Being a Companion of Christ – the pain, the purpose and the Passion (Lent Reflections 2019)

I originally prepared the following material for Passiontide 2019 when I was asked to lead Lent Reflections for the wonderful local Mothers’ Union group that has nurtured and encouraged my ministry over many years. The reflections focussed on various items, most of which were in a small bag given to each participant.

Obviously this was a group that met ‘in person’ and could share with each other in their thinking, singing and praying, something which sadly this year isn’t going to be possible for most people in Lent. However, some of the material may be useful to the spiritual context in which we find ourselves currently, so I’m making it available in .pdf formats below. Hopefully all the items you’d need could be made or created from items around your home or could be found when out for daily exercise. They include:

  • hand or body lotion
  • two penny pieces
  • three lengths of (preferably brown) wool or string, knotted at one end
  • pieces of pitta or ordinary bread
  • a feather
  • piece of cloth
  • die (dice)

Some written material in this material is from named sources, unattributed elements are my own original material. If you use any of it, please could you credit the appropriate person, and leave an appropriate comment on this blog post.

I am in the process of preparing some Lent in a Bag materials for distribution in our parishes this Lent 2021, starting with ash mixed with varnish and applied to a nobbly stone/pebble. I will share these materials when they are finished.

The donkey’s tail – as one who was a companion of Christ

This year’s Lenten creativity was prepared for a local Mothers’ Union gathering in which we focused on being companions rather than simply followers of Christ. It included the following, which in response to Matthew 21:1-9 is barely original, but instead inspired, loosely and without honour, on a reflection I found referred to as being of Francis de Sales for Palm Sunday 1622, the more recent poem ‘The Donkey’ by G.K.Chesterton, and Janet Morley’s reflection upon the latter in her 2011 book of poetry for Lent and Easter ‘The Heart’s Time’.

I am a slow ungainly animal, a simple beast of burden,
hardly the appropriate mount for the King,
the one those crowds proclaimed their Saviour.
And yet, he knew this Balaam’s ass
would recognise and carry willingly
the one who came destroying pride,
in his great love and humility.
My girth may travel close by the ground,
and yes, some call me lowly,
but I was not beneath the dignity of
he who came as by his very nature, slave.

The Father’s equal in all things,
his wisdom and his witness ignored
for being as worthless as my braying,
because the mob knew better what his purpose was,
the burden of their expectations being
other than what either of us could offer.
So, we shared together
the inappropriate adulation,
refused to bite, or kick, or shy away
and trod the welcoming path
that parodied the purpose of our shared sacrifice.

It was not me who really bore the weight of obedience
without murmur or excuse,
but he on whose shoulders lay not
the rough-wove cloaks of those who half-understood,
but the guilt of those who
in weakness, pride and anger
would carve for him a fashionable death.
Yet, whilst claiming an equality of shared submission
with he who held the reins of creation,
I ask only that with them I might be forgiven
the ubiquitous sin of stubbornness.

What’s bothering you? John 12:20-33 (Passiontide)

Jesus was troubled.

Right down in the depths of his soul, the humanity of Jesus was troubled.

Mary’s son.
The friend, the brother, the healer, the preacher, the teacher, the comforter;
all that Jesus was – even as Son of God – shrank from the suffering that at this moment in his ministry, suddenly became very, very, real; the climax of all he was on earth to do, that would take his all, his very life.

Does that bother us?

Does it bother us that the divine one got nervous about what he knew was coming; the rigged trial, the torture, the ridicule, the crucifixion – death itself? Or, is it somehow reassuring, to face those grim moments in life when we have to make decisions that are going to cause us hassle, cost us money, lifestyle, time, peace of mind, possibly even make us look like fools for sticking to our Christian principles – is it reassuring that Jesus too was troubled by the price he had to pay for who he was, and who WE are, with HIS life?

Or again, does it make us wonder, what was it that really bothered Jesus at that moment when a bunch of God-fearing Greeks, sought him out for an interview, and his disciples got all uncertain about whether they should let them near him or not?

I wonder what it was that really bothered Jesus?

It may have been the very fact that these God-fearing Greeks were seeking him out at all, signifying that the time was right for him to redeem the whole world, not just his own people, whose leaders would condemn him, lift him up from the earth, crucify him. He had “come unto his own, and his own had received him not”. Now, it was only through being nailed up that those that sought him out – whether Greek or indeed Jew – would not just see, but really encounter and recognise the truth, the fullness, the glory, of who Jesus was.

It may be that what bothered Jesus was the uncertainty with which the disciples, the people who he had taught, led, corrected and explained stuff to for three long years, welcomed the Greeks. Had they still not got it, even now, when the time for all to be completed was so close at hand; when they would need all the teaching and resources of faith in who he was to understand the importance of the terrifying, distressing, amazing, unbelievable events that they were about to witness?! If THEY still didn’t get that, what chance had the rest of the world got of understanding and living out his message of unconditional love for all people, regardless of their ethnicity?!

It could be that what bothered Jesus was whether anyone would take his sacrifice, and the glory that gave to God, seriously enough to follow in his footsteps? Would anyone ever again give God the sort of sovereignty in their lives that he was about to, so that his sacrifice would not be in vain? He was going to be physically broken on the cross, and remade in obedience to his Father’s will, but he may have doubted that anyone who followed him would allow themselves to become as broken, and as remade, for others in God’s name.

It may be, that whilst he’d lived and taught that God’s Kingdom had come with abundant grace and love, he was bothered that those who did follow him hadn’t really understood that this new covenant relationship with God came as a judgement on a human society that was capable of thinking so much of itself that it rebelled against it’s creator to the extent that it could kill him, him who gave them life. Whilst the tyranny of evil WOULD be broken on the cross, Jesus knew that until he comes again, the self-delusion of the power-hungry would still be a force to be reckoned with, against which God would need to strengthen us in the spiritual realms.

Yes, it was probably all those things that troubled and bothered Jesus as he prepared for his death, alongside the very human reaction of shrinking from the physical agony of torture and crucifixion; but do those things bother us today?

Does it bother us, that there are those who come looking for Jesus, but don’t really get to see him for who he really is? Who need perhaps a little encouragement to pray and seek God among the pain life has dealt them; who are concerned that church is just for people with too much time on their hands; or think that faith in Jesus is just some spiritual crutch they don’t need to motivate them to help others? Do we know people, who with a little encouragement from OUR friends, WE can be brave enough to draw into the presence of Jesus this Holy Week?

Does it bother us, that whilst Jesus lived and died a message of unconditional love, we’re still enveloped in a world that at best stifles love for our neighbours, and at worst seeks to cut them off from riches not just of the world’s resources, but from our own God-given capacity for love? God’s desire for reconciliation with and among all people, lifted his son up on the cross. So will we respond not just by reaching out to those we see and know with a helping hand, but by making sure that EVERY cross we might be asked to make in the next few weeks fulfils that same message of love and reconciliation?

Perhaps it bother us, that whilst we’re eager to encounter the risen, glorified Christ of Easter morning, actually we still feel like slightly trampled grains of wheat who haven’t yet found the purposeful growth that comes with putting down strong roots into the soil of following Jesus through Holy Week? How much would it cost us in time and effort to be open to Jesus’ presence this Passiontide?

And finally, does it bother us that each time we make a judgement on the actions of another, we’re forgetting to recognise that in doing so we’re falling into the trap of seeking to place ourselves on an equal footing with God, rather than at the foot of cross?

What troubled and bothered Jesus most, was that his thoughts, words and actions should glorify God, point to his love for all people, lead them into a new relationship with him, reconcile one group of people with another, and encourage all to follow him and grow in humility.

The question is, if we say we’re following Jesus, and seeking, like him, to glorify God in our lives, are those things bothering us?

An Hour at the Cross – some of ‘The Things He Carried’

In order to understand the cross you need to stand under it… with the imagination as well as the mind. With the heart as well as the head. (Right Revd Stephen Cottrell)

The dais as we closed our 'Hour at the Cross' (the tomb was actually left from the 'All Age' service in the morning)

I have been hugely encouraged by the quantity and type of feedback that I got about the ‘Hour at the Cross’ that I put together and led on Good Friday. I’ve had several phonecalls and comments through Easter Week, been stopped in Waitrose, and had a text message which described it as “a powerful service and most definitely divinely inspired.”

It was not a service that I’d ever attended here at St. Peter’s Yateley – we’ve tended to go ‘All Age’ in the morning up till now. But it was a challenge I actually asked for, as I particularly like putting together liturgy that takes people on a challenging journey – and you can’t really get a more challenging journey that being at the foot of the cross on Good Friday.

Crown of Thorns - made by my Father from bramble and Burberis

I focussed on John 19 and used all sorts of resources including: selected bits of Common Worship ‘Times and Seasons’ Liturgy for Good Friday, other prayers adapted from Celtic Daily Prayer from the Northumbria Community, and two unaccompanied Taize songs. But the most important resources was a book I’d bought earlier in Lent: ‘The Things He Carried’ by Right Revd Stephen Cottrell.

I found Bishop Stephen’s form of reflective writing very moving, and inspirational. His ideas for group work (the book can be used as a Lent Group or Home Group resource as well as for personal devotion) included having something to hold, and I was able to adapt and create similar ideas – Gorse for the Crown of Thorns and blood soaked (inked) bandages for people to take up as they knelt at the cross at the close of the service. I didn’t have a formal sermon – the whole thing was more of a thought journey: which is one of the things that people seem to have really appreciated.

"Blood" soaked bandages (permanent red ink, flicked from a cartridge)

I’m a great believer in sharing worship ideas that have really worked, and this (contrary to some people’s expectation) was not off-the-peg, but as my friend texted, divinely inspired. Creating, and delivering it (helped by a number of people reading, and my husband doing the prayers), were spiritual experiences in themselves for me – and also contributed to answering some doubts I’d had about my own journey of faith and ministry.

Hold a Gorse twig and ask yourself "What do you do that causes Jesus to suffer?"

If you’re interested in what it might look like and want to use this service, please feel free to download it but please also tell me honestly what you think: Hour at the Cross – Good Friday 2011 (The document is full of hyperlinks for you to access the resources or order books and the service lasted an hour exactly – though a significant number of people stayed at the cross for some while after.)

The service concludes with the following prayer, which is the one that Bishop Stephen concludes his book with. It has been suggested to me that this might be useful in some pastoral situations.

Loving God
your Son Jesus Christ carried us to the cross,
shed his blood for us
and brought us into a new community with you:

help us to follow in his way,
deny ourselves and take up the cross he give us,
that the world may learn his way of peace;

may his life and his purposes be alive in us this day,
and may we be alive in him;

and when our hearts are broken,
and when the burdens of this life feel too great to bear,
take us to the cross,
and enable us to see there
the great weight that Jesus carried;
for here we receive the affirmation of your love,
the assurance of your promise,
and the strength to persevere.

For we ask it in his name.

I am indebted to Bishop Stephen for his permission to use his work in this way, and to blog about it. The photo’s in this post were taken by my husband.

Thoughts on being crucified

'Lift High the Cross' Yateley 10th April 2011

My son was crucified as a thief next to Jesus last Sunday (Passion Sunday). In the heat of an unusually warm spring day. ‘Lift High the Cross’ was the idea of our retired priest; an open air passion play that involved all the local churches.

C is 14, and was recently Confirmed. I wondered if the experience would have any impact on him – emotionally, or spiritually. So I asked if he’d write a bit for this blog, and let me post it with a picture. He’s a great lad, and agreed fairly willingly 🙂 This is what he said:


To be honest it didn’t really feel like much of anything. The shouting was acting, the screaming was just acting, everything was simply acting.

Carrying the cross hurt a lot, being strung up on it for 20 minutes hurt even more, and getting my legs ‘broken’ so that I could be stretchered of was a relief, but he rest was bland. No emotion.

I don’t think you actually can get anywhere near the emotion that they would of had that day, with out doing it completely really, nails and blood and whipping and all. But unfortunately I don’t think health and safety would like that very much.

My husband (who also took the photo) was in the crowd and his thoughts are here. My thoughts are different again, and will follow shortly.

Finishing a familiar story – or is it just a beginning?

Leeds Resurrection by Simon Smith

Back during Holy Week, I posted “I’ve gotta go” the first of a trilogy of interpretations of the Holy Week story, written by my husband.

Although not quite to time, he did complete them, and I post all three here for you to read and think about.

“I’ve gotta go” I’ve gotta go 2010-04-01 (Good Friday)

“The morning after” The morning after 2010-04-03 (Holy Saturday)

“Your faith is in vainYour faith is in vain 2010-04-15 (Easter)

Anyone connected with CPAS or regular readers of the Church Times may spot that they (and particularly the third story) has been inspired by the artwork created by Simon Smith. Someone else I know was commissioned by CPAS to create reflections on them, but following from our Storytelling retreat with Sarah Rundle in March, G was really inspired and Holy Week gave him the space to use his creativity. If he didn’t teach, I’m sure he’d write stories…

Perhaps you could encourage him to share my blog and have some pages of his own!?

I’ve gotta go

We were a tight team. We’d been working for about three years or so, going round, place to place, you know? Josh had this idea about making life better – mad altruism we thought. But it caught on and people started to buy it.

I’m jumping ahead of myself.

Josh head hunted me. I was working for my Dad in the chippy, and he walks in. I thought he wanted something special, the way he looked at me, so I was just about to ask Jim to batter a pineapple ring, when he just shakes his head, and says something. Can’t remember what it was, but Jim must have heard it too, because he gives Dad the nod, puts down his apron and follows me out the door. Never looked back, not once.

We ended up being thirteen with Josh…

That is the beginning of a story my husband has written this week – different, but familiar. I really like it, but I’m a little biased! And it’s not finished yet but you can read as far as he’s got here: Ive gotta go 20100401 (1)

Would love to know what you think?

Have we understood enough to tell the truth?

Tomorrow I am leading our mid-week service of Morning Prayer, for which the lectionary Gospel is Luke 22:54-end – Peter’s denial of Christ in the courtyard and Christ’s appearance before the elders. I haven’t been able to give as much time as I would like to producing a ‘sermon’ so the following is more by way of a reflection, in which you are welcome to share:

Then seizing Jesus, the temple guards and elders led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them.
Big brave Peter, he may have been the only one who dared to stay within sight of Jesus for this long. He kept his distance till the crowd who had arrested Jesus settled in the courtyard, and then he crept in to sit among them. Where are the rest of Jesus’ friends, Peter’s friends, those other disciples?
Peter is getting a taste of what it means to take risks for Jesus. He has told Jesus that he would go with him to prison and even to death (22:33) and it seems like he’s trying to carry out his promise – even if a little half-heartedly. Perhaps he thinks by being there physically he can in some way offer company or strength to his Master in this horrible situation.
And yet, Peter can’t seem to be there and remain inconspicuous. Perhaps its the way he looked or the way he was dressed (possibly still covered by the dirt of the road from Galilee). Perhaps it was his accent – like we’d recognise a Scouser or even a even a ‘ampshire ‘og like me! More likely there were just so many people who had been watching Jesus, seeing what would happen next, especially if they worked in or around the temple and religious authorities, that Peter’s face is known as one who is often at Jesus’ side.
I wonder, have we been recognised? Have we been spotted among the crowds for who we are – a follower of Jesus? What does it feel like?

“Woman, I don’t know him,”…
“I am not one of them!”
“Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Big brave Peter… does his nerve fail? The man who will be the rock on which the church is built, crumbling.

He was possibly just trying to stick it out near to Jesus for as long as he could – without risking too much! I wonder why? Is it really for Jesus’ sake that he’s there, or for his own? Is he needing to cling to the presence of Jesus in the hope of understanding the truth of what his friend has been saying? Perhaps Peter is hoping for some further revelation of what Jesus has been talking about, or to witness another miracle, something that he can boast to the others he was there to see?

Yet, he can’t turn his actions into words. We’re all used to the saying “actions speak louder than words” but in Peter’s case, it’s not true is it! His words actually speak far louder than his actions – and they are the wrong words! They are lies that show he doesn’t understand the truth. Peter breaks his word to Jesus, denies his relationship with Jesus in front of other people, and in doing so, denies that relationship before God.
How much do we cling to Jesus’ presence in such a way that we fail to proclaim the truth of our relationship with him to the wider world?
Just as Peter was speaking, the rooster crowed, and the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.
Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.”
And he went outside and wept bitterly.

Big brave Peter. It wasn’t fear that drove him from the courtyard – it was failure and shame, and the knowledge that Jesus knew about it. Because of course, Jesus was there.
Somewhere in the courtyard, among all that was happening to him, Jesus was aware of Peter.  He would have understood the sort of pressure that Peter had put himself under by being there. Even though he may not have been able to hear what was being said, Jesus would probably have recognised Peter’s voice, and tone of Peter’s third exclamation!… And, if Peter could hear the cock crow, so could Jesus; Peter wasn’t the only one who remembered Jesus’ prophesy of a few hours before!
Do we need to wonder what Jesus tried to convey in that look he gave Peter?
  • I know you’ve denied me like I said you would, but remember my other words from earlier tonight, because in them lies my task for you:  “When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

  • I understand how much your own failure hurts you, but it hurts me too, because it means you still don’t really get what I’m doing here, and what I expect of you.

  • Let that be a lesson to you young man, that you will never forget! You must not forget it, because it is a lesson you will need to teach others in the weeks to come.

  • I know you’ve failed me, but I still love you.

Jesus’ cared for Peter in that moment of Peter’s failure, because he loved him; and he needed him to live with the failure long enough to understand it, and then receive the forgiveness that would come and reveal the whole truth about Jesus, so that he, Peter, could explain it’s importance to others.

However close we’re sitting to Jesus, do we really understand how much he is aware of each one of us? Do we know how much he cares, and understands? Do we know how much he expects of us, the task which we have been given?

Jesus is led before the council. “If you are the Christ,” they say, “tell us.”
Jesus answers them with these words:
“From now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”
So they exclaimed “Then you are the Son of God!”
And Jesus replies “You are right in saying that I am.”

Big brave Peter… isn’t there now!

But we still see and hear what Jesus had to suffer. We still know that Jesus doesn’t have to tell the authorities who he is, because he makes them work it out for themselves.

They know they are making him suffer, and they are probably enjoying their success – after all they’ve been trying long enough to get him to say enough to incriminate himself. But in doing so, they actually succeed in being the ones who proclaim Jesus for who he is, as well as being the means by which his place as God’s Son is to be fully realised. And the irony isn’t lost on Jesus!

All of Jesus’ ministry; his words and actions, his parables and miracles, the time spent sat on hillsides patiently teaching, are not going to be enough for those who need him most to really understand. Even when his enemies appear to hit the nail on the head, they don’t understand its significance for them – they just gleefully celebrate the fact that he’s finally given them the means by which to get rid of him. They don’t realise that theirs will be the final act that enables Jesus to reveal to the world who he really is.

Have you ever wondered how, even with Peter no longer there to witness what is happening, we know what happened and what was said? Someone was there who, perhaps later, replayed the scene in their mind,  heard again the words, saw their significance with what was to happen next, and finally understood enough to tell the truth.
Would it have been us?