Sunday, 27 April 2014

Thomas II

Did anyone ever ask Thomas?

No one ever asked where I had been.

When the women had brought the message of his Resurrection, I had followed after the others. Seeing Peter confused - as ever- and John struck dumb for once, I prayed with all my heart for it to be true. The women said we had to go back to the Galilee but Peter was still rooted in indecision. There was no sign of us leaving the stale darkness of the upper room. Their words felt like dream memories. Hopes of another world - we were stuck in this one. I couldn't bear it. 

The others swore that they had seen the Lord, but where was the light? Where was his energy, his joy, his understanding? Where was he?

If it was true then why weren't we going to Galilee?

I had said that we should come to die with him. It feels as though I have. My only refuge is  the place where Mary had watched. Bundled into the low branches of the olive tree, wrapped still in the acrid scent of despair, I took the night watch on the abandoned tomb. What was I hoping for? That the Lord would find me, would say my name in the shadows? 

Surely he should have known by now how helpless I am without him. Worried that, even with his promise, I would not find the way to his side. 

Why weren't we going to Galilee?

The feeling of abandonment rocked me. How easy for the women to show their feelings, tears flowing freely, wrapped in each others arms, distracted by burial traditions. finding meaning in death.  Not so easy for a man. Death and sacrifice is what we are about - daggermen, warriors and priests. 

The scent of the spilt herbs and spices rises into the air with the cooling earth. Oil of rosemary and balsam stinging my eyes, catching in my throat. I blink away a tear, then two. More fall and I let them burn into my cheeks, saltiness seeping along the cracks in my lips. From the depths of my being comes a groan. It forces its way through a deep inward breath and releases into the night sky as a howl. Release. I stalk the garden, howling and groaning like a madman, threshing through the bushes, throwing myself against the stone of the tomb, tearing at my clothes. A twin to the Genneseret demoniac - except - who was here to heal me?

The demons came at the scent of torment. But my despair was too complete; they wheeled away in frustration. My heart froze, hope denied. 

There was no Galilee. That's why I went back. To tell them that there was no Galilee. 

And there he was. Still carrying the horrors of the world whilst I stood wrapped up in my own pain. 

And in my pain, he offered me the horrors of the world to hold. And to find him in all of it.  

As I fell to my knees he covered me with his love.

Why would anyone deny the Galilee of Hope.

My Lord and my God. 


Saturday, 26 April 2014


Gospel of John 20:19-31

In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.

‘As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’

After saying this he breathed on them and said:

‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord’, he answered, ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. ‘Peace be with you’ he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’ Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him:

‘You believe because you can see me.

Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’
There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.

Having gone back to work immediately after Easter, it is surprising how long ago all that pomp and celebration seems. How much focus there is on getting back to normal.

Maybe the same for you? It shouldn't be. We have as many Easter days to look forward to as we had Lenten days. We are nowhere near Ordinary Time yet. Yet the shops have moved from chocolate decadence to gardening tools and keep fit equipment. The advertisements are selling holidays and diets. The world likes to suggest that there is always something else a little better around the corner.

The disciples don't believe there is something better. They are locked into a tomb of fear until Jesus comes to release them. The gift of the Holy Spirit proving his continuing love for them and the work he believes they are capable of. The gift and the work that is now ours...

As the Father sent me so am I sending you...

Thomas gives Jesus the opportunity to show how this works.

Despite their own original fears and apprehensions - the disciples doubted Jesus all through his ministry;
doubted the vocation of servant;
doubted the need for sacrifice;
doubted the Resurrection;
doubted the women;
doubted they could go on without him

Yet it is only Thomas who has been branded as a 'doubter'. Not because he doubts Jesus but because he doubts the disciples. After all, the disciples are still in their hiding place.

The disciples shame is that they still doubt themselves.
Easy then to put the 'doubting' title on Thomas and ignore the grace to forgive his 'sin' by retaining a sense of superiority.

In our Diocese we are promoting New Evangelisation. Which should not be so 'new' any more, given that it was Paul VI who first used the phrase 50 years or so ago. The intention to respond to the new challenges that the contemporary world creates for the mission of the Church. 

We've been visited by a relic. 

We have had encouragement to celebrate the Sacraments. 

We have renewed rites of devotion to Our Lady and the Sacred Heart.

We have returned to the study of and 'devotion' to the Catechism. 

We have memorised the new Rite of the Mass.

We have celebrated our Catholicism and the uniqueness of our faith.

We may think we are moving forward but have we simply changed the blinds on our enclosed hiding place? 

Have we really just found more ways to lock out those who most need the Risen Lord? If Jesus refused to be restrained by stone walls then isn't it time we 'left the building' and started taking the Gospel to others?  Witnessing to those who are not in the right place at the right time. 

What if Thomas met me?

Would I offer peace or point the finger?

Would I consider myself the friend, the servant, the humble one?

Would I forgive the burden that Thomas carried - no matter what it was?

Would I forgive the burden in me that sometimes fails to meet the challenge?

Would I put my hands into the pain and suffering of the world and still kneel with Thomas to say; 

My Lord and My God


Monday, 21 April 2014

Did you see what just happened?

Matthew 28:8-15 
Filled with awe and great joy the women came quickly away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples.
  And there, coming to meet them, was Jesus. ‘Greetings’ he said. And the women came up to him and, falling down before him, clasped his feet. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there.’
  While they were on their way, some of the guard went off into the city to tell the chief priests all that had happened. These held a meeting with the elders and, after some discussion, handed a considerable sum of money to the soldiers with these instructions, ‘This is what you must say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.” And should the governor come to hear of this, we undertake to put things right with him ourselves and to see that you do not get into trouble.’ The soldiers took the money and carried out their instructions, and to this day that is the story among the Jews

Easter Sunday, after morning mass and chocolate madness, is usually a day of rest. 

This year I had the chance to meet up with some friends so found myself in in a bar in the city centre.  It was packed out with people enjoying what had been a warm Spring day and the peak of the Bank Holiday weekend. The music was loud and the voices called to each other in between the shrill multi-notes of mobile phones. Dress and hair style was as varied as could be imagined with tattoos and piercings suggesting a coming together of tribal families. There was a good humour about the place and I was quickly offered a seat (giving my age away a bit). 

With the struggle to have a conversation we went outside to the pavement area. Within minutes we were surrounded by people in dayglo security vests and people leading sniffer dogs marshalling a fast forming queue of people. It seems that there was a music event going on in the next building and this was only the start of the night's entertainment.

Sandwiched between the crowded bar and the growing line, people watching was unavoidable. Snatches of conversations overheard, friendship groups observed, fashion statements noted. The tensions grew between clubbers and security, impatient tapping of phones, printed tickets clasped tightly - prized possessions. Tonight was going to be one of the nights of their life. 

As one man sauntered past with a t-shirt featuring a broad gold cross with 'sinner' emblazoned across it my friend asked 'Do you think they know they have been redeemed?' 

 Well, no, they don't. But then, again, they didn't know they had been redeemed two thousand years ago. 

The day after the Sabbath celebrations it would have been equally as busy. The peoples from the Diaspora making plans to gather the caravans together. The varied languages crisscrossing the streets and squares of Jerusalem, catching up with friends, finalising deals, shopping from market stalls. Maybe the Romans holding some festival of their own for the coming of Spring, whilst the soldiers moved among the crowds keeping order. 

Who will have remembered the pitiful human dragged through the streets only days before? Who could have borne the hours of standing, watching the light and life drain away? Who would have cared for the bag of bones held in the arms of a weeping old woman?

Who would have ever imagined that this story had not ended with the sealing of the tomb and the abandonment by those who were his friends?

But not total abandonment..

By this time, only a handful of people knew that the promise had been kept. The ones who waited had nothing left to lose. The women witnesses held no authority despite their conviction. It would be a challenge even to convince their friends. 

The guards are suspected of covering their backs but the chance that the story would ever be believed was held at bay with money, underhandedness and the desire that power would stay with the status quo.

That desire still exists. The distractions change but the intent is the same. Who wants to believe that the world can be saved through sacrifice? Isn't it all about show, bravado, self-esteem and assertiveness?

Who wants to believe salvation begins in the silence of a desert garden? Isn't life lived in the fast lane, on the edge, for the moment?

The only people who believe in redemption are the witnesses, those who experience the Risen Jesus for themselves. However many they are it doesn't matter - redemption has happened. Unearned, unexpected. It doesn't depend on the who or what of who you are - it doesn't matter if you noticed or not - it's happened. 

The 'what next?' is an invitation. If the others can be convinced then they can come and see. Because Jesus is already on the move. He is going back to Galilee. Away from the city lights and power houses of authority to the beginning.

The people that surrounded us last night have their lives to live, no doubt good and hopeful lives. Whether or not they experienced the ritual of Holy Week, the joy of this early morning. They live redeemed lives. Lives that can be saved over and over again because that is what Jesus bartered his life for. 

If we are the witnesses we hope to be then we will live our lives in invitation. Offering the reconciliation of Galilee, the promise of forever, the relationship of love. 


Sunday, 20 April 2014

What you look like from the back

Matthew 28:1-10 

After the sabbath, and towards dawn on the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary went to visit the sepulchre. And all at once there was a violent earthquake, for the angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat on it. His face was like lightning, his robe white as snow. The guards were so shaken, so frightened of him, that they were like dead men. But the angel spoke; and he said to the women, ‘There is no need for you to be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said he would. Come and see the place where he lay, then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has risen from the dead and now he is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him.” Now I have told you.’ Filled with awe and great joy the women came quickly away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples.
  And there, coming to meet them, was Jesus. ‘Greetings’ he said. And the women came up to him and, falling down before him, clasped his feet. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there.’

A bit of an indulgence... Now and again a friend of mine, during a conversation will make the challenge, 'Make that into a blog post!'. So here we are.

We are both avid people watchers and often fight for the seat with the most panoramic view in cafes and restaurants. Generally this phrase is delivered (by said friend) as ' Do you think they know what they look like from the back?' and is aimed at people believing that they are dressed in the height of fashion. And they may well be. But from the back, wthout the benefit of a good long look in the mirror - things seem too tight, too short, too baggy, too wrong. 

Of course, it is all a matter of opinion - but people watchers are very good at having an opinion.

I developed a fondness for people watching in art school. One of my modules was Reportage - on-the-spot drawing. This meant wandering around the city- centre, shops, parks, museums and so on -  and drawing people. Then finding a quiet space or a talent for seeming to look one way whilst looking another, with a covert sketchbook and materials. Although, before now, serviettes, menus and flyers have served. 

As I reflect, I can see that I had a tendency for drawing people from the back. Queuing,with frustration or boredom, at the cash machine.  Weariness or enthusiasm for shopping or perusing windows or marveling at exhibits. Leaning over the side of the ferry, pensive or sickly? Mums in many moods pushing prams and dragging toddlers. The stance of a squash player as they deliver a mean backhand. And I love that moment at a party when a favourite song comes on and the women sashay through the tables calling to their friends to join in. Little children doing that do-see-doh with their hands behind their backs as they ask for just one more...

I realise that there's actually a lot (more than fashion sense) that you can learn 'from the back'. Whilst the face and the voice can pretend the body is less able. Body language makes up between 55% and 92% of communication and can be much more authentic. After all - who cares what you look like from the back?

What you look like from the back speak volumes. When you know the person, that intimately, there is no need to see their faces.

I imagine Jesus watching from the long shadows under a weeping olive tree as the women approach the tomb. Seeing the weariness in their steps, the way they lean on each other for support, holding each other back from their fears.

I imagine the women seeing the soliders lying in the dust. Hands over their heads and eyes tightly closed in terror, knees curled under them like infants. No sign of the mocking swagger now, no military bearing to challenge the angel of the Lord. 

As the angel turns away their fear, the women straighten, return to the dignity Jesus had given them with his acceptance and inclusion. Questioning gestures turn to embraces and thanksgiving raising of arms. 

It is too much. Can he really leave them with only the angel's reassurance?

What the women look like from the back draws Jesus close. He could leave them with a word and a prayer. But his pride in their faith brings him back into their arms. 

After the unbelievable and intimate joy of this meeting, the women race off head veils and shawls flying. 

What would they have looked like from the back?



The light went out. He was the Light, so that was weird; the paradox of being and not being was hard enough when he became human but this was beyond his poor brain’s understanding. Then he realised his brain couldn’t understand anything anymore. He was dead; the betrayal, torture and execution he had foretold had happened; his body devastated; broken beyond any ability to function. The valves in the chambers of his heart blasted open; his lungs like wet sea sponges sodden with fluid, the air sacs filled with black stagnant blood soaking up the redundant oxygen. The unwieldy drop from the cross had left its mark; marrow seeping from stress fractures in the once strong bones of his thighs. The cells that had rushed to heal the many cuts and bruises now surrendering to putrification and decay

He wasn’t sure what he had expected. A pause in time? There was something in that that would have been welcome after all the trials his recent life had caused him. But not all trials – there was so much joy that also belonged to his humanity – remembering his life; how he had grown; to see, to recognise; to name the world before him; and now for his tongue to shrivel in an agonised mouth; eyes to turn milky and hardened in their sockets. Remembering the uncoordinated mysteries of babyhood. Learning to touch, to hold, to create with tiny fingers and thumbs that had gradually become strong and callused. To hold on to his father’s same strong fingers as he had pulled himself to his feet and toddled across the kitchen floor. The spare frame of his body that had carried him out of the Galilee to an outlaw’s death twisting and contorting as the fluids in his joints calcified into stony crystals.

And no words; no thoughts to create words; no mouth to speak; no ears to hear.
Yet he was the Word; or was he? What was a God in a dead body? No different to any human corpse? His mother had not felt his presence, his friends had sobbed and wailed into their robes. He was dead. The inside of the tomb was black; he didn’t need to see - he knew this because his Father has turned away and that was the moment the whole of Creation had turned black.

Did his Father continue to turn in on himself, stilled to despair; distressed beyond the meaning of distress that his own child could be killed by his chosen people; was the Spirit still raging her grief across the air currents? The Creator and the Creative lost without their guiding star. They, who were completeness, now driven apart. How long would they last without him? Beloveds grieving the Beloved; how could he ever find them again?

He was here; woven into the physicality of this parody of flesh, blood and bone. He had delighted in the living; the sensations of touch, taste, smell; the glory of language, gesture, nuance; the experience of friendship, frustration, laughter and fear. He had stepped into his Father’s dream and it had been wonderful beyond words. The dying, too, had been part of that life. Unwelcome, suffering the agonies of pain caused through betrayal, corruption and violence, but still, somehow, life. How his body had borne so much; how his brave heart had driven him to rise and rise again knowing the path of descent that he was taking. And now dead, apart, alone, deaf, mute, paralysed, out of time, nowhere. The miracles he had worked to bring wholeness to others would not work here; the call he had sent out for Lazarus could not rise from this emptying shell. Without the Father’s power to draw upon; without the Spirit’s breath to bring life; he was helpless. Condemned again and again to death.

The God of Nowhere, fell truly silent; mindful in a body without a mind. Meanwhile, his body, seemingly inert, did not understand this concept of dead. The taking of his life had given his body a mind of its own. Chemical reactions were in place; bacteria worked and fed and grew, nails and hair pushed on through the skin. Tiny inhabitants of the tomb visited the body, in spite of the unfinished anointing with myrrh and the spices; feeding on skin flakes and bone fragments. His flesh began to disintegrate but then, its own miracle, to transform, to find a new way to be; seeking to be absorbed into the great universal melee of life. His body still sang its song; at a quieter level; a slower cadence; a softer melodic frequency; but it sang.

And as his body became less and less attached to its worldly memory it turned more and more to God; each cell; each atom knowing the Creator in a way the collective body never had. Noticing the God nearby; they turned first to him for guidance, seeking the next step in the weaving, instinctively knowing that death is never the end; for there is nothing that God had made that has been lost; simply another threshold, another becoming. The Word roused himself and smiled at his own foolishness; remembering how often he had shepherded these small awareness’s back into the weaving; feeding the complex minutia of the earth. Here was the Father in their very existence and here was the Spirit in their eagerness for life; their capacity for rebirth. And he was here; acknowledged by these tiny lives’ desire to be transformed. No longer the fear of separation – knowing that God was completeness.
He, who had borne every ill in Pandora’s Box had found Hope hidden at the bottom.

‘Dead’ was the refusal to believe that this could happen; the despair at losing what he had; the fear that Love no longer existed. In the air around him he felt the souls of the dead; drifting aimlessly; the certainty that they had been forsaken by God cruelly cocooning them; each into their own private Hell. Death had closed their eyes and the darkness had overcome them. He called to them but they would not listen; hope was a lost dream in their everlasting sleep.

Instead he called to himself; the cells that had made up his human form crowded round him. ‘I will be myself again’ he told them ‘myself inside and out.’ The weaving began; the flesh and the divinity dancing together drawing Light and Life into every atom, every pore. The healing knit bones and drew torn skin together, stitched sinew and counted fingers and toes until there were only the places of piercing left. ‘Leave them’, he said ‘so they will know me’.

Hope drew on memory then to feed the heart; the unwavering look of love in his mother’s eyes; the ‘that’ll do’ nod of pride from his father; the rousing cheer of his friends when he finally threw a fishing net without making a cat’s cradle of it; the soft kiss of a woman’s understanding of his dream; the trusting arms of a child around his neck.

He began to shine; the brightness of a nova star; incandescent beyond imagining. The darkness retreated; finding no place to hide, no shadowed corner, no place so deep, no exile so far that the Light could not reach. So bright that the eyes of the dead were opened and their veiled vestiges of flesh warmed. They turned to him at once and were gathered gratefully into his arms. ‘We are going Home’ he reassured them, ‘there are so many rooms in my Father’s house.’

He opened his eyes to the clammy, dusty darkness of the Tomb; a grey-pink light finding cracks in the stonework; a hint of a new dawn. He felt the rhythm of the Dance through the soles of his feet and heard the song of the Spirit in the arms of the fruit trees. Distractedly he rolled one of the winding cloths between his fingers as he listened to the faint, grief-laden heartbeat of a woman standing watch in the morning shadows of the garden and the mournful echoes of loss and despair from the locked windows and upper rooms of an old friend’s house. He could think of no reason to be still be here, when Hope, Light and Love were needed out there. The stone surrendered easily, unwilling to hold the Lord one single second more, and, as he stepped out, the grass rose up to bathe his feet in the morning dew of the first Easter day.


Saturday, 19 April 2014

Sitting through Saturday

We are an impatient people. The Great Vigil Mass, meant to finish with the new day,  tends to start as soon as the sun begins to fade. So sometimes can be celebrated by the early end of the evening with hours until the turning of the day. This bright season means that the Mass will begin after 8.00pm. The brightness of the day suggests a starlit ending is promised.

Much to look forward to.

But first is the waiting, not a thing I am good at to be honest, I can meditate for hours....but waiting always brings out the 'what can I be doing?' in me. To-ing and fro-ing from church all day yesterday and now - stillness.

At the Good Friday Service we were given Holy Communion reserved from Holy Thursday. As I received the host into my hands a thought came into my head 'What if this was all there is? What if, after this receiving of this Sacrament, there was no more? 

What if the God mind changed? What if the Father had decided that Jesus has suffered enough? How, then, would we cope?

There is so much in my life and my character that I know is not 'just me'. So much that I depend on Jesus for. Jesus who teaches, heals and sends. Jesus, who knows what I'm like and loves me anyway. Jesus, who nudges me towards kindness and compassion.  

Who would I talk to on the way to work each morning? Who would show me the good in those I struggle with and the courage in the chances that I take? 

I can well imagine the women in the garden confused in their grief. It was only two...three days ago...? 

Distraught with remembering Jesus' promise that he would be with them always and - somehow -  the relief that he has now moved beyond the pain, anguish and betrayal of the last days. Huddled together with no understanding of how to go on. 

How grief confuses us all. 

Grief keeps the women in place, with a promise of one more gift to give. Martha, no doubt, mixing the spices and herbs. Letting the 'ingredients' run through her fingers, scenting her clothes with loss. Praying that her preparations are, once again, a distraction.  Wanting to believe that there is hope. Hope keeping us waiting.

For today, there is nothing else to do. Like the moving of the tide and the rising of the sun - we do not create the Resurrection, the Risen Christ is not for us to conjure up. It is for the Father to give back the life that was surrendered.

The Resurrection is a gift to us. I used to live in hope of being like Mary Magdalen, the one who didn't give up, the one who was called to witness. This Lent I have had more in common with Martha - fighting the distractions in my desire to get close. Often getting it wrong. But like Martha I have kept on trying. And, like Martha, waiting for the dawn I trust will come.


Friday, 18 April 2014

The Seven Sayings - Carrying the darkness

The seven sayings of Jesus on the Cross are gathered from the four Gospels and form a meditation for the waiting......

My waiting... 

Forgiveness –
      'Father forgive them, for they know not what they do' 

I wake up to the radio dj exhorting the promise of a four day weekend - opportunities for shopping and eating, long lie-ins and late nights. Two million people have already left the country for sunshine, sea and forgetfulness. The radio adverts tell of a local pub offering a Spring 'All you can eat' BBQ later in the day. 

      ''Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise' 

Opening the front door of my house I am welcomed by the promising new birth colours of the cherry blossom against the perfectly blue sky. The gardens and fields on the way to church scream out in vivid yellows and acid greens. Runners in dayglow vests patrol the pavements and pathways at a steady pace. A mum stands at a bus stop with a young family in rainbow colours, chattering like baby parrots. The church itself is chilled and shrouded still in the dark purples against the concrete grey. Sitting on the sanctuary steps the expanse of glass doors provide a panorama of life - yet to be fulfilled. 

Relationship – 
       'Woman, behold your son:  behold your mother '

The day is spattered with holy moments. Earlier this morning we shared in the Morning Prayer of the Church. Then we go to join with the Anglican and Methodist churches in a Walk of Witness that spans the housing estate we serve. Fifty or so witnesses pray for the ten thousand souls that live here. Sometimes our 'family' doesn't even know we exist.

Abandonment –
   ' My God, My God, why have you forsaken me'

My husband sends a text - '
What's happening today?'. 
I reply 'It's Good Friday'. 
'See you later then xxx'. 

I am reminded of all the good people that I love that don't need to be here, doing this, every year. 

Sometimes I wish I was the same. Maybe I am offering only a consolation but this day - knowing how often I am guilty of forsaking God - this day I have to stand and watch.

Distress – 
     'I thirst '

A conversation with my 5 year old philosopher granddaughter about why we celebrate Good Friday. 'So we don't forget' I tell her. 'But Jesus dies!' she says indignantly 'who's going to forget that? And,' she adds ' I bet his mum feels terrible having to think about it every year!'

I bet she does too. And I bet that there are many people on this bright pink and blue spring day who are having to remember terrible things all by themselves, every year. Where can you put that grief except into the darkness of today?

Triumph – 
    'It is finished'

At the end of each walk, service or ritual- no matter how solemn - no matter how dark - comes the return to everyday life. Normality is so often the best response to fearfulness.The return to the mundane denies the overshadowing gloom. But, within each one of us a darkened lamp sits waiting for the bridegroom to take his journey. The grace is in walking the path with only the promise of Light.

        ' Father, into your hands I commit my spirit '

Our final service is Tenebrae -  candlelit in hope. The sky will still be a bright blue this year. The drive to the church will be accompanied by gardeners hard at work supervised by their nodding cherry trees and shopper's cars piled high with bargains. Within the worldview, Good Friday feels like a secret witnessed now behind closed doors. Maybe why we have to remember every year? In case one year no-one worries about a mother grieving her son. 

 This year, not even the streaks of sunset will accompany the blowing out of the candles leaving only last year's Paschal candle standing watch at the closed tomb. 

A have so many candles in broad daylight. But where our prayers come from there is no light. Only a crack in the grey-blackness -  a promise made in heaven. A promise witnessed by our own carrying of the darkness.


Foot washing

So, maybe this is about Holy Thursday in a roundabout sort of way. 

 Two years after the death of my mother, I am at the stage of remembering the 'little things'. 

One of the little things was her feet. She has been a slave to fashion in her time - at a time when shoes were not the same shape as feet. Forcing her broad toes into triangular points had not done her any favours. Neither had four children and a lifetime of domestic demands added to a workspan of tasks that kept her on her feet for many hours. 

Perhaps we are a strange family, but the one thing we would argue over would be the task of 'Mum's feet'. It was a privilege - a way, that maybe we didn't understand, of saying thank you.  The laying out of an old towel on the carpet, getting the plastic washing up bowl from the kitchen, gathering the soaps and oils, scissors and - yes - even the pumice stone. The careful carriage of the steaming kettle sending the scents of lily of the valley and rosepetals into the air. The addition of a little salt,  then the sigh of contentment as the feet smoothly entered the water defying the often scalding temperature. Without a bathroom to escape to, it was probably her equivalent of 'Five minutes peace' although it often edged out to much longer than that. 

The one 'luxury' she would allow herself was the chiropodist. The thought of being 'off her feet' was too hard to face and certainly the most difficult part of the last months of her life. 

Perhaps that's why I don't have the usual issues with feet. I like feet. I like the way you can tell how the person is by how their feet are carrying them. Feet have attitude and a serious survival instinct. 

So after my mum, I thought about feet - 

the feet of my husband, bound in two pairs of socks to take the pressure off his steelcapped boots

the tiny feet of my daughter who, when she isn't working 10 hour shifts behind a bar, is carrying her baby to and fro on her back

the mega feet of my son who defies the threatened restraints of a health condition to play sport

the feet of friends who have ran, walked and cycled miles for various charities

the feet of a friend who bounces on the balls of his feet when telling a tale 

the feet of a friend who leaves for church an hour early in case he meets someone who needs a chat

the feet of my grandaughter exploring all the world can offer

so many more...

I'd wash any of their feet in gratitude of where their feet have led them and taught me. 

Jesus asks us to be servants.

Tonight we will be re-membering what he asks us.

And, in our actions, we will be thanking those who have already said 'yes'. 


Sunday, 6 April 2014

Waiting for faith

Sunday Gospel - John 11:1-45

There was a man named Lazarus who lived in the village of Bethany with the two sisters, Mary and Martha, and he was ill. – It was the same Mary, the sister of the sick man Lazarus, who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair. The sisters sent this message to Jesus, ‘Lord, the man you love is ill.’ On receiving the message, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified.’
  Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, yet when he heard that Lazarus was ill he stayed where he was for two more days before saying to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judaea.’ The disciples said, ‘Rabbi, it is not long since the Jews wanted to stone you; are you going back again?’ Jesus replied:

‘Are there not twelve hours in the day?
A man can walk in the daytime without stumbling
because he has the light of this world to see by;
but if he walks at night he stumbles,
because there is no light to guide him.’
He said that and then added, ‘Our friend Lazarus is resting, I am going to wake him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he is able to rest he is sure to get better.’ The phrase Jesus used referred to the death of Lazarus, but they thought that by ‘rest’ he meant ‘sleep’, so Jesus put it plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad I was not there because now you will believe. But let us go to him.’ Then Thomas – known as the Twin – said to the other disciples, ‘Let us go too, and die with him.’

  On arriving, Jesus found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days already. Bethany is only about two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to sympathise with them over their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus had come she went to meet him. Mary remained sitting in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that, even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you.’ ‘Your brother’ said Jesus to her ‘will rise again.’ Martha said, ‘I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said:
‘Iam the resurrection.
If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live,
and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?’
 ‘Yes, Lord,’ she said ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.’

  When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in a low voice, ‘The Master is here and wants to see you.’ Hearing this, Mary got up quickly and went to him. Jesus had not yet come into the village; he was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were in the house sympathising with Mary saw her get up so quickly and go out, they followed her, thinking that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

  Mary went to Jesus, and as soon as she saw him she threw herself at his feet, saying, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ At the sight of her tears, and those of the Jews who followed her, Jesus said in great distress, with a sigh that came straight from the heart, ‘Where have you put him?’ They said, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept; and the Jews said, ‘See how much he loved him!’ But there were some who remarked, ‘He opened the eyes of the blind man, could he not have prevented this man’s death?’ Still sighing, Jesus reached the tomb: it was a cave with a stone to close the opening. Jesus said, ‘Take the stone away.’ Martha said to him, ‘Lord, by now he will smell; this is the fourth day.’ Jesus replied, ‘Have I not told you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. Then Jesus lifted up his eyes and said:
‘Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer.
I knew indeed that you always hear me,
but I speak for the sake of all these who stand round me,
so that they may believe it was you who sent me.’
When he had said this, he cried in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, here! Come out!’ The dead man came out, his feet and hands bound with bands of stuff and a cloth round his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, let him go free.’

  Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what he did believed in him.

 Martha is too often remembered as the 'too-good' housewife. Here she is the woman who would stop at nothing to help those she loved. 

I have a great respect for Martha - she seems to be one of those women who can speak her mind and still keep her friends. Certainly the friendship with Jesus seems to have grown into a recognised relationship of affection and trust and extended to all the members of the family. I'm sure anyone would have expected Jesus to put these friends above almost anyone else -  yet he didn't. 

Mary sits in the gloom of despair, surrounded by the murmurings of 'why' and 'if only'. Jesus' presence speaks of desolation and regret. There is little comfort in blame.

Dealing with the 'why's and 'if only's of grief is not easy no matter where your faith is. No matter that you are absolutely sure that, when the time comes, Heaven's gates will open. No matter that you believe that this world is only part of our soul's eternal journey. 

No matter - because the suffering is not about what happens next - it's about what is happening now. And Martha is wise enough to know it and brave enough to say it. 

Why does Jesus wait? Is it really his intention to cause this tragedy?  Or does he believe that his Father will give him the time he needs to do what he has to do and still care for his friend?

I don't  believe in God who treats us as puppets so I have to accept that Lazarus' illness and death were part of his life. It wasn't unusual in those times to sicken and die quickly, even at a young age. When Jesus reaches their home, his grief is genuine, dragged from the depths of his being - as human an emotion as any he has felt before. 

But knowing - knowing - that nothing is impossible to God; even three days in a tomb - he can at least ask; he prays with all the faith that is within him. It is not Jesus who brings Lazarus back but his Father; answering an appeal for mercy. 

Time warps somehow. The memory of something that has not yet happened. A tomb, a stone rolled away, women weeping in the garden. The implicit certainty that there is more than death. 

The consolation of answered prayer increases the numbers of the faithful. Yet in two weeks or so they will, once again, become the 'crowd'. 

But not Martha, Mary or the unbound Lazarus.

As the horrors of the past days fade, a new reality dawns.

Faith grows in the waiting darkness.