Aldersgate/Wesley Day 2012

As Methodists we don’t have a huge pile of important days outside of the main liturgical feasts; the really big ones like Easter and Christmas but a day that does tend to be marked in one way or another is Aldersgate day (24th May).  Here is why:

“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while the leader was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death” – From John Wesley’s Journal, 24th May, 1738


Holy Saturday: My Favourite day in Easter

Today is Holy Saturday (reliable sources tell me.  Apparently there is a kerfuffle as to when Holy Saturday and when Easter Saturday are) the day in between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

The day after Jesus was killed, but before he was resurrected.

The day after (some) altars are stripped and before churches ring with alleluias.

I really like this in between time.  Usually I get very angry when people talk about the cross without the resurrection.  A view of God’s purposes that is so narrow it can only work by considering what happened specifically at the time of Jesus’ death is surely missing the point.  It is his incarnation. life, death and resurrection which holds the answers.  But Easter is the one time I don’t get angry about this.  At Easter I enjoy it being slow, and working it through.  I enjoy this time between the two points I usually fight to hold together.

I enjoy it from a position of hindsight.  I enjoy it from a position of certainty that the resurrection comes tomorrow, unlike the original disciples for whom the experience must have been a very different experience.

I enjoy the waiting, acknowledging the trauma of what has been left behind and waiting for the hope and new life to come, being reminded that sometimes life doesn’t have easy answers and sometimes arduous waits are necessary.

I like that we don’t rush from one to another, but allow time for reflection.  What did yesterday mean, why do I look forward to tomorrow.

I will enjoy tomorrow too, Alleluias will abound, the Risen Christ will be proclaimed, but I will be glad of today as well

Maundy Thursday Parker-style

The point of blogging feast days was to mark days which in “the real world” we commemorate.  This morning I started a post about feet-washing (a common, and I think beautiful practice on Maundy Thursday) but then I got a bit grumpy, and it would have been a bit long and I decided against it.  Instead it seems worthwhile to recount a way in which we marked Maundy Thursday in our house (i.e me, my sister, my mother and my father).

We like to sing hymns, and will miss out on the chance to sing some of the more mournful easter hymns, ones such as There is a Green Hill Far Away.  And mum thought this was a shame, so after tea, and before the holiday club meeting, we decided to have a bit of a sing.  The sister played piano, and the rest of us sang.  She sight-read the piano music very well and we enjoyed the words.  We than sang When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, which I enjoyed even more, because I was more confident of the part.

The four of us, singing together, sounding good together, retelling the story of our faith through song was a great experience and a lovely way of marking this special period in Holy Week.

Holy Week 2012: Monday

John 12:1-7  Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table.  Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the money bag he used to help himself to what was put into it.Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” [emphasis, in green, my own]

This was the reading we had at the Monday of Holy Week communion and compline in Bishopthorpe.  The Spectacled Bear has an excellent imaginative contemplation on the whole passage but it was the second half that struck me as it was being read.

Firstly this scene reminds me of a number of discussions me and my friends have.  “Why do churches need big buildings, and all that finery?  Let’s demolish all the cathedrals, sell the land and use the money to set up homeless shelters” is a good enough synopsis of them all.  My friends ask this because they have a genuine concern for the poor, and one that I share.  I genuinely think the church needs to be doing more to help those in most need.  I do, however, also think that selling our churches, or even the ornamentation, of those glorious buildings is not the answer.

For me this passage has two implications; one that serving the poor, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, the oppressed, challenging injustice, privilege and systematic abuse or neglect is vital to the Christian calling … but so is honouring God, and worship, and acts of adoration.  The first have that sentence make up part of our worship,but they are not all of it.  They should not push out other expressions of honouring God.  Some people, Quakers, puritans being the strongest examples, but most of non-conformist Christianity too have plain places of worship, in order to put emphasis on the relationship with God.  It is a way of removing distractions.  Other elements of the Christian tradition; many Anglicans, the Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, for example have very ornate building.  Here the buildings themselves express worship to God.  Mary used an expensive resource in excess to demonstrate adoration of God, so too do churches use expensive resources; stone, Gold, embroidered fabric, land they own etc to express their adoration of God.

and in the passage Jesus permits and defends Mary.  Obviously we can stretch this too far, I would struggle to assert so plainly “Jesus permits and defends glorious cathedrals”.  It is not my place to speak for him, but the message is clear.  Abundant worship is right and proper and should be celebrated, and that is what these rich buildings are.

The second thing I noticed during the service, and it was more of an aside, was that the evangelist really didn’t like Judas Iscariot!  I struggle to picture a Jesus who has such obvious concern for justice permitting him to take money himself from the (implied) communal money bag.  Yes, Jesus built a community of love and acceptance, but he also came to right injustice, abuse, and to say “sin no more”.  To me this sounds much more like one broken human (or group of humans) struggling to love another broken human who caused them so much pain, and taking that anger out in personal attacks against them when writing up an account of their time together.

For more thoughts on Monday, have a read of these thoughts on Jesus in the Temple

Palm Sunday 2012 – an inspired friend

One of the hard bits of training to be a Local Preacher is the sinking, swallowing all-consuming panic when on a Saturday night you still have no idea how your sermon ends.  All inspiration is lacking, you feel incapable of delivering sound exegesis let alone a prophetic word.  You just have no idea what to say.

One of the best bits of training to be a local preacher (especially a young one, with friends on the other end of MSN/facebook chat/skype etc) is that even when you feel overwhelmed and cut off you have friends out therefore you.  Twice now good friends, best friends, walking the same path as me, have lifted me out of an abyss and given me inspiration, a seed of an idea, more often than not whole paragraphs that then form my sermon.  It really is amazing to know such fabulous people and utterly wonderful to be loved by them.

Now I can add another privilege to this list.  Being there for a friend when they are struggling.  A few helpful words, a bit of encouragement, a teasing of an already existent thought; there was no need to provide extensive ideas or wording, just a simple “try this, and develop that” and whhoooosh there it was.  A genuinely good sermon, which – so I hear – was well received by the congregation.  It was nice that I could help be a part of a creative process that I sometimes struggle with.

But it was also nice that I knew what this friend was going to deliver in their act of worship this morning, and I was conscious of it during the service I was part of.  There were some great points to the sermon I heard; a good reminder of where the road to Jerusalem ultimately took Jesus, how it was an unexpected road to his followers, how he could have taken other roads; been a zealot, raised an army, come in glory not humility, but instead too the road to the cross, for such is the way of God.  There was a fantastic nugget about the Suffering Servant buried away and barely detectable, and I appreciated both of those.  Yet at the same time, my mind drifted to the sermon being preached elsewhere; a reflection on the knots that need untying, on the nots we put before Jesus (not me, not now, not this way etc etc) and on the cost of laying down our coats at the feet of the King who comes on a donkey.

I know which sermon will stick with me longer, which one I will be meditating on over this Holy Week; not the one I heard, but the one that I was allowed to be privy too by my friend. In that was inspiration and prophecy, the still small voice of God delivered by a human servant.

I would have expected that this post be about the donkey, or the palms, or the hosannas.  Maybe I should be spending more time on whether the “Hosanna” crowd were the same lot as the “crucify” crowd (personally I side with Barclay; they could well not be).  That would make sense for this important date in the liturgical calendar.  No doubt that will be the case next year.

But as I go into Holy Week my thoughts are with the colt or the cloaks but with those whom I travel through this time; those who are far from me but whom are in the same pilgrim group as me and I give thanks for the bond we have.

A belated Mothering Sunday Post

Fair warning: This post sounds very progressive and very feminist.  It may well make a load of people uncomfortable, but I’m OK with that.  Feel free to tell me the numerous ways you struggle with it in the comments.

In my last post I said I wanted to blog the feast days or high points in the church year.  I was going to write one of my longer “this is what I think and why” posts about mothering sunday, but it just wasn’t forming, so instead I’m going to try something different.  I’m going to write a prayerful poem on the theme and then possibly write a few lines after it.  This is a bit different, but let’s give it a go.

Divine Mother,
Who gave birth to this world,
whose words give life, like whispers of love.
and who tends and cares for me,
draw me close to your self, wrap your arms of love around me
Arms which, once, long ago, in a place quite far from me here, were pierced,
Let me suckle at your bosom,
taking in living water,
being nourished by the milk that is your word,
let me feast on you, be nourished by you.
Help me to grow and develop as a disciple in the same way a child does in a womb,

And a final note.  I am fortunate enough to have a super mum and in so many ways she has shown me Christ, revealed him and embodied him.  I am very grateful to her for the part she’s played in the development of my faith.