Tag Archives: Mary

Seeds of New Life

Seeds and Bread

Seeds and Bread

Except a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, 
it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit’
John 12:24

 On Monday in Holy Week our church holds an informal communion and this year we were reminded of the seeds of hope and the bread of life through the beautiful liturgy of Dorothy McRae-McMahon from her book Liturgies for the Journey of Life published by SPCK

This simple and reflective service allowed us space to offer our prayers where we believed we saw the signs of the seeds of new life, however small, by placing the single seeds we had been given at the beginning of the service onto Christ’s table, where seeds are turned into bread, as we named the sign we saw and the hope we have

Also to quietly listen to Psalm 42:1-9 and to hear the Gospel through a meditative reading I had prepared based on John 12:1-11.

 Seeds of New Life

It seems incredible that we’re all here together again. It fact it is far beyond incredible and yet I must somehow believe it. Look at them all – relaxing and enjoying the meal that Martha has prepared for us. My wonderful, hardworking sister Martha – not at all as bossy as she appears but kind-hearted and generous, and so very grateful to the man who is our guest of honour this evening.

An honoured guest indeed, and yet he has become one of the family, certainly no airs and graces, just a gentle and humble presence. As I catch his eye, he smiles at me, a look of genuine love – and yet just a few weeks ago it could have been so very different.

Silence

Then I was aware that my illness had taken such a grip on me that my family was beyond hope, and yet they still had faith that he would come. They had tried to hide their tears from me, but I still heard them sobbing as the night passed and I felt myself slipping away to death and to nothingness. ..

… That was until I heard his voice, telling me to come out; but out from where? Everything seemed muffled until I realised that my whole body had been wrapped in cloths for my grave, yet the insistence in his voice gave me a sense of urgency and so I stumbled into the bright light before falling at his feet.

As I said, beyond belief… and yet I do believe.

Silence

Many of his travelling companions are with him tonight. They’ve stopped here in Bethany on their way to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. I can hear Peter, with his loud, gruff voice cheerfully retelling stories of what they’ve been up to since we last met, and Thomas – careful, thoughtful Thomas – listening intently, and occasionally interjecting to correct some small inaccuracy of what Peter is saying, which Peter takes in good humour.

On the other side of the room, I can see Judas, looking as if he’s brooding about something. I often wonder what it was that Jesus saw in him when he called him to be one of the disciples. They say he’s good at making the small amount of money they have stretch just that little bit further, although they often seem short of cash. Still God provides for them somehow.

Silence

And at least we’ve been able to provide some warm food and plenty to drink; and Martha hasn’t had to scold Mary too much to get her to help get things ready. I can see Mary now, sitting right in amongst those nearest to him. She been so excited since she knew he was coming, full of smiles as if keeping a secret but trying not to let it burst out.

Suddenly it’s as if the room has been transported to the middle of Solomon’s garden of delights; the air heavy with a strong fragrance, familiar and yet unfamiliar. Of course… it’s nard, that purest of perfumes and also one of the most expensive. That must have been what Mary was hiding and it must have cost her a great deal, at least 300 denarii – a most precious gift indeed.

Silence

A gift that she has broken open and is now using to anoint his feet; an act of pure devotion, yet one which I can see is making her sorrowful as tears roll down her cheeks and fall on his feet, and which she wipes away with her beautiful long hair, her own glory.

The smell has obviously reached Judas’ nostrils as well, and he seems incensed, querulously asking why so much money has been wasted; that she would have been better of giving it to help the poor or maybe he wanted it in the common purse for another purpose. My dear friend was having none of it, rebuking Judas and pointing out that regrettably there would always be poor people among us, and what she has done was simply what she would do on the day of this burial. Instead we should be more worried that we might not always have him.

Silence

I wonder what he means. Perhaps he’ll soon be moving on again. Things have undoubtedly become a little more difficult. Ever since he miraculously restored me to life I have noticed that people are very confused, several of them shy away, ducking into doorways and crossing over when I walk along the streets. Still more though want to see for themselves and vast crowds of people are starting to visit our village. They too are discovering how incredible the things that he does are. It’s certainly rattling the chief priests; they don’t like to see their authority threatened.

Perhaps it’s best then that he goes away, and Mary can save the rest of the perfume till much later… Cheer up Judas, your teacher knows what he’s doing.

 

It’s Called Christmas For A Reason – Joseph’s Story

Flight To Egypt

Flight To Egypt

This is the last in a series of four meditations for Christmastide. I hope you have enjoyed reading them

Joseph sat under the welcome shade of the sycamore trees. Mary, his wife and their child also rested nearby. He could see his son chattering away to his mother, who was doing her best to answer his inquisitive questions.

His son? He knew that wasn’t strictly true, according to nature’s law; too much had happened over the last two or three years to make him only too aware of that fact; but the truth was he felt it was now his responsibility to fulfil a father’s role.

The last time they had been on a journey like this Mary had been expecting their first-born any day; the child that now played happily at his mother’s feet. Her latest pregnancy wasn’t obvious yet, still it was hard to have to travel in such conditions. However, circumstances meant that they had become refugees – putting themselves into self-imposed exile, heading towards a land where their ancestors had been treated like slaves.

Joseph knew it was for the best. The vivid dream, warning him of death and despair, had prompted their hurried departure from Bethlehem. Even now, from such a great distance, there were stories exchanged between fellow travellers and the camel trains they passed, telling of King Herod’s murderous slaughter of thousands of innocent children – death on the whim of an egotistical maniac with an inferiority complex

After the wise men had gone, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Hurry and take the child and his mother to Egypt! Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is looking for the child and wants to kill him.” Matthew 2:13

It was as if a dark shroud of mourning was descending on the land; a palpable wail of inconsolable sorrow rising up. What sort of world was this going to be to raise children in?

Hopefully, though, his family was safe now, only one more day till the border crossing and that was merely a desolate rocky outcrop in the Wilderness of Egypt. He’d bought them as far south as he dared, but after crossing they would have to make their way north-west in order to find villages and towns where he might earn his trade as a carpenter. He was grateful for that at least, for who knew when they might be able to return.

The strange gifts they’d been given, by those unexpected visitors, might be of value if their lives depended on it, but somehow he’d couldn’t see Mary agreeing to part with them and who was he to treat such precious gifts so lightly. No, he would rely on his own skills, skills taught to him by his father and ones which he would pass on to his sons in the future, to give them a good chance to earn a decent living and start families of their own.

He looked up at a sudden burst of laughter, and watched as his son ran smiling towards him with his arms open wide.

“Aba, Aba. We have to go – let’s get on our way!”

Joseph scooped him up into his arms and walked back to where his wife was sitting; gently helping her to her feet. Setting his son down, both he and Mary prepared to follow Jesus as he hastened on a little way ahead, leading them towards their new life.

He Qi, Nativity - The Flight Into Egypt

He Qi, Nativity – The Flight Into Egypt

*Sycamore Trees have been cultivated since ancient times. The Pharaohs of Egypt called them Nehet. The oldest sycamore tree is in El Matariya, Egypt and is known as the Virgin Mary Tree.

It’s Called Christmas For A Reason – The Wise Men’s Story

The Wise Men Came Travelling

The Wise Men Came Travelling

Originally written for a Messy Church service storytelling slot to celebrate Epiphany

I want to tell you the story of three men who decided to leave their comfortable homes and travel a very long distance in search of…..well at the beginning they weren’t entirely sure what or who it was they were searching for? They just knew that it was so important that they set out on a new adventure.

Some people called them wise men…but I’m not so sure they were very wise to consider going on such a journey …at least not at the start. Others call them kings… In fact only one of them was a king and his name was Balthazar. He was a very kind king and looked after his wives and servants very well. His life was extremely comfortable, because he could afford to buy anything he wanted. The trouble was he had bought everything that he wanted and now he was bored!

He was also very intelligent and liked to try and find out everything about the world around him. He read loads of books and his favourite subject was history. However, he was not as clever as his best friend Melchior, who was indeed a wise man. Melchior, was also very rich and so he could spend all of his time studying the stars. That is he looked up at them at night and watched them as they moved across the sky, and during the day when the sun hid the stars he plotted their movements on his charts. Whenever Balthazar went to visit his friend he had to try and find him behind a mountain of papyrus rolls

Also living in the city was another man called Caspar, who was also a friend of the king. He was a man who thought a lot about the world – about how it was created; about who created it; about why it was created; about why he had been created! He had read all of the ancient scriptures of lots of different faiths and had come to the conclusion that there must have been a very powerful God who had done all of these things

One day Melchior, rushed into the palace when Caspar was visiting Balthazar. He was very excited and told them both to come and see what he had discovered. He spread out a large chart on the table in front of them and pointed to a small object that was separate from all of the other stars.

“I noticed it the other night…I’m sure it wasn’t there the night before! Come and see it for yourselves.

They all went back to Melchior’s house and waited…..and waited….and waited. Actually they had to wait for quite some time as it had been lunch time when Melchior had rushed to the palace and the sun needed to set before the stars would be visible…

Eventually though, when the night was very dark, they saw an incredible sight…. on the skyline a bright light was shining… it was brighter than all the other stars and seemed to twinkle and sparkle as if it was waiting for them to make a decision.

“I think I know what this means,” said Caspar, “I read about a star appearing in the sky when God wants to send a message to the world”

Balthazar and Melchior wondered how a star was going to tell them a message. Stars can’t talk after all.  But they did notice that the way the star hovered over them it seemed to be saying ‘Follow me’ before it disappeared as the sun rose. Over the next few days they kept on seeing the star and each night it seemed to flicker more brightly and urgently.

Eventually they came to a decision. Caspar had reread one of the ancient books and declared that the stars appearance was because a very, very special person had been born…a prince or a king!

Melchior said that the star was moving very slowly westward, so perhaps that was where it had happened. Balthazar just thought it was the chance for a great adventure and began making plans for a journey…. and because he wasn’t sure how long that journey was going to be he packed lots of things, including gifts for whoever they were going to meet…after all it’s only polite to take a present when you go visiting.

The three men travelled for many months and days through the desert. They tended to sleep during the day when the sun was at its hottest and then set out again as the sun set and the stars began to appear; and every night the brightest star in the sky seemed to lead them onward into new lands, never stopping. Even when it was a cloudy night the light seems to glow through the clouds so that they could see where it was.

Then one day they were sleeping in their tents when some men entered their camp. They told Balthazar, Melchior and Caspar that they were King Herod’s guards and that their master would like to welcome them to his country, so they were escorted to the palace of King Herod

Now King Herod wasn’t a very nice king. He was greedy and cruel and extremely jealous of anyone who threatened his power. None of his own people were ever allowed to see him. Only the important people were allowed into his palace. So we’ve got to stay outside…

…However, Balthazar, Melchior and Caspar were allowed in. King Herod seemed very friendly to his three visitors. Apparently he asked them lots of questions about their journey, about how they had got there and where they were going. Melchior, who was very excited about how the star had led them on their journey, told Herod about his discovery and Caspar tried to explain that they were looking for a very important person, possibly a new king… Balthazar just felt uneasy.

After a while, despite all the splendour and luxury of the palace, the three men thought it would be wise to continue on their way. Especially as the star had moved on – and they had to spend three or four nights travelling very swiftly to catch up with it. King Herod had made them promise to let him know when they found the new king, so that he could come to welcome him. Balthazar thought that was one promise he really didn’t want to keep, and had kept his fingers crossed behind his back when he said they would!

After a few more days they approached the town of Bethlehem. They were only expecting to top up their food supplies and allow their camels some rest, as the city was not very grand – there were no majestic palaces, or magnificent houses within its walls; only ordinary houses, in ordinary streets. Yet the star seems to be hovering right over the town, as if it had come to a stop.

As they made their way through the twisting and winding streets, they kept asking themselves was this the place? Surely not! Yet the star was right there in the sky above them and was shedding its light onto a particularly small, very plain looking house. The three men stood in front of the wooden door

“You knock,” said Caspar

“No, you knock,” replied Melchior

“Oh for goodness sake, I’ll knock,” sighed Balthazar, as he rapped very smartly on the door. At the sound of the knock, a woman’s voice from within the house bid them to come in and so they entered the house.

At first it seemed very gloomy, then they made out a young woman sitting on a stool, with a child on her knee. Maybe it was the light from the star, or maybe it was the candle but the room seemed to glow with light and all three men fell down on their knees as they felt the presence of someone very special. It may not have been a palace, there may not have been hundreds of servants or furniture of gold and silver, but there was definitely someone royal there – a future king.

Balthazar then remembered the presents that they had brought and he laid down his gift of gold – certainly fit for a king! Melchior had some frankincense, which would be useful if he turned out to be a great priest and teacher. When Caspar hesitantly laid his gift of myrrh in front of the cradle the others were a bit confused. Surely myrrh was used when people had died.

“He may need it later on,” explained Caspar

Mary, the child’s mother, just smiled and thanked them for their gifts.

“His name’s Jesus, and Joseph, my husband and I, are very grateful. He is truly a gift from God.”

The three men bowed again and each thought that they would remember this journey and this night and this child for a very long time. As they left they knew that were all leaving wiser than when they had arrived.

Oh, and by the way – they never did tell King Herod where they had found the child. Which was just a well, as Herod did turn out to be a very, very nasty man!

Wise Men Came Travelling

Wise Men Came Travelling

The visit of the Wise Men or Magi to the Holy Family is celebrated in the Church of England as Epiphany on Twelfth Night (6th January). An epiphany is a moment of sudden and great revelation, which the wise men experienced on seeing the Christ child. Despite their names not being recorded, some traditions believe they may all have been Eastern kings –  and of the three Balthazar is an alternate form of the Babylonian king Belshazzar, mentioned in the Book of Daniel.

As to whether there were only three of them, this may be an assumption from the fact that there were just three gifts mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 2:1-12); in the East, the Magi traditionally number twelve,

However many there were, they certainly didn’t arrive on the night of Jesus’ birth, as the family had relocated from a stable to a house (Matthew 2:11). It would also seem that only Mary was there at the time of the visit to her child, who was likely to have been several months old but no more than two years old (Matthew 2:16)

And the star that they followed? Now known as the Star of Bethlehem or the Christmas star, and which astronomers throughout the ages have attempted to link to unusual astronomical events, such as a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, a comet or a supernova. Whatever it was it led them to the correct place.

May Christ’s love be revealed in and through you this Christmastide!

It’s Called Christmas For A Reason – Mary’s Story

Mary and Child

Mary and Child

The day had been long and arduous, whether walking slowly along the dusty, gritty road or bumping along on the ass’ back; each step jolting the baby she carried inside her, as she gripped tightly onto the beast’s mane.

The town had looked such a welcome relief as they’d approached it, but it had soon become evident as they pushed and jostled their way through the narrow streets that they had arrived too late to find the comfortable guest house with its cool whitewashed walls and decent bed on which to rest.

Instead, “No vacancies, we’re full up!”

She had tried to smile as her husband looked apologetic, but he was determined to find them somewhere to stay. The last place they tried looked less appealing, a little shabby, but by then they were desperate; the baby was stirring inside her. The owner, must have sensed their anxiety as he led them down to the only room he had for them….among the animal stalls! Still there was plenty of clean straw and hay, and when her husband lit the oil lamp its glow had seemed to bring a tiny feeling of warmth to the room.

As darkness fell, she had tried to get some sleep, but it seemed to elude her tonight. She lay listening to the snuffling and soft breathing of the animals; a shaft of moonlight fell onto the earthen floor through a chink in the roof, and tiny motes of dust made it seem alive in the otherwise still air – there was a feeling of expectancy, not least from the child that moved more urgently in her womb. Through the open door she could see what seemed a million stars in the heavens, under which the rest of the world slept in deep oblivion of the future.

She felt the first sharp pain, but waited to wake her sleeping husband until she knew the birth rhythms were regularly and imminent. “The baby’s coming…”

Afterwards, as she wrapped the child in the swaddling cloths she had brought with them, she gazed down at him, cradled in her arms, and felt such an overwhelming sensation of love, that it made her whole body tingle, dissipating completely the few lingering pains of childbirth. She looked up to her husband, wondering what his thoughts were now that the child was here, but she saw only love and an unconditional acceptance, that here was a son; whom he would nurture and raise as best he could, A carpenter’s son or maybe he would choose another calling?

The baby, now content with a breastful of milk, lay quietly. He too held his mother regard as she scrutinized her perfect new-born infant and as their eyes met, she gasped slightly as she glimpsed briefly within them an ancient wisdom that spoke of creation and new worlds. Rocking him gently, she sang a lullaby “Let all creation join my song, for peace and love are born…” which stilled not only her own mind but that of the creatures around her.

“A virgin will have a baby boy, and he will be called Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” Matthew 1:23

Outside, Bethlehem and the rest of the world was beginning to awake as the dawn broke. As she laid him in a manger of sweet smelling hay she spent a while pondering the future, wanting this hushed moment of peace to last for ever, but somehow knowing that it would not last…

… at least not in her or perhaps her son’s lifetime. Maybe eventually though it just might….

Bethlehem Wall Graffiti by Pawel Rzyzawa

Bethlehem Wall Graffiti by Pawel Rzyzawa

With every blessing for peace this Christmas!

“Let all creation join my song, for peace and love are born” are lyrics from ‘Mary’s Lullaby’ by Jan Underwood Pinborough

Watching and Waiting

Signs of Advent

Signs of Advent

At this time of year, in the lead up to the Christmas celebrations, we spend a great deal of time watching and waiting. What is it though that we are watching and waiting for? Is it for the first sign that Christmas is coming? In that case our watching should have started in September, when the first packs of mince pies appeared in the shops! Maybe the earliest sign that we’re watching for is when, what has become an iconic Coca Cola advert, ‘Holidays are coming, holidays are coming….‘ appears on our television, as the twinkling lorry wends it’s merry way to bring cheer and healthy profits for its stockholders – perhaps the waiting is over when we’ve seen that?

On the other hand we might be watching our credit card groaning under the increase in spending as we are tempted to celebrate the season by purchasing an excessive amount of presents to show our friends and relatives just how much we really love them…… Maybe though, we won’t be waiting for the bill to flop onto our doormat and realise that it will probably take a whole year, if not more to make the repayments – if only we hadn’t bought that one extra present that got put in the cupboard last year and might just do as a raffle prize next time someone asks for one!

Indulging in luxuries, wine, and rich food will never make you wealthy
Proverbs 21:7

What is it we are watching and waiting for? Are we watching our weight as the pounds pile on as we tuck into several Christmas party dinners and surreptitiously open the big box of chocolates that we were saving for Christmas – we can always get a replacement before the day. Or are we waiting for the sales that will start on Boxing Day, so that we can go and hunt out all those bargains… the credit card should just last till then… or maybe we could return that ‘delightful’ jumper that Auntie May bought us, then we can buy what we really want!!

Am I being a bit cynical, a bit ‘bah humbug’. I probably am, but I’m certainly not being holier than thou, because at some point or other I have done all of those things – except for returning the jumper Auntie May! For many people the real joy of Christmas will be doing all or some of these things – and there is love and joy and happiness in coming together, sharing, and giving and receiving gifts. For many of us though there will be a little bit of sadness that people won’t watch and wait for something considerably more important and certainly longer lasting than the use by date on the egg nog.

At church we have started a new year, with the season of Advent, The word Advent is an anglicised version of the Latin word adventus – meaning ‘coming’ – what then or who is coming? Well Christmas is coming (regardless of whether the geese are any fatter) and we will spend these next few weeks preparing to celebrate the coming of Jesus to earth over 2000 years ago. But we’re not really watching and waiting for his birth – that’s already happened; and his resurrection means that we will not really be watching and waiting for his coming among us, because he’s already here in the gift of the Holy Spirit.

What the watching and waiting will involve is a retelling of the ancient stories of a long awaited Messiah, through the visions of the prophets, the blessing of Mary who carried the Christ-child in her womb and the messengers, like John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus’ earthly mission. Perhaps more importantly we will once again be watching and waiting expectantly in preparation for Jesus’ Second Coming, as we put aside some of the excitement and spend some time being penitent and a little more thoughtful.

“So you, too, must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of my return”
Matthew 25:13

In the meantime, we can also spend time doing some more watching and waiting…. Watching and waiting for opportunities, whether it’s time or money, to bring to all those around us, who for one reason or another may not have the same chances or opportunities to join in our celebrations, a feeling of hope for the future; and to show once again that Jesus really is the reason for the season!

May God bless us all this Advent

Watching and Waiting

Watching and Waiting