the vineyard who just wants to cut it down and clear the space for something better. I recognise that I am hasty and full of judgement. I confess that I get frustrated with things that eat up my time or energy without actually accomplishing anything. I acknowledge that my sense of time always seems more urgent than the gardener who not only asks that the poor fig tree be given another year, but promises to nurture and feed it that it may bear fruit.   

The invitation of this week in Lent is threefold:

  • to slow down! Take some time out to walk, to wander, to visit with a friend, to be still, to be open to signs of God’s love with and within you.
  • to confess – our frustration, our impatience, our careless haste. 
  • to pray – for rain, for grace for the sinner and healing for the hurting, for the salvation of the world and for the part that God would have us play in it.

For us, Christ has endured much, accomplished much, and continues to pray much. May we, in turn, bear much fruit as we live in and with and through his great love for us.

Yours, in Christ,
Yvonne