Saturday, May 28, 2011

Easter 6 A

Acts 17 22-31 /I Peter 3 13 onwards
In the group of Cotswold villages that used to be home, there was a wonderful woman called Sheila. She’d lived in the village a long while, and was up to her ears in every aspect of community life, -the W.I., the village hall committee, and every sort of village celebration from Bonfire Night to the Harvest Supper. She was also one of those key people without whom the church could not survive, hosting the Mother and Toddler group, and taking her turn at the various jobs on the PCC as well as serving on the Local Ministry Team. She spent, and indeed still spends, nearly every waking minute in the service of other people, and is one of the most shining Christians I’ve ever encountered.
But, though Sheila is endlessly prepared to live her faith, she is firmly opposed to the idea that she might ever have to talk about it. Evangelism is almost a dirty word to her…indeed we used to tease her by referring to it as the E word, to be avoided at all costs.

The trouble is that, if we’re honest, most of us are pretty uncomfortable around that E word. It has gathered too many negative associations through the decades… It’s OK for those who have the gift, but most of us aren’t cut out to be Billy Grahams. So we have a problem.
We're tasked with sharing the Good News of God's love – there's no mistake about that and on Thursday as we celebrate Christ's Ascension we'll be reminded of our calling “Go and make disciples of all nations....”
but despite the urgency of God's voice, we really seem to struggle.
I think it may be specially hard in our current context...because the good news ISNT really new to our neighbours – or at least, that's what they believe.
They think they know all about Christianity and don’t need it
They are self sufficient and successful.
They don’t care.
And they still don’t know Jesus.
So, our job is to help them to meet him – through our words and our lives to make His love real wherever we may be.
It's challenging but essential – what the Church is really for. We can't not do it.

So – can we learn from an expert? Here's Paul, arriving as a kind of working tourist in first century Athens, and choosing to work with, not against the grain of the culture. In a city filled with religious activity, he builds on what he sees about him and with the motto when in Athens, do as the Athenians, goes to the Areopagus, - a kind of philosophical speakers' corner, and joins in debate there. It's all about meeting peope on their own terms in the kind of multi-cultural multi-faith context that is much like ours today.
After all, we live in a society fascinated by “spirituality” but reluctant to buy into any one religious creed.
Christianity may be approved as the basis for moral decisions, while eastern religions are plundered for meditation techniques, and reflective CDs mix plainsong uneasily with new age dolphin noises. Ours is a pick and mix world, in which people hedge their bets by taking the most attractive features of a range of world faiths, cafeteria style...What do you fancy? Ancient or modern?Christian worship without social action? No problem...You choose...
It's only a slight caricature, I'm afraid.
On the whole, people choose a faith that meets their needs but demands little. That's why so many churches are all but empty. We've lost the plot....forgotten that if we practice our religion without knowing God, we're wasting our time.
So too, the people of Athens were 'hedging their bets'. It wasn't enough that there were shrines and temples to dozens of different gods and goddesses, here was an altar dedicated to the 'unknown god', just in case they’d missed one! Rather than lamenting this, Paul recognised an opportunity and launched straight in with the Gospel,doing everything in his power to introduce the Known to the unknowing.
These are the people who are, as verse 27 says, groping for God…“seekers”…which, of course, is where that E word comes in.
Unlike Sheila Paul has no inhibitions.
Evangelism is his vocation. He wastes no chance to share the good news he has experienced, even recruiting an Athenian poet to his cause, for he has a message he is burning to share.

But what about us?
Does God want us to court ridicule by broacasting through a megaphone in Sainsbury's car park? Or to twist every conversation with our friends to enable us to sqeeze God in somewhere....
Relax. I really don’t think that IS what we are called to.
But we do have something amazing to share…
Our world is full of lives and altars, dedicated to the “unknown God”.
But here's the irony...all of those altars scattered around Athens were dedicated to unknown gods. Not a single one of the gods of stone was known personally by the citizens. There were no personal relationships with Zeus or Apollo. They were merely statues of legends. Paul presents something completely new--a deity who is both infinite and personal, the God of people, like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This God desires to be in relationship with His creation, so much that He took on human form. This is a God that is knowable.
I sometimes wonder how many who define themselves as Christians really know God.
Have we simply constructed altars for worship, instead of actually getting to know God?
We know a church building, but that's not God.
We know an inspiring theologian, but that's not God either.
We know a liturgy, a discipleship course, a supportive faith community, but that's no substitute for knowing God. We even know our Bibles, but that should not be mistaken for knowing the infinite, personal God who is revealed in its pages.
It's one thing to 'know about Him', another thing entirely, to "know Him” and we know God when we meet him in Jesus. After all, ours is a God who so wants to be known that he joins us in our humanity. Jesus, in last week's Gospel, pointed out that if you had seen him, you had seen the Father, for "I and the Father are one". The Gospel speaks of a self-revealing God who calls us into relationship with himself. Once we have met him, well then our task is to invite others to get to know God and worship Him.
So we're all involved, reluctant or passionate evangelists...
We all have our own stories to tell of how we met God, how he makes a difference to our lives, why we come here Sunday by Sunday.
That’s not the stuff of sandwich boards, or wayside pulpits…but it is the sort of thing that might come up in an ordinary conversation. The Epistle calls on each of us to have ready our own story, to be able to “give an account of the hope that is in you”.
The more distinctive and attractive our lives, the more we are likely to be asked what makes us tick…We don’t so much have to preach Good News as live it, and then respond to the interest in will generate.
What hope is it that builds inclusive communities when the rest of society is divided and segregated?
What hope is it that allows you to be people who travel light in a world dominated by consumerism?
What hope is it that allows you to transform your homes and workplaces with grace?
What hope is it that keeps you uncomplainingly joyful and positive, even when life deals you a worse hand than you deserve?
This hope is surely something to shout about, something that is Good News to those nearby and those far off.
So share it!
Give an account.
And, when you’re asked the question, answer by telling the story of who Jesus is, what he has done and what he will do. Tell it clearly, courteously and respectfully, and your neighbours and friends will find themselves wanting to share your hope.
You may well have done this already…
So, there you are…you’ve fallen victim to the E word. Thank God for it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Crying for love

Yesterday was a typical Sunday in the churches of hill and vale.
We met with God in Word and Sacrament, we worshipped, we did a little gentle complaining about our neighbours and the state of the world today (because, after all, what family gathering is complete without a good whinge about someone?) and then, as I do most Sundays from Easter to Harvest, I welcomed three new Christians into the family of the church through Baptism...

As is generally the case, the church was alive with the sound of children - both happy giggles and desolate cries.....but as the service got under way, things calmed down till just one voice could be heard wailing loudly. Not the candidate, little B. He was snuggled peacefully in his father's arms, but across the aisle a little girl, about 9 months old, seemed quite inconsolable despite the best efforts of her granny. 

I always start Baptism services by saying that the one forbidden word in my churches is "Shhhh" - so was fully expecting to manage the service with infant backing-group til a younger woman got up from the pew behind grandma and wailing child, scooped the infant into her arms and took her across the aisle to where the baptism candidate and his family were sitting. Fascinated I watched as the sad little girl opened her arms and enfolded young B in an embrace. As she did so, the most beautiful smile transformed her red, blotchy, tear stained face so that it bore an expression of pure joy.
She had been crying because she wanted to share her love for B and had been thwarted and miserable because she couldn't reach him.

As both babies relaxed into their hug, the whole congregation was softened by their love - and it became wonderfully easy to talk about baptism as our first response to the love that God has always had for us.
Reflecting on the multitude of infants I baptise and will never encounter again, though, I wondered if that experience of crying for love was in itself an important insight into the divine.
We choose, again and again, to put ourselves as far out of God's reach as we can...
We turn away instead of relaxing into his arms...and as we do so, perhaps we make God cry.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"Heaven shall not wait" - Sermon for Easter 5A

I'm conscious that there are some very disappointed people in the world this morning.
According to an American preacher, Harold Camping by name, yesterday should have been the end of the world as we know it, the day on which the righteous would be taken up into heaven in the rapture.
All through the week, the internet has been buzzing with cries of derision, or jokes from some....
A man on a tractor just passed me in the lane and shouted that the end of the world was nigh. I think it was Farmer Geddon!
Others have lamented that Mr Camping and his friends are the sort of nutty Christians that give the rest of us a bad name.
I didn't, anywhere, encounter anyone who was prepared to entertain the idea that he might be right, even for a second.

And yet, you know, for some people the world will have ended yesterday.
Some will, quite literally, have passed from this life into the hereafter.
Others will have had the things they thought certain, the props they leaned on, removed by a word, a diagnosis, an event.
They will be expected to carry on anyway – but in a world with a new and unwelcome landscape.

And they won't have been able to prepare themselves for it in any way at all.
Because actually, despite all those frantic calculations of Biblical pseudo scholars, that's the way it will be.
Jesus made that very clear
“No-one knows the day or the hour, except the Father”
Speculation is pointless – a waste of the time that we do have.
Time we've been given to make a difference.

Our gospel passage is perhaps the most popular reading for funerals. In that context it speaks powerfully of comfort, of home-coming......Jesus, the servant of all, going ahead to prepare a place for put flowers in the guest room, turn down the bedclothes...
But there are other themes to explore.
Jesus promises that he will come again –
no rapture, then. We wont fly through the air to him – as always, he will take the initiative and come to find us, no matter where we are, or what state we may be in.
We can rely on that.
He will come again and we will be with him.
Do we actually need to worry about anything else then?
Could anything be better?
He will take us to himself so that we may be where Jesus is.
Perhaps that's actually all we need to know.
Certainly just typing those words filled me with joy and hope.
Jesus will come again and we will be with him.

Of course, dear Thomas, who asks so often those questions we all have on the tip of our tongue, dares to question again today.
“Lord, we don't know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
I get so angry, so sad when I hear of Christians who use the answer to that question as a way to exclude many from the kingdom
“I am the way” says Jesus
I'm certain – completely and utterly certain – that this does not mean that those who have neglected to sign a commitment card, failed to consciously give their lives to Christ, will find themselves outside the welcome of God's infinite mercy.
Jesus is the way. He shows us how to live – and in his life and death and resurrection clears a way home for us.

Jesus is the way to living his way will bring us to the Father.
And what are the essentials of this way?
It's a way of life based not on fear and denial but on a radical, inclusive welcome
A way of love for enemies as well as friends...for the inconvenient, irritating people, for those who disappoint us and those who don't pull their weight, a way of love for all.
A way that leads to His Father's house, where there is room for all those ill assorted people – and many more besides.

We can be certain of this, because Jesus is also the truth...and through his Spirit leads us into all truth. Not dodgy theologies that depend on bending Scripture to our end.
Not partial readings that depend for their impact on fear or exclusion.
Jesus is the truth...and in His truth, shows us the Father.
If we want to know what God is like, we look at Jesus...who is anything but meek and mild.
Jesus, constantly challenging, often controversial, usually truth often is.

Jesus is the life.
Jesus is the life all week, not just on Sunday, living his way, living his truth, in every corner of our existence.
The time we have been given – is time in which there is Jesus.
Nothing we do, nothing we are, is outside his sphere of influence.

This week, as Harold Camping and his friends prepared for the end of the world as we know it, ordinary people all across the country have been pounding the pavements of Britain, delivering and collecting their Christian Aid envelopes. They have been doing this because, as Christian Aid reminds us, “We believe in life BEFORE death”....and in doing so they have been helping to show us the Kingdom of God.
They have chosen to make a difference here and now – they don't know what time they have to spend.......but they choose to send it generously.

That's an option for all of us.
We can't know when the end will come -but we can truly live in the meantime, according to God's pattern, that Jesus shows us.
We can love and laugh.
We can listen and pray.
We can smell the flowers and listen to Bach or to birdsong
And we can try to make a difference, to assert in the face of a broken, selfish and suffering world, that we choose another way.
And in doing so we proclaim Christ's victory again and again.

Heaven shall not wait for the poor to lose their patience,
the scorned to smile,
the despised to find a friend:
Jesus is Lord; he has championed the unwanted;
in him injustice confronts its timely end.

Heaven shall not wait for the rich to share their fortunes,
the proud to fall, the elite to tend the least;
Jesus is Lord; he has shown the master's privilege -
to kneel and wash servants' feet before they feast.

Heaven shall not wait for the dawn of great ideas
thoughts of compassion divorced from cries of pain:
Jesus is Lord; he has married word and action;
his cross and company make his purpose plain.

Heaven shall not wait for triumphant Hallelujahs,
when earth has passed and we reach another shore
Jesus is Lord; in our present imperfection;
his power and love are for now and then for evermore.
John Bell

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sermon Easter 4 Yr A

Last Christmas A bought me a sat nav...I do a fair bit of driving, often to far flung parts of the diocese and it has on the whole been a godsend, though the pronounciation of some place names is peculiar to say the least. Generally, though, I do end up where I want to be.....which is more than could be said for the relative of a member of Chelsea FC. She had been given VIP tickets for a home match, - her first visit to a game – and had programmed her sat nav to take her to Chelsea's home ground of Stamford Bridge from her home near Heathrow. She listened to the instructions, followed them to the letter, obeying every left and right turn, but as kick off time drew near, she was distraught that she seemed to be driving through open country with the ground nowhere in sight.....Her satnav had taken her straight up the motorway to Stamford, Lincolnshire.

It matters, you see, just whose voice you are following...and you might need, too, to be alert to the landscape around you.
That's what Jesus tells his disciples, as he shows them what they can expect as they journey with him.

The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
10:4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.
Whether we know it or not, we are here, each one of us, because we've responded to that voice.
Whether a decision was made for us years ago, or whether we met God in a surprising way later in life and found our lives changed, we are here, Sunday by Sunday, because of that call.
Here we gather as the shepherd's flock, each of us marked in baptism with that sign that proclaims us His own forever – and we rejoice that here in the fold we are safely at home.
But I wonder, do we listen for his voice during the week? There are só many other competing voices, - many of them inviting us to do good and useful things.
It can be hard to be sure that we're actually following the Shepherd – though we can be sure that if we're NOT listening, we're bound to go astray. Friends and family, politicians and the media, all are intent on telling us how to live our lives.
It’s ever more crucial, and ever more difficult, for us to listen to Jesus’ voice if we want to be his followers and make a difference in the world for his sake.

So what does it mean, practically speaking, to “listen to Jesus’ voice?”

First of all, listening to Jesus’ voice isn’t some strange mystical thing which only some extra-religious people can “do” – we do similar things in the rest of our lives.

I’m sure you will have experienced being faced with a decision and remembering advice from someone you trusted – you may even have remembered how they sounded when they were giving it. Hearing Jesus voice is like that.

Listening to Jesus is a deliberate choice. It means seeking him out, and focussing on his voice among the many others.

There are things we can do to make it easier, starting with being well informed. This means reading in the Bible about Jesus so we know what he said and how he behaved; and it means praying, opening ourselves, heart and mind, to the influence of God’s Holy Spirit.

Then, as we apply our minds to deciding what we should say and do in our lives, and as we listen to our consciences, the words that come to us will be Jesus’ words – the voice we hear will be Jesus’ voice.
As we hear his voice in this way, we can follow him by living our lives in the ways he demonstrated. That doesn’t mean it’s all about saying or doing the “right” things, or living our lives according to a set of rules.
It means that, gradually, the landscape of our lives will change só that we become, step by tiny step, more and more like Jesus.

That footballer's relative might have noticed that she was being led astray if she had bothered to look through about her and notice that the streets of London were giving way to open countryside. Getting lost is not an instant process but rather a series of wrong turnings from which it is harder and harder to find your way home...and that can be só in our Christian journey too.
Só how do we know if we are truly following the Good Shepherd?

Let's look, for a moment, at the description of the early church that we heard in Acts.
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
2:44 All who believed were together and had all things in common;
2:45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
It sounds as if, as a church, we might have gone just a little off course...
According to that template, there could be no rich churches, no rich Christians while people starve – and as Christian Aid Week begins, perhaps we need to remember that.
What's more, this little flock devote themselves to prayer, the Sacraments, to teaching and to fellowship....DEVOTE themselves. Living out their faith is the fundamental, over-arching concern of their lives....not a bolt-on, optional extra to be fitted in as and when it suits.

If we're listening for the voice of the Good Shepherd – the landscape of our lives will, slowly but surely be transformed.

I wonder how that makes you feel? Does it scare you, the thought that we might reach a place where that voice and its calling really WAS all in all for us? 
Is it just too difficult, that demand that we give up our own wills, our own egos and trust that the Shepherd can lead us safely home?

We have His word that the destination is worth aiming for.....
I am come that they may have life, and have it in abundance”
Abundance – overflowing, beyond our needs, beyond our dreams.
The only other place that St John uses that word is in his account of the feeding of 5000, when he tells us about the 12 baskets of left overs – more than could be imagined as the disciples looked in desperation at the original offering of loaves and fishes.....
Abundance – God's generosity, filling and transforming every corner of our lives
Those who see in Christianity a route of painful denial, and endless succession of “thou shalt nots” taken a wrong turning, misheard the voice of the Shepherd.
Yes, we are called to give up our own agendas, to let go of our selfish core – but in return we will be given not just all that we need but more and more and more......
We can follow where those loud, demanding egos lead, and get by – of course we can.
We may even feel that we're doing rather well – materially secure, emotionally satisfied by relationship with family and friends...but in the end, there will always be something missing – that God-shaped hole at the centre of our beings will remain unfilled and our journey through life will be characterised by a nagging fear – that there might not be enough to go round, -enough food, enough things, even enough love.

But if we follow the voice of the Good Shepherd, the journey will be altogether different – perhaps a little harder, rather more challenging, but always, always we will know that we are he leads us from the death of self to the abundant life of God's Kingdom.

Monday, May 09, 2011

The words that I found for baby H

There are no easy words today.
We come with grieving hearts, with minds numb, or angry – and filled with one insistent question
And to that I have no answer.

In his too-brief life, H REALLY lived. As you talked to me on Friday, it was clear that he was so much more than “just a little baby” - a real character who knew how to love, to smile and gurgle with pleasure, who clearly enjoyed many things – food, cuddles, sharing time with his family...
Of course, he was hugely loved in return – a baby so welcomed, so wanted that he was almost never alone, but took his place at the centre of many hearts.
His whole experience of life was a good one – secure and beloved.
So we are rightly appalled that the joy that he brought should be transformed so unexpectedly to the sorrow of parting.
We want answers, we want comfort – but truly, there ARE no easy words.

Our reading spoke of a love that is stronger than death – a love that survives all things – and the pain that you are feeling at the moment is evidence of the strength of your love.
At times of great suffering, people of faith look to their God for some explanation, some meaning, and when that is hard to come by they may at first turn away, defeated. God seems to be silent, even here in church – but behind me stands the cross – a reminder that God too went through the untimely death of his only Son...and that he is weeping with and for you.
What's more, when he came to share our life, Jesus also shared that sadness and desolation you feel in the face of your loss.
As he faced his own death ,He felt himself cut off from his heavenly Father and cried out words that will seem very real to you
My God, my God why have you abandoned me?”
It's a question he borrowed from the book of Psalms, an ancient collection of prayers and religious poems in which men and women are completely real with God...Faced with situations that make no sense pour out their anger and misery in passionate lament, again and again and again.
The cry, they rage – but they keep the conversation with God going, because it seems to them that only God has shoulders broad enough to hold them through the storms til the worst of their heartbreak and anger is past. 
Their protests, though, are an act of faith – that someone IS still listening....

This contemporary prayer does much the same job

God, we are told you are compassionate:
today this is hard to believe.
God, we are told that you love us:
today we do not feel loved.
God, we are told that we should offer you our praise and thanksgivings,
today all we have to offer is anger and confusion.
God, despite these feelings we turn to you,
today there is no one else to turn to.
God, hold us until we can believe again.
God, love us until we can feel your love again.
God, accept our anger and confusion until we can offer you praise and thanksgiving again.
God, our lives and our feelings rise and fall but you remain constant.
Help us to rest in your eternal changelessness.

For the moment, that might be the best you can hope for.

You have a long, hard journey ahead of you – and though many of us will want to walk beside you, to support you with our love and our prayers, I'm afraid there are really no short cuts.
Love WILL get you through....for love is the strongest thing in the universe...stronger than sadness, stronger than despair, stronger even than death.
Conceived in love, carried and born in love, H knew nothing but love through each precious day of his life. We all know that if love were enough to keep him alive, he'd be here in your arms today, - and it is in that love that he will live all your lives long.

And, more, I am certain that with God nothing is ever lost or wasted.
The love the brought Jesus through the darkness of death into the dawn of everlasting life on Easter morning now holds H secure and reaches out to each of us today.
It's hard to feel it as we struggle with grief but, like the sun behind clouds, God's love exists even when it is hidden...
Always, no matter what, Love wins.

For now there are faith, hope and love – but the greatest of these is love.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

The Road to Emmaus - Reflection for the 8.00 at St Matthew's, Easter 3 Yr A

What a week

It’s only Sunday, the day the week begins, but I feel as if it has been going on forever already!
I’ve never been on such a roller coaster of feelings…
Thursday night, there we all were having supper together…Jesus and his mates…the best friends I’d ever had….relaxing together, celebrating Passover, eating, drinking, enjoying each other’s company. It should have been a real party but somehow Jesus turned it all round….He’d always said things I didn’t understand, but usually I didn’t understand them in a GOOD way…the things he said made me feel better about being me…spoke to me about the way that God loves even a Palestinian nonentity like me.
Not this time, though.
This time his words were all about death, about body and blood…
But even then, there was a promise. When he broke the bread and shared it, he promised that if we remembered him whenever we did this, he’d be with us. That felt special….

I didn’t expect I’d have to make do with memories quite so soon, though.
But then, it happened.
The worst thing.
The soldiers came for him as he was praying in the garden.
We ran away,- we were terrified…
Watched from a safe distance all through that long long day, as he was tried, whipped, mocked….
Watched as he stumbled through the streets of the city, carrying the dreadful weight of his cross
Watched as he hung there, on the hill outside our city, the city he loved.
Watched as he died.
Jesus died and was buried.

Then the holiday that brought no rest…endless hours of bitter grief.
We never expected him to leave us like that and we felt lost, each and every one of us.
Cleopas and I had had enough of Jerusalem, that cruel city.
We decided to head home as soon as the holiday was over,…away from the grief, away from the wild rumours of stones rolled aside and missing bodies….away from everything that reminded us of the disappointment.
We’d so hoped that Jesus was going to be the one to change everything.
To free us from Roman rule.
To make God’s Kingdom on earth real, right here and now.
We talked about this as we trudged up the road to Emmaus,- weary with grief, barely noticing at first the stranger who walked beside us.
When he joined our conversation, it was quite a relief to share our stories, our questions and confusions…and he seemed to understand, - to make sense of things in a way that we’d never have believed possible.
Gradually, we began to feel better…it was almost as if Jesus had never left us, as if he was speaking to us through this stranger.
We didn’t want to say Goodbye to him, so when we reached home we invited him in, offered him supper, a bed for the night.

There wasn’t much food in the house, but we soon rustled up a simple supper…and., as is only good manners, we invited our guest to say a blessing over the food.
So he took the bread, broke it and gave thanks to God………and we knew him.
It was Jesus.
He had never really left us…
We were part of his promise.
When you break bread, think of me and I’ll be with you…..

Holy Week - images

Palm Sunday....was it a demo? was it a procession? there was certainly lots of joy and excitement in the air but when we were asked whom we wanted to release the cry
"Barabbas" almost raised the roof.
I still shudder as I remember it.
There's no escape. We are all implicated.....

From Palm Sunday, with its passion and Passion, we turn to the civility of an Agape meal at church on the hill. All is done decently and in order. We hear the story, we remember and reflect...then go on our way in silence.
The following evening I wait in the Lady Chapel in case anyone should want to make their confession. Catholic practice has been rather mislaid in these parishes in recent years, so it's no surpise that I'm alone for that hour - but a casual offer on twitter for any prayer requests leaves me with so much to do that I am both overwhelmed and humbled. Such a privilege to be asked to pray for friends I've shared thoughts and moments I light a candle for each of them

The week progresses......the shadows lengthen, represented by the increasing darkess of Tenebrae. Candles are extinguished, one by one as we listen to the Lamentations of Jeremiah set by Bairstow and finally to Allegri's Miserere. All is dark for a while, till amid the noise (of several dustbin lids being walloped for all their worth) earthquakes and upheavals herald the resurrection........the Christ-light cannot be extinguished.

But then we come to Thursday. The family gathers around the table, feet are washed as we try to learn together what it means to be the servant of all......bread is broken, wine poured out......but the shadows are almost overwhelming now. Together we strip the church of all that makes it special, each softening touch, each sign that this is a holy place. We listen to Psalm 22 and enter into the desolation - but there is still a garden, a place of peace and light, an island in the prevailing darkness.

Finally comes Friday...the day when the world seems to end.......the saddest day of all. We walk in the shadow of the cross, toiling uphill, a straggling group, none of us sure if we'll make it to the summit. We pray. We sing. Then at noon there is silence. We have run out of words so let our feelings, our thoughts be swallowed up by the lark song.

We follow Christ into the darkness...try to rest...but the impulse to be up and doing, to conceal our pain and desolation with a ferment of activity brings us back, like the women to the garden, - back to the church that is not a church,to the holy place made ordinary by the absence of the One who is the reason for its being. For this one day, here is a completely ordinary space - so we clean, we polish, we sweep...

And then, exhausted, hardly daring to hope - though we know the miraculous chapter that lies just over the page, we wait........and wait.......