A Pentecost Murmuration

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I saw this video a few years ago and it remains one of my favourite videos online. For some reason it captures for me something of the shock and awe that must have befallen Jesus’ first followers on the day of Pentecost as the Holy Spirit came to them in a great noise of wind and fire.

Enjoy:

Come Holy Spirit and kindle in us the fire of your love.

he-qi-pentecost

He Qi, Holy Spirit Coming (detail), undated 21st century.

My rubbish one line guide to each Eurovision 2016 entry

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I’ve loved the Eurovision Song Contest ever since I lived in Estonia (where it’s a much bigger deal than here). Just so that you don’t have to, I’ve watched all 26 finalists’ entries giving them each a one line description.

I think I like Belgium’s entry the most this year (never thought I would say that). I think Russia and Australia (yes, I know!!) will do well this year. A lot of them sounded very similar. Maybe I’m getting old. There aren’t really any funny entries this year which is a shame. Anyhow, enjoy!

   
 

Extract from a great Easter Sermon – being born again

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Over Easter week a friend shared on Facebook this sermon preached by Father Jeffrey Johns, Dean of St Albans on Easter Day (this was broadcast on the BBC). You can listen to this here on Soundcloud (I really recommend listening to it, 8 minutes well spent!):

 

I couldn’t find the words of this sermon anywhere online so I transcribed part of it which I used as my homily at mass on Tuesday this week as I thought it was so good. Here is the extract:

To explain what he means, Paul says that the dead body is like a seed which is put in the ground but then by God’s power, it is changed, it springs into life. It becomes a plant which is infinitely more glorious than the seed ever was and yet it has miraculously developed out of it. And so, Paul says, our earthly existence will also be changed into an unimaginably fuller existence in the Spirit.

But we will still be us, we won’t be absorbed into undifferentiated being like the Buddhist idea of Nirvana. We’ll be the persons we are now but perfected and united with the union of the persons in love which is God the Trinity.

To take another example that both Jesus and Paul used. Think of the way in which we came into this world. When we were a baby in the womb, being born must have felt like dying and a very violent death at that. After nine months of being cosy and peaceful inside our mothers, suddenly all our life’s supports were torn away and we were shoved out of the only existence we knew with no idea that this trauma was actually the beginning of an infinitely richer life. Indeed, even while we were in the womb, we were forming all the faculties we were going to need for that new life, lungs to breathe, eyes to see, and a voice to cry. We couldn’t have imagined our new world, even though we were preparing for it and the cost of entering it was a sort of death. Well if that’s how it was for us at our beginning then why not at the end?

Even after being born there are still more ‘little deaths’. We have to die to childhood, or else remain infantile. We have to leave home and family behind in order to form adult relationships and a new family. Even small things like changing jobs or moving house – there’s always that wrench from the past and that terror of the future that seems to be the condition of entering the new and fuller life.

All along the way, we have to learn to let go. That is what people who want to freeze themselves cryogenically refuse to do, they want to stick to what they know. You might as well try crawling back into the womb, just as Nicodemus thought when Jesus told him he had to be born again. The truth is, we must move on. And rebirth, through death, is the pattern of all our moving on, from the very start, to the very end. We can’t cheat death, Jesus himself didn’t cheat it, He really died, and in the normal, human way with real pain and real fear. But because he came through the other side of death we can trust that for us too it won’t be the end, but only the last of so many letting goes. Our last Good Friday before our own Easter Day. Alleluia!

Alleluia indeed! A blessed Eastertide to you.

By Crijn Hendricksz. Volmarijn (circa 1601–1645) - Christies, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4097326

Jesus and Nicodemus by Crijn Hendricksz Volmarijn

 

Peace be with you – Jesus first words to his friends at Easter

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Alleluia Christ is Risen!

Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.

John 20:21-22

How amazing that Jesus’ first words to his friends who abandoned him were “Peace be with you”. Then he gave them the gift of the Spirit by breathing on them.

I can’t put this transformation better than CS Lewis:

A very blessed easter to you.

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Some thoughts on St Veronica this Good Friday

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This week in our evening service talks we have been looking at some of the less well-known people who were there during Jesus’ passion. I chose to preach about St Veronica.

I can hear the evangelicals among you gasping that I chose to preach on a person who is not even found in scripture! The only point at which most of us meet Veronica is through the Stations of the Cross – she is the sixth. However, the more I explored this character, the more moved I became. I found the wikipedia page very helpful and also this beautiful poem by Malcolm Guite. The Isaiah 50:4-9a reading set for Wednesday night (when I preached) also fit beautifully into the theme.

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Veronica is kind of like an every-woman figure. There are so many unnamed women in the bible and the passion scenes are crowded with women – the men noticeably absent. So Veronica represents so much to do with the ministry of Jesus. As I was preparing my sermon I was struck by what an intimate act wiping another’s face is – the only person really that has ever done that for me is my mother. I was also struck by the fact that the last gentle intimate touch Jesus received before his arrest was the kiss of betrayal from Judas – the next gentle hands Jesus feels are from Veronica, stepping forward to courageously touch the bloody victim – just as Jesus had radically touched the unclean throughout his ministry.

Here is the text of my sermon:

There is a huge crowd, everyone pressing around Jesus, wanting to get near. A woman is on the edge of the crowd, slowly working her way to the centre, using her practised elbows to move forwards in the crush of bodies. If only I could just touch the hem of his garment, that would be enough, she thinks, she surges forward and grasps the tassels on the edge of Jesus’ outer garment. A few more steps and then he stops. The woman turns away, she got what she wanted, just a touch, that was all she needed.

Another day, this time in Jerusalem, there is a huge crowd, everyone pressing around Jesus, following his stumbling path through the streets, trying to steer clear of the brutal soldiers and their whips. Men jostle and see who can spit so that it lands on Jesus’ face. His face is ugly with pain and covered in filth, blood, sweat and phlegm. A sight people are turning away from, averting their gaze. A woman is on the edge of the crowd, slowly working her way closer. If only I could just touch him. If only I could just wipe away that filth from his face, as a mother would from their child’s face. If only I could just touch. That would be enough, she thinks.

Jesus had once removed this woman’s shame, he had healed her of her bleeding disease, restoring her body and soul back into her community. It was shameful for a woman to remove her headscarf in public but this time she is compelled, she removes it so that she can wipe away all that filth, all that anger thrown at Jesus’ face, wipe away that kiss of betrayal, wipe away the spit of contempt. An intimate act of compassion to wipe away the intimate kiss of betrayal in Jesus’ last hours.

We just heard from the book of Isaiah a description of the face of the suffering servant: I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. Later in Isaiah, the prophet says ‘as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised’. The face of Jesus on the day of his crucifixion was a face one would turn away from. Blood would be pouring from the marks the thorns had made in his brow down his face, mingling with his tears of pain and with sweat. And then there was the spitting of the crowd, men jostling to get a hit. And if you have ever been spat at, you know that the first instinct is to wipe it away. But what can Jesus do? His hands are strapped to the heavy cross bar. Truly a face to turn away from, covered in filth, ugly with pain. And legend has it that a woman comes, named Berenice in Greek but Veronica in Latin, and she takes off her veil and wipes Jesus’ face with it, the face everyone else is turning away from. An astonishingly intimate act, maybe even more intimate than Mary of Bethany wiping Jesus feet with her hair as this act is out in the open, surrounded by a baying crowd. The legend says that this woman, Veronica, came away with an image of Christ on her veil. The name Veronica in Latin means ‘true image’. She bears the image of Christ. This woman with two names, Berenice, meaning bearer of victory, and Veronica meaning ‘true image’ – she carries with her the true image of Christ victorious, the image of the crucified Christ by whom we are made whole, by whose wounds we are healed. A small, but beautiful and memorable act of mercy – not recorded in the gospels, but that has captured the hearts of Christians down the centuries.

Veronica is every person who has ever been on the edge, on the outside, made to feel ashamed – these are the people who bear the image of Christ, who have received from Christ and carry his grace and mercy with them wherever they go. Veronica demonstrates in a small but significant act of mercy what Christ came to do – the wiping away of sin and betrayal, the restoring and making whole of the broken, and how we each carry with us the true image of Christ. May we be able to find the true image of Christ in the face of suffering, in the faces of those around us, in the faces of those from whom we would avert our gaze. We stop on our journey to Golgotha to gaze at the face of Jesus.

Holy Week meditations – the women

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Below are some meditations I wrote for a Mothers’ Union service last year looking at the Passion of Christ through the eyes of the women who were there. Feel free to use these or adapt them for your own setting.

By Wolfgang Sauber (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Reading 1: Mark 14.1-9

It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, ‘Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.’

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’

Meditation on Mary who anoints Jesus

Recently, every time I have been with Jesus, I have heard him talk about his death. He seems to be so sure that something bad is going to happen soon. The other disciples, especially the men, keep trying to brush what Jesus is saying under the carpet – they don’t want to believe it’s true. They are trying to make out that Jesus is using a fancy metaphor again. I don’t think he is using a metaphor, I believe him. You see, everything Jesus says is so compelling, and he has done so much for me. So last night I decided to accept the truth, that Jesus is going to die. I wanted to find a way to thank Jesus for everything he has done for me. He’s the only man who has ever spoken to me as if I were important, and who’s been interested in what I have had to say – he almost treated me as if I were a man. In my small home I have had a precious gift, hidden in the corner chest that was given to me – a pint of pure nard, the most expensive perfume one can buy. I was saving it as part of my dowry, but now I am a little older, I don’t think marriage is going to come to me. So I decided to anoint Jesus with this very perfume as a sign of gratitude for what he has done for me. I went into Simon the leper’s home as the men were reclining over dinner and poured the perfume on Jesus, the smell filled the entire house. It was beautiful. For a single moment, no one said a word, and it felt as if Jesus and I were alone in that place. Then the silence was shattered as the men started to push me around again, like they usually do and complain that I had wasted something so precious. Jesus put out his arm to protect me and stopped the men. He said that what I had done was beautiful. My reaction though was no, Lord, what you have done for me is more beautiful than I could ever express – you showed love for me when no one else did.

Reading 2: Mark 14:12-16

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.’ So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

Meditation on the women who prepare the Passover meal

Passover is my favourite time of the year, it’s busy, yes and sometimes I dread it, what with all the relatives visiting and trying to make sure everything cooks on time. Cleaning the house of all the yeast is a big job, thank goodness I have my daughters Leah and Dinah to help me now with that job! This year has been very different. We have been in Jerusalem with my sons James and John who have come into the city with Jesus, the great rabbi. Being in the big city we knew that we would be in a different place for our Passover Seder this year. I was nervous because I always find it difficult using someone else’s oven for baking and someone else’s pots and pans. The boys came to me and Mary and took us to a room that had been made ready for Jesus to share the Passover with his disciples. We had to go there in secret. The atmosphere in Jerusalem is tense, the Romans always get a bit heavy handed at festival time – more people are out drinking than usual and causing trouble – and of course, the city is full of people, every house is full of guests. When we came into Jerusalem on Sunday, Jesus was riding on a donkey’s colt, his feet were almost scraping the ground, it did look quite funny! But it was supposed to, Jesus was making fun of the way the Roman rulers ride so triumphantly into the city at this time of year – Jesus was showing how false that way of leading is. So we laughed and cheered and threw palm branches in his way and sang the old song of praise ‘hosanna to the Son of David’. You can imagine what the Roman guards made of that! So we are having to be very careful not to draw too much attention to ourselves. It would be such a disaster if we could not celebrate the Passover together. So I’ve managed to slow cook the lamb, we have the bitter herbs and my very special recipe of charoset – the honey mix that looks like the cement the Hebrew slaves had to use to build the pyramids – it has a secret ingredient! Now I’m toasting the matzoh bread, the unleavened bread ready for Jesus to bless and we’ve filled the cups with wine. As the oldest woman here, I will have the honour of kindling the Passover lights at the beginning of our meal this evening and saying the prayers. Something tells me that this night is going to be extra special.

Reading 3: Mark 15.25-47

It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’ And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’

There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.

Meditation on Mary standing at the cross

I’m the other Mary, not Jesus’ mother Mary, but her good friend and I’ve been here in Jerusalem with her and Salome, James and John’s mother in this most terrible week. I feel hollowed out after what I have seen today, for so many reasons. Jesus, the one whom we thought had come to save us all, the one who we know came from God, was brutally crucified today outside the city on the rubbish dump. The smell was unbearable, rotting food, sweat, blood, animal dung, the flies were all around and the sun was relentless, not a cloud in the sky to give us any welcome shade. What was perhaps more unbearable for us was that the men left us, they couldn’t stay to watch Jesus die, to watch all their hopes and dreams die, so they fled, probably back to the secret room we cooked the Passover in. So it was just me and those of us women who loved Jesus so much that stayed. We couldn’t leave him, we couldn’t leave him all alone as he died that terrible death. We cried and moaned as we saw him tortured by those Romans and clung to each other as we stood a little way off. We prayed but it felt like praying to a brick wall. It was so desolate. Even after noon the sun suddenly grew dark, it went cold, as if a light had just been extinguished.

My heart broke to see it, and broke to be there with Mary his mother at that moment. I will stay here for as long as I’m needed, Mary needs me now, I will try and be strong for her. I’ve brought the spices and together with Salome we will lovingly lay out Jesus’ body. He cared so much for us in life, this is a small thing we can do for him in death.

“sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness” – a poem about St Francis by Galway Kinnell

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This Lent I am running a mini course introducing the life of St Francis of Assisi. I have deliberately decided to run the course on a Tuesday night after our said Eucharist so that the homily at the Eucharist can also be on an aspect of St Francis’ life.

DSC_0784-01Many of us have images of St Francis as being a kind of saintly Doctor Dolittle – my abiding image of him is from my Ladybird Book of the Saints (pictured). Although St Francis did have a great love of creation and creatures (not a love of ‘nature’ as we might say) he was not particularly wet in character as many of the images we  see of him now seem to convey.

I recently found this beautiful poem by Galway Kinnell  (in the book Soul Food) which for me encapsulates Francis’ love for all living things in a way that is not sentimental or wet but powerful and moving. I will read this poem at the service tonight.

Saint Francis and the Sow

BY GALWAY KINNELL

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.