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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.

Intercessions for Palm Sunday Year A 13 April 2014

Early 16th c fresco in the Church of St Méard, newly restored. Wikimedia

Early 16th c fresco in the Church of St Méard, newly restored. Wikimedia

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, who in your tender love towards the human race sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to take upon him our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross: grant that we may follow the example of his patience and humility, and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son 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: Isaiah 50.4-9a

The servant of the Lord said: The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens – wakens my ear to listen as  those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backwards. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I  did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint,  and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who  vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries?  Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me;  who will declare me guilty? All of them  will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.

Psalm 31.9-16

Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am in trouble; * my eye is consumed with sorrow, my soul and my body also.
For my life is wasted with grief,  and my years with sighing; * my strength fails me because of my affliction, and my bones are consumed.
I have become a reproach to all my enemies and even to my neighbours, an object of dread to my acquaintances; * when they see me in the street they flee from me.
I am forgotten like one that is dead, out of mind; * I have become like a broken vessel.
For I have heard the whispering of the crowd;  fear is on every side; * they scheme together against me, and plot to take my life.
But my trust is in you, O Lord. * I have said, ‘You are my God.
‘My times are in your hand; *deliver me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me.
‘Make your face to shine upon your servant, * and save me for your mercy’s sake.’

Second Reading: Philippians 2.5-11

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,  did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Gospel Reading: Matthew 26.14 – 27.66

One of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I betray him to you?’ They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him. On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ He said, ‘Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, “The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.”’ So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal. When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’ He answered, ‘The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.’ Judas, who betrayed him, said, ‘Surely not I, Rabbi?’ He replied, ‘You have said so.’ While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’ When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.’ Peter said to him, ‘Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And so said all the disciples. Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; for the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Again he went away for the second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’ Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’ While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.’ At once he came up to Jesus and said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed him. Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you are here to do.’ Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?’ At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.’ Then all the disciples deserted him and fled. Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, in whose house the scribes and the elders had gathered. But Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest; and going inside, he sat with the guards in order to see how this would end. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, ‘This fellow said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.”’ The high priest stood up and said, ‘Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?’ But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, ‘I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right  hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?’ They answered, ‘He deserves death.’ Then they spat in his face and struck him; and some slapped him, saying, ‘Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who is it that struck you?’ Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus the Galilean.’ But he denied it before all of them, saying, ‘I do not know what you are talking about.’ When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, ‘This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.’ Again he denied it with an oath, ‘I do not know the man.’ After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.’ Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know the man!’ At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: ‘Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly. When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor. When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ But they said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’ Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, ‘It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.’ After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, ‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.’ Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus said, ‘You say so.’ But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, ‘Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?’ But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed. Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, ‘Whom do you want me to release for you, Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?’ For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. 19While he was sitting on the judgement seat, his wife sent word to him, ‘Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.’ Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, ‘Which of the two do you want me to release for you?’ And they said, ‘Barabbas.’ Pilate said to them, ‘Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?’ All of them said, ‘Let him be crucified!’ Then he asked, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Let him be crucified!’ So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.’ Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’ So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’ Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, “I am God’s Son.”’ The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way. From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘This man is calling for Elijah.’ At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.’ Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’ Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise again.” Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, “He has been raised from the dead,” and the last deception would be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.’ So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.

Prayers of Intercession

¶The Church of Christ

Lord, we are filled once again with awe and wonder, and foreboding and love, and gratitude  and humility as we contemplate  the story of the Passion of your Son. Help us your disciples to feel in the depths of our being the sacrifice that was made for us and the immense ocean of your love. Fill us with renewed strength, we pray, as we struggle to earn and repay that unmerited grace. Above all, as you turn the wood of the crucifix and the body of our Lord into a woody vine bearing the grapes of life, transform our beings so that we may live in and radiate your love.

Lord, for those that love you all things intermingle for good, making the darkness endurable: in your mercy, hear our prayer

(cf Romans 8.28)

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

Lord, help us to take inspiration from the example of our Saviour, who set his face firmly towards Jerusalem and the power of the authorities, both spiritual and temporal, knowing what lay ahead but never turning aside from the path he was bound to take. While we endeavour to render unto Caesar those things which are Caesar’s, and unto you those things which are yours, keep us mindful and resolved that ultimately the Christian path may mean walking the Via Dolorosa even to a cross.

Lord, for those that love you all things intermingle for good, making the darkness endurable: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶The local community

Lord, whose son rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, symbol of humility and lowliness, mocking our pretensions to pomp and glory, you have shown us the way of humble service, the way of true greatness. When he washed the feet of his disciples, he showed us the example of a servant king. Lord, in seeking to serve our community, give us the humility to follow where you lead.

Lord, for those that love you all things intermingle for good, making the darkness endurable: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶Those who suffer

Lord, let us never forget that your Son too was ‘a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’. May those whose suffering seems at times almost too difficult to bear be comforted by one who, though he may sit at your right hand clothed in majesty, was also a physical man in our physical world, and knew suffering from first hand, whether it was the pain of being betrayed by his friends or of dying on the cross.

Lord, for those that love you all things intermingle for good, making the darkness endurable: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 ¶The communion of saints

We remember all who have died so that others might live. May they be numbered with the saints, in glory everlasting. And with them may we rest and may we see, may we see and may we love; may we love and may we praise, in the end which is no end.

Lord, for those that love you all things intermingle for good, making the darkness endurable: in your mercy, hear our prayer

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above): Post Communion (Palm Sunday) © 1984 General Synod of the Church of Ireland Invitation to Confession (5th Sun Lent until Weds of  Holy Week) © 1988 Continuum (Mowbray) (Adapted) 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 Gospel Acclamation (5th Sun. of Lent until Weds of Holy Week) © The Archbishops’ Council 2002 Collect (Palm Sunday) © The Crown/Cambridge University Press: The Book of Common Prayer (1662)

‘Favourite Heroes and Holy People’ edited by Deborah Cassidi

Heroes 001

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. Viktor Frankl, from Man’s Search for Meaning

Extract chosen by Lord Sacks, former Chief Rabbi, who explains his reason for choosing this passage:

‘For me, one of the heroes of the human spirit was Viktor Frankl, who survived Auschwitz, Dachau and other concentration camps, and helped others to survive. On the basis of his experiences he founded a new school of psychotherapy – he called it Logotherapy – the central idea of which is summed up in the title of his most famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning.

Frankl rescued people from despair by helping them find a reason to live: a task not yet completed, work still to be done. That sense of a mission not yet fulfilled gave people the strength to carry on. In the quotation I chose he bore witness to the courage of others. He also wrote of how, exhausted, starved and on the brink of death, he brought himself back to life by thinking of his beloved, his wife:

Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: the salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words,’The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.

I am lost in admiration for a man who saved the lives of others by giving them hope, and who found a path to heaven at the very gates of hell.’


And I am as lost in admiration for Lord Sacks as many of his other Christian admirers. He broadcasts frequently, and there are many pieces I could offer you from You Tube. Perhaps this one?

Intercessions for Fifth Sunday of Lent Year A- 6 April 2014

The Raising of Lazarus by Davezelenka (commons wikimedia)

The Raising of Lazarus by Davezelenka (commons wikimedia)

The Collect

Most merciful God, who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ delivered and saved the world: grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross we may triumph in the power of his  victory; through Jesus Christ your Son 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: Ezekiel 37.1-14

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.’ So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. Then he said to me, ‘Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.’

 

Psalm 130

Out of the depths have I cried to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice; * let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.
If you, Lord, were to mark what is done amiss, * O Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you, * so that you shall be feared.
I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; * in his word is my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord, more than the night watch for the morning, * more than the night watch for the morning.
O Israel, wait for the Lord, * for with the Lord there is mercy;
With him is plenteous redemption * and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

Second Reading: Romans 8.6-11

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law – indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

 

Gospel Reading: John 11.1-45

A certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’ When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’ When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’ Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’ Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

The RSCM’s Sunday by Sunday had this comment in March 2008:

‘These are indeed Lazarus days and the world is half-asleep in confusion, tossing and turning restlessly, drugged by distractions and dazed by idiotic priorities. Jesus must shout, must cry out in a loud voice to waken us. He weeps. But these are not wasted tears; these tears and his loud cries will not go unanswered. And his words for Lazarus are meant for us all: ‘Unbind them, let them go free’

 

Prayers of Intercession

Let us pray to God, the giver of life in this world and in his eternal Kingdom.

¶The Church of Christ

Lord, you sent your Son to dwell amongst us so that we might have life and have it more abundantly. We ask you now to send your Spirit abroad throughout your Church, so that, filled with your life-giving Spirit, we might bear witness  to your saving words, not just in words of our own, but in deeds. Grant us to awake out of sleep, out of death, into faith and thus to pass from darkness to light, from lethargy to power, from blindness to sight, and from allegiance to love.

Breathe on us, breath of God, and fill us with life anew: in your mercy, hear our prayer

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

Lord, time and again you give us the opportunity for newness of life. At this time of the annual miracle of spring, inspire our human institutions with the possibility of new beginnings  as we see the vivid metaphor of green shoots sprouting everywhere from twigs which we had thought dead. Lord of life,  bring the young green corn. Lord of the dance, bring  the young green corn divinely springing, the young green corn for ever singing.

Breathe on us, breath of God, and fill us with life anew: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶The local community

Lord, breathe new life into our communities. Where they have settled into gentle decline and decay, rouse them to new efforts to go a little beyond the frontier of sensible appearances to see the divine welling up and showing through. Where our surroundings seem mundane and tired through over-familiarity, help us to see the people and places around us with new eyes, full of the creative energy and desire for renewal of your spring. For when we see ourselves in a way that’s right, we will live in a valley of love and delight.

Breathe on us, breath of God, and fill us with life anew: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶Those who suffer

Lord, give the Spirit of life to those whose hearts are broken by sorrow. Give new heart to those who find themselves in the vale of tears or the slough of despond, that they may find renewed strength for the journey towards the celestial city. And comfort those who mourn, that they may know that death is not the end.

Breathe on us, breath of God, and fill us with life anew: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶The communion of saints

Lord, we thank you for the lives of all those who have awakened to your glory in heaven. May we be inspired by their lives and seek to live to your praise and glory.

Breathe on us, breath of God, and fill us with life anew: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 


Copyright acknowledgement: Collect (5th of Lent) © 1980 CBFCE; Archbishops’ Council 1999 / Church of the Province of Southern Africa Invitation to Confession (5th Sun Lent until Weds of Holy Week) © 1988 Continuum (Mowbray) (Adapted) 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. Gospel Acclamation (5th Sun. of Lent until Weds of Holy Week) © The Archbishops’ Council 2002.

Additional  prayer suggested by Visual Liturgy for this week.

Praise to you, O Christ, King of eternal glory.
Christ humbled himself and became obedient unto death,
even death on a cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted him
and given him the name that is above every name.
All: Praise to you, O Christ, King of eternal glory.

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