Materials for Worship on 26th March

Lazarus appears only once in the Gospels, Peter writes, and these verses in John 11.1-45 are a sort of curtain-raiser for what follows. The fifth Sunday of Lent is called Passion Sunday. If you are passive, then you are suffering what is done to you by an attacker, which is how it is for Jesus on Good Friday. But, of course, the word passion also means something you feel deeply about. And we are told that at the tomb of Lazarus Jesus “was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved“. Then he wept.

Whether it is for stamp collecting, a football team or a person, someone’s passion tells us a lot about their character. So what does this incident tells us about the character of Jesus? What is he passionate about? In a word it is liberation. “Unbind him and let him go” he cries. Throughout the Bible that has been God’s passion – to release Israel from bondage in Egypt, from exile in Babylon and to bring them back to Jerusalem. We see the same thing in the ministry of Jesus, but on a more personal level. Lazarus, like the son of the widow of Nain and Jairus’ daughter in Luke’s gospel, are brought to life and restored to their families. So too the lepers he heals are no longer outcasts but are restored to society.

In his hymn O for a thousand tongues to sing Charles Wesley expresses it beautifully in a series of contrasts:

Hear him, ye deaf; his praise ye dumb
your loosened tongues employ.
Ye blind behold your Saviour comes,
and leap ye lame for joy.

They were all held in bondage but now they have been unbound and set free.

Take away the stone by John August Swanson

The stone that Jesus had instructed the crowd to take away is a symbol of the things that hold us back. Jesus’ passion is to take away that stone, whatever it is for each of us, that barrier preventing us from attaining all that God has intended for us. Or – to put it in more traditional language – from entering into eternal life. When Lazarus died Jesus did not to try to comfort Mary and Martha by saying, “Well now he’s gone to a better place in heaven”. As he said at the beginning of his ministry “The kingdom of heaven is within [or “among] you.” That is, we can experience the joys of heaven in this life too. That is Jesus’ passion for all of us, now.

But we must not forget the other meaning of passion. Lazarus, after all, had to die before he could receive new life. As he set off for Jerusalem, Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would follow me, you must first take up your cross”. That is, we must leave an old life behind and enter into a new life liberated from habits and life-styles that limit our possibilities and the possibilities of others. Jesus’ passion, God’s passion, is for our wellbeing and the wellbeing of all creation.

And so, the story of Lazarus is more than a curtain-raiser. It is the key to the good news that Jesus came to bring. His passion is to bring us new life, free from the bondage of injustice, physical or mental disabilities, prejudice or hatred.

“Lazarus, come out”. These are the words that lead to eternal life.

For your prayers
for the trust that takes away all fear and brings new life;
We ask you to hear us, good Lord.

for the Church to witness to the power of resurrection and to Christ’s risen presence among us;
We ask you to hear us, good Lord.

for all hemmed in by social or political bondage, by habits and life choices that block the way that leads to hope, peace and wellbeing;
We ask you to hear us, good Lord.

for all who suffer a loss of freedom and for those who inflict it on them;
We ask you to hear us, good Lord.

for all who are striving to find ways that lead to eternal life and to turn away from all that is harmful;
We ask you to hear us, good Lord.

for all at the point of death, for all who mourn the loss of loved ones, for all who have died recently and those whose anniversaries occur at this time;
We ask you to hear us, good Lord.

We offer these prayers for the sake of him who came to bring good news and who has the words of eternal life, Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Material for Worship on the Fourth Sunday of Lent

Nerys writes: Those of you who have read my letter in the last issue of the church magazine will know that I have been inspired to read the Gospel of John in a different way this year. I’m working my way through it leisurely and thoughtfully, allowing it to speak into my life. It isn’t the way I would normally read a book, but this isn’t just any book. In my experience, Scripture doesn’t just explain things or tell us what to do or inspire or entertain us. Scripture enables us to enter into a conversation with God. And in John’s Gospel in particular, I have found that God reveals to an attentive reader who God is and how God works in our lives through Jesus, the Word. Through the stories, the conversations, the teaching and the drama, we are invited to see our world through the eyes of Christ, and to respond. We are not encouraged to seek definitive answers to the mysteries of life, but instead to ask ‘How can I live it in relationship with God?’

Our Gospel for today is John’s account of the healing by Jesus of a blind beggar and of the way others respond to this act of compassion. I invite you to read John chapter 9 prayerfully and expectantly, dwelling on any words, phrases or ideas that seem surprising or significant to you, allowing them to speak into your situation.

It is easy to get lost in this long and intricate passage with its many groups of characters and the sustained play on the ideas of physical and spiritual blindness and sight, on darkness and light. In order to navigate it successfully, I suggest you first focus on the blind man, the only character who appears in every scene of the drama.

Blind beggar by Jules Bastien-Lepage

It was as Jesus was slipping away from the temple on a day when a confrontation with a group of religious teachers almost ended in violence, that he saw him. This man is not given a name. Instead, he is referred to throughout by his disability, the congenital blindness which meant that he was reliant on the good will of visitors to the temple for his survival.

This was a man with nothing going for him. As he sat on the ground begging, he would have been invisible to many of the worshippers or they would have studiously avoided him for fear of contamination. His birth defect would have rendered him unclean in their eyes, cut off from the love of God.

Jesus, however, sees him. His response, whatever that was, causes his disciples to seek to engage their teacher in a theological discussion. They assume that his blindness was God’s punishment for sin, either his own or that of his parents. We’re not told what the man himself thought, but where the disciples see a problem, Jesus sees a person in need and an opportunity for the true nature of God to be revealed in him. We are not told either how this man felt but we can imagine his amazement and delight when Jesus proclaims himself to be the Light of the World and turns his words into life-changing action. Unlike Naaman the Leper of the Old Testament, the man immediately obeys the instruction to go and wash, and returns from the pool of Siloam able to see.

The miracle of this man’s transformation is not the end of the story. He is now called to testify to what happened to him. Over and over again, he is questioned, over and over again, he doggedly tells his tale, and as he does so he gradually comes to see who it is that has healed him. He moves from a place of ignorance to recognizing Jesus as a prophet, a man sent from God. And as his faith grows, so does his confidence. Unlike his fearful parents, he is ready to hold his own as his neighbours dispute his identity and the religious authorities interrogate, ridicule and reject him. His clear, increasingly courageous testimony brings to mind that of Jesus under arrest, and likewise divides his accusers. He is the only one who is in no doubt about who he is, what has happened to him and who was responsible.

As he stuck to his story, however, it must have dawned on him that none of the prophets had actually performed such a miracle. To open the eyes of a person born blind is the work of God, a sign of the coming of the Messiah. So when Jesus returns to find him, he is ready to enter into a relationship of trust, understanding and love with him. He is ready to believe in the Son of Man and to worship him.

As the man who was blind journeys into the light of God’s love, Jesus’ opponents choose to reject that light and remain inwardly blind. And watching on the sidelines are the disciples, the man’s parents and neighbours, bystanders and also us, the readers of the Gospel. What will our journey be as we approach Easter this year? Will it be into light or darkness, healing or rejection? John shows us that we have a choice.

In your prayers this morning, I invite you to ask for insight and wisdom for all in positions of authority and influence, for deep healing for all who are suffering and in need and for the light of God’s transforming love to shine into your own life and that of those you love.

On this Mothering Sunday,

May God our Maker, our mother, our friend,
Wrap us in wholeness,
Keep us in kindness,
And bless our journey homewards. Amen.
(Frances Copsey)

Material for Worship on the Third Sunday of Lent, 12th March, 2023

Moira writes: This morning in our three readings we are reminded that God cares for us and wants us to seek him out when we struggling with our sin and with our faith. He wants to give us hope and he also wants to renew and reform our lives to bring us closer to him. In our Old Testament reading, Exodus 17:1-7, the people were thirsty both physically and spiritually. Their faith was failing, and they questioned whether God was still with them or had abandoned them. In the second reading, Romans 5:1-11, Paul points out to his readers that when they find themselves (ourselves) having to endure suffering, they (we) needn’t worry because when they (we) endure and trust in God, his grace will give them (us) hope. Paul also reminds us all that when Christ died for our sin, it was taken away from us so that we might be reconciled with God.

As you reflect on this image by Jeff Preston and read our Gospel passage, John 4:5-42, try to picture yourself as the woman at the well and notice how she feels when she realises that Jesus knows her every secret.

It’s a true saying that we never know what goes on behind closed doors. It’s impossible to know what is going on in the lives of others, because quite often the person before us puts on a front to protect themselves. In our Gospel story, Jesus knows all about the woman who is standing before him. He can see into her soul and knows the things that trouble her. However, we mere mortals do not have that power, and so we have to be careful when we are talking to people and realise that there could be things going on in their lives which they might be sensitive about. All of us has had, at one time or another, deep rooted fears or insecurities that we have hidden from one another. Perhaps we have unresolved issues or painful experiences we have tried to bury, but which keep rising to the surface. And so we all have parts of our lives that we don’t want others to see. Everyone is also affected by what is called ‘social programming.’ Just like a computer is programmed to do certain things, so our upbringing and our social interaction with others programmes our lives. We are constantly bombarded with information which has the potential to shape or reshape our lives, especially the process by which we develop our beliefs, attitudes and feelings about ourselves, other people and even God.

When we begin our journey of faith, we begin to allow God to re-programme us, to change us into the people he wants us to be. As Christians we are constantly re-forming ourselves as we learn and grow in God’s Word. Throughout the Old Testament we hear stories of people who try to hide from God, but it’s all in vain. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden were first, because their nakedness became apparent to them after they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Cain hid from God because of what he did to his brother Abel. Jonah tried to hide from God because God wanted him to go to Nineveh with a message of repentance, and later on, David tried to hide from God after his sin over Bathsheba. Here in our Gospel story, the Samaritan woman was convinced quite quickly after speaking to Jesus, that here was no ordinary man. How on earth did he know of her past marriages and her extramarital affair? In his encounter with the Samaritan woman and in revealing to her, her past misdemeanours, we can see that Jesus is showing an attribute of God, revealing that he himself is God incarnate. How else would he know all these things about the Samaritan woman. In this season of Lent, we are more conscious of our sins than at any other time of the year I think, and perhaps when we have a time of silence before the absolution in our Liturgy, we begin to bring to God the things that we know we should be confessing. Confession of sins, whether in private or through speaking them aloud to another person, is not giving God any information that he doesn’t already know. However, it’s the person who repents who is being informed, bringing to the surface what it would be more comfortable to keep to ourselves. Believe me when I say that nothing that is said or done this Lent will surprise God, but it might just surprise us.

In our Gospel passage, the Samaritan woman was fully aware of her pain and agony, and over the years had learned to deal with it on her own. She had plenty of reasons to feel guilty and even reasons to blame herself for all her shortcomings. She had been programmed to feel this way by the society she lived in. First of all, she was a woman with a lesser role in the patriarchal society she lived in. More so, because at the time she had no husband to protect her reputation. Secondly, she was a woman with a bad reputation, people no doubt knew of her infidelities and her shortcomings and as was the way in these times, the finger was always pointed at the woman in adultery and not the man. Thirdly, she was a Samaritan, a foreigner and a second-class citizen which meant in the culture of that time that she was a person to be avoided. And fourth of all, she was a person who was spiritually thirsty and hungry, searching in her own way for peace, love and acceptance and something more.

Picture now Jesus coming into this scene at the well. How did he react and deal with the woman’s predicament? Firstly, Jesus didn’t reject the woman, but he accepted her, just as she was, warts and all, and because of this it opened the way for dialogue and for listening to her needs. Secondly, Jesus helped the woman to see where she was going wrong in her life and why she was perhaps feeling rejected and put down. Jesus let her see for herself how the sins that she was carrying were weighing her down and that if she could name these sins and leave them behind, putting her trust in God and his healing power, her life would be re-formed and re-energised. Thirdly, Jesus showed her how to praise God through worship, not in a particular place, but in spirit and in truth. It’s not the places that we worship that are most important, although they often help us in our devotion, but it’s the action of worship and following the ways of discipleship that count more. And finally, Jesus reveals himself to the woman as the Messiah, the Son of God. The Samaritan woman declares “I know that Messiah is coming, when he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” And Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” It’s exciting to see Jesus piercing through layer after layer of social programming and personal responsibility in this Samaritan woman’s life. It took years for her to be the way she was, but Jesus had already begun the healing process. Hidden cupboards were opened, open wounds were healed, scars were dealt with, grace, love and forgiveness were flowing like a river of living waters as the inner longings of a lonely soul were met by the Master.

Can you picture the woman of Samaria talking to people today? She might say something like this: Hi, I am a foreigner to you but it doesn’t matter to God, it doesn’t matter to me, so it shouldn’t matter to you. Listen, I have great news. Jesus is the Messiah. He revealed that to me. I was lost, really lost but I have been found. I have been re-programmed now, re-formed. And all of this is based on God’s grace and freedom. I don’t have to do anything to earn God’s favour. Now I want to serve God because of what God has done for me. And what about us today? Do we have issues we are not dealing with, do we have things that we need to name to God? Perhaps we are becoming aware of our blind spots and are in need of re-programming, of re-forming by God. Perhaps we can try to use this time of Lent to work on these things. Just as in the Springtime we uproot the weeds growing in our gardens, during Lent let’s uproot the things we don’t need, the things that are holding us back from being the people God wants us to be. Only then can we allow God to work in our lives and plant the seeds that we do need in our lives, so that new life can spring up. Remember, God knows everything before we even decide to open our souls to him. “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!”

Material for Worship for Second Sunday in Lent, 5th March 2023

Peter writes: Almost everybody in America can quote John 3:16, so I have read. “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life”.

But does it actually say what they think it says? Today’s reading from the fourth Gospel (John 3: 1-17) is full of theological elephant traps. They look straightforward on the surface but it’s what lies underneath that counts. Nicodemus’ question “Can one enter into a mother’s womb a second time and be born?” is the typical reaction of someone who takes John’s language literally. It doesn’t make sense. But stop, look again and you will find treasure.

This treasure is to be found in the sayings about love/God giving his son/eternal life; being born again; and heaven/earth/spirit. No wonder Nicodemus is in the dark. Both literally – he probably didn’t want his fellow Jewish leaders to know about his visit – and metaphorically. He was looking to Jesus for enlightenment. But first, says Jesus, you must be born … And the next word in Greek has a range of meanings. “Again” is how Nicodemus understands it and to him it doesn’t make sense. Today “born-again Christian” has negative connotations to many people. The word also means “anew”, that is, seeing things differently, making a new start – which fits in with our Lenten theme of repentance. Some versions (including the one we use at St Mary’s) translate it “from above”. That is, in contrast to “from below”, being born into the physical, material world. Being born “from above” indicates a spiritual awakening and an awareness that Jesus is “the Word made flesh … who gives us power to become children of God, born not of the will of man … but of God”.

Which brings us to 3:16, “God gave (or sent) his only son”. He did this, not because Adam and Eve had messed things up and he needed a Plan B but out of love for every person and for the whole of his creation. Note too that he words “whoever believes in him” do not imply some sort of test, with getting into heaven if you pass and going the other way if you fail. Here “believing” is not a matter of going assent to certain theological statements about Jesus but is more akin to falling in love. In fact the word “believe” is connected linguistically with the word “love” and the original meaning of to believe is “to hold dear”.

Believing in Jesus in this way also opens up an awareness of the light that shines in the darkness, of the love that knows no conditions and limits, and of all the gifts of the Spirit. It is summed up in the phrase “eternal life”. Jesus uses the present tense in verses 14 to 17 and so his message to Nicodemus, and to us, is that we can experience eternal life now because everything that comes from the love of God is not affected by corruption or decay. Heaven (that is, eternal life) is not something) we will only experience when we die.

To sum up. The language of the fourth Gospel is like one of those Russian dolls. As you lift one off, there is another underneath. If we take the time to read it slowly and meditatively we shall avoid the elephant traps of a superficial, literal reading which misses the fact that the Gospel is “good news”. Instead we come to see that, in the closing words of John’s Gospel “it is written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name”.



That we may take the time this Lent to learn the habits of reading Scripture more deeply, meditating on the words and letting them reveal to us the Word made flesh;

That, reading in this way, we may avoid the traps of narrowing our faith and using Scripture to judge and condemn.

That the whole Church may pay heed in this way when wrestling with contentious and divisive issues, and that it may hold fast to the faith that Jesus has the words of life.

That the gifts of the Spirit and the values of the kingdom may shape the words and actions of governments, businesses, churches and ourselves, especially for and alongside all in need.

That we should thank God for the times when we have experienced the joy of the Gospel and the hope of eternal life.

Materials for Worship for the First Sunday in Lent

Nerys writes: When we enter into the season of Lent, we step into the unfolding story of God’s love for us and for all creation. Today in Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7, we are taken right back to the beginning to walk with Adam and Eve as they are driven out of the Garden of Eden into the harsh world that we inhabit. In Matthew 4:1-11, we accompany Christ on his journey from his baptism into the harsh wilderness, led by God’s Spirit to be tempted by the devil. There and on the hard road to Jerusalem and the Cross, Jesus offered God the obedience which Adam refused, choosing the way Eve had sought to avoid – the way of death – so that we may have life. St Paul expresses this divine circle of love in Romans 5:12-19 as sin and death coming into our life through one man, Adam, and life and grace coming into the world through one man, Jesus Christ.

As you reflect on today’s two stories which are mirror images of one another, I would encourage you to think of your own unfolding inner story as you prepare to observe Lent.

Our Lord Confronts the Disobedience of Adam & Eve; Nave Mosaics from Palatine Chapel, Palermo, Sicily.

Notice that Jesus begins his journey with the experience of being filled by God’s Spirit at his baptism and being declared Beloved. This is the starting point of our journey too. We travel into our inner wilderness this Lent aware of our failings but also knowing that we are loved and accepted by God. This love is not a reward for effort or achievement but a free gift which enables us to persevere with our inner struggles and to prevail.

Even Jesus, the Messiah, needed to wrestle with himself and be tempted in order to know himself more deeply and understand the limits and possibilities of his humanity. His forty days and nights in the wilderness can be seen as a holy time of prayerfully discerning between competing demands and possibilities. Such times are essential for us too if we are to become fully ourselves as we continue to respond to God’s call to walk the path of self-giving love.

Jesus faced the ‘if …’ of the Tempter accompanied by God’s Spirit and armed with Scripture. Our inner struggles can sometimes unsettle, overwhelm or exhaust us to such an extent that we’re tempted to give up. We need the nourishment of God’s word to give us strength to stay the course. We also need to experience the presence of God in prayer and worship to inspire us.

At the end of his account, Matthew speaks of angels coming to wait on Jesus after the Tempter left him. Although each of us needs to make the inner journey for ourselves, we will be traveling through Lent together as a worshipping community. We can hold the Christ light for each another, accompanying one another in companionable silence or conversation.

So let’s take the time this Lent to journey into the wilderness with Christ so that on Easter morning we will arrive together at the empty tomb, each of us transformed and ready to take the unfolding story of God’s love out into our world.
Almighty God, whose Son didn’t eat for forty days in the wilderness, and was tempted, as we are, but did not sin: help us to be disciplined and to listen to your Spirit, that, as you know our weaknesses, so we may know your power to save; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen

Today, I invite you to pray especially for peace in Ukraine. You are welcome to use the prayers below written by members of the Iona Community.

Loving God, because you have the whole world in your hands,
cradle gently those who are rocked by fear,
shocked to a depth they have never known
and frightened to face tomorrow.

On the people of Ukraine: their children, their old people,
their vulnerable adults, their babies soon to be born,
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

On the people of Ukraine: their defenders, their advocates,
those who care for the wounded, who sit with the despairing,
who witness and report on the savagery and destruction,
who bury the dead,
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

On the people of Ukraine: their leaders
that they may continue to inspire, in word and by example,
and continue to receive help and solidarity from across the world.
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

On the people of Russia,
that they might learn the truth kept from their hearing;
On the churches in Russia
that they might find the vocabulary and courage
to speak truth to power,
On the soldiers of Russia who do not believe in the carnage they cause.
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

On the Russian president, and those who affirm his policies,
we ask the judgement of heaven, a radical conversion
and an end to their lies, scheming and murder.
Lord hear us, Lord graciously hear us.

And for our own nation we ask for commitment to match conviction
so that the pain of the Ukrainian nation be shared by us,
their weary people sheltered by us,
their peace assured by us.
Lord hear us, Lord graciously hear us. Amen.

The Feast of the Transfiguration

“God’s glory” is like a snapshot of God’s greatness and we get glimpses of that all the time – in something like a beautiful spring day but also in the kindness of other people and in finding it within ourselves to care for others. It’s not always easy to describe but I think we know it when we see it.

Take some time to read the passage and afterwards think about what Christ’s glory looks like in your mind as you read. How does it make you feel? What do you think your reaction would have been were you there? (You may wish to draw what you have seen, or to write down some words to describe it).

The disciples hid their faces when they saw Christ’s glory, they were so full of fear and wonder – we might use the word awe. They were in awe of Jesus as he revealed something of God.

We can see God’s glory in all kinds of ways and places. When we do, it’s important that we respond. One way that we do that in the Church is in baptism – in offering our children to be baptised when they’re little, or offering ourselves, and there committing to following Jesus. We also respond to God’s glory day by day and week by week, giving God praise and glory in our actions and words, in our worship, but also in how we treat other people and creation. God shows us God’s glory and then, in a way, we give it back. God shows us something amazing and special and full of life and hope, and we give God our amazement, we pray and we celebrate the eucharist, and we give God our lives and our hopes. We carry with us the song we sing every week, saying “Glory to God, glory to God!”, in everything we do. God shares with us something of God’s glory and then we offer it back. And in that other people can see God’s glory through us,

This is the last of our epiphany stories. But it doesn’t end at the disciples fear and wonder. Jesus says get up and do not be afraid before he goes back down the mountain and begins to prepare for his final journey to Jerusalem, where he will die and rise to life again. We also have a time of preparation ahead of is: Lent. It starts on Wednesday when we are marked with the sign of the cross in ash. From then on we don’t sing the Gloria, we have sombre purple hangings in church, and we quietly, reflectively prepare. It’s like walking with Jesus down off the mountain.

So as we head now towards Lent and our season of preparation for Easter, may we remember the many revelations of God’s glory that we have received. May we treasure them in our hearts, and may they sustain us as we sit in the trials and temptations of life at the bottom of the mountain. For there, as much as the peak, do we find Christ himself. There we walk with Jesus so that he can show us that God’s glory can be revealed through us, imperfect as we are.


Lord God, our creator, as we celebrate the revelation of your glory,

help us to turn ourselves to living a good Lent.

Help us to give up things that stand between us and your love,

and to walk with Jesus on the road that leads us closer to you.

We give up our Gloria only for a while,

so that we may make a more beautiful music in our hearts and lives

when we sing it again at Easter.


Materials for Worship 12th February

Nerys writes: The other day I accidentally broke the handle of my favourite mug as I was doing the washing up. How ironic I thought, breaking my beloved cup during a week when I was reflecting on readings which are all about dealing with our struggle to live well with our brokenness.

The children of Israel had grumbled and bickered in the wilderness for forty years. Even now, after they had been given God’s Law, and the Promised Land was in sight, they continued to be fractious, causing Moses in his final words to them to set out a stark choice between good and evil. life and death. ‘Love God’, he urges them in Deuteronomy 30.15-20. ‘Walk in God’s ways. Keep God’s Law so that you will live and be blessed by God, otherwise you will be cursed and you will die.’

When Jesus came, nothing had changed. His people were as dysfunctional as ever. As he delivers his new interpretation of God’s Law to his disciples, his uncomfortable teaching in Matthew 5.21-37, connects everyday thoughts and feelings with actions which can destroy lives, families, communities. Human brokenness often leads to broken relationships, sometimes with catastrophic results: lack of trust can lead to litigation, lustful feelings can lead to adultery, angry thoughts can lead to murder.

Jesus came to fulfil the Law, bringing freedom to those ready to follow him. But in 1 Corinthians 3.1-9, we see that even within the Church, nothing had changed. The Christians of Corinth were at loggerheads, their community riven by jealousy and quarrelling, causing Paul to speak to them like children rather than mature believers.

Two thousand years later, nothing has changed. Today, Racial Justice Sunday marks 30 years since the death of Stephen Laurence as the result of an unprovoked racist attack in London. Since his murder, at least another 96 young people have died in similar attacks in Britain. In our society, nothing has changed. We continue to live in communities fractured by prejudice and hate. We live within broken social systems, led by broken people, and the Church is no exception to this.

In our culture we tend to throw broken thing away, however precious they have been to us. In Japan though, there is an ancient art called Kintsugi. The word means ‘to repair with gold’. Broken pottery is put together again and a lacquer mixed with gold, silver or platinum is used to fill in the cracks. The restored vessel is considered to be even more beautiful, more valuable and stronger for having been broken.

I haven’t done any golden repairs on my mug, but I have been reflecting this week on  the way God cherishes me despite my brokenness, despite the cracks, bruises and scars which sometimes cause me to hurt others.

Rather than tossing people aside because they are damaged, God pulls them closer and restores them. During their long years in the wilderness, Jehovah Rapha, ‘the God who heals’ had ministered to the broken people of Israel. When Jesus came, he gravitated towards those in need and mended them. physically and spiritually. Today, just as the shimmery gold binds the broken pottery giving it beauty and new worth, Christ continues to heal the broken-hearted, binding up their wounds and making them new again. Christ redeems our lives. When we live in Christ who is Love, his strength and his beauty shine through our cracks enabling us to bring about healing in others.

Baptism reminds us of all of this. When we renew our baptism promises, we acknowledge our brokenness and turn to Christ. We make the choice Moses is talking about. We express our decision to renounce evil, to repent of sin, to follow Christ. We choose life. We do this, not in our own strength but standing with Christ. And again, when we express our commitment to live the Christian life following God’s call, we do so, not in our own power but in the power of Christ. As Paul pointed out in his letter, God is the one who gives spiritual growth. We make our promises acknowledging that we’re completely dependent on the help of God to fulfil them.

At baptism we become ‘co-workers in God’s service’, part of God’s Church, a community of broken people who are in regular need of restoration. Together we are Christ’s body, a broken, wounded body through which God’s Spirit works, bringing healing, hope and joy to the world. When we wonder who we really are or doubt that our lives are worth much, when we see only our limitations and dwell on our failures, when we struggle with self-destructive habits, baptism reminds us of who God has called us to be.

On the internet you can find many sayings attributed to famous people which they almost certainly never uttered or wrote. Among these is the claim that Martin Luther said, ‘Every day when you wash your face you should remember your baptism’. This doesn’t really match the reality of 16th century hygiene when daily washing wasn’t practised, but it does chime with Luther’s thinking about the central place of baptism in the life of the Christian. Here are some things that Luther really said:

Baptism is not a work that we do but … a treasure that God gives us and faith grasps.
In baptism, therefore, every Christian has enough to study and practice all his or her life.
Thus, we must regard baptism and put it to use in such a way that we may draw strength and comfort from it when our sins or conscience oppress us, and say: ‘But I am baptized!’

This week we pray in particular for all those who have been affected by the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria as we look for ways to work together to help mend lives and communities broken by the disaster.

Almighty and everliving God, whose Son Jesus Christ healed the sick and restored them to wholeness of life, look with compassion on the anguish of the world, and by your power make whole all peoples and nations; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (Candlemas)

Rachael writes: Jesus wasn’t baptised as a baby in the same way that many of us were. As was the law in Judaism, he was taken to the temple to be presented to God forty days after his birth. Mary and Joseph went with the offering designated for people who were poor, who couldn’t afford a whole lamb, but could take a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons, to “redeem” Jesus having offered him like all first born males, human and animal had to be.

James B. Janknegt

We see something of this presentation at the temple, this offering of Jesus to God for God’s work and will, in baptism today. Parents bring their children to church to present them to God, or adults present themselves. It’s a way of saying to God, “I want my child, or I choose for myself, to follow you God. To live your way and to share your love with the world”.

When they were there, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, met a man called Simeon. He was full of the Holy Spirit, full of God, and God led him to the temple where he took the baby Jesus in his arms and declared Jesus to be “a light for revelation”. It doesn’t mean that Jesus glowed like a lightbulb but that he was revealing to the world the truth of who God is and what the world is like. He was showing the reality of our human situation and of God’s love and transformative work.

Anna also realised how important this baby was. She recognised that Jesus was going to change everything, that he was going to help her people to know God more, and make the world more like God intended. She was so in awe, so amazed, and so excited, that she couldn’t hold back.

I think most of us will be able to remember a time when we’ve been stuck in the darkness and desperate for just some light to show us the way. Maybe we woke up in the middle of the night and as our eyes adjust we realised that the light of the moon was peeping round the curtains just enough to light the way. Or perhaps it was more a darkness within us – a fear or anxiety – and it was the kind words of a friend, or the smile of a stranger that gave us hope in the midst of it.  It doesn’t take much. Even a small, flickering candle flame can illuminate a great big space. When we’re in the presence of such a light, there’s no avoiding our being lit up by it too.

Mary and Joseph had come to offer Jesus to God but Simeon and Anna ended up offering themselves to Jesus. Their worlds were lit up by him as he banished the darkness for them, showing them the way and guiding them on. They were changed by their encounter with him and couldn’t help but tell everyone about it.

Jesus’ light has never gone out. It still shines brightly today drawing us in like it did for Simeon and Anna. And we offer ourselves to him, like they did, at baptism but also every day when we choose to follow him. We are illuminated by him and sent out into the world to shine. To shine with his truth and love and transformation.

That’s why we give people candles when they are baptised. To remind them that they carry Christ’s light with them into all the world. And at the end of our service in church today, we’ll remember that again as we light our candles and give thanks for Christ’s light in our lives. Then we’ll extinguish them and remember that the light of Christ is within us now and we go to share it with the world.

Mike Moyers, “Awake My Soul”

When has Christ’s light illuminated your life? Where can you shine Christ’s light today?

I’d encourage you at home, if you’re safely able, to light a candle and offer these prayers:

Like Simeon, may I grow old in hope and wonder.

Like Anna, may I be in love with you all my days.

May I be open to truth, open to surprises.

May I let your spirit into my life.

May I let your justice change my behaviour.

May I live in the brightness of your joy.

Starmaker God, Lightner of the world,

bless us and warm us into the light of loving.

Bring us to the light of Jesus all the length and breadth of our nights and days.

As the candle, so my life:

flickering, burning, changing, alight and warm with the light which is you.

Amen.   (by Ruth Burgess)

We remember the place of our new birth at baptism

Let us shine with the light of your love.

We turn from the crib to the cross.

Let us shine with the light of your love.

We go to carry his light.

Let us shine with the light of your love.

Thanks be to God.


Materials for Worship on 29th January

Peter writes “Atishoo, atishoo, we all fall down” – This nursery rhyme probably dates back to the Great Plague of the 1660s, when sudden sneezing was considered the first symptoms of the disease and soon its victims would all fall down. And so, to this day, we still say “Bless you” when someone sneezes. But what do we mean when we say that? What did Jesus mean when he invoked the blessings that we call the Beatitudes?

Here, Jesus is following a form of Jewish prayers which is still used in synagogues and in homes today. Often they consist of blessings addressed to God, for instance before meals praising him for his goodness and generosity in providing for our needs. There are many similar prayers for other occasions. On getting dressed a pious Jew might say “Blessed is he who clothes the naked”.

We may also ask God to bless people or things, asking him to bestow his grace or show them his favour and protection, hence “Bless you” when we sneeze. At Epiphany, Rachel encouraged us to write an inscription above our front doors containing the letters CMB. These are the initials of the Three Wise Men (Caspar, Melchior, Balthazar) but they also stand for Christus mansionem benedicat – “May Christ bless this house”. That is, we are asking that his love and favour may dwell there and be felt by all who enter.

In asking God to bless things we are also expressing the intention that they are to be set aside for holy purposes. Before the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest may use a prayer to bless our offering of bread and wine and in the prayer itself we recall that Jesus blessed the bread and wine at the Last Supper. Similarly we ask God to bless the water in the font at baptism. In this way ordinary water becomes special, just as we come before him as ordinary people but made special through God’s blessing and called do some special task for him that only we can do. It may be a lifelong commitment or it may be a case of being in the right place at the right time. As St John Henry Newman wrote, we may never know in this life what that task is.

This brings me to the people that Jesus calls blessed in the Beatitudes. They come at the beginning of his earthly ministry and in a sense they set out his agenda. Those who are blessed are ordinary people, leading lives, full of God’s favour and protection, but who would not be considered blessed in the eyes of the world. What we need to look for, he says, is people’s character, finding contentment in simple things; longing for justice; indignant at the neglect of God’s will and not harbouring grudges or seeking revenge.

Blessedness is to be found in the topsy-turvy nature of the kingdom of heaven, where the first shall be last, the last first and where the judgements and attitudes of the world all fall down.

For prayer and meditation

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise him all creatures here below.” – To praise  him is another way of blessing him. What other words come to mind when you think of blessing?

“Count your blessings”: – Spend a few moments to consider how you have been blessed in the past and are today. Thank God for them.

Look at the types of people Jesus calls blessed. Do any of them apply to you and what form did or does the blessing take? Do you need to work at any of them? Ask for help and guidance.

Who do you know who is in need of blessing today? Ask God to grant it to them.

Think of people whose lives and example have been a blessing to you or others. Give thanks for them.

Materials for Worship at Home on 22nd January

Rachael writes: God calls in many different ways. It would be nice if they were all as straightforward as Jesus’ instruction to the disciples on the beach (Matthew 4.12-23). “Follow me” and off they go, apparently without question or hesitation. Thankfully there are plenty of other examples in the Bible of people to whom God gives a task and they try to deny that they’re up to it (Moses); make some terrible errors along the way (David); or are only convinced by some drastic measures (Paul). But how do you even know if you’re being called? We don’t have the luxury of Christ incarnate standing before us and speaking to us nor will many of us have been spoken to from a burning bush!

The miraculous can (and does) happen but we’re especially drawn to these stories of the fantastical, because we hope for such clarity and direction for ourselves. The idea that we all have an inherent purpose which we need to find is a big part of our culture now: even the tagline in the RAF’s TV advert at the moment is “Everyone’s got that one thing they were born to do”. I hope I wasn’t born to do just one thing. I hope I’m a more nuanced and complex creature than one which can be boiled down to a single skill or role. This idea of destiny reduces us down to the jobs that we do, meaning that life finishes when we retire and puts a lot of pressure on young people, which for most only leads to disappointment. I don’t think it’s how God intended things to be. All these people in the Bible were given specific tasks for a time but as part of a much bigger picture and story. If we’re going to understand our calling, we need to see that big picture.

It starts on the grandest scale, back in Genesis 1 when God calls all things into being. God speaks and there is light; God speaks and there is sky; God speaks and there is land, vegetation, planets, stars, animals, and eventually humans. God’s words summon these things from nothing – they are called into being and then called by name. In Genesis 2 God puts Adam in the garden to “work it and take care of it” (2.15). That is, to nurture it and to protect it, to help it reach its full potential and restrain the forces that would dismantle it back into chaos. This is the calling of humanity: the nurture and protection of the whole created order. Creation exists for the glory of God, and humanity within that for creation’s care and nurture.

If we zoom in just a little bit, we see that God chose to use a particular people to bless the rest of humanity. Israel was to be “a light for the nations” (Isaiah 49.6), remaining faithful to the true God in the face of the other nations’ idols and false worship. They were given laws full of justice and mercy. They were to shelter the stranger and care for the widowed and orphaned. Stories of heroics and miracles are easier for us to read than lists of laws and chapters of temple building instructions, but in focusing on individuals such as Moses, Elijah and David, we can forget that they were part of a much bigger story. We can lose sight of God’s calling of a nation to be a blessing to all humanity.

Then Christ comes and expands that calling to include the Gentiles as well as the Jews. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost births the Church, and a new people is called together, centered around Christ, to mediate to the whole world God’s self-giving love. They – we – are called, as a body, to represent to humanity the good news (ie. the “gospel” which Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 1.10-18) that God has not given up on the world and continues to love and sustain it. Still fully a part of humanity, the Church is tasked with drawing people back into fellowship with God through Christ.

The baptismal liturgy of the Scottish Episcopal Church begins by saying that “In Christ God reaches out to us. In baptism God calls us to respond”. When we hear God’s call to follow, we offer ourselves in Baptism, another communal act – we can’t baptise ourselves. And at baptism we are called again: the liturgy asks for a profession of faith but also a commitment to Christian life. It asks if we will “continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers … proclaim the good news by word and deed, serving Christ in all people… work for justice and peace, honouring God in all Creation”.

Any other sense of calling, any other gifts and skills, all tasks and activities, are rooted and grounded in this identity: as a human being and as a baptised member of the Body of Christ. We can become frozen by a sense that we have to wait for the neon sign in the sky to tell us what to do but the reality is that we have already been told and it’s less about what we do and more about how we do it. There’s great freedom in that. Furthermore, it assures us that God never stops calling us into action and that what that looks like can change over time as we reach different stages in our lives.

So we are all called: as human beings, as baptised Christians, and as the Body of Christ the Church. We may discern in our circumstances, gifts, and desires, a calling to a particular task but our primary calling and identity will always be in the baptism in which we offered ourselves to God, and from which Christ sends his body the Church into the world.

Almighty God, by grace alone you call us and accept us in your service.  Strengthen us by your Spirit, and make us worthy of your call; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Materials for Worship at Home on 15th January

Nerys writes: On the feast of  Pentecost at the end of May this year, Bishop Ian will join us for a special service where some of you will  affirm for the first time the promises made on your behalf when you were baptised and the rest of us will join in by expressing our faith and our commitment to following Christ. Between now and then,  in preparation for this important day in the life of our church. we will be reflecting together on the sacrament of baptism in order  to deepen our understanding of what it is to be a baptised person.

I wasn’t a great rebel when I was at university. In fact, probably one of the most adventurous things I did with my new-found freedom from parental authority was to regularly leave the hostel in the morning without having dried my hair. Recently, my memories of walking outside with wet hair and my understanding of baptism came together when I stumbled upon the painting by Mike Moyers below. It depicts the moment in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel where Jesus steps out of the water and walks off in the direction of the wilderness, soaking wet, following the Spirit’s call.

I suppose the water from the baptism Jesus received from John would have evaporated very quickly in the heat of the Mediterranean sun, but the gifts he received from God on that day were to accompany and empower him on his journey to the Cross and beyond. As he submitted himself to the water, God responded by filling him with the Holy Spirit,  and by naming his identity, affirming his relationship as God’s beloved child.

Baptism for Jesus was not a one-off event but a two-way, life-long process. This is true of our baptism also. Most of us won’t have any memory of it, but we are all on a journey that started at the font on that particular day. Like Jesus, we have God’s Spirit as our companion and guide, and, if we listen, we can still hear God’s claim on us echoing down the years: ‘You are my child whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

After we are baptised, life  can still be a wilderness at times, full of confusion, disappointment, pain and  loneliness. Our baptism does not spare us from difficulty, but it does help us deal with it in different ways.

At our baptism, our story becomes part  of the story of all the  people of God and of the whole of creation. In the baptismal prayer of our church, that biblical story is told from the beginning, when God’s spirit moved over the face of the waters. We are reminded of the times when God used the gift of water to nourish his people, transforming deserts into gardens, when God calmed the wildness of the waves, put a rainbow in the sky as a sign of hope, and parted the Red Sea to lead his children from slavery to freedom. Our baptism has brought us into this ancient story of God’s dealings with humanity, a story through which we can make sense of our lives and of the world.

In baptism we also become part God’s Church so that we are never alone on our journey. In the account of his baptism in today’s Gospel passage, John 1.29-42, the first thing we see Jesus doing as soon as he steps out of the water is to call a group of people together to walk with him.  One of the striking changes between the life of the prophet whose longe voice is heard in our Old Testament reading, Isaiah 49.1-7, and the Corinthian Christians Paul greets in the New Testament reading, 1 Corinthians 1.1-9, is the gift of the Church. When we are baptised, we enter into a spirit-filled community who share in God’s calling, who witness and serve together and who learn from one other  as well as from God.

Baptism is a visible sign of an invisible reality. It is a sign that points to the nature and work of God and the means by which we are adopted into God’s family. It is also a seal, a guarantee that God keeps God’s promises to us. At baptism we are given a new identity as God’s own children. We enter into a new life with Christ. The apostles and the church fathers used images of rebirth, washing clean, and dying and rising again to express in their writings the work of baptism in our lives.  At times when I feel myself drifting away from God, I remind myself of the fact that I have been baptised. I imagine the water of baptism still clinging to my hair, I feel its freshness on my skin,  I see the droplets glistening as I walk, and I remember that I am unconditionally loved. I know that no matter how far I have wandered, through God’s amazing grace, I can return, I can have a new start, be born again, washed clean, raised with Christ and filled once more with God’s spirt of love.

I hope that today and in the weeks to come, you will join me in praying for those who are intending to affirm their baptismal promises at Pentecost and that you will also take time to recall your own baptism and consider what it means to you. I invite you now to reflect on the painting of Jesus’ Baptism above and also on the beautiful Prayer for the Affirmation of Baptism, (SEC 2006) slightly adapted to include us all.

God of mercy and love,
new birth by water and the Spirit is your gift,
a gift none can take away;
grant that we may grow into the fullness of the stature of Christ.
Fill us with the joy of your presence.
Increase in us the fruit of your Spirit:
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of love, patience and gentleness,
the spirit of wonder and true holiness.

Come, Creator Spirit, rekindle in us your gifts of grace,
to love and serve as a disciple of Christ.
Renew our life in Christ
and bring to completion all that your calling has begun.
Empower us  to bring life to the world.

Living God, sustain us and all your people
to be hope and strength to the world;
through Jesus Christ, our Lord,  t
o whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be honour and glory, now and for ever.

Materials for Worship on the Feast of the Epiphany 2023

Rachael writes:

Like much of the Christmas story, the journey of the Wise Men (Luke 2.1-12) can begin to feel like any other myth, legend, or fairy tale. We know it well but it’s something from another world. These travelers from the East (maybe Kings themselves? or Magi: priests, astrologers, and magicians?) with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, are more well-known than the angels and their declaration of the glory of God. Even with the primary 7 pupils who attended The Christmas Journey, we had to work hard to get them to think of other things you might bring a baby, they were so keen to share their knowledge of this part of the story.

We’ve lost something of the wonder or mystery of this story. There’s little to no sense of awe to accompany it but it is wondrous and mystical. It’s an epiphany!

Tisso, “Magi”

These were strangers from the East, or more literally, “from the rising of the sun”. Their name suggests that they were of the priestly Magos class in the Zoroastrian religion from the Persian empire which stretched from modern day Eastern Syria to the fringes of India – that’s anything from about 500 to 2500 miles away. On foot. Through foreign lands. For a star. A prophecy. A King.

If the shepherds show us that Jesus came for the lowliest in society, the Wise Men show us that he came for all the world. They are strangers in every way – in ethnicity, nationality, and religion. They are truly aliens in a foreign land.  Nobody was expecting them but still they came. And now they are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise of Christ’s Good News.

They came, following the star. A light in the sky but not a neon sign, with an arrow saying “Here!”. An unusual brightness but not a google maps print out nor a set of sat nav directions. Imagine their excitement at first seeing it, as their prophecies had foretold. Imagine their questions. Their fears and anxieties. Imagine their hopefulness for all that it might mean. Did you notice that they saw the star rise and then travelled Jerusalem, to their best guess as to the location of the King of the Jews? They saw a sign and they headed out, not knowing if they were correct but using the knowledge that they had to do their best.

And then they ask for help: “Where is the child?”. They don’t presume to have the full picture and they’re not too proud to ask those who might know more. They had lived with these questions through all their travels. I wonder if they were disappointed when the answer was, “Another day’s journey that way…”. I wonder if they knew then that Herod had his own agenda, if they got a sense that this wasn’t a person to entirely be trusted.

Only then does the star move, guiding them more precisely, leading them to the “place where the child lay”. And there they fall on their knees in worship before him. They worship the King in a moment beyond intellectual understanding, a moment of deep knowing: of epiphany. It demanded a response of them so, along with themselves in worship, they offered their gifts – gifts for a King who would face great suffering. How did they know?

These were strangers who followed an inclination, asked for help, discerned the way forward, trusted the light, and who in humble recognition, offered what they had.

It’s the story of faith. We may feel like we know it well, or it may feel more like a story that we’re just beginning. But the thing about these stories is that they can become stale. Like a well-known myth or legend, they can become background noise that we don’t really pay close attention to.

Mike Moyers, “Awake My Soul”

The Wise Men remind us that no matter who we are, we are invited on this journey. And there we will see many signs and wonders – perhaps a star in the sky, or a dream in the night, or the kindness of stranger, or the love of a friend – that will point and guide us towards God. Can you remember such an awakening moment in your own life? Are you open to, even actively looking, for more? Along the way, it is good to ask for help: we are not on this journey alone and questions help all of us to grow. God gives us the church as a place of encouragement and discernment because our faith is not one to be practiced alone. There can, however, still be times of darkness and in them, like the Wise Men, we keep putting one foot in front of the other, holding onto hope in the Light that cannot be overcome. We need to continually be discerning our next steps, including how we navigate the twisted value systems of this world that might try to pull us off course. Are we open to dreams and signs and the still, small voice? If we’re going to pay attention to such things, we need to cultivate space in our lives for those moments of recognition and self-giving.

The eucharist is one beautiful place where that can happen. In it we see Christ’s self-giving and in return we together offer ourselves. A single, holy, living sacrifice. A moment of epiphany.

But these things – revelation, discernment, the help of others, self-giving – aren’t things to be relegated to church. We should expect and pursue them in all of life. How will you prepare for, and seek, epiphany in the coming year?


For prayerful pondering:

Name and give thanks for a moment of wonder.

Resolve to offer your gift this year in a particular way.

Name some aspect of darkness and pray for light.

Name a companion on the journey and give thanks for their support.


O God, who, by the guidance of a star,

revealed your only-begotten Son to the nations:

Grant that we, who know you now by faith,

may at the last be led to see your glory face to face;

through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.


Materials for Worship on New Year’s Day – the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus

 Rachael writes: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” I’m sure we’re all familiar with these words from Juliet as she tries to convince Romeo that his name, the name of her family’s rival house of Montague, is unimportant. It’s often quoted to suggest that the names of things do not affect the what they really are.

We know that that is true, in the sense that it is factual. To call a rose a table doesn’t suddenly make it a table. But we also know the importance of names. Parents agonise over what to call their children. There are hundreds and hundreds of websites out there with millions of names listed to help them choose. You can take tests and questionnaires to find the perfect name for your baby. It’s generally the second question asked of parents to be, after what the gender is, “have you chosen a name”. Because in that we think we can grasp something of the (still yet unborn) child’s identity. The name tells us a story, gives us a glimpse of their future.

I wonder if any of you have ever changed your name? Maybe your first name in an attempt to reinvent yourself or give a certain impression in a new environment, such as going from family nickname to something more formal, Bob to Robert or Flic to Felicity. You may have decided to go in the other direction and tried to throw off your childhood trauma by changing the name that was used to nag or criticise you, coming up with something new or alternative that you felt better suited your personality. Approximately half of the married people here are likely to have made a change to their name at some point as well. It’s not such the done thing these days, or at least, it’s not just assumed that the woman will take the man’s name. We have friends who combined their names to come up with something new altogether. Of course, for Charlotte and I there wasn’t the same cultural precedent so we got to choose. In the end I took Charlotte’s name and for a long time I found it strange and a little sad to no longer be Rachael Harrison. But now I am a proud Wright, it feels like it fits, and I never think twice about it.

So names are important. They do tell us something about the person they belong to. They are personal and can be deeply tied to our identity. We take them for granted I think but they’re quite powerful really.

The name “Jesus” means “Yahweh saves”— and it is holy in every way. It signifies the bearer’s divine status on account of his supernatural conception by the Holy Spirit, and it spells out the specific mission on which he is sent: to be God’s agent of salvation for Israel, and through Israel, for the whole world.

Gabriel and the angels who appeared to the shepherds, give us many titles for Jesus: Son of the Most High, Son of God, Saviour, Messiah, and Lord. Each is a window into Jesus’ identity and mission. There are many, many more, but they are all encapsulated in “Jesus”.

Somehow that name made its way into common parlance as an expletive and that has only served to cheapen something which should be holy and awe-inspiring. We can easily forget the meaning and the one to whom it belongs and throw “Jesus” around like it’s “Jo” “Jack” or “Jane”. There are two contemplative prayers which I use where saying the name of Jesus, though not really the primary function of the prayer, has become a very powerful spiritual practice for me. One is the Jesus prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”) and the other is the rosary (“Hail Mary full grace, the Lord is with thee…blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus”). It’s declaratory and worshipful, humbling and hopeful, to say the name of Jesus in prayer.

“Yahweh saves” – our reading from Galatians 4 is a wonderful development of that tiny phrase and huge concept: “God sent his Son, born of a woman, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God”.

Jesus – Yahweh Saves – has come that we might be adopted into God’s Kingdom. And if we can cry “Abba, Father” then we are also called by a new name: “children of God”. Whichever name we might have changed or taken in the past, whatever our parents might have called us, our truest identity is there as God’s precious and beloved children. That is who we belong to. Is there anything more powerful?

As we go forward into this new year, may we treasure these words, this name, and like Mary ponder it in our heart. May we, like the shepherds, glorify and praise God for who God has made us. And like them, may we share this incredible news with all whom we meet, that they too might be amazed.

Our collect for today:

Eternal Father,
who gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus
to be the sign of our salvation:
place in every heart, we pray,
the love of him who is the Lord of every year
and Saviour of the world;
who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, in time and for eternity. Amen.

Materials for Worship on Christmas Day

Nerys writes: A blessed Christmas to you and those you love!

I wonder if you have bought and sent Christmas cards this year?  They say that the tradition of sending handwritten cards in the post is on the wane and   it’s not surprising when we consider the cost of stamps and the convenience of digital cards, delivered at the click of a button. I used to look forward to receiving Christmas cards and parcels through the post when I was a youngster. As a keen philatelist, I was always on the look-out for the more unusual denominations of Christmas stamps to complete my set for the year.  I don’t collect stamps any more, but I still have an interest in the history and design of British stamps. I must admit that I did  get a little excited when I realised that this year’s Christmas issue is  particularly significant. Their theme also ties in with today’s readings, Isaiah 9.2-7 and Luke 2.1-20.

These are the last Christmas stamps to have an image of Queen Elizabeth on them. Next Christmas it will be replaced with that of King Charles. These stamps represent the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. These, also,  are the first Christmas stamps to be barcoded. Apparently, these barcodes  will make it possible for the Royal Mail to precisely track and trace every piece of post, but they will also enable customers to interact with a special app on their mobile phones.  This is seen as the biggest change in the way the post operates since  the Penny Black was introduced in 1840. These stamps represent a revolution, a completely new way of doing things.

There’s nothing unusual in the fact that these  stamps depict key moments in the story of the first Christmas. We have the angel greeting Mary, the journey to Bethlehem, the child in the manger, the appearance of an angel, the arrival of the shepherds and the wise men. What’s special about this issue is that each stamp is designed to look as if it is emitting light.  If you look carefully,  you’ll see that within each stamp is a central point of light with rays shining from it. I don’t know to what extent their designer has been influenced by the Old Masters, but they often  depicted the  stable in darkness with light from the baby illuminating the faces of the figures around the manger.

It’s hard for us to imagine how dark it would have been in Bethlehem when Jesus was born.  There would have been no street lights and household lighting was only affordable by a few.  When night fell, it was dark and the darkness would have been very frightening.

The prophet Isaiah spoke of his people living in a land of deep darkness. They were a conquered people whose very existence was under threat, a people deeply afraid, stumbling along in the dark, longing desperately for dawn to break. ‘My soul waits for the Lord, more than those who watch for the morning’, sings the psalmist. They were yearning for God to send the promised king who would bring justice and peace. The birth of this child would be like a great light brining in a new era, a completely new way of doing things.

In the days before Jesus were born the people of Israel were still walking in the darkness. Living under foreign rule in a deeply unjust society with a corrupt religious system, they were still longing for God to send a saviour, someone who would  be source of light for the whole world. The message of the angels came in the darkness on the hillside above Bethlehem to ordinary people whose work was dirty and rough. The glory of God shone around them and they were terrified. And yet as they stood there in the light of heaven, they recognised that this was good news. Something had happened that would change everything. A new source of light had come into the world who would bring great joy. Standing at the manger, they must have realised how fragile this light was, embodied in a newly-born child. And yet this light was powerful enough to send them out, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.

The gift of God’s light, the light of Love,  still comes when we least expect it. It can come to us in and through the must unexpected of people and circumstances. It is fragile and yet piercing, searching and life-changing. It comes to us in the beauty of worship and  in the everyday routines and the messiness of our lives. And when it comes,  it transforms us, making us, like the shepherds, sources of light for others.

We are called  to celebrate the light that has come into the world by living as Children of Light, as followers of Jesus. We are called to celebrate  the Good News proclaimed today. We are called to tell the world, for this is news too good to keep to ourselves!


God of Hope, God of Love, God of Joy, God of Peace,
You dwell in glorious light and yet you choose to live among us.
May your Spirit fill us with the light of your love and kindness
as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Light of the World,
One God, now and forever. Amen.

Materials for Worship on the Fourth Sunday in Advent

Nerys writes: I wonder if you are ready for Christmas? Are there things that are still to be done? Is there anything that you are putting off until after Christmas – perhaps something that really needs to be done now? Most of us tend to put things off thinking,  mañana, tomorrow …  Sometimes it’s  because we are too busy, or we have other priorities, or perhaps we don’t really want to face whatever it is. In today’s Old Testament reading, Isaiah 7.10-16, King Ahaz did not want to face what was looming, and when God offered him a sign, he justified his reluctance by saying that he didn’t want to put God to the test. Little did he know just how important God’s sign would become, not just for himself but for the whole world …

When Joseph, on the other hand is given a choice to respond to the message of the angel or not, he doesn’t hesitate. Read Matthew 1.18-25 to remind yourself of the story.  Joseph doesn’t play a prominent  part in the Christmas story. There are no lines and little action, even in Matthew which tells the story from Joseph’s perspective. Mary gets to speak and sing, whilst Joseph is the silent partner. But his choices and his actions are a vital and significant part of God’s story.

In the reflection that follows, David Campton imagines what Joseph might have said.

I’m no dreamer. Not like my namesake – the son of our forefather, Jacob, and friend of Pharaoh. I’m a working man. I work with wood and nails, things you can touch and shape and hit with a hammer. And I did a lot of that when Mary first told me. 

I couldn’t believe it. How could she do that to me? Who was the father? All she would say was: “It was nothing to do with me. The baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit, ordained by God himself.” Well, I’ve heard some excuses in my time. Who do you think I am – a fool born yesterday!? 

But she seemed so genuine, so innocent. And, I thought, so naïve. Who has taken advantage of you? Who? I asked. But she named no-one. So, I planned to drop the whole thing quietly, leave it to her parents to ship her off to some relatives to have the baby. But I knew the news would get out. The shame would stick – to me as well as to her. And I took my frustrations out on the wood in my workshop. 

But then, I had that dream. I hadn’t been sleeping at all since Mary told me. It was my first decent night’s sleep, and I was annoyed to be roused – only to realise that I wasn’t awake, and what stood before me was more real, more solid, than anything in this world. An angel. A messenger from God, he claimed. 

And he confirmed Mary’s story. This child within her was not the result of a teenage fling, or someone taking advantage of a foolish girl, but conceived by the Holy Spirit. I was told he was to be called Jeshua – Jesus – which means ‘God Saves.’ A good name. 

Somehow this child growing within Mary is supposed to save us all from our sins, and fulfil the words of the prophet: born of a virgin, showing that God is with us – Emmanuel. Well, he’d better be with us, because it won’t be easy. Not everyone will believe the story. Tongues will wag and fingers will point. 

But I will do what I can. I’ll carve a cradle for this Son of God. I’ll try to teach him the word of his Father. And I’ll train him in my trade: to work with wood and nails. 

We are all part of God’s story. We all have a role to play. Our story can be shaped by God’s story if we choose.

We hear Mary’s ‘yes’ through her words but we see Joseph’s ‘yes’ through his choices and his actions. The angel encourages Joseph to take Mary as his wife, to stand alongside her in her vulnerable, marginalised position, to care for her and protect her.  The angel  also invites Joseph to name the child, to adopt Jesus  into his own family and into the story of God’s people, to give ‘ the One who Saves’ a place in the line that runs right back to Abraham. Joseph may not have words to say in God’s story  but his choices and his actions mean that he has a massive part to play.

We are all part of God’s story. We all have a role to play. Our story can be shaped by God’s story if we choose.

I wonder what you are choosing this Advent? In your waking, in your dreaming, how are you listening for and attending to the messages and the invitations that are waiting for you from God?

Take some time to ponder as you reflect on images of Joseph and read the prayer below.










‘A Prayer for Choosing’ by Jan Richardson

What we choose
changes us.

Who we love
transforms us.

How we create
remakes us.

Where we live
reshapes us.

So in all our choosing,
O God, make us wise;

in all our loving,
O Christ, make us bold;

in all our creating,
O Spirit, give us courage;

in all our living
may we become whole.











You may wish to finish your time of worship by praying for areas in the world, in the Church and in your life where choices need to be made and ask for God to guide the decision-making.