Thursday, 27 April 2017


Late on Monday night our eldest son arrived back at The Manse after ‘running the line’ at a local football match.  It was a game between Amersham Town and the local Tesco Team.  Apparently, the town won by 17 goals to 2! 

He told us that by the end of the second half Amersham players were pleading with him, as a linesman, not to call off side just so Tesco could score a goal or two!!  Even though I’m not the greatest football fan I would have loved to have been there!

The truth is I was slightly put off of sport at school when the rugby coach told my class: ‘The taller they are, the harder they fall’.  As the tallest in my year I was the player one every one ‘felled’ for the rest of my time there!

For all that I have huge respect for the teamwork and camaraderie of the ‘sporting kind’!  I see similar qualities in every choir I have ever sung in – although it has to be said we have usually only been in competition with ourselves.

Last Sunday Rachel went into London to watch a colleague run the Marathon.  So many keen and enthusiastic runners, all doing their best to raise money for various charities – surely a wonderful example of humanity at its very best.

I joined her later in the day – in time for Evensong at St Paul’s (typical of the fact that music always wins over sport with me) and to join many of the runners, now limping, on their way home via the Tube.

This week many churches who use the Lectionary will be taking readings from Acts and 1 Peter.  It’s really ‘Peter Sunday’ as we hear part of his sermon from Acts 2 and a passage in which he talks about having ‘affection towards your fellow Christians and loving one another wholeheartedly’ in the reading from 1 Peter.

Peter is such a unique individual.  A ‘big’ character in the New Testament.  Yet he seems to recognise that Christianity and faith is something we do ‘together’ – as a united and co-operative team, with affection for one another.

I think that’s a super picture of The Church – at times maybe it’s aspirational, but when we do experience that ‘togetherness’ in our fellowship and service I think we come a little closer to being The Body of Christ we are meant to be.

Oh – I almost forgot!  Apparently, everyone went home happy from Monday night’s football match because of the buffet enjoyed afterwards – provided, of course, by Tesco!!

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Brenda isn't impressed!

So, this week our Prime Minister has called a General Election and Brenda wasn’t happy!!

I’m not too sure who Brenda is exactly!  She is the Vox Pops contribution to Radio 4’s ‘PM’ programme and her reaction to the news of an early plebiscite was broadcast on Tuesday afternoon.  She was horrified, exclaiming ‘oh no, not again’!  Clearly last year’s EU Referendum and the 2015 General Election were still fresh memories for her and she can’t stand the thought of a further fifty days of electioneering.

I doubt if she is alone!  Yet I’ve been wondering why? 

Obviously to be involved in an election is to cast a vote, and to do that is to be in the business of making choices.  Is that the issue?  Perhaps people feel they have little choice or they made the ‘wrong’ one last time round. 

Yet life is constantly about decision making.  Everyday we’ll make loads of them; put them altogether in a lifetime and we make tens of thousands.

As I’ve been thinking of Brenda this week I’ve pondered the idea that much of our faith is about making that purposeful and committed choice to follow the message of God found in Jesus and choose the path of love.  It’s not a one off choice but is something we need to consciously ‘sign up’ to every single day.  Discipleship is often about what choices we make and what roads in life we follow.  And, unlike Brenda, the option of just saying ‘oh no, not again’, isn’t one that either honours God or the name ‘Christian’.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Easter Day: Resurrection Encounter

We can experience Resurrection in so many ways - even through 'religious experience'!!

Oh I know they get a bad press: long sermons, stuffy services and overblown ritual.  Yet I still love coming to church! I still look forward to remembering through bread and wine.  I still cherish hymns of faith and prayers of hope.  And I do all of that because on hundreds of occasions as I’ve met with my sisters and brothers, and as we have covenanted together to be that Community of the Resurrection which is the hallmark of every church, I believe something of the life of God has touched my life and once again I’ve started to make those connections.

It happened that first Easter evening on the Road to Emmaus. 

A couple of deflated disciples were walking west towards the sunset and they were asking themselves big questions.  To their surprise their walking companion seemed to come up with some answers and their hearts burned within them.

Yet they made little real sense of it all until they invited him to share supper with them.  It was, we are told, as he said grace, as he broke the bread – that they recognised the risen Lord.

Through ritual, the breaking of bread, an action they must have experienced a thousand times before – at that moment they encountered the life of God.

That’s the definition of a sacrament:  An outward symbol that speaks of an inward grace.

Sacramental moments can be the deepest in life.  Prayers said by the bedside of a loved one, communion taken in church after a draining week, witnessing the baptism of a new life, singing Alleluia on Easter Morning in this Community of the Resurrection – all these can be moments when we encounter the living presence of God among us – and like those Emmaus disciples we too find our hearts strangely warmed.

In many ways today is a 'Defiant Day'.

This is the day when we say: Love Wins!

This is the day to believe in the power of hope and the supremacy of love which we find in the cross and empty tomb of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu goes some way in summing up Easter when he wrote:

Good is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness and life is stronger than death.

And that, I believe, is the message of resurrection that we celebrate today with all our Alleluias.

May God's blessing of peace, hope and new life be yours this Easter Day and always.

Christ is Risen!
He is Risen indeed - Alleluia!!

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Holy Saturday: Maternal Womb

The thing about Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is that she stayed when others fled.

At his birth and death Mary was the constant in his life. 

In Koder’s painting Mary, hardly middle aged, cradles her son one last time – a painting which shows such touching love, lasting devotion and enduring affection.

Leaning against the cross with human skulls strewn upon the ground around her Mary’s presence brings warmth and humanity to a scene of carnage and brutality.

She caresses Jesus’ body which has been racked by pain and is now covered in blood.

There is surely an eternal truth in this poignant painting – that even in the toughest struggle love finds a way.

In the mystery of The Trinity – something of God finds a resting place within a mother’s arms as Mary lays her head upon Jesus one last time.

Love wins through not only at the empty tomb but also at the empty cross.

Maybe it has never been put better than in the words etched into the walls of a basement in Cologne during the Holocaust:

I believe in the sun
even when it isn't shining.
I believe in love
even when I am alone.
I believe in God
even when he is silent.

The body of our Lord will be taken down by Joseph of Arimathea and be buried before sundown with loving respect.

None of this negates or even reduces the sufferings of Jesus upon the cross.  Yet even in the face of such brutality love was not absent – a mother remains faithful and a friend offers a final resting place.

When suffering comes – to us, to those we love or those we hardly know yet with whom we share the common bond of humanity – there is surely just one response: love.  A love that never gives up.  Your love, my love, God’s love.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Good Friday: Amen

Jesus seems utterly crushed by the cross.

This work is entitled: Amen – meaning ‘so be it’.

Well, if it was a resolution then it was a commitment to a tough road.

This painting makes me realise that part of my journey this day is to linger with the tension of it all.  For in many ways everything, yet nothing was resolved at the cross.

There was no quick fix here. 

Good Friday and Calvary do not happen with us pressing the fast forward button.  Every hour and every minute and every second have to be endured. 

On Good Friday we have to stay here.

And our Good Fridays don’t resolve quickly either.  The pain of bereavement stays long, the sorrow of a broken relationship lingers, the injustice of a living in the theatre of civil war must seem endless, the pointlessness of a terrorist’s suicide bomb will probably never make sense to the maimed and injured.

Jesus died.  Crushed and broken.  He was forced to be silent and his way of love mixed with justice was so forcibly rejected by the state that his life was cruelly and prematurely snuffed out.

If I were a disciple I suspect I too would have stood a long way off, weeping for the three years we had spent together – now at an end.  A wasted three years?  A mistaken three years? 

If there seemed to be no success at the cross, there appeared to be no affirmation either – once Jesus heard that voice from heaven declaring him to be a beloved son – yet on the cross his cry of dereliction was: My God, why have you forsaken me?

Linger at the cross today and take seriously how love must travel so slowly at times.  Love is patient.  Love is kind, but love is also vulnerable.

It was – and often is today – a long Good Friday.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Maundy Thursday: Unison

Throughout Lent we have been travelling with some of Sieger Koder’s paintings and over the next three days of Holy Week we look at three centred upon the cross.

Two men hold a section of it resting upon their heads, bowed, but undefeated by its weight, they hold each other up by the waist – no wonder Father Koder entitles his work ‘Unison’ meaning ‘together.

So much about this day was solitary for Jesus.  And so much about suffering today is often to be faced alone.

Simon of Cyrene is Jesus’ helper, a character who appears, as it were, from nowhere, out of the mist.

He’s described using the place he came from, Cyrene, a Jewish stronghold at the time based in North Africa, today Cyrene is in Libya.

He’s become something of a patron saint of all those who help us carry a cross – he stands for the supporters, the encouragers and the cross bearers.

Yet in truth he’s a mystery.  The only reference we have for him says he was conscripted, rather than volunteered, for the task – and we simply do not know how he took such co-ersion.

When it was all over, and perhaps in an understandable attempt to make sense of it, tradition has it that Alexander and Rufus, Simon’s sons, became early missionaries of the 1st century church. 

The truth is Good Friday is chaotic and contained both the well-orchestrated and spontaneous.  It was a jumble of emotions with panic and fear being the natural consequences of such brutal and unrelenting state imposed aggression.  No one would have felt safe, valued or respected.  We sing of a Green Hill Far Away and it has the touch of poetry about it – yet on that first Good Friday is would have been a place of bitter, terrifying and unabating pain – a hellish cauldron with just one purpose, to forcefully crush life.

So much about suffering and pain-bearing makes little or no sense and simply has to be got through.

Looking back at it the human spirit tries to pull the threads together - and Simon of Cyrene , the cross carrier might well have been so touch by the dignity shown by our Lord that he and his family did indeed become committed and evangelistic Christians.

And thank God it can happen like that today.  Dignity, hope and love can rise from the ashes of pain and suffering.  None of that takes away the chilling reality of Golgotha, it remains The Place of The Skull rather than a Green Hill Far Away – yet it can transform the pain and go some way towards redeeming it.

This week, as we remember the cross, let us be inspired by Simon of Cyrene, the cross bearer and let us give thanks for all pain-bearers who have walked with us at moments of suffering as our companions and encouragers upon life’s often challenging path.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Palm Sunday: Donkey and Side Car!

This coming Palm Sunday the Gospel Reading is set from Matthew and he, more than any of the other Evangelists, clearly wants to make the point that Jesus fulfilled the Zechariah prophesy of the Triumphal Entry even to the last detail.

So he includes the idea that Jesus’ disciples requisitioned not simply a donkey but also its foal, and that both (as in Zechariah) were in that first Palm Sunday procession into Jerusalem.  One commentator I read this week rather playfully describes it as ‘Donkey and Side Car’!

The scene is captured by the French artist Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin, who spent almost all his life in churches painting frescos – he died in 1864 aged just 55 years.

We’ll look at this painting in church on Sunday and here’s a prayer I’ve written to go with it:

What do we expect as you ride on, ride on in majesty?
Did we ever really understand your message of love?
We bow down to gods made in our own image and too often fail to heed your call to embrace sacrificial service.
As once more we hold a palm cross in our hand and Holy Week begins,
as once more we sing Hosanna and welcome you among us,
help us to greet you as The Prince of Peace and The One for Others –
humble and riding on a donkey.

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