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Intercessions for Second Sunday of Easter Year A: 27 April 2014

doubt

The Collect

Almighty Father, you have given your only Son to die for our sins and to rise again for our justification: grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness that we may always serve you in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

¶ The Liturgy of the Word

First Reading: Acts 2.14a,22-32

On the day of Pentecost, Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: ‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know – this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him,
“I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover, my flesh will live in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.” ‘Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, “He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.” This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.’

Psalm 16

Refrain: The Lord is at my right hand; I shall not fall.

Preserve me, O God, for in you have I taken refuge; *I have said to the Lord, ‘You are my lord, all my good depends on you.’
All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land, * upon those who are noble in heart.
Though the idols are legion that many run after, * their drink offerings of blood I will not offer,  neither make mention of their names upon my lips.
The Lord himself is my portion and my cup; * in your hands alone is my fortune.
My share has fallen in a fair land; *indeed, I have a goodly heritage.R
I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel, *and in the night watches he instructs my heart. I have set the Lord always before me; *he is at my right hand; I shall not fall.
Wherefore my heart is glad and my spirit rejoices; * my flesh also shall rest secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Death, * nor suffer your faithful one to see the Pit.
You will show me the path of life; in your presence is the fullness of joy * and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

Refrain: The Lord is at my right hand; I shall not fall.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1.3-9

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

Gospel Reading: John 20.19-31

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 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. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.


Poor Doubting Thomas! We have all surely been in his position at some time or another, hence the modern illustration. What lies behind this incredulity? Well, perhaps fear of the unknown, or even fear of being thought gullible – a resurrected Jesus breaks all the laws of physics known to everyman. Not that he doesn’t want to believe the evidence of his own eyes, he does. The RSCM says:

The Holy Spirit may be self-effacing (pointing always to the work of the Father and the Son) but is not well-mannered. The Spirit that moved over the waters at the creation, that overshadowed Mary, has an earthy reality, a buoyant insistence and a dynamic peace that is more than mere absence of conflict. The Spirit blows to clear a space in which Thomas can wrestle with his doubts, and wrestles with him.

Prayers of Intercession

Give to us, Lord Christ, the fullness of grace, your presence and your very self, for you are our portion and our delight, now and for ever. Alleluia, alleluia. or
I am the first and the last, says the Lord, and the living one; I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore.  Alleluia.

¶The Church of Christ

Lord, we pray for the body of Christ that is your Church. In this life, we can see the light of your kingdom only through the prism of our understanding: truly we have made you in our own image, but we can do no other. We have created a Tower of Babel in which at times we seem to be talking a completely different language from our fellow believers. Help us all to understand that our vision of you is imperfect but that, through faith, we can make the same leap as did Thomas through trusting in you until we pass through the door to your kingdom that is death.

Lord, we believe, help our unbelief: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶Creation, human society, the Sovereign and those in authority

Lord, help us to understand that faith is not the same as certainty. We ask you to stimulate discussion and exploration in all areas of our national life, acknowledging that this will open us up to uncertainty and doubt. Then, trusting in your faithfulness, may we keep looking forward. We do not ask for a light that we may tread safely into the unknown; rather may we step out into the darkness, putting our hands into yours, knowing that will be better than light, and safer than a known way.

Lord, we believe, help our unbelief: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶The local community

Lord of the living, help us to unite our community on the goal of our journey, that through our day to day dealings with each other, we may serve you as you deserve. May we bear any perceived slights for your sake, and through the breath of your Spirit, help us to understand each other and interpret each other’s actions in the most charitable possible light. And may we delight in those moments of fellow feeling which bring us such joy.

Lord, we believe, help  our unbelief: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶Those who suffer

Lord, our refuge and our strength, preserve us from lasting harm. In the silence of the darkest of hours, we open our ears to the whisper of your voice. As we tremble on the narrowest of paths, the steadying of your hand gives us courage. Again and again we affirm, in times both of doubt and of trust, You are our faithful Creator, in you alone is our bliss.*

Lord, we believe, help  our unbelief: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶The communion of saints

Lord, we thank you for all those people whose lives give you glory. We thank you for all those people through whose lives we have been helped by your Holy Spirit at work. And we thank you for the promise that you will not give us over to the power of death, or let your faithful ones see the pit, but embrace us into union with you and the pioneer of our salvation, Jesus Christ.

Lord, we believe, help  our unbelief: in your mercy, hear our prayer

*This prayer is based on the words of Jim Cotter, whose death has just been announced. I never met him, but drew inspiration from his writing. Here is a tribute to him by Kevin Holdsworth, Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow.

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above): John 20.19-31 © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton Some material included in this service is copyright: © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ, USA Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000 Collect (2nd of Easter) © The Crown/Cambridge University Press: The Book of Common Prayer (1662)

Easter Sunday: A World Electric With The Presence Of God – Jane Williams

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The Gospel accounts of the risen Jesus suggest that when people encounter him they do not immediately know him. On the whole, they are not terrified…they recognise what is in front of them as a living human being, but not a familiar one. Even the people closest to him need help to connect the risen Jesus with the man they loved. In today’s reading from John’s gospel, you can, if you like, think of all kinds of reasons why Mary does not immediately see who Jesus is as he stands beside her in the garden….the simple explanation must be the true one – that real life is something we are poorly equipped to understand. So Jesus gives Mary the gift of sight, the gift of being able to connect the new life with the old. He says her name, and makes a bridge for her to see who he is, in all his extraordinary life.

By ourselves we do not have the power to see or understand God’s vitality. By ourselves, we plod on, trying to be satisfied with the poor imitation that we call ‘life’, which is all about separation and death. But Jesus gives the gift of connection to the only true life, the life of the creator, which is about unity and sharing in the utterly real life of God…life is not ‘natural’ to us, but is a gift, reflecting the giver. Jeremiah puts into God’s mouth the words ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you’ (v.3), and that is the heart of it.

…But for the moment we must be content with the sudden and fleeting reminders of God’s eternal life that are available to us day by day. We have always before us the vision of the risen Christ, which helps us to recognise God’s life where we see it. We have his voice, calling us by name so that, like Mary, we suddenly look up and see the Lord of life, standing beside us.

And then, like Mary, we have to turn back to a world, utterly changed, yet devastatingly the same. We know this world now to be electric with the presence of god; we know our own lives now to be zinging with the resurrection life, and yet all of this is tantalisingly ‘hidden with Christ in God’ (Colossians 3.3).

We are not called to cling to the presence of the risen Christ. Instead, like Mary, we are sent to shout out what we have seen We are God’s spies, now, searching for evidence of him in the robes of the gardener, listening for the familiar sound of the beloved voice of the Lord in the unrecognised strangers around us, helping to build the bridges of love that will enable others, too, to hear Jesus’s voice and recognise the vast, free, unchanging, faithful love of God.


This is an extract from my favourite readings on the lectionary, by Jane Williams. (pages 58-59)

Alleluia, he is risen!

He is risen indeed!

A very happy Easter to you all!

‘A crust of bread’ by Chris Fewings

Supper at Emmaus, Caravaggio, 1606

Supper at Emmaus, Caravaggio, 1606 (now in Milan)

Food

I left you a crust of bread for lunch on Friday.
You might not feel hungry when someone has just died.
Celebrate on Sunday, when the daffodils are out.
I’ve pressed olives for you, trodden out grapes.

 

The Cross, The Crucifix, And The Tree Of Life

 

 

Hamilton Reed Armstrong  Sculptor http://agdei.com/Reedart.html

Hamilton Reed Armstrong Sculptor http://agdei.com/Reedart.html

‘Processional cross depicting Our Lord at the center of the vine which depends on Him for life.’

I am the vine, you are the branches (John 15:5)

 

In the dim morning light

A simple brass cross stands on the altar,

Flanked by the minimum two candles,

In this otherwise austere Norman church.

 

The congregation slowly assembles.

The lights go up ready for the ‘performance’,

Transmuting the base metal into glistening gold.

 

In a trick of the light the flat surface of the cross

Becomes a bas relief of Our Lord, a crucifix.

This happens most weeks,

Nothing unusual.

Forcing your eyes to focus can make it disappear.

 

I look away, talk to a friend.

When I return, the cross is transformed once again,

This time to become a living thing -

Cross and vine and tree and Saviour

All indissolubly intertwined,

With arms as branches, torso as trunk,

And ripe grapes fruiting extravagantly.

 

Shocked at this hallucination, I blink and rub my eyes.

I invoke the minor gods of normalcy and routine

(We have reached the second hymn)

But they refuse to answer my call.

The Arcimboldo crucifix is apparently a reality, at least to me.

 

Later, I walk up to the aisle to test my eyesight.

The image remains intact until I reach the communion rail.

A month goes by, but the impact does not fade.

My conscious mind can neither absorb it, nor dismiss it.

At the moment of his death, the cosmic Green Man breaks

The laws of physics to become Dionysus?

 

I try to recreate the moment

But of course it will not happen again -

That door is closed for now.

Gradually the image becomes part of me

(But demands I attempt to share it).

 

Good Friday and Easter Day are one to the Lord of life?

The Man with the Hammer: A Reflection for Holy Week by Dr Wendy Dackson

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[Jesus'] enemies were not the notorious sinners whom society casts out…it was not the gross sins such as shock respectable people which sent Jesus to the Cross: it was the respectable sins which are in the hearts of all of us.

(William Temple, ‘Palm Sunday to Easter’, pp. 15-16)

I think we all benefit from at least one blood-curdling liturgical moment in our lives. We are particularly blessed if that moment falls during one of the major liturgies of Holy Week.  It is even better if it is something that could not be scripted, planned, or rehearsed.  Finally, it may have the most profound impact if it is a moment that strikes the individual, but goes unremarked by others.

My moment was on Maundy Thursday of 1996, at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in River Hills, an upmarket  north suburb of Milwaukee.  We had completed our elegantly austere agape meal, observed our orderly liturgy of redundant foot-washing (of course, nobody arrives at these things un-pedicured), and duly observed the Holy Eucharist.  At this point, clergy and lay assistants, under the ever-watchful eyes of the Altar Guild, began to strip the altar bare for the prayer vigil that would occur between Thursday evening and the beginning of the Good Friday liturgy.  During this, the congregation recited the 22nd Psalm, as bit by bit, the sanctuary became darker and more sinister.

Notably absent from the congregation was the critical mass of adolescent members of St. Christopher’s.  They had a different job—to assemble the wooden cross that would be a prominent feature of the following day’s dramatization of the crucifixion. It was something that needed to be done, and giving the task to the young people was seen as a way of involving them in the work of the church. As we read aloud the psalmist’s words of agony and despair, I heard hammers striking wood and metal as the youth of the parish undertook their work.

I also heard laughter.

Laughter is a fine thing in the workplace—it both helps people bond over their common purpose, and at the same time demonstrates that they are indeed bonding.  It helps relieve tedium, releases creativity, reduces stress, and makes people want to go to work.  Whole corporate cultures are being built around making workplaces enjoyable.

But there is something chilling about young people laughing while they are nailing together an instrument of torture and death, as the congregation pretends to ignore the laughter while piously reciting the great psalm of the crucifixion.

I never want to forget this.  It is the essence of Good Friday for me.  It is the heart of what the Crucifixion means.  We, each of us individually, and all of us together, are the ‘man with the hammer’.  As the quote from Archbishop Temple, with which I opened this reflection, indicates, it is not the ‘big’ sins,  not the conscious sins, not the ones that make ‘respectable’ people turn away in shock and horror, that actually brought Jesus to Calvary.  It’s nice, in an individualist society, to think that what I personally and by-myself did, was why Jesus died.  Individual sin leads to individual salvation—that’s the key to a lot of evangelical preaching and proselytizing, like the Buffalo City Mission’s Easter address tells us:

Let me be clear—I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, fully human and fully divine.  And if Jesus died for my sin, in my place, that sin has to be cosmically damaging enough to warrant the death of the Son of God who is himself God.  And nothing I could do by myself is that damaging.  So, I don’t buy the kinds of petty, individual sins that are being confessed in the Buffalo City Mission video.  An extramarital affair, excess drinking, boosting a sports drink from the local convenience store—they’re not innocent, they’re damaging to others, but that is not anything close to enough to send the Son of God to a painful, shameful, violent death.

It’s bigger than that. It’s the stuff we can’t see about ourselves, how we are a part of larger, more damaging systems, sometimes beyond our control, that are our really damaging sins.  It’s the “just following orders”, so often cited by those obeying the commands of those higher up the economic and political food chain, that is really damaging.  And sometimes, we do not have a choice in whether we commit heinous sins or not.

Over the summer, I read Oliver Pӧtzsch’s Hangman’s Daughter series.  As fiction, they are a bit silly, but Pӧtzsch’s research was interesting.  He himself was the descendant of a hangman’s family in Bavaria.  Pӧtzsch explained how the torturer/executioner was an ambiguous member of society.  His work was seen as necessary to social order, and thus well compensated.  But it was also ‘dishonorable’, because the essence of the work was to cause and prolong suffering, and to take human life.  As a result, the hangman’s children could not be baptized, could not marry into an ‘honorable’ family or pursue an ‘honorable’ occupation.  They were subject to verbal and sometimes physical abuse by the ‘respectable’ people. Yet, because of their knowledge of human anatomy, herbal remedies (they had to keep people alive through the course of torture), they were also often sought, under cover of night, as healers, often more trusted than ‘real’ physicians.  So, although marginalized, they also benefited at some level from their marginalization.

I don’t know what it was like for an executioner in Roman-dominated Palestine at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.  But it is entirely possible that the man standing on the hill did not have a choice in his occupation, could not refuse to execute whoever was sent to him.  The character of the actual person who drove the nails into Jesus’ hands is so repugnant to us that none of the Gospels acknowledge him as a person—we only guess that he must have existed because a crucifixion could not occur without him.

It’s hubris to think that any one of our petty, individual sins is enough to warrant the death of God’s Son who is himself God.  But whether or not we are the one who ultimately drives the nails, we are all part of systems that pierce the heart of the One who was, and is, and is to come.

The man who shed the blood of Jesus was also the first (literally) to be washed by that blood.  But it is a shower that stains as much as cleanses.  And we are the man with the hammer.

 

Good Friday

I am
The man
Who stands
On the hill
With the nails in his hands.
And I watch
And wait
For another

Because I must

Take the nails

From my hands

And put them into his.

—Wendy Dackson

 

Easter at Christmas: A Thought for Holy Week by Taylor Carey

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The last time I heard Easter proclaimed triumphantly from the pulpit was actually on 25th December. Priests, you see, are exhausted for most of Advent, and leading the Christmas Day service is a bit like finishing a marathon. To add insult to injury, they’ve already had to address a congregation of boozed-up irregulars at midnight mass, in which the stench of alcohol threatens to overpower the incense. So, that Christmas morning, our poor priest hauled himself into the pulpit one last time, and gave a great cry: “Alleluia, Christ is Risen! Happy Easter!”

Of course, plenty of people had already stopped listening by this point, and so didn’t notice. They were probably thinking about their turkey, or the potential for their child to explode into a violent temper tantrum and demand presents. Some people, like the Churchwardens, grimaced (though perhaps this is the perennial vocation of Churchwardens), whilst others chuckled faintly. But, maybe because I’m an infuriatingly pious toad, I began to wonder if our unfortunate clergyman had a point.

I once read an interview with an Abbot, who said quite simply that Easter was the only thing Christianity had to offer today’s world. He didn’t mean the annual celebration, so much as what Christians take Easter to mean. If the celebration of the Incarnation at Christmas invites us to ponder the self-giving, endlessly generative potential of that which we call God, then Easter offers Christians a way into an encounter with what that God is like. To put it into the sharp formulation of a famous work of theology, God is absolutely Christlike, and it is thus through the suffering of Christ, nailed to a tree, that we catch a glimpse of God’s nature.

Christ rises from the tomb, because nothing can hold Him back. Such is His perfect response to the endlessly creative God; his total communion with the loving Father. Various strands of philosophy and theology have found the fleshly realities of Easter somewhat disconcerting, to say the least. Remember the twin influence of Hebrew and Greek thought, so deeply woven into the Christian consciousness. Jewish eschatology pointed towards a ‘last day’ on which the dead would be raised (hence Martha’s ironic misunderstanding of Jesus at Bethany, in John’s Gospel), but, for Judaism, life after death, in Sheol, was quite literally a ‘shadowy’ affair. Of course, the Sadducees, Hellenised as they were, thought life after death to be a plainly ridiculous idea. Christianity has been marred by a history of dualism, too; everyone from Christian Platonists to Puritans has, at some stage, slipped into a crude distinction between soul and body.

But here’s the point that I think our hapless priest might just have distilled. God’s relationship with us arises through the material reality of our universe. Creation is a relationship, not a process, and what the Church witnesses to is the consistency of God in that relationship. A witness to this consistency must involve historical memory – the Church actually living out the possibilities of Christian humanity.

How do we know what these possibilities are? Well, they are laid before us most completely in the self-giving of Jesus Christ upon the Cross. It is Christ’s action which provides the basic focus of unity in all Christian language and discourse, and this to which we must return in thinking about growth in our lives of faith – and indeed the social, communal and political possibilities of the world.

Christians believe, then, that there is nothing which the outstretched arms of Christ cannot touch. Here is the essence of what Christianity has to offer. Easter is, in this sense, all we have to give the world; after all, what could possibly be more fundamental? At Easter, we know what that God, who survived a precarious birth in the slums of Bethlehem, is actually like. We are given afresh the possibilities of humanity, even amidst the most tragic realities of a compromised world; a world of suffering; a world that can see the unconditional love of God as a threat to be destroyed.

So, Happy Easter indeed. Given our brief reflections here, perhaps we ought to follow the example of that priest, and say it more often.

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This reflection was originally broadcast as a thought for the day on ‘Marx My Word a Philosophy discussion programme on St Andrews Radio.

Taylor Carey

Intercessions for Easter Day Year A: 20 April 2014

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The Collect

Lord of all life and power, who through the mighty resurrection of your Son overcame the old order of sin and death to make all things new in him: grant that we, being dead to sin and alive to you in  Jesus Christ, may reign with him in glory; to whom with you and the Holy Spirit be praise and honour, glory and might, now and in all eternity.  Amen.

 

¶ The Liturgy of the Word

First Reading: Acts 10.34-43

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

Psalm 118.1-2,14-24

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *his mercy endures for ever.
Let Israel now proclaim, *‘His mercy endures for ever.’
The Lord is my strength and my song, * and he has become my salvation.
Joyful shouts of salvation * sound from the tents of the righteous:
‘The right hand of the Lord does mighty deeds; the right hand of the Lord raises up; * the right hand of the Lord does mighty deeds.’
I shall not die, but live * and declare the works of the Lord.
The Lord has punished me sorely, * but he has not given me over to death.
Open to me the gates of righteousness, * that I may enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord; * the righteous shall enter through it.
I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me * and have become my salvation.
The stone which the builders rejected * has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing, * and it is marvellous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made; * we will rejoice and be glad in it.

Second Reading: Colossians 3.1-4

Since you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

 

Gospel Reading: John 20.1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.“’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.


The RSCM said this about Easter Day Year A in 2008:

Not everyone will feel able to say and sing ‘Alleluia’ on Easter Day. Apart from those who do not know that it is Easter, there will be others whose life circumstances make this season less than celebratory. But there is room for them in the Easter story. For some considerable time the disciples knew only the confusion and contradiction of an empty tomb. Where was Jesus? Perhaps ministering to someone unnamed, unknown. Speculation? Yes, but entirely consistent with his availability to the multitudes throughout his earthly life.

Prayers of Intercession

I am the first and the last, says the Lord, and the living one;
I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore. Alleluia!

¶The Church of Christ

Lord, help us, members of the body of Christ:  in this life we are like the dwellers in a cave whose idea of reality is based only on shadows of your kingdom. So often we waste our energies in arguing about the shape of the shadows. Enable us rather, as we remember the day your Son escaped from the tomb to a new reality, to look outwards from ourselves and focus instead on the originals, flaming out with your grandeur like shining from shook foil, so that we may understand your love with a new clarity.

Lord, free us from the prisons of our own making to join in the dance of the heavens: in your mercy, hear our prayer.

¶Creation, human society, the Sovereign and those in authority

Let us give thanks for the goodness of God, that we may dance together, friends and enemies; and that gratitude may dwell in the heart of every human being. Lord, you dwell in the seed of the smallest flower, and are not cramped. You dwell in the vast expanse of the universe and fill it all and beyond.  In the dangers we face you are with us; you came as one of us and set us free.  You have warmed our bitterness to compassion and channelled our anger for justice. We were pressed so hard we almost fell, but your power surged through our arms, you are our strength and our song.

Lord, free us from the prisons of our own making to join in the dance of the heavens: in your mercy, hear our prayer.

¶The local community

Lord, we pray for the communities we belong to, and give thanks for the pleasure of human contact and friendship, each linking us to one another in a great circle of warmth and compassion. We pray for all those who feel unable to join in this chain, and have a sense of being lonely and excluded. Lord of all people, roll away the stones that keep us apart, and let your love draw us closer together as we draw closer to you.

Lord, free us from the prisons of our own making to join in the dance of the heavens: in your mercy, hear our prayer.

¶Those who suffer

Lord, we give thanks for your mercies and your assurances that no one shall die and be forgotten, not one of us is lost. If even the hairs of our heads are numbered, who can doubt your compassion? We bring before you today all those who feel themselves unequal to the struggles of life, those who are weary or bewildered, and those who are in physical pain which seems never to leave them in peace.

Lord, free us from the prisons of our own making to join in the dance of the heavens: in your mercy, hear our prayer.

¶The communion of saints

Lord, blessed are those who have journeyed in your name, guided by your light along their paths. Now they have joined the everlasting throng in your kingdom for we are Easter people. May they rest in peace and rise in glory. Give us grace to follow in their footsteps, as they followed in the footsteps of your son. Keep alive their memory in us and grant that every remembrance which turns our hearts from things seen to things unseen may lead us always upwards to you, till we come to our own eternal rest.

Lord, free us from the prisons of our own making to join in the dance of the heavens: in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Copyright acknowledgement: Colossians 3.1-4 © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton. Some material included in this service is copyright: © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ, USA. Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000

‘Consumer’ Feedback On ‘The Pilgrim Course’

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Lay Anglicana first wrote about the Pilgrim Course on publication, last October. The Revd Peter Crumpler kindly – and sportingly – gave us his first reactions before he had had a chance to try it out on any potential students or disciples. If you have not yet looked at Pilgrim or used it yourself, you may like to read his post before continuing with the attempt below at a further description in the light of practical experience in a group. The Pilgrim Course also has its own website, with new resources being added to it constantly.

We have just used Pilgrim as our benefice Lent course. Between 15 and 30 people attended the sessions each week, including two people previously unknown to any of us from another part of the deanery, attracted by the publicity in The Church Times and elsewhere.

Of the parts that have been published, we decided that ‘Turning to Christ’ was not appropriate in view of our audience – seasoned Christians one and all – and that we would begin with the second course on The Lord’s Prayer.

Sowing and Reaping

The Leader’s Guide explains the thinking behind the course, and confirms the first impression that this is to be a course for a generation.

Capture

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? The course is explained in terms of the church year, as well as the calendar year (unless you happen to live at the equator). A cycle of sowing and reaping, and sowing and reaping in a virtuous circle envisages the gentle evangelisation of the unchurched or formerly churched, followed by fellowship and discipleship, followed by a further round of ‘sowing’.

Publishing cycle

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? In the long run, a community can decide whether it wants to begin with the follow stage or the grow stage. Different Christian groups will choose different paths. For example, a community where there is experience of drawing new people in, and a will to do so, might want to begin with ‘sowing’. Another group, perhaps from a smaller rural community where the congregation consists of the old reliables with little fresh blood coming in, might  choose to concentrate on growing or ‘reaping’ their existing members, in the hope that they might then turn to sowing.

However, at present there is no such consideration as only the first two in the follow stage have been published. It is obvious that one sows before one reaps, but less obvious that the egg comes before the chicken. I see the temptation to begin with the follow stage, and then (some 18 months later) publish the grow booklets. But I suggest it might have been better to publish first the second stage, so that existing groups could be led into the next stage. The problem will cease to be a problem in 2015, of course, when the last booklets are published. Meanwhile, in the session that I led I did tweak the readings (shortening the discussions on the Prodigal Son, and adding some thoughts of Corrie Ten Boom to make the session a little more complex). I was encouraged in this by whoever tweets on behalf of Pilgrim, who reassured me that it is essential to tailor the sessions to those attending. I worried that punitive lightning might strike, appalled at my temerity, but in fact the session went quite well and the heavens took it in good grace.

 

Overall impression

There was considerable enthusiasm about the course (in a restrained, Anglican sort of way). The mixture of bible reading, discussion, and audio and video clips, ensured that the sessions remained lively. I would very much like to hear from anyone who has used it to ‘sow’, in other words with seekers or new Christians.

The choice of which Lent course to use has been made for us for many years to come.

Chopsticks In Heaven And In Hell

Photograph by  alamodestuff (Flickr.com)

Photograph by alamodestuff (Flickr.com)

“A great warrior who had lived with honour and truthfulness died and was greeted by a gatekeeper of Heaven, who was to be his guide.

He was taken at once to a gigantic banqueting hall and saw that everyone sat at long tables laden with the finest food imaginable. The most peculiar aspect of the feast was the chopsticks. These were five feet long and made of silver and teak. The warrior asked his guide about them, because it was impossible to eat with them.

‘Ah yes’, said the guide. ‘But see how we do things in Heaven’. The warrior turned and saw that all the banqueters were using the chopsticks to feed the person sitting opposite. Later, the warrior, being deeply curious, asked his guide if he might be given a glimpse of Hell.

‘Of course’, said the guide, and led him back into the banqueting hall they had just left. When the warrior pointed this out, the guide replied, ‘To look at, Hell is no different from Heaven.’ The multitudes sat, as before, at tables groaning with the finest foods. The warrior was confused. It seemed exactly the same as Heaven. ‘Observe’, said the guide, ‘No one can trust his neighbour.’ The warrior saw that the people with their long chopsticks were trying only to feed themselves, and thus, amidst plenty, they starved.’

 


favourite 001Last week, we had an extract from one of Deborah Cassidi’s anthologies. My copy of this one, first published in 2003, is now falling apart from extensive use.

The above extract was chosen by the actor Richard Griffith, who says of it:

A Buddhist story – often told at O Ben services held in August to commemorate the lives of those who have died during the previous year. It may have originated from Korea or Japan and has many different wordings. There is also a similar story in Jewish tradition.

 

 


I find this intriguing, and have been wondering whether there might also be a Christian version of this story. Here is another Buddhist version of the story:

A woman who had worked all her life to bring about good, was granted one wish: “Before I die let me visit both hell and heaven.” Her wish was granted.She was whisked off to a great banqueting hall. The tables were piled high with delicious food and drink. Around the tables sat miserable, starving people as wretched as could be. “Why are they like this?” she asked the angel of death who accompanied her. “Look at their arms,” the angel replied. She looked and saw that attached to the people’s arms were long chopsticks secured above the elbow. Unable to bend their elbows, the people aimed the chopsticks at the food, but missed every time and sat hungry, frustrated and miserable. “Indeed this is hell! Take me away from here!” She was then whisked off to heaven. Again she found herself in a great banqueting hall with tables piled high. Around the tables sat people laughing, contented, joyful. “No chopsticks I suppose,” she said. “Oh yes there are. Look – just as in hell they are long and attached above the elbow, but look… here people have learnt to feed one another”. She saw the difference between hell and heaven; that was the helping hand.

According to the story, it shows that hell and heaven can be seen here and now; anywhere there is selfishness or the selfish, there will be restlessness, hunger, crimes, civil war etc. that can be called ‘hell’ and wherever there is generosity or help, there will be happiness, joy, harmony, unity etc. that can be called ‘heaven’. In each moment of our life, we can see hell and heaven; whenever we are selfish, that means we are in hell and life can be miserable. Whenever we are generous to others, we are in heaven and life can be happy. Have you ever experienced hell and heaven in your life here and now?

I find the conclusion interesting – it is not quite the one I would have drawn, which is that heaven and hell may indeed look like the same place; how we perceive it depends on our closeness to God. This thought is partly prompted by C S Lewis’s ‘The Last Battle’, when ‘those who will not see’ still perceive their surroundings as a stable:

But not everyone found this new land to be so appealing. To get there, Narnians were thrown through a stable door, with the belief that they would be killed (inside there was supposed to be a guard who would kill anyone sent in – but had, before this time, been taken out by a good Calormene). A group of dwarves who, in the midst of the last battle of Narnia, sided only with themselves, made it clear that they didn’t want to do anything with King Tirian, the last king of Narnia, nor with the Calormenes, the evil followers of Tash who had invaded Narnia and were destroying it . These dwarves fought against both sides, and in the end, had been captured and thrown into the stable by the Calormenes. Despite the fact that Aslan had enchanted the door so it would bring the people into this safe, realer, better version of Narnia, the dwarves could not see it. They believed they were in a stable, without light, and anyone who tried to suggest anything else was tricking them. Even Aslan, with the gifts he was willing to bestow upon them, could not convince them otherwise:

Aslan raised his head and shook his mane. Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarfs’ knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn’t much use. They began eating and drinking greedily enough, but it was clear that they couldn’t taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sort of things you might find in a Stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had got a bit of an old turnip and a third said he’d found a raw cabbage leaf. And they raised golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said, ‘Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of a trough that a donkey’s been at! Never thought we’d come to this.’ But very soon every Dwarf began suspecting that every other Dwarf had found something nicer than he had, and they started grabbing and snatching, and went on to quarreling, till in a few minutes there was a free fight and all the good food was smeared on their faces and clothes or trodden under foot. But when at last they sat down to nurse their black eyes and their bleeding noses, they all said: ‘Well, at any rate, there’s no Humbug here. We haven’t let anyone take us in The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs!’

‘You see,’ said Aslan. ‘ They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they can not be taken out.’

‘Coracle’ Anthology of Poems by Kenneth Steven: a review

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Are you bombarded by words, helter-skelter in a torrent of prose, aimed at you daily? Too much advertising, too many emails?

I recommend that you try and engage the other half of your brain for a while. Take up this anthology and begin to read as if you were reading a shopping list, or the ingredients on a packet of cornflakes. Do not on any account look for meaning. Simply read the words, preferably aloud. Then read the poem again, still passively. Read it a third time, letting it permeate your soul. Then read it once more, this time in the way the words tell you they want to be read. You are there. You have imbibed all that you are ready for from the poem today. Read it again tomorrow, next week or next year, and you will have new insights. For these are poems to last you a lifetime.

They are small, still pools, deceptively inconsequential to the casual passer-by but to the pilgrim traveller a source of deep refreshment and delight. Dive to their uttermost depths, and they will take you to the centre of the earth.

They have their parallels in haiku,  expressing much and suggesting more in the sparest possible language. Also of course, more obviously, in Celtic prayer. But they are not at all self-consciously ‘arty’ – one reviewer said of his poems ‘Even if you think you don’t like poetry, try this’, and I agree.

I can quote some of my favourite phrases, but of course they need to be read in context:

On Iona (p.2): “A place found only sometimes By those who have lost their way”.

The Words (p.4): “All night I wrestled with an angel, sure He carried words that I must make my own.”

After the Storm (p.7) “The fields were filled with mirrors, glass stretches Reflecting a breaking sky.”

Edith (p.39) “It’s not how you live your life, it’s how you go to the gallows“.

 

The anthology begins and ends, appropriately, with an echo:

“a place made of stone
Out off the west of the world,
Roughed nine months by gale,
Rattled in Atlantic swell.’

And we end (p.48):

“Enough to wait here by the wood’s edge
And let the things still hurrying to be done
Fall silent, as the first stars
Vague the orange of the far-off West.”


kenneth-steven“It was by coracle that the early Celts made journeys on the sea roads of their time. A coracle is a tiny vessel, yet it is sufficient to carry one soul for a whole voyage. This collection of poems is about voyages, both real and figurative: journeys of many kinds. It is about facing danger and doubt with faith – against all odds.

This is to be published by SPCK on April 17th.

  • Paperback: 64 pages
  • Publisher: SPCK Publishing
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0281072094
  • ISBN-13: 978-0281072095
  • Kenneth has his own website: he is a prolific author and many of his books are available on Kindle. You can hear him read one of his poems, in the softest of Scots accents, here.

You can read some of his other poems here.

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