Thursday, April 30, 2020


I have shared in the past that I am (painfully) downsizing my books. This has brought surprises along the way.  Things I had clean forgotten about.  For example a book 'Thoughts for Today' with a note at the front telling me to turn to page 81.  Apparently, I had preached in Spurgeon's College Chapel about prayer joining in with Jesus who is already praying for and with us.  Bob Archer, one of the tutors, had gone back home and written this poem.   He called it Self-Starter.

      I used to think that I must start my prayers,
         Turn my thoughts undistractedly to God;
      Give thanks, confess and tell him all my cares
         Get myself into the proper pious mood.

     I talked too much and found the going hard,
        Ran through petitions like a shopping list;
     Felt sometimes that the door to God was barred,
        Though I aimed at heaven's target, that I missed.

     Then I heard it said that Jesus intercedes,
        And that is what he lives and loves to do;
     My prayers join his, who ever for me pleads,
        Not self-starter but prayer-partner below....

    Not quick to speak, but listening for a voice,
       Preparing for a meeting with the Lord:
    'Tis his desire to meet, if not my choice;
       I pray, though I may utter not a word.

    Sometimes I feel the Spirit moving in my heart,
       And sometimes that I'm very much alone;
    But I know Christ and I will never part:
       He bears my name before his Father's throne.

Seeing this again has come at a good time!  To be reminded we are never on our own when we lock down.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Preserve us

Sometimes a written prayer can really hit the spot.  This one did today for me (apart from 'walking in the world'!) It's by William Barclay.

O God, our Father, to whom the issues of life and death belong, preserve us from all ills.
Preserve us in health of body, that we may be able to earn a living for ourselves and for those whom we love.
Preserve us in soundness of mind, that all our judgements and decisions may be sane and wise.
Preserve us in purity of life, that we may conquer all temptation and ever do the right, that we may walk through the world and yet keep our garments unspotted from the world.
And if illness, misfortune, sorrow come to us, preserve us in courage, in endurance, and in serenity of faith, that, in all the changes and the chances of life, we may still face life with steady eyes, because we face life with you.
This we ask for your love's sake. Amen. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Facing stern issues

Yesterday the hymn about resting in joy could seem out of place in the misery of lock down. But then I read Oswald Chambers this week and saw his words on John 17: 13 that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. He writes very provocatively and made me really stop and ponder.  He says there are degrees of joy.
How can a Christian be full of happiness (if happiness depends on the things that happen) when he is in a world.. where people are tortured physically, where some are downtrodden and do not get a change? It would be the outcome of the most miserable selfishness to be happy under such conditions; but a joyful heart is never an insult, and joy is never touched by external conditions. Beware of preaching the gospel of temperament instead of the Gospel of God. Numbers of people today preach the gospel of temperament, the gospel of 'cheer up'. The word 'blessed' is sometimes translated 'happy' but it is a much deeper word: it includes all that we mean by joy in its full fruition. Happiness is the characteristic of a child, and God condemns us for taking happiness out of a child's life; but as men and women we should have done with happiness long ago, we should be facing the stern issues of life, knowing that the grace of God is sufficient for every problem the devil can present. 
'We should have done with happiness long ago, we should be facing the stern issues of life'.  Those words are hard to read!  But, God's promise of grace that is sufficient holds fast for Easter people.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Resting in joy

Shortly I am preaching back (remotely of course) at the church where I was a teenager. And into my mind shot a memory as clear as yesterday. Several people influenced me for good and seeing their faces (in memory) lights me up.  One of them was Len Wyatt who worked for Chivers Farm and struck me as a real outdoors man with sunny face, booming voice and love for everyone. He would cycle into church and even though 50 plus years separated us he became my friend.  He seemed to be self-taught about so much including his piano playing which was always enthusiastic.  And that's the particular memory.

At our midweek meeting in the side hall we would always sing at the beginning. Len would often play. The Baptist Hymn Book had just been published (1962) and it was being introduced to the church. (Doesn't mention of hymnbooks and especially this green one seem dated?) This particular night Len shared that there was a new hymn in it that we had to learn.  He launched into an ultra enthusiastic rendition, banging away on the keys and singing his heart out:

                  Jesus, I am resting, resting in the joy of what Thou art;
                  I am finding out the greatness of Thy loving heart.
                  Thou has bid me gaze upon Thee, and Thy beauty fills my soul:
                   For by Thy transforming power Thou hast made me whole.
                         Jesus, I am resting, resting in the joy of what Thou art;
                         I am finding out the greatness of Thy loving heart.

Perhaps it should have been treated more contemplatively (!) but I have never forgotten the wonder in Len's eyes and heart, his joy, and the way it really lifted me then and lifts me now.  That's what the faith of others does! And I hear the challenge of resting in the joy in the enforced present .

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Lily work

Oswald Chambers has been one of my devotional companions over many years.  His daily thoughts are often surprising as well as stimulating. One day this week he focused on a verse in 1 Kings. 7:19 in a way that I could never have imagined. It's a detail in the building of Solomon's temple. The capitals on the top of the pillars in the portico were in the shape of lilies..
The lily work added nothing to the strength of the building: many would notice the strength and the majesty of the whole building, but the inspiration of it all was in the detail, in the 'lily work'.  In architecture it is not so much the massive strength that counts as the finely proportioned ornament, and that is never obtrusive. If we look at men and women who have been long at work for God and have been going through chastening, we notice that they have lost their individual harshness....but they have acquired something else - the most exquisite 'lily work' in their lives, and this after all is the thing most like Jesus Christ.  It is the quiet, undisturbable Divinity that is characteristic of Jesus, not aggressiveness, and the same is true of God's children. 
There's a fair amount of unavoidable chastening at the moment.  I wonder what might be happening in our lives - are there lost characteristics?  And might there be any 'lily work'?

Friday, April 24, 2020

Kept taut by hope

I was on my permitted exercise walk yesterday on the path behind our house across the area to be developed for new housing.  Currently building work has stopped and beyond the sown crops are shooting up.  Green swathes ripple in the wind.  I was on my return when I saw ahead a lady, I guess in her late 60's maybe 70's (oh, who can tell?) who had paused on her bicycle at the point where the path divides.  Moving closer (though socially distanced of course) I saw that she looked extremely anxious.
In a worried voice she said: 'Excuse me.  I am really sorry to bother you and I don't want to be a nuisance but can you help me?'
'Yes, if I can,' I replied.
'Could tell me where this goes to?' she asked pointing up the track. '
Clearly it was completely unknown route. She seemed totally disorientated. When I told her she then enquired nervously: How far is it? I tried to give encouragement as she cycled off.

I know its a simple illustration but it sums up how many of us are feeling in lock down. Ahead is a completely unknown route. It just so happened that she asked me this just as I was thinking about some verses in Col 1 for a sermon shortly to be preached. (I know - it's odd.  But I often do preparation on walks). Verse 5, rendered in The Message: The lines of purpose in your lives never grow slack, tightly tied as they are to your future in heaven, kept taut by hope.

It's easy at the moment to feel lines of purpose are slack because we don't know where this goes to. But because Jesus is alive and his ultimate promises are vindicated as is his presence with us we can step ahead knowing our future is with him, kept taut by hope. Yes.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Make us brave

Being in lock down has hit people in many different ways.  Some are locked down in full households which bring their own problems.  At our Zoom prayer time yesterday one person asked that we pray that there might be peace in such homes - and we knew what he meant!  But someone else in the group is facing solitude as never before with difficulties in working at home and much loneliness. 

This enforced time means solitude for some of us as never before.  It is so easy to say Psalm 46:10 Be still and know that I am God and then measure our stillness in seconds only.  Being personal I have never been very good at stillness.  My father, who was a pastor, made solitude and stillness basic to his prayer life and I know he rather disapproved of my sometimes frantic lifestyle (though he was kind about it!).

Today's prayer from Monica Furlong asks that we be brave to try more silence.  I haven't thought before that bravery was needed but when I pray this through slowly I realize why it is an appropriate word.
Holy Spirit, why are we so afraid of silence? Why do we flll our lives with talk, and people, and work, and action,until we feel guilty if we sit still and do nothing?  Because we do not want to hear God, who often speaks through dullness, emptiness, stillness, loneliness. Make us brave enough to try.
In this enforced time may we hear God in fresh ways?

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Finish the prescription

You know how when you take a course of antibiotics you should finish the course. Well, I thought I should complete the last three parts of Leslie Weatherhead's Prescription for Anxiety.  They resonate with some of my recent posts (though with less usual texts).

2. When fighting anxiety consider the value of thankfulness.  Note how Jesus himself continually thanked God in what we must call anxious moments.  For example, Jesus at Lazarus' tomb: 'Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here..'(John 11:41) At this critical moment he gives thankful affirmation. Begin each day thanking God for His many blessings. Could any act be more likely to dispel anxiety feeling than to affirm thankfully what God has done for one in the past?  The very act of thanking God excludes the devastating and disintegrating devils of moaning and whining and grumbling and...above all self pity.
3. Consider the value of attempting some kind of service for others. For myself, I have often been shamed out of worry and anxiety by making myself go to help another - or try to do so - only to find that the other, so much worse than I showed far greater courage with far less reason.  How significant is Job 42:10: After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again..
4. Note another step on the way to freedom from anxiety.  We must say every day, 'Into your hands I commit my spirit.  How significantly Luke records of Jesus: 'In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day (Luke 13:33). He said that when he was under the threat of murder. Can we every morning make an offering of the day to God, seeking to know and trying to follow his guidance? There is real freedom is saying to oneself, 'This is what God wants me to do today '.If only we can feel that there is a stream of purpose running through our lives then we can lose our fussy self-importance. If I am ill, I am still in his hands. If I fail I am still within his loving purpose. We may often be frightened, but if we can feel ourselves always within the purposes of God, we shall find peace.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A prescription

I wrote yesterday that Jesus' gift of peace is not escapist or surface. It's not some state of feel-good emotion that magics away difficult situations. Rather Jesus seeks to meet us where we are. And I know that, today, so many have increased worries and anxiety for family, friends and ourselves.

In his book Prescription for anxiety, Leslie Weatherhead (a famous Methodist preacher in the last century) gives advice beginning with:
1. Jesus looked away from himself to God.  Even in His anguish He did that and called God 'Father' at a time when it must have felt as though an omnipotent Father might have guided Him in a far less agonizing path..  In circumstances far less tragic, in the fret and turmoil of this age of anxiety there must be continually for us times when we contemplate God.... and try to rest our fear-tossed minds in His greatness and adequacy. 
It would be a good thing for some of us to write out a few sentences from the Bible on a card and prop it up near our mirror so that while we dress in the morning our minds can meditate on the themes they suggest:
                    Be still and know that I am God.
                    The Lord is my Shepherd.
                    My peace I give unto you
                    He is able to save to the uttermost.
                    The peace of God which passes understanding can stand sentry
                    over our hearts and thoughts.
Christ is saying to us something like this: 'Your Father knows. He understands and cares. He has got your situation in hand. He is the Lord of history, the Master of everything we call accident, the Weaver of all our sins and failures and sorrows into His indestructible plans, and He is the Victor over death. 

Monday, April 20, 2020

The first resurrection gift

I read today a comment from Francis Bacon (not the painter but the scientist and devout Christian who died in 1628!) He brought together Luke 2:13,14: 'the company of heavenly host singing Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men' with John 20:19: 'On the evening of the first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said "Peace be with you"'.

Bacon wrote: When Christ came into the world, peace was sung; and when he went out of the world, peace was bequeathed.  At Christmas we love singing carols about peace and its fits so well the feel-good mood of the season.  And, frankly, it can be a surface feeling.

The contrast with that first Easter is dramatic. Disciples locked down in fear with hopes dashed are suddenly confronted by the new reality that Jesus is alive with them, and when he gives peace there is nothing surface about it. He has been through such suffering and death to win it.  These disciples can know a personal sense of deep things now being right in their lives because Jesus has won at-one-ment, and they can experience a far wider community dimension of belonging together in harmony with God. Never had the world known this gift until then.

It is not an escapist word. Not a feel-good personal emotion.  Not a surface feeling.  It's about experiencing the peace of God won at such cost by Jesus. Its forgiveness, healing, purpose and love cannot now be broken.  Peace for places of fear and distress.  Like today.

A prayer from William Barclay:
Give us within our own hearts the peace that passes understanding. 
Take from us the worries which distract us, and give us more trust.
Take from us the doubts which disturb us, and make us more sure of what we believe.
Take from us the wrong desires from which our temptations come, and make us more pure in heart.
Take from us all estrangement from you and give us the peace of sins forgiven.  
All this we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen. 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Like eggs

Yesterday's Trappist isolationist advice included reading. Their monastery obviously has a good library. Mine has thinned out recently but in this time of enforced quiet I have opened again old books. A passage in my yellowing copy of C.S. Lewis'  Mere Christianity (bought for two shillings in 1965) struck me again.
The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in...
We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting Him work in the right part of us.  It is the difference between paint, which is merely laid on the surface, and a dye or stain which soaks right through.  Jesus never talked vague, idealistic gas. When he said:' Be perfect' He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder - in fact it is impossible.  It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird; it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present and you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary decent egg.  We must be hatched or go bad.  ....This is the whole of Christianity.
It is hard but now that I have more time the possibility of listening to that other voice, letting that larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in - letting the Holy Spirit work in me - should be easier.  Should be......

Friday, April 17, 2020

Trappist advice

Over the last couple of weeks members of my local church have been posting thoughts, poems, and prayers - a wonderful range of material and participants. While I have the luxury of recently putting a sequence of thoughts together, these posts have been refreshingly different.Today a member has posted some advice from the Trappist monastery in Roscrea, Ireland at the Mount St. Joseph Abbey.  As a very restricted order they know what they are talking about!   

We Cistercians have been self isolating for centuries. For those of you who are self-isolating, here are four concrete tips that have served our Order well for nearly a thousand years:
1) Write down a weekly schedule. It needn't be too complex or specific. In fact, it's important that you don't regiment yourself so much that you become like a soldier. But having a basic schedule will structure your week and give you the time and freedom to live a productive life. You may want to colour-code the entries according to whether they are daily, weekly or monthly occurrences.
2) Add at least two structured prayer sessions to this. They needn't be for more than ten minutes. Set aside a quiet place, and a good time, and make this your chosen meeting place with God.
3) Read! We may have a wonderful library, as in the picture, but everyone can have access to books if they want. Many online stores are still operating.
4) Try to live in the present moment. One of the thoughts that short-circuits self isolation is the 'What-to-do-next' thought. It makes you restless, unable to engage with staying in one place. Your weekly schedule is a good start, here. And books will give you a mental 'space' to lose yourself in.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

A sense of humour

In a book on successful ageing(!) George Sweeting begins surprisingly with a chapter: Lighten Up. He writes how humour combats stress and helps us to creatively cope with life.  Sadly, there are going to be many situations today where talk about lightening up will be entirely inappropriate.  Imposed cheerfulness can be a curse.  But, in today's prayers I was faced by A. Bullivant's prayer:

Give us a sense of humour, Lord,
and also things to laugh about.
Give us the grace to take a joke against ourselves
and to see the funny side of life.
Save us from annoyance, bad temper,
or resentfulness against our friends.
Help us to laugh even in the face of trouble;
and fill our minds with the love of Jesus,
for his name's sake.  Amen.

It made me think of my DIY attempt two weeks ago.  We have a very grubby downstairs area which needs repainting. Summoning energy to find the paint the decorator left from 7 years ago - energy because it was hidden away in the attic and I also needed some brushes. In a box in the garage I eventually found an unopened pack of three.  Stirring the paint, I plunged the largest brush in and slapped paint onto the worst wall.  To my horror a multitude of bristles streamed out in the paint.  Stupidly I tried again thinking it was the first flush and found it even worse.  Trying to cover the mess I used the two smaller brushes to pick up the bristles. They both made further healthy deposits too. I tore off some kitchen roll and started scrubbing frantically.  The result was an extraordinary mess of a half-hairy wall. Obviously brushes have sell-by dates.  Finding another brush I later revisited the troubled wall with more success.  And then I was really able to laugh about the whole stupid mess I had got into.  I know it was stupid but there is a time for that prayer above.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Week 23

I cannot express strongly enough my gratitude for all the prayers through my dystonia travail. Yet the deaths of family and friends, like Maurice (a couple of posts ago) put my situation firmly into perspective.  Yesterday's post challenged me about 'saying nothing about one's lesser troubles and vexations' so I shall only share today in hope that friends will keep praying. I shall only post about it again when something definite happens. 

So, my report today. I have just entered my twenty-third week since my last injection. These botulinum shots have always been vital, with any delay immediately marked by severe twisting and pain.  And, as reported last time, I am still remarkably - I want to use the word miraculously - free from severe twisting and pain (though the disease still lets me know it's there!)  It is extraordinarily wonderful.

Last week my consultant 'phoned me.  She still sounded very unwell but said she needed to know how I was coping.  As I explained about the Parkinson drug issued by the sleep clinic and its usage coinciding with my 'holding pattern' she agreed that it might be a part of the story restraining my deterioration. Other factors may be influencing it too, she said. I know that! Because prayers for healing have always been part of my ministry experience. As soon as the clinic reopens (no clue about date yet) she promises an assessment of what has been happening to me.  I can't wait.

Probably at least three or four more weeks of waiting lies ahead.  Bless you for your prayers and kindnesses.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020


Because Jesus is alive he faces Covid 19 with us.   My devotions focused on the word fortitude recently.  It made me think about my life at the moment.  Many Scripture verses were quoted like Ps.27:1  The Lord is the stronghold of my life - of whom should I be afraid?

And there were two contrasting quotes.  One made me smile, from John Buchan's Mr. Steadfast:
...The big courage is the cold-blooded kind, the kind that never lets go even when you're feeling empty inside, and your blood's thin, and there's no kind of fun or profit to be had, and the trouble's not over in an hour or two but lasts for months....One of the men here was speaking about that kind and he called it Fortitude.  I reckon fortitude's the biggest thing a man can have - just to go on enduring where there's no guts or heart left in you....
The other challenged me about being an Easter person. Written at the turn of the nineteenth century by Francis Paget (Bishop of Oxford). I have slightly amended the language.
There is something in the very name of Fortitude which speaks to the almost indelible love of heroism in our hearts; but perhaps the true Fortitude may often be less heroic, a more tame and business-like affair than we are apt to think. It may be exercised chiefly in doing very little things, whose value lies in this, that, if one did not hope in God, one would not do them; in secretly dispelling moods which one would like to show; in saying nothing about one's lesser troubles and vexations; in seeing whether it may not be best to bear a burden before one tries to see whether one can shift it; in refusing one's self excuses which one would not refuse for others...And while we wait ,,,,we may be gaining from the love of God a hidden strength and glory.....we may be growing in the patience and perseverance of the saints...this is the normal task of many lives; in this people show what they are like. 
So many on the front line with the NHS and in others are showing heroic fortitude and we thank God and keep praying for them.  But there is a fortitude in doing very little things well with Jesus.

Give me fortitude, Lord, built on  your gifts of dynamic faith and vibrant hope, so that  today I may boldly approach the business of living, turning to you in every situation for your unfailing grace, knowing that I shall go forth in your strength alone, make perfect in my weakness; and may all love and all glory be yours, now and for ever. Amen.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Easter people

I have tried not to bore too much with pilgrimage memories but one is strong and recently reinforced as you will see. Much else happened in Jerusalem but the last five days were spent in Galilee. What a contrast - to spend time by the lake and hillsides with plenty of opportunity for reflection post-Easter. Which of course is what happened for the first disciples. Indeed, the whole of the New Testament is written in the light of the Resurrection. Now they know just how extraordinary this man was and they could view his ministry among them, the Word made flesh, as the unique world-changing story it is.

Our last day in Galilee was a Sunday when we shared in a farewell service at the simple chapel at Peniel-by-Galilee close to the lakeshore.  Four members of the group had been preparing for this service for many years.  John, Gordon, Molly and Chris had all requested baptism.  John was a member of my own church but I needed to work with the others concerning key issues about discipleship and that their home fellowships would happily receive them! The lake bed was rocky and the lake was cool. The whole group witnessed their confession as the four were baptised.  How we sang, prayed and rejoiced. I could not think of a better way of ending our time together - obeying Jesus with commitment to live all our lives in his gift of eternal life.

I said this memory was reinforced because I received an Easter card from Chris last week.  As a teacher he was supported by his headmaster who was also in the group.  Inside the card Chris wrote:  May God bless you at Easter and always, love (18th April - the anniversary of my baptism at Peniel). Chris has kept in touch ever since 1993 and never forgets this date. Wonderful!

I love the description Easter People. It can be true for all of us as we move on post-Easter.  Because Jesus is alive we face Covid-19 with him.  Now that's extraordinary!

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Easter wonder

On that Easter Day in Jerusalem we were up at 5:00 am in order to be at the Garden Tomb for the Sunrise Easter Worship Service.  It's one of the traditional sites with a tomb that matches the description of the one in which Jesus was laid by its age and its setting. The beautiful surrounding garden is the place of worship.  Hundreds of us gathered. When the minister began: The Lord is risen, the garden rocked with acclamation: The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia.  We sang songs: Jesus Christ is risen today, All heaven declares, Low in the grave he lay. Looking towards to empty tomb with the stone rolled away the congregation roared:
Up from the grave he arose, 
With a mighty triumph o'er his foes.
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And he lives for ever with His saints to reign,
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Of course this memory is special, but Calvary and the open tomb are not only places and events in history, but a spiritual reality for all times and places. Jesus is the at-one-ment of everyone and the Victor over death for everyone.  Once and for all, this is the glorious Easter truth won for us.

Worship today with my local church via Zoom could hardly be any different from the Garden Tomb as little pictures of our fellowship filled the screen, each of us greeting one another from our own homes.  Yet we shared a service full of the same vitality, conviction and wonder as we heard the Easter story and our pastor spoke about how the fears of today (and there are many) are met and transformed by the greatest reality that has changed the world: Christ arose! Hallelujah!

We can say for real:
We greet you Lord risen from the dead. You are alive for us. Love has powered through sin and death to open up eternal life for all who believe in you.  Your sacrifice is vindicated. Your promises hold true. Your love cannot be broken.  Whatever faces us, Lord, your rising from the dead has changed it for the better.  Hallelujah!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

The middle day

On that first weekend this was the day reality set in. For those who loved Jesus this is agonising bereavement. The twisted up wrapped up body of Jesus broken and finished is closed off in a tomb. Dreams are shattered. Guilt is rampant. Love is gone. The disciples are devastated. They would never see Jesus again.  They were bereaved in the worst ways - by knowing their Master and Friend brutally murdered had been let down by them when he needed them the most.  This is bitter  bitter, bereavement.

Yesterday I heard that one of my friends from student days died of Covid 19 on Monday evening at 11:45 pm.  His wife, also suffering from the virus, said her goodbyes on the phone.  Though sedated she is sure that he heard her and a chaplain read Scripture and prayed as he was dying.  Maurice Markham began in Cambridge the same year as me - he was at St. Catherine's reading Classics. His Christian witness shone - I met him in the Baptist student society and our friendship grew.  He played the organ brilliantly for our wedding. Entering Baptist ministry, after training at Spurgeon's College to train for Baptist ministry he served for the rest of his ministry at the same church - Meredith Road, Coventry. Face to face meetings with him and Helen were rare over the busy years but we kept in touch at Christmas. Our last meeting a couple of years ago rolled back the years.   

His death came as a shock. Suddenly in garden sunshine where I had been sitting I was filled with grief at what Helen and so many close family and friends would be facing.  It brought home something of the daily statistics. Sudden awful death.

For those first disciples this bitter bereavement makes what is about to happen the next day all the more amazing. That they will see Jesus again. Dreams restored.  Guilt met with forgiveness. Love victorious over Death.  Life is changed for them forever. And for us.  Helen says in her bereavement: 'Maurice is more alive than ever!  Oh, to be able to make such a claim. Yes. Jesus has gone through the worst so that even in the worst we have to face He is on the other side.  We need tomorrow.  


Friday, April 10, 2020

Good Friday

On pilgrimage we followed the dawn walk along the Via Dolorosa - the way of Jesus to the Cross. However we remember this awful event today, there should be overwhelming sadness. To realize that the best man who has ever lived was so abused and nailed to a cross to face a death which was so much more than physical. It meant a spiritual blackness, never experienced in the cosmos before or since, as Jesus was separated from His Father for the first time because he took upon himself the consequences of our sins. Such abandonment. So utterly undeserved. Indescribable physical and spiritual pain.

Sometimes it seems effortless for God.  Sometimes it is the hardest thing in the world.  Contrast Genesis 1:1-5 with Mark 15:31-34.  In the beginning God spoke - Let there be light. And there was light. God saw that the light was good.  Genesis spells out the timeless truth that God is creator. Out of nothing he creates the universe with awesome power, control and wisdom.  Not one word of sweat, suffering, or agonising.  God commanded and it was so.  He made the world good.

But today we see Jesus, the Son of God, dying on a cross.  Having agonized in the garden with sweat like drops of blood, betrayed and denied by his closest friends who fall away and miss the devastating sight of the Lord who controlled the wind and waves on a lake, who fed 5000, who healed the diseased, now suffering such a cruel death. Everybody had said he was a good man.  Why?

We now know that it took all the love and sacrifice of God's own son to put right a good world that had rebelled against God. Reconciling the world, forgiving sin, overcoming death took the best and costliest sacrifice. God created a world that was good,  On this extraordinary day Jesus recreates the world, makes possible new creation, shows us how the world can become. How we can live and die. We owe everything to him because of this day.

This morning on Radio 4 Today's serious news programme a man was interviewed who had come off a respirator and survived Covid 19.   He said:' When I was at my worst I saw Jesus - it was like when he calmed the storm on the lake and I knew he was with me'.  Nick Robinson the interviewer said, hurriedly, almost dismissively, 'Of course when you are on drugs all sorts of strange things can happen'.  Because of today we know Jesus has gone through the worst for us - he is with us. It's true. And, yes, it's GOOD FRIDAY.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Maundy Thursday

So much happens as we fast approach Friday -the Last Supper, Washing of the Feet and Gethsemane. My Jerusalem Holy Week diary records how on that evening we went to St. George's Cathedral for communion and foot washing with  Christians from all over the world. (I still have the order of service). The Palestinian bishop spoke about what happens above the table (as we received bread and wine) and what happens under the table (as he washed the feet of others at the front).  Fellowship, worship and service. Then they led a procession in silence to Gethsemane.  The massive city walls loomed above us as we gathered in small groups among the olive trees.  In the darkness we could not see each other clearly.  One member of the group said: 'Is that why Judas had to give Jesus a kiss because they couldn't see clearly in the dark?

Gethsemane reveals so much.  Yesterday we saw his pain at betrayal.  Here Jesus is racked again by sorrow and trouble.  With three close friends nearby he is overwhelmed by sadness. Turning to them he says: Stay here and keep watch with me. I find that amazing. That Jesus needs them. In this crisis as he faces his own death he needs friends. He really needs them.  Tragically, when they fail Jesus by falling asleep we hear the poignant: Couldn't you keep watch with me for one hour? With me, one hour.  He is wrestling to do His Father's will, the battle of Calvary before Calvary, with sweat like great drops of blood and at this critical time for Jesus they fail lamentably.  Three times.

Discipleship involves a two-way relationship. And though they fail him Jesus will never fail them. He understands how difficult it is to watch and pray.  Without anger or irritation he says "Rise, let us go".
One writer put it:  'Our Lord always wins for us the opposite of what he suffered. He was bound that we might go free. He was made sin, that we might be forgiven. He died that we might live. He endured the not answering of his prayer that our prayers might find an answer. And we can add: He was lonely that we may never again be lonely.

Lord, I know how difficult it is to watch and pray. I fail you often.  Please help me today to remember your courageous obedience in the garden that won the opposite of what you suffered for me. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Real trouble

You will have noticed how rigorously these Holy Week readings have focused on Jesus.  On what he is going through for us. That is the challenge of meditating during Holy Week. And it was one of the tough reminders for my Easter pilgrimage in Jerusalem, that with all the new experiences to store up and share the whole point was to be on pilgrimage with Jesus - seeking to experience his journey.

Traditionally, Wednesday's Holy Week theme is that Judas Iscariot is revealed as the one who will betray Jesus. We are not only to enter into the pain of Jesus, but into his trust in the Father. It is hard to imagine the  ordeal Jesus goes through with Judas.  Today's reading is John 13: 21-27, 30:

After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit , and declared, "Very truly, I tell you one of you will betray me. His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant....the disciple whom Jesus loved asked him :Lord, who is it?"  Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, "Do quickly what you are going to do.".....So after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

The bitter sorrow of a chosen apostle, at one time so close to Jesus, choosing to betray him cut through Jesus - 'troubled in spirit' is strong language. The possibility of betrayal catches most of the disciples by surprise. Who could do such a thing?   But Jesus knows who and though there is still time to stop Judas (has Simon got his sword with him?)  these poignant verses give us so much to think about.  Why Judas did this and what it means that 'Satan entered into him' remain dark mysteries.  But what matters today is to focus on how Jesus responds to the awfulness of this personal disloyalty as he gives Judas bread and speaks his last words to him - perhaps even a last challenge not to do it.  One commentator says: In that moment the Lord condemned Himself to death.  Humanly speaking the Cross is now inevitable; his doom is sealed; and He has sealed it. Anyone who has been hurt by a friend's disloyalty should wonder how Jesus endures this awful pain and keeps trusting in his Father's will.

Lord, slow me down to sense how this bitter betrayal from one of your own.will inevitably lead to the Cross.  Help me to see your enduring such pain is  part of the great cost of Easter, paid for me.  

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Facing pain

Traditionally many Christians remember on the Tuesday of Holy Week how our Lord is pained by the unbelief around him. I know this will surprise many - it doesn't seem a Passion reading yet it takes us to a deeper place.  John 12:37-40 is read.

         Although he had performed so many signs in their presence they did 
         not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word spoken by the prophet 
         "Lord who has believed our message, 
         and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?'
         And so they could not believe because Isaiah also said,
        "He has blinded their eyes
         and hardened their heart,
         so that they might not look with their eyes,
         and understand with their hear and turn-
         and I would heal them."

It is a deep spiritual mystery why so many do not believe and why Jesus facing his death, he who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, is ignored, despised and hated by so many.  On this day we remember his sheer courage walking ahead with love for the world in face of all the unbelief around.  I say courage because it's not only physical courage to face death, but mental courage to face the hostility and disbelief all around him. He must have endured some pain. What courage it takes to keep going when people will betray, deny, spit, beat and then crucify him - him of all people!  Yes, spiritual courage to keep going because of the mission to reconcile the world to God through his own sacrifice.

And because he goes there for us never forget that Jesus has enough courage and love through conquering sin and Death itself to spare some for you and me today.

Monday, April 6, 2020

An unnamed woman

Alongside my Holy Land notebook is a considerable cache of pilgrimage material including my diary.  I shall try to avoid overdoing more references because those who have not been to Jerusalem can just as equally visualize the agonizing steps that Jesus takes this week.  And picture them we should because there has never been a week like this in the history of the world. Each step Jesus takes, each event he faces, speak of his love on his mission to save us.

My diary records how we visited Bethany where the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus is especially remembered with the site of Lazarus' tomb nearby.  Of course we visited and read Scripture but we also were ushered inside a tiny flat roofed house where a lady with nine children greeted us. (Yes, it may have been a relative of our guide!)   It was crowded, so only a few could go in at a time. It spoke of another house in Bethany belonging to Simon the Leper where something significant occurred.

Traditionally this Monday is the day when many remember how Jesus was anointed in Simon's house by a woman who broke a bottle of expensive perfume over his head stirring up the indignation of the disciples about the sheer waste.  And Jesus says: She has done a beautiful thing to me.  When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached through the world, what she had done will also be told in memory of her.

In Matthew's account (26:6-13) the woman is unnamed. That seems so important.  We need to remember how this unnamed person perceived what this week is all about.  The disciples are still unaware of the tragedy ahead for their Master but she gets it.

Lord, help me to perceive your worth, to offer my love to You, in the midst of all the other stuff going on in my life and to focus on your way to the Cross for me.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

A Holy Week remembered

Easter 1993 I was privileged (the right word) to lead a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  Being shuttered in now gives time to remember and even find my notebook from those days!  We arrived in Jerusalem on the Monday but as soon as day dawned on Tuesday we retrod the steps Jesus took from Bethany over the Mount of Olives to look down on the ancient city walls of Jerusalem and, here, Jesus rode the donkey down to his death.  Some of you will have experienced the sheer force of biblical reality being there.

My notes show how I reflected with the group on the kind of King Jesus we follow. The unequaled nature of the pilgrimage that lay before us that week.  I read part of 1 Chron. 11 and 2 Samuel 5. which tell how King David took the city in a staggering success story with skilled generals leading to decisive victory.  The Jebusites regarded Jerusalem as so impregnable that they claimed the lame and the blind could keep it safe.  But David triumphed brilliantly and it became the centre of his kingdom for 33 years.  But looking downhill in the footsteps of another king....what a contrast of kingship!

David took Jerusalem by force with his army.
Jesus comes alone, weeping and going to his certain death.
David is king by force, organization, the shedding of other people's blood;
Jesus is king by consent, by obedience to his Father, by love, by shedding his own blood
David has a throne in a palace
Jesus reigns from a cross in a kingdom of eternity.
David left the city with no choice.  Jesus does.

Palm Sunday upends our understanding of reality, what really counts in living as King Jesus lives, loves, obeys in ways that this world had never seen before or since.  Deliberately choosing the path of such suffering for us.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Celebrating the present moment

Few of us are finding life easy and I know it can be irritating to hear spiritual good words thrown at us.  But I was struck today by some words by Michel Quoist.
Throughout the course of your daily life make use of the opportunities offered you to take a new hold on yourself and to welcome God into your life while you're waiting.....Don't kill time; no matter how short (or long it is) it can be a moment of grace. The Lord is there and he is inviting you to reflection and decision so that you can become a human being in the fullest sense.
And I like this little prayer:

          May I accept this day at your hand, O God,
          as a gift to be treasured,
          a life to be enjoyed,
          a trust to be kept,
          and a hope to be fulfilled; 
          and all for your glory.  Amen. 

All days are God's gifts, even in lock down, aren't they?

Friday, April 3, 2020

Mr Motivator and....something profound.

Did you see Mr Motivator's number one tip as we endure lockdown. (This effervescent lycra clad keep-fit instructor popular in the 90's has reemerged).  I expected him to advise us about exercise (which he does) but he began like this:
1. Practise've got to focus on the good things in your life. Start every day by just looking around...and thinking of five or six reasons why you should be grateful. They can be simple things like just having a choice...And there are other things we should think about more - you can see, you can hear, you've got someone who loves you. 
Is gratitude the first best thing to show?  Good question. The profound answer is YES.  A devotional book I am currently using called 'A healing house of prayer' begins in the same way: PRAISE.
Whatever you praise the Lord for, that will increasingly become your living experience, because the more we focus on God, the more he meets our needs.  The joy of the Lord is our strength (Neh. 8:10) and so when we praise the Lord, even when we find it a costly sacrifice to do so, we are likely to discover fresh springs welling up within us, refreshing and strengthening us.....
and then something happens and we are brought low and wonder what God is doing.  In that situation we must simply press on and one day we will come out into the brightness again.
Praise changes the direction of our life, reversing the downward pull, dispelling the oppression from the shadow side of us. It changes us at the centre, because our body immune system is put into top gear and all our reactions are made positive. C.S. Lewis must have experienced this disclosure moment because he once said: 'Praise is inner health made audible.'
People who spend time in praising God are indeed a 'planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.' Isa 61:3.
This gives me a profound challenge with fresh possibilities - perhaps for you too?