The Feast of Pentecost

28th May 2023

Reflection (the readings are below)

The day of Pentecost was not a day to be forgotten. For the disciples it must initially have frightening – to have the sound of violent wind fill the house and then to see what looked like tongues of fire. Yet it must have been amazing, astounding, to be so full of the Spirit that they could not help but be eloquent, loquacious, inspired, outspoken ….

And I wonder if it was any different for the crowd that had gathered. What has first caught their attention, caused the, to stop and stare? Initially bewildered and then – like the disciples – inspired, overcome by the message they were receiving. A message that somehow spoke directly to each one, no matter where they had come from, no matter what was their personal agenda – each of them heard a message that directed at them and which answered their need –  and maybe answering a need they didn’t know they needed! That surely is the power of God’s message, the power of the good news, that whoever you are, wherever you are it will have a pertinent message for you.

That day of Pentecost must have seemed magical! But I suspect that we all have message, a story, we could tell about God’s deeds – whether it was about something that happened in our lives, some event or place that was very significant, some word or image or phrase of music that spoke so,powerfully to us of God. And just imagine if we all told out stories – surely we would find that our story would ring a chord with someone else, that our story would speak eloquently to another about the presence of God.  We seldom tell these stories because we don’t imagine that we could be a channel for God’s Spirit. 

If like me you have a passion for the environment, can you take a leaf out of the psalmist’s book? Can you celebrate and sing praises to God to express your joy and awe that God’s creation is so amazing, so prolific, so life enhancing? The psalm reminds me that sometimes we have to let God’s creature be and just stand back in wonder! 

I only occasionally cut the grass at home, so it is without any effort I take part in No Mow May. This afternoon I counted five different types of grass – as the seed heads form you get to see what a variety there is. I also noted plantains with a white flowering frill around their seed head; golden buttercups (replacing the golden headed dandelions that flowered earlier); wild sorrel; common daisies and ox eye daisies; cat’s ear daisies -also yellow like a dandelion – and the tiny mauve flowering small-flowered cranesbill. 

Maybe for someone that vision of God’s biodiverse creation would be the message that warms their hearts and fire them up for action as citizens of God’s kingdom here on earth.

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs– in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

`In the last days it will be, God declares,

that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.

Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.

And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ “

Psalm 104:25-35, 37

25 O Lord, how manifold are your works! *
in wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.

26 Yonder is the great and wide sea
with its living things too many to number, *
creatures both small and great.

27 There move the ships,
and there is that Leviathan, *
which you have made for the sport of it.

28 All of them look to you *
to give them their food in due season.

29 You give it to them; they gather it; *
you open your hand, and they are filled with good things.

30 You hide your face, and they are terrified; *
you take away their breath,
and they die and return to their dust.

31 You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; *
and so you renew the face of the earth.

32 May the glory of the Lord endure for ever; *
may the Lord rejoice in all his works.

33 He looks at the earth and it trembles; *
he touches the mountains and they smoke.

34 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; *
I will praise my God while I have my being.

35 May these words of mine please him; *
I will rejoice in the Lord.

37 Bless the Lord, O my soul. *

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body– Jews or Greeks, slaves or free– and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

John 20:19-23

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

7th Sunday of Easter

21st May 2023

Reflection (readings are below) 

On Thursday, Ascension Day, I took part in a fund raising event for Glassdoor, in which we took the lift to the top of the Arcelormittal Orbit (an 80+m tall sculpture cum icon). The view from the top was stunning, looking out over the immediate locality of the Olympic Park and all the new local developments colleges, a new V and A, sports facilities. Then to the south the Canary Wharf development, and to the west the city where St Paul’s dome was visible as a little blip between tower blocks, whilst to the north the landscape was more open. Fundraisers have to involve some sort of challenge and this one was to abseil down. Helmeted and harnessed, you have to throw off your inbuilt fear and lean back over the void and begin to walk down. There is only 3 foot of vertical surface before you have only thin air. At this point you have to push off with your feet, tip forwards and belay the rope to lower yourself down. You have to trust that all that has been put in place to ensure your safety will do just that!

The high level view distant landmarks stayed with me for what seemed like along while – perhaps because I wasn’t daring to look down! As I neared the ground however,  roads, people, trees  etc resumed their more normal size and filled once again my frame of vision. It was, in a sense, coming back to earth – ie reality – with a bump! The excitement of the descent (even it had had its moments of fear) was over. I wonder if that is how the disciples felt when the angels tell them to stop looking up to heaven and get on with life where they are. 

I think ascension-tide was tough for the disciples. They have been on such a roller coaster. For a couple of years they have been on a mission with Jesus, treading the roads up and down between Galilee and Jerusalem, watching Jesus heal people, perform miracles and outwit legal-minded scribes; putting up with with no regular place to sleep or eat just so that they can be constantly in his presence, soaking up his wisdom and teaching; beginning to grasp at the enormity of who Jesus was – the Messiah, the Son of God. Then overnight their hopes had been dashed as they saw Jesus arrested, tried and executed. In fear they had tried to hide away. With disbelief they were asked to accept that the Jesus who had died, had also risen from the dead. With increasing joy and hope they began to understand that they did have a future, that Jesus was their conquering hero, that this time there would be no turning back! And yet, only forty days later Jesus is once again confusing them with his words. No, he can’t predict the future for them; no he doesn’t know what the outcome is going to be, nor the timescale – that bigger picture is all in God’s hands. Instead Jesus is telling them that they are going to  receive – at some as yet unspecified time in the future – new powers with which they (not Jesus) will bear witness to the gospel to the ends of the earth. And with that, Jesus once more disappears from their sight. 

The disciples are being asked to take a lot on faith! They are to carry out a mission without knowing the final outcome. They are going to be equipped with an as yet unknown power. They have been given a taste of heaven, and yet they are being asked to return to their old room back in Jerusalem. 

The nine days between Ascension day and Pentecost, is a time of uneasiness, of uncertainty but also of expectation. A time when the bigger picture is not yet apparent, when the final outcome is not yet known. 

I find similar mixed emotions when I try and get my mind around the climate crisis. I know enough to know that it is a big problem. I know enough to know we could as human race, rectify damage we have caused but only if we all act together to change the way we live at a global level. And I know that as one individual I cannot effect that global change. I can only make changes at the level of the individual. Yet I also believe that God desires salvation and fullness of life for creation. I have to trust that God sees and knows the bigger picture. I have to trust that God can use my efforts, however small, to good effect. I have to accept that I am not called to be the total solution but rather I am called to live and work alongside my fellow beings – and to do so not in my power, but in the power that God gives.

Acts 1:6-14

When the apostles had come together, they asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36

1 Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered; *
let those who hate him flee before him.

2 Let them vanish like smoke when the wind drives it away; *
as the wax melts at the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.

3 But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; *
let them also be merry and joyful.

4 Sing to God, sing praises to his Name;
exalt him who rides upon the heavens; *
YAHWEH is his Name, rejoice before him!

5 Father of orphans, defender of widows, *
God in his holy habitation!

6 God gives the solitary a home and brings forth prisoners into freedom; *
but the rebels shall live in dry places.

7 O God, when you went forth before your people, *
when you marched through the wilderness,

8 The earth shook, and the skies poured down rain,
at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, *
at the presence of God, the God of Israel.

9 You sent a gracious rain, O God, upon your inheritance; *
you refreshed the land when it was weary.

10 Your people found their home in it; *
in your goodness, O God, you have made provision for the poor.

33 Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; *
sing praises to the Lord.

34 He rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; *
he sends forth his voice, his mighty voice.

35 Ascribe power to God; *
his majesty is over Israel;
his strength is in the skies.

36 How wonderful is God in his holy places! *
the God of Israel giving strength and power to his people!
Blessed be God!

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

John 17:1-11

Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

6th Sunday of Easter

14th May 2023

Reflection (readings below)

Breathing is something we all do, all of the time, whether we’re asleep or awake, a newborn baby or as old as the hills.and as often as not, something we do without thinking. It’s a natural reflex. We do it subconsciously, without a thought. 

Yet if you have ever been to a yoga class or taken part in a guided meditation, you may have been invited to focus on your breathing. To feel the breath come in through your nose, followings it’s flow down into your body and feeling it lift your belly. And then to focus on the out breath, the air returning up through your body and out through your nose or mouth. Sudden,y you are much more aware of your breathing, its  sound, its feel, it rhythm. It can be a surprisingly calming and enriching experience!

Focusing on something, being more aware of it, can be a positive experience. Think of painting hanging on a wall – it can be just something we glance at. Or it might be that someone invites us to look at more carefully. It might be that someone can illuminate for us something about the making of the picture, about the artist or the circumstance. It might be someone can point out to us something interesting about the way the composition is structured, or about the symbolism of items or colours that have been used. Once our attention has drawn to the painting we may see it in a new, fuller and more rewarding way.

The same can be true of a poem, a piece of music, a piece of engineering, a landscape – once we know more about it, so our interest and enjoyment can be enhanced. 

I wonder if the same can be said of God? Whether or not we know God, whether or not we are aware of God, God is nevertheless always there. Whether or not we believe in God, God’s presence is still there, God’s power of life is still actively operating. God doesn’t need our awareness or our acknowledgment to be exist, to be God. This is something of what Paul is trying to articulate in his conversation with the people in Athens. He is doing it tactfully – not condemning them for not knowing God in a personal way, but affirming their endeavours to name that which can seem unknowable. (And who of us can say we truly know God? Often our own knowledge of God is vague or sketchy or misguided. I no longer think he is a white haired, bearded old man who is apt to throw thunderbolts. Indeed I don’t think he is a ‘he’ although at times ‘father’ or ‘dad’ can be a useful metaphor).

Thinking of metaphors, of names for God, I find it interesting that in the passage from John’s gospel, the Greek word “Paraklēton” is translated in so many different ways depending which version of the Bible you read: 

  • phonetically as Paraclete, 
  • Comforter – which might suggest a warm scarf or one of those  security  blankets we might have had as a child, but might equally might suggest the warm embrace of a loved one,
  • Advocate – someone to speak up in our defence, to present our character in the best possible light,
  • Guide – someone showing us the way, but not just showing the way, but explaining to us what is we are seeing as we journey, (think of London’s Blue Guides)
  • Helper – which now a days has perhaps the connotation of a daily cleaner, someone to pick up after us, or equally someone who  an step in when our efforts fall short. It can suggest team work.
  • Counsellor – someone who will advise us on the best course of action, maybe a heavenly sort of civil servant
  • Intercessor – someone praying or pleading on our behalf
  • Perhaps less often, as a Consoler,
  • Or, jumping ahead to the feast of Pentecost, as Holy Spirit.

Etymologically the word ‘paraclete’ has two parts ‘para’ meaning alongside or around, and ‘kalein’ meaning to call or shout out: a shout out for help or assistance.

What Jesus is offering to his disciples, his friends, sounds exactly like what they were going to need in the aftermath of Jesus’s death, and what we certainly need today – a constant, at hand, source of comfort, support and guidance. Like our breathing, God is – and always has been – a constant presence; it’s just we need to be reminded to think about God. Like the painting – or like the scenery around us – God is and has always been there but until someone – like Jesus, like Paul, like St Francis, like the current Pope – invite us to look more closely, to see the underlying stories, the intricate details – we may miss out on the greater depth and joys that comes from an intimate relationship with God. This is what the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, offers us – the opportunity of a deep, close and intimate relationship with the ever-present God. Throughout the gospels Jesus is introducing us to God – God as the Son, God as the Father, and in today’s reading,  God as the Spirit. It is something he does expertly because he is God making God real to us.

Acts 17:22-31

Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,

‘For we too are his offspring.’

Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Psalm 66:7-18

7 Bless our God, you peoples; *
make the voice of his praise to be heard;

8 Who holds our souls in life, *
and will not allow our feet to slip.

9 For you, O God, have proved us; *
you have tried us just as silver is tried.

10 You brought us into the snare; *
you laid heavy burdens upon our backs.

11 You let enemies ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water; *
but you brought us out into a place of refreshment.

12 I will enter your house with burnt-offerings
and will pay you my vows, *
which I promised with my lips
and spoke with my mouth when I was in trouble.

13 I will offer you sacrifices of fat beasts
with the smoke of rams; *
I will give you oxen and goats.

14 Come and listen, all you who fear God, *
and I will tell you what he has done for me.

15 I called out to him with my mouth, *
and his praise was on my tongue.

16 If I had found evil in my heart, *
the Lord would not have heard me;

17 But in truth God has heard me; *
he has attended to the voice of my prayer.

18 Blessed be God, who has not rejected my prayer, *
nor withheld his love from me.

1 Peter 3:13-22

Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you– not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

John 14:15-21

Jesus said, ”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

5th Sunday of Easter 

7th May 2023

That first Easter the risen Jesus who was seen and heard and touched was the ultimate sign of the resurrection. Now some 2000 years later what are the signs we might look for to confirm the ongoing validity of the resurrection? What signs of new or renewed life do we see that point to the power, the glory of God? 

Today’s psalm reminds us that in God we can find our refuge when life seems set against us. In our relationship with God we can find strength that offers solidity and ensuring support. This is the God of our salvation, the God of mercy and love. How and/ or where do we find this God? In our churches, in our communities, in our homes?

At what point do we realise that we are part of that community, that place, that home, that makes the living God a risen reality? When over the last weeks we have read in the Book of Acts of the new community of Christians that was growing larger by the day, eat and worshipping together, sharing their wealth with each other, we were witnessing the resurrection, the new life being nurtured in the follower of Jesus. This community – nascent church – was a place of refuge and security for the believers. It enabled people like Stephen to stand up for what he – for what they all – believed. It gave them the confidence that they were God’s children, that God was with them in this life and the next, and that in neither had they anything to fear. 

As described in the Letter of Peter this was a church, a spiritual dwelling, built in the sure corner stone that was Jesus. And on that corner stone, the followers of Jesus, the first Christians, were its walls: living stones. And now in the 21st century we are the current generation of living stones that create the spiritual dwellings, the communities, where the risen Christ is to be found. We are called to be the places of safety and refuge in what feels like an increasingly conflicted world. 

Today’s readings tell us both that Jesus is the corner stone on which we have been established, and that Jesus as ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life’ is the means – the route map, the philosophy, the blue print  – by which we can be built into the church. 

For the early church of the Book of Acts, the church being built needs the capacity to confront other religious groups who were unwilling to accept Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. They needed people who could preach to the crowds and talk to the authorities on this issue. They needed people who were willing to be arrested and even executed for the cause. They also needed people who could lead the church, both in terms of resolving disputes and ensuring a fair distribution of resources to meet people’s daily needs, as well as those who could lead in terms of worship, teaching and discipleship. They needed people who could explore new strands of  theology relevant to the changing circumstances in which they lived, and in this capacity they needed people who could peer into the future and see what lay ahead and what the challenges might be. In all this, they guidance came from their relationship with Jesus.

As living stones of the 21st century church, here in the UK, we need to be confront various issues including the climate crisis, the cost of living crisis, the lack of integrity and responsibility shown by the government, the refugee and asylum crisis, the bio-diversity crisis, the lack of global justice and the failure of rich countries to help the poorer ones – to name a few.

Do we as a church have people who can talk to the authorities and to the wider public on these issues? Do we have people who are sufficiently well versed in the sciences and in the art of rhetoric? Do we have people who were willing to be arrested and imprisoned for these causes? Do we have leaders administer communities sympathetically, leaders who can ensure a fair distribution of resources to meet people’s daily needs?  Do we have leaders who can lead in terms of worship, teaching and discipleship such that they reflect the crisis of the current age? Do we have  people who can explore new strands of  theology relevant to the changing circumstances in which we live? Do we have people who can peer into the future and see what lies ahead and what the challenges might be. 

In all this, can we seek  guidance from our relationship with Jesus?

Acts 7:55-60

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

1 In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame; *
deliver me in your righteousness.

2 Incline your ear to me; *
make haste to deliver me.

3 Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe,
for you are my crag and my stronghold; *
for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.

4 Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me, *
for you are my tower of strength.

5 Into your hands I commend my spirit, *
for you have redeemed me,
O Lord, O God of truth.

15 My times are in your hand; *
rescue me from the hand of my enemies,
and from those who persecute me.

16 Make your face to shine upon your servant, *
and in your loving-kindness save me.

1 Peter 2:2-10

Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:

“See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;

and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner”,


“A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.

Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;

once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.

John 14:1-14

Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

4th Sunday of Easter

30th April 2023

Reflection on the readings (see below).

Today’s readings feature what it is to be radical. 

The story in Acts tells us of a lifestyle that even today we would consider to be very radical. We wouldn’t really have enough trust in each other, to sell up and share all that we own. We would be worried that others would take us for a ride, living off our wealth and deprive us of any enjoyment. 

The writer of Acts notes that it is this radical lifestyles that makes the new faith in Jesus Christ so attractive. 

We might summarise this radical lifestyle as: Live in the present. Don’t hold onto things against the future; share and enjoy what you have now. Have regard for one another’s needs. And in all this praise and worship God.

We might hear Psalm 23 as a description of what is it like to be on the receiving end of such a radical way of living:- to be cared for, to be provided with what you need whether that is food and drink, rest, reassurance or companionship. And again the response is to praise and worship God. 

Returning again to the lifestyle envisaged in Acts, it seems as if it could never be a reality for us because we are too afraid of what we might loose – the sacrifice would be to great. Yet as Christians we are happy to acknowledge the sacrifice that Jesus made, the sacrifice that gained for us the opportunity of just such a new life. The writer of 1 Peter calls us to follow Jesus’s example, to be willing to suffer loss and hurt if it will bring in the kingdom of God. To do so is to be in the care of Jesus the Good Shepherd. Jesus knows our weaknesses, our lack of confidence, our inability to trust and take risks. That same Jesus knows that, like sheep, we will often go astray and, as the Good Shepherd, he is always going to come after us to rescue us. With Jesus in charge, can we somehow find the strength and desire to radically alter our lives so that everyone can benefit? 

If we look around us we see a great need for a better way of living, a better way of making daily life work. Here in the UK we hear of people whose income doesn’t allow them to buy even the food they need, whilst at the same time we hear of business leaders, city brokers, and celebrities whose weekly income would exceed the annual income of others. We hear of people who cannot afford to heat their homes, while at CEOs and shareholders (including several Anglican dioceses) reap the profits of soaring oil prices. Looking globally we can compare the subsidies given to the UK’s oil and gas sector, and the sums paid to contractors to keep refugees out of our country, with the diminishing sums the UK spends on overseas aid. Looking globally we see countries with far smaller economies suffering from droughts and floods and soaring temperatures, all triggered by the climate crisis which our continued exploitation of the fossil fuel economy has caused.

How are we going to get out of this mess? In John’s gospel Jesus describes two different ways of accessing the sheepfold and its resources. On the one hand there are the thieves and bandits who ignore the way into the sheepfold that has been designed by the Shepherd. Instead  find their own way in. They want to make a quick buck,  stealing the sheep. They have no interest in the long term management and wellbeing of the flock. The Shepherd in the other hand manages the flock by paying attention to the way the fold is designed. The Shepherd spends time getting to know the sheep and building up a trusting relationship with them. And as a consequence the herd thrives, enjoying abundant life.

If the sheepfold were our planet, the place where we live, is it better that we are looked after by thieves and bandits who ignore the ways in which the planet is designed? Or is it better that we are led by the Shepherd who is in tune both with us and the planet? Those of us who can see the damage that the thieves and the bandits – the self seeking multi nationals, the asset strippers – are causing should speak up. We should call out the damage that is being caused by those after a fast buck, and the suffering that is being endured as a consequence. We should be ready to call for a radical way of living. We should be ready to make sacrifices that will benefit us all.

Acts 2:42-47

Those who had been baptised devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Psalm 23

1 The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.

3 He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.

4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.

6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

1 Peter 2:19-25

It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.

“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

John 10:1-10

Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Third Sunday of Easter

23rd April 2023

Today’s gospel tells of two disciples who – even though they had heard tell that some people were saying that Jesus had risen from the dead – had decided to give up on the mission Jesus had launched and to go home. They were sad, disheartened and despondent. Staying longer in Jerusalem was pointless. The transformation of their futures that Jesus had promised was not going to happen. There was going to be no dynamic shift in power between those in authority and those who were followers of Jesus. 

In many ways there despondency echoes my own despondency about the likely hood of a climate safe future. I may hear stories that tell me that elephants can transform their ecosystem making it more climate friendly. I may hear tell that this year remembrance poppies will be plastic free. I may read of growing sales of electric cars. But none of these gives me the confidence that radical change is going to happen.

What was it that overturned the feelings, the attitude of the two disciples?

We hear that as they walked they were joined by a stranger who first of all patiently listens to their sorrows and  complaints. He then patiently goes through the scriptures explaining how they point out that the messiah was destined to suffer before establishing an era of glory. These words, this careful dissection of the Bible doesn’t seem of itself to convince the two disciples -although it does pique their interest such that they invite the stranger to continue the conversation over supper. Rather it is seeing Jesus blessing and breaking the bread that transforms them. It is this personal, intimate action that sets their hearts ablaze with confidence, that overturns their understanding of what has happened to Jesus, that transforms their state of mind. 

Now they are in doubt that a) Jesus has risen from the dead, and b) that all that he promised of a transformed and glory filled future was an achievable reality!  Not words but actions,  not theory but experienced love is what is important. Filled with a new born fervour, the two disciples hot foot back to Jerusalem. They want to share their news, they want to be with the Jesus-friends, they want to be part of this soon to be transformative movement. 

These two disciples are not alone in their experiences. The passage from Acts reports that in a single day 3000 people wished to join the movement. One wonders what was the message that Peter preached that won over so many hearts. From the brief description, it embraced forgiveness -freedom –  from their sins, the power of the Holy Spirit, and an escape route from a corrupt age. Or maybe it wasn’t so much what Peter said, as the people’s experience of fellowship with the growing band of Christian disciples. 

Reading on in Acts we hear that this newly formed (but growing) community shared what they had in common. Those who were poor and struggling perhaps to find food and accommodation,  were provided for without having to endure the steep prices and unfair practices of corrupt traders and landlords. Those who were widows with no family no longer had to live in a world that ignored them. Those with wealth no longer has to worry about it being lost or stolen. Those who were ill no longer had to go with out care,  or subject themselves to unscrupulous quacks. The growing Christian community cared for everyone, shared resources, treated people with an equity that was not depended on being the right sex, the right skin colour, the right family background. This was a counter-cultural and highly attractive community. This was surely the salvation that converts desired. 

Can we offer the same sort of salvation in our generation? How can we create communities and groups where we feel the love and fellowship that those first disciples experienced? How do we create or take advantage of opportunities to share with one another and with ‘strangers’ – those who are not regular church goers, or traditional believers? How can we make worship a personal experience and a community experience of being in the presence of God? How do we begin to live lives that are counter to the unfair practices of our current world? Lives that provide for those without, befriend those who are bereft or lonely, stand up for those who are disadvantaged or dispossessed?

I don’t think the answers are straightforward or will come easily, but they will be resonate of the Easter message is one of renewal,  transformation and joy. 

Acts 2:14a,36-41

Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd, “Let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptised, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17

1 I love the Lord, because he has heard the voice of my supplication, *
because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him.

2 The cords of death entangled me;
the grip of the grave took hold of me; *
I came to grief and sorrow.

3 Then I called upon the Name of the Lord: *
“O Lord, I pray you, save my life.”

10 How shall I repay the Lord *
for all the good things he has done for me?

11 I will lift up the cup of salvation *
and call upon the Name of the Lord.

12 I will fulfil my vows to the Lord *
in the presence of all his people.

13 Precious in the sight of the Lord *
is the death of his servants.

14 O Lord, I am your servant; *
I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;
you have freed me from my bonds.

15 I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving *
and call upon the Name of the Lord.

16 I will fulfil my vows to the Lord *
in the presence of all his people,

17 In the courts of the Lord’S house, *
in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.

1 Peter 1:17-23

If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.

Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

Luke 24:13-35

Now on that same day two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognising him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognised him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Second Sunday of Easter

16th April 2023


Lent has six weeks and so does Easter. Time to explore what the resurrection means for us. What is it to believe in a God who has risen from the dead? What is it to live a resurrection life? What is it to be an Easter people?

Last Sunday we heard how Simon Peter, the disciple Jesus loved, and Mary Magdalene responded to the resurrection. All three were confused to find the tomb empty. On inspection – reflection – the two men seem to have understood the empty tomb to signify that Jesus had risen from the dead but had gone no further in pondering what that might mean or even look like. Mary was less willing to accept that the absence of a body was proof that Jesus had risen from the dead. Her persistence to want to know more was rewarded and she (in John’s gospel) becomes the first person to encounter the risen Christ. He has a physical likeness – although not absolute – to the pre-resurrection Jesus. He has the recognisable voice of Jesus and, I think, the even more important, same recognisable loving, caring and challenging character. It is I suspect, by those characteristics that most of us today recognise Jesus. 

But to return to that first day, that first week of Easter, the disciples did not know what to expect or how to react. That first evening they are afraid –  still afraid having been fearful, perhaps, since then moment of Jesus’s arrest on the Thursday. The earlier part of the week with Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem and his preaching in the temple may have encouraged them to feel that this was the time when Jesus’s mission would reach its zenith, transforming life as they knew it. 

But now how do they feel? What is going to happen to them? Even if Jesus has been raised from the dead, how is that going to affect their lives, their future? What is their relationship with the risen Jesus going to be like?

So there they are that first evening, locked in a room and what, waiting? When all of a sudden Jesus is there amongst them, visibly present and conversing with them. Jesus may not address all their questions – doubts? – but he is able to assure them that he is alive in a new resurrected way, and perhaps most importantly in that moment, to give them peace.  And he breathes into them the Holy Spirit – something that recalls God’s action when giving life to the first Adam. Is Jesus demonstrating to them – making real for them – that in his resurrection they too are sharing his new life, entering a new age? 

But poor Thomas misses out on this. He is only offered second hand evidence and it is hard to believe the impossible based on that. Thomas needs to experience for himself a personal encounter with the risen Christ. When he does then see and touch and hear Jesus, his belief is absolute! 

What of us, 2000 years later? Can we encounter the risen Jesus? Yes. Both  the passage from Acts, with its discussion of Psalm 16, and the psalm itself affirm that, in ways which we might not be able to physically see, that Jesus – the Messiah, the Son of God – has been present throughout past ages. This is something that the writer of John focuses on in the first chapter of the Gospel – 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being  in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5

The Prologue tells that the resurrected Jesus will continue to be that eternal presence that is of God – a light that will not be overcome. Just as his birth – when the Word became flesh – was a unique moment, so too this time of resurrection is a unique moment. This is when the Word that became flesh becomes something more than flesh.  The Letter of Peter tells us that the change experienced by Jesus in his resurrection is also to be experienced as a change by us – one by which we are born again, are brought to life anew. 

Our encounter with the risen Christ may not have the physicality of touch and sight that Thomas experienced, but it will be – is – no less real. Remember that the experience of belief was not immediate for any of the disciples – Thomas waits a whole week before he has that experience. So it can be for us. We may find times when we do not feel we are experiencing the presence of Christ in our lives. We may feel far away from him, adrift in a sea of uncertainty and doubt. We may find ourselves in dark places where it is impossible to experience any sense of joy. Yet hopefully, we can hold on to the belief that Jesus himself does not leave us, that even if we cannot see or feel or experience God’s presence, his love is constant, his desire for our wellbeing, everlasting. Maybe we can find reassurance that that hope is also carried for us by others. During that week of not knowing, of not believing, Thomas must have been supported by his fellow disciples. I’m sure that they did this with care and tact,  not making Thomas feel that he was a failure. 

Easter is a time to explore our relationship with Jesus, to find ways of being with and encountering Jesus, of be ready to ‘hear’ or ‘see’ his presence. It is a time to be with other Easter people to share and celebrate what the resurrection means for us. It is a time to be reinvigorated with new life in Christ and to share his peace.

Acts 2:14a,22-32

Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd, “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him,

‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;

therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover my flesh will live in hope.

For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.

You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,

‘He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.’

This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.”

Psalm 16

1 Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; *
I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord,
my good above all other.”

2 All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land, *
upon those who are noble among the people.

3 But those who run after other gods *
shall have their troubles multiplied.

4 Their libations of blood I will not offer, *
nor take the names of their gods upon my lips.

5 O Lord, you are my portion and my cup; *
it is you who uphold my lot.

6 My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; *
indeed, I have a goodly heritage.

7 I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; *
my heart teaches me, night after night.

8 I have set the Lord always before me; *
because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.

9 My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; *
my body also shall rest in hope.

10 For you will not abandon me to the grave, *
nor let your holy one see the Pit.

11 You will show me the path of life; *
in your presence there is fullness of joy,
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

1 Peter 1:3-9

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith– being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire– may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Easter Day 

9th April 2023


It is not easy to understand what happened on that first Easter morning, to comprehend what happened when Jesus rose from the dead. Mary when she first discovers that the tomb stone has been moved, assumes that the body has been stolen – maybe by someone/ some group who wants to despoil his body. Many people considered Jesus to be a criminal, an opponent of the true Hebrew faith. Simon Peter and the other disciple want to check for themselves – are there clues that Mary has overlooked?

The discarded grave clothes and the folded head cloth don’t suggest grave robbers or people seeking revenge. But nor do they suggest a resurrection such as they had witnesses when Jesus had called Lazarus out from his tomb. Then it had been necessary for others to unbind Lazarus. 

The writer says that the disciples believed but did not as yet understand. I wonder what at that moment they believed? Mary for her part still feels that someone has taken Jesus’s body away. She returns to the tomb, and despite the angels’s presence still fears someone has removed the body. It is only when Christ calls to her that she recognises what has happened. 

Sometimes when we are in a dark place, when we are troubled or under stress, we find it hard to see God’s presence, to find anything to be happy about. We, like Mary, need to called, need to be told that we are loved. The joy of Easter doesn’t always come at the Easter vigil or at the Dawn service. Sometimes it doesn’t always come to us on Easter Day, but Christ is always there, loving us and caring for us and waiting for that moment when we are able to hear his voice. 

The words from Jeremiah remind us that God’s love is endless, always seeking us out, always wanting to rebuild our lives so that we can be full of joy and contentment. 

The essence of resurrection is new life, life that is renewed and restored, life that continues for ever in the everlasting flow of love and renewal that is the nature of God.

An alternative translating of Jeremiah from The Message

“And when that happens”—God’s Decree—
    “it will be plain as the sun at high noon:
I’ll be the God of every man, woman, and child in Israel
    and they shall be my very own people.”

* * *

This is the way God put it:

“They found grace out in the desert,
    these people who survived the killing.
Israel, out looking for a place to rest,
    met God out looking for them!”
God told them, “I’ve never quit loving you and never will.
    Expect love, love, and more love!
And so now I’ll start over with you and build you up again,
    dear virgin Israel.
You’ll resume your singing,
    grabbing tambourines and joining the dance.
You’ll go back to your old work of planting vineyards
    on the Samaritan hillsides,
And sit back and enjoy the fruit—
    oh, how you’ll enjoy those harvests!
The time’s coming when watchmen will call out
    from the hilltops of Ephraim:
‘On your feet! Let’s go to Zion,
    go to meet our God!’”

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.

2 Let Israel now proclaim, *
“His mercy endures for ever.”

14 The Lord is my strength and my song, *
and he has become my salvation.

15 There is a sound of exultation and victory *
in the tents of the righteous:

16 “The right hand of the Lord has triumphed! *
the right hand of the Lord is exalted!
the right hand of the Lord has triumphed!”

17 I shall not die, but live, *
and declare the works of the Lord.

18 The Lord has punished me sorely, *
but he did not hand me over to death.

19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.

20 “This is the gate of the Lord; *
he who is righteous may enter.”

21 I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.

22 The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.

23 This is the Lord’s doing, *
and it is marvellous in our eyes.

24 On this day the Lord has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.

Acts 10:34-43

Peter began to speak to Cornelius and the other Gentiles: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Palm Sunday – 6th Sunday of Lent

2nd April 2023

Reflection on the readings for the Liturgy of the Palms.

Something is up. Something out of the ordinary is going to happen. There has been a level of advance  

planning that’s been done in secret. There’s even a password. 

And the plan is to enact a message that says: the rider of the donkey is your King, your humble King!  The mode of entry tells the onlookers, this is a peaceful act; not an act of aggression.

The Greek word translated as ‘humble’ can also have the meaning of mild, gentle or meek. The same word appears in the  Beatitudes – ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’ If we look to the original source of the quote, it comes from the prophet Zechariah where the word in Hebrew, ‘a-ni’ has the wider meaning of poor, afflicted or lowly, and is the word used for example in Leviticus 19:10 and Deuteronomy 15:11, to describe those for whom the Israelites must care: the poor and needy. 

The kingship that Jesus espouses is definitely counter cultural. His kingship is about humility, meekness, and solidarity with the poor and needy. Jesus’s attitude to power is to turn it upside down, placing the poor and needy, the meek and humble at the top of the hierarchy. The quote from Zechariah is longer, ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ Despite being humble, this king is also to be seen as triumphant and victorious! 

The crowd also seems to be part of this action. They quickly cut down branches from the trees and spread their coats on the road as an improvised red carpet. They are setting the scene that supports visually their rallying cry: Here comes your King, your humble King! 

By taking up this cry, the people are affirming their allegiance to this King – and they are undertaking to live under his reign, to live according to his rule.

The gospel story has a prequel in which John the Baptist first emerges on the scene, declaring ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”’ (Matthew 3:1-3). 

Prepare the way for the Lord,  says John, and here a few years later we have the Lord riding along that very way into Jerusalem for what will be the culmination of his earthly ministry.  In Luke’s gospel John the Baptist goes on to give specific examples how the people (the crowd) are to prepare the way. They are to share their extra clothes and their extra food with those who lack. They are to collect no more taxes – or rewards – than are their due. They are not to extort money nor to make false accusations against others. They are to be generous sharing up to half of what they have; they  are to be truthful and honest. At this first stage of the mission, coats are to be shared – on Palm Sunday they are to be laid on the road before the Lord!

The gospel is about transforming the world, turning its habits and its conventions upside down. It is about rebalancing power between those who have lots of resources and those who have little. It is about rebalancing power between those whose jobs and positions – tax gatherer and soldiers, for us oil magnates and lobbyists – come loaded with power and influence, and those how do not – small scale tax payers, peasant farmers, women, the poor, the disabled, the foreigner. For when the meek inherit the earth, when the needs of the poor and lowly are met – when creation is treasured and not trashed – then will the Kingdom of God come on earth. 

I see strong parallels between Jesus’s action in entering Jerusalem on a donkey, and actions carried out by climate activists – such as that on Ash Wednesday when coal dust was used to mark the sign of the cross on the foreheads those taking part who then cried out aloud a lament as they held lumps of coal aloft.  These actions are prophetic actions designed to draw the onlookers’ – and the media, and  the gospel writers’ – attention to the message. The world order needs to be turned upside down so that the interests of the poor and the needy take priority – so that the often unvoiced needs of nature take priority,  so that power and authority are put in the hands of the many, the community, and are not kept in the hands of the wealthy few.

The action carried out by Jesus and the crowds is successful. It sets the whole city into a state of turmoil and flux, and the opinion that Jesus is a prophet is voiced loud and clear. Read on in this chapter from Matthew’s gospel and and you will see and hear more Jesus’s challenging good news message. 

Psalm 118 echoes Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, into the temple. The one who enters these gates has to be righteous. Is Jesus righteous? Yes! The one who becomes the corner stone, will be the one who has been previously rejected. Had Jesus been rejected? Yes – by those with misused power and authority! Has Jesus been marginalised and overlooked by the mainstream protagonists of the world? Yes – it is the humble, the poor and the meek who have recognised his true righteousness. Is Jesus the means of salvation? Yes!  Is Jesus a source of light, of blessing for the world? Yes! 

Let us then echo the crowds, shouting Hosannah! God, save us! Jesus is our blessing!

Matthew 21:1-11

When Jesus and his disciples had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, `The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

“Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.

2 Let Israel now proclaim, *
“His mercy endures for ever.”

19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.

20 “This is the gate of the Lord; *
he who is righteous may enter.”

21 I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.

22 The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.

23 This is the Lord’s doing, *
and it is marvellous in our eyes.

24 On this day the Lord has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.

25 Hosannah, Lord, hosannah! *
Lord, send us now success.

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; *
we bless you from the house of the Lord.

27 God is the Lord; he has shined upon us; *
form a procession with branches up to the horns of the altar.

28 “You are my God, and I will thank you; *
you are my God, and I will exalt you.”

29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.

5th Sunday of Lent

26th March 2023

Reflection (readings follow on below)

The valley full of bones conjures up an image of cowboy western with a vast expanse of bare sand and the  scattered  bones of long-dead cattle. Except that here it is not animal but human bones – the bones of a whole community, the people of Israel. What has caused this mass death? Ezekiel tells us they had lost hope, they had felt cut off from God – and therefore from life – and their bones had dried up. Whilst Psalm 22 famously begins, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ here it is the people who have forsaken God. Their bones now lie dry and lifeless. 

God  tells Ezekiel to speak to the bones, to command them to hear the word of God, to hear the message of salvation: that they will be restored to life. Not only will their bones be covered with flesh but God will breathe into them, filling them with his life giving spirit.

This passage has many echoes of the creation story in Genesis 2. There the first Adam is brought to life by God’s breath. And it is from one of Adam’s bones that Eve is created. God settled the two new humans in the land – the Garden of Eden – so that they and the land might flourish. And likewise Ezekiel records  God saying,  I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil – your own ground – then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act.” 

Renewal, beginning again, starting over, resurrection is always possible in God’s story. 

But why have the people lost hope, why had they felt so far from God that their very bones had dried up? Psalm 130 acknowledges that if God judged us as we deserve, we would not survive. It seems as if we humans all too easily fall into such a state of sin, that really we should be beyond the pale. But the Psalmist reminds us, God’s nature is forgiveness, God will redeem us! We should therefore always have hope. 

What would redemption look like for us in view of the most recent IPCC Report? 

It seems as if we, God’s people, have gone so far away from God that not only our bones but our whole ecosystem is threatened. Vast tracts of land at present are fated to becoming scorched and dried up and unable to support life. Scientists suggest that on our current trajectory, all the land south of a line of latitude running through the Normandy Peninsula across the whole of Europe and Asia and on through the Great Lakes in North America will be uninhabitable. Only the tip of South America, parts of Australia, and New Zealand, would join with the northern parts of Europe, Asia and America, as being habitable. In this future world would there be enough food to eat, water to drink, space to inhabit? In this world would there be enough plants to refresh the air, enough insects to pollinate crops, enough sea life to maintain oxygen levels in the oceans? 

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in this week’s IPCC report, “our world needs climate action on all fronts — everything, everywhere, all at once.” Redemption might look like the scene depicted by Ezekiel. A renewing of the desiccated human population such that filled with God’s Spirit, we have a new zest for live, are willing to make radical changes to our lifestyles, are ready to cooperate with one another, are ready to be generous in helping others. This regenerated, resurrected, people of God would  have hope, knowing, that filled with God’s Spirit, we can be true to God’s calling we should love God with all being, love our neighbour as ourself, and thus tend and protect the earth. 

The hope of resurrection is also the underlying theme of today’s gospel. Both Mary and Martha assert their belief in the  resurrection but cannot imagine it happening. And I am sure that it wasn’t something that Lazarus could imagine either. Often we are trapped in a world view view that does not let us see clearly God’s will, God’s way. Instead we only understand things from a ‘worldly’ perspective convinced that the way things are – social norms, economic patterns, human habits – are set in stone and cannot change. It is as if we are imprisoned by this world view, shut in a dark tomb from which we can find no way of escape. 

Jesus breaks that prison apart, his voice penetrates into the darkness, and he enables both Lazarus and us to live once more as God wills. Let us pray earnestly that in this climate crisis, as the opportunity of reform becomes an ever narrowing window, Jesus will calls us all – individuals, nations, governments and institutions- to come out from the tomb. For it seems as if we are trapped in a dark place where we can’t find our way out of the systems that trap us – the economic systems that make public transport more expensive than driving, that push up,the cost of energy even when the cost of production is static, that a customise us to a meat based diet, that allows us to charge countries for the aid we give them – in a system that says that the more you have the happier you will be. Yet there are other ways of living , of sorting our our priorities and furnishing our needs. It is to find that  newness of life to which Jesus called Lazarus, and to which Jesus calls us too. 

Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

Ezekiel 37:1-14

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

Psalm 130

De profundis

1 Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice; *
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

2 If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss, *
O Lord, who could stand?

3 For there is forgiveness with you; *
therefore you shall be feared.

4 I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; *
in his word is my hope.

5 My soul waits for the Lord,
more than watchmen for the morning, *
more than watchmen for the morning.

6 O Israel, wait for the Lord, *
for with the Lord there is mercy;

7 With him there is plenteous redemption, *
and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

Romans 8:6-11

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law– indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

John 11:1-45

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.