Materials for Worship for Trinity Sunday 2023

Nerys writes: When you hear the word Holy Trinity, I wonder what first comes into your mind? Is it perhaps a church of that name, an image from a  stained glass window or something you’ve read or heard in a sermon? For me in recent weeks it would be this icon.

It was produced by Andrei Rublev early in the fifteenth century and it’s considered to be the highest achievement in Russian art.  You might have heard in the news that it was moved last month against the advice of its restorers,  from a state museum in Moscow to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, a gift from President Putin to Patriarch Krill, one of the most vocal supporters of his invasion of Ukraine.  I was also reminded of it during the last session of our Living the Questions course when we were challenged to think how we live our faith and how we communicate it with others. As I explained to my table companions that evening,  this is the image I return to time and time again when I need to be reminded of what God is like and how I am called to be.

The icon was painted for the monastery of the Holy Trinity of St Sergius, the most important spiritual centre of the Russian Orthodox Church, which a decade earlier had been burnt to the ground in a military raid. The icon was to be for the monks not only a lovely decoration or a teaching tool, but a focus for peaceful contemplation in the midst  of political unrest and violence.

Icon writers usually stick to age-old ways of portraying a subject but with this work, Rublev broke new ground. He used the famous account  of  Abraham’s hospitality towards three mysterious travellers to depict the Holy Trinity. He stripped away the detail of  the story included in traditional icons, leaving only the tree, the house and the mountain which become rich symbols of the story of salvation. These  form a backdrop to the three winged figures sitting in silent conversation around the table. Each of the visitors is identical apart from their clothing and hand gestures which identify them as God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Each looks to the other and as we follow their gaze, a circle is revealed is with a space at the front for the prayerful viewer to step in.

Most icons in Rublev’s day would have had the persons of the Trinity arranged in a triangular shape with God the Father forming the base, the Holy Spirit as a hovering dove  forming the apex, and the Christ-child in the centre. The emphasis here is very different. It’s not so much on expressing the inner workings of the doctrine of the Trinity  but on the way God relates to the world and to us, a mysterious movement of unity and love. Using the famous analogy of Bishop Spong, the emphasis is not on God as ‘a noun that demands to be defined’ but God as ‘a verb that invites us to live, to love, to be’.

And the same emphasis is found in the New Testament readings for today, 2 Corinthians 13.11-13 and Matthew 28.16-20. When Matthew and Paul end their writings with references to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, they are not just drawing on a convenient formula or paying lip-service to traditional teaching. In fact, it would be over a century before theologians began to use words like ‘trinity’ as a shorthand way of expressing what these two authors are articulating. Rather, in these passages, they are both witnessing to a personal understanding of God which motivates them and that they believe will energize and unify the congregations for whom they are writing.

Paul’s final prayer for the divided, bickering congregation in Corinth which we know as ‘The Grace’, sums up the central message of his most deeply personal and heartfelt letter. It is that they are to  love the world as God, the Creator, loves it. They are to have the grace that allowed Jesus to accept God’s will and which will enable them to follow his example. And they are to accept the invitation of the Holy Spirit to find their true identity in belonging together within the fellowship of God’s love.  Paul’s desire for his first readers who were struggling to live together in peace was the same as that of  Rublev for his fellow monks. His icon encourages the viewer to step into the mysterious circle of God’s unity and love which can’t be broken by the powers of the world. We are invited to take our place at the table and enjoy God’s hospitality which challenges hostility, which dissolves difference and breaks down borders and barriers.

The risen Christ of Matthew’s Gospel instructs his worshipping, doubting disciples to offer this hospitality to all the nations of the world. They are to enfold them in the mysterious circle of God’s love by baptising in the name of God the Father who loves us and the whole of Creation, God the Son  who will walk with us to the end of our lives and beyond, and God the Holy Spirit who will dwell within and among us equipping us with all we need to obey everything they we called to be and to do. When we enter into that community  of mutual love, we receive gifts of peace, healing and hope but we are also called to extend the table by becoming both host and guest to others.

In Ordinary Time,  the growing season in the Church Year, it is important for us to consider  how we  choose to live our faith and share it with others, and what will sustain us to do so in these troubled times.  For Rublev and his fellow monks, offering hospitality to others would have been at the centre of what it meant to be a Christian community. They knew that, in order to grow as followers of Christ and bring near the kingdom of God, we need to welcome the stranger, inviting them to join us at our table and also accepting their invitation to us. This kind of  hospitality  is not just about doing good but is an attitude of the heart. It involves being open to see God in others and to respond to their needs.

In your time of prayer this morning, I would encourage you to reflect on your own experience of receiving the hospitality of God. Can you think of ways that you, your family or our church community might offer hospitality to others? What one small thing can you do this week to help bring near the kingdom of God where you are?

Materials for Worship on the Seventh Sunday of Easter

I did my curacy in Bradford on Avon, Peter writes, a lovely town in Wiltshire, about the same size as Dunblane. The church is on the river bank and behind it a steep slope rises to a little chapel called St Mary Torey. (The name has nothing to do with politics but is a West Country name for a high place.)

My children were in the choir and they used to look forward to Ascension Day. Early in the morning the choir would go up the tower and the rest of us would gather at St Mary Torey. The choir would sing “Hail the day that sees him rise” and, being on about the same level, the sound would waft over to us. Then we would go into the chapel for the Eucharist and the boys would go to the organist’s house for bacon rolls and hot chocolate. It was always a memorable occasion.

The effect of celebrating the Ascension this way depends on the ancient imagination of a three-decker universe, with heaven above, hell beneath and the earth in between. But that doesn’t mean that we can reject the Ascension as a piece of outdated cosmology. Let’s look more closely at what it is telling us.

Jesus is taken up into heaven. From the Lord’s Prayer we know that heaven is where God’s will is done and, conversely, where God’s will is done is heaven. To quote the late Pope Benedict XVI, “Earth becomes heaven when and insofar as God’s will is done there”. Taking this a stage further, in today’s reading from John’s Gospel, Jesus says to the Father, “I have glorified you on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do”. So if we want to know God’s will, we look at Jesus and by definition, where Jesus is, there is heaven. During his time on earth Jesus was always in one place at one time and his disciples could see and hear him. But after the Ascension, Jesus is no longer “there”. He has ascended to be with God and God is everywhere. So now, Jesus is everywhere too. In Matthew’s Gospel the Messiah is to be called “Emmanuel”, which means “God is with us”. In the same Gospel Jesus’ last words to the disciples are “Lo, I am with you always, to the end of time”.

Taken together, all this means that wherever and whenever we recognise a Christ-like activity in the world we are experiencing God’s will being done and that heaven is here on earth. To use traditional, metaphorical language, at such moments we “in heart and mind also ascend”.

There is more to the Ascension. In the Creed we say that Jesus now sits at God’s right hand. Now obviously, Jesus isn’t really sitting anywhere and God doesn’t have hands but this is how the ancient world spoke about someone who enjoyed the favour and authority of a king. So to talk about Jesus in this way was – and still is – a challenge to the powers that be, who seek to dominate through violence, oppression and injustice.

And lastly, the Ascension is about mission, our mission to be part of God’s dream for a world that is the opposite of Caesar’s world, where (to use Isaiah’s words) “the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid … for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord”. All this is possible because at his ascension Jesus gave us a command: “Go into all the world” and also a promise: we shall not be left alone because at Pentecost we shall receive the power of the Holy Spirit.

And so, at the Ascension it is not just the earthly Jesus who is going to the Father. He draws us up to himself and make us capable of the lofty heights to which we are called.

For Prayer And Reflection

That the Church may be a messenger and witness to the world, in word, deed and prayer;

That the glory of the risen and ascended Lord may shine on those who acknowledge him and those who do not;

That all who exercise power may learn his way of justice, hospitality and mercy;

That we may be aware of where and when God’s will is being done and heaven is here amongst us;

That all who cannot see beyond the clouds of sorrow, sickness, pain or guilt may know his liberating mercy, forgiveness and healing;

That the Lord may receive in mercy the souls of the departed and that, with the saints, they may come to the vision of his glory.

Materials for Worship on the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Nerys writes: Today, church looks quite different from usual. The congregation will be  surrounded by panels like the one below crafted by knitters, crocheters and embroiderers from all around the UK,  reminding us that it is time to make big changes to stop the devastating climate havoc and ecological breakdown that is happening across the world. These panels are part of a mile-and a-half long scarf which was displayed in Glasgow Green during  the United Nations Climate Change Conference,  COP 26,  in 2021. The project was organized by a group called Stitches for Survival. It embodies their passion for the environment and their desire to change the world one stitch at a time.

The banners at the back of church today have a different focus. They tell the stories of people in Malawi who are on the receiving end of the worst of Climate Change as the weather they experience becomes increasingly unpredictable. In February this year, Malawi was hit by Cyclone Freddy, the longest-lasting tropical cyclone on record. The country  experienced a year’s worth of rain in four weeks, over 508,000 people were displaced, hundreds lost their lives,  malaria and cholera are still a threat. Christian Aid has been responding to the immediate crisis but, by supporting locally-run projects,  it is also seeking to help provide long-term solutions. One of these is the use of pigeon peas,  a drought-resistant, soil-revitalising, high-protein, low-cost, delicious crop which is transforming the livelihoods of farmers and improving the lives of the people of Malawi, one family at a time.

We know that caring for the environment and for all people are things very close to God’s heart. We know that we are called to join in God’s work, to protect and restore fragile ecosystems and to ensure justice for those whose lives are being devastated by global warming. We know that we are called to put the needs of the natural world and the survival of the poorest before the consumer lifestyle we enjoy. The thought of making big changes in our everyday lives can be overwhelming, but as today’s readings remind us that when we are in relationship with God, we do not approach these challenges alone or unresourced.

Acts 17.22-31 is a speech given by St Paul in front of the Areopagus in Athens, the epicentre of Greek thought and philosophy. Beneath him was the city’s market-place representing the forces of  politics and commerce, full of people who thought they knew how the world worked. Before him was the Acropolis with its spectacular temples representing all kinds of cults which demanded sacrifices to their gods, serving people who were seeking the divine. Paul’s challenge was to  persuade his intelligent,  learned, religious listeners that there is another, better way to live their lives. That they are called not to be slaves to profit and power, to worship idols or to chase after the latest idea, but to follow the way of the one God who gives us all life and breath, who made the world and everything in it. Paul is trying to convince them to make some big changes in their lives.

John 14.15-21 is a speech delivered in very different circumstances. It is given by Jesus at his last meal to his closest friends. Like Paul in Athens, however, Jesus knew that his listeners would find his message difficult to understand. He needed them to keep his commandments and start living a life shaped by love. This was a huge challenge for people  existing under imperial rule enforced by the power of hatred and fear, within a religious system which perpetuated prejudice and inequality. Jesus also is calling his followers to make some big changes in their lives.

There is no doubt that Jesus places heavy demands on his disciples but he also makes a promise to send us his own spirit to empower us to live for God and for others. The Greek word used to describe the Spirit can be translated in various ways: as the ‘helper’  who gives us the strength and energy to do what we have to do, as the ‘comforter’ who enables us to cope with the difficulties which inevitably follow, and as the ‘advocate’ who constantly reminds God of our plight. The Spirit also gives us that heart-felt knowledge that we are joined to Jesus and to his Father by an unbreakable bond of love to which we are called to testify through the way we live. Moreover, the Spirit  draws us close to each other and enables us to work together as Christ’s body in the world.  We can encourage and enthuse one another as we seek to make the necessary adjustments to our attitudes and to our lives in order to enable change to happen one step at a time.

In church today, we will confess the ways we have  failed to care for the environment and for people like Jen, a loving mum in Malawi, who dreams of her children being able to have the education they deserve. Her hard-working boys have earned places at top colleges but Jen cannot afford to send them both. Food, fuel, fertiliser and school fees have doubled in price in the last twelve months and hard-working farmers like Jen are seeing their harvests fail as the climate crisis brings increasingly erratic weather. You may wish to join us with your own prayers of confession, knowing that our loving God understands and forgives us, following them with a prayer of commitment to make any changes in our own lives which are necessary in order to help counter Climate Change and improve the lives of all those that Jen and her family represent.

Materials for Worship on the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Moira writes: This morning as you prepare for worship you might like to read through our gospel passage, John 14.1-14. This passage is often used at funeral services and can bring comfort to those who are mourning. However, this passage has something to say to us all – here and now. It speaks to the circumstances that trouble our hearts today.

In today’s world, it’s really difficult to listen to these words of Jesus and not be troubled. So many troubling things are happening around us, both in our lives and in the world! Jesus himself was ‘troubled’ when he saw Mary and ‘the Jews who were with her’ weeping over the death of Lazarus. And in John 12.27 Jesus says, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—’Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” These words were spoken on the night that Jesus shared the last supper with his disciples. He had announced his departure from this world, his death! He had washed the feet of his disciples, Judas had left the table to step into the night-time of betrayal, and Peter would soon break his silence with a threefold denial.

‘Our Last Supper’ by Iain Campbell featuring guests of Glasgow City Mission(2016)

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says. Jesus recognizes that our hearts are troubled. He isn’t warning us about things that will happen in the future, he knows that our troubles and the troubles of the world have already begun. He can see it in us because he’s experienced it within himself. He also knows that our lives and the world are not defined by or limited to what troubles us.

What if not letting our hearts be troubled begins with looking into our own hearts and seeing and naming what those troubles are? Facing up to our worries, things happening in our lives and in our world. It looks like this is the first and most difficult thing Jesus is asking of us in today’s gospel.

I don’t know about you but sometimes it’s easier not to think or to look at what is happening around us. We don’t want to name the things that trouble us because it’s too difficult and too painful, because it forces us to face up to the reality that not everything is working well in present day society and we might wonder where it’s all going and where it will end. We only have to look at the troubles in our National Health Service, the unrest in all areas of the workplace with strikes and protests, not to mention the wars and conflicts happening in many places around the world. And closer to home, the worries and troubles of those who struggle to get by each day because of rising prices and inflation. It’s troubling and we worry where it’s going and how we can get through it.

Thomas speaks for us all when he says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”. It’s as if we have lost our centre and we don’t know how to re-centre or re-align our troubled hearts and minds. Where do we go when it looks like everything is collapsing around us? So often we need reminding that at the centre of our hearts and minds is God.

When our hearts are troubled, that’s the time we need to re-centre our thoughts and to remember that it’s all part of the great tapestry of life. We can’t expect to go through life completely free from worries, but if we have our faith in God to rely on, then we can, with God’s help, re-centre our hearts and minds.

Phillip says to Jesus, “Lord show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” Phillip doesn’t yet realise that ‘the Father’ is within him, at the centre of his being. God is with him, as he is with us, in the here and now. Our Father’s house is within us, the Kingdom of God is within us. Wherever we go and whatever we face in our lives, God is there with us, he is there in the centre, at the core of everything we do. In the language of today’s gospel, the centre is the Father’s house and there are many dwelling places in this house. In the Father’s house there is a dwelling place for everyone who is troubled. When I say this, I’m not talking about the after-life, and I’m not thinking of this as some sort of celestial place for those who are true believers. I’m taking about the dwelling places as the way that God’s life intersects with our own: in mercy and forgiveness, in justice, generosity, compassion and healing, in love, beauty, wisdom and hope, and in courage, joy and relationship. These are the dwelling places for troubled hearts, the places of re-centering.

A few weeks ago Nerys had a labyrinth in the church hall and we were invited to walk the labyrinth, stopping at places on the way to pray and to re-connect with God. These are places of re-centering and re-focussing on our journey with God. I’m not sure how many of you were able to do this, but if you didn’t manage to walk the labyrinth then, maybe you could think about doing it when the labyrinth in the rectory garden is renewed or use the design here as a finger labyrinth.

Our gospel passage today, I think, is challenging us to think about what is really troubling our hearts today and to remember that God is at the centre of our lives, reminding us that we are not alone. When we find that centre and find balance and harmony in our lives, perhaps we might see and respond to our troubles and the troubles of the world differently.

In your prayers this morning please remember those who are ill or in need of prayer.
Pray for peace in our world, especially in Sudan, Ukraine, Palestine and Israel.
Pray for those who struggle with their faith or have turned away, that God would draw them into his fold.
Give thanks to God for all the good things happening in this community and in our lives.

May God bless you this week and keep you centred in his love.

Materials for Worship on the Third Sunday of Easter

Nerys writes: During the last couple of weeks, I have been delighted to have some dry afternoons to work in the garden of our home in Argyle Way. The soil on the hillside the our side of Dunblane is quite heavy clay. Every winter, the weight of the snow and the driving rain causes it to become quite compacted. So my first job every spring it to turn over the borders and planting areas to open up the soil. It is heavy, tiring work but any gardener would tell you that it’s essential if any new shoots are to push their way through the earth later in the season. Also, I know from experience that a hard, packed surface won’t be able to receive moisture from the spring showers. The water will run off without soaking the roots of the plants.

Jesus understood this. He knew that the packed soil around the edges of fields where people and animals walked, would not yield a harvest however many seeds the sower scattered there. His parable reminds us that the seeds of God’s goodness will not grow in a person who is not ready to accept it. Open hearts and open minds are essential to receive the life that God constantly offers us.

This kind of opening up is at the heart of the Easter story which begins with a wide open tomb. Angels appear, inviting women beaten down by helplessness, grief and anxiety not to be afraid but to open their inner selves to new possibilities. As they listen, they hear a profound and startling message: ‘He is not here for he is risen’. Their minds struggle to accept this incredible news. Mark’s Gospel tells us that they fled from the tomb for terror and amazement had seized them. Overcome by fear, the soil of their hearts was not receptive. According to Mark, they went straight home without saying a word to anyone for they were afraid.

We also are fearful people. The author Henri Nouwen identified over forty years ago the power that fear has to control us. ‘It often seems that fear has invaded every part of our being to such a degree that we no longer know what a life without fear would feel like’, he wrote, Fear closes our hearts to new possibilities, it prevents hope and joy.

Mark’s women aren’t alone in responding to the open tomb in this way. In John’s Gospel, Peter and his companion go inside and notice the graveclothes neatly arranged. The unnamed disciple sees and believes. He has a moment of recognition and his heart is opened to the possibility that God is at work. I find it interesting that we’re not told what Peter thought or felt. I wonder if he was so burdened by remorse that he was unable to respond to what he saw?

Many of us, like Peter, don’t find it easy to open up to God’s forgiveness and unconditional love. We allow our guilt and shame to build up into a thick crust around our hearts preventing the gentle work of reconciliation from happening.
Like the women in Mark, both disciples go home and keep the news to themselves. They leave Mary Magdalene at the tomb sobbing. She sees the angels but is so wrapped up in her grief, so intent on her search for a dead body, that she doesn’t realise who they are. She doesn’t even wait for them to respond to her question. She turns away. All the signs are there that God is at work but she doesn’t see or understand them. She doesn’t even recognise Jesus when he stands right in front of her. Blinded by her tears, she turns away.

Many of us are familiar with the desolation felt by Mary, affected as we have been by the global events of the last few years and also perhaps by personal losses. Our natural reaction is to curl up inside, nursing our grief, rather than opening ourselves up to the healing love of God. The familiar voice of Jesus cuts through Mary’s preoccupation with her pain, calling her back into relationship with him. She sees, she understands, she responds – eyes, mind and heart open to the one she calls her teacher.

Mary runs to tell the others ‘I have seen the Lord!’ but they don’t believe her. The author of Mark’s Gospel has Jesus later reproaching the disciples for their lack of faith and stubbornness. It’s easy to dismiss these uncharacteristically harsh words but sometimes we can be our own worst enemies. Sometimes we choose to keep our hearts and minds closed to wonder and surprise. We resist change, we refuse new attitudes, new opportunities, even though we know deep in our hearts that this is what would bring new life and growth in us.

We’re not told in John’s Gospel why Thomas had refused to accept the words of his excited friends, although he must have seen the transformation in them as they had earlier seen the transformation in Mary. It seems that he also just couldn’t open his heart and mind to the wonderful possibility that it’s the crucified Jesus they had seen. He needed proof. He needed to see for himself.

There is probably something of Thomas in each one of us. There are times when we think we need something specific from God and nothing else will do. It’s ironic that Jesus challenges Thomas’ resistance by inviting him to touch the openness of his wounds. ‘Thomas’, Jesus says, ‘don’t close yourself off but believe, be open, receive the truth’. Thomas surrenders and with great vulnerability and great faith responds, ‘My Lord and my God!’

In our Gospel passage today, Luke 24.13-35, the author recounts that the eyes of the two disciples, like those of Mary, were closed to their risen Lord when he joined them on their journey. Their conversation suggests that they were too caught up in their dashed hopes and broken dreams to realise that the embodiment of all their expectations was walking beside them.

The same thing can happen to us. Our preconceived notions of how things should be can close our minds and hearts to other possibilities. Jesus responds by coming alongside the two travellers, encouraging them to let go of their fixed ideas, turning over their inner beings and seeding them with hope and trust until they are ready to commune with him at the table. It is only later that they realise how his loving presence had opened them up as he opened the Scripture to them and broke open the bread.

On that same evening in John’s Gospel, Jesus once more meets his followers gathered behind closed doors, and opens them up to himself and to his peace and his joy. The image used by John for the giving of the Holy Spirit is of Jesus breathing into them as God had breathed life into Adam. The same Greek verb is used for blowing into a musical instrument. Both the giving and the receiving require deep trust and openness.

Finally Jesus opens his followers out towards the future and towards the whole world by sending them as he was sent. He also gives them authority to open up the past to a new future through forgiveness. There is no ending to this encounter with Jesus or to any of the others, no mention of a departing. The presence of the risen Christ is a permanent, living, reality. The sharing of God’s spirit doesn’t stop. This is the beginning of a life-long relationship, a mutual indwelling which affects every aspect of our living.

Easter is about openness. It’s about God bringing about growth from the turned over soil of our spirits. This Easter season are we open and ready to receive the seeds of grace?

A prayer:
Jesus you are risen! You are with us! Keep us ever mindful of how you are part of our lives in a deep and profound way. Surprise us with a touch of your love in places where we never thought that we would find you. Fill our hearts with hope. May the gift of your presence transform every ordinary moment of ours into a sacred place where you dwell. Help us to see this gift through the eyes of love. Fill us with your peace and joy. Amen.


Jan Richardson, End and Beginning

James B. Janknegt, The Road to Emmaus

Prayer: Joyce Rupp

Materials for Worship on the Second Sunday of Easter

Peter writes

At the Baptism of Christ, back in January, Nerys encouraged us to spend the time between then and Pentecost to reflect on the significance of baptism. For Jesus, his baptism was in the Epiphany season and marked the beginning of his earthly ministry. In the Early Church though, baptisms almost always happened at Easter and we still renew our baptism promises in our Easter liturgy. It doesn’t happen often but if there is a baptism as well, it adds a lot to the joy of our Easter celebration. I still remember the thrill of baptising my twin grandsons on Easter Day twenty years ago.

They were still babes in arms but you can be baptised at any age. I remember in one parish how a man in his 80s asked me one day if he could be baptised. Apparently he had missed out because his father was away in the trenches in the First World War. I realised that this was something he had to do while he still could – and indeed he died a few months later.

This brought home to me that baptism is not just a happy family occasion. It is a serious business and in the Early Church the season of Lent was a period of intense preparation by prayer and fasting, and baptism was by full immersion. If you are ever in Milan, go and see the archaeological remains underneath the present cathedral. There is a massive font, 3 or 4 metres across. This is where St Ambrose would have baptised converts, including – staggering thought – St Augustine himself.

My colleague in Vevey, on Lake Geneva, often used to baptise people in the lake. I have to admit that when I was Rector in Largs I was never tempted to do it in in the Firth of Clyde but whether it’s your whole body or a splash of water on the head, it shows that baptism is part of the Easter mystery. Just as we once lived in liquid in our mother’s womb but then at the moment of birth gasp in the air, so at baptism we go down into the water, in which we can no longer live, and then we are lifted up, coughing and spluttering to breathe in the air. We leave the old life behind  and breathe in the clear, pure air of new life. The meaning of baptism is to show us how we can can go down to the tomb but then be raised, reborn to a new, eternal life. We are shown that Jesus’ story of resurrection can be out story too – in this world as well as in the world to come.

Just as Jesus’ baptism marked the beginning of his earthly ministry, so our baptism – whether we remember it or not – is a sign that we have a ministry to fulfil. On Maundy Thursday the bishop blessed oil to be used at baptism. It is called the oil of chrism (or anointing). In ancient times people were anointed with oil was a sign that they were marked out for a special task and when Charles is crowned he will be anointed with oil blessed by the Patriarch of Jerusalem. We also are called to serve God and our fellow men and women in the daily round, the common task. When we do, we have left the old life behind and have entered on a new life, the Easter life of resurrection.


For prayer and reflection.

Take some time to consider how we might fulfil our commitment to Christian life:

 Will you continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers?

Will you proclaim the good news by word and deed, serving Christ in all people?

Will you work for justice and peace, honouring God in all creation?

Will you, with the whole Church, live and work for the kingdom of God?


The original font underneath Milan Cathedral



Materials for Worship at Easter

Nerys writes: As many of you know, I’ve been putting aside time every day in Lent to work my way very slowly through John’s Gospel. In the process, I have learnt a great deal, not only about this wonderful text but also about myself as a reader. One thing I have discovered is that in order to enter deeper into most of John’s narrative passages, I will very naturally imagine the scene, the people and the events, visually, as a series of paintings which I can examine and explore. Some particular passages, however, demand another approach. For these, I tend to translate what I read into music, imagining the atmosphere, the action, the voices as a series of sounds made by orchestral instruments. John 20.1-18 is one of those special passages which is so rich and mysterious that it calls on us to use more than one of our senses in order to bring it to life and grasp its meaning.

It starts with darkness and, as with every musical composition, with silence. This silence, however, is a prolonged one. After giving us an hour by hour account of the events of the last days of Jesus’ life, the author tells us nothing about the time between the burial of his body and the discovery of the empty tomb. I invite you to stay with that silence for a moment. Is it the absolute silence, stillness, emptiness of death or is it like the silence of night, the silence which proceeds the dawn of a new day? Is it perhaps the same silence as that of Genesis 1, the silence which anticipates Creation, when God’s Spirit hovers noiselessly over the void? The expectant silence we experience as an orchestra waits for their conductor to pick up the baton.

What follows, however, is not the orderly, harmonious progression of the first creation story, but disjointed, stuttering, chaotic rhythms. The empty tomb is discovered. Mary runs, Peter and the other disciple run. (There is more running in these verses than in the rest of the gospels put together.) We hear above the pounding of the feet, Mary’s urgent call full of terror and incomprehension: ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb’. And her agonised cry of loss, the cry of all who experience desolation and abandonment: ‘We do not know where they have laid him’.

Image: Mary Magdalene in the Garden by Sieger Koder

As the early morning light grows stronger, the turmoil subsides. Chaos gives way to curiosity as Peter and his companion notice the graveclothes neatly arranged inside the tomb. The unnamed disciple sees and believes. The beginnings of a new tune is heard as hope surges in the young man’s heart. He doesn’t understand yet but he knows deep down that a new world has dawned.

The bright notes of his new-found delight in God’s creative power fade away with the disciples’ hurried return to the city and we are left with the desolate sound of Mary’s sobbing. Stay with the rhythm of her tears as she stands alone at the tomb. It is through those tears that she sees the angels lighting up the gloom. Their question invites her to share the cause of her grief: ‘They have taken away my Lord.’ Hear the grief of our world concentrated in her lament. ‘They have taken away … my home, my family, my rights, my dignity, my freedom, my hope.’

Traumatised and distracted, Mary turns away without waiting for a response. Another figure appears before her, indistinct, unfamiliar. A stranger who repeats the angel’s question and to whom she repeats her cry of loss. A stranger she takes to be the gardener, one she again turns away from in her passionate searching for the dead body of her Lord. And then, cutting through the discordant sounds of her confusion and desperation, two gentle notes: ‘Mary!’ The Good Shepherd calling her by name. Pause to hear Jesus calling you by your name and calling to himself all those who need his love and healing today.

Image: Jesus Mafa Project

The one Mary had seen and mistaken for the gardener she now recognises as her teacher. The tune of delighted astonishment returns as she calls out, ‘Rabbouni’, and opens her arms to hug him. But this is a new relationship, a different kind of intimacy. Jesus is on his way to be one with his Father who is also our Father. The music tingles with new possibilities as Jesus embraces his followers within his family relationship with God. They are no longer his servants or friends, they are his siblings. Their sister Mary is sent to pass on his message to them and to share her own experience: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ Stay with the music of her footsteps as she heads once more towards Jerusalem. This is the very beginning of a tune whose harmony is to grow richer and stronger as more and more come to believe in the risen Lord and entrust themselves to him. This is a tune to which you and I are called to add our voices and our lives.

Materials for Worship for Holy Week

Nerys writes: I wonder when you were last in a large crowd? Can you remember what it was like? Was it fun or were you frightened? In the Gospel of the Palms and the Gospel of the Passion which will be read in church today, Jesus faces large crowds. The first one welcomes him and treats him like a king, shouting ‘Hosanna’, the second one wants him dead, shouting ‘Crucify him!’. Sometimes we welcome Jesus and other times we turn our backs on him but our loving God will always be faithful to us.

As you read Matthew 21.1-11 today and work your way through Matthew chapters 26 and 27 during the week, you may wish to imagine the various crowds that gathered around him and even place yourself among them.

Crowds had followed Jesus throughout his ministry. People came from everywhere to hear him teach. Some followed him for fish and bread. Some came for the chance of seeing one of his miracles. Many came to be healed. Very few recognised him for who he was.

Jesus didn’t seek crowds. He sought personal ongoing relationships. He didn’t drive away the crowds but on several occasions, he escaped them to be alone or with his disciples. Nevertheless, the crowds continued to seek him.

On his last journey, though, Jesus led a large crowd from Jericho to Jerusalem. His disciples had been forewarned of what lay ahead. The crowd had no notion of what they were part of. Many were eagerly anticipating a glorious Passover, an uprising perhaps, leading to freedom from Roman oppression. And the grand entry Jesus had choregraphed seemed to confirm all their hopes. Many responded with shouts of joy as he made his way into the holy city as the Messiah, the new King of Israel.

Pope Francis kisses a baby after celebrating his first Palm Sunday Mass, in St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican,. The square overflowed with a joyful crowd of some 250,000 pilgrims, tourists and Romans eager to join the new pope at the start of Holy Week 2013. (Photo: Alessandra Tarantino)

Others sought to silence the crowd. The Jerusalem establishment had been shaken by the popularity of the outsider who was now inside their city. The joyful, worshipping crowd was a threat to the political status quo. Its leader was a threat to their authority. They conspired to get rid of him and they succeeded …

The crowd which gathered at Pilate’s palace after the arrest of Jesus was a very different crowd. This was a crowd attending a political event designed by Rome. It was a crowd drawn together by self-interest.

Every year during the festival of the Passover, the Governor would release one prisoner. It was his cunning way of displaying his power and currying favour among a conquered people. The crowd was made up of factions who had come to support a particular figure. There were also onlookers drawn by the spectacle, people who might be easily swayed to follow the majority. The crowd voted by voice. The name being shouted loudest would be released. On that day the voices of the crowd drown out the pleading of Pilate’s wife and the whispers of his own conscience.

A crowd of Palestinian Christians  carry a cross through streets lined with Israeli soldiers during a Good Friday procession in Jerusalem..  (Photo: Sebastian Scheiner)

The crowd at the cross was the most diverse of all the crowds of Holy Week. Some were triumphant, some heartbroken, some just curious. But watching the crucifixion held everyone spellbound. They were all spectators apart from the Roman soldiers carrying out their orders. Some remained full of disdain and contempt. Some were bereft, disappointed, in the depths of despair. Others left profoundly moved, realising that the crucifixion of Jesus was no ordinary crucifixion and that Jesus was no ordinary man. No one in the crowd fully understood what had happened that afternoon.

The understanding was to come later among those who were ready to form a lasting personal relationship with the risen Christ. It was to come in early morning encounters, in locked rooms, on the road, on mountain tops, wherever two or three were gathered together …

Wonderful God, thank you that you meet me right here where I am sitting – in the ordinary stuff and activities of my day. As I journey through Holy Week, help me to recognise you in Jesus, and empower me to live like him. Amen.

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