Monday, April 23, 2018

Easter 4 B 22nd April 2018, Coventry Cathedral

I wonder if youve ever noticed that some of the loudest words arent there at all?
I sometimes think that the greatest gift that we at Coventry Cathedral have given to the world is to be found in the word that isn’t there.
You know the one – the word that it isn’t there SEVEN TIMES
Whenever we pray the Litany together.

That’s quite a lot of absence – and the missing word, of course, is “Them”.

While Jesus, from the cross, looked at specific people who had done, in ignorance a particular and cataclysmic thing...and prayed in love and compassion “Father forgive them” - he is in fact the only one ever who could dissociate himself from the pain and brokenness of human life, from those destructive behaviour patterns that are part of the fabric of humanity.
He alone needed no forgiveness – so could ask for it with complete altruism, on behalf of everyone else.

For the rest of us, there’s no such option. We can’t pray “Father forgive them” with any kind of integrity because the truth is that we’re all in the mess together, and we are the ones who made it.
And so, gloriously, the litany points this out and invites us to ally ourselves with our brothers and sisters across the world and across history as we say “Father forgive” – and recognise that there IS no them and us...that we are all alike fallible, hurting one another, hurting the planet, and hurting God.

That’s part of the Cathedral’s DNA – and on our best days I imagine that we can all both recognise and feel the truth of it in our beings and our bones...know ourselves as flawed and broken as the person next to us...and know, too, that this means we are all alike taken up in Jesus’s great forgiveness project, all included in his saving act…
We hold to that missing word, and whisper fervently “Father forgive”

That’s on our best days.
There are other times, of course, when we are distressingly keen to rebuild the barriers that Jesus came to break down.
We LIKE defining the world in terms of “them” and “us”...and are keen to recruit Jesus to our team
Last week, John’s sermon included John Donne’s reflection “no man is an island” - but we often seem rather keen on insularity...both as individuals and as society.
We saw an example of this in our national life, in the way our government had planned to deal with the Windrush generation…and in the continued manoeuvres around Brexit…
It was part of the motivation behind the “Rivers of blood” speech whose anniversary has been marked this week…
And of course, it’s integral to the thinking behind the ongoing “hate that divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class” right across the world.
Them and us.

And, to my shame, it’s part of me too...though I really do try to resist it. I know there’s a reserve, a suspicion, in the way that I react in some situations, some people with whom I try too hard, because deep down they make me nervous. They are different, in faith, politics, world view…
If it’s all the same to you, Jesus, I’d rather belong to a flock of people just like me.
It would make my life so much easier if only everyone else would fall into line and do things my way, enjoy Byrd and Bach and the laughter of children during worship…
Strangers are welcome as long as they can be assimilated...turn into people just like me and my tribe…
Does that sort of thinking sound even vaguely familiar ?
I suspect there might  a similar process at work in some of you too...that you’ll have your own internal yard-stick against which you evaluate a newcomer in your street, a stranger who sits next to you on the bus, or comes in to the Cathedral to pray.

Part of accepting our flawed humanity is understanding that we are still not very good at learning to live with difference and celebrate diversity, though voicing the aspiration is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

Jesus is very clear about it.

There shall be One flock, one shepherd...who knows each of his sheep... the secrets of their hearts, their struggles, their hopes, their wounds and their dreams…
Knows them as fully as Father and Son know each other.
Knows them– and YET - Loves them.
Knows me – knows you – and yet...keeps on loving.

And lays down his life – to show that ALL are equally loveable...

You see, love is a universal language, that all can understand...
“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd”
They will listen because that language of love  transcends faith and culture....Does not depend on good behaviour....cannot be bought or earned…
No matter how big a mess we have made of our pasts
No matter how raw and painful our present the message of love speaks into our situation.
It is, always, a free gift.
God's grace poured out in wild extravagance and made clear to us at that moment when Jesus, on the cross, draws all people to himself.

ALL people.
Not just the good, the trying to be holy,
Not just the people with whom we would enjoy sharing a sheepfold, or a desert island.
ALL people

One flock, one shepherd.

And yes – we do need to learn to hear his voice…
And we may not always enjoy what he has to say, for that voice will be calling us to have larger hearts, to pray blessings on those whom we cannot understand, those whom we fear, those whom we are sure that we cannot be called to like, to follow ways of greater love.
No them and us, remember.
One flock, one shepherd.

But, though we do need to listen to his voice, that’s all that is asked of us.
The salvation that we find in no-one else is not conditional.
We're talking grace and not works here.
We can't earn God's love.
We can't forfeit it.

Think of the person you find it hardest to love...whether someone you know personally or someone you think you know through their words and actions reported in the media day by day.
Think of them and remember, they too are part of the one flock…
In a few days time I will have the privilege of conducting the funeral of a wonderful man, one of a whole set of honorary parents whose wisdom, love and care helped me navigate
tricky years of young adulthood after the death of my own parents.
I loved him then and love him still and it will be a joy to pray
“Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming.
But I know that I need to be able to pray those words and know their truth no matter who I speak of…
No them and us
but one flock, one shepherd…
Jesus in whom, alone, we find our salvation.
Jesus, whose love and grace amaze us with their wild generosity day by day by day…

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

For Mothering Sunday at Coventry Cathedral

Love can break your heart
That might seem to be the message of today's gospel – and indeed, the message of a week in which I have spent some time with the parents of Corey and Casper, those little boys who were so tragically killed just over a fortnight ago as they headed off for an afternoon in the park. On Wednesday I was privileged to listen for almost an hour as they shared story after story about their precious little boys – about their passion for football, and ice-cream, their go-get-it approach to life, their beautiful manners out and about, and their very ordinary small boy mischief at home. All this plus smiles that lit up the room and won them friends both near and far.
There was so much laughter and delight in their rememberings that day that it was possible for a moment to forget that as they shared their stories of love we stood together very much in the shadow of the cross.
And we stand there in good company – with the mothers from Parkland and Sandy Hook, from Ghoota and a score of other places where children have died before their time, leaving mothers bereft

I can’t bear to imagine how hard today will be for Louise, though she has two more little boys to hug and to hold. I once had a miscarriage on Mothering Sunday – which made me sad or ambivalent for several years – but while I may have a faint inkling of how she might feel, I think it takes Mary to understand the pain.

And there can be so much pain, where love is deep and true. While it may not always be so obvious, we all find ourselves at the foot of the cross from time to time.
So I’m glad that while the shops are full of saccharine invitations to spoil your dear old mum, there's not a whiff of hallmark sentimentality about today’s gospel.
That’s good – because I’m sure I’m not the only mother to feel deeply uncomfortable, even guilty, as the paeon of praise for an utterly unrealistic vision of domestic bliss is presented amid the media hype of the season.
I don’t recognise myself in smiling guardians of a perfect home.
My children are my greatest joy and delight – but because I love them so much, they are also my greatest vulnerability.
And it was so, too, for Our Lady.
A sword shall pierce your soul” predicted Simeon – and as Passiontide approaches we begin to remember once again how hard it was to be the Mother of watch your precious son court disaster by his lifestyle, his choice of friends, his choice of words...even before you find yourself standing at the foot of the cross as he dies in agony.

That kind of desperate anxiety about another is part of the business of loving however and whoever we are , I think – part of investing so much of ourselves IN the other that when they hurt, we hurt too. 
A situation that's so very familiar to mothers – but equally to fathers, brothers, sisters, friends...and to the vulnerable God who loves the world so much that he gave his only Son...

You see, mothering,and all that it entails, has never been exclusive to those women who have given birth.
At its best, motherhood can be a wonderful reflection of God's nurturing love
At its worst it can be neglectful, manipulative and a whole host of other things besides – and I know that many people struggle with today, and some regular worshippers will stay away from church because their own experience as either parent or child has left them bruised and anxious.
Then there are those who have longed to be parents – but it just hasn't happened...another group who feel that today is not for them...
Those whose children have flown the nest and are just too far away.
And of course, there are those who will spend today missing their mothers – or, like Louise, their children.
Holding onto the love but knowing the pain as well.
Love can break your heart and Mothers' day as it is celebrated by secular society can be extraordinarily hard for many many people who fall outside the vision of 2.4 children and a labrador.

So – why keep on celebrating it at all – when there is so much potential for causing distress for which not all the daffodils in the world will ever begin to compensate?
Because, of course, Mothering Sunday – unlike the secular celebrations of “Mothers' Day” has never been all about mothers...
On Mothering Sunday we celebrate all those who have mothered us – women and men and children too...
Yes, of course we give thanks for those who laboured that we might have life, who physically brought us into this world – whatever their impact on us afterwards.
And we give thanks for those who have nurtured us along the way.
We remember, that we are called into community – the family of the church that was created as Jesus gave his mother into the care of his friend, at that moment of terrible pain which looked like the end of all hope,everywhere.
Woman - here is your son. Son, here is your mother.
And we remember that we have inherited that calling to care for one another, to provide loving arms to hold and to hug at the hard show one another the kind of care that might be at least a partial reflection of the amazing love that God offers us all – even when we break HIS heart with our failure to love in return.

So Mothering Sunday is an invitation to us all – to take on that role of loving nurture and be there for one another in sorrow and in live as a family at its best can live.

And we come to our mother church – the place that has nurtured us in our faith, that feeds us week by week with God's Word and his very life, offered to us in Bread and Wine. This Cathedral Church of St Michael, Coventry, of course, has a particular role for the whole diocese.
So here we rejoice to say “Welcome home” when brothers and sisters from the parishes join us for worship, or simply to visit.
We try to serve spiritual, intellectual, cultural food so that together we can flourish and grow.
We know that not all members of the family will have the same tastes but we try very hard to make sure that there’s something for everyone – and we offer our best hospitality with a smile, come what may – because generous hospitality is always part of the deal.
But we'll not be perfect at this either. Broken people in a broken Church - trusting in God's grace to provide the golden seam that is used in Japanese pottery to repair damaged work, til it is more beautiful than ever before.

And maybe we remember that though Love can break your heart- beyond the pain and heartbreak that Mary experienced at the foot of the cross, the dawn of Resurrection is already shining – and so we try to live as signs of that new hope, and the world in which God's mothering love is known and shared by all....

Mothering Sunday - not just for mothers

When I was a child, Mothering Sunday was not much of a "thing". If we went to the 10.30, rather than my father's preferred 8.00, there would be tiny bunches of violets blessed, to take home to our mothers - and perhaps we would stop at Mr Day's, the tobacconist, to buy her a bar of the Suchard's chocolate she enjoyed, as a special treat. Beyond that, - no fuss, no hype...if you didn't go to church, you probably wouldn't have registered Mothering Sunday at all.

Mummy died when I was 18...and my next brush with the day came 8 years later, when I had my first miscarriage on the eve of Mothering Sunday. I was only a few weeks pregnant that time, so though I was deeply sad at the loss, there was no question of my not keeping a commitment to return to SJDK, the church that had been so important to me before my marriage, to sing Evensong. Wesley, "Ascribe unto the Lord" - with its reminder "You are the blessed of the Lord, you and your children"
In my emotionally charged state, those words felt like a promise - one I clung to through the series of miscarriages that followed, the times when it felt as if while one child might be possible, children were a dream too far.

Turns out I was blessed...3 children, loved and loving, who've now flown the nest but return bringing joy with them, which has spilled over into a new generation. And yes, as I delight in all that Eleanor Grace has brought to our lives, on the special magnetism of a baby who draws us all together in more love than I'd have believed possible, I do feel sad that I was never able to share my own children with my parents - but that sadness is no more acute today than on any other. It ebbs and flows, just as the wistful wondering about those lost babies of mine also ebbs and flows through the seasons. 

And I think that, actually, I'm OK. 
This is not a sad story. 
And this is because I've always been given love, care, support from so many many different directions...from friends, from children (my own and other peoples), from my church family, - and (waiting quietly in the background til I was ready to recognise her) from God too.

Here's my personal list:
Mummy and Daddy, Eirene, Jilly, Uncle Truffle, Lucy B, JW, Fr Nigel and Fr Neil,  Beth and Alastair, Libby and Anne, Stan, Peggy, Carolyn, Camilla, Ann, John & Marcia, Marilyn, Don and Ellen...
I thank my God on every remembrance of you, and of many many others who've showed me how to pass on the gift of mothering.

I wouldn't buy a "Happy You Day" card, as Waitrose has suggested - because somehow that buys into the world of L'Oreal "Because you're worth it"....but a card that said  
"Today and every day, thank you for your love and care" - now that could be a real best seller in my world.
And I might thrown in some chocolate too.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Lent 2 Take up your cross

When I sat down to read through today’s gospel my first thought was
Oh cripes! I would NEVER have chosen this on a Sunday when I’m hoping to persuade everyone of the joy of engaging in community. Actually, I’d probably never have chosen it at all...”

And yet, here it is – and, thanks to the lectionary, that makes us engage with the whole of scripture, and not just our favourite bits, here I am preaching on it anyway. Perhaps it’s one of those passages with which I must, like Jacob, wrestle for a that I can share that blessing with you this morning. Let’s just take a deep breath and see how we get on.
It’s not going to be easy.

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospelwill save it.For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 
Take up their cross?
Lose their life?
That's supposed to be GOOD news? here we have it, straight from the Master himself
Far from precluding suffering, faith seems to guarantee it, but I'm not really sure that I signed up to that. Following Jesus is all very well – but does that have to mean walking the way of the cross? Couldn’t we skip the hard parts and major on the hope of resurrection?

As so often in the gospel, Peter is my ally, saying all the things that would have been uppermost in my thoughts too. Here’s Jesus preaching like doom and despair...quite openly! And Peter, desperately anxious about bad PR, taking his Master aside to suggest that he might offer something more palatable. After all, who wants to follow someone whose future includes suffering, rejection and death?
I’d have been anxious to hush that up too…In fact, that’s pretty much the root of my reluctance to actually get on and preach on this gospel, isn’t it! I want good news to be straightforward, unmistakeable, because after all – that’s the way life is.

Except, of course, that it isn’t.
Not one little bit.
Life is complex...sometimes joyful, sometimes sad and hard beyond all expectation. We don’t have to raise our eyes very far this morning to find evidence of that -with the deaths of Casper and Corey just down the road from us here. or those 17 who died in Parkland, Florida, or the hundreds killed in and around Damascus…
And for each of those deaths, others whose lives have been changed in a moment. Who bear the weight of grief and bewilderment, anger and despair. Who are carrying a cross, right enough – and finding its weight overwhelming.

We need, then, a gospel that enables us to cope with that, since it seems that we
won’t be able to fast forward to the Resurrection, without anyone having to go through the tough stuff?

It’s true that Jesus can and will carry all of that for us…
your sadness, my disappointment, our anger and doubt, denial and despair..
That's what makes the weight of the cross that he carries.
But we are invited, encouraged to carry it learn to be Christlike by sharing in his suffering even as we hope to share in his glory.

Crosses are forged from many things, each unique to the bearer. The experiences of brokenness in our own lives, the awareness of the times we've failed God and failed each other, our lack of love, our lack of trust.
And things that just seem to be part of life – a difficult marriage, a sick partner an unplanned loneliness...things we might prefer to jettison, but find ourselves having to carry day by day by day.
Bespoke crosses, yours quite unlike mine, maybe lighter, maybe not...but part of the point of being a community is that we can, and we must, strive to bear one another’s burdens.

[That’s such an important aspect of being human and being Church, you know.
Weeping with those that weep is not an optional extra, - and nor is rejoicing with those who rejoice. As we continue to learn, through Lent and beyond, what it means to be God’s people once again, we will be one another’s best teachers. Though many will assert that you can be a Christian in isolation, the journey is both easier and immeasurably richer when we follow Christ TOGETHER…

That, of course, is why we care about small groups, and are focussing on them today. We need places where a deeper relationship can be forged than is possible simply over Sunday coffee or a quick exchange at the door. Whether those groups exist explicitly to encourage discipleship, or whether they are all about exploring a shared interest – in music, walking, the history of the blitz – they are the places where we can begin to trust each other a little more day by day, with joys and sorrows, worries and delights. While I may not feel brave enough to bare my soul on a large stage, I’m very thankful for a safe space to be honest about my particular crosses, a place where I can feel confident that someone will set to and carry me in prayer, even as I try to carry them in return.
It is not good for man to be alone”, observed God at the very beginning – and Church should be the place where we can most surely trust one another with the hard stuff, can recognise when someone is floundering under their burdens, and reach out to help them with their load.]

Sometimes, of course, we carry things quite needlessly.
We insist on holding onto something that SEEMS precious, something for which we've struggled and fought, something apparently more alluring than Christ's call to deny ourselves, take up those wretched crosses once again and follow him.…
We prefer to load ourselves with other individuals and as communities too
We can become confused about what really matters, clinging on to something for the sake of tradition, or pursuing something that seems good but which is really of secondary importance. Perhaps this Lent might be a time to reflect on how we might let go of things like that – and a good few other things too. They are NOT part of our crosses, those prizes that seem so shiny and alluring now – health, wealth, success, even family stability. In fact they turn out to be so much dead-weight, things we can't take with us into the Kingdom.
What will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”
Jesus knows, I promise, how hard it can be to put those deceptive weights down…
Jesus knows, too,the weight of each cross that we have to bear.
And he knows, and wants us to discover, how the way of the cross leads through pain and suffering to the new life of Easter.
It's into this that we are baptised...sharing Christ's death so that we might also share his resurrection.

So, there's our good news.  We, God's people, travelling togethet in faith, hope and love, will find the way of the cross most truly the way of life and peace.
Thanks be to God!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Lent 1 Bread in the wilderness

When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were torn open,the Spirit descended like a dove,
and the voice of God cried out,
“You are my son the beloved – with you I am well pleased”
An amazing moment...An affirmation of his calling, in preparation for all that was to come.
A snap shot, too, of the life of the Trinity...Father, Son and Spirit, Love, Beloved and Lover...Jesus dripping from the water, immersed in heavenly Love and overflowing with the Holy Spirit.
A moment to treasure.
When I am baptising, I often use this reading and point out to the congregation that this is the first time Jesus appears on the scene in Mark’s gospel...He has DONE nothing extraordinary and yet, God looks at him and loves him because of who he is.
And I remind them that it is exactly the same for us.
There is nothing in the world that we can do to make God love us – and more or any less. God loves us because of who GOD is...and that is the best beginning that any of us could have.

For Jesus though, that moment of affirmation is short-lived.
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness”
That gentle dove transformed into an irresistible force, sending Jesus out beyond the bounds of civilisation, into the most hostile landscape imaginable.
Sunbeams scorching all the day, chilly dewdrops nightly shed
Not an inviting prospect
Nobody goes into the wilderness unless they have to.
You can die there, or, almost worse, you can lose yourself, your sense of who you are...
So why does the Spirit drive Jesus to spend time there, in that place where everything is stripped away, where the voice of affirmation gives way to the whispers of doubt?

Mark gives us none of the temptation stories we find elsewhere – just that brief summary
He was tempted by Satan...
But in those 5 words we find hope for our own wilderness times....for the place is surely not unfamiliar to us.
We may not know how we arrive there but inevitably at some point in our lives we will find ourselves there, - perhaps repeatedly.
And by God's grace we will not just survive but grow in those experiences.
You see, the wilderness is a place where everything external is stripped away, where we have nothing but ourselves and God rely on, where we have to confront the reality of who we are – and come to terms with it.
That won't be an easy process....but we know that in our wilderness we are not alone...Jesus has been here, as he has been through every other experience of human life.

Our collect today emphasises that it was here that Jesus was tempted, as we are...and of course that matters hugely.
But we need to reflect too on the pattern of moving from spiritual highs, from the joyous security of knowing ourselves beloved of God, to the times of isolation, the times when we feel that we have been DESERT ed...cast into the desert.
Perhaps if we remember that Jesus has been HERE before us too, it may give us strength to survive our own times of isolation, confusion and doubt.
Jesus was in training, whether he knew it or training for the time when, though he was drawing all people to himself he would cry out “Eloi, eloi lama sabacthani”...believing himself to be abandoned by God.
And his time of trial sets a pattern for our own...for wherever we walk in the wilderness, it will not be untrodden ground for us.
Jesus has been here first......has explored the depths of his being....perhaps has even wondered, for an instant, if the Love he experienced at the Jordan was but a transient illusion...
but Jesus has kept faith with himself, and in so doing has kept faith with his heavenly Father.
And so, even as he faced temptation, help was at hand
Angels ministered to him”
There will always be wilderness experiences...and we will not always be able to embrace them....for it's human to prefer the way of green pastures and still waters.
But during Lent we can model wilderness, can choose to strip away distractions, choose to go deep into ourselves to explore who we are, and who God is in our lives.
And if we dare that inner journey, then we will find that God is the one who makes the desert blossom like the rose, that it is in the wilderness that we find grace, and the heavenly manna that will feed us til we are safely home.

You are dust and to dust you shall return

It is always the most extraordinary thing, that moment of unexpected intimacy, as the priest dips their finger in that black ash and marks the forehead - where once the cross was traced in baptismal oil.
"You are dust, and to dust you shall return"
Words that have, in previous years, made me feel heavy - as if I were pronouncing, rather than simply acknowledging, a death sentence.
Words that have made me remember those whose foreheads I marked in previous years, who are now gone from us, demonstrating the truth I had spoken.
"You are dust".

This year,kneeling at the rail, a young mother asked me to ash her daughter, just a couple of months older than my precious Eleanor Grace.
I'm not sure what I expected, really - but certainly not the beautiful smile with which little Bella greeted the words, the open welcome with which she received the cross on her forehead.
For a second I felt myself the unwelcome guest, the bad fairy at the christening in a Grimm's tale.
I had brought a memento mori into a context where surely what should have been celebrated was the gift of life...but Bella knew better.
Her smile was that of someone who knows that all is exactly as it should be - and she reminded me of the freedom that is part of our mortality.
You are dust - so the huge weight of our preoccupations really doesn't matter.
You are dust - so, actually, the mountain of STUFF we accumulate to worry about is of absolutely no significance whatsoever.
You are dust - so you have permission not to worry, to live in this moment, to savour the here and now just as a small child might do.

This year, "You are dust" has become a mantra that has re-ordered my priorities, reminding me not to fret over trivia, never to lose sight of my eternal destiny but to rejoice in the freedom of being mortal as once again I try to turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Breathing Space Prayer journey with John's Prologue

It's always a little confusing to be confronted with John's Prologue weeks after the candlelit solemnity of Midnight Mass, so when it cropped up a week or two back, I was slightly perplexed as to how to make it work for "Breathing Space". In the event, I needn't have worried. God turned up and made the evening take wings, so I've decided it's worth keeping a record of it, just in case...

Station 1:
A gold gift bag beside the font, with cards spilling out of it, each with a message from Scripture, a message from God.
"I have loved you with an everlasting love" 
"You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased"
"I will never leave you or forsake you"
"I have called you by name, you are mine"
"I am with you always, to the close of the age"
"See, I have written your name on the palm of my hand"
"You are precious in my sight...and I love you"
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
In the beginning was the Word”
God is all about communication - relationship - reaching out to us, wanting to make Godself known.
What God was, the Word was....As John puts it, Jesus is first and foremost God's word, God's expression of Godself. In what he said and what he did, he showed us what God was like, what mattered to him, what he cared about. If you want to know God, says John, look at Jesus - the Word that sums God up.

If Jesus is God’s word to us – then what does he have to say.
Here at the font, where we mark the beginning of our Christian journey, take a card with a 

word to you from God.
Spend 5 minutes reflecting on it...Carry it with you….Believe in its truth.

God’s word to you today and for the weeks ahead.

Station 2 at the chancel steps: An orchid in full flower, a jug of tulips, images of natural 

beauty and of the miracle of life in the womb
Script: All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.
Jesus was there when the world began. The power of love that we see in his life is the same power that holds everything in being. The whole of creation might be seen as a love-letter from God. Enjoy these examples of creation. Ask God to help you to recognise God’s work day by day.
Station 3:  a large laminated world map spread on the floor beside the Kiel globe candle stand.
Baskets of tea-lights.

Script: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Think of the dark places and the dark situations in our world. Perhaps there are even some in your life. Take time to be glad that God’s light has not and never will be overcome...That all the darkness in the world cannot put out the light of even the tiniest candle. Light a candle – or many candles – for all those who specially need the comforting light of God’s presence, and place them on the world map on the floor.

Station 4: Beside "The Plumbline and the City" a pile of "certificates", and pens

Script:  There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 
Like Amos, whose vision of a plumbline over his city set the true course for a nation that had gone astray, John the Baptist was called to speak out, to invite people to look at their lives in the light of God, to reconsider and to repent. He was to be a signpost, pointing to Christ.
That calling to John is a calling for us all. We too are sent to testify to the light….Each of our lives can speak of God, passing on something of his love to others if we let that happen.
Take a card and write your name in the space. Spend a bit of time with God thinking about how you might be a witness, your life a gospel through which others may come to see God at work. Carry the card with you as a reminder in the days ahead.
"Kathryn...Sent to bear witness to the light"

Station 5: the (closed) gates to the railing at the Lady Chapel
Script:  He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.  He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.
Sometimes Jesus can be a real bother! There’s his voice that reminds me when I’m getting too pleased with myself...Or beginning to think that it’s all about me. He speaks again, challenging me if I think I might not bother to do whatever act of kindness is obviously there in front of me, which just feels a bit too much like hard work. He keeps on saying “Love God first. Love others the way you love yourself”. And there are times when I really want to shut the door in his face and live life on my terms.
And he never ever forces himself on me. He just stands there waiting at the edge of my life, when I know I should keep him at the centre…God excluded from the very world that God made. God stuck on a cross to keep him out of our way, to stop him from interrupting our agenda.
Think of some of the ways you try and keep God out of your life….It’s really easy to open the gate and be close to him – but we use all sorts of things to keep him safely out the way. You might want to write some of them down and fix them to the railings….

Station 6: in front of the tapestry, inside the Lady Chapel
12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us
Look at one another. God became human like us….so that we, in all our human frailty, might become like God. God settled with show us what a God-shaped life would look like – and invites us to live that life, to be His body here and now.
We can help one another to see him and to welcome Him in all the wonder of his love, that is full of grace and truth
Look at your hands – see the touch and the tenderness God’s own for the world
Look at your feet – see the path and the direction God’s own for the world
Look at your heart – see the fire and the love God’s own for the world
Look at the cross – see God’s Son and our Saviour God’s own for the world
This is God’s world and we will serve God in it
May God bless you
May God keep you ever with great care
and lead your lives with love
May Christ’s warm welcome shine in our lives and peace in heart and home prevail
til greater life shall call. Amen.

Love means never having to say that you're sorry

That was the line espoused by Ali McGraw in the 1970s film "Love Story" - and as a romantically inclined teenager that made perfect sense to me. Falling in love would mean a soft focus walk towards a beautiful sunset, accompanied not only by my beloved but by a whole string orchestra. And because our love would be perfect, we would never ever disappoint one another and so we would never need to say "sorry".

Well, that phase lasted til my first romance, I guess...And when I married the father of my children, the exhaustion of early years parenting, the absence of enough cash for the number of days in the month, and a whole host of other stresses and strains presented me with a hefty dose of harsh reality really quite quickly. It turned out, in fact, that love meant having to say I was sorry on a distressingly regular basis. I realised that if love was going to have any hope of surviving, then it had to be based on reality. And in the real world I, and my loved ones, mess up regularly and so we need to say sorry several dozen times a day.
That's just how it is - even in human relationships, where there are always faults on both sides, and where learning to forgive as well as be forgiven is just the way things are.

So this year, with Ash Wednesday falling on 14th February, love and saying sorry come together with renewed force. Ash Wednesday, you see, is all about accepting the truth of who we are...fallible human beings, constrained by time and mortality...(though there is something very liberating in realising that we are, truly, dust...that so much of the stuff that preoccupies and disturbs us here and now is of no lasting significance at trying to adopt, as we travel through Lent, something of the perspective of eternity).

It's about taking a long hard look at ourselves, about seeing the mess, the pain, the destruction we have caused - and accepting responsibility for them.
BEING sorry.
But it's also about recognising the truth of who GOD is...the depths of his love from which nothing can separate us...
about accepting that even as we bring all our personal baggage of sin and failure, resentment and despair to God, God loves us far too much to leave us grappling with it. 

It seems to me that even as we begin to say "Sorry" the things of which we repent are swept away as God takes us up in the kind of loving embrace that every child should surely receive, if the world was as God intended.
Love sweeps away our "Sorry"...but we do need to say that "Sorry" to be free to hear and receive the love.

My friend Stu used, on Ash Wednesday, to use different words when marking his penitent congregation with their crosses of ash.
"I have loved you with an everlasting love" "You are my friends" "I am with you always".
Loving messages from the God who calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light...

Sorrow and love find their fullest expression at the cross, but as we begin to travel towards Calvary, they belong together here as well, where we begin to learn the joy of trying to walk with integrity and recognise that love will often mean having to say that we're sorry.
And that's just fine!