Tag Archives: Cross

Hail To Christ, The King

Hail to Christ, the King

Hail to Christ, the King

On Sunday we came to the last Sunday of the church’s year. It goes out with a bang, celebrating Christ as King. The evening brought a quieter more reflective time when we could think about just what sort of king Jesus is.

Using some of the liturgy from Liturgies for High Days by Dorothy McRae-McMahon, we thought about a different kind of royalty, one bereft of privilege and wealth, whose power lies in truth, faithfulness and grace for all people. We also remembered Jesus’ faithfulness to his calling, entering into the pain of our lives and yet able to leap free of all its bondages.

The cross that frees us from bondage

The cross that frees us from bondage

Our reading for the evening was one of those ones that lends itself naturally into a meditative retelling. Here is my version of Luke 23:32-43:

The journey through the streets had been tortuous, the crowd pressing in on either side. The sounds of jeering and weeping had mingled together to form a cacophony that heralded their progress. Now they had left the city gate and slowly climbed the skull-shaped hill called Golgotha. Three condemned men, each bearing the burden of a death sentence, brought out to this seemingly god-forsaken place to be nailed to a cross and hoisted high so that all might see that justice had been done.

Few people had made the effort to ascend the incline; there was a perfectly good view from the shaded city walls, and they were even more grateful for that distance as the midday sun rose to its zenith, its heat intensifying the stench of decay that hung in the sultry air over the place.

Jesus’ thoughts, however, were not for his own physical discomfort but that God might show mercy to those who had condemned him, and he cried aloud, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not realise what they are doing’. Some of those who heard these words felt a pang of guilt sweep over them and turned away, ashamed.

Are there times when we too turn away in shame?…

But beneath the crosses the guards, who had seen it all before, bickered over who should have his redundant clothing before drawing straws; the winner triumphant that he had obtained such a seamless tunic so cheaply. Whilst the representatives of the Jewish leaders, perhaps sensing the remorseful sentiments of the woman who had gathered there, tried to add justification of their part in the proceedings by scoffing at Jesus, pointing out that this man who claimed to be the chosen Messiah of God seemed incapable of saving himself despite his claim to have saved others. Hearing this, the soldiers joined in, offering a toast to the ‘King of the Jews’ with a sponge soaked in sour wine. Even so, they could see no glorious death of a king in battle, no pomp and ceremony, and soon grew tired of mocking this inaptly titled monarch.

When might our desire for ritual and symbols blind us from the simple truth?…

One of the criminals, hearing these things, turned and spoke in derisory tones to the man who hung beside him in silent sufferance, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ His thoughts were, that if this was the hope of Israel then surely he could save not only himself from this punishment but them also, however unlikely that was… and it was a slim hope that he would not die today.

However, the other rebuked him harshly; pointing out that self-preservation was not necessarily the main reason to call on God in these circumstances, particularly when they were both there for being condemned justly for their actions. It was clear to him that Jesus was a victim of a miscarriage of justice; what’s more he had recognised the holiness of this innocent man. Perhaps, he told the other, they should fear God’s ultimate punishment more.

Where does it leave us if we only call on God in times of crisis?

Turning to Jesus, an honest and heartfelt plea came to his lips, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ As the figure at his side turned to look at him with a full gaze, he saw not a broken and bloodied man but a saviour in all his resplendent majesty who spoke immeasurable words of reassurance, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

IMG_5817

Back to the service then, as we sang ‘Jesus remember me, when you come into your kingdom’ as a prayerful chant and thought about our ‘king’ who calls us to have a more generous love for the world; to bravely dream of the future where we might be a new hope for better things to come and to remain steadfast in our faith in the possibility of Christ’s reign of love.

Hail to Christ, the King,
ruler who lays down the power to destroy,
leader who treads through the costly journey
and into the shadow places of life,
that we might find the rising of life before us:

Hail to Christ, the King,
born to be first witness to God’s truth,
whose might lies in mercy,
whose throne is placed in the midst of humble people.

Hail to Christ, the King

Some material has been reproduced from Liturgies for High Days, Dorothy McRae-McMahon ©SPCK. The meditation is my own.

The purple stole used in the service as a focal point was created by Deborah Ireland. See here for more information about her work

Letting Go And Moving On

Butterfly transformation

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17

The last few weeks have been a series of consciously starting to let go, as I, and many of my fellow final year ordinands, come to the end of our formal training. I suspect that this process has been happening over a much longer period, but our final weekend at college brought us together as we ‘prepared for ministry’.

As part of that we were asked to plan a creative act of worship, and under the leadership of Sue (Smith), we, that is Ruth (Peet), Jenny (Tebboth) and I, worked collaboratively to do just that. What we produced turned out to be a powerful release as we thought about how we were continuously being transformed. That enabled us to let go of those things that may still be causing us to worry, to hesitate, to hold us back; which we could lay down at the foot of the cross and then to commit ourselves to moving out toward our new or existing ministries.

We wanted to share some of the ideas that went into creating this service as they might be helpful to others who are also on this pathway or who may be in need of laying something down before moving on.

A weighty pebble to hold

A weighty pebble to hold

Gathering
On entering the room we were each given a weighty pebble which we were asked to hold on to at all times if possible until later. These were to represent the worries and burdens that we might consciously or unconsciously be carrying with us at this time. By keeping hold of the pebble we became aware of their weight. Sue then introduced our service.

 

Transformation

Our training has been all about formation; however, over the last two or three years we can now see how our lives have also been transformed. Taking the example of the life cycle of the butterfly, we took a moment to think we are now in that process

For many people this proved to be a trigger to simply sit and consider just how far they had travelled and to realise that it would soon be time to emerge from the chrysalis – scary prospect but one that we didn’t do on our own, as the words of The Butterfly by Margaret Orford reminded us

My hands are warm to the butterfly
I am trying to set free.
Delicate, frail creature of beauty,
what can it know of me?
I am outside its comprehension.
It knows sunshine and showers,
darkness and the feel of flowers.
We do not ask it to do the impossible
and know Man.
So we with God,
who looks with tenderness on our frailty,
trying to guide us.
Trust him!
He knows the way and if we let him,
will open windows,
and cradling us gently in hands we cannot comprehend.
will lift us up and set us free.

These rocks have let go...

These rocks have let go…

Release
Ruth then led us in a meditation which culminated with us placing our pebbles around the foot of a cross.

(Holding our rock …) God is always leading us to new places on our journey through this life towards the kingdom, and sometimes that means letting go of people, places and things that are familiar to us. For some of us this experience is particularly acute right now.

We may be moving to a new home in a new community; we may be finding a new way of being in a familiar community; both these transitions mean letting go of an old way of being … and beginning a new journey, finding out who we are in a profoundly different role.

For all of us, as God calls us forward, inevitably there are people and places and things and aspects of life we need to let go. The rock we are holding represents all this. These rocks have let go of their original place, hewn by wind and rain, and buffeted by storms and sand and sea, they are all the more beautiful for that. And the new rock face revealed creates the potential for other unique and beautiful new creations.

The rocks are heavy, not necessarily because the things we need to let go are heavy, but because the knowledge that we need to let go and the act of doing so may weigh on us so heavily. We may have been carrying this weight for a while, and we have represented this by holding onto the rock this evening.

We follow in the footsteps of many: Abraham let go of his home and moved to a new land.The Jews left the familiarity of Egypt to journey through the desert. The apostles gave up their means of living to follow Jesus. Jesus … gave up life itself for us. Now … it’s our turn. Still holding the rock … let’s think now about the things we are letting go … think about all that has been good in them … all the experiences that have taught us and shaped us … and we thank God for them now ……

Now we focus on one aspect … it may be the thing that we have to let go that is weighing on us most heavily … and in it let us find something good … an experience, a lesson, or an act of kindness we can cherish and take with us … and let us thank God for that now ……

Looking at the rock, we can imagine it laying on a beach. Now we ask God to show us a new thing that he wishes to grow in us, when the warmth of his love hits us like the sun bursting through clouds onto the surface of the rock. May the tiny sparkles the sun reveals on the rocks surface, represent the beginnings of new joys for us in the service of God ……

Then, when you are ready, and only if you feel that you can … take your rock and let go of it at the foot of the cross as a sign that you are letting go of the past and moving on … not forgetting … remaining grateful for all that we have received … but simply giving it to God and letting it go ……

Jesus said … ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.’ (Luke 18:29-30)

Moving Onwards
For many of us this was a significant moment as we realised that what was happening to us was very much real; but we were not left to dwell too long before the tension was broken by the song ‘Be who you were born to be’ by Bliss which encouraged us to look forward instead

Gotta jump off that cliff and be who you were born to be

Gotta jump off that cliff and be who you were born to be

 

Stepping out...

Stepping out…

Getting ready to step out
Just before we took those first steps to go out though we were encouraged by Jenny’s prayers:

Lord God, you are the one who makes all things new. Not discarding the past but redeeming it for a richer way forward. Thank-you for all we have been learning and for the way you have been forming us. Thank-you for this place and for the care and teaching we have received. We pray for the work and development of this college and for all the staff and students here

Lord in your mercy….hear our prayer

As we have released those things which we hold close but need to surrender we have empty hands to receive all that you will give. Help us to fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith who we follow and whose Spirit is our companion and helper so that we can go forwards confident that the way ahead is known to you and that you will equip us for every work that you have prepared.

Lord in your mercy…hear our prayer

We pray for your Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that we may know you better. Enlighten our hearts to know the hope to which you have called us…. And help us to know your incomparably great power. Fill us with hope and expectation, faith and especially with your love for people we will meet and reveal to us where you are at work already so that we may work in tune with you.

Lord in your mercy…hear our prayer

We pray for those communities where we will be working…….. We pray for those who will be training us………. We pray for our families as they adjust with us to our new situation…… We commit ourselves to your unfailing love

Let us say the Lord’s Prayer together:

Our father in heaven hallowed be your name, your kingdom come your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread; forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the Glory are yours now and forever, Amen

shutterstock_85086514Stepping Out
And so we were now ready to step out, hopefully a bit more confidently than before. Our final act was a commitment to hand everything over to God to whom we knew we could return whenever we needed to. Each person made this commitment by laying their ‘feet’ along a path, strewn with a few rocks on which we might stumble from time to time, but that led out towards the door and our new ventures… we were finally moving on!

Leavers Feet

 

Lent And How To Give It Up

The 40 Days of Lent

The 40 Days of Lent

This morning I finished my Parochial Placement with St Thomas’ church in Fair Oak and Horton Heath. It has been a useful and at times challenging experience with much to reflect on; but more of that in a later blog. However, today, Ash Wednesday, I was given the opportunity to preach at their 10am morning communion service and I took my reading from Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

Today sees the beginning of the Lenten season, when we concentrate our thoughts on the journey toward the cross. I would hope that our focus is always centred on the passion of Christ and ultimately his resurrection, but for the next few weeks we are asked to try to set aside and deny ourselves some of life’s worldly pleasures. But how might we do that?

Well I wonder how many of us have started the day having already been shriven? … In order to be shriven we need to have made a confession – a confession that we’ve not always got things right; that we’ve held back our love from those most in need of it; that we’ve failed to live up to what is expected of us as followers of Christ.

Do we need to shout out how sorry we are from the rooftops? No, our confession is to be done quietly, honestly and simply between God and ourselves and although he already knows everything we’ve done, by admitting it before him he will know just how repentant we are. We need to have done this so that we can approach Lent unburdened, forgiven and with open hearts and minds.

Of course a good many people have translated this unburdening to mean an emptying of the larder… To deny ourselves all the goodies such as sugars and fats in chocolates, biscuits, cakes, etc.  I suspect that fewer people would have known yesterday as Shrove Tuesday – rather it was Pancake Day – and jolly nice they were too!

But we shouldn’t feel smug that we know it more than as a chance to lose a few pounds in weight, because it is hard to give up things we love; and don’t you find that the more we deny ourselves the more the shops, magazines and television seems to be full of images and examples of our favourite treats – no wonder we might look dismal instead of joyful.

I wonder also if we don’t – and you’ll pardon the pun – ‘make a meal of it.’ How many times when we’ve been offered a forbidden treat have we answered ‘Oh I can’t eat … I’ve given it up for Lent’ thus declaring to the world how good we’re being, rather than a simple ‘No thank you.’

This period is also a time for considering offering financial support with a donation to a charity or cause – perhaps with the money we’ve saved on buying all those goodies?  Maybe there’s a special Lent appeal, or Lent programme that puts a cost against the many blessings we already receive – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong in doing something like that – in fact I would encourage us all to take this opportunity to review our sacrificial giving – but an anonymous donation will mean so much more than an official thank you note.

We undertake this journey with Christ just as his disciples did on that first Lenten journey and I don’t expect Jesus was worried about how much sugar the disciples were putting on their breakfast cornflakes. He was more concerned that they understood what was going to happen, what they needed to know about and how they were going to continue his work – because time was running out.

We also only have a limited time, and I don’t just mean these six weeks, the rest of the year or even our lifetime, in which to make a difference and to really appreciate what we are being called to do. That time starts right now when we need to draw closer to God and so begin to gather up those imperishable treasures of goodness, mercy and love. In that way we will not only discover our own hearts but God’s as well.

Amen

I would like to finish by reading you a poem called Lenten Days

Lentern Window

Lenten Window – from the old to the new – from death to life

Death, Dying and Bereavement

Death, Dying and Bereavement

Death, Dying and Bereavement

Not the cheeriest subject for this time of year – or any time of the year really, but a weekend’s training, curtailed somewhat into an intensive one-day session due to an outbreak of Norovirus at college, saw us gathering on a very cold and frosty morning in Diocesan Church House, Oxford to contemplate our own and other’s mortality and our responses, as part of our pastoral training.

Having to face death is part and parcel of being a priest; the initial contact to the bereaved, the nuts and bolts of organising a funeral service and the continuing pastoral support to all those affected are skills that can be taught but that can only be developed, unfortunately, through practice, which is always at the expense of someone’s grief.

We may therefore have expertise, but we will never truly be experts. So, hard as we might wish to, we can never honestly say that we know exactly what someone is going through or what they are feeling, as each person’s experience of the death of a loved one is unique. What we can do is to come alongside the bereaved, not shying away because we fear we’ll get it wrong and make things worse, but offering to listen or just to sit in the silence,

Gravestones blogAnd I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away’
Revelation 21:3-4

Accepting the reality of death for many people can be particularly hard and there are many euphemisms that are used to try to alleviate the finality of human life. Phrases such as the deceased having ‘passed away’ or ‘gone into the darkness’. Believing that they’ve ‘become a star’ or ‘gone to a better place, to be with Jesus or Granny’ etc. are all quite commonplace. Humour also features in sayings such as the cockney rhyming slang ‘brown bread’ for dead or ‘sleeping with the fishes’ with it’s undertones of Mafia involvement. It’s also interesting to discover the origin of some of these phrases; for example ‘kicked the bucket’ actually refers to the grotesque history of lynch mobs standing their victims on upturned buckets, which were then kicked away, or the more practical ‘popped their clogs,’ where the Lancastrian meaning of ‘popped’ equates to ‘pawned,’ so that in order to afford the funeral, the deceased’s family would place their clogs in hock until they could afford to redeem them!

However, death is a reality and needs to be faced, and as Christians we have something that offers a unique reassurance – a hope for the future. When we ‘shuffle off this mortal coil’ – a euphemism courtesy of Shakespeare’s Hamlet – we look to Christ’s promise of eternal life. Just how that will look can differ enormously depending on your theology; but one beautifully imaginative description of what this might be comes at the end of C. S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, a book that is often considered an allegory of the Book of Revelation.

And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before

Out of death comes life - tiny cyclamens planted in the graveyard

Out of death comes life – tiny cyclamens in the graveyard

It was also important that we contemplated our own mortality so that we could become aware of our own thoughts and understanding about death because no-one is immune to the physical and emotional aspects of grief. Time spent in reflection enabled us to work through these attitudes in order that we can be better placed in the future to support those who will rely on us doing our ‘job’  both professionally and pastorally.

What is clear in all of this is that when death is not the end of life then death takes on a whole new meaning however it occurs

Death Comes

Death comes out of the shadows,
padding with stealthy footsteps;
like a thief in the night
to steal away life’s breath.

Death comes tumbling on the wind,
choking with gritty determination;
like a sudden desert sandstorm,
to obliterate hope and dreams.

Death comes with iron jaws,
lurking among the undergrowth;
like a hidden gin,
to bind and snare.

Death comes after sentence quashed,
counting the endless days;
like a prisoner of conscience ,
to bring welcome release.

Death comes in the shape of a cross,
sacrificing innocence;
like a lamb led to the slaughter
to redeem and bless humanity.

Grave Flowers blog


The Empty Tomb

The Empty Cross

The Empty Cross

Alleluia! Christ is risen
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

It was with this greeting and response; as we sat down to share our evening meal that a new term began at college. It was only two days beforehand that I had sat next to the Easter cross in my home church, celebrating Easter Sunday and here I was, back to my studies but with new tasks to complete and new challenges. It seemed the same, but then again it also seemed different

I suspect it was the like that for the women, who approached the tomb on the first day of the week. Yes, a dreadful thing had happened and yes, they were probably a bit disorientated and shaken, but they were coming to do what they would always have done if someone died – that at least was normal, but what happened next was very different

Each Gospel gives a slightly different version of accounts. In Mark there are several women together to who arrive to anoint the body, only to find that the stone sealing the tomb had been rolled back and inside was a young white-robed man telling them not to be afraid, but that the body wasn’t there. Despite his call for calm, they are terrified and flee from the tomb, too afraid to tell anyone what they have seen

In Matthew, it is two Marys who go to look at the tomb, only to experience an earthquake, caused by an angel’s descent from heaven; who puts the guards into a stupor and then shows them that Jesus is not in the tomb. He sends them fearfully, yet joyfully, to deliver a message to the disciples that they are to return to Galilee, only for them to meet Jesus himself who confirms what they must do.

In Luke we again hear about a group of women, who meet two dazzlingly dressed men and after being reminded of what Jesus had previously told them, return to the disciples only to be accused of idle talk until Peter runs to look for himself.

Finally, in John, it is Mary Magdalene who, on seeing that the stone has been removed, runs back to tell this to Simon Peter and the beloved disciple, who both then set off towards the tomb, the latter outrunning Peter to reach the tomb, but respectfully waiting for Peter to enter it first, only to be met by discarded linen wrappings. However, it is after this that Mary in a bitter-sweet moment encounters Jesus and can report this back to all the disciples.

All of these accounts add to the story of what happened, but the one fact that they all substantiate is that the tomb was empty.

‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.
He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.’ Matthew 28:5-6

I often wonder if it shouldn’t be the tomb that is used more as an image of Christ’s resurrection, a permanent reminder of the defeat of death – but equally it is the empty cross that is a powerful and iconic symbol of transformation to which we are drawn.

This is his blood which he shed for you

This is his blood which he shed for you

The truth is that in a way this transformation is what was happening on Sunday, as I watched people, coming forward to place a flower around the cross. The blooms themselves were fresh and vibrant, and everyone placed them as carefully as they could, trying not to bruise the petals. However, some found it difficult to push  them into the ‘ground’, while others knew exactly the spot they wanted in relation to the position of the cross. One flower in particular caught my attention – a beautiful cream tulip, streaked with red, that was placed right in the centre  at the very foot – which looked this morning as if its cup had opened up to catch the blood that would have fallen from Jesus’ body

Yet, as beautiful as this display had become, each single representative bloom was already dying; just as we are called to die to Christ in order to be transformed and given new life. This truly is the joy of the Easter message and yet not everyone chooses to respond to it. That, no doubt, is the greatest regret as far as God is concerned as he tries, in love, to reconcile all of his creation. However, it still doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try and do our part by sharing the Good News

Alleluia! Christ is risen
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

He is risen as he said

He is risen as he said

 

 

 

 

 

Bearing the Cross

Embroidered cross on altar frontal, St Peter's, Dyrham

Embroidered cross on altar frontal, St Peter’s, Dyrham

As a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief
your only Son was lifted up
that he might draw the whole world to himself.
May we walk this day in the way of the cross
and always be ready to share its weight,
declaring your love for all the world.

The above forms part of a prayer of thanksgiving for Morning Prayer during Passiontide, and as we move into Holy Week and having this morning been given a palm cross,  my thoughts have moved towards just exactly what it might mean for each of us to bear our cross… or even crosses.

If we are incredibly lucky, we might feel that our lives are pretty carefree, we have everything to meet our basic needs; food, water, shelter. Our emotional needs are also met through our families and friends  and we may even have a sense of financial security – a bit of spare cash to indulge in treats from time to time. Our crosses, although apparently light, are still with us however.  Outward crosses that carry responsibility to everyone around us. How can we not declare our love to the world?

Often, as well, we carry internal crosses. The things that we choose to bear alone; things that we are ashamed of doing and saying; things that might diminish us in other people’s eyes; things that are not hidden away from God, and who alone knows the sorrow in our hearts and our desire for repentance. How can we not allow ourselves to be uplifted?

For many people though, the cross they have to bear, like Jesus’, is an enormous weight of worries, hurts and strains. Often it is borne in situations that are not of their making or problems from which they can see no way of escape. Daily life is a struggle and at times unbearable. How can we not offer to share their load?

For Jesus the way of the cross was one that he decided to take willingly. Yet even as he made his way up to Calvary, his human frailty caused him to stumble, allowing another, Simon of Cyrene to join him in bearing the great physical weight of the wooden cross. What was even more incredible was the immeasurable weight of the world’s wrongdoings, sorrows, grief and hatred that he also chose to bear. How can we not be grateful?

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you;
by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world

The Way Of The Cross To Calvary - embroidered panel by Sue Symons. One of 35 panels that form the Bath Abbey Diptychs

The Way Of The Cross To Calvary – an embroidered panel by Sue Symons from her exhibition “One Man’s Journey To Heaven”, one of 35 panels that form the Bath Abbey Diptychs*

*Sue Symons explains that the large black circle depicts the weight of the cross and the white circle is Christ, diminished in size as he bears its horrendous weight. http://www.bathabbey.org/whats-on/events/bath-abbey-diptychs