God with us,
To the grieving, bring comfort.
To those weary with lockdown, bring hope.
To tired medics and carers, bring strength.
To the frustrating, bring calm.
To the unjustly suffering, bring justice.
To us all, be God with us.
Looking back on the interruption of 2020, and the interruption that the season on Advent encourages us to look towards.
What has given you peace this year?
What is giving you peace today?
Comment below, I’d love to hear your experiences.
Lydia, my youngest daughter, is 4 and an early riser – it’s unusual if she wakes up after 6am, usually, around 5:30 in the morning we’re awoke to Lydia coming into our bedroom asking ‘is it morning’, ‘can I have a cuddle’,
‘can you help me put my tights on’, or ‘wake up’!
Louise, my wife and I often respond with something of a grunt, a groan, or a go and play in your bedroom, but Lydia has none of it, she’s wide awake and she wants our attention.
During Advent, Christians often read some of the story of John the Baptist, an older cousin of Jesus who was himself called by God to tell people of the coming one, who would bring signs of the kingdom of God.
Right at the beginning of Marks gospel we read some words that we also find in the Old Testament – which point to John the Baptist as a messenger preparing the way for the Lord – the coming one.
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”Mark 1:2-3
The message at the start of Mark’s gospel is – ‘wake up – make space for the coming one!’ Pay attention to the signs of the coming kingdom.
The use of the words that are also in the Old Testament make a link with the words we find there. Some of them come from Isaiah 40, which is a chapter that begins with the words:
Comfort, O comfort my people, says God.Isaiah 40:1
They are reassuring words, because they remind us that God cares for us, loves us and wants to comfort us. That in making space for God in our lives, the turmoil of life is interrupted by the coming one who came to bring peace to the world.
There’s a myth that God is sat on a golden throne looking down on use little humans wagging his finger in judgement, saying we are awful people who deserve to be punished. There’s even been Christian leaders suggesting that COVID-19 is God’s punishment on us. That’s codswallop.
God doesn’t sit on high, at a distance, judging us. God is among us and with us.
God knows the mess that the world is in, knows we, the human beings God made, are not always the best at looking after the world and one another.
But God knows we try our best and doesn’t focus all effort on punishing us. God loves us and wants our living together to be interrupted by peace, that we might live in peace with one another.
We’ve seen that interruption this year as we sacrifice our own wants and desires, to limit our activity and care for one another through pandemic.
Christmas reminds us that God came to live among us and show us signs of the kingdom of God now. One day Jesus will return and establish an even greater kingdom where all is well, and filled with peace.
But as we journey towards Christmas and hear the message wake up, make space for the coming one – we discover that the coming one, Jesus, has come to make God’s love and care for us more real for us today. The kingdom is now.
So while we know the world isn’t perfect, We know we’re not perfect – perfection isn’t want God is asking of us right now. What God is asking of us is to wake up and be open to be interrupted with peace, to let God’s peace flow into our lives, and flow out into our relationships with one another.
May your life be interrupted… by peace.
All shall be well in his kingdom of peace;Sing we the King who is coming to reign, verse 2, by Charles Silvester Horne
freedom shall flourish and wisdom increase;
justice and truth from his sceptre shall spring;
wrong shall be ended when Jesus is King:
In this advent season,
waiting & watching,
Known & unknown,
Certainty & uncertainty,
Hopeful & hopeless,
Stability & instability,
in the now & yet to be,
We pray for peace & love,
Grace & wisdom,
Justice & hope,
For all those who make decisions now, which impact what will be.
Originally written on 12th December 2018, in light of the Brexit ‘meaningful vote’
Creator of the hills and valleys,
Mountains and oceans,
Maker of all that is,
Give strength in weariness,
Confidence in uncertainty,
Wisdom in the unexpected,
Peace in the busyness.
God I give this,
and every day to you.
a prayer by Dan Balsdon, 2018
As I walk in the dim light of a November afternoon,
the week’s struggles turning in the mind,
Jesus be light to me.
As the fading wind of the mornings storm blows against my face,
the burdens of ministry feeling weighty,
Jesus be hope to me.
As autumns patchwork of browns, yellows and reds
tuck themselves into crevasses and corners,
in uncertainty of what the next week will bring,
Jesus be with me.
Jesus be light to me.
Jesus be hope to me.
Jesus be with me.
Rev Dan shares a prayer form Remembrance Sunday, as we stand together in remembrance of our past and seek God’s hope for our future.
Who breathed life into this world,
and breathed the beauty of our diversity into humanity.
On this day of remembrance,
we remember today, the perils of prejudice and violence,
and the cost of war and conflict.
we remember Jesus,
Who lived a life of peace and justice.
Help us to live our lives as a reflection of the character of Jesus.
Help us learn from humanity’s past,
Stir us to action to stand against injustice,
to boldly strive for peace in our communities and our world.
And show infinite love towards our neighbour.
As we strive towards a world overflowing with justice, hope, peace and love.
A few weeks ago I published known in the unknown, a blog post where I reflected on how I was feeling as I journey through the uncertainty and unknowns surrounding my Reception into Full Connexion and Ordination within the Methodist Church which was due to take place at the end of June.
Emerging from Turmoil
It is fair to say I was feeling in turmoil when I wrote known in the unknown, but I can say that the process of becoming vulnerable and sharing that turmoil was helpful for me in beginning to find healing and new direction.
It also led to receiving an outpouring of messages of care, prayer and encouragement which have all been greatly appreciated and affirming over these last few weeks. I Through them I have also felt the love and affirmation of God. It has been a helpful reminder that God has called me to this vocation, and despite the changes, delays and uncertainties, God’s call remains steadfast.
While much that would have happened is on hold, and many uncertainties about the implications of that remain, I will be Received into Full Connexion with the Methodist Church on Saturday 27th June, 6pm. All can watch through the Conference website. My ordination will come, but the date and arrangements are yet to be determined.
I still have some disappointment that things will not be as they were expected to be, and a struggle with the uncertain of waiting that this brings. Yet through prayer and reflection I’m coming to a point where I can find ways to make sense of and journey with this struggle in a positive way.
What follows is no theological treatise or doctrinal exposition, but some personal reflections, thoughts and feelings which take me right back to the early days of my candidating for presbyteral ministry and through which I have recently felt God speaking to me and encouraging me to keep journeying through the unknown.
Remembering: My Connexional Jigsaw
As part of the process of offering myself as a candidate for ministry I had to deliver a creative presentation entitled ‘picturing the Methodist Connexion in the 21st Century’. My task was to creatively reflect on and respond to a recently published paper which explored questions of what it means to be a Methodist Connexion in the 21st Century. As part of my creative presentation I created this illustration of a body out of multiple jigsaws.
The body is not an unusual metaphor for explaining Christian community. Different parts of one whole, various functions by different parts that enable the body to work and move and grow.
4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism;Ephesians 4:4-5, 11-13
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Looking back at the notes I made at the time, for me the Methodist connexion was an expression of inter-connectedness; mutual-belonging; a joining together of the whole people of God despite contradictory convictions; an expression of what it meant to be church.
In my connexional jigsaw, I intentionally used no edge pieces – my attempt to illustrate a body that is in-complete, reaching out for new connections and possibilities, a shape is not permanently defined.
I also left pieces missing, and mismatched puzzles that do not fully connect. I wanted to demonstrate the body as imperfect and broken, yet open. The Methodist Connexion, as with any Christian community, lives in a world of brokenness. Despite our deepest desires and greatest intentions, people have been hurt, abused, and rejected by people acting in the name of Methodism. People do not always feel they belong.
Yet I wanted to illustrate a hope that the body that is the Methodist connexion can be a church where there is an awareness of our broken fallibility and our missing pieces. I wanted to hold out hope that we can be an open space where those who feel they don’t belong could belong.
This exploration of connexionalism early in my formational journey has been foundational to my continued journey through the following years.
Journeying: Learning to be a puzzle piece
Honestly, candidating, moving to Birmingham and starting formational training at Queens petrified me. I was full of anxiety, worried what others would think of me or if I would fit in. Much of that is rooted in my struggles with my own identity, belonging and purpose in my teen and young adult life, but that’s for another time!
Cut a long story short, despite our different journeys, opinions, backgrounds, denominations, personal circumstances (and everything else!), it is with this beautifully quirky, diverse and God-loving group of people I can call my cohort, friends and ‘Queens family’ that I came to learn I am a piece that belonged in the jigsaw, called to be who God made me to be.
On our last day at college Methodist leaves spent a day reflecting together and were asked to bring an ‘object’ with us to use as part of our reflections. For me it was this puzzle piece. It had appeared in the girls bedroom from we-don’t-know-where a few days before, and I just had this sense of needing to take it.
Among the things I jotted in my journal that day, I noted how jigsaws require all the pieces, that each individual piece matters and without each individual piece in place, the puzzle is incomplete. By the nature of their design, the picture of a puzzle lacks detail when a piece is not in place.
A Piece with a Purpose
It hadn’t been in my mind when I chose it as my object, but as I reflected I remembered my creative presentation and looking around the room came to realise how this group of people were each pieces in the vast connexional jigsaw. This moment was perhaps the first time I felt I experienced a glimpse of what it would one day mean to be Received into Full Connexion, coming to belong to an order of ministry made of up diversely gifted and opinionated (!), God-centred people, called and equipped by God in a particular way to serve God’s people.
That day a little piece of card that I could easily how thrown away, was given new purpose. It now hangs on my wall to remind me of my formational journey, my Queens family, my being a unique part of a bigger whole, my belonging to God’s church, and growing into my vocation as a minister within God’s universal church.
A Piece Connected to Others
Reminded of both my own personal call, and the way I am connected to others has helped me to hold my personal disappointment in perspective with the wider world.
My disappointment is not isolated and unique. From the postponed weddings; funerals held differently to ‘normal’; birthday parties held on zoom; inability to purchase eggs, flour or loo roll (!); trivial or deeply difficult – all of society is bearing disappointments, uncertainties and changes to our way of life.
Held in perspective, I’m coming to see my disappointment as part of my being connected to others, my bearing the worldwide impact of coronavirus, my sharing in the communal suffering of our groaning world. My participation in the necessary change and the emergence into the ‘new normal’ we all have to begin to adjust to.
I’m also coming to see this experience as part of the burden of responsibility that goes with saying yes to serving God. I realise now that I too am represented by the missing pieces and mispatched jigsaws through which I sought to illustrated the broken body of Christ living in a broken world. And I too can still belong.
And through that disappointment, I’m finding opportunity. Much of my disappointment comes from the fact that the things in which I had held symbolism and meaning are having to change. But, if I choose to, I can find new-meaning in new places despite the delay and uncertain waiting.
While the unknown is difficult, subverts tradition (which granted can be good or bad!) and is in some ways un-nerving, I’m also coming to feel excited again by the prospect of discovering God through the unexpected in what is yet to come.
This opportunity to discover and rediscover for myself is now starting to feel like an unexpected gift. A time to be brave, not clinging to the past but reaching for the future, as part of the body that is ready to change and transform for such a time as this.
A gift, a piece, and peace
Despite COVID being a catalyst for things to be different, change does not have to detract from truth. I’ve been reminded these last weeks that no matter what happens in this broken and uncertain world, I am still called & equipped by God. I am still a unique piece of the puzzle that is God’s kingdom, and God’s kingdom would have a hole in without me. Despite appearances and the implications of long-term social distancing, by God’s design, I am and always will be connected to others.
So this single puzzle piece will be hung on my office wall’s for the rest of my life – wherever God’s call takes me.
Reminding me of the gift that has been my journey with God so far.
Reminding me of my being part of the bigger whole made up of every other piece, seen or unseen, certain or uncertain, belonging or not-belonging.
Reminding me that God is unchanging, steadfast and true, despite the chaos and turmoil that I fear surrounding me.
There’s still disappointment, but there’s also excitement at new opportunity, and that’s why this piece is helping me find peace despite the uncertainty as I prepare to continue the journey of being part of God’s jigsaw, to be Received into Full Connexion and, one day, be Ordained.
This week, in a slightly longer than ‘normal (!) vlog, I look at Luke 24 (the Road to Emmaus) and reflect on how our plate and cup are empty, waiting to be filled because as Methodist in Britain we are not practicing communion while we are physically distancing and unable to gather as worshipping community.
The text below the video is roughly the same as what’s in the video, but at the bottom of the blog post there’s an extra video, a downloadable version of the blog post for printing, and of course, opportunity for you to join your thoughts to the conversation!
In Luke’s gospel, after Jesus resurrection, we find the story of Cleopas and his travelling companion on the Emmaus road. I shared a reflection on the passage in last week’s Sunday reflections.
Cleopas and his companion are filled with grief and uncertainty after Jesus’ death and then a stranger joins them on their journey. And they hadn’t any clue who this stranger was.
“As they came near the village to which they were going, [the stranger] walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”Luke 24:28-31
What I have found striking reading this over the last week is that it is in the breaking and sharing of bread that the true identity of Jesus is realised. As they sit together, in fellowship with one another, learning and discerning and questioning, eating and drinking, the bread is broken and Jesus is seen for who he is.
Breaking of bread is one of the many titles in Christian tradition we use for communion, Eucharist, the Lord’s supper. This week the Emmaus story has set me thinking about communion.
This is my home communion set. It was given to me by my placement church while I was training, a multi-cultural congregation in a deprived and diverse suburb of Birmingham. This reminds me of where I’ve come from, and how I’m part of the national and global church.
I use this set to take communion to people who are housebound. So it reminds me both of the local churches which I serve, but also of the homes to which I have visited and shared communion.
This set reminds me that the presence of God is everywhere; global, national, local and in our homes.
Communion is something may be important to our spirituality as individuals and as worshipping communities. It is a meal we share, through which we remember Jesus sharing a meal with his friends before his arrest and crucifixion. We take bread and wine, symbols of the body and blood of Christ, we bless them, break them and share them as we remember Christ and experience him present with us now. Where we are embraced by the unconditional love and unending grace of God, offered through Christ, made present by God’s Spirit.
But for the moment, the plate and cup are empty. We’re not sharing communion together. We are distanced from one another, unable to physically gather and share as a worshipping community.
At the moment, some churches have been practicing communion online, but as British Methodists, we are not. In 2018 our Methodist Conference considered virtual communion, albeit considered under very different circumstances to that which we find ourselves in today. Conference voted against the practice, and while given current circumstances I suspect the conversation and decision might go differently, for now we follow those decisions, leaving plate and cup empty, waiting for the day they can be filled again.
For me, I want to be honest with you, I’ve come to a point where I’m ok with that. It’s painful, not being able to share communion with those I know dearly wish to receive it. It’s painful not the able to gather at the table to share as a worshipping community.
Some of you may share my feeling ok, but I expect that for some of you, not receiving communion has been, or is continuing to be difficult right now. I want you to know I understand something of that struggle. But I also want to share with you a little bit about why, for me, I’ve come to a place where I feel ok for the moment, that the glasses and plate are empty and waiting, as I patiently wait for the time they can be filled again.
And in sharing, I hope that it may help you too.
At the beginning of this year, many Methodists prayed the covenant prayer, as a sign and renewing of our continuing commitment to living in relationship with God, knowing that God continues to be unconditionally committed to us by his love and grace.
Within the covenant prayer we say the words: ‘let me be full, let me be empty,’
I’ve found reflecting on those words in light of not receiving communion during this time helpful. The covenant prayer contrasts various ways of living, employed or laid aside, having all things or nothing, being full or being empty.
But whether employed or laid aside, having all things or nothing, full or empty, are all included as part of our living in relationship with God. There is never an absence of God.
For me, these words remind me that whether I have received communion or not, all of life is saturated in God, God is still present and part of my life and being. So I’ve felt God helping Me to this time, not as a case of communion being taken away from me, but a time where I consciously abstain, as part of my being emptied for God.
Yet, at the same time, I also see the empty plate and cup being just as presence filled by God’s Spirit as when they are filled with bread and wine.
Inclusion and exclusion
For me, another reason that I feel ok that we leave plate and cup empty is that, if did communion online, what about those who are offline? Who do not have internet access?
before lockdown, when communion was celebrated in our buildings there was inclusive intent within our liturgy and practice, and those that were housebound had the options of home or extended communion.
But today, those who would be excluded from online communion have no other way of receiving.
As part of communion we often share the peace, sometimes preluded by the words:
‘In the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body.
Let us therefore keep the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace.’
For me, if I was able to share communion with some of you, I wonder if I would then risk breaking that unity of Spirit and bond of peace, through depriving and excluding some, from what I was offering to others.
To bring us back to Emmaus, in that resurrection story, as Cleopas and his companion offered hospitality to a stranger, it was in the distribution, the breaking and sharing, Jesus was made known.
This Emmaus encounter is not communion as we may have come to practice it. Here is a simple meal and a household who share hospitality with a stranger. In that act of sharing what they had, their guest shares with them everything he is.
We can only gather as households right now, but I can assure you that even though plate and cup are empty, Jesus is present with us, not a stranger but a friend, longing to be a guest at our tables.
It may not be how we’re used to it through communion, we still patiently wait for a time that we can once again physically gather together to worship and break bread together, but even while cup and plate are empty, if we allow our eyes to be opened to it;
God’s Spirit, the very presence of God, continues to bind us together; though distanced, we are united – one in Spirit.
God’s unconditional love and unending grace
are overflowing for us as much now as they always have.
And whether we feel full or empty,
Christ in his fullness is forever with us.
May the peace of the Risen Christ be with you.
Peace be with you
A video montage of over 100 people signing Peace be with you, put together by some friends based in Manchester. Look carefully and you may find 1 or 2 familiar little faces!
 See Share this Feast, Reflecting on Holy Communion, (Methodist Publishing, 2018), p6
 See Share this Feast, Reflecting on Holy Communion, (Methodist Publishing, 2018), p4
 Part of the Covenant Prayer, Methodist Worship Book, p290
 Example of the Introduction to the peace, Methodist Worship Book, p189.
 I must give some credit to a friend who sowed this seed in their blog post earlier this week – https://dbobstoner.com/jesus-on-a-boriswalk/
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.