Tag Archives: Holy Week

What sacrifice? New Places, New landscapes, New Life.

Some initial thoughts on what Holy Week during the coronavirus pandemic might challenge us to reflect on for the future mission and ministry of God’s people.

Reflecting on my first year of ministry, Maundy Thursday was one of the stand out moments where I made new discoveries about myself, my calling and how I inhabit the role of Presbyter within the Methodist Church and the churches in which I serve.

That year, for the first time in my life I washed feet. Washing the feet of worshippers that day and then sharing the Lord’s Supper together was a time in which, through my own experience and practice, I discovered new insights into what it means to be a minister of word and sacrament, to lead and serve.

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

John 13:3-5, NRSV

Jesus’ radical act subverts the cultural expectations of the day as he kneels to wash his disciples feet. I noted in my journal at the time how moving and humbling the act of foot washing had been for me. How it had helped me to understand more deeply and feel more fully what I already knew in my head to be true, the importance of servanthood to ministry. Ministry that inhabits an attitude of kindness and compassion, love and humility.

Within the Methodist Ordination service, the President says to ordinands:

“In [God’s] name you are
[…]
to lead God’s people in worship, prayer and service;
to minister Christ’s love and compassion;
to serve others in whom you serve the Lord himself.”

Methodist Worship Book p302

Looking back on 2 years of ministry, I don’t think there’s been a moment where I have felt both my being and my doing have inhabited that calling as fully and intensely as I felt on my first Maundy Thursday in ministry.

But 2020 is different. It could hardly be more different. As I woke yesterday morning, I was feeling bereft that I would not be washing feet, presiding over the Lord’s Supper, gathering together as God’s people as Jesus did with his disciples the night before his crucifixion.

Holy Week, unsurprisingly feels different this year. In some ways it doesn’t feel like Holy Week – partly for the simple reason that the rituals and habits that are meaning making for me, and contribute towards what Easter normally ‘feels’ like have been removed as we cease gathering for fellowship and worship as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.  

A friend and colleague shared similar feelings on Twitter. His asking echoed with my feeling bereft and made me think even more of those feelings on Maundy Thursday 2019, reminding me afresh of what I had experienced and how I had felt last year.

But what was helpful, was that it also stimulated me to look forwards, to what I was about to do, and begin to see that the qualities of ministry I recognised so strongly last Maundy Thursday might still be encountered in new places, under our current new landscape.

Instead of all that had been scheduled in the diary for Maundy Thursday, I spent the morning working with Bognor Foodbank, who are distributing food parcels from the church hall at Bognor Regis Methodist during the pandemic.

What I realised in the course of the day is that those qualities of kindness and compassion, love and humility, were there again in this different opportunity for serve God’s people. New places, same ministry.

They were not in a towel and basin but in carrier bags of staple foods.

They were not in bread and wine but tins of tomatoes and custard.

They were not experienced in gathered people for worship, but in a queue of socially distanced people in need.

They were not found through serving the people of the church itself, but through serving God’s world.

John’s Gospel account of Jesus washing his disciples feet goes on:

For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.’

John 13:15; 20. NRSV

If the act of washing feet last year was a symbol and signpost for me to Jesus the servant-hearted leader, and my being and doing was a signpost to others too, then I’ve come to realise my work with the Foodbank was an act of servant-heartedness itself. With that realisation, I’ve felt encouraged and less bereft, but also challenged as I reflect on that experience and how it may shape future ministry.

Henri Nouwen writes:

“For the minister is called to recognize the sufferings of his [sic] time in his own heart and make that recognition the starting point of his [sic] service.”

The Wounded Healer, Darton Longman and Todd, p.xxii

There is importance for our spirituality in what have been the ‘normal’ rhythms and ritual of worship and ministry. We are creatures of habit and the rhythm feeds our faith, reminding us of that which has gone before us. Building us up, brick by brick, act by act.

Yet, while recognising that, as we turn to the suffering and sacrifice of Good Friday, as we refrain from gathering together at the cross, and all those other things we ‘normally’ do on Good Friday, I’ve felt challenged to ask of myself whether I’ve placed too heavy a meaning into the ritual and the rhythm. For those same qualities I felt so intensely as I washed feet, I also found through serving carrier bags of food to those in need. Is there ‘stuff’ that has become ‘normal’ in my life that needs sacrificing for the sake of serving a suffering world?

Does Jesus look on me and say Father, forgive; for they do not know what they are doing? (Luke 23:34)

As I stand, alone, at the cross today,
As I stand distanced from my sisters and brothers,
As I stand before my Saviour who suffered and died at the hands of cruelty,
As I call to mind how society, political power and religious leaders rejected Jesus,
I’m left asking myself what sacrifice might I need to make?
As I watch Jesus die, I ask what needs to die to make space for resurrection to new life?

As I wrestle at the cross today, I’m convicted that this wrestling is not only for me, but God’s church as a whole.

How will coronavirus – the isolation, the distance the suffering, the sacrifice – change our experience of Holy Week and Easter? Change the very ways that we are church? What sacrifices will our experience challenge us to make, for the sake of serving a suffering world?  

I am convinced these questions are imperative for the future mission and ministry of God’s people. For in standing at the cross, gazing upon our suffering Christ, holding ourselves open to be challenged and changed by the God who loves us, we allow ourselves to enter into the unknown mysteries of Christ’s suffering and sacrifice, and allow ourselves space to journey towards the discovery of what resurrection to new life after lockdown will look like.

Testimony Thursday: Never Alone

I’ve just popped down the Bognor Methodist to help sort some stuff out for running Foodbank here, and decided to pop into the church to sit and pray for a few moments…

It’s very quiet here…it’s peaceful…but it’s also lonely. It’s a reminder for me of just how much I miss you! I so miss being able to by physically with you all.

Our buildings are usually a wonderful hubbub of conversation and fellowship and worship, but of course with no-one here its quiet because church isn’t here.

That conversation and fellowship and worship is happening where the church is – in homes, spread across the community.

As I’ve been journeying through Holy Week I’ve been really struck in a different way just how lonely Jesus may have been in those final days… knowing the pain and suffering that was coming. As Jesus arrives in Gethsemane he says to his friends,

“I am deeply grieved, even to death, remain here, and stay with awake with me”

Matthew 26:38

We see here Jesus deep desire was to be with others in his moment of struggle, and to know his companions, his friends were with him.

In prayer, Jesus then cries out to his father saying:

“Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet not what I want, but what you want”.

Matthew 26:39

Even though Jesus felt alone, he knew Father God was always with him.

He knew he was not truly alone. Sat in Bognor Regis Methodist, I’ve really known the assurance that God is with me, wherever I am.

And not only that, that while the building is empty, the church, scattered in the community, you are with me too. That we are for each other and with one other in Spirit, and with each other as we pray for one another.

For me, this week, God has reminded me in new ways, that no matter where I am, no latter how alone I may feel, God is always with me. I pray you know that assurance in your life this week too.

Share your Story

So that’s one of the ways God has been in my week – what about you?

Where has God been in your week?
How are you meeting with God this Holy Week?

Comment below and share your stories of God with us, in us and among us.

Cover Image ‘Food of God ‘Christ in the Garden’ by Mark Cazalet
Methodist Modern Art Collection
Image Copyright © Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes. 
The Methodist Church Registered Charity no. 1132208

Rainbows, palms and hope

Some of you will see them by looking outside your windows or front door. For some of you, in just a short walk you’ll see them dotted in houses along the street. Others if you will have heard and seen them on TV. What am I taking about? I’m talking about the nations recent art-explosion of rainbows.

Rainbows

Along our street there are big ones & little ones, painted ones & coloured ones, all different, and unique, but all part of a bigger picture, a bigger message – that there is hope, that this time of distance will come to an end.

As we look at these rainbows, as pieces of art, we see the diversity of colour & design, the variety of materials used to make them.

The rainbow is perhaps most widely used today by the LGBT+ community which (to put a much longer, more complex history of the symbology into much briefer terms) has becomes as a symbol that offers a shared identity, a symbol offering a sense of unity to a diverse community.

Thinking about rainbows themselves in a more scientific way, when they appear in the sky they are caused by the reflections, refraction and dispersal of light…(and that’s where my scientific knowledge reaches its end!). As it happens, into the sky shines a spectrum of colour for all to see.

But before scientific understanding took place, before – perhaps – people could attempt to use rainbows in art, the rainbow as a symbol comes in biblical tradition as a sign of God’s covenant with Noah that floods will never again destroy the earth.

11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ 12 God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

Genesis 9:11-13

Millenia on, and the rainbow continues to be a sign of hope & promise. A reminder of God’s care for the world, for creation, for all living creatures, for all humankind made in God’s image.

Palms

Lent has somewhat been disrupted for us here in 2020, but today is Palm Sunday. The day in which we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

As Matthew tells it, after weeks and months of ministry ‘on the road’ Jesus gives some of the disciples instructions, they get a colt, and Jesus rides into Jerusalem. Matthew makes the point, as Matthew often does, to point to Jewish scriptures – Christ as the promised one, the Messiah, the new king.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
    triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Zechariah 9:9, (cited in Matthew 21:5)

And as he approaches Jerusalem, a crowd gathers – they were not in the midst of a global pandemic! As the crowd does, they grab branches from the trees and wave them and cheer.

A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

Matthew 21:8-9

Hope

There’s a parallel to Jesus’ lowly entry to Jerusalem, from the eastern side of the city. From the west, Pilate was entering Jerusalem in a military procession. As Borg and Crossan put it:

Jesus’ procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire. The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’ crucifixion.

Borg and Crossan in ‘The Last Week’, p2.

For the crowds that gathered and waved their palms, Jesus was a symbol that life could be different. Jesus had become a symbol of hope that things could be better. Of course things didn’t go the way people expected, and it’s not long before a crowd gathers again, this time chanting ‘crucify him’.

As we sit in our homes, we too can know Jesus as a sign to us that life can be different. That there is hope that things will get better.

You’ll see a picture of our rainbow made by Rebekah and Lydia at the top of this post. Ironically, made with their very own palms (I didn’t think about this when we made it!). Just as the palm branches were what the people of Jesus’ day could find, we have rainbows displayed across the nation. Diverse and unique, yet holding a universal message of hope.

Rainbows as symbols of diversity and unity.
Rainbows as a reminder of God’s care for all creation.
Rainbows as a symbol of hope.

While we can’t gather as a crowd today and wave our palms, we can still know, live and even declare to our streets and communities the universal hope that Christ’s entry to Jerusalem declares. Things can be different. Things may get worse (we know Good Friday is coming), but they will one day get better (resurrection is coming).

I hope and pray that this Palm Sunday you will be able to celebrate Jesus as a sign of hope for you today. As Jesus enters our hearts and homes this week, and we journey with Jesus through his last week, may we and those around us know the hope that Jesus brings.

Image used under creative commons licence.

Join the conversation

if you’ve got thoughts or something to share after reading and reflecting on my thoughts, you can comment below and share them with us all – I’d love to hear from you.

Downloadable Version for printing

To leave and remain…Part 2

The Sun rose.
The world awoke.
Another day.
The past week’s event almost forgotten.
Not for his followers.

The women gathered early.
Jesus might have left, but his body remained.
So they headed out to the tomb.

When they got there, the stone had moved and the body was gone.
All that remained were the burial clothes.
Now nothing remained. All had been taken.

And then, as Mary sat weeping,
Jesus appeared.
Alive.
He didn’t leave.
Somehow he remained.

Mary ran to the others, told them Jesus lived.
They struggled to believe.

And then, then Jesus appeared.
I am alive, he declared.

“Now I must leave, I can’t be with you in person any longer.
But my Spirit will remain with you always.”

To this day, by his Spirit, Jesus remains.
Transforming lives and communities through his unconditional love,
and longing for us to remain in him and experience his love.

If you want to know more, come and explore at Felpham Methodist Church, or send us a message.

First published by Felpham Methodist Church, April 2019

To leave and remain… Part 1

The sky turned black.
The world watched…. and waited.
Jesus’ time seemed to be up.

He’d gathered with his friends, shared their final meal together.
“I will soon have to leave you” he said.
He’d gone to pray in the garden,
“Father, let this suffering leave me” he prayed.
Then he was betrayed.
handed over, put on trial.
His disciples scattered, leaving Jesus alone.

‘Crucify Him’ the crowd shouted.
So he was. Stripped. Flogged.
Marched up the hill.
And there, there he was killed.  
Hung from a cross and left to die.

Jesus had left.
His followers lost.
What to do now that Jesus no longer remained with them?

First published by Felpham Methodist Church, April 2019