Maundy Thursday ~ calm before the storm and a sense of foreboding

 

Maundy Thursday ~ calm before the storm and a sense of foreboding

 

Some years ago now, I wrote a poem that still haunts my own memory, if that doesn’t sound too self-obsessed. I was walking home late at night after attending a Maundy Thursday vigil and as I walked through our quiet village, I smelled lamb cooking at the Indian takeaway and it set a train of thought running that resulted in me coming in and scribbling down the following prose poem.

Gethsemane Girl

It’s a still night, the warm air filled

With the hot greasy scent of a thousand meals.

Glad I didn’t have to cook tonight;

I know lamb is traditional but it seems so unfair:

That little life cut short just for us.

I shouldn’t be here; they said no.

He didn’t, of course; he never does.

But I’m here anyway.

Maybe he knows; they don’t.

Look at them, sleeping like babies!

He wasn’t himself tonight, seemed sad.

Someone said he’s paranoid,

Expecting betrayal at any moment.

Won’t be me”, that’s what Peter said.

He can’t help boasting but it’s sad.

He’s like a big hairy dog pretending to be brave-

One sniff of a wolf and he’d be off!

Anyway, I’m worried.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned,

It’s this: men can’t be trusted.

I shouldn’t be here: but someone should,

And since they’ve all dozed off

There’s only me, wide-awake in the bushes.

Nothing I can do but wait;

This mood of his will pass,

It always does.

But he does look so sad

And I wish-

But that’s not to be.

I’m so tired too.

I don’t know why I’m here;

I don’t understand half of what he says

But while he says it, it sounds so right.

Pity not everyone agrees.

If I close my eyes, just rest them, mind,

Just for a moment or two.

It’s been such a long day.

I won’t sleep, not like the others.

Not sleeping, just resting my eyes,

Just-

I’d been thinking about the other ‘actors’ in that drama so many centuries ago, wondering how they’d seen it all, living it moment by moment without knowing the eventual outcome. I identified with those shadowy figures that we hear mentioned and who played a pivotal role in the Easter story and yet whose own voices have never been heard. As I smelled the hot curry smell, I thought about the women who cooked and cared for Jesus and the disciples and started wondering what they had truly been thinking, that night before the Passover, so many centuries ago. We don’t know who they all were, Mary Magdalene is often suggested as one of the inner circle; she has always struck me as girl with resources and I began to wonder whether she would have sneaked after the disciples who were invited to pray with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.

So into that darkened garden I crept, my hands still slightly greasy with lamb fat and olive oil from the shared meal and my eyes heavy with tiredness. I knew things were changing, sensing the storm coming like a weather sense, and yet, hoping and hoping that nothing bad was going to happen.

While I wrote the poem some years ago, at the time, I could also sense changes coming, unable to pinpoint them. It took longer for the storm to hit, and my life to be altered beyond anything I imagined, but like Mary in that garden, I knew something was coming.

Now, six or seven years later, I approach Maundy Thursday with the renewed sense of something coming. It’s still far off, I think, but I can feel it, like a summer storm you can feel even when the sun is brilliant and there’s not a cloud to be seen except that dim dark line at the far horizon. I’m not sure whether this is good or bad coming, but change in any way is unsettling and shakes you up.

I’m trying to remember my Gethsemane Girl, hiding in the bushes and not knowing the end of the story, and trying to tell her, Be strong, it changes everything beyond what you ever imagined possible.

 

An Advent sermon

This is sort of a guest post, if you like. As you may know, I have been in hospital, having an operation. There were complications but I am home now and ok. Mostly anyway. I won’t bore you with details. 

 The following is my husband’s sermon for tomorrow(today when you read this). Even if you are not a believer, or you belong to another faith, please do read it, as I think the central themes are relevant to many people. I believe in peace, in people of all races and faiths getting along and realising we are all one family. (It’s also his birthday tomorrow too, so Happy Birthday dearest!)

Matthew 1.18-end : 18 ¶ Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

For the last three weeks we have been looking backwards to God’s promises to us: The hope of the Messiah given through God’s messengers. Today, the 4th and final Sunday of Advent the story focuses on the celebration that is less than a week away. Our readings speak of God’s love for us – of how he promised us through the prophet Isaiah that a virgin would conceive and bear a son whose name would be known as “Emmanuel”, God with us – and how this special child would save and deliver his people.

In our Gospel reading, we are told how that promise came true through Mary’s child and we are told how Joseph, out of his love for God and his obedience to God, took Mary for his wife and did all that the angel commanded him to do. And it’s because of Joseph’s obedience that Jesus had a home and family.

And then there is that reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. That reading is just Paul’s introduction, he sets out his credentials as an apostle. And then there is a greeting: To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Scripture is eternal, passing the bounds of space and time. So to all God’s beloved in Corton: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

That is how our passage from the letter to the Romans ends. But like Advent that is ending, it sets the scene for the riches to come.

So Grace to you .. and Peace.

Peace… That is something that seems to have been far from me this week. Work has been incredibly busy and I’ve been coming home glassy eyed from staring at a computer screen without a break. My brain seized solid with mentally jumping from one topic to another. A seized brain might not be very active but it certainly isn’t at peace.

Then there’s been the worry. The worry of Viv going into hospital. I know it’s only a small operation. In at 7am and out the same afternoon. But it’s still an operation, Viv will still be hurt and I can’t do anything about it. Nothing but ‘be there’ and do the things that she can’t until she is better. We worry about those close to us. And logic can barely scratch the surface of that worry and fear.

I know God is with me, with Viv. I know His presence all of the time. It is comforting to but I still worry and fret. What if?… what then?…

What then – well the snow comes in drifts making the 6.30 drive treacherous, but at least the concentration keeps my mind of other things, the other what ifs…

We arrive safely at the hospital and slither gracefully, or not so gracefully into the warm. We arrive at the department and a grey exhausted night shift nurse welcomes us. You could see the pause while her tired brain takes in that new patients have arrived. You can see the effort as she reaches down past her feet to summon up a tired smile that starts at the corner or her mouth and finally reaches her eyes.

We are told to wait. So we wait, a small group of women with their husbands, boyfriends or ‘significant others’. All dazed, frightened and worried. All still a little cold with snow melting off our shoes. Then within 10, 15 minutes at the most, Viv and the other women are checked in and shown to their beds. And I, with the other men are kindly but firmly escorted off the ward. We’ll phone you between 1 and 3 to let you know you can pick her up. And the small group of us wander off dazed back into the cold and ice.

And Viv wasn’t home that night, there were complications, there always are. But she is home now. But I still need peace.

We need peace. I need peace.

Peace.

Peace is a key theme for Christmas. I decided to get the shopping in before Viv came home, while I could still leave the house unattended. And I found peace. I saw peace on Christmas cards in the supermarket.

I saw the word, and a dove or a mother and child, I stepped back to admire and soak up the peaceful scene …. and bumped into the basket of the person behind me; who bumped the person with the overfull trolley next to them. And the bubble is burst.

We talk about peace, we long for peace but we don’t seem to have a clue about how to go about getting it. So we spend and spend, and spend some more …. just in case. In case of what, I’m not quite sure.

We fill our baskets and cars with more food than any person can eat. We buy presents and so much more. We fill our homes and then go out for more.

I need peace, the people in that supermarket need peace, our world needs peace. Peace is an ideal and seems to stay just out of reach. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

I arrived home, I saw the sparrows on the feeders and chasing each other around. I saw the candle burning, a silent prayer for Viv. And peace came back. Well peace had never really left, I had just been too busy to notice God’s peace still there, waiting patiently inside. The peace amid the worries and fears. The peace that was stronger than the ‘what ifs’.

Peace snuck up on me, and tripped me up. And I nearly cried. I had an insight into what all this Advent preparation is all about. Why taking the time to prepare is so important and why rushing to get to Christmas too early, too quickly is so harmful.

I realised why the Peace was there. It wasn’t because I am saintly or special. But because I know lots of people who are, literally saints and they are with me every time I pray. And the peace was there because God was there, Jesus was there with me, through the Spirit. That peace was there all the time, I was just too busy to see it. That is what Advent preparation is for.

Advent is there so that we can spend time get close to God. Pondering God’s promises of Peace and Grace. Reading about the people of faith, hearing the Bible stories and prophecy. Considering again the possibility that hope could come through Mary, a young girl, saying Yes. Advent is about learning to trust God again, even though we can’t reach out and touch Him. We learn to appreciate the presence of God with us all the time.

Now I get uneasy with too much talk about Jesus as my friend. Jesus is the incarnate Word with, the one who was with the Father at the beginning of time. Jesus is our all powerful judge, the one more powerful than death, all death. Greater than time, the one who will return and end time. But at the same time Jesus can be like a close friend, I don’t deserve it, and never will, but that is one of the mysteries of faith: That the all powerful God can be baby, or stand beside us now in Spirit and surprise us with peace.

Its a gift. After all that is what Grace is – a gift.

So Grace to you .. and Peace. Because the hope of grace, is at the heart of our Advent preparations. Grace is a blessing undeserved. A gift, wrapped or unwrapped, that will arrive at Christmas.

Now I don’t know about you but Grace is what I need. I know myself far too well to think that I could ever earn God’s favour. It needs to be a gift or there isn’t much hope. But a baby born in 1st century Palestine was a gift. A gift from God that we find so hard to accept.

Going back to the pre-Christmas supermarket – we get a taste of grace, and think we can do the rest with tinsel and food and drink. And it is hollow at the centre, without hope. The hoped for joyful family Christmas ends in a fight, harsh words, New Year indiscretions and a year of painful recriminations.

So we have been given a gift – or lots of gifts – We have Advent as a gift, the preparation that makes it possible for the Christ to be at the centre of our Christmas. Without Christ there is only ‘mas’, a mass of people frantic and aimless, prodding turkeys and gathering sprouts.

So Advent is about preparation. Preparing ourselves for Jesus’ return. Or more accurately letting God prepare us. Then we will be reading to celebrate Christmas. A Christmas full of hope and joy and expectation. A Christmas with the Christ shaped hole filled with the incarnate Christ. Christmas, like a good cake can’t be rushed. It needs preparation, work and sufficient time. Time for the gift of Advent to unwrap itself and become part of us.

So use this Advent, what is still left of it.

I’ll end where I started, with the wisdom of St. Paul. : To God’s beloved in Corton: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ….. this Advent, this Christmas and Always.

In the Name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Do you believe in angels?

Do you believe that someone, somewhere watches over you and tries to keep you from harm? That things happen for a reason or many reasons, and we don’t always(or indeed very often) know why?

My old friend W has lived an extraordinary life, working and living in some very strange and often dangerous places. I first met him about 22 years ago, when for a short space of time, he was trying domestic life and lived in the next street to me in the north eastern town where I lived when I first married. We babysat his little girl. Over the intervening years, we’ve moved a good few times and he has clocked up tens of thousands of miles travel. He sends postcards from round the world, reappears at irregular intervals with tales and souvenirs and marvellous gifts and then vanishes again. I get postcards and packages from all over the globe; he indulges my strange fascination with rocks and sends parcels of rocks from the places he’s been that I, in all probabilty will never see, so I can sleep with them under a pillow and dream a psychometric dream.

The last time I heard from him was about a month ago when I got first an email and then a postcard from Libya.

I really didn’t think any more about it till the news the other night told me about the plane that crashed at Tripoli airport. I didn’t even think much then, until the news came through that there were Britons on that plane. Then a cold wave went through me. You see, because he has no family, we and a few other friends have become his official family: I may even be named as his next of kin. I’m certainly his executor.

Rather than wait and worry, I emailled him. I figured that if I have no reply within a week, then I will start looking on the manifest list or the list of casualties.

Late last night, I got a reply. No, he was fine. BUT: he’d been trying to get back to Libya from South America, and he’d been bumped off the flight he ought to have been on and therefore missed his connection.The connection should have taken him to meet the plane that crashed. He’d been booked on that plane.

You can imagine how it happened and how cross he must have been to have lost his flight and to have to sit and wait for the next one. We’ve all done it; got angry and frustrated at how things unfurl at times.

His final comment on his email to me: “My angel strikes again.” You see, he’s had near misses before, not to mention almost fatal accidents, and he’s always believed he won’t be allowed to pass on till he’s done whatever he was meant to do on earth. He’s still trying to figure out what that is, but you get the point.

For a large number of people, that flight was the end of the road for them. But for my friend, it wasn’t. I don’t know why. I do know I am glad it wasn’t. I’m not certain I believe in the popular idea of guardian angels, with your very own celestial body guard growing greyer of hair by the year, but I do believe our lives are watched and cared for and we each have our time to go. The book of Ecclesiastes has it well:

“For everything, its season, and for every activity under heaven its time: a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build up; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time for mourning and a time for dancing.” (Ecclesiastes 3, 1-4)

 

I’m glad that this time it wasn’t his time to die and it wasn’t our time to mourn.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guardian_angel

Spring water

 

The following picture I took last weekend. It WAS as cold as it looks. Any standing water was frozen solid. There were flurries of snow, and massing banks of snow clouds were flocking in from off the North Sea.

But this water was special. Just a little way up from the shingles and the crashing waves, the dunes are filled with tiny freshwater springs that often cut little paths through the sand and the marram grass and peter out before they go anywhere. A  few, like this one, form a shallow pond that then runs down in streamlets through the dunes and gives much needed water to wildlife. Herons fish in these ponds and even in the subzero temperatures, the moving waters remain free of ice.

Springs are truly mysterious and undoubtedly sacred places. Over my life I have been drawn to such places and find them an endless source of beauty and peace. That such places exist anywhere, and exist in unexpected places, is a source of great comfort to me. The healing waters of springs are an ancient concept, found the world over and with good cause; there are miracles that are recorded in these special places, things that defy normal explanations.

I’ll end with a quote from the book of Proverbs, chapter 4, verse 23:

“More than all else, keep watch over your heart since here are the wellsprings of life.”

How to read the Bible….and anything else!

I’ve recently been given a book called “A Rabbi reads the Bible” by Jonathan Magonet and it’s really excellent reading. I’m only a few chapters in right now but I’d like to quote some for you all to ponder on:

“In 1968, our progressive Jewish youth movement hosted a group of young Czech Jews for a conference in Edinburgh. They stayed on for an additional week- and the Russians marched on Prague, cutting them off from their country and their families. Many of them became refugees overnight. That would be enough to bring them to mind, especially in the light of the radical changes that have happened in Eastern Europe, but they taught us something very special about the Bible in the time were were together. We studied some Bible texts and they were incredibly good at understanding them, picking up all the nuances very quickly. I was surprised as they had never studied the Bible before.

“It’s easy,” they explained. “You see, in Czechoslovakia, when you read a newspaper, first you read what is written there. Then you say to yourself, ‘If that is what they have written, what really happened? And if that is what really happened, what are they trying to make us think? And if that is what they are trying to make us think, what should we be thinking instead?’ You learn to read between the lines and behind the lines. You learn to read a newspaper as if your life depended upon understanding it-because it does!” 

I found this a profoundly revealing and really rather powerful way of looking at things. You can apply it to how you read the newspapers( even in the UK, you need to take it all with a shovel full of salt) or to how your read your sacred texts, or how you read publicity statements or advertisments. And you can even use it for finding your way through what has become a very crowded and rather dangerous “spiritual” market place. I do recall a chappie with beard and sandals bearing down on a similar market place with a whip made of ropes and driving out those who sought to make the house of God into a den of thieves.  I do wonder what happened to him….