Beware… do not be led astray (Reflections on Mark 13 v1-8 in the light of recent terrorist attrocities)

People around Old Basing and Lychpit started this Prayer Tree at All Hallows, but it remains in church as we know remember in prayer those who have lost their lives in recent terrorist attacks.

People around Old Basing and Lychpit started this Prayer Tree at All Hallows, but it remains in church as we know remember in prayer those who have lost their lives in recent terrorist attacks.

Following the attacks in Paris, this was the most difficult sermon I think I’ve ever (re)written, and then when I’d almost finished, I heard about Thursday’s attacks in Beirut and more recently in Baghdad, which have failed to make the headlines. 

“What large stones?” We love ‘big’ don’t we? The richer nations of the world in particular, seems set on being bold, better, best. That’s the human motto, in every form, it seems. The bigger, the better, the best. The most influential. The most powerful. The most anything. It’s true of extremists too. It seems that the more cataclysmic the chaos, the higher the number of fatalities and news inches created, the better.

As we ache with the people of Paris, Beirut and Baghdad this morning, quite possibly concerned for friends and loved ones, and certainly asking God if there will ever be an end to such horrors, how do we make sense of this morning’s Gospel?

We can start by taking ourselves back to what the disciples were encountering. Those disciples were no different to anyone else and most of them had spent their lives in rural, lakeside, Galilee.  So an immense structure covering hundreds of metres in every direction, with stones as big as 13 metres long and 3 metres wide (in old money 44 feet by 10 feet), was bound to capture their attention, hitting all the awe and wonder buttons in their minds. If we have encountered the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building or one of those immense buildings in Dubai, then, like them or not, we tend to be impressed with the scale and complexity of the architecture. As someone who’s not done much international travel, I’m more in awe of Stonehenge myself. In the case of both the Temple and Stonehenge, I am left amazed at how, with simple tools and transport, people engineered such mammoth stones into place.

Stonehenge was designed to give people confidence in what they believed. In the case of the Temple in Jerusalem, it was originally designed to speak of confidence in God’s presence and his protection of his chosen people. Of course prophesies of the Temple’s destruction, similar to Jesus’ words in this Gospel passage, are very visible within Jewish scripture in relation to Israel’s disobedience as a nation. But, like many things that smack of disloyalty to a favourite cause, such prophesies were often ignored, and some leaders simply fought to develop and hang on to the power they had created as the solid structure around their faith, rather than being obedient to God. Jesus was trying to remind the Jews what was at the heart of their faith. The result of them ignoring and seeking to silence him would indeed be the destruction of the Temple in AD70 and the dislocation of the Jewish people at the hands of others more powerful and greedy than they were. Similarly, what we’ve witnessed this last few days is the result of a twisted greed of a few for land, power and retribution, and shows no understanding of ‘Allah, the most gracious and the most merciful.’

Scripturally speaking, our Gospel in Mark today lies within Holy Week. Time was running out for Jesus in his earthly journey, and he knew it. He was desperate to emphasise to them that they would face all sorts of horrors, the rumours of which would come far more slowly than today’s newsfeed. But they were at all times to hold on to the simple core values of the Kingdom: to love God, and one another. “Beware”, says Jesus, to his disciples in a private conversation over-looking a symbol of faith that had become a memorial to power, “Beware,… that no one leads you astray.” He knew people would come and suggest that a particular course of action would give their ideas more influence among people seeking power. Yet they had listened to his parables which taught that greed led ultimately to self-destruction. They had also walked with him, watching his acts of healing that fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy from Micah that all should act with mercy, love with justice and walk with humility. And, he had taught them to pray for forgiveness for those who would trespass against them, even if, just as he would, that meant doing so as they were killed in a futile attempt to stop the power of God’s love.

As we sit here, talking intimately with God, receiving Christ in the Eucharist, and looking out over  the evil that the search for power can inspire within people, the only gift we have been given to counter such things is the power of God’s love for all, the example of Jesus’ teaching, his healing touch and his prayer.

Over the coming days there will be voices all over the media calling for greater surveillance, greater controls and less immigration. As we remember that many of the migrants are running away from this same savagery that has been witnessed in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad, we must consider such ideas in the light of today’s reading. If we do not seek to act in the way Christ would, we stand the risk of being led astray in a climate of fear and suspicion, which only seeks to alienate and cause further fracturing of community – instead, we are called to love our neighbour.

We should also “beware” the temptation to expect those mysterious people called ‘others’, to do that all important ‘something’, without them being clear what it is that we, as Christians, think they should do. That will effectively be like acting as the Priest or Levite did in the story of the Good Samaritan, and walking by on the other side. Granted we may initially struggle in shock to find positive things to suggest, but there are plenty of ways to make our voices heard, and based on Christ’s teaching, we can promote the need to enter into dialogue with neighbours, to seek to welcome the stranger, and to bind up the broken-hearted – and we can do these things ourselves when the opportunity presents itself.

We can also think about what forgiveness means, and whilst it does involve seeking justice, that justice should be restorative not abusive: we are called as Christians not to demand an eye for an eye, but to undertake that most difficult of tasks: in humility, we need to pray for peace in the face of evil, and then to keep on praying for peace some more. For, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said this:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

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Go on your way – Sermon for the Feast of St. Luke (Isaiah 35:3-6, 2 Tim 4:5-17, Luke 10:1-9)

Well, someone got out the boat(s)! (An excuse to post a photo from Otter Ferry, Tighnabruach, Argyll - August 2015)

Well, someone got out the boat(s)! (An excuse to post a photo from Otter Ferry, Tighnabruach, Argyll – August 2015)

It is only two short weeks since all was safely gathered in, since the fruits of the garden, the allotment, the hedgerow and the supermarket were gathered into God’s house, as we gave thanks for all he has created and nourishes us with. And, here we are, thinking about harvest again. Not this time in relation to what we celebrate of God’s work, but in terms of the work God has for us to do as his disciples, in the fields of his Kingdom.

We may have the safety and security of being part of God’s harvest as followers of Christ, but why, as we celebrate the feast of Luke are we thinking particularly about how we are also sent out by Jesus, to “go on [our] way”, with nothing but the healing peace of his love for the world?

Luke, styled by St. Paul in Colossians (4:14) as “the Physician”, was a man who journeyed. Quite possibly a non-Jew, we watch his account of Paul’s journeys in the Acts of the Apostles change from a description of what others did – “they went from town to town” (Acts 16:4) – to a description of what he shared in – “we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them” (Acts 16:10). In our Epistle, we see how far he has travelled, as he is now Paul’s only companion during part of his house-arrest in Rome. Luke is a man who journeyed for Jesus, writing in his Gospel of the journeys of Jesus, and the need for us to similarly, “go on [our] way” for Jesus.

In our Gospel this morning, Jesus “has set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). He knows he is journeying toward his death, the fulfilment of God’s purpose for him in this world, and a time when others must take up the challenge of sharing God’s love with the world. He is also journeying through particularly hostile territory, having been snubbed by a community of Samaritans who didn’t appreciate his purposeful journey towards the Temple from which they were excluded. For these reasons, he sends seventy of his followers out ahead of him “to every town and place where he… intended to go… like lambs among wolves.”

We know little of these people.

But, we do know there were seventy of them. They formed a community, joined together by a shared task, having all received the same instructions from Jesus. We can note that good safeguarding principles were applied because they were sent out in twos, but I think we can be reasonably certain that this was actually for the purpose of good team building – one could encourage another when the going got tough, and fear and uncertainty were in danger of taking hold.

We also know, that up until this point they had kept with them their own belongings, whether they were travelling from home each day to hear Jesus, of physically following the route he took, they had things that provided them with safety and security, like their purse, and footwear. Now Jesus was sending them out on what must have seemed a tremendously scary task, with nothing. They were to leave their current situations, and change to live a new pattern of life, one that meant they would be not just living like Jesus, but sharing his message.

And we also know they had a shared faith in Jesus.

Or do we?

Jesus was sending away those who had been followers, people who had seen his miracles, heard his words, and responded with curiosity, asking questions to which they did not necessarily receive straight-forward answers. Did they truly understand the relationship between Jesus, and the Kingdom of God he was asking them to proclaim? In this period before the events of Holy Week, I doubt whether they did. Greater faith would come only by deciding to be obedient to Jesus’ command. By sharing what little they already knew of his message – that in the person of Jesus, God was bringing a peace that would be among the most significant fruit of his love – they were exhausting their own understanding. Everything else they needed by way of understanding, would be given along the way. Jesus was after all, coming along right behind them, in person, to “make the job a good ‘un”.

And he still is.

In the Book of Common Prayer, the service of Holy Communion uses these words as a response to encountering the body and blood of Christ: “we offer and present unto thee O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and lively sacrifice unto thee.” In our Eucharist we respond with similar words, asking that through Jesus, we are able to offer God “our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice.”

From the book of stories about God’s action in the world, otherwise known as the Bible, colloquial wisdom also comes up with the phrase: ‘if you want to talk on water, you have to get out of the boat’!

Sacrifice and bravery. Being a follower of Jesus, a disciple, is not for the faint-hearted. We have to “go on our way”, and be sent out by Jesus with only what he gives us. When we sense that he is telling us to do something new, he will give us what we need.

We may feel out on our own, but if we look around us, Jesus has placed us in a community that is on the same journey, and to which he is giving the same message. Go on your way, not alone, but together. We may share the exact same journey with one other, or even a few, but the reason for doing our journey will be the same as for many others. Jesus is sending us. So, we should encourage each other when the going gets tough, for in prayerfully sharing our concerns, weak hands are strengthened and feeble knees made firm (Is 35:3 adapted)!

We may also feel inadequate when we see a task ahead and sense our security being removed, but God is often asking us to make sacrifices or simply be brave and trust him. We won’t necessarily be required to give up our livelihood, our home, our financial and physical security, but we might need to work with people we don’t feel comfortable with, or do things that use skills we don’t think we’ve got. God can and will use what is freely given to him, however much we doubt ourselves. “Be strong, do not fear!” (Is 35:4)

We may feel our faith in Jesus is as small as a mustard seed, but “The Lord [stands by us] and gives [us] strength, so that through [us God’s] message might be fully proclaimed” (2 Tim 4:17, adapted). It is only by actively being disciples that we can really learn more about what it means to know Jesus, who is our God (Is 35:4). The encounters with God that he asks us to deliver and receive are a message of peace, the presence of Jesus that can heal lives as well as calm fears. Through his death and resurrection, we know that Jesus isn’t simply following along behind us on the road, but he is there in the thick of challenges we are presented with on the road he shares with us.

As we remember St. Luke, we are challenged by Jesus’ sending out of the seventy: are we willing to be sent out by Jesus as they were? They may not have felt safe or secure, but they went out in twos, a community sharing their ‘sent-ness’, their sense of inadequacy and their doubts, sure in the knowledge of nothing more than that they had a part in the beginning of God’s new Kingdom, because they could share of his peace.

Let us pray: Great God of bravery and boldness, who encourages the weak and timid, grant us the courage to be your hands, eyes and voice to those we meet this week. For the sake of Jesus, in whose name we are sent. Amen

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Prayers for Harvest

Harvest decorations, St. Mary's Old Basing 2014

Harvest decorations, St. Mary’s Old Basing 2014

I’ve just prepared some prayers that I hope might be used at our Harvest Festival this Sunday by young representatives of the local Uniformed Organisations that attend. 

In the spirit of gratitude and with thanks that they were initially inspired by a quote I found here by William Wilberforce (which I’ve edited marginally to make the English scan better for contemporary ears) I share them for others who might have (even) less time than I. The first two are in language that I hope is simpler, and therefore easier for younger children to read. Feel free to adapt and edit to suit your context.


The famous Christian politician William Wilberforce once said:

“Great things have small beginnings. Every downpour is just a raindrop; every fire is just a spark; every harvest is just a seed; every journey is just a step; because without that step there will be no journey; without that raindrop there can be no shower; without that seed there can be no harvest.”

Thank you God that you made this big and amazing thing we call the world. Help us to enjoy the rain, the sun, the moon, the rivers and sea, and all the animals and plants that are here with us.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

Thank you God that you have made some plants and animals good to eat, if we look after them. Help us Lord, to take care of all your creation, and not to use so much of things that they run out.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

Thank you God that you created in everything the potential for growth, especially the seeds that grow into plants that feed or give homes to us or other creatures. Lord Jesus, help us also to grow into people who love you, and who can encourage others to love you too.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

Thank you God that in the small things of life, we can see your love. Please give courage and patience to all those who care for people and places of the world that are damaged, lonely, lost, ignored, hungry and hurt. Help us to help them and to learn how we can care for others too.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

Thank you God that with life you also created death, and from the cross on which Jesus died came new beginnings and renewed hope. Lord Jesus be very close to those for whom the loss of someone or something special has created a big empty space, and fill their hearts with the seeds of your love.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

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Faith, without works, is dead – Isaiah 35, James 2:1-17, Mark 7:24-end

A dead child, pulled from the sea.

A dead three-year-old, a Kurdish refugee, originally from the Syrian city of Kobane which was flattened by IS last year, drowned with his brother and mother off the Turkish coast because his now state-less parents were desperate to reach relatives in Canada.

It has taken one dead child, one among hundreds of others, one sickening set of heart-breaking images among thousands, to start to change a widespread view that in Europe we have no space, no place, no healing, to offer those refugees in desperate need of help.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is a stranger in another land. He’s more like a holiday-maker, than a refugee or migrant. He’s travelling through a non-Jewish region, apparently alone without his disciples, one of those periods in his ministry where he needed to re-charge his spiritual batteries. There in Tyre, (now on the Lebanese coast) and in the Decapolis (ten communities on the south-eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee where the borders of modern day Syria and Jordan meet), people seem to have been quite happy to take him into their home.

But Jesus was already well known by repute even in these non-Jewish regions, and try as he might to avoid the public, people sought him out. Word of his healing ministry was ahead of him, and people brought word of their ailing loved ones, or brought the loved ones themselves, to him.

They may not all have understood the source of his healing power, but the conversation we see recorded between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman, tells us that some of them most certainly did. Today is not the day to grapple with the detail of what Jesus said to her, and whether he was rude to her or not. If she thought he was, the woman never said so, calling him Sir, or Lord, and treating him with respect. What is important, was that this woman recognised Jesus as someone who was bringing hope and healing, not simply to his own community, the Jews, but through them to the world in general. Whilst he knew that the process of redeeming the world would not be fully inaugurated until the completion of his earthly ministry, she saw no reason why her daughter could not receive that healing and hope now; and in the face of the woman’s faith and her daughters suffering, Jesus saw no reason to with-hold the love of God, through whom that healing was manifest.

We have no idea if the Syrophoenician woman was rich or poor, we know only that she was desperate to see her child made well. The Jews did indeed regard Gentile’s like her as poor, in faith terms at least, and yet she recognised and understood the possibilities offered by Jesus mission in the world. In this instance, when his disciples as well as other followers were confused about who he was, and what he was bringing into the world, “God chose the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to [encourage Jesus by recognising themselves as being] heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him”.

As the Messiah, the beloved Son of God, it was not enough for Jesus to simply be who he was, he had to act the part; people believed in him not just because of what he said, but because of what he did. If they recognised him as the means of God’s love and hope being shared throughout the world, they demanded to see that love and hope living and active among them, shared without favouritism among both Jew and Gentile.

If you’ve ever doubted that God speaks through scripture, or the ordering of our Anglican lectionary, then today in the face of a refugee crises that our Archbishop has likened to that of the Jewish refugees, Ugandan Asians, and Vietnamese boat people of the last century, then doubt no more. Christ came into the world to bring healing to those of all nations, and of none; to fulfil for all, the prophesy of renewal in Isaiah 35; that blind eyes will be opened, deaf ears unstopped, and silent tongues given voice to sing.

How long have we been blind, how long deaf, how long silent? How long have we looked at the poor people in dirty clothes camped out on our borders, and feared them? How long have we displayed partiality between invaders, migrants and refugees with our lazy and judgmental use of language, tarring all with the same brush? How long, as those who profess to “believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ”, have we ignored the “naked lacking daily food”, because they lie on other shores?

Am I the only one who this week, in the face of a dead child lying drowned on a foreign shore, and a wealth of scripture that calls us to offer practical love and healing to our neighbour, finds the authenticity to their Christian faith feeling like it is in tatters because they have thus far done nothing?

But, it is never too late to seek God’s forgiveness and make a new start, to listen to scripture and respond like we’ve heard it, to see need, and do our best, in some small way, to meet it. Letters can still be written to political leaders. Money can still be donated to people who can use it wisely on our behalf. Shopping lists can still be lengthened to include a sleeping bag and mat, a tarpaulin, blanket, if we don’t already have spares lying in a shed, a garage or a roof. There are Amazon wish lists for aid organisations, and people collecting soft toys to take to children. As always, it’s amazing what we can do if we can only find a way.

I think that whilst the Syrophoenician woman, a Syrian, was desperate for her daughter to receive healing, her words show she knew that God’s healing was available to all, to us who have been blind, deaf and mute to people’s need, just as much as to those around the world who have left the decimated remains of what was once their home and country, desperate to live and work without fear of violence from any source. It has been written that “healing can never be simply a matter of correcting a few faults in the machine called the human body. It always was and is,… a sign of God’s love breaking in to the painful and death-laden present world.” This week, we can no longer ignore that death-laden present near our shores; nor can we receive and worship as the body of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, without acknowledging that “for just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.”

Let us pray:

Prayer for the Refugee Crisis (CofE)

Heavenly Father,
you are the source of all
goodness, generosity and love.
We thank you for opening the hearts of many
to those who are fleeing for their lives.
Help us now to open our arms in welcome,
and reach out our hands in support.
That the desperate may find new hope,
and lives torn apart be restored.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ
Your Son, our Lord,
who fled persecution at His birth
and at His last, triumphed over death.


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Remembering loved ones past and present at weddings

Registering my first wedding in the Bolton Chapel of St. Mary's Old Basing. Photograph: Tarran Patterson

Registering my first wedding in the Bolton Chapel of St. Mary’s Old Basing. Photograph: Tarran Patterson

One of the joys of this summer is to have presided at my first weddings.

The first was the fulfilment of a prophesy, at least for me, as having a vision of me officiating at my first wedding had been one clergy friend’s encouragement for me to seek selection for ordination! I am most grateful to Tarran Patterson, the photographer on the occasion, for snapping the photo here as I completed the registers without me being aware of it at all, so that I have a visual memory of the occasion. We are blessed at Old Basing with room for official photographers to take a few photos during the ceremony without intruding into proceedings at all, and she managed to do that brilliantly, which was a gift to a rooky priest.

Today’s wedding was my last for this year. The bride will be ‘given away’ by her mother, as sadly her father died a few years ago, and is laid to rest in our churchyard. She asked to lay “his” button hole on his grave before she entered the church so he is included in the day, so I suggested that we not only do that, but we say a prayer as we do so. She, her sisters, and particularly her mother, seem very grateful for being able to ‘fill in the gap’ in this way.

Loved ones are always more acutely missed on such occasions, especially when they would have otherwise fulfilled a special role. At my first wedding the bride paused at a siblings side when coming down the isle to give them the flower token that their daughter would have carried, had she survived infancy. Another lovely touch that it was easy to enable, and we also remembered the child by name in the prayers when acknowledging other deceased loved ones, parents again.

When we rehearsed last night with this weeks couple, it was also decided that I would pray a blessing over the whole family, so that their children feel not only part of the occasion as bridesmaid and pageboys, but visibly included in God’s love in a special way too.

Needless to say there’s not a standard prayer in Common Worship for either circumstance (that I could find anyway, as this is not a blended family) so it was time to turn to and write my own. With a little encouragement from Rev’d Ally who confirmed my use of language fitted with the tradition of my serving parish (my incumbent being away), I shall be using these on Friday (as this blog post goes up).

A prayer at the graveside of a parent (in this case a father):
Gracious God
We remember at this special moment
the example of love that N shared with his family.
Understanding that he rests with your saints in your glorious presence,
but acknowledging his part in today in the symbol of this flower,
may each person here
know that N’s prayers, comfort and goodness are with them,
and that with Christ,
his love for them is never ending,
through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A blessing for the family:
Father God,
as N and N stand before you with
A, B and C,
may they know your presence in their lives together,
experience patience, trust and truthfulness among each other,
and trust daily in the example of love that is in Jesus
that together they may live joyfully
through the power of the Holy Spirit,
that is at work in all our lives. Amen.

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Reflection on Mary of Magdala (John 20)

Easter garden at St. Mary's Old Basing and Lychpit 2015

Easter garden at St. Mary’s Old Basing and Lychpit 2015 – interestingly our model of Mary of Magdala has her in a blue robe, not a red one.

Presiding in celebration of a Saint for the first time today, so needed to come up with some reflections on St. Mary Magdalene:

Mary of Magdala, Mary Magdalene.

The woman we remember today has had so much imposed upon her since she was first captured for posterity in the pages of scripture that it is difficult to untangle the things that we really know of her, from the the things that have been assumed, conflated with others; impressions and fables captured in art and in literature, both learned and less so. I make no pretence to be doing anything other than adding to the layers of uses to which her character, her actions and her faith have been put, but I do so because her story is one that brings us within touching distance of Jesus, a fact that I think lies at the heart of her universal appeal to both the Christian and secular imagination down the centuries. 

We can be pretty sure that this Mary was an independent woman from the lakeside town of Magdala, on the Sea of Galilee. Why independent? Well because in scripture she takes her name from the place, rather than from her nearest male relative (Hebblethwaite, p116-7) as is otherwise the case in the Gospel’s and context of the time. The myth of her sinful past may well rest on the absence of these reassuring family ties, and, the layer of assumption that her closest relationship with a man appears to have been with Jesus (Hebblethwaite, p116-7), has no doubt contributed to more romantic notions than scripture actually provides evidence for.

We can be pretty sure that despite the red dress of so many artistic impressions of this woman, Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute. Too long has her story been conflated with those of the sinner who touches Jesus in Luke 7:39 (who was not necessarily a woman of easy virtue herself, if our modern understanding of language is accurate), and Mary of Bethany who anoints Jesus in John 12 whose character has likewise been prostituted (Hebblethwaite, p119).

Scripture does testify, more than once, to the fact that Mary of Magdala had mental health issues when she first encountered Jesus, for her seven demons are referred to in Luke 8:2 and Mark 16:9 (Hebblethwaite, p120). The number seven probably only suggests the severity of her illness, not its nature and cause, which have themselves become a rich source for the imagination of more modern writers and theologians, wanting to encourage a more positive pastoral attitude to mental health care through the example of Jesus’ ministry to her. And yet scripture gives us no detail of this healing encounter with our Lord, perhaps because as some have suggested it took place over the months and years of their friendship during Jesus’ travels, rather than in one single, miraculous encounter (Hebblethwaite, p120).

Our chief evidence for the action, character and ministry of Mary Magdalene is in the scripture that forms our Gospel on this her Feast Day. Here, is a woman who (possibly with others) wanted to give the body of the crucified teacher the reverence it was due, to fill the void which being witness to his murder had created in her life. But the emptiness she initially encounters is even greater than anticipated, as she reaches a tomb devoid of the healing (John 20:1) that a graveside watch can bring.

As was the case at the crucifixion, once the initial encounter with the confusion of Christ’s resurrection is made, the men who perhaps she hoped might support her in their shared perplexity, vanish. So she weeps alone with a grief that soaks through the layers of her life as well as her clothes. It has been said that ‘maybe you can only see angels through tears’ (Wright, p146) and I know that’s been true for me: Mary seems suddenly devoid of hope because all she thought she understood has been taken away, but the presence of angels creates the questioning that cuts through her desolation.

Possibly the most consistent point of reflection through all the layers of Magdalene myths is the scriptural evidence that it is not only angels she sees, but the risen Lord himself whom she finally encounters and recognises by the use of her name: Mary….. As she reaches out to cling to the one that brought her healing, she comes up against another stage in that very process, one that does not rebuff, but invites her to re-enter the independent life with which she first encountered Jesus, but now without the luggage of illness with which she had previously been encumbered. As the Apostle to the Apostles (Wright, p147), sent to share the good news of the reality of the resurrected Christ with those who had run too soon to witness it themselves, Mary of Magdala finally receives the freedom (inspired by Mann, p55) that comes with true healing and renewed purpose.

I wonder how much the layers of people’s suppositions about our histories and our characters weigh upon our lives? People think they know something about us when they glimpse a few simple facts that might include our marital status (past or present), a bereavement or an illness.

Likewise, we may grudgingly recognise that in the light of the snapshots we see of others’ lives week by week, whether in their homes, the shops or in the national headlines, we impose our own layers of conjecture as to how they understand themselves, their spiritual journeys and their encounters with God.

Like Mary Magdalene, what we need to encounter for ourselves is not only the healing that comes from being a follower of Christ – happy to stay on the road with him week by week and willing to stand at the cross of his suffering with others – but also to encounter the emptiness of those places and relationships where initially he seems absent. We have to trust Jesus to reveal himself to others, not only in those places where we except him, like here in a much-beloved church, but in the places where perhaps we have given up looking for him.

On finding the place where they expected to find Jesus, many have run away, because they were looking for someone who had died. The freedom of the resurrection, the hope that Mary of Magdala was the first understand, was that sometimes it is only when we stop and sit with weeping with our broken expectations, that we encounter the living Christ. Only in that encounter, wherever or in whoever it is formed, will we know not only freedom, but the purpose to which Jesus is sending us back into the world in which he calls us to live day by day.


The books I’ve used as resources and inspiration are Rachel Mann’s “The Risen Dust – Poems and stories of passion and resurrection”, Margaret Hebblethwaite’s “Six New Gospels – New Testament Women Tell Their Stories” and Tom Wright’s “John for Everyone – Part 2”

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Pavane for the Resurrected Lord – on my ordination as Priest

Newly minted priest (almost) dancing down the aisle of Winchester Cathedral, 4th July 2015

Newly minted priest (almost) dancing down the aisle of Winchester Cathedral, 4th July 2015

I was Priested at Winchester Cathedral on 4th July, and celebrated the Eucharist for the first time on Sunday 12th July. Momentous events in my life (so much has been working up to this point), and it transpires in the lives of some of those whom I serve. As the dust settles, it is time to take stock of a little of what has been said, done and started.

Last Saturday, the day of my priesting, started with a deep sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and a ‘picture’ before we’d eaten breakfast! The night before +Tim had charged us to ‘yearn to burn’ with the Holy Spirit, referencing 1 Peter 1:13-16 and wanting us to imagine our finger tips burning. Yet as I sat there that morning, the image that came to me was of the coals in my father’s grate, flameless but glowing red hot, bringing far more heat to any room and for far longer, than the transient flames of kindling and wood. Here was the heat of the Holy Spirit I seek from God in my ministry as a priest – something that will transmit the burning love of God for and to those I seek to serve.

That image, and the attendant sense of peace stayed with me throughout a day that reminded me both of the fulfillment of my calling coming to pass, and my own inadequacy in fulfilling it – it will be nothing without God, and without the love that knits together in Christ as we grow to maturity. It was a privilege to read from Ephesians 4:7-16 at the service and voice this, and to be surrounded by so many very special people who have had key parts to play in my own journey of faith – some reading this will know, I hope that I am talking about them!

For a variety of reasons, not least the ordination and arrival of a new Deacon the next day to the parish in which I serve, it was to be a week before I presided for the first time at our weekly Sung Eucharist. Admittedly an incredibly nerve-racking occasion, I had been blessed by the gracious offer by my training incumbent of the opportunity to have a guest preach, and the willingness of a dear friend to fulfill that task, despite the Old Testament reference to David dancing, and the Gospel reading being that of the beheading of John the Baptist (2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19; Mark 6: 14-29)!

Dom Andrew, talked of our need, and my calling, to dance before the Lord, through the liturgical year in what he poetically described as a “Pavane for the Resurrected Lord”. It is the rituals that I have come to St. Mary’s to learn the steps of, and it is the richness of the liturgical year, the detail of which has been somewhat lost in previous churches in which I’ve worshipped and served, that I am coming to prize highly. It is a sermon I probably ought to read every time I am to preside at Eucharist, the sacrament which for so many is so incredibly important that I must learn the ‘steps’, both traditional and contemporary, often ritualised and sometimes something more raw, which reveal Christ to those present;

“…for it will reconcile to him all the broken and vulnerable children of God present in this place, enabling us to join together once more in the steps of the round dance of our love for him.”

A Triquetra (the symbol of the Holy Trinity) by whose power we live in the circle of life and love in this world.

A Triquetra (the symbol of the Holy Trinity) by whose power we live in the circle of life and love in this world.

The full text of Dom Andrew’s sermon can be viewed here on our parish website.

It transpired that my first, slightly flat (musically), slightly faltering, steps in the Eucharist dance were to be a special moment linking my mother, a ‘fighter’ for the ordination of women long-since gone to our Lord, to another mother, one who has helped nurture me through my diaconal year, and who until that moment, had never received Eucharist where a woman presided. Twenty and more years on from all that my mother was involved with locally, it is easy to forget that for some, this remains an incredible milestone.

There are a host of other special images of the day in my mind, not least the gift of a home communion set from the parish, and the most wonderful glass-work created by The Glass Maidens of the parish with the help of my husband and son. Again there were many friends that had come from a variety of churches to which I am linked, including Twitter! But, I think for now the important thing is to concentrate on learning and perfecting the steps of the dance that our Resurrected Lord wants to teach us all; the dance of love.

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Liturgical “bake” off

Our Ascension Day balloons that were released from the top of St. Mary's tower during our Ascension Day acclamations.

Our Ascension Day balloons that were released from the top of St. Mary’s tower during our Ascension Day acclamations.

This morning we celebrated the Ascension of our Lord with Eucharist and balloons… but no bacon.

Somehow I had got it into my head (goodness knows how) that there would be bacon butties after the service. There weren’t. Though there were perfectly lovely croissants, with butter and jam, and plenty of tea and coffee. Our hard-working sacristan had got up ridiculously early to prepare this, and so I’m selfish and cold-hearted even to mention a word of criticism.

But, I had wanted bacon, and felt let down. So following the modern trend, I bemoaned the lack of bacon to my friends on Facebook, aware as I was, that bacon is hardly suited to any festival remotely rooted in the Jewish tradition. Yet, I humbly submit that since the Ascension was part of the new covenant, and an element of the journey towards the blessing of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and because of Peter’s experience of being told by God that “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (Acts 10:15), bacon is a perfectly acceptable Christian festival food.

As the morning wore on my mood was lightened by various suggestions as to what food best celebrates which Festival and Feast of the liturgical calendar, and a dear neighbouring clergy friend suggested the idea of a “liturgical bake off” – something which St. Mary’s enthusiasm for cake making would be most suited to hosting.

So, working through the church year, and using the suggestions so far gleaned from tradition, Facebook friends (to whom credit and thanks) and the warped minds of my family, I offer the following as a starter, to which you are welcome to add suggestions.

Advent Sunday – Date cake

Christmas – Christmas cake (obviously), Angel Cake

EpiphanyStargazy pie, a box of Terry’s ‘All Gold’

Candlemas (Presentation of Christ) – Pigeon Pie

Baptism of Christ – water biscuits

Temptation of Jesus – Apple crumble (because it’s a des’ert), Rock buns (also known as rock cakes)

Conversion of St. PaulRocky Road

Ash WednesdayCreme brulee

TransfigurationBattenberg (berg = mountain)

Annunciation of our Lord to the BVM – Angel Cake (again), Angel Delight

Mothering Sunday/Laetare SundaySimnel Cake

Maundy ThursdayPenny buns or the edible fungus Boletus edulis (Penny Bun)

Good Friday – Hot Cross Buns

Easter Day –  The perfect souffle, (oh, and chocolate eggs, apparently)

Ascension Day – meringues (because a ‘cloud’ hid him from their sight), not bacon it seems, and not pitta bread (because it hasn’t risen), Sc’one

Pentecost – BBQ, carrot cupcakes with little orange marzian carrots/flames, flame grilled… (whatever you fancy really)

Trinity Sunday – Three fruit marmalade, Tri-fle

Harvest – Pumpkin pie, plaited loaf

All Souls – choux pastrie (think ‘soles’), lemon sole

All Saints – iced ring doughnuts (haloes)

Christ the King – Coronation chicken, Royal jelly

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Thinking of ourselves as a gift to Jesus (John 6:35-40)

This week my training incumbent and other parish stalwarts are away on pilgrimage, and I’m left minding the ‘shop’. Our usual midweek Eucharist, of necessity therefore has to be Morning Prayer (as I’m still in my diaconal year), though some who number the regular congregation mid-week are away on this pilgrimage, so we are depleted in number. From this short time together in our chapel, I go to our local care home to share ‘Home Communion’ with a little group who will sing old familiar hymns and I use the same passage as at the service of Morning Prayer, by tradition in the parish, still the Gospel for Eucharist.

But when faced in the lectionary with the ‘old chestnut’ of the first of John’s “I am” sayings… “I am the bread of life”, what could I say that might be fresh to those, most of whom are in what might be styled their declining years, or in care towards the end of their lives? 

So, in the absence of any further inspiration, I’ve written the following short reflection, which I’m hoping isn’t too heretical, though I am more than happy to be corrected if appropraite. 

“It is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day”. (John 6:35-40)

I wonder what is the present that we have received that we treasure most? What is that would most break our hearts if we lost it, or it was stolen from us?

Or is our treasure something else? A relationship perhaps, or our eyesight, mobility or independence? Something or someone that makes us want to get up each morning and encounter the world afresh? 

Perhaps, sadly we feel like we’ve already lost what we treasure most.

Are we regarded as a gift to someone else? Do we give them the encouragement, strength and motivation to do things that they might not otherwise consider themselves able to achieve? Who do we bring joy when we spend time with them?

Well for Jesus, each of us who have approached him in faith, and recognise him as the bread of life, our daily source of nourishment, is a gift. Yes, by God’s grace he is a gift to us, in his birth, death and resurrection, and that is something we’re quite used to considering I suspect. But how often do we remember that our recognition of and faith in Jesus are a gift to him? 

I wonder if being given by God as a gift to Jesus changes the way we perceive ourselves? 

It may be that the idea makes us feel special. We have been especially given into Jesus’s care, and as such it may make us feel our existence is more worthwhile as a spiritual gift to Jesus than our mundane earthly existence would suggest. It can give us a closeness to Jesus that makes the conversation piece of prayer one of the key-points of our lives.

It might be that the idea makes us feel unworthy. Many of us will have times when we feel, there is surely no way we are good enough to be a gift worthy of Jesus’ attention let alone his tone of celebration in this reading?! And yet, here he is saying that we are such a treasured gift from God that he will raise us up as a new creation at the culmination of God’s Kingdom.

That surely is what is so exciting about being God’s gift to Jesus? Not what we have been at whatever we might regard at the pinnacle of our achievements, or even the totality of what we have accomplished by the end our earthly life. 

What is exciting about being God’s gift to Jesus should surely be to discover what God will have fashioned us into, from the raw materials of our lives now, when we reach our fulfilment in his presence. Our faith, our belief in the risen Jesus as the bread of life, at whatever stage it is and however we manage to live it out within the constrictions placed on us in this earthly life, is merely the embryo of what it will become when God brings us to completion in Christ, on the last day.

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So, whose resurrection is this? Luke 24:36-48 and Acts 3:12-19 (Easter 3)

The Easter Garden at St. Mary's Old Basing and Lychpit, before I took it down!

The Easter Garden at St. Mary’s Old Basing and Lychpit, before I took it down!

On Thursday, amid a certain disappointment among those departing the Ploughman’s lunch, the dead flowers were composted, the live ones given new homes, and the Easter Garden dismantled. I carefully wrapped Jesus in bubble-wrap and put him in a box, tucked away safely upstairs in the tower, with the empty tomb, the myrrh soaked bandages, and the empty cross. Out of sight and out of mind.

It’s actually beginning to feel like spring, and anyone who suffers from hay-fever is now bemoaning the pollen count. The kids are back at school tomorrow, and life can return to whatever passes for normal though perhaps a little emptier of excitement and relaxation than they have been over the last couple of weeks. In my house it’s a chance to tidy up a little, feed the bit of me that likes to have a place for everything, and everything in its place.

But out of the corner of my mind’s eye, there is an empty cross, an empty tomb, and Jesus is standing in the room.

In our Gospel this morning, the disciples are only just encountering the unbelievable excitement of Easter. They haven’t believed the women; the ladies without the body of their dear friend to lovingly tend; who had found merely an empty tomb and an angel directing them to remember his words.

The disciples had barely heard the story brought back in haste by friends from Emmaus, suggesting Jesus had eaten with them after journeying anonymously at their side, exploring the scriptures that referred to him. Even before they’ve had time to consider the possibilities suggested by this news, here he is, standing among them.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!…. He is risen indeed. Alleluia! (Expected a slightly uncertain response.)

Yes, exactly. They were too confused to take it in; to grasp what was going on.

Here was Jesus as they’d never encountered him before. Fully alive, asking to share food with them, but bearing the scars of his crucifixion and able to pass through walls and doors unimpeded. They definitely hadn’t imagined the horror, anguish and failure of the last few days, so how then could it be that Jesus was now standing among them?

This was Jesus, raised to new life. The culmination of God’s creative endeavours; the first example of life in God’s new world of life after death; sharing the very nature of God and therefore able to move between the dimensions of God’s world at will; as engaged and active on earth, as in heaven.

God, living and present in their midst, and sharing words from Hebrew scripture, with which they were familiar. ‘Thus it is written’, they are told by Jesus, ‘that the Messiah is to suffer and rise from the dead on the third day’, using words that seem to refer to Hosea 6 v2 which says “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.”

But, hang on, those words in Hosea aren’t about him, they refer to “us”! Jesus is making some sort of connection between the death of the disciples’ hopes and dreams, and his intimate presence among them as their risen Lord; between his sudden presence sharing meals with his friends, and their future life; a connection between this transformed body of his, and our own existence; what we have encountered of the risen Christ, and the life of the world to come.

So, whose resurrection is this?!

Of course it is “Christ [who] has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 15:20) If that were not so, as St. Paul points out in that same passage in 1 Cor 15, then our faith is futile. He that was crucified, an earthly man born of a woman though of God, is raised to new life as one with God. That is the source of the power of Jesus’ name.

But of course, that is not the whole story or purpose of Christ’s resurrection. Standing there among the confused thoughts and emotions of his friends, the risen Jesus makes one thing very clear: that his death and resurrection is not for his own benefit, but that “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed, in his name, to all nations.” The whole point of the resurrection was to bring a new hope and a new relationship with God into the world, a promise with no restrictions.

The cross by itself could not have proved beyond all doubt God’s love for the people of world – it had to be accompanied by the new life, hope and abundant grace of the resurrection. As the first-fruits of God’s completed Kingdom, God was making the full revelation of his promise that when that Kingdom is fully complete, we too will have that one-ness with God through our faith in the name and person of the risen Jesus.

There is no denying the darkness in which the world exists, we all see that in our news, both the truth of some incredibly grim situations, and the lies with which the causes and cures of those desperate truths are so often distorted in the name of power. Christ’s resurrection was God’s proof that he is the one with whom power ultimately rests, the promise of forgiveness for those who recognise this and seek to change their ways. It is the light in the darkness, the reason we symbolically carry a new Pascal Candle into the darkness of the world when we celebrate the resurrection.

So, whilst this Easter season is about Christ’s resurrection, it also signifies the hope of resurrection for the whole world; the possibility of the Peace with which Jesus proclaims his resurrection in every Gospel account.

So where does that leave “us”?

Christ is risen, and the world too has the opportunity to be one with God, and we?…

We “are witnesses of these things”, something that Luke above all of the Biblical authors, makes abundantly clear. For these concluding moments of the Gospel of Jesus are the introduction to the book of witness that is Luke’s ‘Acts of the Apostles’. Those confused disciples, so hard of believing and muddled in their understanding of what is happening in their midst, are within a few short weeks changed radically in the focus of their lives, the use of their skills, their desire to witness to the power of God with others. Empowered by the Holy Spirit they publicly unpack the prophesies of the Hebrew scriptures for themselves, and proclaim the repentance, forgiveness and healing that comes through faith in the name and resurrection of Jesus – exactly what Peter is doing in our reading from Acts 3 this morning.

This work of witness to the promises of the resurrection, does not stop with the era of scriptural history. The point of our Holy Week and Easter worship is to enable each of us to encounter Jesus afresh, both in his sacrifice and in his resurrection, so that we all stand shoulder to shoulder with the disciples, witnesses to these things, able to tell the story of how the resurrected Jesus is moulding our lives.

The holidays may be over, the return to the more mundane round of daily life may loom ahead if it hasn’t got us already. I may have put a plaster of paris model of Christ back in a box and tucked it out of the way. But, if we do the same thing with the living Jesus who has been raised to new life in our midst, if we dare to put him away out of sight and out of mind, then we are not living as those whose sins have encountered the truths of Good Friday and Easter.

There is still an empty cross, and an empty tomb, and Jesus IS still standing in our midst. Easter should have raised up our faith, revived us. His resurrection, is our resurrection, the chance to move forward into new lives, with new focus and a greater desire to understand of our faith, prepared to risk the use of our skills and gifts in new ways. For, as disciples of Christ, WE are the fulfilment of Jesus’ desire for “repentance and forgiveness of sins to be proclaimed in his name, to all nations.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!…. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

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